HGTV is one of the gay-friendliest networks around. More proof is the debut of their newest series, Shop This Room, starring the former winner of Design Star, Danielle Colding. The former Design Star has two right hand men who just happen to be out and proud gay men: her design assistant Barry Vargas and carpenter Justin Huxol. We caught up with the two to talk about tonight's premier (at 8 p.m. on HGTV), doing makeover shows, and being out on primetime TV.
How did you come to Shop this Room?
Huxol: I'm trained as an architect, which is usually viewed as a real hands-off profession. Having grown up on a farm building fences, barns and just about anything else that needs getting done I've always been drawn to making things. After architecture school I started working with a small firm in New York City that does mostly fabrication work, so I gained a lot of experience designing retail interiors, private residences, and custom furniture. The fun part is that once I designed it, I then got to make it all myself! One of the producers from Shop This Room was familiar with my work so she brought me in to see if I could wrangle up some projects on this show.
Vargas: One of the producers asked me to apply for the job with the understanding that I would be just behind-the-scenes guy. However, after one day filming they asked me to be a part of the show because of the great dynamic between Danielle and I. Justin and I hit off in our van trips to the set, all we did was laugh. Once the show got rolling we are really just clicked and it was a crazy fun project.
There seem to be a lot of gay designers, but we rarely hear about gay carpenters. What was it like coming up in that field?
Vargas: I have been doing make-over shows for over 8 years and in working on so many homes you have to have carpentry skills to succeed. Though I specialize in interior decorating I am more than handy with the power tools. I think it’s important that we set examples that we, as gay men, are just as capable as any other carpenters. I have always been a fierce competitor whether in sports or school or when I was in the Navy. I am not ever going to let anyone tell me what I cannot do. In order to work in this business you have to be able to do it all and do it great.
Huxol: I grew up with my hands in both jars, designing and building. For me it's always been a linked process. That said, it's interesting to work as both a design professional and as a carpenter, disparate fields when it comes to considering acceptance and preconceptions of sexuality. The people I deal with professionally on a daily basis vary so much but being gay rarely surfaces. I don't know — maybe it's a result of living in New York City for a while but I feel like I'm just out all the time and it's never an issue. I'll be near the end of installing a bunch of stuff for a store before the contractor stops and gives me that "do you think he's gay" look. It's times like that when I take pleasure in helping people realize that we don't all conform to a narrow stereotype.
Are you out on the show? Does it ever come up?
Huxol: It never really came up directly, but at the start of the show there was talk about other HGTV host/carpenter relationships. I was weary that they would push us into falling prey to traditional gender roles in which the woman host is excessively flirty and helpless to her male counterparts. I loved that Danielle and I had such great rapport but that we kept it real. I wish that the viewers could see how supportive and awesome everyone involved in this show was behind the scenes and off-camera. Barry, especially, always gave me confidence to just be myself on set and to resist feeling the pressures of stereotypical behavior.
Vargas: We are out on the show. I don’t think it’s directly addressed but we have fun with it. Danielle is amazing and supportive. We joke a lot but I am not sure what they’ll air. We are on-air doing our jobs so we act like we do every day without worry of what people think. Who we are as people is positive and entertaining, and no matter what people’s beliefs are I think everyone will enjoy the show.
What do you hope viewers take away from the show?
Vargas: I would love for the viewer to come away with a sense that they can best decorate their spaces with function and amazing style. Danielle’s an amazing designer and Justin’s specialty pieces make each space amazing. I just want it to be a positive portrayal of who we are as people.
Huxol: First and foremost, I hope viewers learn about design and appreciate the talents brought to the table by Danielle, Barry, and myself. I hope we inspire people and entertain them because if we do they will also come to appreciate that being gay ought to be a normative reality for everyone at this point. We are serving you some home design realness, people!