There are few DIY television personalities capable of building cabinets in one show and sitting with Marc Newson discussing high design in another. Amy Devers does this with aplomb and is an accomplished and rising star in lifestyle television.
Her background in design (MFA in furniture design from RISD) provides a perspective to home improvement projects that many TV contractors don’t have. We all want a finished product that is not only functional but looks good in your home and Amy understands this as well as anyone.
In the following interview Amy shares her unique entry into entertainment, experiences on the set of DIY TV, and her opinions on the current state of building both in front of the camera and off.
CH: Hi Amy – As a trained carpenter and furniture designer can you share with us how you moved into entertainment and started working/teaching in front of the camera?
Amy: It was sort of a fluke! A friend half-jokingly forwarded me a casting notice for a home improvement show. They needed someone with legitimate knowledge and experience of carpentry and fabrication, but previous acting experience wasn’t necessary.
So I thought “what the hell” grabbed my rhinestone safety glasses and went to the audition not expecting anything out of it other than a glimpse into the Hollywood casting process and perhaps a funny story to tell. But, I actually got the job! That turned out to be for DIY to the Rescue, which lasted for more than 100 episodes!
CH: As the current host of Designer People on OvationTV in which you profile numerous world-renowned designers such as Juergen Mayer H. and Marc Newson, you traveled the globe to produce this show. Are there any highlights from this season you’d like to share as well as personalities or processes that you’d love to learn more about?
Amy: As far as I’m concerned, every moment is a highlight! It was such an honor to have some inquisitive access to these incredibly inspiring and prolific minds.
Juergen Mayer H’s Metropol Parasol project is phenomenally innovative and I was fortunate enough to get a guided tour of it while under-construction. Zandra Rhodes designs all of her textiles, and then let’s the pattern influence the shape and structure of the garment. Bjarke Ingels is a problem-solver of the highest order. Marcel Wanders is capable of realizing fantasies into functional objects. Marc Newson has a computer-like mental index of shapes and forms that he calls up as needed, Michael Young has a way of pushing the manufacturing processes to accomplish new feats…honestly I could go on and on. Every single designer we profiled is worthy of mention here, it’s a fascinating show!
CH: Many of our readers know you from Trading Spaces and DIY to the Rescue and we really liked your work on Freeform Furniture that was more How-To focused. I worked at This Old House and know that TV production doesn’t always go as smoothly as it shows on TV. Have there been any memorable challenges that put your design, carpentry or hosting skills to the test that viewers may not have been privy to?
Amy: OMG, yes!! All the time! For instance, on Freeform Furniture we shot every episode in a single day, which meant I had to have 7-9 prototypes in various stages ready to go so that we didn’t have to wait for dry time etc. Sometimes I would have pulled several all-nighters earlier that week to get all the prototypes ready, then we would shoot for 14 – 18 hours a day under the hot lights with no air circulation! (For audio purposes we had to keep all the windows shut and fans off.) It got up to about 110 degrees and I had to get permission from the network to wear tank tops – I said, you can have bare arms or sweat marks, pick one.
We did a DIY to the Rescue special in New Orleans about a year after Katrina hit. We rebuilt the home of a 78 yr. old woman who had been swindled out of her life savings by a fraudulent contractor, and it was an intense and emotionally profound experience, to say the least. In addition to long, laborious days in sweltering heat, the conditions were still pretty toxic. I got very sick, needed to go the hospital for antibiotics, and lost my voice. But that’s minor compared to the oppressive emotional weight of tragedy, fear, and desolation that was all around.
As a host, my interactions had always been with happy homeowners who were maybe a little frustrated or overwhelmed at most. Suddenly I was thrust into the position of trying to, through media, provide a means for some devastated people who had lost everything to tell their story. It was very humbling, and I’m deeply grateful for having had the opportunity to participate.
CH: The popularity of cable networks that focus on DIY and home improvement continues to grow. Do you see it reaching a saturation point anytime soon and how do you see it evolving?
Amy: The need for shelter is universal, so in that sense, I think this type of programming will always be relevant. Right now there is a lot of fertile territory with regard to retro-fitting existing homes and gardens for solar energy, water-conservation, composting and edible gardening. I think while of this type of DIY how-to information is still relatively new, the audiences will gravitate towards the shows with knowledgeable pros and a bit of substance and take-away information vs. pure entertainment.
CH: Between your busy schedule do you have anytime to design and build furniture and if so are they available commercially or do you create them as “couture” pieces? (I know there must be a better term for one-of-a kind pieces but “couture” is all I’ve got right now)
Amy: I do create one-off designs and sculptures for sale through galleries, though I don’t have a whole lot of time to do that these days. I’m also designing a small collection of limited-edition pieces and looking for distribution.
CH: Is there a designer or teacher that inspires your creative process when building a piece of furniture or seeking an inventive solution to a home improvement problem?
Amy: Well, I’m always drawing upon things that I’ve learned from Wendy Maruyama at SDSU and Rosanne Somerson at RISD, as well as the other faculty at both of those schools.
As far as inspiration goes I tend to look outside the fields of furniture and home improvement for it -to things like music, sculpture and documentaries. I also can’t get enough of the TED talks, no matter what the subject, they usually get my gears turning.
CH: How has the “Green” building movement affected your work as a designer and carpenter?
Amy: My work has always included the frequent use of found objects and/or salvaged materials in unexpected applications. The only thing that has changed is that people now refer to that as “re-using” or “re-purposing,” but other than the lexicon, nothing has changed aesthetically speaking.
In practice, I’ve always sought out less-toxic more planet-friendly paints, glues and finishes and I’m excited that those only continue to get better and better. There are loads more choices now for sustainable materials.
CH: Can you recommend a particular DIY skill that every homeowner should have?
Amy: I think everyone should own a cordless drill/driver and learn all diverse things that it can be used for.
CH: Are their any particular DIY/Design focused websites that you enjoy or check into often?
Amy: I’m interested in arts and culture – art, architecture, design, fashion, film, music, fiction, storytelling…and food! I love to eat, and I love to try new and interesting things, though sadly I am a terrible cook! Oh and this: sleeveface.com
CH: Can you share a DIY tip that has impacted you most?
Amy’s newest show Fix This Yard helps homeowners tackle their yards which have become neighborhood eyesores by boosting their curb appeal.
Fix This Yard premieres on A&E this Saturday, April 3 at 10:00am.
New episodes of Designer People will air on Ovation beginning the week of April 25.