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The Sunday Conversation: Jeff Lewis

The star of 'Flipping Out' and the upcoming 'Interior Therapy' says his sense of humor is misunderstood — and talks about the design advice he have his grandmother.

August 21, 2011|By Irene Lacher, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • "I think I'm misunderstood in that I have a very, very dry sense of humor and I'm very sarcastic. And the people around me know that I'm joking. Ninety-nine point nine-nine percent of the time, I'm kidding."
"I think I'm misunderstood in that I have a very, very dry sense… (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles…)

Real estate reality star Jeff Lewis, 41, a home designer/project manager and former house flipper, is filming his second Bravo series, "Interior Therapy," while the fifth season of "Flipping Out," the first show about his home remodeling business, continues through Sept. 13.

So you're living with a family now to film "Interior Therapy."

Yeah. I think the air date is in December or January.

How's that going?

Honestly? The first family was lovely. The second family I adored and wanted to move in with them. The third family, not so much.

We just finished Saturday with the third family. And they were dirty, and they were hoarders, and they smelled, and I was very, very uncomfortable there. The second family, although the house was kind of tacky — it was a big house in Beverly Hills — it had a staff, and there was a chef and a driver and a tennis court, and I loved it. It was like I was on vacation. It was funny because although there was conflict between the husband and wife, there was no real conflict between myself and the family. I really liked them. And they were like, "Uh, we can't have every episode like this." But the last family I was at — it was actually a couple — I didn't feel a real sense of connection between them, and I kind of thought they shouldn't be together.

So what's the idea? You live with them for a week? What can you do in a week?

You wouldn't believe how much you can do in five days. It's a well-oiled machine. This last one we did floors, we did kitchen cabinets, lighting, paint, furniture, kitchen faucet, window coverings — mostly cosmetic. The first day is really about getting to know the family. You really only have 31/2 days to get this thing done.

What's the idea behind living with them?

It's about really getting to know the family. This second family had a fascinating story. Very wealthy man, he had made tens of millions of dollars if not hundreds. He established a $20-million trust for his son. The son got it when he was 18. He said, "My son has no initiative. He has no work ethic. I ruined him."

One person on IMDB asked if you were really as cruel as you seem on the show. Is that you or are you being egged on by the producers?

I think I'm misunderstood in that I have a very, very dry sense of humor and I'm very sarcastic. And the people around me know that I'm joking. Ninety-nine point nine-nine percent of the time, I'm kidding. And a lot of people don't get it. Like, "How could you possibly call immigration on Zoila?" I didn't do it, and I never would do it, and Zoila is a legal citizen anyway.

You didn't set out to go into entertainment. What do you think it is about your show that resonates with audiences? Because regardless of whether people like you, they watch you.

I think what's interesting about the show is — I have no control over the editing whatsoever — it shows all sides of me, including the bad side, and I make mistakes all the time. I have been known to treat people [badly] and then I feel horribly guilty afterward, and then I scramble to try to make up for it. I think because I am so flawed, people can relate to it. And people have watched my fall and rise again — I think that made me very human. Who knew the housing market would actually crash? And I really took a gigantic step backward. I lost a lot of money. I had to reinvent myself.

What about the fact of watching yourself on television?

It's better than any therapy session that I've had, and I've had a lot of therapy. For me to see my behavior on television has changed me pretty drastically. Granted, I still am who I am, but I think I'm more mature and more self-aware.

So you didn't really realize who you were until you saw yourself on TV?

I didn't. I didn't really know myself. In fact, there were times when I didn't recognize myself. I actually had people send me emails who I went to school with who said, "This just doesn't seem like the Jeff Lewis I knew in high school — the fun-loving life of the party. You just seem so stressed." I was. And it still is so stressful.

I just got a mortgage, and I wrote letters of explanation; I might as well have written a book. The things they were asking me were unbelievable. Just imagine — with all these consults and design jobs just for this year, they wanted me to Xerox every check that I had accepted just since the beginning of this year. It's nuts.

Where are you buying?

I closed escrow in Los Feliz. I used to own the house five years ago — I flipped it — and I bought it back. Four years after the people bought it from me, they went into foreclosure. It will be in ["Flipping Out"] in Episode 10. It's a traditional Tudor-esque Wallace Neff. It's a beautiful home. There's a lot of deferred maintenance, but I'm really excited. And I bought it for 42% less than what I sold it for five years ago.

So how's business?

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