He may be a self-described narcissist who came late to interior design, but Jeff Lewis, the diva-ish L.A.-based star of Flipping Out on HGTV, can make over a home like no one else. Indeed, the man behind House Beautiful's 2010 Kitchen of the Year is doing more high-end design work than house flipping these days. During a recent visit to Elte in Toronto, the California native sat down to discuss his roots in real estate, his shift into the decorating world and his new TV show, called Interior Therapy.
How did you get started?
My dad is a real estate investor so I picked up the real estate bug kind of by osmosis.
I bought my first property, which I resold at a loss, when I was 18. It took me a few years to recoup my investment and then I started again at around 25. I wasn't even aware of the idea of flipping homes until a friend started making a pretty good living at it. For four months I followed him around and watched what he did. Then I bought my first single-family home in Los Angeles. Six months later I had turned it at a profit.
How many properties would you say that you've flipped?
Probably more than 50.
How has your design aesthetic changed over that time?
It has evolved substantially in the last 20 years. When I started, I knew very little about design. I have always had a natural gift for what looks good and what feels good but I think with design there's also some learned gifts. I have become more trained and educated about design.
When my business partner and I split, it was like a crash course in design. I had been more involved in the business decisions and the actual remodelling, but not so much the decorating part.
Do you like focusing on decor?
I had never thought I would like it, but I am so into that now. It's amazing how you can transform a space with just colour, furniture, accessories, art and mirrors – all the finishing details that I didn't spend a lot of time on before.
When the real estate market changed in L.A., you stopped flipping and started designing for clients. How did that change your approach?
Before, I always designed spaces that would appeal to a very broad audience because I wanted to appeal to a very large amount of buyers, not just one. But now it's almost the opposite – you really want the clients to connect personally to their spaces. So I find myself using colours that I would never use before, using furniture that I wouldn't necessarily use before. And while I used to be ultra contemporary, I'm finding that my design aesthetic is leaning a little warmer, mixing traditional pieces in with modern pieces. It's a fine line because you don't want it to feel old; you want it to feel youthful and current.
You're exploring this more on your new show, Interior Therapy.
It's kind of the antithesis of extreme home makeovers. Between the two shows I get to present both sides of the design business: the remodelling side with Flipping Out and the decorating side with Interior Therapy. So it really shows all of my talents.
JEFF LEWIS'S TOP TIPS FOR STRESS-FREE MAKEOVERS
Measure twice, tape out once
"When people buy furniture, they go into a store, see a sofa, fall in love with it and buy it without even measuring," Lewis says, suggesting instead that shoppers measure the piece in-store, go home, measure the space to ensure it'll fit and even outline its dimensions on the floor with tape.
Don't chase too many trends
"A sofa and a bed, for most people, are huge investments," Lewis says.
"I try not to make the design too trendy." He suggests opting for neutral fabrics and subtle patterns that homeowners won't tire of in a year or two. Sticking to more neutral tones for larger furniture items also allows homeowners to rotate pieces once in a while but still keep decor schemes coordinated.
Splurge on the little things
Lewis points to pillows, rugs, window coverings and other accessories as the pieces to experiment with. "That's where you can bring in the punches of colour, the punches of pattern," he says. "That's something that can be inexpensively switched out."
Go bold with produce
Think of flowers, a plant, even fresh fruit and vegetables as decor items, Lewis says. "It really brings life and texture to a space and it's an inexpensive way of accessorizing. I'll take a bowl of oranges and put it on a coffee table and all of a sudden you get that punch of colour you need."
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Special to the Globe and Mail