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The Interview

Frank Fontana

by Jerry Nunn
America's DIY designer Frank Fontana is known in the media as the "straight guy with a queer eye." The Network chatted with the host of HGTV's Design on a Dime about his new book.

JN: (Jerry Nunn) Hi, Frank. It is great meeting you at the Craftsman event. They told me you are going to be helping them for a while.

FF: (Frank Fontana) This is going to be a huge relationship. We are kicking it off tonight with the book launch party here today. I did this full long satellite media tour, twenty-two interviews this morning nation wide, and the response and the buzz has been huge.

JN: You must be exhausted.

FF: I am just getting started. The true announcement is with the help of Craftsman I am going to be the first designer to do a hundred percent live DIY programming. Unfiltered, unedited, and you get to see the good, the bad, the ugly. No one has done that because it is the ability to actually show somebody that you screwed up and the ability to show them how to fix it, instead of a cookie cutter show that is just so produced. Not like there's not going to be any production, its going to be super high quality but at the same time if I screw up you are going to see me screw up, you might even see me a little mad but at the end of the day you are going to see how to fix a screw up which is where the magic is. It's all about learning from the entire mistake.

JN: I have watched your show Design on a Dime many times.

FF: The funny part of our show when you are talking Design a Dime is the behind the scenes, when the cameras stop rolling that's when all the magic happens. We are out there hammering, building two or three hours straight where we might install something the wrong way, we might put something together and then we have to undo it, that's the stuff that happens to people at home everyday. Viewers are able to see professional like myself who have been doing it for over ten years go through the same pitfalls like they do. Listen, Ikea Furniture's still gives me headaches to this day, it's dreadful and I hated it, but I love their stuff because its inexpensive, its descent quality, and lots of times I use for refurbishing. I'll take it and add like casters to it, I'll put wallpapers top on it, or turn a bookshelf into a media center.

JN: Did you always want to do this kind of work?

FF: From when I was a kid I could draw, I could literally sketch. I could see something and sketch your face pretty darn good at like 7 years old. I'm no protégé by any means, but that kind of was a spark of me being able to do creative stuff. I could draw, paint and my dad was a big DIY guy. As a matter of fact he owned Craftsman tools when I was two. So I picked up skills from him and as a teenager I worked over the summer for decorative painters, carpenters and builders. I was picking up all these skill sets I hated at the time because it was labor but now I really get this opportunity to show case some of those skills.

JN: How did you wind up getting on television?

FF: It was kind of an accident or luck. I just had moved to Los Angeles from South Florida where I had an event design company and when I was setting up my shop and I was looking at castings. I heard about a new show coming on ABC called The Great Domestic Showdown. I got cast for this show as the underdog. I was liked this long hair tattooed muscular guy from Manhattan going against all these women who were housewives and like Martha Steward types.

JN: So you beat up the housewives I take it!

FF: I ended up cleaning up the show and winning the entire thing!

The very next day I got a phone call, it was like a true Hollywood story, Ty Pennington's agent was watching the show. She called me up and got me my first audition with HDTV. It was a homerun. I got a show called Take Over My Makeover. It was my first show on the network a couple years back in 2005. I was on that show for a couple of years and then I got tapped on my shoulder to host the highest rated longest running design show on television. So they said that the only catch is you got to move from LA where it's warm to Chicago where it's cold.

JN: I have watched your show and I like how your book allows people to find their personal style.

FF: If you don't know what's your design style is here is a secret; you put a whole bunch of mish mash together as long as the colors are cohesive and have something tie into it. You can call it eclectic. That myth that dark colors make a room feel smaller is bull. A 13x13 room is a 13x13 room no matter what color you paint it. The trick is lighting. If you have poor lighting your room is going to feel like a cave.

JN: What are some tips to fix that?

FF: I always say if you want to start with the focal walls it's a good idea. You do one color on one wall as an accent see how it works. If you read the first chapter of my book you'll see the quantum design elements, and it's a real thing. It's all based on feel. I'll walk into a GoodWill store and see a chair that is ratty but has some amazing history and style to it, its ornate and you can tell there's a story to that chair. I'll take that over a thousand dollar Versace chair any day. Just because I know can do something to that and it has a life to it and energy. Everything in a quantum level has energy, we are an exchange of energy right now, so is this chair so is this room, so is this event. So if you think of that concept when you walk into somebody's home, you pretty much know in a minute or two if you are going to have a good time and relax. That is kind of what the quantum design elements are about.

JN: I bet the book was a lot of work.

FF: I put two years into this book, more than that, but it took two years to actually write. I hand sketch every single one of those sketches on that book for those DIY projects. It's a good read to it, there's some family history in there, I let you in into my own loft in downtown Chicago, and you get to see my dog Stewie.

JN: I really like the format of the book. I think that's the way books are moving into more like picture books.

FF: It's more of a causal approach to writing a book. I didn't want it to be wordy. I wanted it to be visual and we have close to one thousand photos in that book. I try to illustrate what I'm saying, and when I'm saying it. I want it to be a conversational fun tone. I'm no highfalutin designer, I support education, but at the same time you either got this or you don't!

To purchase Frank Fontana's Dirty Little Secrets of Design visit
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