The paths taken by talented, creative people to using their finely honed skills are often as diverse as the individuals themselves. Such is the case with Rocco DiLeo, an architect and design professional who formally established his business, RDstudio Inc., in 2009.
You may remember that year as a particularly challenging time for the U.S. economy — post the Great Recession of 2008. This speaks to the courage of this talented individual, who told me he thought to himself then, “If the businesses of others have tanked, then we’re all starting from the ground up. What better time to start a business?” His story of perseverance and commitment to craft should encourage anyone who needs a little extra push to continue along his individual journey.
A first generation Italian-American, DiLeo comes from a long line of masons — including his father who was a tile layer, so he learned various skills alongside these artisans growing up. “As a young kid,” he says, “I had a passion for doodling, tracing and drawing. I also liked taking things apart and trying to understand how they worked.”
Unsure of the direction he was going to take professionally following high school, DiLeo attended Westchester Community College and found that he enjoyed his courses in drafting. Simultaneously, he started working with a connection of his father’s, a residential architect, James Polera, who encouraged his skill and became his mentor. With his passion solidly ignited, he enrolled in the City University of New York and graduated five years later with his professional architect’s degree.
Having experience in small-scale, residential projects prior to his formal training, DiLeo found himself working for a much larger firm, Bartels-Pagliaro Architects of
Norwalk, as it was known at the time. There, the majority of the projects he worked on were high-end, waterfront residences dotting upscale communities, mostly on the Connecticut side of the Long Island Sound.
He recognized immediately the benefit of being exposed to this bigger world, collaborating with a team of remarkable people who had such vast experience with complicated projects. “They were much smarter than me,” DiLeo says modestly, adding, “I took this (experience) with me.” Dipping into the commercial space and larger-scale projects proved to be the winning combination, further adding to his diversification.
In 2012, a former boss at Bartels introduced him to Barteca Restaurant Group, which oversaw construction for the bartaco and Barcelona Wine Bar restaurants. Barteca took a leap of faith, DiLeo says, appointing him director of design. Its mandate? To create restaurants that were accessible and approachable. This design philosophy was incorporated into every establishment he worked on for the group — from Boston to Tampa and as far west as Boulder, Colorado. With a team that grew alongside him over a period of five years, they designed 30 restaurants.
What started as a consulting job became full-time employment within the organization.
“It was a huge job, but at the same time, a dream job — one I was reluctant to take. I was having such fun working on my own and growing my business.” Yet he acknowledges that the further development professionally enabled him to add another niche to his growing portfolio and reinstate RDstudio Inc., officially on March 1, 2017, the same day his second daughter was born.
The benefit of hard work is not lost on DiLeo. His experience with restaurants bred other projects on the commercial side, and his expansion enabled a move from his home office in Valhalla to his own professional space in Port Chester with three employees. They officially opened their new offices in December 2018.
RDstudio has evolved into a full-service firm, now offering architectural, interior design and project management services to homeowners plus an ever-growing base of commercial clients. Current projects include a 16-unit residential project in Harrison and two more Barcelona Wine Bar restaurants, in Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina, but now on behalf of one of his many restaurant clients, the Del Frisco Restaurant Group.
As both a friend and longtime customer of David DiBari, DiLeo worked with him on the overall layout and design of his new Port Chester place, Eugene’s.
“We’ve known each other for some time, but this was our first collaboration and I think it was a good fit.” Having seen the space before it opened, I can attest to the fact that he delivered the “retro-basement” feel he was aspiring to.
DiLeo credited his young team of professionals for bringing new ideas to the table. He loves the collaborative nature of their work, telling me that, “The best idea wins, no matter who it comes from.
“People have placed their trust in us,” DiLeo says. “It’s a responsibility we take very seriously. The process is often nerve-racking for the client, so we are all about listening, guiding and providing an accessible, approachable service that is customer service focused.”
For more, visit rdstudio-inc.com.