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Meet Derek Lester

Today we’d like to introduce you to Derek Lester.

Hi Derek, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
After graduating from the University of California, Santa Barbara I came back home to Los Angeles to begin my imagined career in finance, but after a couple of years, I realized it wasn’t for me. So I decided to take a pause and work as the manager of a restaurant and bar in Beverly Hills for a while to give myself the time to think about what I really wanted. During that period, which ended up being quite an education and quite a lot of fun, among the many interesting characters I met was a veteran real estate agent from Sotheby’s who insisted I had a future in real estate. My grandfather was a real estate broker and owner in the fifties when he moved to LA from the east coast and did quite well but nobody in my family had gone that direction since, so I gave it serious consideration. In 2012 I got my broker’s license and left my job at the restaurant to begin my career in real estate at Sotheby’s International Realty on the Sunset Strip.

During those first five years, I soaked in thousands of incredible homes and found myself gravitating toward creative professional clients and home renovators and builders. I was fascinated by the multitude of styles of homes here in my hometown and quickly made it a point to understand the mechanics of remodeling, of giving older dated homes new life in an elegant and timeless way. It was at this time I was able to work with a couple of clients to help find fixer homes and renovate them in full, these folks enjoyed a lifestyle of making some money by doing this then moving on to another home every two or three years. I fell in love with the process and in addition to having success as an agent began to renovate homes with a business partner. I find all the elements terribly rewarding, from the initial look to figure out the soul of a house to the days of poring over floor plans and sketches to finding the right materials to watching it slowly transform into something new as each week of construction goes by. Around this time I moved over to Compass to work with the finest realtors imaginable at Bryant \ Reichling, and at the same time, the beginnings of my design firm Decente Designs were coming to bear.

Being a real estate broker (especially in Los Angeles) is a version of an entrepreneur, no two days are quite the same and one must continually improve their skill set and knowledge base in perhaps the most competitive market in the world. Having expert knowledge in this world feeds and informs my work in the design world as well as the other way around. I found that my work as a designer was additive and gave me a unique advantage in evaluating properties and seeing potential, and my work as an agent helped me advise clients or partners on renovations to where the opportunity was or which things could add the most equity. Today I work with dozens of clients and partners through both Decente Designs and Compass to find and create amazing spaces for people to live and work in, maximize the values of their homes, or strategically position property as long-term investments.

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?
There is no such thing as a smooth road, the closer you look at anybody’s career who has had success you will see there were times where they had to take perhaps frightening risks or overcome setbacks. At least that has been the experience of almost everybody I have ever talked to who has flourished and has certainly been my experience. My first year, jumping into a profession that was based solely on commissions with zero clients to my name, gave me some nervous moments while I established myself. I felt I had to learn twice as fast to become somebody with more information and expertise than the next guy because I was only 26 when I began and looked even younger in a business where one handles multi-million dollar assets.

As a designer one of the struggles was persuading potential partners or clients in the beginning that I had the experience to execute the vision I was proposing. Most people, with reason, want to see that you have done something successfully before they work with you on a project. So before I had an elegant portfolio, there was much difficulty and legwork to get to the point where I could do my first one with the right partner. As they say, the first one is often the hardest.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I am a big believer that you cannot just tack on your preconceived notion of a remodel onto just any space. This is where many people go wrong and end up with something lifeless, something bland, something that is vanilla (or worse, tasteless and tacky) and just doesn’t feel good to be in. Not only is there an empty feeling being in a space such as this but often owners who do this are then puzzled on why their property is not fetching a top dollar price that they imagined. People know intuitively everybody has had the feeling of walking into a wonderful home done with detail and care and most have had the feeling of walking into one that is quite the opposite.

To understand what to do with any given project, there is a process of walking through and being able to understand what the strengths of a property are already, even if they are buried or difficult to see on first look. The goal is to help accentuate these while refreshing finishes, textures, colors, light in a way that when you walk into the finished product, it is hard to imagine how it might have not always been this way. Sometimes this is achieved by additionally rearranging the layout, or adding windows, or creating drama in the contrast of moving from one room to another, but it is all informed by what we begin with. Inside this context there are variations in theme or style that can be explored and often reveal themselves as we go down the path of creating images and moods of what we intend to achieve. Decente Designs creates spaces that are refined, timeless, with some splashes of color (what is life without color?) and the appropriate amount of restraint.

Alright so before we go can you talk to us a bit about how people can work with you, collaborate with you or support you?
My intention is and has always been to help people find places to exist in, create places to exist in, or maximize the value of what they have when they feel the time has come to sell it. Working with me is as simple as reaching out so we can connect and see if we are the right match to create a partnership toward a goal. This is remains true when I am working with somebody who is a client, partner, friend, or family member. The most important thing is to establish what we want to achieve together and ensure that we our aligned in our vision to get there.

One can reach out to me and my team through DecenteDesigns.com, BryantReichling.com, or through social media where my companies and I are easy to find. Or one can follow along through these portals and see some of the work we have done and continue to do.

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