Always interested in interior design, Rachael Lugo’s life and career path took a few detours before she fully embraced her talent. She credits her late daughter, Juliet, for showing her the way.
As the daughter of missionaries, Rachael recalls a childhood that was spent on the move. “I was seven when we moved from Bucks County to Lancaster,” she explains of finally putting down roots. High school presented a challenge of another kind. Following graduation, Rachael became a teenaged mother with the birth of her daughter, Juliet Benson. Nonetheless, she mapped out a future that would allow her creativity to shine by enrolling at the Lancaster School of Cosmetology and later earning credentials through the Philadelphia Institute for Laser Medicine. She became part of the staff at Luxe Salon & Spa.
Ten years ago, her life was drastically changed. In January 2013, Juliet’s father, Lucas Malmer, lost his battle with cancer. He was only 33. Following her father’s death, Juliet began dealing with depression, which was further exacerbated by bullying at school, which of course spilled over to social media. Counseling ensued. Medication helped somewhat.
In September 2014, Juliet sought a release from the turmoil she was enduring by taking her own life. She was 16 years old. As Rachael shared with WGAL and LNP, she had done her diligence as a mother and talked to school officials and even the mother of Juliet’s most ardent tormenter. At one point, she even confiscated Juliet’s phone so that she could not see the online bullying. As Rachael told WGAL’s Meredith Jorgenson, “High school is hard for all kids. I made it through, and I just assumed that she would too.”
Following Juliet’s death, Rachael, lost her will to engage in life. “I stopped working. I couldn’t get out of bed for a year,” she explains.
Then, a lifeline came her way. An acquaintance called and asked if she could do her makeup for her engagement photos. Rachael agreed to the request. The photographer enjoyed working with Rachael and asked if she would be interested in working with her on weddings and other projects. “All I could say was, ‘I’ll try,’” Rachael recalls. Between the photography projects and being tagged on social media, bookings for Makeup Artistry by Rae filled her calendar. New avenues also opened for Rachael. “That got me into commercial and pageant work,” she says.
Filling her days with work helped to a degree. But she still felt the void that losing her daughter had created. “I needed something else to occupy my mind other than grief,” Rachael explains. “That’s when I decided to throw myself into my other interest, interior design.”
Rachael proceeded to buy a house that needed some TLC. “I just threw myself into remodeling and decorating that house,” she recounts. She began posting pictures of the progress she was making and before she knew it, she had thousands of Instagram followers. Rachael had found her way out of darkness. Juliet Interiors was born. “I know she’s up there looking out for me,” Rachael shares. “She keeps putting things in front of us.”
Us is Rachael and her husband, Mike Lugo, who is a real estate investor and the general manager at John Rock, Inc. (Coatesville), which is regarded as the country’s largest manufacturer of pallets and crates. The two met when Rachael was working for a local restaurant and one day was delivering pizza. They made eye contact as they were making their way through traffic. The next thing she knew, he began following her. “I left the house I was delivering to and found him blocking my car in the driveway,” Rachael says, admitting she was nervous. The ploy was an innocent one; Mike asked for her telephone number, but she suggested he order a pizza and they could see where that would lead. “He did exactly that the next day. That was 18 years ago, and the rest is history.”
During Covid, Rachael honed her skills by taking online courses through the New York Institute of Art & Design. Subsequently, her next project materialized. “I found a house on Facebook Marketplace,” she explains. Built in 1998, its original occupant was the owner of a tile business. The current owners had been trying to sell it for 10 years. She immediately saw why it hadn’t sold: “There was tile everywhere!” Adding to that was the fact that it was very outdated from a design perspective. “Boxy” is the way Rachael describes the layout.
When Mike saw the house, he thought Rachael had lost her mind. “I saw the potential,” she says. “My husband did not. ‘Trust me,’ I told him.”
Against his better judgement, Mike instilled his trust in Rachael and the house was theirs. She set to work redesigning the layout, with the goal being to create an open concept first floor. “I think nine or 10 tons of tile was taken out of here,” she says. Walls came down. New flooring was installed. A new kitchen emerged. A combination dining room/sitting room was created that included a wine room that is tucked beneath the staircase. “The main floor was done in one shot,” she explains. “We lived in the basement for five months.” The new layout delivers a living area that is light, bright and airy. In Rachael’s estimation the redesign is a perfect marriage of her style (contemporary glam) and Mike’s (modern with clean lines). The recently completed second floor echoes the look and feel of the main floor.
Rachael also employed her talents for ferreting out bargains to decorate the house. “I’m a sucker for a good deal,” she laughs. “You’ll see everything in my projects,” she says, referring to finds from Goodwill and consignment shops to discoveries made through Facebook Marketplace and Amazon. She also can’t resist splurging on items from local sources such as Beautiful Home Interiors.
Over the years, Rachael has expanded her resumé to include commercial (restaurants and salons) and residential (homes and airbnbs) projects. “I’m at the point where I breathe and sleep interior design,” she reports.
She also feels Juliet’s presence in the house. “I feel like this is her house,” Rachael says of the cathartic release she experienced through transforming the house into their home.
Rachael has always loved to decorate for Christmas. “I’ve always loved the sparkle and magic of Christmas and because of Instagram, I knew it had to be a big deal,” she says of going into holiday mode by late October. For their first Christmas in the house, Rachael installed one tree in the living room. Last year, she invested in two 9-foot trees. She also situated one in the dining/sitting room. “I like a contemporary look for Christmas,” she elaborates. As you can see from last year’s décor, Rachael employed lots of sparkle and a variety of metallics to complement the neutral color scheme. “I like to change it up from year to year. This year I’m toying with doing red,” she said in early September of her plans for Christmas 2023. She names Michaels and Hobby Lobby as her go-to sources for holiday décor.
Now that the house is finished, Rachael plans to do more entertaining. “It’s become the go-to place for family holiday dinners,” she notes, adding that by holiday, she means all of them. “They are kind of potluck affairs; everyone brings something.” For such dinners, the concept of family extends to friends who don’t have relatives in the area. “Last year, we had a New Year’s Eve party for our neighbors,” Rachael says. “That was a lot of fun. It was the first time we met some of them.”
Follow Juliet Interiors on Instagram @Juliet_Interiors_Home.