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Miami Real Estyle – Sofia Joelsson – SoJo Design Miami Beach

By Sherri Balefsky/Photography by Imani Ogden

Stepping into the SoJo Design offices in the heart of South Beach is like stepping onto an oasis during a major MacArthur Causeway traffic jam. Sofia Joelsson, the firm’s founder and creative director, arrived in Miami late last night after her flight from New York was delayed four hours. You’d never know; she is blithe and cheerful and—with no makeup, nonetheless—looks incredibly well rested.

From just a quick glance around her office, it is clear Joelsson has impeccable taste—so much so you’d think she spent years studying at an accredited design school. But Joelsson grew up in a small town in Sweden where she reveals, “People are very much do-it-yourself. A career in interior design is not something that is really even thought of.” Instead, the former Miss Sweden grew up thinking she wanted to be an actress. She spent time living in Germany and the Dominican Republic before making her way to Miami. “I was modeling and doing commercials,” she says. “But people kept asking me who my decorator was…So thirteen years ago—to this day, actually [June 9, 2014]—I started SoJo Design.” 

With no formal training, Joelsson has managed to make a name for herself in the world of interior design, having worked on some of the most impressive luxury properties in Miami, New York City, and Dallas, Texas, among others. This includes penthouses at the Setai, Il Villagio, and 1500 Ocean Drive in South Beach; the Ritz-Carlton, Dallas; and Manhattan’s Walker Tower (where a penthouse recently sold for a reported $30 million). “I found a niche in penthouses,” she says. But her portfolio also includes luxury condominiums at Canyon Ranch, Miami Beach, One Bal Harbor, and the Four Seasons, Miami, and multimillion-dollar estates in affluent neighborhoods in places like Star Island and the Hamptons. She’s also designed interiors for hotels, office buildings, restaurants, and even private jets.

The SoJo Design aesthetic is sleek, chic, and modern. Each room exudes an effortless balance of color, texture, shape, and open space. Joelsson has an affinity for natural materials like wood, stone, and leather, and for neutral tones such as white, black, and beige. While an estate she designed in Dallas has a much different vibe than, say, one of her South Beach penthouses, the signature SoJo je ne sais quoi permeates throughout each endeavor.

In total, SoJo Design has worked on more than 150 projects, representing close to a billion dollars of real estate. The success has led Joelsson to expand her business into other areas of creativity, which includes the launch of a design-inspired magazine, Curated Living. “I did [the magazine] to challenge and inspire myself, and in turn, inspire others,” she says. “It was originally only supposed to be online [www.curated-living.com], but my clients and advertisers were all asking for copies.” For the first issue, aptly named “The White Issue,” Joelsson curated pieces from her favorite design and fashion houses to put together a series of white-themed vignettes. The next issue, slated for Summer 2014, will have both equestrian and nautical themes.

DSC_9162_HR copyAlong with being editor-in-chief of a burgeoning magazine, Joelsson is working on a new textiles line, which she anticipates will be part of a larger Sofia Joelsson Home, Anywhere collection. She also launched an e-commerce site, Cudesso (www.cudesso.com), which offers a handpicked selection of her favorite furniture and home accessories from around the world. And, if that wasn’t enough, Joelsson is also in talks with producers about a potential TV show. With so many projects evolving simultaneously, it’s no wonder Joelsson says the one person she’d love to meet is Martha Stewart. “She is such an inspiring entrepreneur and businesswoman—and she’s had a very interesting life!”

Much of Joelsson’s inspiration comes from travel. Her favorite places include Mykonos and Santorini, Greece; and Capri, Italy, where she says she visits every year. Aside from traveling, in her free time (though it would seem she has none!), Joelsson loves to entertain. She likes having friends over to watch movies on her terrace where she has a full-size chess set and a popcorn machine. “A lot of my friends have kids,” she confesses. “I have four-legged kids.” 

She gushes about her shih-tzu mix, Caspar, whom she rescued five years ago. He is by her side at the office on most days. “I think it’s important to create a fun work environment,” she says. “We’re here very long hours some days, so you have to keep people loving what they do.” The SoJo Design team currently includes five designers, plus an extended staff that helps support her in her multiple endeavors. 

And despite her laundry list of accomplishments in just 13 years, Joelsson remains down-to-earth and remarkably humble. “The United States is still, to me, the land of opportunity,” she says.“Miami is special because it’s only something like thirty percent developed—as opposed to New York, which is like ninety-nine percent developed. There’s so much opportunity and growth…What Craig Robins is doing with the Design District is pretty incredible. It’s cool to be a part of a growing design community.” 

So what’s her best piece of advice for anyone who wants to follow in her footsteps? “Follow your passion. Everything else is just passing the time. [Your passion] can change—mine did. But if you love what you do, you will be successful.”

Click here to view post on the July/August 2014 issue.

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