Interior designer Jeff Lewis is a particular sort, and he’ll be the first one to tell you that. In five seasons on Bravo’s “Flipping Out,” we saw the former house flipper yell about everything from slightly dirty bathrooms to workers who don’t do exactly what he asks them to. Most of the brunt of his wrath has been in the direction of his longtime assistant Jenni Pulos and his maid, Zoila Chavez. But one thing he is above all else is loyal, which is why he considers both to be members of his family.
Before “Flipping Out” comes back for a sixth season, though, Bravo had Lewis, Pulos and Chavez move into people’s houses for five days at a time to do a new series called “Interior Therapy with Jeff Lewis.” In the series, which debuts tonight at 9 pm Eastern, Lewis and his crew try to solve problems that are plaguing people in their homes, such as too much clutter, design clashes, or, in one case, a woman who moved in with her husband but hasn’t been able to make it feel like half hers.
After he presented the show at the TCA tour, we talked to Lewis about the show — let’s just say that being in those houses didn’t sit well with Lewis — and some of the goings on during the last season of “Flipping Out,” including the firing of his sister-in-law Sarah Berkman and protege Trace Lenhoff.
When did you realize that you were a bit more honest with people than the average person?
I think I’ve always been blunt. The problem is, when you’re an employee, which I’ve been many many times, you can’t be so forthright, or you risk losing your job or alienating people. I think when I had my own business and I didn’t have to answer to people, it really just became completely unedited. Now, I had to then restrain myself again when I was working for clients, because you can’t just say anything you want, anytime of the day. I pick and choose my battles.
When you had to fire two people on camera in the last season of “Flipping Out,” was there some emotions we didn’t see on camera or did you put it all out there?
I think people who watch the show know it wasn’t an easy thing for me to do. These kids that were working for me, we were close, we traveled together, we do a lot of out-of-state consults. We spent a lot of time together. One of them was my family. These weren’t easy decisions, but it really needed to happen for my business to go.
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Any thought to wait until the season stopped filming to take care of it? Or was it just to long to wait?
I waited as long as I could, and…. I’m trying to… how do I say this? Obviously people are paid to be on the show. I wanted them to get as much of those cast fees as they could. I actually delayed firing them, especially with Sarah, because I knew she needed that money, that additional income supplement. So I got her as far through that season as I could. But really, it was starting to affect our relationship. I was resentful, I was angry, I was tough to be around because I was so frustrated.
Are we going to see new employees in the upcoming season?
I’m always looking for ways to make our business m ore efficient. We’re growing, and I need to hire more people, so that’s what we’re doing. We [Jeff and boyfriend Gage Edward; they also work together] are moving; I bought a new/old house, and that’s in the process of being renovated. We’re sort of looking into adopting, so it’s going to be an interesting season.
So on “Interior Therapy,” how stressful was it to move into a house with Jenni and Zoila for five days at a time and work on getting things reorganized?
It was really truly miserable. I was depressed, I gained probably about ten pounds. No joke. It was probably one of the toughest things I’ve ever done.
Did they shoot it in a way that you went to one person’s house, then the next week went to someone else’s house?
Yes. There were a few times when we had a hiatus or two which we really desperately needed, but it was… [lowers voice] there were times where I called the executives and said “I’m not doing this ever again.”
Do we see that on the show?
I think you’re going to see the tension, you’re going to see my frustration, you’re going to see the my stress. You’re going to feel it because in some of these homes [lowers voice again], I felt dirty. I didn’t touch anything. There was one home that was so bad, Zoila and I… one tiny bathroom, just so we had a clean bathroom to use and shower in, took us — two people, one small bathroom — three hours to clean. I’m not kidding, it had probably not been cleaned in four years. It was so disgusting. It affected me to the core.
Watch a scene from “Flipping Out”:
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