Student Success Stories

Meet Trisha Guillen, a graduate of The Academy’s Interior Design and Home Staging Certificate programs who landed a large job straight out of class.

Company info:

Trisha Elena Guillen
Trisha Elena Designs, LLC
Read her story below!


How soon after the program did you land the job and how many projects are you working on now? (shortly after graduating)

I landed the job shortly after completing the programs in NY and LA, and I am currently working on three interior design projects, including residential and commercial spaces. The projects include a combination of renovations, decorating, and staging.

How did you come to be involved in the project and how did they choose you?

A friend reached out to connect me with the team responsible for choosing a designer at Columbia University. I was informed that there were 3-4 other experienced designers interviewing for the project and providing proposals. After communicating with the clients as well as Columbia University contacts, interviewing, presenting my portfolio and providing a plan of action, I was hired for the project.
I believe that communication and organization are the most important parts of any successful project. Throughout the project, as I had learned from The Academy’s step-by-step formula, I provided weekly and/or as needed updates with regularly updated budget charts, detailed steps of the plan, and next steps in order to keep the client in the loop as well as the university. I also utilized many of the programs and techniques that I learned while taking the home staging and design courses in NY and LA in order to present a clear vision to the client, track client comments, make changes, and efficiently move the project forward. These programs were essential in the progress of communicating my vision and staying organized.
I managed all aspects of the project including onsite management and double checked every step in the process with all individuals involved. I was able to meet the budget, deadlines, and exceed expectations because I make communication the first step in the plan before design with both client and university contacts.

What was the total job scope and budget?

The job included a redesign plan for six main spaces, including a living room, dining area, foyer, hallway entryway, study room, and basement. The redesign plan included new flooring, paint, furniture, rugs, window treatments, artwork, and accessories for these spaces. The goal was to keep all redecorating within a budget of around $30K, a separate budget from the structural enhancements and changes with flooring and paint.
The client asked me to design a space that was light and modern with plenty of seating. They liked glass, very light neutral shades, and delicate fabrics, however, we had to make sure that the space would be durable for groups of students to use frequently and comfortably as well as provide upholstery by fire and safety codes! My solutions were to use mixed metals for a light, modern look yet durable structure, neutrals in concrete, wood, and lacquer as well as for décor, and navy accents for upholstery in performance fabrics that would resist wear for longer.
I loved mixing metals, textures, and neutral colors for this project! The foyer combined elements of classic design, contemporary décor, and a touch of modern style – It brought together the overall style goal with neutrals, traditional crisp white wainscoting, mixed metals, and irregular shapes enhancing the architecture with a hint of industrial! The brownstone project included a charming combination of prewar architecture and transitional design with accents of energetic blue hues around the neutrals!
The main challenges of the space included the lack of seating for large meeting groups, storage, and natural light. In a common meeting area, it is crucial that the space inspires creativity and participation while fostering a collaborative environment.
In the foyer, I created a seating nook with small settees and a tiny coffee table from Worlds Away! In my dining space design, I chose Eames chairs, designed for long hours of meeting and studying comfort, and I used these same chairs in the large study room so that they could be moved in for meetings. In the living room, I chose steel coffee table pieces that double as seating and added in an extra corner study nook with x shape stools.
I lightened up the space by choosing new Benjamin Moore paint in a crisp white for wainscoting and very light gray for walls as well as neutrals throughout the decorating color scheme! I also chose upholstered furniture pieces with legs to provide an open airy look versus heavy pieces. I used a lot of concrete and steel for material choices throughout the design, allowing durability along with a contemporary, light space. Mirrors played a huge role as well – The mirrors by Ballard Designs used in the living room opened up the room and bounced natural light into the space!

Learn about Maureen Torrisi, now proud owner of her own Design Firm in Massachusetts.

Maureen L Torrisi had always dreamed of opening a design business but never had the courage until after graduating from The Academy's Course. Maureen L. Torrisi, now proud owner of MLTDesign Group of Andover, MA, had always dreamed of owning a design business but never had the courage or confidence to actually go through with it. Maureen certainly had the experience and the drive. After many years working in Real Estate Development as a Project Manager in the home improvement sector, life had a way of taking her in a different direction. Marriage and children became Maureen's priority for many recent years. When her life changed again, Maureen found herself in need of a job to help support herself and her children.Maureen got her real Estate License and tried her hand in selling real estate. "I couldn't stand it, and knew what I loved was getting homes ready to sell, or to live in " said Maureen. After graduating from The Academy's Course, Maureen jumped right in to start MLTDesign Group and was almost immediately inundated with work handling everything from remodels to selecting all the materials to completely rennovate spec homes. Maureen is happy to report,
"I am fully equipped with the tools and knowledge I received from The Academy and contribute my confidence and future success to Kim and The Academy.'s training". The Academy couldn't be more proud of Maureen and all of their students. Maureen's story is typical of graduates of all their courses since 2007 when The Academy was founded.

Crystal Bennett’s remodeled home appeared on the HGTV program House Hunters

‘Can I really make a living in design or staging?’ At the Academy of Home Staging and Design, we get this question all the time. And our favorite answer comes by telling you about our students who are doing just that. Just weeks ago, on July 15, 2018, Crystal Bennett’s remodeled home appeared on the HGTV program House Hunters. Here’s how AHSD helped make it happen.
Crystal grew up in a small Texas town where her father, in addition to 20 years in the air force reserve, spent 38 years fixing factory machines. Her mother worked at the local prison. Crystal always had a curious spirit. She made it a point to learning as much as she could about her work at the coal plant where she worked as well meeting & learning about different people. When the announcement came that a new plant would be coming online, Crystal jumped at the chance to be a part of its planning and building.

But the next stage of Crystal’s life brought challenges.Within three months of each other, Crystal was laid off and diagnosed with breast cancer. After treatment and surgery, Crystal kept asking, ‘Now what?’ She applied for jobs, had some great interviews, but nothing happened. Crystal, a spiritual person, said to herself, ‘Well, I guess this isn’t what I'm supposed to be doing!’
Meanwhile, Nate, Crystal’s husband,had taken a seminar and started flipping homes (he had also been laid off). He was beginning to gain some traction. So even though finances were tight, Crystal told her husband he needed to continue training. “If you are going to do this thing, you have to do it right.” Then it hit Crystal; maybe she should get training. “I understand blueprints. I know how to run projects.” Thecancer had made her see she was still young and that her time with her husband was precious. So she went online and started looking for courses in interior design and home staging.
What Crystal learned at AHSD took her to a different level. “All the real-life example from and Wanda (Wanda Colon, Founder and Instructor) and George (George Cambron, Interior Designer at Style My Space and Instructor at AHSD)and the forms and contracts I could use right away-they madethe Academy something special.”
Something special is exactly why HGTV saw in Crystal’s design work. HGTV’s program House Hunters films clients as they find a new home to move into. The HGTV realtor found the home Crystal and Nate had just remodeled and wanted to feature it on the show. “I had come back from AHSD’s Interior Design program with a heightened sense of design, and was much better attuned to what clients want. But still, it was a total shock.”
In addition to her HGTV premier, Crystal and Nate have flipped two properties, one at a $60K profit, and a third projectis under way. Is Crystal tempted to go back to the security of corporate work? Sure. But she can feel it-that Kim and Wanda genuinely want her to succeed, and that keeps her moving ahead. “We love doing this work. And I am still committed to ‘good’ just isn’t good enough. So far, Crystal’s approach seems to be paying off.
The Academy of Home Staging and Design.
Where great design gets real.

How Prathibha Kokkalera Makes the World a Better Place one Home at a Time

The only thing better than using your talents to make a difference, is when you are doing what you love. Prathibha Kokkalera is doing exactly that.
Prathibha saw people losing their homes to foreclosure. Not only were they losing their their homes, they were losing their futures. Prathibha created a business to help these people. She buys houses before the bank forecloses on them so the owners can protect their future. Prathibha creates a home for a new owner, and the neighborhood gets an upgrade. This helps everyone, including Prathibha who loves combining her passion for interior design with serving people in need.

“My education at AHSD in interior design made it easy for me to visualize, transform and remodel every room I was flipping. And my home staging education helped sell the properties faster!” Prathibha now makes six figures, and owns two companies, www.iStageElegantInteriors.com and www.ReviveProperties.com.
She thanks AHSD and Founder/Owner, Kim Kapellusch’s on-going mentoring, for her success. For those who have similar aspirations, she believes AHSD is just the ticket.
Prathibha says, “If you are considering doing one or both these courses as I did, you will have no regrets. Apart from the knowledge and intense training, the continuing help Kim and her team extend after the program is valuable. It is sure to put you right on the path to success!”
The Academy of Home Staging and Design.
Where great design gets real.