For Iyanla Vanzant, a new home helps mark a new life

Oprah has a fantastic surprise for this Marylander.

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. 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 décorative 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 prime-time special centered on the reveal. "Oprah Prime: Iyanla I'll Fix Your House," chronicles 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, which airs Nov. 29 on OWN. "Your home should be your sanctuary."

Berkus scoured the globe to find products that would incorporate Vanzant's Afro-centric 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 It just was a bit outdated."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. On Dec. 4, she will visit Baltimore for "An Evening with Iyanla Vanzant" at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

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; she was amid her comeback and 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.

"After my daughter's death, my divorce and turning my other house over — having to start my publishing career again, I am on a new horizon," she said. "When I saw the house, and the size of it, it was a new horizon for me."

And now the interior of the home matches the grand appearance of the exterior. "He [Berkus] captured the spirit of the house," she said.

The home has already won over houseguests — including one who got a little too comfortable on a recent visit.

"One of my house guests suggested that she wanted to take a bath in my steel tub," said Vanzant, who immediately squashed the idea. "She had to be out of her mind if you think you are putting your naked behind in my tub."

Fresh from completing an eight-city tour with Winfrey, Vanzant is finally getting a chance to settle into her new digs. The newness of the home has finally worn off to the point that normalcy has set in, she said.

"Right now it is the process of putting everything in place," she said.

But there are occasional hiccups, including what she called a "major breakdown" with On Demand, which caused her to miss one of her favorite shows "Scandal" and resulted in her losing recorded episodes of her other favorites "Law & Order: SVU" and "Chicago Fire."

"Now it's like 'Where is my underwear? Where is my toothbrush?'" she said. "I've been looking for my Waterpik for the past two days."

In addition to discussing her new home, Vanzant spoke with The Sun about a variety of topics, ranging from her current relationship with Winfrey to her upcoming visit to Baltimore.

Who do you seek for guidance in your own life?

"I have many people. I have a spiritual father who lives in Panama who has been in my life since I was 13. He's like a father to me. He's one of the elders I bounce many things off of. I have a spiritual mother in the United States. I also have a community of women. We've been together 20 plus years. Whenever I make a major decision, I check with them. I have a community."

How would you describe Oprah?

"I use the word gratitude when I think about Oprah. I'm very grateful that we have the opportunity to understand what happened before. It was a miscommunication and a misunderstanding based on a lack of communication. I'm glad that she was willing to discuss what that breakdown was."

What is your relationship like with Oprah?

"People think that Oprah and I hang out on the weekends and go shopping. We don't. She has her friends. And I have mine. I have a great deal of respect and love for what she does. But the bottom line is that's my boss. I work for the Oprah Winfrey Network. That place is a beautiful place to work — no matter who you are.…Our mission and our vision are aligned. Add to that the love of the individual and the respect of the individual. I don't go shopping with Oprah Winfrey. Although I have an open invitation to her house — as she does to mine."

This season on your show you went to Ferguson to talk to people there. Do you anticipate returning following the outcome of the grand jury?

"I do anticipate going back as I am invited. As I said when I went there, I want to make myself available to support the community with the healing. I'm not going back because I have a television show. I have skills and tools that can help the community. If they need support, I will go. I have been in constant contact with the people I met there."

You could live virtually anywhere in the world, yet you've lived in Maryland for a number of years. What is it about Maryland that makes you call it home?

"I think it's far enough South that it is warmer than my hometown of New York. I love the land in Maryland. I love that there are so many places that you can live in Maryland and you can see a tree. I love the fact that on my way home I can pass cows and horses. I love it that it is metropolitan enough that I can find what I need, and it is rural enough that there is still farmland."

You'll be in Baltimore in a couple of weeks. What do you plan to tell the people there?

"For me, the big thing now is to take a good look at forgiveness. We're coming up on the holiday seasons. … Start 2015 with a deeper connection with each other. Look at forgiveness."

john-john.williams@baltsun.com



An Evening with Iyanla Vanzant,
Dec. 4, 6 p.m., at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall to benefit Associated Black Charities. General admission tickets are $75. A VIP reception is $150 and includes preferred seating and parking. For tickets, go to abc-md.org.

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Nate Berkus on the elements of design

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 craftsmenship 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 onsite, according to Berkus. "When you invest in something like that it changes the entire architecture of the space," Berkus sai d.

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. The door was handpainted by an artisan in a village outside Jodhpur in Rajasthan, India.

 

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