Celebrity interior decorators dish out secrets

This review was originally published in The Star: Design dons

GOOD DESIGN CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE Beautiful Rooms, Inspiring Stories By Ty Pennington Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 224 pages ISBN: 978-0743294744

THOM FILICIA STYLE Inspired Ideas for Creating Rooms You’ll Love By Thom Filicia Publisher: Atria Books, 222 pages ISBN: 978-1416572183

Ty pennington.jpg

TY Pennington and Thom Filicia brandished their wicked interior designing skills on television and became stars. Their secret? Their stand-out personalities, and their ability to create gorgeous, personalised interiors that inspire viewers and fulfill their clients’ desires and dreams.

It’s a pity that Pennington’s reality show, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, is not shown in Malaysia. It’s the kind of reality television that even reality TV haters like me will watch.

The show has an altruistic premise: Pennington’s mission is to give deserving folk in desperate circumstances a new home in seven days. (These folk are often good Samaritans who have contributed much to their communities.) These new dwellings offer hope and healing to the recipients, many of whom have gone through a very difficult time. (Judging from online viewer comments, it is not unusual to sob your heart out while watching!)

The new abodes come complete with fabulous interiors. Pennington is a former carpenter so he often custom builds furniture and decorative items that reflect his clients’ tastes and personalities – it’s always fun to see what he comes up with. For example, for New York policeman and single father John Vitale, Pennington created large black and white pictures of his three children because Vitale “loved waking up to (his) kids and seeing their faces”. Pennington’s interior decorating style can be described as “holistic” – his signature is “bright, quirky and fun”. However, his designs are influenced by the desires and tastes of his clients. Therefore, you get all kinds of styles, from antique-rich interiors to peaceful Zen.

After teaching the reader how to find his or her own style and prepare for a renovation, his book is then divided into “rooms”: Sleeping Spaces, Living Spaces and Working Spaces. In each chapter, Pennington describes how he creates some of his client’s rooms – the glossy photographs illustrate his beautiful interiors to perfection – and the stories about his clients and how these interiors came to be are just as inspiring as the pictures.

Although we don’t have Pennington to build furniture for us, we can learn one very important thing from him: to create interiors not dictated by some design guru or a brand, but to suit our personalities and desires.


Thom Filicia was also on TV; he was part of the “fab five” from the popular reality show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (it ran in the United States from 2003 to 2007, and was also aired in Malaysia in 2004 on Ntv7) and now has his own show, Dress My Nest, which has yet to be shown here. I always looked forward to Filicia’s segment on Queer Eye when he would redo less than ideal homes, as his interiors were often simple yet jaw-droppingly gorgeous.

What’s Flicia’s style? Simply put, “luxe”. His clients’ home are decorated with personally-designed and custom-made furniture often upholstered with luxurious fabrics and gorgeous and seemingly pricey artwork.

Filicia’s book offers tips on how to make a small space more appealing, how to use textures and how to create specific moods (such as “inviting” and “exotic”).

Thom Filicia Style’s layout is as beautiful as the designer’s interiors – one imaginative element is how handwritten notes are “scrawled” on photos to explain why a piece of furniture or artwork is there.

The only grouse I have with Filicia’s book is the same complaint I have with other such books that feature the polished interiors of mansions and multi-million dollar penthouses. Sure, there’s a lot of style on show, but is it the kind of style most people – whether in America or here – can afford? One can only sigh in longing as one gazes at the gorgeous photos. However, as with all such books, we can adapt some of Filicia’s design principles – for one, using fabrics and textures is an inexpensive way to give your home a more polished sheen.

Unlike most impersonal interior design books, Pennington and Filicia’s books are filled with stories about their lives, how they came to design the homes, or what challenges they faced while creating the perfect home for their clients. Both books are memoirs of sorts as well as “how to” books that are fun to read and educational to boot. And it does not hurt an iota that the two guys are very pretty to look at as well!