Student Success - Teresa Rivera

By Sarah Van Arsdale on November 21 2008

NYIAD students are out there in droves decorating clients' homes, serving as consultants in department stores, and re-designing everything from metropolitan penthouses to lakeshore cottages. If you've started your own business, if you've been hired by a decorating firm, or if you've achieved success in some other way in the field of interior design, we want to hear from you! Click here to let us know about the waves you're making!

If you missed earlier installments of this series, here's your chance to read more about the accomplishments of NYIAD students. Just visit our NYIAD Student Success page.

For most people, buying a home is a serious and nerve-wracking proposition, something they do only once or twice in their lives. For others, investing in real estate is a way to use their money to make money, such as by buying multi-unit apartment buildings and collecting the rents.

And then there are the “flippers”— people who buy an individual property, fix it up, and then re-sell it at a profit.

© Sheffield Graduate Teresa Rivera
© Sheffield Graduate Teresa Rivera

The concept of “flipping” a property is a relatively new one, and the concept is simple, even if the actual process can be complex: you buy a property that’s in need of some kind of repair or updating, you take on the work of rehabilitating it, and you take the risk that there will be a buyer at the other end of the process.

This line of work isn’t for the faint-hearted. In fact, it’s best suited to someone who loves risk, who has a flair for design and decoration, and who can tell a wall stud from a peen-ball hammer.

For Sheffield Complete Course In Interior Design graduate Teresa Rivera, flipping properties is a way not only to make money buying and selling real estate, but it’s also an avenue for her to showcase her design talents: Rivera’s another Sheffield graduate who has found an innovative method for building her design business.

© Sheffield Graduate Teresa Rivera

“Right now I’m doing a kind of ‘flip this house,’ only in a more upscale version,” she says, “so that I can actually use the investment property as a venue to market my design skills as well.”

Rivera is familiar with her real estate market in Topeka, Kansas, and she has the flipping system down — from knowing what properties make good flipping candidates to showing them off in open houses once they’re ready for re-sale.

“We distribute our brochures during our open houses to let people know a little bit about what we do. It is a very good advertising forum, as people can actually see our work,” she said.

Like many Sheffield students, Rivera was interested in design and dabbled in it from outside the profession for over twenty years before family and friends finally urged her to “get some actual training in the field so that I could begin doing what I love for a living.”

© Sheffield Graduate Teresa Rivera
© Sheffield Graduate Teresa Rivera

She found the flexibility of the Sheffield study-at-home method suited her needs perfectly.

“I was working twelve-hour days at the job I had at that time, and it would have been impossible for me to alter my schedule to fit a more formal type of schooling, so I began to look on the Internet for an alternative. After researching many different schools I came across Sheffield and was immediately impressed,” she said.

Rivera decided to go ahead and take a chance, and she enrolled in the class, thinking that “if it was everything it appeared to be, then that was the training that I wanted.”

So, how did it go?

“I was not disappointed!” Rivera said. “The Sheffield Course was absolutely superb! I could not believe the depth of training that Sheffield offered.”

© Sheffield Graduate Teresa Rivera
© Sheffield Graduate Teresa Rivera

Rivera was also impressed with the one-on-one support offered in her relationship with her faculty advisor.

When she started Sheffield’s Complete Course in Interior Design, Rivera began asking designers she knew if she could work with them in mentor relationships, so that she could get her feet wet, and she found they were quite willing to help her get started. “Some let me participate in their projects to let me see how the designer-client relationship worked from start to finish,” she said.

“As for the rest, my Sheffield training gave me the confidence and know-how to actually begin to put what I had learned into practice,” she said.

At the same time that Rivera was launching her new career, her cousin, in nearby Kansas City, was also getting into the design field, so they joined forces and formed their own company — Avant Garde Custom Design, LLC.

© Sheffield Graduate Teresa Rivera
© Sheffield Graduate Teresa Rivera

“We created a website, cards and brochures about our company and what we do, and went from there.” Their Web site is

Rivera’s business actually started small: she landed her first design job through a friend in need of window treatments, and ended up doing the better part of her home. “She loved it and word of mouth began there,” Rivera said.

But now, Rivera’s heart is taken with the business of “flipping” homes.

“Really, the part I like the most is the fact that I can take an ‘ugly duckling’ and turn it into a ‘swan,’” she said. “ I get to use my own ideas and designs as well, so I can try new things and let my creative ideas run wild.”

The greatest challenge continues to be finding a way to break into the Topeka market, which can be competitive. And that means that Rivera has to keep on top of her business 24/7.

“I have to depend solely upon what I can show people in the way of an accomplishment as well as word of mouth,” she said. “There is also a huge challenge in the way of wholesale, or ‘trade’ providers. We do not have any designer showrooms or areas we can go to where we can obtain building materials, fabrics and the like at a good price. That is a very great challenge.”

© Sheffield Graduate Teresa Rivera
© Sheffield Graduate Teresa Rivera

Even now, Rivera finds that her Sheffield training helps her in running the business side of her company. But the training also boosted her confidence as a designer, which helps her build on her success.

“Because the training we receive is so comprehensive, I can speak to clients and contractors with a comfortable amount of knowledge on any given subject because Sheffield has covered it all--drafting, wholesale shopping, dealing with clients, and actually interacting with people who are ‘in the business.”

“I was amazed at the depth of information that was covered in the Course,” she said. “I didn't see another course out there that even came close, and I did a lot of research before I committed to a school.”

Rivera advises current and future Sheffield students to take full advantage of their faculty advisors’ knowledge: “Be glad if they return a project to be redone because it will only help you to overcome some possible future difficulty,” she said. “ It is also a learning opportunity and proves that Sheffield demands excellence from their students and doesn't give out a great grade just because you paid the money for the course.”

Currently, Rivera plans to continue purchasing investment properties to “flip.” She’s also getting into home staging for re-sale, as well as doing more straight-forward design.

“Actually, I love all of the aspects of interior design and enjoy working on any kind of design job, as every one is a new and fresh challenge,” she said. “It never gets boring and the challenge is there with every job!”