As the sassy, demanding star of Bravo’s Flipping Out, it’s Jeff Lewis’ job to break the bad news to homeowners that their taste sucks. The good news is, he always sticks around to share his bright ideas and good style.
Las Vegas will get a live, hourlong dose of Los Angeles’ most famous home renovator at 11 a.m. April 16 when he visits the Las Vegas Design Center for what’s being described as a “Charlie Rose-type conversation.” Lewis will discuss everything from his origins as a house flipper (at age 18) to his falling into reality-TV stardom five years ago. Since then, Flipping Out has captured not only home-remodeling drama, but the twists and turns of Lewis’ career.
He started out riding high on the housing bubble, but eventually suffered the loss of almost his entire fortune with the market crash. Lewis has persevered, managing to rebuild himself as a design consultant for clients going through renovations. He even has launched a line of interior design elements, including pillows, wallpaper, lighting and fabrics that bear his signature “soft modern” aesthetic.
Where does your passion for design come from?
My dad has always supplemented his income with real estate investment. It was never his full-time job, but he used to always tell me you don’t get rich off your income, you get rich off your investments. So the real estate investment came first, but if I look back to my passion for design and renovation, I remember when I as a kid … I would have my mom pick up house magazines at the grocery store. Then I would sit in front of the television and draw, inspired by the homes in the magazines. It wasn’t so much interiors as it was exterior elevations which interested me. Over time when I started buying my own places, I got really involved in the renovation, but it was really more the design versus the decorating, where I replace doors and windows and add skylights and replace tile and kitchen cabinets and countertops. Then it became an evolution, where I’m now still doing the design I love, but I’m doing a lot more of the decorating. I’m actually starting to enjoy it more.
Why do you think Flipping Out has become such a huge success?
By the way, I just found this out last week, but it’s the No. 1 real estate show on cable. I had no idea. I think that it’s a very true honest portrayal of my life. I think people like a comeback, and I was very successful at what I did. I was hit very hard by the recession and the collapse of the real estate market, and I kind of climbed my way out. I lost a tremendous amount of money in 2008, it was pretty devastating. I had to reinvent myself in 2009, so a lot of times these reality shows are produced or manipulated or fabricated and this is really a true documentary, and I think people know that and relate to it. I think people smell bullshit, and they know this is real.
If someone doesn’t have the budget for a full remodel, what are smaller things they can do to freshen up their home?
We accumulate a lot of things over the years, especially when we stay in one house for a long period of time. I have a lot of stuff in storage, and that way I can always keep my house clean and organized and minimalistic. People make the mistake that they want everything out at one time, but then it starts to feel cluttered and too layered. I certainly recirculate furniture and things through storage and other rooms. I just wallpapered an accent wall in the rental house I’m in, and it really kind of just changed the whole vibe of the room. I think a really inexpensive way to accessorize in a space is plants and flowers. I’m sitting in my bedroom right now as we speak. I have a plant on one night stand, I have a tree in a corner, I have a little bowl with moss in it on a side table, and then I have a vase next to my bed with flowers. That’s a really inexpensive way to breath light into a dull, cold space.
What is the No. 1 piece of advice you give to people about taking on a major remodel?
There are so many people who walk in blindly, and I always take great strides to warn people about the inconvenience and the mess and the noise, but also the potential of going over budget. That happens more often than not, where you go over budget because there are just a lot of unforeseen expenses that can pop up.
What is a trend you love?
I know that gray, white and black are really popular, and I’ve kind of jumped on that train. I love white and gray. I love the mirrors and reflective surfaces and metals. I love reclaimed woods.
I’m offended by a lot of things, but it’s normally things that are no longer in style.
What is one thing people probably don’t know about you?
I think I’m a lot nicer than what people think. I think when a situation warrants me to be tough I am, but I do think I really do like people. However, I can’t stand entitled lazy people, and that kind of strikes a chord with me because I do work very hard for what I have achieved. I’m the kind of person too that I really don’t know it all, I can learn a lot from people. I go to a party and I always gravitate to the oldest person in the room because I’m always interested in people’s life experience. I’m a lot less self-involved than people think. I’m a lot more interested in people and I do generally care about people. That said, I have a very selfish, narcissistic dark side.