Since debuting on Bravo in 2003, the Queer Eye brand (originally titled Queer Eye for the Straight Guy) has become synonymous with tolerance and acceptance, while inspiring viewers to take risks with fashion, grooming, and culture in their own lives. When Netflix’s reboot premiered this past February, a new generation of viewers invited five queer men not only into their living rooms, but also onto their laptops and smart phones.
Today’s digital age has expanded the message created by the original Fab Five: Ted Allen (food), Kyan Douglas (grooming), Thom Filicia (design), Carson Kressley (fashion), and Jai Rodriguez (culture). Queer Eye, now a hit on Netlfix, has an even greater global reach (in 2003-2005, there were numerous spin offs in European countries).
Now two of the original cast members, Kressley and Filicia are returning to Bravo for a new home design series premiering on Friday. Get A Room with Carson & Thom focuses on Filicia taking Kressley under his wing to teach him interior design by channeling Kressley’s impeccable fashion sense. The duo creates breathtaking and affordable home designs for clients using their expert skills and signature charm.
Yet, while the two do have consummate taste, Kressley says the inspiration for the show came from a need to sharpen his own skills. “Four years ago, I bought a farm in Pennsylvania and it was a house that required a complete redo.” Kressley recalls thinking, “Oh, this will be fun and easy and I’ll redecorate it myself!” But — like thousands of DIYers before him — he quickly realized he was completely out of his depth and the process was far more complicated than expected.
It was that realization that led Kressley to conceive of the show, which he and Filicia pitched to Bravo not long after. For the long-time friends, it was kismet.
“We felt like it was cosmic or destiny that we should work together,” Kressley explains. “We’re both so thrilled and grateful that we got this chance to do it again. And we really picked up right where we left off. We both have very similar sensibilities, and we both love design, but we also know we’re not curing juvenile diabetes. We know that it should be fun and it shouldn’t be snobby.”
As a fan-favorite on the original Queer Eye and as a guest judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race — both shows that have become cultural phenomenons — Kressley’s fan base has yet to diminish.
“Fifteen years later,” Kressley says, he and Filicia are still being stopped in airports, “and having a young gay person come up to either one of us to say, ‘Guys thank you so much. I watched your original show with my family and it allowed me to have a dialogue with them about my sexuality and allowed me to come out and feel safe and supported.’ Hearing those stories, it’s always the best thing that I think came out of [Queer Eye].”
The Netflix Queer Eye reboot—starring Bobby Berk (design), Karamo Brown (culture), Tan France (fashion), Antoni Porowski (food), and Jonathan Van Ness (grooming)—currently shoots in the South, America’s Bible Belt, something Kressley thinks is a crucial element.
“It’s incredibly important right now, especially in these political times, to have gay people on television, out there in the heartland,” he says. “Just being in people’s home and showing them that we have something worthwhile to contribute. That we’re all a little bit more alike than we are different. And sharing all that heart, I think that’s why people responded to us when we first, literally, came outon the show, and what people are responding to now.”
Kressley adds, “That is the power of being out, whether you’re on television, or whether you’re out in your community. When people know a gay person, they’re less likely to be homophobic, and less likely to be prejudiced, and they start to care about your rights. They want to make sure you can adopt kids and they want to make sure you can get married. And they want to make sure you’re treated the same as everybody else.”
Though Kressley is widely known as a TV personality, his passion for fashion has never been altered. “I’m a pretty traditional guy surprisingly, and I feel best in classic American designers,” he explains. “I used to work for Ralph Lauren, I’ve always been a fan of his celebration of Americana, so I love his work. You will never feel sexier or better dressed than when you’re wearing Tom Ford.”
For those eager to set up their own spaces but have no money to hire a professional decorator, Kressley advises to have no fear, “I think why people hire designers is because they push them a little bit out of their comfort zone and make some design choices that are a little bit riskier.” Do-it-yourselfers can make those riskier choices themselves — as long as they follow the right inspiration.
“The first step is get inspired,” he says. “There are great resources right now. All of the Shelter magazines. There’s one for every price point and every kind of design aesthetic. There’s so many great online resources from Pinterest, to online shopping resources like One Kings Lane.
The second thing is take some risks and have some fun. … The best way to have fun is with paint. It’s relatively inexpensive. If you mess it up you can just paint over it. Paint can transform a room, a piece of furniture, a lampshade. So be daring with paint,” Kressley recommends.
“The third thing is make it personal. It’s very similar to putting together a great outfit. You start with basics: your sofa is like your little black dress. You want it to be classic and comfortable, and not go out of style very quickly, but then you can accessorize. Perhaps a light fixture is like a piece of jewelry and pillows are like bracelets. Have fun with the accessories and change it up that way, and make it personal. You want it to tell your story, so adding personal pieces: your favorite art, your favorite plant, maybe a rug from one of your travels, is a great way to put your personal stamp on it.”
While Kressley and Filicia are clearly having fun with Get A Room, it’s also evident the duo is focused on continuing to increase LGBTQ visibility and acceptance, especially for queer youth.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re in a small town in the middle of America or one of the big cities, one of the most wonderful things about being gay is that we have this amazing network, and a community that we create, and we take care of one another. We’ve always done that, and I think it’s something that we should be incredibly proud of. I try to remind people, especially kids that are coming out, in places where they maybe don’t have that network, that there truly are people that care, and we all want to help each other.”