Kim Lewis on Designing for ABC’s Extreme Home Makeover
People of Austin Profile Series
“My grandmother used to say she couldn’t even move a lamp in her house without my noticing,” Kim Lewis, the petite and high energy designer who just moved back to Austin after a successful design career in LA, says, from her South Austin bungalow. “From art and painting to dance, I found early on in life that creativity was my outlet. Anywhere I can create is my happy space,” she says. When she was studying journalism and marketing at Texas A&M, she often found herself being drawn to the architecture building but stuck to her degree plan. After a short stint working for an ad agency in Austin, she found a more perfect fit as the Marketing Director of Four Hands. It was at the High Point Furniture Market in the Four Hands showroom that she met one of the producers for ABC’s Extreme Home Makeover. After she worked on a project with them that involved Four Hands furniture in one of the houses on the show, the Executive Producer asked her to join the interior design team. Then, life became a whirlwind as she spent seven years designing over 150 homes in 46 states. Lewis oversaw the entire design team of almost 25 designers and carpenters and her role was to make each home unique to the family. “I call it ‘character driven design.’ We met some fascinating people across this country. I wanted to use design to tell their stories,” she says. “Each week, we had to out do ourselves. I’ll never forget in Season 8 (2011), the producers in Hollywood sat across from me at a table and told me the future of this show (averaging 12-17 millions viewers over the years) depended on the design team I was leading…No pressure.” After leaving the show, Lewis started her own design business in LA, where she designed spaces for clients like Tiffani Amber Thiessen that was featured in House Beautiful and Jewel and Ty Murray which was profiled in InStyle. Now back in Austin, we can’t wait to see what the designer whose fitting motto is “Little Lady, Big Ideas” does next. She is ready to return to her roots—“When you grow up wearing boots, you’ll jump feet first into anything!” For more information on Lewis, visit kimlewsidesigns.com.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO MOVE BACK TO TEXAS?
I spent the last eight years in LA, and wanting to be with family brought me back to Austin earlier this year, but honestly my heart never really left Texas. I’m at a place in life where I need to put down some roots…a girl can have roots and wings, right? Austin has this genuinely creative, quirky, kind, and empowering spirit as a city. My soul must be surrounded by creativity, so this place just makes sense.
YOU PULLED OFF SO MANY UNEXPECTED AND UNIQUE DESIGN ELEMENTS ON EXTREME HOME MAKEOVER. WHAT WAS THE MOST DIFFICULT ONE TO PULL OFF?
One of the craziest projects we did was to install a 25-foot section of a Southwest Airlines plane fuselage into a home. The Cocoa Beach, FL .- based family flew back and forth to Haiti for missions with their small plane. The dad’s passion was flying, so my idea was to use the fuselage as the entry hall to the home. The other side (inside of the plane) became “First-Class Seating” in the dining room of the kitchen. I’ll never forget making that phone call. The Southwest rep on the other end said, ‘You need a what!?’ My response: “Yes, that’s what I said… we need a 25-foot section of a retired plane to put in a house…Can you do it?”
WHAT IS SOMETHING PEOPLE WOULD BE SURPRISED TO KNOW THAT HAPPENS BEHIND THE SCENES OF THE SHOW?
They said on the show that we built the houses in seven days? Not true. We built them in five days. We worked off a 120-hour schedule. One of our biggest tricks? Builders pre-panelized the walls for framing.
YOU TRAVELLED SO MUCH IN THAT JOB, WHAT WERE THE TRAVEL ESSENTIALS THAT YOU NEVER LEFT HOME WITHOUT?
My boots, paint deck, tape measure, camera, sketch pad. Remember the scene in Up in the Air where he pulls out all of his travel rewards cards for hotels, airlines, car rentals? Well, that’s what my wallet looked like. Traveling became my norm, which is why I started calling myself the Vagabond Designer.
WHAT IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACE YOU HAVE EVER VISITED?
Most beautiful: Santorini, Greece; most exotic: Marrakesh, Morocco; most recently: Thailand
HOW DO YOU DESCRIBE YOUR DESIGN AESTHETIC?
Personally, I love eclectic pieces in modern settings, with a bit of rustic texture.
WHAT COLOR DO YOU USE MOST IN DESIGN?
White. It’s the base of everything. After that, I’m a bold color person. There’s a psychology in color, so it depends on what I want the space to evoke. Let’s put it this way, I’m not afraid of color. I especially love colorful textiles from around the world.
WHICH AUSTIN RESTAURANTS’ INTERIORS ARE YOU LOVING?
Right now, it’s Elizabeth Street Cafe. And, I am working with Chi’Lantro to design their new brick-and-mortar restaurant on South Lamar, so come check it out soon!
WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT YOUR JOB?
I believe design can change lives. I saw it every day on Extreme Home Makeover. On my last episode with them, I met a non-profit that ended up taking me to Ghana, West Africa, where we built a therapeutic art center for children who have been rescued from slavery on Lake Volta. In this space, kids can heal through creativity. That’s what I love about design. Picasso said “Every child was born as an artist…the problem is how do we remain one when we grow up.” Design gives us the opportunity to imagine, and imagination is key to our existence.