If there’s one thing the past nine seasons of Bravo’s reality hit series Flipping Out has proven, it’s that the show’s OCD-fueled star Jeff Lewis can power through just about anything—construction chaos, persnickety clients, colorful assistants, feisty housekeepers—as he works tirelessly to build his thriving real estate and design business in Southern California.
That is, until this season, when he and his partner of eight years, Gage Edward, hit a baby bump. Following the birth of daughter Monroe Christine, the pair faced health concerns and uncertainty as to whether Lewis’ beloved housekeeper, Zoila Chavez, would stay on.
Nine months later, Lewis is breathing easier. Just days before the Aug. 17 premiere of Flipping Out’s 10th season (9 p.m. ET), the design guru spoke to Adweek (in true form, he was already on the phone waiting ahead of the interview time) about his eventful year, his flourishing products partnership with Home Depot and his made-for-Instagram airport hobby.
Adweek: First off, congrats on Baby Monroe.
Jeff Lewis: Thank you.
How’s the work-life balance going for you?
Well, if you had asked me a few months ago, I would say not so good, but I think we’re managing it now. It was a tough transition. We had a bit of postpartum. It was a bigger change than I ever thought. I thought I had this down. I thought I was prepared, I know what to expect. I really didn’t know what to expect, and feel, frankly. People lied to me because they say to you if the baby is crying she either needs to be changed or she’s hungry or tired, but that’s actually not true, because there’s a thousand reasons. Do you have kids?
I have a 10-year-old son. It was an adjustment for sure.
It is. And honestly, I was fortunate because I had a lot of help. However, we are very hands-on parents, Gage and I, and we’re in the mix. The issue, too, was the baby had acid reflux. And when you have an unhappy child who is in pain, you’re in pain and you’re stressed and then what happens is you kind of turn on each other, which is what happened. You’ll see in the show. It was a lot of stress. But we got through it. The baby is well. She’s happy.
What was the biggest challenge with being a new parent and running real estate, design and products businesses?
To be frank, and I probably shouldn’t be saying this, I wasn’t juggling it all. I wasn’t managing it properly. I actually really sucked at my job the first three to six months. I had unhappy clients. I had projects that I neglected, because I was going in and out of doctors’ offices, and I was tired and I wanted to be home. I’m better now at balancing it. I used to choose jobs for all sorts of different reasons … because I liked the client or I was creatively inspired or whatever. Now it’s just money. I go after the money. Where can I make the most money and the fastest money?
You’ve dabbled in product licensing for some time, first with Cesarstone and then paint, and now you’re working with Home Depot. How’s that working out?
Cesarstone was a licensing deal. It was a term. That term expired. So Gage and I said we need to do something that we have control over, so we started the paint business, which originally was a licensing deal [with Dunn-Edwards], but now it’s become a toll manufacturing deal. I actually buy the product direct from the manufacturer, which means it’s my business, and I have control over the company and the pricing. We’re going to relaunch [with Home Depot] by the end of the year with new pricing. It will be $29.98, and then I’m bringing in 20 more new colors (52 in all).
Gage! Yes, I have this navy blue that I absolutely am obsessed with. Gage! What’s the navy blue that I love called? … Deep Sea Diver. It’s gorgeous.
To be honest with you, the rug program needs to be revamped. I’m going to be working on that next. What is working is Jeff Lewis Tile and Jeff Lewis Barn Doors. Home Depot has got thousands and thousands and thousands of products they test online, and then they monitor the sales. And if the sales do well, then they put you in stores. Tile did really well online, they have now loaded me into 37 stores. Barn Doors was only online for 60 days, and they have loaded me into 132 stores.
We see your crew on the show working with you in your home office. Is there a bigger team off camera?
No. Gage and I do it all. It’s so crazy. I don’t have an agent; I don’t have a publicist; I don’t have a manager; I don’t have a business manager; I write all my checks by hand. Do you know how many checks I write a week? I have this kind of memory that I won’t remember it unless I’m writing it by hand, so I know what all my balances are. I know what checks are out. I balance my accounts every morning.
You share a lot on the show. But do you ever draw a line and tell producers something can’t be used?
I never call Bravo, and I think that’s one of the reasons why the show keeps going. I actually keep my head low. I stay quiet. The [Real Housewives] complain nonstop—I’m talking on the daily. I’ve spoken up maybe three times. It was only one time for me and the other times were for other people, where I just felt like the interview bite they used didn’t really make sense for the story, and it was unnecessarily mean and it was taken out of context. One time was honestly to protect Gage. We had a disgruntled employee that was really, really especially nasty, like mean and unnecessary, and it really hurt Gage’s feelings when we saw the rough-cut. I actually had to get really nasty about it because they weren’t going to change it. So it came to the point where—and I don’t do this—I told them I’m not promoting the show, like I won’t do a single interview if you don’t take it out.
Is Zoila back this season?
She retired three months ago. She stayed six months after the baby was born to help us, but she really was ready to go and she hung in there for us, and I will always be grateful. It was time to let her go.
So, I have to ask: What’s up with all those Instagram photos of you next to sleeping travelers in airports?
I spend a lot of time in airports, and I do a lot of traveling for consults and speaking engagements. The airlines today are so inefficient—you’re always sitting and waiting, there’s always mechanical problems, there’s always delays, and I’m just sitting there in absolute boredom. I thought it was funny that somebody was just sleeping and drooling with their mouth open, and I asked Gage to take a picture of me, which he wouldn’t do, and I had to force him and actually physically berate him until he would do it, and now it’s become a fun hobby for us. It’s just a nice little pastime that I do in airports. Some people read or actually get some work done—not me!