ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: Ashley Manhan, Co-founder and Principal Designer, Avenue Interior Design

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Ashley Manhan and her now business partner, Andrea DeRosa, first met in 2005 and quickly realized their shared passions and ambitions for design while Ashley was attending the UCLA Extension ARC-ID program. Upon completing the program and working in the field to gain experience and expertise, Ashley reunited with Andrea to start their own design firm, Avenue Interior Design, in 2009. Despite the economy falling into a deep recession, Ashley and Andrea persevered by redefining expectations of their clients while providing unique and innovative designs both nationally and internationally.

While the firm tends to take a low-profile stance in a see-and-be-seen industry, they continue to contract high profile clients for full-range design services.  Avenue Interior Design has grown to over a dozen employees, and has become the go-to for hotel guestrooms and suites, public areas and lobbies, restaurants, bars, casinos, nightclubs, spas and retail, and boast clients such as SBE, Boyd Gaming, The Borgata, Kimpton Hotels and restaurants, MGM Resorts International, to name a few.

We were extremely fortunate to get to ask Ashley some questions this month to get a better idea of who she is and what her design firm is all about.

How did you get started?

My first internship was in hospitality- and I’ve never looked back. Andrea and I started the company in 2009- right when the economy crashed. It was a risky time but we were lucky to find a niche in the industry and offer a service and product that our clients were needing. 

What are you currently working on?

A handful of our current scopes include the renovation of the guestrooms & suites for the Palms in Las Vegas, a new casino property in Springfield, MA with MGM Resorts International, SLS Beverly Hills guestroom remodel, a boutique property, The Ramble, opening later this month in Denver. We recently opened the SLS Baha Mar and Hotel Modera in Portland. 

What are 3 qualities that got you to where you are today, professionally?

  1. Determination- staying focused on what we wanted Avenue to become and not giving up through the hard times.
  2. Good old fashioned hard work- I’ve never been afraid of getting my hands dirty. Whether it’s installing furniture or a menial chore like taking out the trash, I believe you can’t be above any task to run a successful business.
  3. Being a good listener- you’d be amazed at how many things you learn when you step out of your own mind and viewpoint. 

What does your typical day look like?

It usually starts off with traffic (thank you, LA), then typically includes all of the following: morning catch-up with Andrea, conference calls, coffee, shop drawings, office meetings, design reviews with the team, concepting for a new project, late lunch at my desk, endless emails, calls from clients and I finish the day with a to-do list for tomorrow!  

What is one of your biggest challenges as a business owner?

Lately it has been tough for me step away from the design process and focus my attention on managing and business development. I still love writing specs, working out the details and seeing a project to completion so it’s challenging to find a balance doing both. 

What is one helpful design resource you can recommend to our students as they enter the field?

Internships. I think it’s so important for students to get experience in the working world while they are in school. This helps you look at what you're learning in class with a different perspective and hone in on skills that you know you’ll need for your future. 

Something you wish you knew when first got started designing? 

That you never stop evolving and growing as a designer. Each year and project bring more experience, knowledge and inspiration therefore you’re never done learning. 

What is your favorite ‘thing’ in your own home?

My SLS brand standard mattress- it helped when I was opening the SLS hotels in Las Vegas, Miami & Bahamas because I always felt like I was sleeping in my own bed!