SPOTLIGHT O ver the past decade, Cristina Villalón has transitioned from a solopreneur to co-founder and managing principal of Álvarez-Díaz & Villalón (AD&V), Puerto Rico’s largest architecture and interior design firm. Cristina is also the Director of Interior Design at AD&V. Throughout her career, she has executed many noteworthy residential and commercial projects in Puerto Rico as well as New York, Florida, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Oman and Venezuela. Led by Cristina and her husband, architect Ricardo Álvarez-Díaz, AD&V has received international recognition as one of the most innovative design firms in Latin America, with a portfolio spanning the U.S., Central America, South America and the Middle East. However, Cristina’s success has not come without challenges. Originally a solopreneur, she launched her own company Villalón Interiors in 2005. After hiring another designer, she began collaborating on projects with her husband’s architecture company. “I don’t recall it ever being easy,” Cristina said. “In Puerto Rico, we have been dealing with a recession since 2006. You learn to be adaptable and resilient – try new strategies out, and abandon or tweak them when they aren’t working.” As she continued to collaborate more and more with her husband, they decided to merge their firms in 2012 and form AD&V. The union has resulted in exponential success for the couple, demonstrating that diverse points of view and talents can produce a better overall experience for clients. Cristina said one of their biggest challenges when the firm’s expansion took off was not only identifying and recruiting great talent, but also ensuring they were matching the right people with the right tasks. While growing the company, AD&V’s culture and philosophy also played a huge role in her personal growth. The firm focuses on creating “Places of Purpose”— holistic and sustainable architecture and interior design that enhances people’s experience of the world and improves their lives. “I am very proud of our company culture. I encourage work-life balance, and we have put together a number of policies to support this,” she said. AD&V has taken an active role in the rebuilding of Puerto Rico. The firm collaborates with Habitat for Humanity of Puerto Rico, designing pro-bono for them over a number of years. Cristina and Ricardo have also donated all proceeds from their recent book, Places of Purpose , to rebuilding efforts by the organization following the destruction of Hurricane Maria. “We are a social company,” she said. “We are constantly giving back and providing thought leadership on how to help, get involved, and leave this world better than we found it.” Of her own work-life balance, Cristina believes it is a constant give and take. In fact, she recently started a blog on this topic called The Juggling Act. Her three tips to women who are looking to start their own company and balance it all are delegate, ask for help, and most importantly surround yourself with other women leaders who inspire you, support you, and are willing to provide their honest perspectives and advice in a constructive and compassionate manner. If you cannot find a local community, look for an online one. When asked how she deals with mental blocks when her job centers on being creative, she said, “Inspiration is everywhere. My children inspire me. My husband. Nature, art, blogs, podcasts, TEDtalks, movies, other leaders, you name it.” Cristina adds, “If you’re open to it, inspiration will find you. I get up, walk around, work out, do something else. Ideas come during unexpected moments. You need to be able to capture them when they do come to you, though. I carry around a journal and my phone at all times, ready to snap a picture or jot down some ideas.” Widely recognized for her attractive and welcoming interior designs, Cristina was awarded in 2015 with the Star on the Rise Award from the Design Centers of the Americas (DCOTA). In 2016, she was named among the Top 40 Under 40 Cristina Villalón Álvarez-Díaz & Villalón Building Puerto Rico’s Largest Architecture and Interior Design Firm 66 enterprising Women