A question I’ve been getting quite a bit since my HGTV show Unspouse My House was announced is, “How did this come about?” So I thought I’d take a minute and write down how I got here, how the show came into being, and give you some behind-the-scenes goss on what goes into making a TV show. Because we’re creatives that live in LA, Emily and I have been surrounded by “Hollywood” types since before we were on Secrets from a Stylist (which I just found out you can still watch on the HGTV app). It’s kind of hard to escape “The Industry” when you live in this town. And there are a lot of misconceptions about it. I think one of the most common misconceptions is that people in Hollywood are somehow “elites” handed things on silver platters. None of the people I know who have created or starred in successful shows/movies got there without a lot of sacrifice, years of financial struggle, and a ton of worrying and anxiety that they might never get there.
The origin story of “Unspouse My House” started in 2015, when a random lady from the internet (named Jen Rettig) found me on Instagram and DM’d me about working on show ideas together. We met and began working on show concepts back then, but none of them got as fully fleshed out as Unspouse My House. We had some crazy ass ideas. One of them was called “Dear Design Disaster” and was basically a parody show of every design show out there. Just a totally insane version of a design show. That idea never really took off, but a few years later I started doing Insta Stories and that brought in a lot of attention from producers and production companies, who are constantly on the hunt for “talent” to create shows with. At this point, my agent chose a production company from the dozens that had reached out and Jen and I started working with 51 Minds (best known for producing “Below Deck” and a bunch of other fun reality shows).
Jen and I began meeting with 51 Minds to flesh out show ideas and eventually as a group, we came up with a concept for Unspouse My House, a show that’s actually pretty easy to summarize. This is how I generally explain my show: “Every week, I take someone who’s been recently dumped and I give them a home makeover to help them heal.” An even more efficient summary is “It’s basically ‘Revenge Body’ for the home.” In all honesty, I’ve never actually seen “Revenge Body,” but I imagine that it’s about giving yourself a body makeover to regain confidence and reboot your life, which is exactly what we’re doing except with houses.
Once we’d settled on a general concept for a show we wanted to move forward with, the process of creating the show went like this:
- August 2018, create a sizzle reel (3 minute “preview” of the show consisting of footage we shot for the sole purpose of selling the show).
- September 2018, 51 Minds shops sizzle around to production company.
- September 2018, HGTV bites, wants to move forward with pilot (test) episode.
- November 2018, HGTV views pilot, decides right away to move forward with series.
- March-May 2019, show goes into production.
- June 2019, show gets released.
That is a super streamlined summary of what happened, but I didn’t want to bore you with too many details. Basically, HGTV was enthusiastic about our show from the beginning and pushed it forward as quickly as possible at every step along the way. We completed the pilot in October, had a green light from HGTV by November, and spent the next few months preparing for the show and casting our homeowners (an outside team of genius detectives finds the homeowners and I have no idea how they find them to be honest). We shot the show over the course of about four months, which was a really challenging, exhilarating time for me. And then the show was finally released last Thursday (Side note: we got great viewership numbers! So hopefully that’s a good sign!).
So, there you have it! The whole story of how my show came about! The End!
JUST KIDDING THERE IS TOTALLY A WAY LONGER BACKSTORY HERE.
The original concept for the show came directly out of something that happened in my own life and my desire to take that experience and turn it into something positive.
This story really begins at Orcondo (pictured above, read more about it here and here and here). Orcondo was a home I shared with my ex that I spent a long time renovating and decorating. Doing so was a dream come true and something I’d wanted to do for a long time. It was the first time that I’d really had myself as client for a renovation project (my ex kinda gave me free rein to do whatever I wanted). And it was really fun. Not only because it was creatively really fulfilling, but also because the space itself represented a life we were creating together. I had a (false) feeling that I’d found my person and that we were going to be together moving forward. It felt like a very secure relationship.
So when my ex dumped me, it came as a shock. There hadn’t been many signs before that. It was a painful experience for obvious reasons, missing him, our relationship, having a companion. But it was also a painful experience because it was similar in many ways to the breakup I’d experienced in the previous relationship I’d been in. I felt like I was entering into this pattern of seeking out people who would eventually hurt me, an endless cycle of making myself vulnerable only to have my vulnerability delivered back to me in a trash bag.
When I left Orcondo and moved into Chateaulando (my West Hollywood apartment, pictured above), I was at an odd crossroads in my life. I turned 35 that year, and while I’ve never been one to be hyper-concerned with age (I’m rebelling against the very LA idea that youth is somehow inherently “better”), turning that age was really hard for me. Not because I felt old (I don’t really believe in that) but because I felt like I’d entered full adulthood. When you’re in your early thirties, it’s kind of like being in your twenties. You’re still kinda like “oh I was just 28 a few years ago!” But when you’re 35 you kinda start to feel like “Wow, I’m fully an adult.” And quite honestly I was pretty disappointed at how adult life had turned out.
I’ve been an overachiever since high school, when I went to school in a rural, very conservative town that wasn’t necessarily the most welcoming place for gay people (or any minorities for that matter). Going to high school was a cultural shock, and I kinda realized that if I wanted to get as far away from this place as possible, I’d have to do well academically. So when I was 14, I started working really hard in school, joining every school club I could and getting all As. I even worked (kids were allowed to start working at 14 where I was raised). So I’ve been working very hard to do well and to be a success since I was a kid, jumping through whatever hoops I had to jump through to get good grades, work, do the summer internships (I had four in college), and the extra credit that’s supposed to lead to a happy, successful life. I ended up gathering four Ivy League degrees and countless honors and awards by the time I’d made it back to the West Coast. And I’m not just saying this to brag, I’m mostly saying it to emphasize the fact that my entire life has been about working hard and striving.
But somehow, even with all this experience and education under my belt, I couldn’t get a job at a bakery (or any random job) to save my life. My twenties had been mostly worrying about money and what job I’d have next (eventually my production/set design work led to a job on Emily’s show, which was the job that finally turned my employment luck around). Right after my ex-boyfriend dumped me, the startup I was working for laid me off (they’ve since laid off most of the employees I worked there with, so I was just the tip of the iceberg apparently). This is less of a complaint and more so just to explain what a dark place I was in the year after my breakup. I had to write a book (I was on deadline), figure out how to make a huge salary (my living expenses had been based on a pretty high income), and figure out how to heal emotionally.
Furthermore, I was at a crossroads with how I felt about human connection and relationships. Feeling incredibly lonely in the fact that you never really can know what’s going on in someone else’s head, that you never really know if a relationship is permanent or not, that at the end of the day we’re kind of alone in our own thoughts, trying our best to connect ourselves to the people around us. Clearly, I was having an existential crisis. And to be honest it had little to do with the actual person my ex was. He’s oddly replaceable in this story. It wasn’t that I was so sad about him particularly, though I did miss him and the little world we’d created together, the love I had for him. It was mostly that him dumping me made me question everything I’d grown up thinking was a given. That I’d grow up, meet someone, create a family, and we’d build a history together. That hard work was rewarded, that doing all the “things you’re supposed to do” would lead to an at least moderately comfortable life.
I’m not bringing this up to complain, but mostly just to emphasize to people feeling the same way that they’re not alone. It can be really hard, even if you’ve done everything you’re supposed to do, to make your career work, to make ends meet. My heart goes out to anyone who is currently struggling with that because I have been there so many times. And my heart also goes out to people dealing with the emotional aftermath of a breakup, which is why I decided to make a show about it.
Don’t give up! This is where the story stops being depressing! It was during my post-breakup, layoff transition that I spent a lot of time trying to set up my new apartment. I’d left most of the furniture I’d selected at Orcondo, so I was moving into an empty space with basically no furniture. I had intentionally chosen an apartment that was much different than Orcondo, which I’d renovated to be organic and minimal (a look I still love). I wanted to try out a new style with my place, so I chose a beautiful two bedroom apartment in a French Chateau-style building on a tree-lined street in West Hollywood (note: I made this semi-stupid and expensive decision before I was blind sighted by being laid off).
Every room in the apartment got a massive makeover, including the kitchen (you can read that slightly harrowing story here). While I was sad to be off on my own and feeling intensely lonely, I started to notice that the process of choosing furnishings, doing small renovations, and making the space my own was a good distraction from the sadness I was feeling about my breakup and about life in general. While my mind was feeling stuck wondering where things went wrong with my ex, working on my new place had me thinking about the future.
One of the benefits of interior design, especially during a sad time in your life, is that it grabs your brain, yanks it out of the past, and asks it to think about the future. What will I do in this space? Who will join me here? What will I need to make this space look beautiful and considered? Notice all the questions you’d ask yourself while designing a space are in the future tense. This forward thinking is so beneficial to someone trying to keep their brain from fixating on something painful.
Another benefit of interior design for someone going through a breakup is that it’s a time where you can be totally selfish, to imprint your identity and only your identity onto your home. Designing for couples always involves so sort of compromise. I’ve never worked with a couple whose taste was fully in alignment. There are always things that one member of the couple likes that the other hates. Which is why it can be so liberating to design post-breakup. Not only are you free from the constricting desires of a partner, you’re also in a discovery zone. This is perfect to try out something you might never have tried had your ex still been around. For me, this was painting my bedroom ballet pink.
I LOVED my pink bedroom (and I kinda regret painting it aqua a year later). There were a number of reasons I painted pink, not least of which I wanted to scare away any guy who might be too insecure in his masculinity to handle dating a man with a ballet pink bedroom. But practically speaking, from a design standpoint, it’s just a really wonderful warm color for a bedroom (especially one like mine that gets a lot of natural light).
Another thing I did post-breakup was to make sure I had a beautiful guest bedroom. I did this because I wanted to make sure I had a space for people from out of town to stay. I think it’s important when you’re going through a breakup to spend time with the people who matter to you. You need your support system around you.
Designing Chateaulando brought me so many lessons. Firstly, it was an opportunity to design a new style of space. I’d done mid-century, I’d done modern minimalism, and this was an opportunity to do something that looked more like a Parisian flat with some rustic and deco elements. Second, and more importantly, it taught me the therapeutic power of interior design (and yes, I know how cheesy and self-helpy that sounds). Your surroundings have a huge impact on the way you feel about your life. Having a beautiful home can help make you feel more enthusiastic about your life.
Interior design is also a way of showing care for yourself and the people in your life. Taking care to make your home beautiful is a way of expressing self-care, doing something for yourself to proactively make your life more beautiful. It sounds superficial, but it’s a way of taking the reigns in your own life, of making active changes to make it better.
The post-breakup journey I went on became the basis of Unspouse My House. As I’ve done with my social media, I wanted to take my experience and figure out how I could use it to help other people. The show came from a simple desire to do something nice for people, to take an experience (designing my own place) that helped me get over my breakup and pay it forward to other people. And it’s been amazing to see how it has panned out. Every week, we meet someone at a different point in their healing process (we have breakups as long as eight years ago, some as fresh as six months). And it’s so satisfying to see how much the concept of the show—using interior design to heal from heartache—really works. The homeowners on our show go through amazing transformations that mirror what’s going on in their homes and it’s really amazing and inspirational to see. Freeing their homes from remnants of their past relationships helps set them on a much quicker path to recovery.
The reason I’ve been so open about my breakup and other hardships I’ve faced in my life is that I think we do each other a disservice when all we share about our lives is the good stuff. I believe in being positive, but there’s something kinda gross going on with social media these days. It feels like all anyone shares are their successes, all the happy stuff that goes on in their lives. While I love seeing good things happening to good people, I think over time having all this “MY LIFE IS PERFECT” content shoved into your face on a daily basis can start to make people feel like their lives such in comparison, that somehow they’re not measuring up.
What I’m trying to do with Unspouse My House is the same thing I’ve tried to do with my social media. I’m trying to show a less-than-perfect version of life and how to make the best of it. The show itself is really fun and funny, and we did that on purpose. The point isn’t to bum you out about someone’s breakup. The point is to empower people, to show them how they can get their lives back and be happy. It’s a very feel-good show, essentially you’re just watching me do nice stuff for someone who needs it and watching their emotional state change, going from heartbroken to joyful.
The past few years have been a roller
While having my own TV show comes with a considerable amount of fear (Will people like it? Will they like me? Will it get canceled?), what I am feeling now that it’s out is mostly gratitude. Gratitude for all the people who expressed support for it, gratitude for the incredibly rare opportunity to head up a project like this, and most importantly gratitude that I was able to take one of my least favorite life experiences and turn it into one of my favorites.
Unspouse My House airs Thursdays at 9:30 on HGTV and the HGTV app (you can also access through Amazon, Google Play and Vudu if you don’t have cable). The first episode is available to stream for free (no login required) on HGTV!