By Justin Heitmann

Vanessa DeLeonVanessa DeLeon has been featured in Interior Design, Hudson, Elle Decor, Latin Magazine, and 201 to name a few. She has appeared on a variety of HGTV’s shows: Generation Renovation, Designer’s Challenge, Bang For Your Buck, and Design Star. You could have also seen her on the Food Network’s Restaurant Impossible or NBC’s American Dream Builders. Vanessa is an impressive self-starter who began her interior design firm at the age of twenty. Her hard work has resulted in her “GLAMISTIC” interior designer style, a modern minimalist with glamour always at the forefront.


Join me as Vanessa empowers women to open their own interior design firm, tells us why designing on reality TV is crazy, and how she chooses her designer rugs.


What’s Your Advice to Other Interior Designers?

“I think the business side of interior design is changing immensely. Especially with technology. Technology is seriously at the forefront of everything and anything living. Even in the last few years the way we present and how we send things has changed. I remember I use to fax my orders to manufactures. It’s crazy that we used to actually fax orders! It sounds so primitive now, but that was only fifteen years ago. A lot of our clientele is overseas, or they are traveling, or they are here 6 months out of the year. It’s a lot more live video conferencing with apps like Skype and Facetime. The shift in the future will be, whoever doesn’t want to keep up with technology is going to miss out on opportunities to grow their business. The shift is staying current in the virtual world that we now live in.”


Why Did You Move from Fashion to Interior Design?

“I wanted to be a fashion stylist and went to the Fashion Institute of Technology. My grandfather was a designer in Cuba and when he came to the United States he opened up a few furniture stores. I worked their simultaneously while attending FIT, and my dad had given me a deal. I would make a couple hundred dollars a week—working 80 hours, and he would put me through college. So I took the deal but I hated selling furniture and I dislike retail altogether! When I was in college I acquired an awesome opportunity to work for Ralph Lauren. After I worked for them as an intern they wanted to hire me full-time. I didn’t feel like it was the right spot for me because the world of fashion was so catty, almost like the movie/book The Devil Wears Prada. I felt like it was a toxic environment for women and I’m all for empowerment. Women should be able to own businesses and I’m very much putting women entrepreneurship forward. It just wasn’t the right spot for me so I decided to leave Ralph Lauren and went back to work with my Dad.”


“While working there I would sell furniture and then go back into the client’s home. They would ask me questions: Where should they put window treatments? Should they do bedding? Do they knock down that wall or build that edition? I thought to myself, Wow, I really need to go back to school for interior design—at least the foundation work. I went to Berkeley College and after a year I decided I wanted to open up my own business at 20 years of age. Fifteen years later here I am!”


How Did You Kick-Start Your Design Firm at Twenty Years Old?

“I first opened up my design firm in New Jersey. From there I worked for a few years and it was very hard to grow at such a young age. So what I decided to do was apply to Donald Trump’s TV show, The Apprentice. The first season was ending and I loved the show. I thought I’d be really good on the show. I tried out the second season and I made it out of 500,000 can who applied. They flew me out to Los Angeles and from there I made it to the seventh and last day of testing—background tests and physically examinations. We literally did every possible test, I mean everything. I was in a room meeting with the show’s producer Mark Burnett, the executives, Trump was there but not in my meeting, and the entire NBC crew. I did really well and walked out confident. Then I got a knock on the door and they said I didn’t get the show. Then I realized right there that reality TV is about drama.”


Vanessa DeLeon

“When I came back to the office I was bummed and my assistant saw something on HGTV for a design show. I said forget it! I’m not doing reality TV again. I ended up submitting the same tape that I used for The Apprentice and they called me back right away saying they loved my tape, but could I submit something that showcased my design? I submitted another tape and didn’t hear from them. A few months later I was meeting with a client and she told me that she just saw me on a HGTV commercial. I didn’t understand. She said the whole commercial was about me and this new show called Design Stars. They had the rights to my tape, but I didn’t get on the show!”


“Finally, a few months later I get phone call and they told me to pack my bags, I’m moving up to the east-side—you have the opportunity to be on Design Stars Season 1. So I did it and I was the fourth person to get kicked off the show. After the season aired the notoriety started. Magazines started reaching out and I got a ton of exposure. It was a domino effect after that. I met with an agent and decided to be represented by Abrams Artists Agency out of Los Angeles and New York. I started getting on a lot of shows and segments. I was really able to develop my style.”


What’s it Like to Work in New York City?

“I think New York really has its finger on the pulse and that’s a big advantage for myself. New York is where everything happens—fashions and finance. It’s the meca of what’s new and next in design besides France and Italy. It’s important for me to be in the heart of it all. I have the benefit of walking the city streets and I might even get inspired by a cluster of gum on the ground. It’s huge. We have the best museums, restaurants, hotels, and architecture. It’s unbelievable!”


How Do You Manage Your Team of Interior Designers?

“I love managing my employees! I very much vet everyone that comes to work for me. My theory of hiring is I only hire people if they’ve already been an intern for me. I’m really able to get to know the individual and helps prepare me for when they start full-time. I don’t see my employees going against the grain. There are no egos here. I just hired a vice president of marketing and wanted him to have a vested interest in the firm. Ultimately, this is Vanessa DeLeon Associates, not Vanessa DeLeon. I believe you are only as good as your team. I have a stellar group!”


Vanessa DeLeon

Are There a Lot of Egos in Interior Design?

“You are going to have your prima donnas and other designers who think they know better than you. I always say the proof is in the pudding. I don’t feel like I need to constantly flaunt my resume or wave my flag all over the place. All I know is, what I do is legit, and what I have accomplished is what it is. When I’m in a competitive position on a reality show it’s hard to swallow that pill because I know what I have on many of the other designers. It was hard for me to not knock my resume around but I love what I do and am blessed to be respected in the industry. It helps being humble, grounded, and always trying to do the right thing. At the end of the day it is all subjective.”


What’s the Dish on Why You Got Eliminated on American Dream Builders Season 1?

“This is why reality TV with interior designers is crazy. We actually didn’t have a light at all for the porch because my project manager was Dann Foley and he was doing all the shopping and didn’t have it in the budget. So the chandelier that I used was not even purchased. We ended up finding an unopened crate that the NBC production team had and we found the chandelier. So instead of not having a functioning light I choose the best scenario. The show doesn’t really tell you all that stuff and I got kicked off and I didn’t shop for any of the furniture or accessories. I did the floor planning, all the painting, all the landscaping, I built the deck, and built a table for the inside. I was procuring all the finish materials, while Dan was purchasing all the furniture and I got kicked off the fifth episode. It was ridiculous.”


What’s Trending Right Now?

“I would say I’m seeing a lot of curated and collected designs right now. It’s not really too modern and it’s not really too traditional. I would call it elegant classic. The grays are really hot right now and it’s been that way for a while. For finishes and interiors, I’m still seeing a lot of white, grays, and marbles. Marbles are still going to be pretty strong over the next year. You are going to see gold patterns, large scale flower patterns, and simple geometric prints. It’s a real eclectic blend but all in all were getting that classic elegance from our clients.”


How Do You Choose Your Designer Rugs?

“I take into consideration the fabrics and patterns we are using throughout the room. Are we doing a crazy pattern on the window treatments or are we doing a wallpaper that might compete with the rug? There are so many layers when deciding on a rug. Sometimes it’s the first thing I do and sometime it’s the last. It all depends on the layering and what comes first—the chicken or the egg? You don’t know until you’re putting the scheme together. In a residence that I designed in Alpine, New Jersey, they wanted the master bedroom very over the top. I believe I got the rug last. They wanted the room to be very Donald Trumpish. They wanted that super regal look. So I just layered and layered. They wanted all types of gold—14 and 24 karats.”


Vanessa DeLeon

What Are the Dangers of Not Hiring an Interior Designer?

“There are so many. That’s also a very loaded question. What’s too expensive for something that can cost you a fortune if you make a mistake? Designers are going to help you create a space that cohesively works with a nice flow. There’s a rhyme and a reason for all your selections. Designers will also deal with all the contractors. For example, I had a client last year come to me and said she couldn’t afford me but wanted a consultation. We had the consultation and she wanted to redo her kitchen. I gave her my design fee budget of what it would cost and she passed saying it was a little expensive. She ended up hiring a contractor that was highly recommended by a friend of hers. Finally, I saw her months later and asked her how the kitchen came out. Ends up that there had only been a couple of the cabinets ripped out when the contractor disappeared. She had given the contractor already half down. She ended up doing her due diligence afterwards and realized the contractor had a history of being a scam artist. She’s now gone way over budget in attorney fees and not to mention her house is ripped up. It was unfortunate and tragic but it happens. That won’t happen when someone works with me.”

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