An Interview with Mark Diaz—Miami’s Hot “Design Star”

Photo: Jane Dagmi

I sat down recently with Mark Diaz, the second runner-up in HGTV’s recently concluded “Design Star.” After watching Season 6, I was eager to meet the talented man who always looks so very ‘GQ’ on the show, sporting his signature ski cap, Wellies, and tool belt. Naturally, I wanted some juicy gossip, but Mark is still under contract and could not dish. Still, he had plenty of good things to say about his first major cable television experience.

Auditioning for “Design Star” wasn’t exactly Mark’s idea, but after several friends coaxed him, Mark drove 14 hours from Miami to reach the casting call in Atlanta. Pressed for time, Mark completed the application by copying in transcripts from assorted phone conversations that his girlfriend helped to transcribe. By the time Mark arrived for the audition, it was almost too late, but with a smile and gentle plea, he managed to charm the receptionist.

Though a tad disappointed by the final results, placing third did not dampen Mark’s winning spirit. With “Design Star” host Tanika Ray’s words, “Sorry, Mark, we will not be producing your show” fading into memory, Mark is confident he will have a show down the road, that he will build his own home, and that he will launch a community program that engages at-risk youth in the world of design.

JD: Now that you’re a star, did you get stopped a lot on the way to meet me?
MD: Yes, as soon as I walked in the front door. Every few feet.

He is smiling.

JD: Why do you think you lost the “Design Star” title?
MD: The biggest competitor I had was my own time management. I wasn’t worried about being out-designed, but I knew since I delve into a concept, create with purpose, and usually make my furniture from scratch, I would be challenged when put against other decorators. I’m not much of a shopper!

JD: What did you learn from your experience on the show?
MD: I learned how to go with my gut instinct and make on-site, on-the-spot decisions. I couldn’t always make my own furniture. I had to adapt. I gained the skill of instantaneous selection as in, “I’ll take that, and that, and that.”

Mark Diaz

Photo: HGTV

JD: Who taught you to make stuff?
MD: My family. My grandfather was an engineer. My father was a mechanic, firefighter, and entrepreneur, and he would always say, ‘Come here, I want to show you how to do or make something.’ Now when I design a piece of furniture, I build it with my fabricators. The more I understand and know the building process, the better designer I am.

Mark earned a Bachelors Degree in Architecture and Design from Florida International University.

JD: How did you come up with the name for your company—MAD2DESIGN?
MD: I am mad to design. The one phrase that best describes it is: I have an aggressive passion toward edgier design.

JD: What do you mean by edgier?
MD: Thinking outside the box. Creating things that have a visceral effect.

Mark pulls a small rectangular box out of his leather case. He opens the box.

MD: What do you see?
JD: Brass knuckles.

He removes the object from the box, and slips his fingers through the round openings.

MD: All this is, is architectural hardware. Fits like a brass knuckle, sure, but it’s a drawer pull… or elements of a light.

This object figures into the design of the lighting collection he aptly named “Bully.” Ideally, Mark wants to engage at-risk youth in making these chandeliers, replacing hand-to-hand combat with hands-on creativity.)

MD: The idea behind “Bully” is to transform dark to light, to take something destructive and use it for creation.

Mark Diaz Bully Chandelier

Photo: MAD Design Group

JD: I like that. What else do you repurpose?
MD: Lots. I’ll typically take something off the street and transform it before buying new. For the Electric Pickle Lounge, I pulled about some trashed pallets and incorporated them into the space. I’m up-cycling bike parts and some found Harvard law books into light fixtures too.

Mark is a tri-athlete and constantly burns through bike parts. He and his pedaling friends save their worn parts.

JD: What materials inspire you?
MD: The basics: wood, metal, stone. Right now I’m very much into distressed wood and raw steel. I love wood because it’s renewable.

JD: You seem like you’re pretty much of a minimalist. Do you collect anything?
MD: I have a collection of baseball cards from the 50s and 60s from my grandfather, books, leather suitcases, vintage furniture, tools. I collect feathers—ones that I find when I’m our walking my dog. And, um, pens… I’m always accidentally stealing pens.

JD: What is your favorite example of local architecture?
MD: Hands down, Miami Marine Stadium. It is a completely aired cantilevered hyperbolic structure, shut down after Hurricane Andrew, and named as one of the top American architectural sites to preserve.

JD: What’s your philosophy about design, about life?
MD: I like the quote: Fight for your limitations and they’ll be yours.
JD: I like that quote too.

For more on architecture and design, consider:

Miami Beach’s Newest Green Home Goes For Platinum
Shoreline House Tour of Miami
Touring Art Deco Architecture in Miami Beach