One Designer’s/Stager’s Story: A Profile of Sun Ju Lee Valenta, Madison Mom and Certified Interior Designer

Staging and good design can make a huge difference in a home’s marketability. When homes are optimized and stylishly furnished and decorated and appealing in photos and online, potential buyers are more likely to schedule a showing and make an offer.

A recent study conducted by the National Association of Realtors found that real estate professionals generally agree that staging can increase the ultimate sale price of a home while also decreasing days on market. This is a win-win for sellers in return for a small investment by the agent’s (or in some cases, the homeowner’s) behalf.

As a real estate agent, I make it a point to offer professional staging for all of my listings (with the exception of a few homes that are vacant or already picture-perfect). I recently had the opportunity to work with another Madison mom, Sun Ju Lee Valenta, on a staging project here in town, and wanted to share some of her insights on staging and decorating, as well as some of her unique story with our readers.

Can you introduce yourself, and tell us a little bit about what you do?

My name is Sun Ju Lee Valenta, and I am a certified interior designer with over 25 years of experience in commercial, hotel and residential design.  I started my own design company in 2014, Sun Valenta Design, focused mainly on high-end residential for local cliental in New York and New Jersey.  I provide full service interior design, home staging and curation for my clients.  Being a small practitioner gives me flexibility to service my client’s needs on multiple levels, and multi-tasking is what drives my energy and passion for design.

What is your background?

I grew up near Seoul, Korea where my father was a builder and an architectural material supplier.  There, I was surrounded by contractors and architects every day.  After high school and one year interior design program, I apprenticed at one of the first interior design companies in Korea, Min Associates.  In the early 90’s, interior design was not yet a popular or prominent profession in Asia.  But I knew then that I wanted to be a professional Interior Designer, and in 1995, I immigrated to the United State to pursue a degree in Fine Arts at Pratt Institute.  Moving to New York at this time was a tremendous challenge and cultural change for me.  First, I needed to be proficient in English just to enter university.  This was a very difficult time for me in many ways, but with a lot of prayer and hard work, I survived and graduated from Pratt in 1999.  Shortly thereafter, I began work as a designer for some of the most prestigious interior & architecture firms in the country. Over the years, my professional training and career path has run the full gambit, from commercial projects for major corporations to hospitality projects for celebrity hoteliers to residential projects for hardworking families just like mine.  Interior design has been more than just a fulfilling experience, it has been a lifelong pursuit of my dream.

What is your favorite thing about what you do? 

I have a curious mind, and I enjoy studying and learning the details of how things are put together.  I also like putting the “finishing touches” on my work, like curating and staging of accessories that bring character and life to any project. 

What advice would you offer a homeowner who wants to refresh their space a bit? 

“Buyer beware.” This old adage is important to heed now, more than ever.  Social media, television and the internet are super-saturated with D.Y.I. home improvement shows and endless choices in decor, which is good on the one hand for inspiring people to do more with their spaces, but misleading on the other because it oversimplifies what interior designers really do and the value they bring to the table. All too often, I have met clients who spent more time and money than anticipated through trial and error, and they end up redoing it all in the end.  Lessons learned, my recommendation is to plan thoughtfully and to engage a professional interior designer for a consultation before trying anything yourself.  It’s very important to be patient and to view the project in a holistic way, even if the work is done in phases over time.  This way you can monitor your progress and make adjustments without losing sight of your original goal.

What advice would you offer someone who is thinking about selling their home?

Staging is not just a fad.  Declutter your home, make necessary repairs, and by all means, consult with a broker or qualified designer to establish priorities and develop a realistic schedule. If there is room in your selling price for a professional stager, you may reap significant payback on the sale with only minor adjustments to the furniture layout and décor.  Stagers generally have an eye for experiential qualities, style trends, and have access to unique furniture, accessories and sometimes artwork.  Even fragrance can be a good home enhancer when used properly.

What are your favorite go-to resources for design? For items around the house?

I peruse several design magazines, such as Interior Design, Architecture Digest, Elle Décor, Lux Interior Design, and Dwell to name a few.  I make it a point to attend 4-5 design shows each year to stay on top of current trends, such as visiting the Decoration & Design (D&D) Building in NYC, the Architectural Digest Design Show at the Westside Piers, the International Contemporary Furniture Fair at Jacob Javits, and the NY Now Trade Show.  For items around the house, I recommend White House Lux in Fairfield for furniture and fabric of varied styles; Lee Industry (web-based) for quality furniture items; British Home in Madison for transitional décor, and DWR & West Elm for modern furnishings.  

What inspires you?

That inner satisfaction and sense of accomplishment I get when my client truly appreciates my passion and creativity, and when I see how much they enjoy their new space.

Do you have a mantra?

“Beauty is in the details both life and design.”

To learn more about Sun Ju Valenta, please visit her website at https://sunvalentadesign.com/.