Jeff Lewis: Unlikely Diplomat for Design SF


I’ll admit that I was the biggest skeptic in the room when it was announced that Jeff Lewis of Bravo’s Flipping Out! was going to be the opening keynote speaker for 2011 Design SF. Not even an overbooked rsvp list of 400-plus names could convince me that he was worthy of a spot given in the past to the likes of such design luminaries as Bunny Williams, Mayer Rus and Margaret Russell… but I was wrong. 

Not only did Jeff Lewis and his charming friend and associate, Jenni Pulos, hold court in the SFDC’s Galleria Atrium at 10 am this morning, but the audience was rapt. As Lewis overshared and interviewer Alf Nucifora gently prompted more sharing on new topics—ranging from his profit margin on his flipped properties  ($100-300K in the early days and as much as $1M more recently) to advice on charging consultation fees to dishing about everyone: his family, his staff and his ex-partner and former flame, Ryan Brown. Like any good reality show fodder, it was at times like peering into someone’s therapy session but also like catching up with an old friend. 

But for me, the best part was his pure honesty about his inspiration and incentive. I feared he would try to impart pearls of wisdom about design trends and the direction of the industry, since Design SF is primarily an industry event. Instead, Lewis spoke briefly about his aesthetic being “modern-yet-warm,” referencing the opinions of the House Beautiful editors, and then he moved on and talked openly about making money—in real estate, remodels, reality TV contracts and most frankly, “making the most of my 15 minutes of fame before they’re up.”

It was pure and honest and actually inspirational. I know there are plenty of tried-and-true designers that didn’t show up this morning (because I didn’t see too many familiar faces in the sea of a crowd). Some may not have heard of Lewis and others may have boycotted the concept of a reality-show speculator posing as an interior designer, but I wish they had come. Like Mayer Rus talking about design from a writer’s perspective, Lewis has learned a lot while making a name for himself (and a small fortune in appearance fees, licensing contracts with QVC and television deals) as America’s favorite neurotic remodeler. 



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