To mark the launch of Queer Eye’s third season, we’re taking a peek at the most extensive remodel they’ve ever done—a brand new, three-story Kansas City home. In an episode that's every bit as tear-jerking as previous seasons, the Fab Five come together to help a widower, Robert Elrod, and his two sons transition from the loss of his wife.
Resident interior designer Bobby Berk works his magic to keep reminders of Elrod’s wife in the new home while also offering the family a fresh start. Read on to learn how it all came together (and so quickly), and for Berk's pointers on what to look for when remodeling.
Typically, Berk begins by determining what’s not working in a house, how the space needs to function for the owners, and how he can use design to make their lives easier and happier. From there, he peppers the home with the owners' personality and style, while also incorporating a bit of his own flair (naturally).
This is the hard part, as often Queer Eye "heroes" have difficulty articulating what their design aesthetic is—and they may not even have one. On the show, owners often state that their favorite home store is Walmart.
For Berk, it’s a sort of excavation of clues while making sure the "heroes" feel comfortable. He finds non-design-related ways to figure out what they’ll like, and sometimes he’s able to get cues from just looking around their house.
He recalls Remy from season one, episode six, who inherited his grandmother’s home with green shag carpet, duck murals, and his mother’s furniture from when she was growing up. After discovering that Remy’s favorite show was Mad Men and his dream getaway was Cuba, Berk paired the two in a midcentury-swathed abode with ’50s accents in a fun departure from the standard palette of Queer Eye heroes—blue.
"I’m not going to go in there and use a color just for the sake of using another color that our heroes aren’t going to be happy and comfortable with. This isn’t just a show for me. This really is me trying to help someone change their life by changing their home life," says Berk.
When the work begins, Berk must get to know the client, complete the design work, and then install the project in a single week. He credits his success to 1) magic and 2) a solid crew with experience, many of whom came to him after working on Extreme Home Makeover.
"They’re used to building an entire house in a week, so I hit the jackpot with having the most amazing team where I can go in and design a space and I never have to worry that it’s not going to come together; because they’re so good at these tight timelines."
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There is also a lot of pre-planning, with measurements taken and materials ordered two to three weeks in advance. Says Berk, "It’s really only the actual design stuff—the personal touches of the home—that we really dig into that week once we find out more about them."
And still, there are times when Berk's plan gets thrown out the window and they’re scrambling to do a different space in the house, or furniture doesn’t arrive and they spend two days frantically grabbing furniture off floor showrooms.
For Elrod’s home, the challenge was something else altogether—spoiler alert. The story begins with him telling the Fab Five about how they discovered on the day their youngest son was born that his wife had breast cancer. The lump had been there for months, although doctors told them it was benign. It wasn’t until she was breastfeeding her son and nurses noticed it that she was diagnosed. Six months later she passed, and then after another several months, Queer Eye showed up at his door.
Berk says, "Usually, I come into their home and I try to make it better for them. But this episode was about moving them from a home that had a lot of amazing memories as a family but also had a lot of horrific memories of losing his wife and her hospice bed in the living room." It was a sensitive project to help the family start over while preserving her memories and providing a safe space to remember her when they missed her.
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In the new house, Berk transformed the kitchen, great room, family room, dining room, bathroom, closet, and bedrooms in Queer Eye's biggest makeover yet. Upstairs, the boys’ rooms are set up exactly how they were in the old house, while the master bedroom has all-new furniture and a new closet with clothes.
"We really wanted to give him a complete fresh start from the moment he walked into that home. We didn’t want him to move into this new home and feel like his new life wasn’t fully started because the house wasn’t ready [or] have to bring anything from the old house that would bring up the hurt and the pain."
Mementos of Elrod's wife are lovingly placed throughout the home for the family to spend time with when they miss her. Berk created a memory chest with photos and a quote from a birthday card she left for her sons. "Rob was the sweetest, most wonderful guy and you could really tell that this woman was the love of his life, and a piece of him was just gone—so it was our job to help him put those pieces back together and move on without disrespecting her memory as well."
Even the furniture selection is personal, as Berk sourced nearly all the pieces from A.R.T., the furniture partner for his new line. The collection launches on March 18, and Berk describes it as "warm modern" with "a lot of clean lines." Think: Scandinavian-inspired with a touch of glam. There’s not a lot of pattern or color, but he implements layers to create depth—vegan leather, caning, and gorgeous woods. Plus, pieces are also multifaceted and streamlined for city living, like a bed with built-in reading lamps and drawers. The line will be available in Asia first, and then in the U.S. by June or July.
What are three quick suggestions/questions for someone looking to revamp their space?
I think it’s kind of the same thing that I ask myself: How is this room functioning for you, and how is it not functioning for you? A lot of the time people will go in and remodel it just based off looks and not really think about the fact that they’re putting all this money into a space, and at the end of the day it might look a little prettier but still doesn’t function for them. Sometimes I have to ask people—you know what, we have to give a little on the design side to make it function for you more. If it doesn’t function, then we figure out how to change that. Aesthetics should be secondary to that, in my opinion.
It looks like your style is always sleek and modern with a touch of coziness—how would you describe your aesthetic?
My personal aesthetic is definitely much more modern. Right now the new house I bought is going to be more on the modern Scandinavian side with light woods and black woods and neutral color palettes and very minimal. But when it comes to Queer Eye, for the most part, people don’t love super minimalist. I still do minimal, but I add layers. When you do your outfits, you start out with neutrals and you can add layers to it. The better layers you have, the cooler the outfit. I feel it’s the same way with a home. You can stay minimal, and you can add layers to that to make it feel comfortable and cozy and homey, and I think that’s what we really do on Queer Eye is adding these layers to not only make it feel lifted, but to also add personality and personal touches to their homes.
If you had more time on the show, what would you want to show people?
I’d want to show them what goes into the design process—the meetings I have with my team; the meetings I have with producers where we’re putting together all the info behind the heroes; the ordering process. For example, on the episode with Mayor Ted Terry, we ordered everything for his house and Wednesday night comes along and nothing showed up. The truck did not arrive. So, on Thursday and Friday morning we spent the day frantically running around Atlanta with four to five big trucks going to whatever stores would let us pull stuff off the floor—and luckily, West Elm had two stores in Atlanta and really saved our butts.
Related Reading: Design Democratizer Bobby Berk’s Eureka Moment With a Humble Toaster
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