Designer Friday: Cristina Villalón

Cristina Villalón, the first Puerto Rican designer we’ve ever featured on #DesignerFriday, is much more than a decorator. As one of the leading designers in Puerto Rico, Cristina designs at home and abroad, making her a worldwide presence. With projects all over the Americas, the global force began her firm in 2005, and in 2012, partnered with fellow designer, editor, and her husband, Ricardo Álvarez-Díaz, to form Álvarez-Díaz & Villalón. With an ability to apply her knack for design to different design locales around the world, Cristina has completed projects in residential, hospitality, commercial, retail, and government spaces. This capacity for cultural understanding and creative design has brought her to the attention of Puerto Rico’s governor, who named her the first woman on the board of the Institute of Puerto Rico Culture. The firm is incredibly charitable as well, with the Álvarez-Díaz & Villalón Fund supporting three sustainable design students every year by paying their way through the School of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame. The release of the couple’s 2017 book, “Places of Purpose,” benefitted Puerto Rican hurricane relief efforts. Most recently, Villalón launched a blog documenting life as a mother and business owner. Meet Cristina in our #DesignerFriday below!

Light and loungeable, this living room from Álvarez-Díaz & Villalón brings earth tones into a symmetrical, contemporary space. Photo by Carlos Perez López.

Andrew: What’s your wakeup ritual?
Cristina Villalón: I usually wake up at 5am, get dressed and head off to my Fit Boxing class.

Andrew: How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Cristina: This is a never-ending work in progress. I’m actually writing a blog titled The Juggling Act about this very subject. First and foremost, it begins with setting boundaries, learning to say no, and creating an intention to have more in your life than work. I think designers, in particular, really struggle with this because we love what we do. I could be working all the time. There is always more to do.

Understanding that life is precious, and there is more to it than work, is the first step to making time for other things that fulfill you. Constantly checking in and blocking out time for other things (i.e. family dinners, girl trips, concerts, lunch with friends, etc.) is important. The trick is to block out all the fun personal stuff first, instead of the other way around. Otherwise, there’s never any time left over for anything other than work.

Andrew: What modern design trend makes you cringe?
Cristina: Right now it seems peach is all the rage. I can’t stand peach! I hope this trend leaves as quickly as it arrived.

Andrew: What’s your favorite time of day?
Cristina: I love early mornings. I love the peace and quiet. A new day filled with possibilities and lessons.

Andrew: Style (or design) icon?
Cristina: Jennifer Aniston is my style icon. Clean, modern, elegant, understated.

Andrew: What are three things you can’t live without?
Cristina: My husband, my daughters, and chocolate!

Andrew: What’s one ingredient you put in everything?
Cristina: Passion, and attention to detail.

Andrew: How would you define your work in three words?
Cristina: Rich, clean, balanced.

Andrew: If you had one more hour in the day what would you do with it?
Cristina: I would incorporate a power hour: read 20 minutes (something uplifting), meditate 20 minutes, and journal 20 minutes. I have been trying to incorporate these habits into my life consistently for some time now.

Andrew: A book that everyone should read?
Cristina: Merchants of Doubt

Andrew: What are some of the podcasts you listen to and why?
Cristina: I am obsessed with podcasts. They are my go to source for personal development. My girls make fun of me because I always say, “I want you to listen to this podcast.” Right now, my favorites are: The Business of Design by Kimberly Seldon (she is not only full of wisdom, but hilarious as well); The Marie Forleo Podcast, helping you become the person you want to be; The Chalene Show, tips to leading a healthier more balanced life; and TED Talks Daily, daily inspiring ideas.

A paneled gold and rose wall adds some whimsy to this suite. Photo by Carlos Perez López.

Andrew: What would you like to be remembered for?
Cristina: Making a difference. I want to be remembered as someone who tried to leave things better and more beautiful than I found them. I want to share light, love, connection, optimism, empowerment and beauty.

Andrew: Best way to take a rest/decompress?
Cristina: Lying on a beach or staring at the ocean. I am blessed to live in Puerto Rico, where I am usually only a few blocks away from one.

Andrew: What’s your favorite board game?
Cristina: Monopoly

Andrew: You are stuck on an island, you can pick one food to eat forever without getting tired of it, what would you eat?
Cristina: Pizza, of course.

Andrew: A skill you’re working on mastering?
Cristina: Meditation

Andrew: Favorite scent?
Cristina: Anything almond (body lotion, body wash, hand soap, etc.) makes me smile.

Andrew: Last piece of content you consumed that made you cry?
Cristina: It doesn’t take much. I am a crybaby. Commercials, the news, movies… I think the last time I cried, I was watching a movie on an airplane.

Andrew: Are there qualities in potential clients that you identify that make you know you have to run away?
Cristina: Absolutely. Indecision, self-centeredness, arrogance, or disrespect. If I sense any of these, I walk away. It doesn’t matter how enticing the project is. If the client doesn’t see us as a partner, doesn’t trust us or confide in us to translate their vision and make it a reality, then they are better served elsewhere. Life is too short to make work harder than it needs to be. The key to a successful partnership is trust and respect. Projects flow when decisions are made quickly.

Andrew: Song you can listen to on repeat?
Cristina: Don’t Lose Your Love, by Ivan & Alyosha

Andrew: Your affirmation for today?
Cristina: Breathe. You got this.

Andrew: Who is a contemporary inspiration in your field?
Cristina: Kelly Hoppen

About The Designer | Cristina Villalón is the Co-founder, Principal Interior Designer and the Director of Álvarez-Díaz & Villalón® | Architecture & Interior Design.
The projects that Villalón has carried out in New York, Florida, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Oman, Venezuela and Puerto Rico have received high praise in the press. Her intelligent use of holistic design coupled with extensive experience in the construction, renovation and expansion of residential and commercial interiors, plus a healthy hint of perfectionism, have helped her bring together a wide variety of top-notch clients globally.

In 2016, Cristina was named among the Top 40 Under 40 by the magazine Design: Retail and that same year, Caribbean Business awarded her the same distinction. In 2017, together with her husband and partner, the architect Ricardo Álvarez-Díaz, she co-authored the first monograph of the firm called Places of Purpose, which presents the firm’s work throughout its fifteen-year history. Cristina insisted that all proceeds of that book be donated to Habitat for Humanity of PR for reconstruction efforts after the passing of Hurricane Maria.

Cristina has a Master of Science in Interior Design from Pratt Institute in New York. She received his Bachelor of Arts in History from Pitzer College: a member of the Claremont Colleges in Los Angeles, California. 

Villalón is a proud mother of three beautiful daughters, a recycling activist and gender equality, an insatiable reader and a lifelong learner. Her most recent project, a blog called “The Juggling Act”, shares her experience candidly, looking to stay balanced while trying to do it all!

Andrew Joseph is a regular contributing editor for ASPIRE DESIGN AND HOME magazine. See more of his work here

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