“When I was as young as seven years old, I remember rearranging pillows and decorative objects in my parents’ home when I was bored. This was my favorite pastime. Who knew that many years later this would be my passion?” ~ Vivian Farhi of VivFarhi Designs~
Ellen Geller Kamaras
By the time she turned eleven, Vivian Shabot had already lived in three different countries.
Vivian was born in Aleppo, Syria, the youngest of four children. Although she was only four years old, Vivian remembers that even then she understood that living in Syria was becoming dangerous for Jews, which pushed her family to flee.
In October 1980, Vivian’s family, her parents Olga and Isaac Shabot, and her siblings, Ezra, Nina, and Rose, left all their belongings and escaped with only the clothes on their backs. A highly paid coyote smuggled the family through the border into Turkey where they hid for a week until obtaining travel papers to Israel. “We walked in the dark at night until we reached Turkey. The memory of it is still so clear. My parents were so excited to be in Israel that they kissed the ground upon exiting the plane.”
The Shabot family initially lived in the biblical city of Yavneh and then settled in Bat Yam, remaining in Israel for seven years.
“My parents went to ulpan to learn Hebrew and I was fortunate that I picked up the language easily. Most of the Syrian newcomers lived in Bat Yam.”
Vivian’s parents decided to relocate to New York when she was eleven. They had very little family in Israel, her mother’s relatives were starting to emigrate from Syria to the States, and her sister Nina was getting married and staying in NY. “I was sad to leave my friends, school, and everything familiar. Moving to NY and getting acclimated socially and academically were hard for me. I was always a good student and competitive by nature, which motivated me to be the best at all that I do! I had to learn fast, which is what I did.”
Hashgachat Pratit on Ocean Parkway
One Shabbat, while strolling on Ocean Parkway with friends, Vivian spotted David Farhi, a classmate of her sister Rose from Yeshivah of Flatbush. David, three years older, is the son of the hazan of Congregation Shaare Zion, Edward Farhi, and Rosa Farhi. Vivian mentioned to her mother that she had seen David and before she knew it, a mutual friend had set them up. The date went beautifully, and six months later they were married.
Married for twenty-five years, the couple is blessed with four sons and one daughter. They live in Brooklyn and are committed to the Syrian community. Their children are Eddie (24), married to Marcelle Setton, Isaac (22), soon to be married to Amy Gindi, Abie (19), studying in Mikdash Melech in Israel, Rosie (15), who attends Ilan High School, and Solomon (10), in fifth grade at Flatbush Yeshivah.
At my request, Vivian asked her family, friends, and clients to describe her in one word. Her loved ones came up with: selfless, thoughtful, compassionate, meticulous, and resilient. Clients said she was kind, warm, friendly, patient, understanding, detail oriented, motivated, a go-getter, and hardworking.
Vivian admits that she is very reserved and shy by nature, which most people don’t know. She had to stretch herself when she launched her design business.
Vivian was passionate about dedicating her time and energy to being a stay-at-home mom. She offered to volunteer at Flatbush Yeshivah when her oldest was in third grade. Starting with the lunch program, Vivian enjoyed sneaking a peek to see how her kids were interacting with their classmates. She was asked to assist with other events and to join the Ladies Auxiliary committee. She worked on tuition fundraisers and other projects, leading up to her involvement with the annual Chinese Auction and being a co-chair with Naomi Houllou, a’h, Ladies Auxiliary President, for four years.
VivFarhi Designs Is Born
Ten years ago, around the time their son Solomon was born, Vivian and David were fortunate to build a new home. It was Vivian’s immersion in their own home’s building process that led to her career and VivFarhi Designs.
“I became very involved, from the layout of the space of my home to designing my own ceiling pattern. I wanted to build the dream home for my family even though we were on a tight budget. It was up to me to turn my vision into a reality! I truly enjoyed the project, and I was surprised by how natural it all felt.”
After completing her own home design, Vivian advised friends who were renovating or building their own homes. It became a constant in her life, and she began posting design pictures on her Instagram page. Someone approached her with an offer to pay her for a small renovation. Her husband encouraged her to take the job and from then on word spread about Vivian’s talents. “I would take each design job, big or small, and put all my efforts into it.”
Vivian’s big break came when her friends were building their summer home and insisted on hiring her to design and decorate their home from top to bottom. “This project gave me amazing confidence and every aspect felt so exciting. I took on many challenges and learned many new skills along the way. It was surreal when the family moved into their dream home that I helped create. I brought my passion for decor and an eye for design to achieve beautiful yet functional interior spaces.”
Although Vivian realized that she had gained experience and knowledge by hands-on design projects, she determined to seek formal training in interior design. Her dilemma was that most of the classes were given late in the afternoon, and she would not be there to welcome her kids after a long day at school.
Vivian’s husband and older children were extremely supportive and insisted that she sign up to attend the New York School of Interior Design. “Everyone chipped in and made it easy for me to let go. My daughter made me a sign that said, ‘Mommy’s first day of school’ with the date, as I did for my kids on the first and last day of each grade. David and the children are so happy for me and are proud of my professional accomplishments.”
Vivian is a voracious learner, always aiming to enhance what she can offer her clients. She is an out of the box designer, who seeks inspiration everywhere. Vivian sees possibilities in ordinary things and integrates them in her designs.
Transition to Interior Designer
Vivian’s life had always revolved around her family’s schedules. Her biggest challenge was remaining present for her children. Her solution: she woke up earlier and planned and organized her time more efficiently including meal preparation and family commitments.
As Vivian acquired new skills her career evolved into a passion. Her clients appreciate that Vivian is sensitive to their lifestyle and their budget. Vivian works as a team player and partners with architects and contractors to achieve the clients’ goals.
Vivian has no regrets about starting a career path later in life. “My kids are my proudest accomplishment. Taking on a profession after most of my kids were grown was the best and right decision for me. I wanted to dedicate all I had to offer to my husband and children. I wanted to be present for my children. Hashem knew when the time was right for me.”
Vivian approaches each project as a new canvas. “I interview each client, getting to know them and their lifestyle. Each client is unique and requires a different style and approach. I’m very sensitive to each client’s budget and I want each client to get the most of what their budget allows and to live in their dream home. It’s a balance. I insist on quality work and high-quality materials.
It’s a big responsibility and I don’t take spending other people’s money lightly. Each family has its own lifestyle, and their home should reflect that. I strive to make the home esthetics beautiful but also practical and functional. Choosing the right materials and textiles is key.”
Vivian’s work lights her up and she thrives on employing her imagination. “It never feels like work, and I love taking the stress off the client and seeing things come to life. I also value the new bonds formed while working with clients and close friendships that resulted from professional relationships. I thank Hashem for connecting me with people I would never have met otherwise. ”
She loves reading books and relaxing with her husband and children, especially on Shabbat. She also enjoys Pilates and jogging. “Long walks with my husband are the best.”
Vivian’s Parting Advice
“If you are passionate about something or not 100 percent sure, try it, even if it seems scary. Don’t let naysayers dissuade you, or have you believe that you aren’t good enough. Finding your passion takes hard work and may not be easy but the result is so amazing and satisfying. It’s never too late to be the best that you can be.”
Connect with Vivian by phone (718-208-0585), email: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Instagram @vivfarhidesigns.