- Published on Monday, January 28 2013
- Written by Wael Davis
Noa Santos is co-founder and CEO of New York's most innovative and rapidly growing interior design company, HomePolish.com. Born on the North Shore of Oahu in Hawaii, Noa lived a charming life in the Aloha State, bodyboarding and surfing with his father, younger brothers, and friends. Coming from modest beginnings, Noa attended the prestigious Stanford University on a scholarship for Fine Arts. After finishing his degree in Architecture and Business Management, Noa moved to NYC in 2010 where he began working at one of the city’s most prominent luxury interior design firms. He soon became disenchanted by the luxury interior design industry and was inspired to make interior design more approachable with a fresh concept that everyone can create the space of their dreams within their budget. With a passion for design, he started his own company from scratch along with (current President of HomePolish) Will Nathan. Unlike most interior designers, Noa refuses to associate himself with any one particular style; he believes in giving each of his clients a unique design plan that fits their personalities and brand. Since launching, HomePolish has gotten quite the buzz, with profiles in NY Mag, Refinery 29, and the NY Observer, to name a few.
I got a chance to catch up with Noa to talk about how he founded his company, the struggles of starting a new business and his advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. With a commitment to quality and teamwork, Noa Santos is one to watch in 2013.
YH: What inspired you to create HomePolish?
NS: I created HomePolish because I knew I could do more with interior design. That ability to change the way people work at their desk, spend time with their partner, throw a birthday party, or just sit alone and enjoy a glass of wine - that’s an incredible gift and the reason why I wake up every morning.
YH: It's a very accessible concept. Why was it important for you to make it affordable? Interior design has a reputation for being upscale and usually pricey.
NS: Because everyone deserves help creating a space that they love. We work with budgets of all different sizes; it's really about tailoring each project to the client's needs.
YH: How did you begin your career in interior design? Did you have a mentor in the early days of your career?
NS: I studied a combo of architectural design and management science at Stanford and, after moving to NYC, was offered a position at a high-end residential design firm. I was fortunate enough to gain exposure to all aspects of the design process, from billing to custom furniture creation. But after I learned the ropes and learned the effects good design had on people, I knew I wanted to take interior design to a new audience.
Unfortunately, I’ve never had a singular mentor in the traditional sense, although my parents are still the ones who ground me and remind me to “take a breath” (they live on the beach, so they do a lot of that). I have, however, been extremely lucky to become friends with fantastically brilliant people -- most with non-design-related expertise. But that part of the equation -- that most of my “mentors” are not in the industry -- has been an invaluable asset to HomePolish as well as my own personal growth.
YH: What have been some of your favorite projects to design thus far?
NS: One of my favorites (and I don’t think this will change soon) was one of the first projects I did in NYC -- a SoHo loft for an amazing couple. They’ve since become some of my closest friends. The place is very white, shabby chic, and when I walk in, I immediately want to light the candles, grab a good book, and lounge on the vintage velvet sofa. I can’t help it.
Another favorite is my old apartment. It was my first chance to go all out -- and I did.
My favorite projects as of late, however, have been the ones that my HomePolish designers are working on. One of our designers is doing the townhouse for the founder of Dinosaur Barbeque, while another one is doing Codecademy’s new 6,500 sf office space in Flatiron. We have such a range of projects that I get to indulge my short attention span all the time. I’m spoiled.
YH: What were some of the bumps along the way with starting a business from scratch?
NS: Bumps? More like craters. You start with an idea, and your friends say, “Wow, that’s brilliant!” So, then you figure out how to make your first buck only to discover that’s not how to make your 31st buck, so you freak out a little, calm yourself down, think, and change things. But I think that’s how all great companies are created. You have to teach yourself how to learn along the way, seek outside advice constantly, and as long as you run every decision through the filter of “what is best for our clients?” and never give up, you’ll find the right answers.
YH: Looking forward a few years, where do you want to take HomePolish in the near future?
NS: HomePolish will change the way people live -- it’s a lifestyle for the better -- and we’re going to take it national. We’re starting to recruit designers in all the major cities, so that no matter where you live, you will have access to the design help you need.
YH: What is some advice you would have for other young entrepreneurs?
NS: Never refuse a lunch. Meet everyone, especially people with different interests, skills, and careers. The game-changing idea you’re looking for is going to be at the intersection of fields, so you’re going to need insight that you won’t find from your coworkers.
- Wael Davis, YH Staff