Denver, Colorado. 1972. “It was the right time, the right place,” reflects interior designer Judy Howard Harpel of J/Howard Design, Inc. She had just graduated from the University of Colorado, where she studied art, interior design, and architecture, and a friend of hers wanted some help designing her home. Howard, who was taking a sabbatical before graduate school, obliged. “I got furniture for her living room and dining room and master bedroom,” she explains. When it was finished, her friend was impressed with the results. Shortly after completion, Howard’s friend had a visitor—“he was the head of Denver’s Mercedes-Benz,” notes Howard—who was also impressed. She was commissioned to design his home. “And then other homes, restaurants, country clubs, banks, and corporate offices,” she says. She never looked back, never made it to grad school.
Today, J/Howard Design is based in Delray Beach and Palm Beach, Florida, with current projects in Palm Beach, Miami, New York City, Montecito, California, and Saddle River, New Jersey. Howard explains the move, and the evolution of her career in interior design, and how she has no intention of slowing down.
Q: I read that you’re from the western part of the country. Did your surroundings influence any design aesthetics?
A: I grew up with an appreciation for fine fabrics from my mother, who was a buyer for a high-end fashion boutique, and food, travel, and adventure from my father. Although my jobs were in the western part of the country, they reflected our individual clients’ styles and requirements and the “personalities” of the cities. Designing in Vail, Denver, and Chicago were all “Western” but totally different.
Q: What made you make the move to Florida?
A: In the mid 1980s, the oil market crashed—and the growth of Denver did as well. Many in the design, construction, and real estate professions had to leave to succeed. Florida was one of the few rapidly growing states at that time. Although I only knew one person when I came to Florida in 1987, J/Howard Design Inc. has grown into an established, licensed interior design firm with jobs throughout the country.
Q: How collaborative is the process when it comes to designing a home or space?
A: We want all of our clients to enjoy the process from beginning to end. After 45 years, I have experienced all personalities, so each approach is different. Some people want to be completely involved and some do not. We always start with listening carefully to our clients so they get what they want. One thing I can say is: If people don’t know what they want, they sure know what they don’t want.
Q: What do you love most about your job?
A: There are many things I love about this wonderful profession—the people that I have met are incredible, and many I have been friends with for decades. This includes clients, architects, builders, design professionals at design centers, and all our wonderful craftsmen who create exquisite things. Also: to be surrounded with beautiful items like art, furniture, fabrics, wall covering, and lighting. I love to design floor plans, furniture, rugs, and wall finishes so it is a thrill to see the results. Seeing a finished home or a space, whether from new construction or re-model, with your clients is always such a great pleasure.