Before & After: ‘Queer Eye’s’ Design Team Did This Renovation by iPhone Flashlight
If your weekend plans include bingeing all of season 3 of “Queer Eye”—now streaming on Netflix as of today—you’re not alone. The Fab Five quickly became our internet BFFs when the reboot dropped last year, and now the boys are back—this time in Kansas City—to help some more deserving folks.
Luckily for us, the hardest working designer on TV, Bobby Berk, gave us the exclusive tea on one particularly special makeover from this season. He also shared exactly how long (short) they have to get these transformations done, and how far they go to make it work. [Spoilers for episode 302: “Lost Boy” ahead.]
Apartment Therapy: Tell us a little about Joey and his space.
Bobby Berk: Joey was a camp counselor. He was in charge of activities at a great summer camp in Kansas. I think he actually stayed there at 16 as a counselor, which is where he met his ex-wife. He literally used to sleep in the cabin that I turned into his home. He was living in an RV parked behind the building, but with this position of Camp Activities Director came the option of having a permanent home there as well.
It was cool because it was a place he had lived in a few decades ago, so it was like coming home. It was also interesting because it was a space he didn’t really live in. He lived in an RV that was really pretty grody. There was no A/C in it so it was kind of gross. This cabin, nobody had lived in it in years, so it was dirty and didn’t really have anything in it. It had a rough kitchen and really icky bathroom and that’s it. It was really starting from scratch completely on this space.
He also had a 13-year-old son who would come to stay with him for a few months that needed a space as well, because the son before just crashed in the RV with him, which worked when he was little, but as a 13-year-old, it really wasn’t working anymore. It was a challenge to create a space for his son in a one-bedroom apartment that still gave him some privacy without taking up too much space and privacy from Joey.
AT: Is that where the bunk beds came in, just repurposing the bunk beds from the camp into a space for his son?
BB: Exactly. Instead of trying to figure out how to build a wall somewhere and divide the bedroom, I decided to give him his own RV camper inside of the cabin where there’s two bunk beds, a built-in closet for him, curtains to close, so he has complete privacy, and the two beds. If he has friends from the camp that he wants to have a sleepover with, he can. Before when he would come to visit, he didn’t really have a place to put things. It wasn’t a space that was his. It was always like, “All right, pack everything up, it’s time to get back to your mom.” I wanted to make sure he had that space, drawers that were his, so he could leave things with his dad, and when he comes back, they’re there.
AT: Is transforming a sleep space for multiple people more of a challenge? Or is that just part of the fun?
BB: I think it’s definitely part of the fun, but it’s also more of a challenge. It’s easy to create a sleep space when there’s a bedroom where you close the door. It’s a clear definition of spaces. When it comes to making a shared space work for both living and sleeping, it does create more of a challenge, which is why I’m glad I came up with the bunk bed idea because it really defines his own room even though it’s still in the living room.
AT: What other space-saving features did you work into this former camp cabin?
BB: The kitchen area had upper cabinets above a peninsula that divided the space up and made it feel smaller. I usually don’t take cabinets away, but in this case, I did. I ripped out the upper cabinets to make this space feel much bigger, and it really created a more open feel and made the kitchen more useful. Before, you couldn’t really use that bar as a place to eat. Getting rid of the upper cabinets, it created not just more open feeling but gave them a dining table that they didn’t have before, and I didn’t have space to put it anywhere else.
AT: In general, how long do you have to transform a hero’s home?
BB: We meet them on Tuesday morning. I usually get the spaces by Tuesday afternoon, and I have to have it back and done by mid-morning on Friday. This space, we actually had a huge lightning and thunderstorm come in on Wednesday, and it knocked a tree down and took the power out to the camp. We were literally painting and trying to install things with iPhone flashlights. It really veered our schedule off, but we made it work.
AT: Oh my gosh, you really did and you make it look so effortless. How big is your team?
BB: It’s definitely not gigantic but it’s ample. I actually have two teams. Seasons one and two, I only had one team. It was very hard for us because while we would be doing one episode, we would still need to be planning the next one. I do floor plans and window dimensions because things like floors and window treatments need to be preordered because those are all custom sizes. Planning and installing all at the same time was a lot.
This season, I had two teams. While I’m installing with one, I’m able to be planning and designing with the other one, and they go back and forth. One week they’re installing, the next week we’re designing, and it definitely flowed much better. On each team, I have about four people, and we also have a contract and construction company and they’re the ones that come in and do any construction that we need, put in the flooring and do the painting, things like that.
AT: Do you have a favorite part of this transformation?
BB: Probably the kitchen, that mural. One of the guys on my team, Josh, he is a phenomenally talented painter, and he painted that in the dark with an iPhone flashlight, and it came out amazing. I think because it reminds me of the Ozark Mountains where the campground is, it was a really great way to add some depth and dimension to that space without doing a wild pattern or just putting up paint.
AT: It’s even more impressive now that I know it was done by phone flashlight. What about Joey, does he have a favorite part?
BB: I’m not sure because when you see us say goodbye on the episodes right after the reveal, we really do say goodbye. We often don’t get to get their full reaction because a lot of times they’re so overwhelmed that they don’t know what to say. It’s not until later on through social media and stuff that I hear from them, that I find out their favorite part.
Knowing Joey, if I had to guess, I would say it was probably the bunk bed area and the space for his son because I think that gave him the most inner torment, that he wasn’t able to have a space for his son to feel at home when he was visiting his dad.
But even the kitchen space, somewhere where he can cook and spend time with his son, and the living room because I set up the TV and everything where they could play video games together. I don’t know if I could pick a space that was his favorite, maybe all of them were.
AT: Do you have any updates about people from previous seasons? If they’ve changed anything in their spaces?
BB: I talk to Neal Reddy (season 1, episode 2) all the time, I get updates from him constantly, I love him. Obviously, there’s space in people’s homes that we don’t have time to get to. His powder room, right when you come in the front door, he remodeled that himself. He was sending me like tile options that I got to help him with. A lot of the art that we put it there that wasn’t necessarily personal for him, he has been slowly changing out with things that he’s chosen himself, which I love because it really gave him a passion and ignited this flame in him for design that he just didn’t know he had.
Thanks, Bobby! “Queer Eye” season 3 is now streaming on Netflix.