As I look back on my life, I see that my career as a designer actually started quite early. When I was six years old, I started dragging furniture around the apartment I lived in with my mom & dad. My parents tried to stop me, for fear that I would injure myself, but I kept at it until one day my Dad said, “I think the kid’s on to something. Every time he moves the furniture the room feels better.”
My parents and I moved to Chicago from Greece when I was about six years old. We didn’t speak any English. Mom and Dad went to work for my mother’s sister and her husband who owned a restaurant in Hillside, Illinois. My dad was a cook and eventually became the managing chef at another local restaurant. My mom worked as a waitress at my uncle’s restaurant and because she didn’t know the language, she would ask the customers to point to what they wanted on the menu.
Even though my mother worked at the restaurant all day, she would go home and cook dinner from scratch. She is the kind of woman who can go into any refrigerator and cupboard and pull out whatever is in there to make the most fantastic one-of-a-kind meal. Food was an important part of our lives on all occasions and it set the mood in our home as much as the furnishings did. I realized from an early age that the colors, textures, and sensation of food were as much a part of the design of the home as choosing a wall color, couch, or lamp.
My first love was architecture, and, growing up in Chicago, that love affair grew and grew. I began my education with great zeal, planning to become the next great American architect— only to quickly figure out that while my designs were impressive, my math skills were laughable. I decided to major in fine art and graphic design (with a minor in theater) at Columbia College in Chicago, where I not only performed, but designed and built sets. This quenched my architectural thirst.
I ultimately wound up in Los Angeles to help my parents open a restaurant. I started freelancing as a designer and event planner before starting my own company, Swell-Space. My first paying job was designing a dinner party for a client named Judy and twenty of her friends. The following week, the CFO of Playboy Enterprises (who had attended the dinner) called and asked me to design an outdoor event for 400 people. The thought was completely overwhelming, and I had no idea what I should or should not do for an event that large. I wanted to turn it down, but Judy said, “No one knows who you are. If you fail no one will care because it’s L.A., but if you succeed, you’ll never have to worry about work again.” I recruited two friends as my assistants and went to the Playboy Mansion in my old 1976 Ford Bronco II. I injured myself within the first twenty minutes of being there. A glass vase shattered in my hands and cut the top of one my fingers. No one saw it happen so I wrapped my bleeding finger in a wad of paper towels, duct taped it, and kept sticking it in ice water. I met Hugh and his girlfriends, and just as we were done setting everything up, one of my assistants noticed that I was starting to look a little green. The duct tape and ice water were no longer working. I had lost a good deal of blood, and she rushed me to the hospital. But the event was a success, and that was the beginning of my professional career. That was about 13 years ago and the TV thing came into my life six years ago. Once again, it was serendipitous....a story for another day.