Designing Décor that Helps
As a little girl, Estela Lugo now 32, always knew she would do “something with art” when she grew up. “I was drawing, always drawing,” she remembers. When they were diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease (CMT) Lugo was four years old and her sister Melissa was two. “No one really knew much about CMT then. Melissa and I have a form of CMT that is a mutation that had never shown up before in our families. Both our mother and father are carriers. But,” she says with emphasis, “I had a great childhood, a really great childhood, aside from my challenges.” With little information available her parents became very involved with the Muscular Dystrophy Association. “It seemed like we were always going to events. Every weekend, we were going somewhere. Our parents always put us around positive people. They were never ashamed or wanted us to cover up our leg braces. And, they enrolled us in everything; softball, dance and swimming. “
All the while, Lugo kept drawing. Eventually, her talent took her from Long Island, NY to Manhattan’s Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). Following graduation in 2001 she began her career in home décor and, among other things, sold furniture on Ebay. She married her high school sweetheart, Peter Gebhardt, a High School Science teacher in 2003 and they settled in Queens, NY. Two years later and pregnant with their first child, daughter Anabella, (son Devin arrived in 2007, neither child has CMT) Lugo realized she wasn’t seeing the kind of decorative items she would have wanted. “Besides style, I wanted things that were affordable” she explained. She began designing furniture and wall décor.
Then, in 2008 Estela Lugo was named one of Oprah’s “Women Who Make Beautiful Things” in “O” Home Magazine. Soon, her business, ONE Décor, was picked up and listed on online Roommates Peel and Stick Décor. Business boomed.
“I couldn’t do it all alone,” confesses Lugo. “My sister Melissa came to work with me.” Working with her older sister proved to be inspirational to Melissa’s career. “She was always playing with my daughter Annabella, and they often used playdough. Melissa was always making food and pies and cakes out of it.” One day, Melissa decided to go back to school to become a pastry chef and now,” says her sister, obviously filled with pride, “she has her own business, La Dulce Diva. “I know how hard it is for her to make those gorgeous cakes with all the tiny little pieces,” Lugo says in awe, referring to the effects of CMT on her and Melissa’s hands. “On a day-to-day basis I’d say my hand and leg strength is about 50% of a healthy person’s.”
Proactive about stretching and yoga, Lugo says, “it is the first thing I do after I take the kids to school. Nine o’clock in the morning is always stretch and yoga time for me. I really credit yoga for helping me. I had an awful pain in my foot when I wasn’t doing it regularly. Two days of yoga and the pain was gone.” In addition, Lugo tries to eat well and has found that keeping her weight stable helps also. “Of course, art of any type, particularly drawing, is good for my hands. I also do some physical therapy exercises and use weights.”
Awhile back, while researching CMT, Lugo logged onto the Hereditary Neuropathy Foundation (HNF) website (www.hnf-cure.org) and saw the trailer from “Bernadette,” the documentary about Bernadette Scarduzio’s life with CMT. “I couldn’t believe I saw this disease out in the open! It really meant a lot to me. So I emailed Allison (Moore, Founder of HNF) to congratulate her on her work with the HNF website.” Moore invited her to join a forum in Manhattan and within weeks Lugo was excited to be “in a room with Bernadette and Allison along with a dozen other people with CMT. They were all discussing their experiences and the many variations of CMT. There is a large spectrum of severity with CMT,” she noted. Lugo felt a strong connection to the group. “I became aware of a larger community (of people with CMT) and wanted to be a part of that. Until then it was just me and my sister.”