By Charlyne Varkonyi Schaub
Steven Zelman knew he wanted to be an interior designer at age 16 when his mother purchased a 44,000-square-foot loft in an old warehouse in Manhattan for $60,000.
“It was totally empty and disgusting,” he says. “It had old wood floors and dirty windows. I looked at my mom and said, ‘You are crazy.’”
She proved she wasn’t crazy by taking him on a shopping trip and showing him what could be done. They found stained glass windows from a burnt-down church. They added three platforms and transformed the warehouse into a chic living space. Zelman was hooked. They spent $150,000 and he sold it in 1989 for $680,000. It sold again about four years ago for $6.3 million.
Why did you open your own firm recently?
I came to the conclusion that there is only one person in life I could really count on: myself. I don’t say anything bad about my former partners, but the only way to do this is to have myself as a partner. I like my style. I like working in certain parts of the world. I like to make sure I have the staff I want and I wanted control of my own destiny.
Describe your style of design?
Comfortable contemporary. Modern design can be uncomfortable. I try to have a modern feel with comfort. You don’t live in a showroom; you live in a home.
Who are your design idols?
I learned from Ted Fine…he paved the way for people to do work and showed me I could make design into a business. He was a great designer and understood the business of design. David Rockwell, who designed Nobu in New York City, understands what makes people walk into a space and want to stay there.
Where did you study design?
I learned working with designers. The best thing I did was study speech communications at the University of Maryland. It taught me how to express myself to the client.
How has Florida design changed?
Florida design has changed a great deal. It depends on who is moving in. Twenty years ago it was all transplanted New Yorkers who wanted dark woodwork with modern. Then the Cubans wanted Latin colors. The Russians want the design to be showy with clean lines. The Brazilians want it to be white, modern and minimalistic. Now it’s the Nigerians who want high quality modern with architectural details.
What makes great design?
It’s all about passion. You can fake talent, but you can’t fake passion. When you have passion, you have great design.
Steven Zelman: Zelman Style Interiors, 3430 N. Andrews Ave. Extension, Pompano Beach, 954-718-6100, zelmanstyle.com/design