Catching Up With Jeff Lewis
By Kevin Downey
Jeff Lewis, the controlling, sometimes scary, and fabulously obsessive-compulsive home decorator, real estate flipper, and design consultant from Bravo's Flipping Out, quite literally flipped out last season. The often unemotional Lewis cried as he shouted accusations at his former business partner, Ryan Brown, who Lewis claims stole away his clients. Lewis says his heart was broken when he confronted Brown on the show's third season reunion.
Flipping Out's fourth season premieres Tuesday, August 10 at 9 p.m. EST. This season, Lewis is a decidedly different person than he was last season, when the failed business partnership with Brown and the rotten economy combined to ratchet up the stress in his life. Now, business is booming, he has a new boyfriend (who won't appear on the show), and, as for his OCD -- well, that's still there, but in a good way.
Out: People are obsessed with your lips. What's your secret?
Jeff Lewis: I've always had big, full lips. But about 10 years ago, I did permanent filler. It was supposed to be permanent, but it ended up dissipating. Most of it's gone, except for a little bit in my upper lip. I don't want to do it again. I did it during an insecure phase in my life. I've actually thought about taking out the little bit left in the upper lip, but it would be too much trouble.
Season 4 of Flipping Out kicks off with you traveling all over the place. Why so much traveling? Are you flipping homes around the country?
There is a whole new business that has developed, even in addition to the [new] Jeff Lewis Design. Now, I'm also doing a lot of consulting. What's great about that is, if you can't afford to have me redo your home, you can probably afford to have me come out to your home, whether it's for an hour or for three days. I can consult with you on a design direction. It has become a major part of my business. I might spend two hours with a client. I tell them exactly what to do. Sometimes they take notes. Sometimes we come back to the office and type up notes and email them. This way, people know exactly what to do. It ends up paying for itself. A lot of clients were about to make some bad decisions or spend more than they should. In fact, I'm getting on a plane tomorrow morning with [chief operations officer] Jenni Pulos and we're going to St. Louis for three days to furnish a 4,600-square-foot house. So, we're doing a lot of business.
The economy has had a huge impact on millions of Americans, including you and your real estate flipping business. That played out in season 3. But in the fourth season premiere, Jenni says business has quadrupled. How did you turn things around?
There are two reasons why we had no business last year. We had very little business at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009. One was, obviously, the economy. People with money were holding onto it. Now, what's happening is that people are feeling a little bit more comfortable. People are coming to grips with the fact that they may be in their house for the long haul. It may take three to five years for home prices to come back. So, what people are saying is: We're going to be here for three to five years anyway, so let's enjoy this place and add value to it in the meantime. Money has loosened up. The second reason is, and I'd rather not dive into this, people had trouble reaching me. We corrected that. When people were able to find me again, we got really busy.
Speaking of which, on the season 3 reunion show, your verbal smack-down of former business partner Ryan Brown wasn't easy to watch. Did you feel uncomfortable having that unpleasantness play out in front of millions of people?
You watched my heart break. That's what happened. It was probably the worst thing I had ever gone through, and my mother died when I was 18. I was very much in love with someone and had a very sad break up a couple of years ago. But this was still one of the worst things that ever happened to me. Your parents pass away. Romantic relationships end. But, never in a million years did I think this would happen. I thought we would be friends for the rest of my life. He was like family. I probably cried on and off about it for eight months. It was like my best friend and brother died.
You told Ryan that if he came to you to explain what happened, you would listen to him. Did he ever discuss that with you? And, if so, did you listen?
I emailed him a few months back. He was living in Argentina. I didn't know that. I emailed him about business. But toward the end, I said, 'How are you?' I said I was really sad about what happened. I communicated the best I could. I put myself out there as much as I can. He responded. It was very sweet. I sent him another email a few months later, disguised as business. He said he's moving to Santa Barbara. I asked if he'd like to talk. He said he'd like that. That was several weeks ago, but I haven't heard anything. It's possible he's very busy. I guess I'm still hoping for that call, but I feel it's more important to me than it is to him. I came to terms a few weeks ago that this may never be resolved. We may never be friends again. I was hoping for closure, but this might be the closest I get to closure. I don't know.
You're busy again, which is great. But is there a downside? In the fourth season premiere you say: 'I used to be a fun gay.' Not so much anymore?
I used to have a lot more free time. I used to be more carefree, at least after work. During office hours, I'm pretty focused. Although, granted, I get sidetracked and joke around a lot. But I know when to be serious. But, after work, I used to have a good time. I used to travel a lot, go out a lot and I wasn't concerned about money. I used to be a lighter version of Jeff Lewis. But, now, I'm so busy and very stressed that I sometimes feel like I'm no fun. I'm dating someone now and I say to him, 'I promise it's not always going to be like this. I wish you would've known me four years ago.' He came into my life at literally the worst time in my life. If he's happy now, he's going to be really happy when things turn around.
Will we see him in season 4?
No. He's not interested. If I really pushed, I think he would be on the show. But with my previous relationship, which was a long relationship -- 10 and a half years -- he wanted nothing to do with the show. I didn't know this when the show was bought, but the show ended up being just about what goes on during business hours. It became more about my employees, not so much about who I'm dating. That is the precedent. Bravo isn't pushing me to see what I do after hours or where I go or who I sleep with.
In the new season, there are babies all over the place. Your house assistant, Jett Pink, has a baby, who you seem to be bonding with. Jenni is prancing around in a funny scene where she's clutching a client's baby, and she doesn't want to let go. What about you? Any babies in your future?
I'm discussing it. I keep going back and forth. I say, 'This might not be the right time.' But people always say there isn't a right time, which is probably true. I just don't want Zoila [Chavez, Lewis's housekeeper] raising the baby. I do, but I don't. I just want to be sure. I also got sidetracked. I spent so many years wealth building, but then I took a gigantic step backwards when the market fell. I lost a lot of money. I took a step backwards and now I'm trying to catch up. So, I don't think it'll happen this year. But it's possible I'll start getting serious about it next year.
There's a recurring theme on Flipping Out, which is essentially people accusing you of having obsessive-compulsive disorder. Do you ever get tired of hearing that?
I don't see it as a bad thing. I don't see it as a negative. My personality, my characteristics, my eccentricities or disorders translate into my design. I think it has assisted in my success. It also makes me feel good when people come up to me and say they do the same stuff. There are a lot of us out there. I feel less like an outsider, less like a freak. I don't know that it works in my personal life. However, I did find someone who is almost as neat and clean as I am. Which is so much better because the person I was with before was a big slob. There was a lot, a lot of tension.
The greatest thing about Flipping Out, I think, is the relationships you have with people who work for you, like Zoila and Jenni. But you talk a lot in the season 4 premiere about letting go of some of your staff. Will we see that this season?
It has been a tough season. The business has changed and I need people with different skills than I needed before. I won't spoil anything, but it has been a rough road deciding who is going to stay, if anybody, and who will go, if anybody. I think we've worked it out now, but there were bumps in the road. It's not easy for me to let anyone go. I will do whatever I can to hold onto the core group of people that I have working for me. I think you'll see that I try every which way to keep them. It's hard to find people. It's hard to replace anybody. We are a small office. We are a family. So, what I'm trying to do is have everyone step up and be what I need them to be. And if they can't be what I need them to be, maybe there's another position for them. I try to do whatever I can do.
The fourth season of Flipping Out premieres at 9 p.m. EST on Tuesday, August 10th on Bravo. For more info, check out the show's