The Brian Killian Rising Star winner for 2021 is a woman who’s appreciated design since she was a young child. In fact, her favorite childhood pastime was sketching in her grandfather’s drafting office, although “even the chore of raking fall leaves led to colorful floor plans for houses,” she recalls.
After exploring the United States in her early 20s, Valerie Dehnke attended The Art Institute of California–Sacramento and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in interior design. While balancing her studies with her role as a new mom, the passionate designer competed for the design of an office lobby and won first place.
Dehnke moved home to Michigan eight years ago and worked at Crate & Barrel, learning about the construction of frames, fabrics, and space planning. There, she often hand-drafted furniture floor plans. In 2016, she landed a junior designer position at Ellwood Interiors in Birmingham. “Working alongside an established and fun-loving designer was a dream come true,” she says of firm owner Amanda Sinistaj, who became her mentor, “teaching me a fresh approach to classic design, efficient project management, and excellent customer service.” Now a lead designer, Dehnke recently completed a 7,000-square-foot, multimillion-dollar residential project. Not afraid to take on bold and innovative projects, she’s currently working on a large Shingle-style home with a soft palette and detailed trim package, as well as an 11,000-square-foot Tudor brimming with hand-crafted custom details like metal floor inlays, a walk-in bathtub, and exquisite cabinetry. One of her projects won a Detroit Design award this year in the Overall Home category.
She’s also enjoying working on her own home, which she recently purchased. A 1929 beauty located in Detroit’s Bagley neighborhood, it’s undergoing a restoration that’s sure to showcase Dehnke’s design acumen.
“Valerie has so much tenacity,” Sinistaj says. “She’s the nurturer in our office; she’s loyal and supportive, and never gives in to an issue. She’s steadfast at crafting the solution.” Throughout the pandemic, Dehnke has juggled being a mom to 9-year-old Oliver and dealing with three large construction projects. “She’s an incredible asset to our tribe,” Sinistaj adds.
Dehnke is passionate about co-creating functional spaces with her clients that showcase their personal style, while making the process efficient and enjoyable. In design and in life, she shares Charles Eames’ philosophy: “Take your pleasure seriously.” Outside work, she’s a yoga enthusiast, fiber artist, and the co-founder of an all-woman motorcycle collective. She also loves to take her son on architectural tours of Detroit.
Congratulations to Valerie Dehnke — and to Ellwood Interiors, as this is the second year in a row that a designer from Ellwood has captured this special award!