At age 12, Blanche Garcia rolled up her sleeves and volunteered for nonprofit construction projects.
By the time she was 17, she was hustling to make a name for herself creating custom products and designs for her first clients.
In the years to follow, Garcia would earn her degree from Willsey Institute of Art and Interior Design, apprentice at an architectural firm in Summit, complete her LEED certification and become the director of membership for the American Society of Interior Designers — all while planning her own business.
Today, she is the principal and owner of B. Garcia Designs, a full-service interior design and home renovation firm she started in 2000 before opening a brick-and-mortar store in Montclair in 2009.
Of course, you probably would just recognize her as co-host of Travel Channel's “Hotel Impossible.”
And that's OK with Garcia.
Welcome to the life of a reality TV star in the business world, where your on-screen actions tend to define you.
It's a tradeoff Garcia was eager to make.
Garcia, who was on one episode of “HGTV Design Star” in 2011, admits she was willing to do anything to be on TV: “I did it without pay for the exposure,” she said. “I always knew that my company needed to be featured on television in order to bring it to the next level. For designers today, it's really the only way to build your brand … Until the public acknowledges what you do, there's no other way to take that big leap.”
But she'll be the first to tell you it's not as glamorous as it appears. The travel and the time can be all-consuming.
“It's grueling in the beginning,” she said. “You wonder what you're doing it for. But as a designer, I want my best product out there. If that means we're working through the night, that's the way it has to be. We never not finish and it's never not functional.”
Garcia had been marketing herself to television shows in 2011 when she was contacted by the producers of “Hotel Impossible.” She started as a guest designer in the second episode of its first season in 2012, but the producers liked her so much they asked her to stay on as co-host.
Her intoxicating work ethic and determination has kept her focused enough to maintain her business in Montclair while being a reality TV star around the country.
“I've always been a hard worker, so I was able to be on the road with 'Hotel Impossible' while continuing to design for clients back home,” she said.
Now that Garcia is looking to expand her project portfolio, she's cut back to filming about a third of the episodes for season four — only to find more work at B. Garcia Designs, where she works with another designer, her mother, an assistant and design interns.
“My hospitality business has certainly increased due to 'Hotel Impossible,' because that's the type of work I'm recognized for on camera,” Garcia said.
She does, however, caution against clients wanting what they see on TV.
“The type of work I do on the show — getting it done quickly and on budget — differs from the mid- to high-end work I do with B. Garcia Designs,” Garcia said. “I'll get calls from the middle of nowhere from people who don't realize that my budgets are higher. Television is not real life. B. Garcia Designs doesn't have TV backing.”
Garcia said that while television has given her an extra edge — maybe an average of three to four additional jobs a year — she views it as a means to an end for future product lines and books.
She stresses that camera-shy designers should strive to have their products featured on television, and she encourages designers with personality to seek out exposure for at least one episode.
But she knows it's not for everyone.
“Television is one of the toughest industries,” she said. “You're constantly on the road. You're never around the ones you love. You live out of a suitcase. The hours are insane. And you're constantly on call. It's exhausting.”
It's hard to imagine working within one unbelievably demanding industry — let alone two.
“Communication and scheduling is huge for any business,” Garcia said. “People fail because they don't communicate expectations. My clients know the entire schedule for their project — what's going to happen in detail and the deadlines that will be met. I'm very aware of the preparatory steps and when they need to happen exactly.”
Her thick skin helps, too.
“I'm straight to the point. I don't hold back. I'll tell you very bluntly what I think. My clients want my experience — and that's why they hire me.”
Nowadays, Garcia is home about three weeks out of every month, which gives her more room for other projects, such as her own television show. She is currently filming a “sizzle reel” — or an extended trailer aimed at promoting the show.
“My personal style is edited — there's never too much of something,” she said. “There's always a focus. I like clean, classic aesthetics, but the mark of a great designer is designing for other tastes while making it appear like it's your own.”
In the next couple of months, her exclusive curated collection for Keka Home — one of the largest marketplaces for licensed surface patterns and fashion designers — will go on sale. In the next five years, she'd like to open an office on the West Coast.
“As long as I'm creative, being my own boss and maintaining balance in my life while working toward my future goals each day, I'll be happy,” she said.
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