September 2004 Issue
Stroke of Creativity
by Daphne Nikolopoulos
Floral technicians install accessories and interior designers work feverishly on the finishing touches at a model home in Stone Creek Ranch west of Delray Beach before the estate's debut to a select public. Venus Williams walks onto the scene and surveys the beehive of activity. The project designer updates her on the status of a delivery, and Williams nods her approval.
It seems an unlikely venue for a tennis superstar who has held court at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, but for Venus Ebony Starr Williams, it's a match made in heaven. The 24-year-old Palm Beach Gardens resident, who was the first African American, male or female, to reach No. 1 in the history of professional tennis computer rankings, is channeling her winning attitude into her newest love: V Starr Interiors, an interior design firm she opened in Jupiter in 2003.
The fact that she has launched a business has prompted skeptics to wonder whether Williams plans to retire from the sport that she and younger sister Serena have dominated often during the last four years. Williams eschews such speculation, saying: "I'm not the kind of person who can sit back and hope for something, and not act on it. I can't wait until I'm 35 to have other pursuits."
Simply put, investing in a business is a smart move, the 6-foot-1-inch Williams says, explaining, "[Athletes] spend so much time being the best they can be in their sport, when other people are out there working hard, making mistakes, fighting battles, and making their way in the world. When you're a tennis player, everything is done for you. Sure, you have the challenge of being the best at what you do, but you're not necessarily challenged to develop yourself as a person. So when you do retire, it's scary because [tennis] is all you know.
"There's so much to do, so much to learn, so much to be, that I don't want to have to return to the same industry all my life."
By her own account, Williams craves challenges and is determined to ace whatever she puts her mind to. She has proven that throughout her tennis career. A child prodigy who has been playing tennis since age 4, she turned pro at 14 and took the tennis world by storm. She captured her first Grand Slam singles title at Wimbledon in 2000. In the same year, she won Olympic gold medals in singles and doubles at Sydney, Australia. By 2002, she had collected 10 Grand Slam championships - four singles and six doubles (all with Serena as her playing partner) - and had earned tens of millions in prize money and endorsement deals.
Reconciling Williams' powerhouse tennis persona with a career in interior design might seem difficult, but it is a natural outlet for her. She showed creativity and an appetite for design at an early age. The talent likely was passed down from her mother, Oracene Price, who was quite deft at making clothes. She even made the tennis skirt for her daughter's first professional event.
"My mom gave me her sewing, machine when I was 8 years old," Williams says. "When I was little, my big ambition was to make Barbie clothes. I wasn't very good at sewing, but I loved it. Basically, [design] was something that always was there, inside me."
The full text of this article is available in the September 2004 issue.