Myles of Style: Talking Design with HGTV Star Kim Myles
The talented and down-to-earth designer dishes on DIY, decor – and what it's like to be recognized by Queen Latifah.
As the 2007 winner of HGTV's Design Star, Kim Myles helmed her eponymous home makeover show Myles of Style for three seasons, and continues to appear as a host and designer on shows like HGTV'd and America's Biggest Yard Sale. While chatting with her, I find Kim's unique perspective on fame and thoughts on achieving work/life balance refreshingly down-to-earth.
How do you think your decorating style has evolved since you first began doing Myles of Style?
It has changed in every way possible. One of the conceits of a television show on HGTV is that you are on an unbelievable schedule. Normally in interior design, you meet your clients, do an intake, do the consultation and you go away, have your time to design and present to the client, then tweak a few things and shop. It's this long, luxurious process. On television, that is not the case. On Myles of Style, I completed over 40 makeovers in three seasons—three makeovers a month. Each episode was shot in five days, so just doing the math, if I wasn't filming, I was designing. If I wasn't designing, I was shopping. If I wasn't shopping, I was filming. It was kind of an endless loop that happened at a really crazy pace and I think that production structure absolutely changed and evolved my design style. The schedule forced me to be very clear about my aesthetic—what's a "yes" and what's a "no". I'm not somebody who's going to walk into a store and be really confused about whether I like that couch or not. That kind of learning curve has served me really well.
What got you started with your signature DIY lighting projects?
I love lighting the same way that I love shoes. I cannot pass a pair of cute shoes and not want them and need them and want to have them. Lighting is the same thing for me. Some women really get into jewelry, I really get into lighting. When I see a beautiful chandelier—something that's hanging from the ceiling, because there's grandeur to that—I get excited. I just get all fuzzy. I think, it's so beautiful, I have to have it. I grew up with very limited means, so if I want to live with beauty and a certain aesthetic, I'm used to creating it for myself. I am a huge fan of DIY. I think that sometimes it gets a bad rap. There's a huge community of DIYers out there and sometimes it can get a ticky-tacky, crafty label slapped on it, but for me there's seriously nothing more American than DIY. Beautiful craftsmanship, building things by hand, creating something on your own—that's a very pioneer spirit. It's intrinsically American and I love it. There's so much value in work. I love the items in my own home that I've created by hand. I made a chandelier out of 3,000-4,000 paper clips. Every time I see it, I get a little high. I really do.
Unlike most interior design shows on television, you had an $80,000 budget for your episode of HGTV'd. That must be the show every HGTV designer wants to do and every homeowner wants to be on!
HGTV needs to come to my house because I need $80,000 worth of design action! It was unbelievable. I'm blessed that I do have a client base that has the means for me to play in that realm. I think that you could be just as creative on $80—I don't think creativity has a price tag. But obviously those bigger budgets give you the opportunity to use higher quality finishes and order custom fabrications. In my HGTV'd episode, I did a custom fabrication of a drum shade on a giant pendant light. That kind of money allows you to reach out to very amazing, talented people and have them create things. That's quite a gift.
Have you ever done any subsequent work off-camera for a homeowner who appeared on your show?
Actually, yes. I retain clients from the show that I've done private work for and I have dinner with a handful of them regularly. They have become part of my family in L.A. They're people that I am really connected to. That wasn't something I expected going in to this at all and it's been icing on the cake. It's a big deal to trust somebody else to channel your aesthetics into your home. Our homes are our havens. It's where we go to think and regroup and hopefully, it represents our highest aspirations for ourselves. For someone to trust you to help them accomplish that, I marvel at that, because quite honestly, I don't think I could ever hire a designer to come into my home. I'm a control freak. I would never put my home in someone else's hands. The fact that people do that regularly and that they are open and excited to have me do it? I really feel like that's such a blessing.
You've blogged about some of the personal challenges of celebrity status. Where do you draw the line between healthy ambition and the crazy hamster wheel of fame maintenance?
That's a timely question, Robin. I'm just going to be honest. The real truth is, I won Design Star and was instantly famous. I thought I would be famous but I had no idea how many people actually watched HGTV. I really wasn't prepared. I saw Queen Latifah in a restaurant and she was like, "Myles of Style!" I thought, are you kidding? Everybody watches, so being instantly recognizable in that way took an adjustment. Recently, I found myself at a crossroads. Myles of Style was cancelled and it was time for the next thing. I wondered...do I want to approach the Style Network? Do I want to approach OWN? Do I want to go back to HGTV and pitch new ideas in order to feed the fame and keep this going? What's the next step? I had to get very quiet and peaceful within myself. I really looked closely at my life and what my hopes were for it. I made the decision that now is not the time for me to continue to pursue television with this single-minded aspect. Life is so much bigger than what can fit on a television screen. The assumption is, okay, you made it, you've got the fame, you've made it into the club and now your job is to maintain it. You have to hold on to it, don't let it go! That's the only conversation you hear. People meet you and say, "Oh my God! I loved your show! What are you doing? You should be on this show and you should do that." I honestly feel like my job is to live my best possible life and live a life that's balanced. On Myles of Style, I worked 80+ hour weeks for two years. I didn't see my family, I didn't see friends. I lived with my husband and I didn't even see him. I was a slave to the work and television production. You have to decide if that's your whole goal in life. I'm 38 and don't feel like sacrificing everything to maintain fame. I got onto Design Star not to be famous, but because I saw season one and said to myself, "Oh my God, that looks like so much fun! I can do that. There's this aesthetic world of design—what joy!" I couldn't honestly care less about the fame, but fame has given me a platform to tell people what I'm doing. I think fame exacts a really heavy price and I don't think the payoff's that huge. As long as I have clients who want me to help them with their home or who want me to give them the best highlights ever and a cut that makes them look sexy and fabulous, then I'm good. I have everything I need to be happy in the world.
That sounds so healthy!
Listen, it's taken a couple years to get here and it took a lot of work, but I do feel healthy—I love that you used that word. It's not been something that has come easily. It's definitely been a soul-searching kind of process. Do I want to spend life on my hamster wheel, as you say, or do I want to spend it at the beach with my man and my dog? I would really love to be at the beach at the end of the day. Give me a margarita and a tan—that's a happy life!
What are some of the challenges of transitioning from on-air designer to off-camera designer and creating a design business?
The huge, personal challenge for me when my show got canceled was getting over feeling like I had failed. I'm luckier than most. Three seasons? 40 episodes? Not everyone has that. It took me a while to realize even Seinfeld ended. Television shows are not meant to go on forever and ever but it took me a little bit to figure that out. As a Type-A and an overachiever, it's very easy for me to take it personally and blame myself. I had to parse out what was true and what was just a story I was telling myself because I was feeling sad. Frankly, there was a healing process. I was on such a rocket ship. Fifteen days after winning Design Star, I was relocated from New York to Los Angeles and started Myles of Style. I just got on the rocket and I never looked back. When the rocket stopped, I was going, oh, wait, who am I without this? What is my life without this? I really had to reassess and reconnect. Reconnect with my family, reconnect with my friends, reconnect with all of the things that I like to do creatively, because those are the things that put me in the position to win in the first place. I hadn't built anything for fun in years. I'm finally reconnecting with my best talents and my passions.
What kinds of budgets, clients, and projects do you handle at Kim Myles Design (KMD)?
A portion of my business is consultation. That includes people who say, "I just need the Myles of Style eye. I just need your help—I can't visualize." That is fantastic, because how fun is that? Spitballing with people and dreaming and visualizing and imaging their best spaces—that's great. Another part of my business is high-end clients—people who have larger budgets and have made it into their dream homes. I also offer a service which has been surprisingly successful. I feel like design needs to be democratic and everyone should have access to it, but some people can’t afford the full-service aspects that my firm offers, so I developed "design capsules"—a version of E-design. For a flat fee, the client sends pictures and measurements of one room and I create an elevation, pick out all of the furnishings, lighting, art, and finishes. You get a kit in the mail with paint swatches. Everything that I'm picking is retail versus to-the-trade, and the whole project is something they can do in their own time. They can complete part of it, and then six months from now when they have a little more cash, they can complete the next part. This is perfect for people who have a little more DIY spirit and aren't afraid to get their hands dirty, but want that Kim Myles signature look. I've had a fantastic response to that because the price point is right and there are a lot of DIYers out there. It seems to be the thing that a lot of people are gravitating towards. I think it's fantastic—I love it!
Before Design Star, you were...an ice cream manufacturer? What happened to 5 Boroughs Ice Cream?
It was my husband's brainchild and our first major entrepreneurial endeavor together. We launched it in 2003, and we took it really, really far. We made ice cream inspired by the neighborhoods and the ethnic and cultural melting pot of the five boroughs of New York City. We had shelf space in Gourmet Garage and Whole Foods in the city, and enjoyed a ton of great press and response. Basically, we invested all of our money, and when it was time to find real investors we just couldn't close the deal. Sometimes it's nobody's fault—we just couldn't afford to keep putting our own money into it. But I wouldn't doubt that it could have a second life. I loved all of our flavors and the ethnicities represented. It was all about being local, celebrating the Mom & Pop...very ahead of its time! No one else was using real, locally-made baklava in ice cream!
Did any of your experiences with that startup translate to building your brand as a designer and marketing products?
Yes. Any entrepreneur will tell you that the learning curve is gigantic unless you've gone to business school. I learned so much with 5 Boroughs, but the big takeaway was that authenticity is the only way. 5 Boroughs captured people's imaginations and hearts because it came out of our genuine love for New York City. One of the reasons I waited so long to do KMD products is because I wanted to be sure that my offerings were totally authentic to me—designed and created by me, versus designed by committee. At one point it was suggested that I should do scrapbooking supplies—totally not me. I have friends who are scrapbooking goddesses, but I have no personal connection to it creatively. That personal connection is so key.
As a hairstylist, I assume you enjoy changing your hair as often as possible. Did you make a conscious decision to minimize those changes in an effort to keep your recognition level high while you built a brand around yourself and your name?
When I decided to go out for Design Star I had my preferred hair cut—kind of boyish and short on the sides, spiky on top. I call it "Punk Rock Rooster." But I made a conscious decision to grow my curls out again for a distinctive look. Then it was part of my contract not to change my look in any huge way, so I was stuck with that hair for years. Don't get me wrong, I love my curls! But I also love change, so the minute my contract was done, I was cutting off my hair, spiking it up. I literally just shaved off the sides a couple of days ago. To have that freedom back, I love it. And I thought for sure that I would be anonymous again because the curls were so recognizable, but now people are just like, "Kim Myles! What did you do to your hair?!"
I read on your blog that you're doing some decorative stencils. What can you tell us about the products you have coming out?
Myles of Style fans always ask, "When are you going to come out with lighting?" That will be phase two, but phase one includes decorative stencils. I love wallpaper, I love decorative finishes, but the price can be prohibitive. My whole thing is that people on a limited budget can really exact huge change, just with paint. All designers beat the paint drum, just because we know how amazing and how inexpensive it is to do. I really want to offer something that works with anybody's price point, so I have a line of stencils that launched on April 2nd. I'm working in conjunction with Cutting Edge Stencils and the line is called Global Glam, which is definitely my aesthetic! It's a series of wall stencils, some large-scale stencils that give you the effect of wallpaper, and one that I’m most excited about, which is a furniture stencil. The furniture stencil allows you to achieve the look of a mother-of-pearl inlay. I'm so excited to get them out there because I can't wait to see how people use them.
I understand you’re working on a book too, when does that come out?
Ah, the book. It's still in the works because I keep tweaking the direction...frankly I should just ask my Twitter and FB peeps what they want. Or what they need; I don’t want to put something out there that isn't useful and inspiring for people. My goal is to create a resource, not just a pretty picture book—though there will be definitely be plenty of pretty pictures!
Robin Callan is the founder of Room Fu, a Best of Austin award-winning interior design firm and long-time defender of affordable design. Her blog, Fu for Thought, features steals and deals, design-related musings, and interviews with celebrity designers.