You may remember Thom Filicia as the approachable interior designer from the Emmy Award-winning series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. He was the design guru who helped hapless bachelors transform their bare-walled bunkers into stylish abodes worthy of coming home to. But it's not just the decor-challenged who have benefitted from his sophisticated designs; Thom has authored two books, designed countless interiors and launched his own lines of furniture, rugs, fabric, lighting and accessories — in addition to being the host of two home makeover shows, Tacky House and Dress My Nest. Warm and affable, he's made beautiful decor accessible to millions, but he is also very serious about his craft. Speaking at Toronto's Elte showroom, he waxed poetic about the world of interior design, its history and where it's going. "It's an exciting time to be in design," he says. Filicia's passion is not only infectious but palpable when you page through his multifaceted portfolio.
House & Home: How did you get into design?
Thom Filicia: I actually started designing houses in the sixth grade. My school recognized that this was unusual and would post the drawings up on the principal’s bulletin board, which, you have to understand, was the equivalent of the front cover of The New York Times! So I guess that’s when I knew I could excel in design.
H&H: It seems you use a lot of detailing in your furniture line. Is this the thread that runs throughout the pieces?
TF: My furniture does have a lot of interesting detail. Nailheads, tape trims and contrasting welts used in fresh ways can give a piece of furniture personality and character. It’s all about the details, whether we’re talking about a piece of furniture or a house. Thoughtful details make good design.
H&H: I know you worked as a designer for some time before moving into TV. How did you find that transition when you first went on Queer Eye?
TF: I’ve owned my own design firm, Thom Filicia Inc., for over 13 years and we’re still going strong. When I first started off in television, design wasn’t represented well. I found when people talked design, they talked down to people and I wanted to relate in a different way. I felt there was room on TV for great, accessible design. When Queer Eye came along, I liked what it represented.
H&H: So, it was something different?
TF: Moving into television was a new way to communicate fresh, accessible ideas. I was aware there was a hunger for education in this field and I wanted to cultivate an interest in interior design for people — wherever they lived.
H&H: What is your home like?
TF: In New York, it’s a modern glass box on the top floor overlooking the Hudson River. The furniture makes it warm. The design is sophisticated, approachable, comfortable — not too precious. It’s livable style with an honesty, an authenticity. My lake house is a bungalow; I call it Lake Chic. It’s fun and relaxed but pulled-together. Pulled-back glamour. It respects the 1930s architecture.
H&H: Do you share them with anyone?
TF: My partner, Greg, and our two dogs: Paco is an 11-year-old beagle; Foxy is a 4-year-old border collie. They are both rescue dogs, so we don’t really know their birthdays, so I made them both the Fourth of July.
H&H: Do you entertain at home often?
TF: We’re all about entertaining, whether it’s in the city or in the country. We’ve designed our homes to be comfortable and welcoming for day-to-day living but also to accommodate friends and family.
H&H: How would you describe your perfect night out?
TF: Actually, for me it’s all about the perfect night in! Because of our businesses, we are out for dinners and events most nights. So carving out that special night at home with the dogs or with a few close friends is a welcome respite. These moments are important.
H&H: Where do you find inspiration?
TF: I’m surrounded by it every day. Whether shopping with clients or travelling the world for business or pleasure, I am constantly wide-eyed and stimulated by what’s around me. From everyday objects to the most rare and refined, I find inspiration in all things.
H&H: From high-end to mass market?
TF: The marriage of high-end design with mass market has a great synergy. Design is so much more approachable and accessible now. There used to be such an exclusivity about it, which alienated people rather than drawing them in. I love how far we’ve come.
H&H: Many people are afraid of colour and stick with a safe one, like beige.
TF: A layering of neutrals and textures can look smart and sophisticated. However, I’m all for bringing life, personality and depth to a room with strong pops of colour.
H&H: How do you prepare your home for spring?
TF: I roll up all my winter rugs, pillows and throws and swap them for their summer cousins, and I switch out the whisky for the Pimm’s.
H&H: What is your definition of beauty?
TF: A pristine body of water.
H&H: What are you working on now?
TF: In addition to my residential and commercial projects, I’m working on a new book, expanding my home collection, Thom Home, and kicking off a new exciting relationship with HGTV — I’m working with them on a number of shows, slated to appear in 2011-12.
H&H: When are you most happy?
TF: On my boat.