Maria Brito is not your run-of-the mill New York interior decorator. The Venezuelan beauty is a straight-talking, thick-skinned, contemporary art aficionado with a corporate law degree from Harvard.
In only three years, she’s paralyed her skill-dealing with people and interest in collecting vintage furniture and antiques into her Lifestyling by Maria Gabriela Brito interior design company, which caters to the likes of P.Diddy and Gwyneth Paltrow.
After returning to practicing law following the birth to her firstborn in 2008, she was miserable with her work.
“I missed my son and wanted to do something different. We had sold our apartment a year before and, at the time, all the other units in the building had been sitting on the market unsold. We sold ours in two weeks,” she said. “Our realtor said it was specifically due to the way I’d decorated the place. So, I knew I had it in me.”
Brito quit law and drew up a business plan. “Luckily my husband was a big supporter of mine,” she said.
Brito’s idea was to offer her services as an interior decorator in a way that would inspire the tastes of potential clients. With a focus on contemporary art, she’s religious in her believe that an investment in art is critical to uplifting and creating a home.
"It was tough in the beginning – making people understand I was serious. And coming from an unrelated field, the art world is difficult to penetrate,” she said. “But, I don’t believe in elitism. Everyone has the right to own art – real art, not just Pottery Barn posters.”
She said she encourages to use contemporary art, anything from 1947 to today. And she wants her clients to develop collections that are meaningful to them.
“While not all art is beautiful, and it doesn't have to be, the art I recommend and advice I give to my clients, is to buy art with a compelling and inherent visual component that enhances, complements, and takes an entire room to the next level,” Brito said.
Some of the contemporary artists Brito recommends include: Tracey Emin, Mickalene Thomas, Vik Muniz, Marilyn Minter, Mark Fox, Brooklyn street collective FAILE, and Brazilian twin graffiti artists Os Gemeos, to name a few.
The price of hiring Maria Brito depends on the cost of what you want, and how quickly you want it done. One of her clients recently purchased a two-bedroom apartment in TriBeCa. He wanted it tricked out with all the works—furniture, electronics, bedding, art, everything, but gave her a two-week deadline. In the end, it turned out to be a high five-figure job.
Of course, art alone can sometimes be in the six figures, she added.
Brito doesn’t generally do what she calls “tweaks” on existing homes. Her work is about a designing a complete look and transforming her clients lives through the place they call home.
She offered a few tips to people who’d like to make some changes without spending too much.
Wallpaper: “Wallpaper has made a cool resurgence. It’s less expensive than art, and offers some very bold designs. The Swedish and British brands are really amazing.”
Color: “Don’t be afraid of color. I love orange. It’s the Latin in me. Color is about attitude. It gives a spirit of happiness.”
Proportion: “A small space doesn’t have to have small furniture.”
Brito is firm in her beliefs about making the space where you live consistent with who you are. It can make a home happy, or not, she added.
“People deserve to have a home that reflects who they are. It’s where I think people should put their energy and money,” Brito said.
She said many people, including her friends, spend their savings on fashion.
“I believe in spending on things with more permanence,” Brito said. “I believe that having your home be the anchor for your life ultimately gives you pride and a sense of belonging. It’s the foundation of my business.”
Rebekah Sager is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif.