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Local Designer an HGTV Contestant

Mar 02, 2016 02:24PM ● By Becky Coburn

New Pleasant Hill resident, Melissa Rivera-Torres was one of eight talented contestants on the most recent season of HGTV’s Ellen’s Design Challenge.  The designer’s enterprising spirit and upbeat personality were evident as she shared a little about herself, her creations, and her HGTV adventure.

CF: Tell us where you’re from, where you grew up, and what brought you to Pleasant Hill?

MRT: I am originally from Mexico, about an hour south of Mexico City in a place called Cocoyoc, but I have lived in several places. I went to college for a year at CU Boulder, then studied Industrial Design at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. After three or four years back in Mexico I returned to Providence for my master’s in Art and Design Teaching Education. We were most recently in Little Rock when my girlfriend got stationed at Travis, AFB. With my design career, I figured I would likely find a job near San Francisco, and Pleasant Hill seemed to be the best middle point for us price-wise and location-wise. I love it!

CF: What led you to design?

MRT: I grew up playing outside, and always creating things. I always enjoyed imagining the world in a variety of ways, toys in different shapes, treehouses and things around us that could be used differently. My passion to create and use my imagination was the trigger for me to explore a career in design. I love how design affects the world and how it can improve people’s lives, whether it’s an older person, a young kid, a pet, you name it.

CF: Is it specifically furniture or do you design for whatever a client is looking for? 

MRT: I design anything, for anyone, in any way. I love challenges and I never have wanted to pin myself in one category of design. Ellen’s Design Challenge was a furniture based show, so I was competing with designers who specialize in furniture, but one of my strengths is that I am ready to take on any challenge, for any client, with whatever time, or budget I am given.  I always try to do different things and surround myself with a variety of creative people who open my eyes to how everything connects. I have been able to design furniture, interiors, products, fashion stages… you name it, and I love every aspect of it.

CF: How did you land a coveted spot on Ellen’s Design Challenge?

MRT: My brother showed me an ad for the show and I had to apply. I love and respect Ellen and really like what she stands for. The show was a great opportunity to do something that I love, which is designing something bold, unique and different.

CF: What was the most challenging aspect of being on the show?

MRT: The days were very long, but for the most part coming up with ideas quickly with little time to build and make the furniture pieces was the most challenging part.  This was a TV show, so there is not much time to edit, fix, or re-do things. I wanted to approach every design as a totally different client, so I tried to push myself to come up with different pieces to show the range of what I can do.

CF: Was there a comfort zone you had to push beyond, or were you more in the mindset of  “bring-it-on!”

MRT: In this kind of show, I don’t think there really is a comfort zone. You’re surrounded by cameras 24/7, working in a very unique situation with lots of pressure, knowing you need to stick to a tight budget and time frame while still producing something of quality to stay in the competition. However I would say my “comfort zone” was knowing I was chosen to be there for a reason and that I just had to be myself and focus on the task – like I do for my business. As far as “attitude” goes, you HAVE to stick to the “Bring it on” vibe. I was ready to take on all the challenges I could get.

CF: What’s next for you?  Did being on the show change or broaden the way you think about your direction in the future?

MRT: The show was an awesome experience. Yes, it did make me realize that I want to keep doing what I do and push myself to keep growing. The experience came to me at an interesting time in my life and I was very fortunate and thankful that I was invited to be in it. It gave me more motivation and highlighted that all the hard work I have done is going somewhere. I found a home in Pleasant Hill, which I love, and an amazing design job at a fabulous company called Group Delphi in Alameda, and I have my business on the side called Unleash Studio. You you should check it out, I am focusing a bit more on my job right now since it is a perfect opportunity to be around the coolest, most creative individuals I know, giving me a chance to keep doing what I love, changing the world one design at a time.