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Designing Life off the Court: Venus Williams & the Story of V Starr

PEOPLE


From designing luxury homes for athletes in her 20s to studying fashion and interior design to helming a successful and diverse interior design business today — here’s a glimpse into the lesser known side of the tennis great.


By Souvik Chowdhury

14 Jan 2023



Venus Williams pictured with V Starr principal Sonya Haffey (L) and design director Holly Nixon (R) | Image by Ryan Loco; Courtesy of V Starr


Venus Williams is a name forever etched in the annals of sports history. With 4 Olympic gold medals, 21 Grand Slam titles, and 73 WTA Tour titles, she is undoubtedly one of the greatest tennis players of all time. Breaking onto the scene in the late 90s, Venus along with her sister Serena are also widely believed to have kickstarted a revolution that has contributed to breaking down many barriers for African-American people and women. The most notable example of the latter being her outreach and advocacy efforts that almost single-handedly resulted in 2007 in Wimbledon and the French Open agreeing to award equal prize money to their male and female winners.


What’s lesser known, however, is Williams’ love for design — and a flourishing interior

design business. At the age of 22 in 2002, the same year she first hoisted herself at the top of the WTA rankings, she established V Starr in West Palm Beach, USA, as a residential design firm. “I realized that I love design and it was something that I wanted to pursue,” she says. “My parents taught me to be well-rounded and to be more than just an athlete.”


And she did just that. While off the WTA tour, Williams enrolled in the Art Academy of Fort Lauderdale and earned a degree in fashion design in 2007. She topped that up with a B.A. in business administration from Indiana University in 2016 and continues to study towards a master’s degree in interior design from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. “I’m a nerd…I love school. So, you know, it helps me to guide my team, and hopefully, give them input, and be able to add to the conversation,” she says.



Private Residence in South Florida designed by V Starr | Image by Ryan Loco; Courtesy of V Starr


The initial success of V Starr can be attributed to Williams’ celebrity status. Like most designers, she too found her earliest clients within her personal and professional circles. Her very first project, in fact, came from former American basketball player Carlos Boozer, a two-time NBA All-Star player for whom she designed a condo in Miami.


But while work commenced with luxury homes for notable athletes, V Starr swiftly

transitioned into multi-million dollar projects — from expansive residential developments, hotels and restaurants, to entertainment hotspots and state-of-the-art athletic facilities for universities. The addition of current principal Sonya Haffey to the team in 2009 was critical to this growth.



The Clubhouse at the Airbnb-Niido building complex in Kissimmee, USA | Image Courtesy of V Starr


V Starr’s 2018 deal with Niido, Airbnb's partner in global apartment complexes, was a game changer for the firm. Appointed to design the interiors of its first project, a 324-unit building complex in Kissimmee, USA, V Starr conceptualized a cohesive style across all future Niido locations, establishing a signature for the brand. Williams and her team meticulously designed each unit to create a hotel-like experience with common amenities such as a pool, gym, concierge service, and game room, catering to residents’ preferences.


In 2021 at NeoCon in Chicago, V Starr entered the product segment too with the launch of its first ever collaboration with American wall coverings company Wolf-Gordon. Titled Muse as a celebration of women’s empowerment, the upholstery collection was jointly conceptualized by Williams, Haffey, Marybeth Shaw of Wolf-Gordon and senior textile designer Kathrin Hagge. It showcases three inspiring patterns — Elena, Ora, and Frida — cleverly incorporating a diverse range of colourways while representing feminine softness juxtaposed with fieriness.



The V Starr x Wolf-Gordon collaborative upholstery collection Muse | Image by Ryan Loco; Courtesy of Wolf-

Gordon


More recently in 2022, V Starr completely reimagined the PGA National Resort Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, USA. The project, which demanded a major revamp, features a palette of muted gold, washed woods, and creamy whites, exuding a luxurious vibe. Additionally, Williams infused the feel of Florida's warm weather through accented palm prints, a welcoming domed entry, and tiled floors that resemble soft, white sand, resulting in a sophisticated take on coastal aesthetics.


Today, thanks to Williams’ acquired business and design acumen, and the able stewardship of Haffey, V Starr counts over 70 completed projects and installations and a range of exciting ongoing commissions across the country. "Twenty years went fast,” she exclaimed in an interview with British magazine Hospitality Interiors, saying that she never expected the firm to achieve what it has.



The lobby at the PGA National Resort Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, USA |Image by Will Pryce; Courtesy of V Starr


Williams’ off-court ventures go beyond V Starr too. She runs a successful fashion label

called EleVen that specializes in athleisure wear tailored for women; is a multi-unit

franchise owner with Jamba, an American juice bar chain that sells blended fruit and

vegetable juices; and holds a financial stake in the NFL (with Serena) as a part-owner of the Miami Dolphins football team. “My father always taught us to be business-minded,” Williams explained while discussing her multifaceted entrepreneurial career with Forbes in 2019, “so I looked early on at my interests and other types of work.”


But it’s not just about her own interests. Williams understands how financial independence is inextricably linked to the freedom to make choices and imagine better lives. Her story is a testament to the endless possibilities that await those who dare to venture into uncharted territories, driven by passion and determination. And she hopes that by showing the way and helping increase the number of women and people of color in design and business, more people will see opportunities and more doors will open.

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