By Sarah Trefethen
Franco Rivera, a design entrepreneur and an agent at Miron Properties, has only had his real estate license for six months. But his interest in the spaces where people live dates back much longer.
At six years of age, when other kids were stacking toy building blocks into towers and fortified walls, Rivera would lay the blocks out on the floor, designing floor plans that always featured a hot tub.
“There’s no budget when you’re in kindergarten, so the floor plan has to be superb,” he says.
But it took two years in the banking industry, a successful modeling career and a scooter ride across Pennsylvania before the multi-talented 27-year-old decided to combine his lifelong love of design with his knack for sales.
Rivera grew up in Pittsburg, where his grandmother is a landlord and his parents owned a large home.
“From an early point in life, it was always ingrained in me to try harder and go further,” he says. “Because if you can, why not?”
Rivera’s schoolyard designs gave way to subscriptions to architecture and design magazines, and in high school he was able to take architectural coursework.
After graduation, however, he forwent college, and worked briefly in an amusement park before taking a position at a Pittsburg bank. After two years, he came to New York to pursue modeling, signing a contract with D Squared modeling agency.
But he continued to draw houses.
“If I didn’t have to do anything, I would go to Starbucks and draw on the computer,” he says.
By 2006, he had taught himself to create 3-dimentional architectural renderings, and was enlisted to help in construction projects in locations as varied as the Dominican Republic to both coasts of the United States.
“A lot of my friends who studied architecture are still in the wading pool and have massive student debt,” he says. “I have no student debt and my first project was a 30,000 s/f house in the Dominican.”
Rivera continued to model, and still does commercial work.
“It’s so much fun. It’s exhilarating,” he says. “They say spiders have 100 eyes, and on the runway, the flashes on the cameras are like 100 spiders all looking at you.”
After the financial crash of 2008, his design projects shifted from new construction to more modest projects, and he established a niche re-designing lobbies and hallways for buildings in the city.
“You’d be surprised how much you can do with a hallway,” he says. But there is one overwhelming challenge: “you have to design something that everyone agrees one.”
In 2010, the Upper East Side resident, established in his two careers as a model and interior designer, decided to travel home to Pittsburg for his sister’s wedding celebration on a Vespa scooter.
The whimsical trip was inspired in part by a desire to find the rural outpost of his dreams.
“I’m driving along, and the whole time I’m thinking I’m going to find that gorgeous, 1,000 acre farm that has a ‘for sale by owner’ sign, and it’s going to be $30,000, and I’m just going to take it and start my vineyard,” he recalls.
It didn’t quite work out that way, but the trip was a success, and Rivera discovered the Pocono Mountains, where he purchased a 10,000 s/f, two-bedroom vacation home in September.
As a first-time homebuyer, he said, he was struck by the friendly support he received from his broker. That experience, combined with a friend’s observation that he talked about his property like a professional, led to the latest stage in his career.
So far, he has had success in both tenant representation and property management work, and prides himself on ascertaining a tenant’s needs, a skill he says he honed, in part, working in fashion.
“As maybe disconnected as they seem, there’s still people skills,” he says. “Modeling is about listening to what someone wants from you and giving it to them,” even if you have to read between the lines. Placing a young client who thought he wanted to live in the East Village into a SoHo rental, Rivera says, is not unlike taking vague art direction.
Long-term, Rivera envisions integrating his real estate and design careers by cultivating clients who will turn to him for both services.
“You should trust the person who is going to put you in your home, so you have to establish a relationship,” he says. “I can help you find the place you’re going to live.”