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Interview: Venus Williams

Stacy Shoemaker Rauen • May 19, 2017

Photos: Recent Projects

Venus Williams has played tennis ever since she can remember. And though “tennis star” may be how people define her, it isn’t her only passion or talent. “Design is in you until you pull it out,” the four-time Olympic Gold medalist and 21-time Grand Slam winner says. “I was a tennis player since I was four years old, and I thought about that endlessly for years, but then in my teens, I realized I have other loves as well.”

With a mother who taught her how to sew clothes for her dolls, an “artistic thinker” father, and creative sisters (her equally famous competitor and doubles partner Serena created an “unbelievable” painting that hangs in their office, she says), it’s no surprise she received an associate in arts degree in fashion design from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale in Florida, excelling even while she was on tour. “It took me awhile,” she says, “but you start what you finish.” And she isn’t stopping there: Williams is working toward her bachelor’s in interior design and a business degree online.

Design Mogul
Inspired by the growth in South Florida real estate, in 2002, she formed V Starr Interiors. “I wanted to be a part of it,” she says. About seven years later, she decided to switch focus from residential to hospitality and commercial design because, as she says, “the dream gets much bigger—I love dreaming big, and that is what hospitality is all about.”

She’s completed presidential and executive suites for the InterContinental Miami, and her firm is currently updating a DoubleTree by Hilton in Palm Beach, Florida into one of the company’s Curio collection of hotels; crafting model units and amenity spaces for eight developments for the Related Group Miami; collaborating with Cha Sports on a handful of university projects; and imagining the 15-court tennis lounge and V suite at the Midtown Athletic Club Chicago. Along with Williams’ suite in the hotel, the property—designed by DMAC Architecture and set to open in July—will also feature a spa and gym. This project perfectly blends her love of sports and hospitality. “It’s super bright and energetic, but when you segue into the rooms, the energy is more subdued because you’ve done the work and now you have to relax. But when you’re going to prepare to go do the work, you need to be energized as well. So it goes both ways.” A custom music program that changes in each space will help enforce that vibe.

Multifamily is still a key part of her portfolio, and one she says is increasingly taking cues from hospitality. “The expectation and the lifestyle that people expect across the board is the same now,” she says. “It’s very competitive, and [buyers] have a lot of choices, so you have to bring a certain design aesthetic and a certain feel.” Budget restrictions, she adds, can make “you very creative. You have to have the same appeal, the same value.”

Her style is “elegant, fun, and eclectic,” she says. “It’s something that is evolving and not just, ‘Hey, this is my stamp.’” The same could be said for her bold and bright fashion line EleVen by Venus Williams, which she launched in 2012. Now that the two are housed in the same office in Palm Beach (where she jokes she doesn’t have a desk, but is a floater), she takes inspiration from each. In fact, for a recent charitable collaboration with Roche Bobois for Art Basel Miami Beach last year, she combined the two. Asked to reimagine the brand’s Furtif desk, she covered one triangular half of the desktop in overlapping colorful leather swatches, and the other half with an oversized print of one of her diary entries. “It’s like a rainbow kaleidoscope,” she says.

Team Effort
How does her drive in tennis influence her design businesses? “Just by setting goals,” she says. “The hard work—sweating through it and being able to recover from any failures or any sort of setbacks. It’s really about understanding how to adjust and being able to work as a team—to bring people together and create a positive environment of motivation. That’s where I thrive on the court, and it’s natural to bring that energy to our office and our team.”

Her team is proactive, not reactive, she says, and points to her design director Sonya Haffey as the yin to her yang. “Everyone needs to be pushed. I’m the person with the wild ideas, so sometimes I need someone to pull me down off the ledge.”

Not surprisingly, her dream job would be a sports stadium, “to create a space that you have great memories with and not just a space you walk through and you don’t remember,” she explains. “We like to experiment with new things and new arenas, so we’re always evolving.”

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