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Check Out Angelo Surmelis’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Angelo Surmelis.

Hi Angelo, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstory with our readers?
My story often feels like most immigrant stories; Moved to the States (Illinois) when I was about six from Greece. My family had very little and worked always meant a job that offered a steady paycheck and some sense of security. The fact that their firstborn son wanted a life in the arts was beyond confusing to my family. Like many struggling artists, I did all the usual jobs–waited tables, worked in coffee houses, and retail–while going to art and theater school in Chicago. Between auditions and art projects, I’d help friends redesign their apartments and home for fun and for free… Until a friend and his wife suggested, I start charging folks for the service.

To my surprise, people actually paid for me to design, style and redo their homes. My background in fine art. theater set building and architecture allowed me to look at space in a slightly different way than most interior designers they had hired before were approaching a project. I wanted to not leave my mark in someone’s home but to find ways to showcase their life and style in the best possible light. A few years after leaving my coffee house job to start my own design business, literally just me in my tiny studio apartment in L.A. with a phone, a stacks of fabric samples, and paint chips–I was offered the opportunity to audition for two home makeover shows. One for Lifetime called, Merge co-hosted by Lisa Rinna. About couples moving in together for the first time and *merging * their stuff/styles. And another for TLC called Clean Sweep, about families dealing with clutter and design issues. I booked both and shot the pilots. They were both picked up for series and my agent at the time said I had to choose which one I wanted to be on since they were on competing networks. I chose Clean Sweep because I thought it had the least chance for a long run. It was filled with unknown, Merge was co-hosted by a well know and loved celebrity, and as I said to my agent, “How many cluttered homes in America could there possibly be?” I grew up in a neat freak home and had picked up some of those traits. Well, I was wrong. The series ran for four seasons before I found myself at HGTV for the next few years hosting and designing for shows like Rate My Space and 24-Hour Design. I’m really grateful for my time on TV helping people make the most of their homes, but I wanted something more. In the realm of television, I wanted to do a show that showed what I was fortunate enough to see when the cameras weren’t rolling. The *why* of the reason people get so emotional about a makeover. It was never about just the pretty room, it was about possibility, potential, and the promise of a more authentic life in all areas. People’s story connected to their homes was more iterating to me that the latest wall color.

Also, I wanted to start a home line that was beautiful and attainable. Growing up with few resources, my family felt we were excluded from the arena of being able to get stylish things for our apartment that were affordable. In 2008, at the height of the financial crisis, my business partner and I started angelo:HOME. A small accent furniture company specifically launched to make great home-style affordable. We started with a couple of very bold accent chairs, I called them the Anthropologie blouse of chairs. BoHo before it was cool. Bold, colorful and fun when beige, tan, microfiber, and leather were the norm. Our mfg partners and retailers were freaked out. This was a really low point in retail, along with almost every other business, and they believed the last thing anyone was going to buy for their home during a major crisis was an orange, large scale floral accent chair. But at under $200 retail at the time, and with the memory of hearing an art professor say once that during war times, sales for red lipstick was at an all time high because it was a *feel good* purchase–I wanted our little accent chairs to be just that–a feel good purchase for our homes. The unconventional idea (at the time) worked. Our four months inventory sold out in two weeks. A brand was born. We’ve branched out from only accent chairs. I’ve never had a game plan or business model. All I ever wanted to do in my life was make stuff and other people’s interesting stories. It’s one of the reasons I was attracted to fine art and theater. But what I realized is that all forms of expression is storytelling. In helping someone design their home, you’re assisting in telling their story. The story of who they are, the life they have lived, and their hopes/dreams for their future.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
It never is, right? I think the struggles came early when we first moved to America. It’s always challenging being in a new country where you don’t know the language/customs and have very little to no resources. My dad worked as a short order cook at my uncle’s restaurant in Chicago, and my mom was a waitress there. I did my homework at the restaurant and helped out since they couldn’t afford a babysitter. When I first moved to L.A. as an aspiring actor, my story was similar to many others. I lived in my car for a few months. When I got my first place, I ate plain pasta from the 99cent only store for breakfast, lunch and dinner since it was filling. And I walked everywhere since I didn’t have a car and wanted to save the public transportation money. I don’t know anyone who’s wanted and fought for something in their lives that had a smooth time of it.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
Even though I run a business, I don’t consider myself a business person. My background is in fine art, so my design and product business always stem from that. Every design starts with not only inspiration but more importantly–storytelling. I think that great design tells the story of the people that live with it. Not every piece is for everyone, no matter how beautiful it may be. I know that when I design a product, art piece, or someone’s home each approach is very unique. The focus is never about a trend and always about the person who uses it, lives with it. When a design project is finished, the proudest moment is when a client contacts me to say that when friends came over, they didn’t see my design hand, but the client’s own sense of who they are and their personal style.

Let’s talk about our city – what do you love? What do you not love?
That after living here for over two decades, I still am surprised by it. Still discovering new places. It’s one of my favorite things about Los Angeles. Least? I wish we had more oceanfront/outdoor cafes/restaurants. We certainly have the weather and the real estate for it.

Contact Info:

Image Credits:

Headshot: Forrest Leo All other photos courtesy of angelo:HOME

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What to check out next:
Aleasha Bahr is a sales & marketing strategist known for showing introverts and ambiverts the Secret Art of Subtle Selling.  She personally sold millions in revenue while discovering introverts are usually top sales people – as soon as they stop trying to act like extroverts.  We’ve partnered with her to produce Introverted Entrepreneur Success Stories. Check out episode 1 below:

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