FeaturesSpreading Holiday Cheer

Sparkly and Stronger than Ever

Designer Eliot Perez heads into another busy season after a tough battle with COVID.

Eliot Perez (photo by Alex Rosa for OutSmart magazine)

You wouldn’t be wrong to call native Houstonian Eliot Perez a modern Renaissance man. “I am a fitness enthusiast teaching group exercise for the YMCA, and have been doing that for 20-plus years. I am also a licensed Realtor with Blue Willow Properties, and I have been doing seasonal design and decorating for years,” he says. He’s also a man who “just happens to be gay.”

For more than ten years, Perez has worked predominantly with the over-65 crowd as an exercise class instructor. In 2015, he began working at SilverSneakers, a national community fitness program for senior citizens. He was known to teach more than five SilverSneakers classes a week at YMCAs throughout Houston, with anywhere from 75 to 100 participants per class.  

And, in 2020, SilverSneakers named him their Instructor of the Year.

“I design wreaths for all occasions—Christmas, Easter, Mardi Gras, Independence Day, baby themes, spring, summer, Halloween, and more.”

When it comes to his design work, Perez says he’s not your traditional type of designer. In fact, he’s not even sure how it became his “thing.” “I just like color and balance on clothing, in rooms, or just anything,” he says. 

Perez designs parties and decorates homes for the holidays. “Whatever the occasion, my designs add some ‘Eliot spice’ to everything I do. I make everything extra,” he adds, describing those special touches that make his work stand out. 

Perez began creating displays when he was in retail for 13 years. “Sailboats out of 12-packs of beer, Christmas trees out of Coke cans with Sprite in the center, and window displays in clothing stores when I worked in the malls.” He then started doing Christmas-tree designs when a friend asked him to decorate her Christmas tree. He’s been busy with seasonal design work for 14 years, getting most of his clients through his fitness classes. 

His talents are not limited to home or holiday decor. “I design costumes with originality, detail, and flair.” He considers theme-wrapped packages to be a must when heading to parties or weddings. “Why not have your gift stand out from all the rest?”

According to his friends, Perez doesn’t know what “simple” means. “My mom always says, ‘If you are going to do something, do it right.’ I literally took that to heart and built my reputation around it. I never want to do something half-assed,” he emphasizes.  

When you work with Perez, you should know that you are going to get something creative. “That’s why I call my new business Eliot’s Creative Designs. I can turn a bedroom into a masterpiece on a tight budget, or create a baby’s room complete with a painted mural or theme. There are no limits when it comes to creativity.”   

As to what he’s up to now that the holidays are upon us, Perez has been busy decorating clients’ homes and “creating sparkled trees with some Eliot spice.” He’s been creating wreaths since last December, and he also has a tent every month at the Montrose Makers Market. “Then I will be designing at the M.D. Anderson Family YMCA Posada evening event, and volunteering my talent at my church as an offering to thank God for saving my life when I had COVID.”

Perez didn’t just have COVID. It nearly had him after he contracted it in July 2020. He began getting weaker by the day, and his breathing became more and more difficult. A nurse friend urged him to go to the hospital, where he wasn’t even able to walk in under his own power. He was put on oxygen and developed lung, kidney, and liver failure with blood clots throughout his body, as well as rhabdomyolysis. 

After three weeks, Perez was finally released from the hospital. He had lost twenty pounds of muscle so he refused to stay in bed at home, knowing that he would never recover if he didn’t get moving. 

Still, just over a week later, he landed back in the ER for several more days with a blood clot in his leg. Once released, he began getting around with a walker—a far cry from teaching five fitness classes a day.

But he kept moving, and he started using a spirometer to improve his lung strength. Every week he pushed himself a little further. By August, he could do one push-up. Two months later, he could do twenty. Finally, he was back to his old self, and in some ways mentally and physically stronger than ever.   

After his recovery, with no income from teaching classes, Perez was inspired by his near-death experience to start his design business. “My eyes were opened to using my talents to make money. I started designing wreaths for quick cash. Now I design wreaths for all occasions—Christmas, Easter, Mardi Gras, Independence Day, baby themes, spring, summer, Halloween, and more.”

Perez says he finds the holidays particularly inspiring. “The thought of bringing peace and joy to others with glitter, sparkle, and bling. Sometimes it’s the simple things that give us that peace and joy,” he says.

Giving back has always been a big part of Perez’s life. For 13 years, he volunteered for the AIDS Foundation’s AIDS Walk as an entertainer and team captain, as well as teaching fitness classes for teens living with HIV. He also volunteered for local churches that have LGBTQ congregants. “Several years ago, I started volunteering at JR’s serving Thanksgiving dinner so that their staff could be off.” He would recruit others to volunteer, as well.  

With so many sparkly surprises when it comes to this jack-of-all-trades, we had to ask Perez if he had any other surprises to share with readers. “They should know how much the comic-book character Wonder Woman influenced me in being who I am—and to live in truth.”

For more info, visit tinyurl.com/9jc3kw. 

This article appears in the December 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.

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Jenny Block

Jenny Block is a frequent contributor to a number of high-profile publications from New York Times to Huffington Post to Playboy and is the author of four books, including “Be That Unicorn: Find your Magic. Live your Truth. Share your Shine." She has appeared on a variety of television and radio programs from Nightline to BBC Radio to Great Day Houston and has performed and spoken at bookstores, events, conferences, and resorts in the US and Mexico, as well as on Holland America Cruise ships.
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