Vanessa De Vargas is an LA-based furniture designer and interior decorator who says design was always embedded in her blood. Her design firm, Turquoise, specializes in the restoration of heirloom and vintage furniture pieces, but lately she says she’s having fun with giving back. For the past three years, the 38-year-old has been organizing talented designers to create one-of-a-kind spaces for the less fortunate.
She’s currently up to her fifth charity project, which have included designing housing for homeless teens, victims of sex trafficking, and most recently, a senior center . Today, she just got booked for Yahoo’s new web series, “Ultimate Surprises,” which should air late next month.
“I’m going to be redoing a music room for a music teacher,” says De Vargas excitedly about her new ongoing project with Yahoo. She says because of budget cuts, he’s had to travel from cafeteria to the library. “Now, he’s going to get his own room.”
A few years ago, she said she was inspired by Domino Magazine, which redid a home for single women living with AIDS.
“They were spectacular, and I was extremely jealous,” says De Vargas. “This was something I wanted to do.”
Shortly after, a friend called her to tell her about a new project a friend was starting taking over an old motel with 17 rooms for temporary housing for people who have lost their homes.
“I got in touch with the woman, and she says, ‘Do you realize we have no money?’ I said, ‘Yes, I do realize that,’” says De Vargas who volunteers her time for her charity design work in addition to running her business.
“Each designer was responsible for a room,” she says. “We went in there and transformed these rooms into sanctuaries. What it looked like before was pretty depressing. It shows that we care, and it also says, ‘Aspire to have this in your life.’ It’s really wonderful transformation.”
She says this is a win-win situation for those in need, as well as for the designers.
“Us as designers, we have a tendency to have too much stuff – 99 percent of us have storage units. We tend to buy things for our clients and maybe they don’t work out, and we don’t have a place to put it,” says De Vargas. “When the design opportunities come forward, a lot of designers to come forward because they already have the stuff ready. People get to appreciate them. It turns out to be a wonderful cycle.”
She says one of the things she loves most about charity work is that it’s fast and furious.
“The teen project took a month and Mary Magdalene [the home for sex traffic victims] was two weeks,” says De Vargas. “I purchased everything and in four days we put everything in the house.”
De Vargas says she, and other designers, get to fund their volunteer projects through the donations of furniture and houseware stores. She says she even got a donation from a photographer on Etsy. For her Mary Magdalene project, she says the Hartman House gave her some money and she had to match it.
“I knew I needed beds, dressers, so I reached out to each company with a huge inventory of items,” says De Vargas. “You have to reach out to everybody to help you. I have to say it’s sort of a hunt. You send out emails on Sunday night and Monday morning is like Christmas…People are very generous. If people really respect my design, and the project, they want to give, they do.”