Get to Know Your Favorite Bravo TV Star
Written By: Charlotte Farrell
Photographed By: Ryan Hensley
Styled By: Claudia Alvarado Jeff Lewis Flipping Out
Grooming By: Debbie Carey and Ivonne Herrera Jeff Lewis Flipping Out
On a typical Los Angeles summer day, the temperature is as hot as the property values and the newest vegan restaurant down the street. There isn’t a cloud in the sky and hipsters, high-rollers and tourists are navigating the streets on their various missions. Nestled in the hills, Jeff Lewis of Bravo’s “Flipping Out” is busy being a jack of all trades. The OC native has adapted to the “can’t stop, won’t stop” mentality that is oh-so LA: he is a TV star, a thriving entrepreneur and new father with partner Gage Edward. He is in his element, but not without the side effects that seem to be a part of the job description of being a celebrity.
From spending his Fridays on the beaches of Corona Del Mar with his mom in the summers, to following his dad around work, Lewis had a happy childhood. “What I appreciate about Orange County is that it was just a very clean, safe place to grow up and be a kid. I felt like I had freedom. You never had to worry. I felt very independent,” he said with an assuredness that was sourced from far off, fond memories.
While looking back, he stressed that it wasn’t necessarily his surroundings that led him to where he is now. “We are influenced by our parents. My dad wanted me to be an attorney,” he said. I couldn’t disagree that he would have been a fantastic lawyer. But, after changing his major multiple times to topics like pre-law and political science, it was an elective that really stuck. In order to fulfill an art requirement, Lewis signed up for an interior design course, figuring that it would be the easiest. Instead, he fell in love with it. The class sparked an interest that he never realized existed.
Still speaking to the past, Lewis’ relationship with his father and the lessons that he learned are pivotal, not only to his success, but how he approaches balancing his career and being a father himself. “My dad had a big influence on me. He is a very hard worker, very smart and adaptable.” Aside from his nine to five, Lewis’ dad had three other jobs, and was always emphasizing the value of getting things done and understanding how money works. “I never knew anything else. It is the norm to work late, to work weekends.” In hindsight, Lewis digressed that his dad “could have had a bit more balance. There could have been a little bit more family time.” But he was quick to retrieve the value of his father’s training. “Kids are deprived of important information,” he explained. With pride, he sat up a bit straighter and expressed with a genuine tone of appreciation that “whatever his faults were, my dad raised three, self-sufficient, independent boys.”
When it comes to raising his own little girl, Monroe, the focus has shifted even more so to working smarter as opposed to harder. “Now, we don’t have a choice. There is only so much time in the day. I want to spend time with the baby and be involved. I want to be there when she wakes up in the morning and I want to be there when she goes to bed.” He lovingly recounts moments that have made him realize how important that extra time can be. “I’ve started giving her her morning bottle, and I swear, it’s a bonding process that I didn’t realize I was missing until now.” And Monroe is so full of life and baby-blissful joy that it is no wonder that Lewis feels the urge to be with her more often. “I’m trying to pay attention to what her interests are, and right now it’s music. She likes to sing. Oh, and she likes books. Maybe she’ll be a librarian,” he joked as he rolled his eyes.
At this point in his life, Lewis has developed a greater sense of appreciation, not just for his family, “but for every dollar that comes through my hands,” he admitted. “I do feel very blessed. I took a good hard look at my success and realized it was all about opportunity. You have to recognize it and take advantage. And, I ask for what I want. I’m not ashamed.” That opportunism and honesty has paid off. “People will posture and pretend that they’re more successful. That blocks opportunities. By me asking for help, the opportunities will show up. I’m not embarrassed to say, ‘I don’t have all the money to do this deal.’ I find that people are willing to work with you to figure out the solution. They respect someone who comes up and flat out puts it all out on the table. I just pitch and pitch and pitch until somebody bites.” And boy, do they bite.
When those projects do take off, Lewis has developed a system that avoids the speed bumps and roadblocks that he has encountered throughout the years. “Every project is different and you are attracted to each project for different reasons.” One major factor that comes into play is the clients. “There are people that are never happy, and when people are unhappy, especially in their marriage, they have a baby or buy a new house. It’s a distraction that they think will help, but it makes it worse.” Having witnessed two clients’ divorces occur as the result of a flip, Lewis and Edward have perfected vetting people. He is a researcher at heart. “I am just naturally inquisitive,” and it makes the job a lot less messy.
Lewis’ aesthetic has a definite California vibe. It is somewhat versatile, leaning a bit more contemporary. He calls it “traditional with an edge.” Those who watch his show can attest to his taste. It has led to the development of the Jeff Lewis Company, which has pumped out impressive product lines such as tiles, barn doors, rugs and paint colors, of which will be relaunched in the fall with 20 more colors and at a lower price. He hopes to get into lighting, but some kinks need to be smoothed out first. As problems are identified, Lewis is quick to search for solutions. He wants to fix what isn’t working. Blame it on his Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD), but it gives him a competitive edge amongst his peers. “My need for cleanliness and order and perfection has helped me build what I think is a good quality product. I see things that other people do not see and it is a little to the extreme.”
He is confident, proud and unwavering, and that really is how it should be in this industry. The same cannot be said of some of his past employees. He’s been doing this a long time, so when someone comes in thinking they know all the answers and lacks true grit and passion, Lewis is all about weeding out the weaklings. “I think what is important to me, number one, is work ethic. I had a real problem with young people that don’t necessarily have an appreciation for the job or the money.” There is this sense of entitlement that he cannot stand, having worked his tail off for years, day in and day out. “No more millennials. The last two people I hired are in their 50s and 60s. They work hard and will do what it takes. Instead, these kids want to camp for two weeks and make enough money to pursue other interests. I need people that are willing to make concessions. You need people that are on your same wavelength.” Recently, Lewis lost two valuable employees, one of six years (Vanina) and one of 18 years (Zoila). He paused, looking off into the stunning view with a furrowed brow. “Those were two people I really leaned on.” But there is no time to lament. There are simply not enough hours in the day.
A good part of those busy days is documented for the world to see. Filming the show for so many years has allowed for Lewis to grow accustomed to the cameras. “The show is me living my life and running my business. I’m not self-edited. I’ve said a lot of things that I shouldn’t have, and that means I am too comfortable with the cameras.” It takes a lot of energy to edit yourself, and after the initial stress and insecurity wore off, great television ensued. Fast forward to the 10th season, and Lewis seems unphased.
However, what makes for good television also makes for typecast judgments. Misconceptions are part of the reason celebrities maintain that allure that makes everyone on the outside think that what they see on screen is reality. Viewers decide, season after season, who they love to hate and who they hate to love. “I think people are always surprised when they meet me that I am a nice person. I think that, unfortunately, there is the person you are at work and the person that you are after work. The show is called ‘Flipping Out,’ so anytime I lose my temper, it is guaranteed to be on screen. People don’t realize that I am more rational and nicer than what the show depicts.”
He doesn’t believe in trick-editing. “Listen, I can be narcissistic, but I don’t think I am the self-obsessed asshole that some people think that I am.” But leave it to Lewis to be unapologetic and real. “Actually, I was kind of a dick 10 years ago, so I’ve had an evolution. It’s growing up, it’s maturity.”
In this reflection lies a sincerity that can be lost on those who watch the show. “You know, I don’t really like confrontation. It’s just unfortunate that some people take you there.” With all of the colorful personalities that make up the industry, there are individuals that will not respect you without some push-back. “I worry that one day I will lose my temper in front of [Monroe], but then, on the other hand, I want her to learn that if people are not treating you well, and you try to respond in a nice way and they don’t, and you have to lose your temper, that’s life! Like, ‘Oh, you’re gonna continue walking all over me and you’re not going to listen to me until I fucking lose it and start screaming at you?’ It happens a lot. It’s a part of life and a part of business.”
When I met with Lewis at the start of the interview, I didn’t know what to expect. I had seen the show and had some idea of how this would go. Season 10 was about to air, and the usual flip-outs were all over the promos, promising to keep fans grabbing for the popcorn and cringing at the shade being thrown left and right, and so articulately! In the stillness amidst the Hollywood Hills, I was taken by surprise. The more we spoke, those assumptions I had were made immediately invalid. My nerves were met with a kind attentiveness that made me feel as though I was chatting with an old friend.
As we wrapped things up, I asked Lewis about any upcoming vacation plans. “We literally do not go on vacation!” I couldn’t believe it, but when he explained his reasoning it all made sense. “It’s not the cost of the trip, but more what it costs to leave business for a week. Not to be negative, but I have a window. I feel like the window is open, and I don’t know how much longer these opportunities will keep coming through that window. I want to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible. When that window slams shut, then we’ll go on vacation.” I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect response from someone who lives and breathes love for what they do, who they are and what they represent. So, when the time comes for Jeff Lewis to call it a day and lounge on a boat in the South of France, I wish him a “Bon Voyage!”
Pants on Fire: Lewis’ biggest pet peeves? When people lie and when they are cheap!
One of the Greats: Lewis’ design icons are Thom Filicia, Nate Berkus and Joanna Gaines.
Wild Thing: Sorry, “Real Housewives.” His favorite TV show at the moment is “Animal Kingdom.”
Tid-Bit: Lewis’ advice for when life gives you lemons? Drink!
Homing Pigeon: Lewis is obsessed with directions and routes and how to get to your destination quicker. Just like “The Californians” on SNL, he knows the best routes around LA, and is always offering unsolicited directions to anyone that will listen.
Easy Going: Lewis’ ideal client embraces the creative process, is collaborative and has a healthy budget.
Home Provided By: Jeff Lewis Flipping Out
11538 San Vicente Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90049
8416 Grand View Dr
Los Angeles, CA 90046
Jeff Lewis of “Flipping Out” Talks All Things Design