Interview with DUSTIN VAN FLEET - designer and historic restoration expert

by Yelena Kublitski

Photo credits: Dustin Van Fleet

Photo credits: Dustin Van Fleet

Rich colors, lots of drama and character, each element a conversation piece - that's what the designs of Dustin Van Fleet are all about.

You can love them or hate them, but you can never remain indifferent.

So, if you prefer "punchy" designs over plain vanilla flavors, stick around - there's some serious eye candy ahead!

Dustin, can you share a few key things about yourself, your background and what led you to pursue a career in design and restoration?

My path that lead to becoming a designer was a bit different than most.

I trained to become a professional tennis player for years, was a professional model, went to college and triple majored in History, Political Science and Philosophy, then went onward to law school and finally got a masters degree in Leadership and Public Administration.

While in college I purchased my first historic property and completed all the work and designs myself, the rest as they would say is history.

Pink and white Victorian house in winter snow

What are the 3 biggest mistakes you see people make when remodeling, painting and decorating an old house? Do's and dont's?

Do not play it safe with your paint colors.
Do go out on the limb and try new colors.

Do not try to copy something out of a magazine.
Do stay true to your style and your gut feeling, a copy cat can never be an original.

Do not be afraid to experiment.
Do try new colors, decorating ideas, styles and so on, those who play it safe never get an original unique look.

Powder room ceiling and walls painted in different shades of orange

In your opinion, what is the biggest difference between how YOU see color, and how most homeowners see it?

I see color as an asset and as our friend who can help us achieve great design.

Most homeowners see color as a fear or an unknown and don't want to risk the failure of a wrong color choice.

Room with sea green walls and a red ceiling

What is your signature decorating style and how would you describe it?

I have a very traditional sense of style, however my signature is my very traditional taste mixed with bold expressive color selections that blend seamlessly together.

Bathroom painted with different shades of green and decorated with brown

Is it important to have a style? And what recommendation can you give homeowners who would like to discover their own signature styles?

I feel it is very important to have a style because it represents you as an individual.

In my opinion we all have a style, but most of us never take the time to find out what our style really is.

Finding your style is simple: look within yourself, at your lifestyle and at what makes you happy in life and you will find the things you want to place around you in your home.

Bright yellow kitchen with red, white and black accents

How do you know when a color combination works? When do you stop tweaking things?

I don't look at color combinations to begin with.

I find a color I cannot live without and then choose the colors I want to work around the primary color.

I have no secret to my color combinations and selecting them, my brain works a bit different than most and I just know when the colors are right.

Sticking with my gut feeling is the most important advice I could give myself, when I don't stick with my gut feeling and try to please others is when I lose the cutting edge that I internally have.

Bedroom with green walls, pink trim and fuchsia ceiling

When you walk into a room for the first time, how do you decide what paint color to specify? What is your process?

I have three main aspects I size up quickly: first the ceiling height, second the lighting in the room. Is the lighting natural, mood lighting or fluorescent lighting?

Finally, I look around at my client's home and possessions to get an idea of what their favorite colors are.

Once I look at these three factors I know what color families to begin searching for.

Kitchen with a yellow ceiling and walls

What is your biggest pet peeve in the current painting and decorating trends?

I love this question, it is my FAVORITE question of the entire interview.

As owner of Van der Fleet Design and Restorations I have always had the same motto from day one: "We don't follow trends, we create them".

To follow a trend is to be destined to be caught on a treadmill, always changing your design to fit the next fad.

Full spectrum sky blue paint color on bedroom walls

What is your home color and design forecast and what do you see happening in the next 2 years?

Neutrals are over throughout a home.

Gone are the days where people are flipping houses and just painting them all neutral to get rid of them as soon as possible.

The homes that are selling now are custom, not cookie cutter.

Spring green paint color on the wall is offset by white trim

What are your career goals and plans, and where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

In the next five years I would like to not only design and restore in North America but also on a global scale.

I also have the desire to write a book, and create my own historically correct furniture and home decor line.

House exterior painted in a yellow and green color scheme

What are the 3 things nobody knows about you, but you wish they did?

I was a high level professional athlete (tennis).

I dreamed of being a dentist as a child, lol.

I was a professional model.

Brick house painted white, green and red

What is your secret to success as a decorator?

I follow my gut instincts.

Van der Fleet Design and Restorations provide historic restoration, interior decorating and landscape design services in the United States and Canada.

Dustin can be reached at (813)545-1698 or via his Facebook account (where you can also see more photos of his work).

Leave a Comment:

by: John Clayton

Definitely an up and coming designer who is unique yet will satisfy beyond expectations. Truly a name to watch in 2011 and beyond.

I admire his imaginative color palette - it works extremely well in historic properties.

A Unique Contribution
by: Tony Kimbrell

Dustin's broad ranging life experiences and education have uniquely equipped him as designer and preservationist.

His years of preparation and success in tennis and the ambition and drive that it took to achieve that success have translated into an aggressive approach in a profession where many play it safe.

As a professional model, he learned how to communicate a sense of style.

With a formal education in history and philosophy, Dustin has a clear understanding of how the homes he restores represent the prevailing fashion and mindset of the day.

His background in politics and public administration has enabled him to know and communicate the importance of historic preservation to a community’s current and future economy and vibrancy.

With his bold use of color, Dustin has presented a refreshing alternative to the current tendency to play it safe with a dependence on a neutral palate.

His juxtaposition and selection of color harkens back to historical periods in American and European decorating when the use of vivid and demonstrative color was the norm.

Yet he frequently will refresh the traditional options with hues and colors that are contemporary cousins to their historic predecessors.

While Dustin is committed to the use of authentic and period appropriate lighting and other architectural and decorative elements, it is this use of color and finishes in historical residences in particular that have set him apart.

He has carved out for himself a unique niche in the design world and is challenging his colleagues to think differently about both historic preservation and design.

I have no doubt that Dustin’s talents and work will continue to evolve, delight, provoke and elevate his profession.

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