Debbie Does Design


By Christine Champagne

Debbie Travis knows how to please a gay man'well, a gay man with an appreciation for remarkable tone-on-tone paint treatments and amazing throw pillows. One of television's liveliest and most delightful design divas, the ballsy Brit, who is based in Montreal and shoots her show mainly in Canada, showcases her great taste and sense of style on HGTV's Debbie Travis' Facelift. Each episode finds Travis renovating a room'or sometimes two or more'in an unsuspecting person's home with the help of an accomplice. On the episode set to air on Friday, February 4th (check local listings for times), Travis tackles the main floor of an antiques-filled downtown Montreal apartment inhabited by a gay couple'a publicist named Puelo and his custom drape-making partner, Andre (he's the one being surprised).

Some of the design shows have gay couples on but don't really acknowledge their relationship'it's like these shows are willing to have them on but are afraid to focus too much on them being gay.

We don't see it like that. We love the Italians, we love the Greeks, and we love the gays because they're great television' Television is so open in Europe. There's a brand new series'it's the number one show in England'called Little Britain, and it's a bit like Monty Python. There is one vignette that they do every week that's called 'I'm the only gay in the village.' It's set in a Welsh village, and there is this [man] with a thick Welsh accent, and he walks around going, 'I'm the only gay in the village!' There's a scene where he walks into the little corner shop where they sell newspapers'he's looking for a magazine like your magazine'and he says, 'Where is it?' And the little old lady behind the counter says, 'Well, I think I sold it.' And he says, 'But I'm the only gay in the village!' And she says, 'Well, it was that nice couple up the road [that bought it], the solicitors, and there's a beautiful article in it about rimming.' Here's this woman who is like 70 years old, and this is on at 7 o'clock in the evening on BBC, and it's become a cult thing. Everywhere you go, people say, 'I'm the only gay in the village!' If you laugh at yourself, it brings down walls.

As for your show, I have to say that Debbie Travis' Facelift is the best of the home makeover shows on television. On other shows, the designers either just go on shopping sprees at Pottery Barn or make flimsy furniture out of MDF (medium density fiberboard). You really go all-out in terms of heavy-duty construction and design.

We're putting so much money into this'we're spending around $50,000 to $100,000 on a renovation, and it's a proper renovation. We really want them to like it. It's not a show about doing something stupid and them going, 'Oh my God, I hate it!'

Aside from the person being surprised by not liking the new look of their home, what else do you worry about?

Our biggest worry, which would not be great television, is an accident. I get very nervous with all the saws that somebody's going to lose a finger. There was a fire'we set a house on fire once. We had put in a new fireplace and chimney, and we had cameras everywhere, and we caught everything, which was great. An electrician was literally saying to somebody, 'Are flames supposed to come out of the wall, or the firebox?' We had the firefighters come. You should have seen the bedlam.

My favorite part of your show is the reveal because people are truly stunned when they get home and find Debbie Travis in their house. Has anyone ever passed out at the sight of you or peed in their pants?

I haven't been peed on yet. But we surprised an older couple in their late 60s on one show. Ten minutes before they arrived, a relative said, 'Both of them are on heart medication,' and I went, 'Oh, for God's sakes!' We had to get a paramedic standing there just in case.

Have you ever had someone come home early and ruin the surprise?

A couple of times. One couple went to Albany on the bus'they were schoolteachers going on a seminar, and they had an argument, and he came back. It was two or three days into the renovation, and we were halfway through, and all their stuff was out on the lawn. We were actually having dinner, and we were 40 people sitting in their dining room. He's like, 'Who are you?' And he called the police. His daughter [had set up the surprise] and was in Paris in school.

How much longer will you keep doing your show? Between coming up with the intricate designs, finding a way to get the person being surprised out of town, and then completing the renovation, it seems like a lot of work.

It's grueling. We do 13 episodes a year. We're actually starting season four now, and then I have a great idea for a new series for next year, so we may put Facelift on hold. I'm hoping to do the new show between here and New York. I can't really say much about it, but it's something very different.