After starting her career as an attorney, Maria Brito moved to New York City in 2000 and fell in love with the art world, prompting a career shift to art collecting and interior design and decoration. Her new book, Out There (Pointed Leaf Press), details that journey through more than 250 illustrations and essays about her Venezuela beginnings, favorite galleries and the art of entertaining. Here, she tells TIME about her career transition, working with Sean Combs and what makes her tome different from all the others.
What prompted your transition from law to collecting art and interior decorating?
My parents were both art lovers who surrounded me with music, theater, you name it. But even though my childhood was culturally rich, creativity as a means of living wasn’t something that my mother encouraged. When I moved to New York City in 2000, I started going to galleries, meeting curators and being obsessed with the art world. It was a different time—people didn’t have online access to these huge collections, so they weren’t aware that they could buy limited-edition prints for $500, instead of decorating their homes with posters and other tourist traps from Times Square. I started helping friends doing their homes and, with time, I met more people and opportunities.
When did you decide to write a book?
I wrote a piece in 2011 for Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP newsletter about collecting art and decorating. When it came out, I got the book deal, and it was huge for me. It was exciting because I love to write and I used to photograph all my projects. So to get to be creative in ways that I don’t explore in my day to day was incredible—I wrote every word and every caption.
The market is cluttered with books on design and interiors, though. What’s different about yours?
I found that the books available about living with art are so stuffy. You always see rooms filled with Picassos that are pretty much unaffordable for people of my generation. Every Joe, Dick and Harry in the world can live in New York City and make $2 million a year, but they still can’t fill their walls with Picasso. So I offer an alternative to that—not everything I show is inexpensive, but I try to help people make it work and start their own art collection with whatever their budget is. And I think my book accomplishes that objective.
Is there a celebrity client you’ve especially loved working with?
I always tell clients that my goal is to, from the minute I close the door and leave, feel like it’s a place where I can live with my family. I have very fond memories of working with Sean Combs in Miami because we’ve been to Art Basel and several of the satellite art fairs together. It’s rewarding to work with someone who has this life of jet-setting to the French Riviera while still being the humble man who was born in Harlem. He knows his limitations. He didn’t know a lot about art, which is why he hired me.
What’s the biggest misconception about the art world?
That the art world is just for the 1%. People think it’s such a closed world that they won’t even consider going to a gallery. I would be lying if I said the art community is a friendly world—but it’s not as horrendous as people think. In general, curators and gallery owners want to make friends, build new collectors.