After 18 seasons of “Love It or List It,” designer Hilary Farr has branched out with her own solo show, “Tough Love With Hilary Farr.” And true to its name, this series tackles the hard cases where homeowners are stuck in a home that’s driving them nuts.
On “Love It or List It,” Farr’s co-host, David Visentin, could always offer an escape hatch in the form of new properties their clients could buy. But realistically, how feasible is it these days to just pick up and move? With a seemingly never-ending pandemic and record-high home prices, it may make more sense for most folks to stay put. Yet for Farr, staying put also means the pressure’s on for her to renovate these homes just right.
Curious to hear how Farr is doing on her new show and her best advice for the many people going stir-crazy at home today, Realtor.com® caught up with the famed designer to learn more. Here’s what Farr does behind the scenes that fans rarely see, which rooms she thinks are key to fix first, and other “tough love” tips to help homeowners remain happy at home.
Fans have enjoyed ‘Love It or List It’ for years. What makes ‘Tough Love With Hilary Farr’ different?
What makes it different is that I have the full show just to deal with the issues of the homeowners, as opposed to “Love It or List It” where the one-hour show is being shared with real estate [agent] David.
This is a show where we’re dealing with the emotional aspects and emotional problems that have gotten to a breaking point and just need to be solved. At the same time, there is a personal process between me and the homeowners that is fun. It’s revealing about the owners and sometimes about me because I’m sharing my life experiences as it parallels theirs. So they can understand that I do empathize, but I also have the experience to be able to help them understand the solutions.
You meet a lot of homeowners who aren’t happy with their homes. Is there a specific room you recommend they fix up first?
The kitchen would be an obvious one. If it doesn’t function and you have a terrible time trying to produce meals and you certainly don’t enjoy the process either, you would tackle that room for sure.
Or it could be your bedroom. People forget that we spend a lot of time in our bedrooms, even if we’re not necessarily awake for the whole time. It should be a place where it gives you calmness and it gives you pleasure, so that you will have a beautiful sleep and wake up in the morning and the first thing that you see is your bedroom, which should set you off very nicely for the day to come.
And it’s usually the last thing that people want to spend money on because it isn’t a show-off area. It’s just for you. No guests, in theory. But the idea is that is your personal space, and I will say people should take a good look at that.
While renovating, it can be hard to decide what to keep and what to toss. Do you have any tips to help homeowners?
You have to be very brutal about that. We’re not supposed to get attached to an object; but, you know, objects that I’ve grown up with, or that I remember buying on a specific trip, can have an emotional attachment because there’s a memory that goes with them. That said, they will often not work in your home space, especially if they did at one point and you have since moved.
It’s not about the value of the pieces. It’s about the value of the memories that they bring to you. You can refresh them. You can keep them, and very often if you just have them redone, you can make them look fresh and much more in tune with the new way you’re decorating your home and what is on-trend.
Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve kept throughout the years and brought from house to house?
In my bedroom, I have a beautifully carved walnut chaise that my mother used to sit in, in London. There was a big bay window there that brought the morning sun in, and sunshine in England is rare. So she would catch the sun.
She would be sitting there, covered in blankets because it was always cold and also covered in cats and dogs, reading the papers in that chaise. That was how the morning started for my mother, and now I have that in my bedroom. All I did was reupholster it in white, and it actually looks completely perfect with just about any decor. And every time I walk past it, I remember my mother.
Do you have any tips for people who are redecorating their house?
The most important thing is to understand what gives you pleasure. If it’s orange, paint it orange. Bring in orange, whatever that is. Don’t allow yourself to be completely influenced by whatever is so-called on-trend. Don’t be influenced beyond what you are drawn to.
Most people in my experience, if I ask them to send me home images of what they love, they send me the same thing over and over again. There are colors they’re drawn to, and then I say, “OK. Now show me the images of a former home or apartment.” Same colors, same feel. There are certain things that you would be naturally drawn to, and you should acknowledge those, not to the point where you’re in a rut. You need to be open to other ideas, but you need to understand what makes you feel comfortable within your home.
Once you’ve established that, then you can move from there and start layering and bringing in other colors or other textures or other objects, if you like, that are slightly out of your comfort zone, because just as in any area of our lives, you do need to be open to change and embrace that as well.
You always make renovation and design look so easy on TV. Do you have any stories of things going wrong from the show that we haven’t seen?
Probably when I swear like a sailor. We’re definitely going to keep those on the floor of the edit room! Beyond that, they usually come from just a moment where perhaps tempers get a little out of control, which has been known to happen. Not necessarily on my side.