Q & A: Thom Filicia
Story by Kyra Shapurji
Photography by Tom Ackerman
Thom Filicia clearly has style. He was the ‘Design Doctor’ on Bravo’s Emmy-winning Queer Eye for five years and the spokesman for Pier 1 Imports; he now leads the Style network’s newest show, Dress My Nest. The self-described “democratic design snob” is anything but snobbish in his newest book, Thom Filicia Style: Inspired Ideas for Creating Rooms You’ll Love. LoftLife sat down with Filicia in his SoHo apartment to pick his brain about all things design and just what is up with “the bird thing.”
LOFTLIFE: In your new book, Thom Filicia Style, you talk about your appreciation for natural and organic forms. How did this become part of your design style?
THOM FILICIA: I tend to like things that are very clean and simple, things that lean modern. Sometimes people think of modern as machine-made and very cold, and I think natural elements are a nice juxtaposition. I like raw with refined. I like shiny with matte. I like having that yin and yang, if you will. It’s like wearing jeans with a really beautiful shirt, you know?
LL: In your new book, I was drawn to your self-deprecation. It was the most appealing aspect to the book for me. Your voice made it accessible.
THOM: I wanted it to be a fun read and about people expressing their own personality. I figured if I expressed my personality, it would encourage people to do the same with design.
LL: One of the case studies in the book is a Manhattan loft and a young couple preparing to adjust their environment for a child. How did you manage to maintain a young sense of style but also create a new style for a child?
THOM: Well, it wasn’t really about changing the style of the loft for the baby. It was about creating a comfortable space for the baby. So it’s a nice layout, and that was the most important thing. In addition to that, it was coming up with a baby’s room that felt organic and comfortable to the rest of the apartment. The apartment itself had many whimsical elements to it; I felt like it was the perfect space for a baby.
LL: In the philosophy of your book, you call yourself a “democratic design snob.” I wonder how you came to see yourself as a designer with that description?
THOM: I love great design. But I really do believe everybody should have access to it. I think we see it in the world of food, fashion, and now with interior design. I’ve never really believed that interior design and living well in an attractive environment is just for the one percentile. I always say: there’s no excuse to have bad taste anymore.
LL: Also in the book, you have a “K.I.S.S.” (“Keep it simple, stupid”) motto. How did you develop this motto?
THOM: If it gets too complicated, what’s the point? If you’re trying to fit a circle into a square, it’s not going to be worth it. In a way, I think that’s just a good code to live by. Keeping it simple is keeping it real.
LL: On your Style Network show, Dress My Nest, you use the everyday fashion choices women make to help them discover their own interior design style.
THOM: Does someone wear a lot of patterns? Do they wear a lot of solids? Are they wearing bohemian things, or very sleek or tailored things? When you open up someone’s wardrobe, it gives a great springboard. All of a sudden, people are confident and they start opening up about what they like.
LL: You’ve designed commercial and residential spaces, which can be very different experiences. What do you see as the similarities?
THOM: At the end of the day you’re designing for people. Whether you’re doing the interior of a car or a residence, it can be beautiful, but if it isn’t comfortable, or inviting, or human on any level, then it really loses. If people aren’t comfortable or they don’t like it, that’s not good design.
LL: You decorated the new W Hotel in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood. How did you manage to create a successful marriage between a forward-thinking brand hotel and a traditional Southern location?
THOM: I thought to myself, OK, so let’s take the country club that everyone loves and goes to, with the wing back chairs and the crescent sofas. Let’s take that and make it hip and cool. I saw Buckhead as “Country Club Chic.”
LL: You’ve said the living room is your favorite to decorate. Why?
THOM: Because the living room sets the tone for the rest of the house. It’s the room I like to be in the most. I like to entertain.
LL: Throughout your design career, the emphasis on ‘sustainability’ has evolved ten-fold.
THOM: Well, it didn’t really exist when I first started. If it did it’s because you wanted something to look natural and organic. It changed in the sense of how people approach design now—the way we think of materials. Natural is not a death sentence anymore, in terms of it being unattractive. Natural things are really beautiful; we appreciate them.
LL: Your Riverhouse project (in Manhattan’s Battery Park) was all about sustainability. What were some of the first details you started to think about when you designed that space?
THOM: Well, I think the first thing you think about is the bones of the apartment. I was thinking: paint, wall coverings and their adhesives, floor finish, and flooring.
LL: Judging from your book, your show, and your website, it seems you have a thing for birds. How did your bird motif come about?
THOM: About five years ago, I bought two metal birds from this a guy on the street for $100. I also have a house in upstate New York, and there was this big, majestic eagle flying around one day. And I thought, ‘Those fabulous eagle consoles they have in the White House could be a very fun thing to do, but in a modern way.’ So, I started designing them for myself. All of a sudden it was like, ‘Thom has a bird thing.’ Then, the bird thing became ‘the thing’ for our show, which had nothing to do with me at all. It was the network who came up with the bird idea. Maybe I was a bird in a previous life? I don’t know what it is. I certainly don’t have anything against birds, but I’m not actively part of the Audubon Society or anything. And I’m guessing I should be, because apparently I love the form of the bird and I’m drawn to the bird. I got to go easy on the bird thing though, I don’t want people saying, ‘Here comes the bird lady.’