VICTORIA -- Ryan is playing Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" on the piano in his apartment. Although he's now making sounds, he was born hearing silence.

"My grandmother said, 'You know the kid should really be talking by now,'" Ryan explains. "So they took me to the a doctor and my ears were full of fluid."

After a few years of being deaf, Ryan had his ears drained, received speech therapy, and found his sight was refined.

"Apparently when you lose one of your senses, the others are heightened," he says. "I think that's why I'm able to pick up the finest of details and really be able to piece things together."

It's how he was able to transform his 550-square-foot apartment from a dingy rental into a dynamic home. 

"I'm like an artist," Ryan says. "My canvas is a place and my paint is things."

The things are luxurious-looking antiques that Ryan has curated after discovering them at auctions. Things that have earned him a profile in a national design magazine. Things he's learned to not become attached to. 

"It's just stuff," he says matter-of-factly. "I like them. I appreciate them. But…"

But Ryan knows what it's like to have no stuff at all. "I ended up moving here for a new start with basically $181 to my name."

Ryan says it was barely enough to rent an empty room, eat a full meal, and travel to his minimum-wage job. "Sometimes you have to lose everything," he says. "To realize what you really got." 

What Ryan found he had was a little luck and a lot of determination. "I had time but I had no money," he recalls. "I had to make the most of the things in the apartment."

He ripped up linoleum and indoor-outdoor carpet and replaced them with refinished hardwood and handmade tiles. Ryan says he also built the elaborate fireplace mantle, constructed the ornate cornice on the ceiling and painted delicate murals on the walls.

Ryan also fabricated a bold lion statue in his living room from 500 pounds of metal and concrete. "The room needed a focal point" he laughs. 

Ryan says he taught himself how to do it all, while being grateful for the years he spent enduring it all. "My grandfather once told me it's unfortunate that so many people don't know what it's like to be poor," Ryan says fighting back tears. "I'm lucky to have had the opportunity to know what that's like. You just learn to appreciate everything."

Like sitting at the piano – after living in silence – and relishing every note.