TV host Iyanla Vanzant was pretty much homeless at the start of the year. Yes, she was living in a cavernous 7,500-square-foot house in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. But the home amounted to four walls and a roof. There was no reflection of her in it. It was an empty shell.
When her boss Oprah Winfrey, head of the OWN Network that broadcasts Vanzant's "Fix My Life" show, heard about it, she decided to transform the interior of Vanzant's home with all the decorative bells and whistles.
The metamorphosis was a Christmas, birthday and anniversary gift all rolled into one, Winfrey said. The makeover was so spectacular that Winfrey created a primetime special centered on the reveal. The special "Oprah Prime: Iyanla I'll Fix Your House" aired in November and chronicled the changes made to the Prince George's County estate with the help of celebrity interior designer Nate Berkus.
"This is a gift on behalf of every wonderful thing you have done for others," Winfrey said on the show. "Your home should be your sanctuary."
Berkus scoured the globe to find products that would incorporate Vanzant's Afrocentric roots, deep faith and vibrancy that has won millions of fans for the life coach guru and best-selling author. He found African textiles online; furniture and accent pieces from a vintage homeware emporium in Los Angeles; stone from Italy; tile from France and locally sourced items such as wood from an old barn near Vanzant's home.
"Even in a very condensed amount of time, the home feels very layered," Berkus said. "It wasn't a bad house. It just was a bit outdated."
Berkus' efforts worked. Five months later, the end result was a home that left Vanzant speechless, tearful and extremely grateful.
"Everyone is just amazed at the way that Nate was able to capture my spirit," Vanzant, 61, said. "The house looks like me. You would expect that I had done the original design."
Vanzant's new home caps off what has been a remarkable year as she embarked on a nationwide tour with Oprah for "Oprah's The Life You Want Weekend" events.
More than a decade ago, Vanzant was making regular appearances on "The Oprah Show" to the delight of millions of fans, but her life was spinning out of control. Following a series of setbacks that included the death of her daughter, Gemmia; a divorce from her husband and a falling out with Winfrey over the direction of Vanzant's career, she eventually lost her television gig and filed for bankruptcy, which resulted in the bank repossessing her home.
"It was an asset that the bankruptcy court wouldn't allow me to keep," Vanzant explained. "That was very challenging."
Fast forward to 2013, when Vanzant was back to being booked again for public speaking engagements, was on speaking terms with Winfrey and working with her again and she was trying to rent a home because she didn't think that she would qualify to purchase one.
"When you have a bankruptcy on your home, that is the kiss of death," she said.
Finding the Upper Marlboro house was an accident, Vanzant said, explaining that she wrote down the wrong address for a home that she wanted to lease. But once she saw this house, which she describes as "beautiful" and a "big, stately broad," she fell in love.
Vanzant then learned that she pre-qualified for purchasing the home, so she immediately put in an application. "It was a walk of faith from there," she said. "I saw it in August. I bought it in December."
Vanzant knows the value of having a home.
"For everybody, home is the place where you get to feel safe and secure," Vanzant said, adding that she's been homeless three-fourths of her life. "It is the springboard to do work in the world. Home is a reflection of your deepest soul. And the place that you get nourished and the place that you get fed. When you don't have a home ... there always is a yearning that you have. I've lived in several homes over the years and have still been homeless."
Vanzant has named her new home "Villa Nova" because the home represents a "new vision" and "new horizon," she said.
on the elements
Nate Berkus attributes the success of Iyanla Vanzant's home to several factors including her vision and his willingness to break out of his personal comfort zone. "It's not about leaving my stamp behind," said the interior designer, who also designs a line of home products for Target. "I want it to reflect the people who are living there." Here are some of his favorite features from Vanzant's home.
Kitchen: For Vanzant's favorite room in the house, Berkus used a bold black and white pattern instead of using a a simple subtle stripe. "Iyanla is so bold," he said. "She reacted to the larger patterns." Berkus also enlisted the help of contractor Terry Barnes of Barnes Builders Inc. in Charles County. Initially Berkus said he was apprehensive about working with Barnes, who producers from the show found through Craigslist. But he ended up being impressed. "I thought what he was able to do with the craftsmanship was spectacular."
Bathroom tub: Berkus said he wanted something special, that had a unique look for Vanzant's personal bathroom. He opted for a freestanding pedestal tub that features an antique copper patina, from the online vendor Signature Hardware, a company that specializes in custom plumbing fixtures. "As soon as you saw it, I wanted people to know that this was a special place," he said. "It took a small bathroom that was not spectacular and turned into something beautiful."
Staircase: Berkus replaced the home's original staircase with a hand-forged stair rail created by a team that Barnes put together from his tradesmen. Large pieces were made off site at a workshop and then it was assembled on-site, according to Berkus. "When you invest in something like that it changes the entire architecture of the space," Berkus said.
Prayer door: For Vanzant's prayer room, Berkus looked to Baltimore to provide international flair. The room's massive red door was found in Baltimore at Caravanserai on the Avenue, located in Hampden. The shop owner, Ruth Turner, specializes in rare imports and she travels to Indonesia and India to source antiques and architect salvaged items, and then has them shipped back to her shop, Berkus explained.