“Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” Thom Filicia discusses the fab five

Celebrated designer Thom Filicia
Celebrated designer Thom Filicia

Celebrated designer on reconnecting with the fab five

Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, be it the original Fab 5 or the more recent generation, are an iconic part of our history as LGBTQ people. We’ve all experienced the Fab 5’s, or maybe, a Terrific 10, in many different capacities. Conduits for positive change within our communities, they are celebrated status icons. All of their names recognized as having given spotlight to queer culture, these vibrant people have normalized our community amid diversity and particularly among our heteronormative brothers and sisters.

How are you feeling about the Queer Eye Reunion?

Thom Filicia: I’m excited. I think it’s going to be great! I’ve heard good things about it, though I haven’t seen it myself yet. I like to always wait until it actually airs to enjoy it. But I’m excited. I’m excited. I know that Jai’s really excited about it. We had a great time shooting it, which was awesome.

I had opportunity to watch it prior to airing and you all are so charming and authentic!

TF: So, you’ve already seen it! I should be asking you questions!

What was it like reconnecting with the original fab five?

TF: You know, we do see each other. I see Carson quite a lot, and we shot Bravo’s Get a Room with Carson and Thom together. It was a year and a half ago but that was like a year of our lives shooting it and the whole thing. I see them all the time, we have dinner together to catch up all the time. We are in New York, so we kind of overlap depending on our schedules, work, travel. But it is really great.

When I’m in LA, I always check in with Jai and to catch up with him. Then of course, Florida, Kyan. When we have the opportunity to have more than two or three of us together, it’s pretty rare and it’s a lot of fun. So I would say it is in and of itself kind of an amazing feat for four of us or five of us. It’s very rare. It was really awesome to be able to do that. I think when we’re all in that situation, where we’re all together and on camera, like when we did the Celebrity Family Feud, we just fell right back into that mode. We’re all just a bit ridiculous, silly, having fun. It’s like first nature.

The chemistry that you have together is intricate. You can see that come across in the productions of you all. Would you say that Queer Eye helped you build the foundation of your success as a designer?

TF: Well, I studied interior design in college, I have a degree in interior design. I worked for Parish Hadley and Robert Metzker and Jeffrey Bilhuber, all very major design firms in New York. Then I opened my company in 1998. I had my company prior to Queer Eye, and I think it was about four years old when I started with Queer Eye. I had about 10 or 11 employees at that time. I kept the company going and moving forward, which was a feat in and of itself.

What was great about Queer Eye in terms of what I do for a living was having sort of a recognizable name brand or being sort of a recognizable name and sort of a household name at a certain level. It was great when I was segueing into product division when I started designing furniture and textiles and rugs. Now that we’re doing lighting and rugs, wall coverings and bedding, artwork and that kind of thing, I think it was great for that.

Celebrated designer Thom Filicia
Celebrated designer Thom Filicia

It was great being a television designer back in 2003-2006, television and design were mutually exclusive at a certain level. Today it’s different, you see chefs on television, you see designers on TV, you see all of these people that we sort of recognize as sort of industry leaders working in television. Back then it was still a little like, “Hmm. I don’t know if everyone designing a Park Avenue apartment or a Hamptons home was looking for their designer on television.” That created a bit of a challenge at that time. The added challenge was that I had to publish a lot, I had to be doing show houses and really be out there selling that I was a real designer, not just someone that worked in television and had an appreciation for design.

My first book, Tom Filicia Style was basically a book we created to give people an introduction, to me, that I was actually a legitimate designer. People in the industry knew that I was a designer but people watching on TV didn’t know that and weren’t reading Architectural Digest or House and Garden. It certainly had its advantages and with that came some subtle drawbacks in terms of having to make sure that people understood that I wasn’t just the “TV decorator guy.”

Thank you for letting me behind the curtain, I never would’ve thought “Oh, he’s a TV designer hired to be an entertainer” but could understand how it would possibly impact your formal design background.

TF: I was aware of it and I knew there was a calculated risk but the amount of fun that we had making the show and having the opportunity to do the show, my first thought was, “this is definitely going to be interesting.” We didn’t know that it would be the hit that it was. We didn’t know the effect on pop culture that it’s been.

I did realize it was a new medium, and I probably wouldn’t have been asked to do it again if I had said no. People have asked me to design their homes once a month since I graduated from college. So I was like, “I’m excited about this, let’s see where it takes us.” And I think the things that it opened up a little bit earlier than they probably would have were my product relationships.

I saw the recent announcement with Feizyrugs. Congratulations!

TF: Thank you. We’ve had our furniture line now for 12 years. I would say that’s probably one of the most interesting things that’s come out of that experience for me, product development, I love it and it’s something that we’re constantly developing and nurturing. Whether it’s coming out with new products every six months or now I have my own showroom in New York City. I still have my design office, and we do projects all over the US and outside of the US.

What does TV design look for you now?

TF: I actually really enjoy still doing television, like what we did with Carson and Get a Room. It was great because we were doing bigger design projects, and we were also doing smaller design projects on the same show. We were doing something to “give back”, helping somebody that was going through something or needed something. To do that on television was sort of down to earth and approachable. Then we were also doing something that was a little bit more high style with a higher budget, a sort of “true” decorating.

Doing something that was more high style was great, to give real prices and talk about the real issues and things that designers face with clients and projects. We tried to make it as authentic and real as possible. That was actually a really fun process because I don’t think that’s really been done very well in television in terms of giving that sort of realistic, real design. A lot of times we’re hearing about a $2,000 kitchen renovation and I’m like “Hmm, that seems very affordable.” So we tried to do things that represented what things really cost, with realistic timelines.

Talk to me about how your work impacts those around you and how your life has been changed by that throughout the years.

TF: One of the things I always did on Queer Eye was design spaces that were a real reflection of the people that lived there and that were not just interiors that were pretty or that looked better, or what was happening in the design world at that time. And not giving people gifts that really didn’t make sense for their lifestyle or their aesthetic. I try to create environments, whether I’m designing for someone on television or whether it’s a hotel or a family, that are a reflection of the people that live there, designs that they actually are authentic. They have a real sense of place. They connect with the architecture, the environment, the location, and they tell an authentic story of where someone was, where they are now, and where they are going.

Whether you’re talking about a single person, a family, a brand, a restaurant, a hotel, it’s about really making those connections and making it feel authentic and unpretentious, interesting, stylishly sophisticated, yet approachable and pays homage to its surroundings. What I love doing in the world of design is demystifying design and making it feel approachable, making it fun, creating a beautiful backdrop for life.