Premiering this past January, HGTV’s “Ellen’s Design Challenge” put six furniture artisans to the test. Their assignment? Construct an innovative and original piece to wow judges, Amanda Dameron, editor-in-chief of Dwell , and Christiane Lemiex, executive creative director of Wayfair, within 48 hours. One designer stood out for his modern and functional style (not to mention his vibrant personality): Gaspar De Jesus. While De Jesus did not walk away with the show’s coveted $100,000 cash prize, he did win in the personal development department, not to mention bragging rights for becoming a semifinalist.

“It was the first time in my life that I had to design a piece and commit to that design in just a couple of hours,” explains the Venezuelan native. “I had no idea I would be able to do such a thing. It was amazing to realize that it is okay as a designer to trust your first thought, your designer’s gut instinct.”

De Jesus earned a degree in industrial design before taking a leap of faith to study at Pratt Institute in New York City. Determined to succeed, De Jesus rose to the top of his class. He was featured twice in the school’s prestigious International Contemporary Furniture Fair, earning praise for his crisp lines and imaginative curves—which he attributes to his architectural design background.

“Being an industrial designer, I look at architecture with different eyes,” he says. “I see it as a habitable oversized sculpture.”

How does habitable sculpture translate to the outdoors? We decided to ask De Jesus for his input on designing furniture for the outdoor room, and find out what he’s working on next.

California Home: What is the most important element of an outdoor room?

Gaspar De Jesus: The most important element of an outdoor room is the outdoor space itself. An outdoor room should be designed around all the natural elements that surround it. The pieces used to create an outdoor area should relate and celebrate the vegetation, the climate and the architecture around it.

CH: What is your favorite outdoor piece and why?

CGJ: Can we agree to consider a hammock a furniture piece? Haha!  I grew up in Venezuela and hammocks are a part of our culture. In Venezuela, you find hammocks hanging in every beach or country-side home. The simplicity of the hammock as a “furniture” piece is fascinating to me. It allows its user to connect with the space around it. That connection with the space is very important when lounging outdoors.

CH: We appreciate a good hammock…will you design one for us?

CGJ: Done deal! I’ve yet to design a hammock, but will give it a try as long as you are the guinea pig for trying the prototypes—I don’t want to be the one on the floor with a broken head! Haha.

CH: Switching gears a little bit, what is the biggest risk you have taken during your career?

CGJ: Moving to another country in order to pursue my dream of becoming a designer was my biggest risk. After two years in architecture school, I did one year of design school in Caracas, Venezuela. I quickly rose to the top of my class and considered studying design abroad. I couldn’t stop thinking about the possibilities in New York and believed my grades and design portfolio would help get me there. I dropped out of school and by the end of that summer I was living in New York City, determined to enroll at Pratt Institute. I didn’t even have a student visa and I had not been admitted to Pratt just yet, but I worked and saved as much money as I could. Almost a year after I had moved to the Big Apple, I was admitted at Pratt. I still believe this was the best decision I’ve ever made.

leiria table

CH: What was your biggest takeaway from “Ellen’s Design Challenge”?

CGJ: All of the growth that I experienced as a person and as a designer. All of my boundaries were pushed like never before. It was also amazing to experience this production with five other talented designers. They inspired me and made me realize all the possibilities on style and materials that I had yet to explore.

CH: Now that the show has wrapped, what have you been working on?

CGJ: I started exploring the use of copper piping. I’ve been working on a small collection using only dark-toned woods and copper pipes. There is something very industrial and rough about them, but at the same time the shine and color of copper seems very sophisticated.

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To see more of Gaspar De Jesus’ designs, including his best-selling walnut bar cart, go to GasparDejesus.com.