18 Jul AiroAV Antivirus Imply: Why this Las Vegas designer keeps her books closed
The 50 States Project is a yearlong series of candid conversations with interior designers we admire, state by state. Today, we’re chatting with Brazilian-born, Las Vegas–based Fabiola Avelino, who explains why she has an eight-page contract, why she delegates everything but the design itself, and how she helps clients understand value.
When did you know you were meant to be a designer?
I know the exact day. I was 12 years old in my mom’s friend’s house. She had a hardcover book about Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, and I went through all of his architecture and I knew I had to be in the design world. In Brazil, there was no such thing as interior design—you were either a decorator, an architect or an engineer—so I ended up going to school for architecture, but my passion was always interiors. The engineering aspect of urbanism and all that stuff architects have to deal with—that is not what I love! I love what the eyes can see and the skin can feel.
When did you make that transition into interiors and decorating?
I came to the United States to visit in 2001—and I fell in love and ended up staying! The hot look then was faux finish, very Tuscan. My mom had a store in Brazil and used to do antiques restoration; she was very artistic and would paint crazy things on the walls. So when I got here, I started doing it at my house, and then my friends started asking me to do it in their houses, and so on. I’ve always been referral-based.
I used to do a lot of murals and would see my clients’ furniture and say, “You need this and this, and we have to fix this.” And every time I would finish a mural or a faux finish, they would come back and I would be like, “I just got this for you; I think you should have it in this house.” So [then] I could photograph my spaces better. That’s when they started asking me to do the entire room and then the entire house.
Looking at your portfolio, it’s not that Tuscan look at all. How did you grow and change?
Vegas is a very evolving city. It is one of the fastest-growing cities, and we have a lot going on—people have discovered that Vegas is not just about the gambling; it’s also about the nice restaurants, the clubs, the spas and the golfing. It’s very luxurious adult entertainment. And with all the money that has been invested in the city, we have a lot of people coming to have Vegas as their second or third home.
People here are not scared to allow their colors to shine, because every hotel, every casino, every corner of the city is different and [has people from all over the country and world]. I say to all of my clients, “Let’s try not to look to trends, let’s look at what’s inside you.” So we don’t go back to that Tuscan mistake.
Courtesy of Fabiola Avelino
What does that rapid growth feel like?
There are a lot of investors, [entrepreneurs] and luxury owners from all over the world. It is so multicultured, like New York and San Francisco, and the architecture of Vegas is actually extremely contemporary. There’s a new development called The Summit [Club]—just stunning. The lots start at $5 million, so imagine the houses that are going on top of that, right? Our skyline is very contemporary. When you look at the mountains, it looks like the future: There’s not a lot of greenery, and the houses are sharp with beautiful contemporary lines. It’s unique, something that a lot of people don’t expect from Vegas.
Are most of your clients designing vacation homes, or are you designing a lot of primary homes as well?
I would say 25 percent of my clientele is from out of town, and the rest are locals. It’s interesting, because 90 percent of my clients—it’s some kind of luck that I have—they have only a toothbrush. That’s all they have!
They need everything!
As designers, we always love the installation day, right? But I can’t really do that with my clients—sometimes I have to knock out some main pieces and then layer as it goes, because they don’t want to wait six months for their sofa and beds. At the same time, I won’t sacrifice style for time. Sometimes we’ll just fluff the bed to make it pretty and then put the mattress on the metal frame so it’s not on the floor [while we wait].
How big are the projects you’re working on?
A lot of them are about 5,000 square feet. My latest project, which I’m still working on, is 14,000 square feet. That one’s going to take a while—it’s a picky client and they’re not in a rush. Some projects go fast, and others seem like it’s a forever relationship. I have clients that say, “Sometimes I don’t even open your emails, because I don’t want to go that fast.” Of course, speed is key too. It depends on the client. One client is like, “I’m never going to end my relationship with you. This is the house we want to retire in, so we’re just going to slowly keep remodeling!”
You mentioned that for some projects, you have to get those big pieces in fast. How does that change where you shop?
Most of what we do is custom, and sometimes when I need something a little faster, I get it custom-made in town. That way, because I have a good relationship with my fabricators, they can put me a little bit higher in the queue and we can knock it out fast. For other things, like rugs, they’ll have to wait.
Courtesy of Fabiola Avelino
Where do you look for the pieces you’re bringing in for the long haul, the forever pieces?
Lately, I’ve really loved customizing my pieces. I’m inspired by Italian and German designs, and also Brazilian furniture. It’s not so new—I’ve always customized, but now more than 60 percent of my pieces are custom. Because they want it fast, my clients get a little impatient, but it makes such a difference to create. By creating a stamp of your vision, you [achieve something] out of the ordinary. You have to mix and match, of course—not everything can be done that way—but I always try to make the main pieces custom.
How do you talk about custom with your clients to help them understand your vision?
I create value, first of all. I’ll give you two examples. I have clients that want a Minotti sofa and they’re OK with paying $47,000 for that—and I’m OK with that too. But not everybody has a $2 million project, right? I create value by educating my clients on what’s out there, and the price they would pay if they were to buy it [at retail]. It’s like saying you can either go to a shop and buy a dress, or you can go to a tailor and have something custom-made, you know?
When do you talk about budget with a client?
It’s the very first call—I don’t want that elephant [in the room]. If they don’t know what it is, I use my past projects to say, “This room probably costs between this and that.” I give them the [general] idea, and then I go from “good” to “better” to “best.” Which one do they want? How do they want to feel? What level of “wow” factor do they want? And then I look at the square footage or the value of the home. In Vegas, the common [formula] is [to invest] between 20 and 35 percent of the home’s value in its interiors.
On my proposal, I do a breakdown of what a room would cost and where that money would go—a base price of things for good, better or best—and that usually gives them a pretty good idea. Some of my clients ask for me to be at X budget and not go a penny beyond, so I don’t even ever show them the best; I stay right in between the good and the better to stay on the safe side. For others, I’ll ask them if I can show them something amazing that’s a little out of budget, and most of the time they say yes.
No one wants to not see!
I mean, no one likes to hear, for example, “It’s going to be $500,000.” They fall off their horse [at that] if they’ve never worked with a designer before. That’s when I say, “Would it be OK for us to have a budget to guide us, but throughout the journey I show you some pieces to better serve you with the designs?” Sometimes we do go a little bit over budget and they are more than happy that we did. At the end, they say, “If you would have told me that this is what it would cost in the beginning, I wouldn’t have understood.”
Courtesy of Fabiola Avelino
Courtesy of Fabiola Avelino
Left: Courtesy of Fabiola Avelino | Right: Courtesy of…