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Jeff Lewis Shows What Remodeling Is Really Like 

Jeff Lewis Shows What Remodeling Is Really Like 


The perfectionistic, neurotic Jeff Lewis that Bravo viewers first met during the boom times of house flipping is ready to remake the home makeover show. And he's not leaving anything out just for the sake of a "Disney ending."

In Lewis's new show, Interior Therapy with Jeff Lewis, he and his indefatigable and entertaining assistant, Jenni Pulos, move into clients' homes for a weeklong remodel that is intense on many levels. First of all, Lewis isn't lowering his standards for any time crunch.

Stress is evident on the show. Lewis says his producer quit after one episode ended in a couple breaking up. During another episode, Lewis forces himself to complete the remodel because, "I did not care for this woman at all." The first installment debuts tonight at 9 p.m. as Lewis helps Felice and Michael put romance back in their bedroom. Yes, he outright asks them when they last had sex.

Lewis isn't one to mince words. And in an interview with The Advocate, he talks about the ups and downs of his new show, the state of his relationship, and why foster-adoption might not work for him.

The Advocate: I just watched the show last night; I love it. I've never seen a design show like it, and I'm gay so I watch a lot of them. There are a lot of rough edges on display. I wonder if you think this is the more realistic version than the cheery remodeling shows we see so often?
Jeff Lewis: It is. It is definitely more realistic. You know, [Bravo President] Andy Cohen and I have been talking for years about doing a second show. I was pitched several shows and none of them I really took to. But I think the reason I liked this one is because it is kind of a reality hybrid. We are committed to whatever happens, happens. We embrace the result.

I am very familiar with how these makeover shows work. There is a lot of prep involved. People have floor plans, and they may go out shopping, and in some cases they may purchase everything and put it in storage. In our case, we have no prep. The day that I walked in, which was Monday morning, I hadn't seen the house before -- which created an even higher level of stress for me because not only did I need to formulate a game plan within 24 hours, I had to shop locally and find things that were in stock. I didn't have time to buy things on the Internet. Actually, I feel like it strengthened my skill as a designer because I was forced to kind of make good on what I had.

Wow, no prep? Is that going to be the way it is all the time?
Yeah. Even if I wanted to do any sort of prep, we shoot Flipping Out well into the first week of August. And I'm assuming that if this show does well and it does get picked up, we would immediately jump into Interior Therapy. I think you have to stick to the formula that works and no prep time has worked for this show.

Another thing is we were not committed to a Hollywood ending. Even if it wasn't a happy ending, we just embraced it. There was one -- there is one particular show --where it isn't a happy ending. The couple decided to break up. And I'm most proud of that episode because I got into a knock-down, drag-out fight with a producer who wanted to change the ending, who wanted to put the happy, Disney ending on it. And I said absolutely not. This is not what I signed up for. She ended up quitting by the way.

The producer?
Yup, and we got a new producer. Because we were just not seeing eye to eye.

Well I'm glad it's more realistic because it feels more like how my remodeling goes.
Yeah, warts and all, right?

These makeover shows, it really creates these false expectations because people expect remodeling to be so easy when you watch so many of these HGTV shows and some of these other remodeling shows. And it's not easy, especially when you are working with clients. What I like too is it sheds some light on what I go through working with clients. And it's not easy. Sometimes you reach people and sometimes you don't.

So do you ever watch some of these remodeling shows and at the end, at the big reveal, you go, Really? That's the best you could do? Because I saw you be very particular about getting the tile just right. You weren't skimping on anything.
I've heard some really crazy rumors, that in some of these remodeling shows nothing ever works, that they never hooked up the electrical, never hooked up the plumbing. That certainly wasn't the case because we left on Friday and I am never going to see these people again. So I wanted to make sure that everything was working. Granted, there was always: this hinge is too loose. There are always a couple little tweaks in the end that we had to send someone back to fix. But generally everything worked. I wouldn't do a reveal until everything worked.

Well, and you had a very picky couple to deal with in the first episode.
I mean, yes!

You somehow managed to pick the couple that was least able to deal with stress. They were very sensitive. If the slightest mishap happened, I worried they would break down immediately.
I think so. But you know there were a lot of families like that who couldn't really handle the stress and the noise and the mess and all the people in their house. It was kind of a recurring theme, actually. What I noticed too, another recurring theme, was people having a lot of trouble letting go of their things. A lot of trouble. Now Felice and Michael they already had a pretty clean and organized environment. That wasn't their issue. Their issue was they didn't have a proper master suite where they could have a closed door, lock the door, and have some time alone. And that's what I felt they needed. I thought they were excellent parents. They devoted so much time and energy to their kids. They could use a little couples' time, one on one.

Had you ever done a big remodeling-show "reveal" before? I don't recall that being part of your thing.
No, because in Flipping Out it is true documentary. So when we stop shooting, we're done. It's unfortunate because you never get to see what I finished, my finished product, because we don't manipulate it. So if I happen to finish my project while it's filming then you'll see the before-and-after. But if not, then you don't get to see it. That's another thing I love about this show is you really can see what I really can do with regard to furniture and accessorizing.

I have to imagine it would freak you out, though, to have to do a surprise version of a room? Because usually the clients are so involved.
I took definite direction from the clients. To be able to furniture shop with them every week, I had a general idea of what they liked and what their taste level was. So I did a pretty good job of listening and nailing what they would have picked out on their own.

The hardest part for me was living with the family because I am a very clean, organized person. I'm used to a certain regiment. It kind of threw me off.

Are you going to be living with them every time? That, I've never seen before.
I move in with them. I don't always stay the whole time because you'll see as the episodes go on that the houses are sometimes much smaller. And if it's a two-bedroom, one-bath house and I am sleeping in the guest room, and I decide to do the master suite, they have to move into the guest room, and then I have to go on. I definitely stay the first and second night. Some of them, I stay longer. As the season goes on, you'll see. We end up moving in with a hoarder. And this one woman had a rat problem.

Maybe you can bring Zoila in to do some cleaning while you are staying over.
Well I don't know if Zoila could have eradicated the rats. And that's the one thing. There were rat feces on my linens. And that freaked me out so much. I could hear them running in the walls, so there was no way I was going to stay there. I did leave. The cameras leave around 10 or 11, and I would go home every night. There was another client who really made me angry, and I went home one night with kind of planning on not coming back. Then I had a change of heart and came back the next day and finished the project even though I did not care for this woman at all. And I'll tell you why.

We had spent the first day kind of cleaning everything out. She had agreed to give a lot of things to charity. And then what she did is, behind my back, she called the charity and asked for half her furniture back -- because she wanted to sell it. So I was really angry, I was really humiliated to have a charity I work with on a regular basis, the American Cancer Society, for her to then ask for the furniture back, I thought was just --. And remember, this woman is getting a $50,000 to $60,000 remodel for free, and you can't give away a thousand dollars worth of furniture? I was, I was --

Beyond pissed.

Well I was glad to see that Zoila does actually come back on this show. Is she going to be around on other episodes?
She is around some of the episodes more than the others. If the house is really filthy, she needs to spend more time, obviously. [Michael and Felice's] house was immaculate. So it wasn't a lot of work for her to do. But there are some homes that these people are downright pigs. Some of them, there's a lot of cleaning to do, and while we're there we clean out their refrigerators. Sometimes I am sitting around waiting for construction, so I find ways to be productive, so we tackle other things -- maybe even other rooms. You know if I decided that I'm going to do the living room and the dining room, I might decide to organize the bedroom while I'm waiting for construction to happen.

Will we see other people coming back? Will we see Gage around? Last time we checked in you guys were still together. It was going well.
Gage and I are going strong. He's not involved in this particular show. Someone has to run the business and take care of the house. But it's been about three and a half years, almost three and half years. It's going really well. I have no complaints. I feel like we are so happy that I now get worried that -- this is my crazy mind -- I am now worried that something is going to happen to him. Do you know what I'm saying?

Once I got over the whole neurosis of, Oh my God, is this going to work, is this going to work, is this going to work? then now that it's so strong, the relationship is doing so well, it's healthy, now I worry that he's going to get killed in a car crash. It's like one neurosis after the other.

Are you calling and checking in every five minutes?
We text throughout the day when I'm out of town. Maybe I'll call him later.

So are you still thinking about adopting? That was a big thing you were talking about in the past.
We are. We already looked into the foster-adopt program. That may or may not be for me. It is a very difficult process. I didn't want to, but we might have to look into more of a private adoption situation. Because with the fost-adopt, I worry about taking on a child for six months, 12 months, two years and then out of nowhere a grandmother or a birth parent can show up and reunify with a child. I don't know if I can handle that emotionally.

Yeah, you really have to look inside yourself to figure out if you can do that for the kids. My partner and I are looking at doing the same thing. We had to have that conversation: do you think you could handle it if a kid was taken away? Because chances are they will be.
I know. And I don't know if I can handle that. It takes a really strong person. I understand that if you can give this child a loving and supportive environment for two years, OK. But, God, how do you do that? How do you give the child back, especially in a situation where you know that you are the better guardian? It's just not right.

I have said to them, you know, OK, well let's just find a kind of low-risk situation where Mom is in jail and Dad is missing. And they said, oh, yeah, but Grandma can show up at any moment and take the child. Or Aunt Suzie. That's terrifying.

So on a totally different subject. One thing was missing from the show. There was no drinking. And I don't know how that's possible? Will there be drinking?
You know it's funny. There was drinking with Michael and Felice, it was just later when the cameras left. By the way, I love that Felice when the kids go to bed. You know, she was uptight and a little controlling and a little icy. But when the kids go to bed and we open a bottle of wine, she is awesome. I really liked her. Oh yeah, there is a lot of drinking.

I have to thank you for your martini recipe. We now drink only your martini recipe. But it seems you've moved on. No more martinis?
No I still drink martinis. Do you do blue cheese olive spears?

I do, yes.
And do you hand-stuff the olives?

Because you don't want to buy the ones that are already stuffed, because they don't taste the same.

Really? I don't know if I can do all that.
No it's really easy. You just buy blue cheese and then you just take the pimento out and you, I just take my hand and put it in. It's amazing. It's like fresh blue cheese olives. That's what you need to do.

OK I'll try it. I promise. One thing I hope does return to the show is Jeni's alter ego: Deb. Is Deb still on staff?
You know, I don't know. I don't think that Deb... Deb does not star in Interior Therapy. But she will be back in Flipping Out, Season Six.

Oh boy, I can't wait!
Yeah we couldn't make a deal with her for Interior Therapy.

I'm sure --
She's got a really, really tough agent.

If you don't know her, meet Deb...
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Lucas Grindley

Lucas Grindley is VP and Editorial Director for Here Media, which is parent company to The Advocate. His Twitter account is filled with politics, Philip Glass appreciation, and adorable photos of his twin toddler daughters.
Lucas Grindley is VP and Editorial Director for Here Media, which is parent company to The Advocate. His Twitter account is filled with politics, Philip Glass appreciation, and adorable photos of his twin toddler daughters.