By Charlyne Varkonyi Schaub
City & Shore Magazine
Life wasn’t easy for Carson Kressley growing up gay in rural Orefield, Pa., near Allentown.
He was born in 1969, the year of the Stonewall Riots, the impetus of the gay rights movement. Although attitudes slowly began to change in big cities on the coasts, they had not changed in rural Pennsylvania.
“Growing up was hard,” he says. “Gays felt isolated and feared rejection.”
His family was supportive, telling him not to be ashamed of who he was, but it wasn’t until he moved to New York City in the 1990s to work as an independent fashion stylist for Ralph Lauren that he felt comfortable with his sexuality.
“I was able to be how I was,” he says. “The thing I was always scared of, embracing my sexuality, made my career.”
That career lead to Kressley becoming an Emmy-winning TV personality, style expert, fashion designer and New York Times best-selling author. His breakout was in 2003 when he was among the Fab Five on Bravo’s Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. He recently completed season one of Get a Room with Carson and Thom, also on Bravo. The style maven will share his design tips May 24-27 at the Fort Lauderdale Home Design and Remodeling Show at the Greater Fort Lauderdale Broward County Convention Center.
“I hope to share my tips on decorating fearlessly but also tastefully at the show,” he says. “I want to get people inspired to take risks. I love helping people design. They can ask an outside person [like me] to get inspiration on how to decorate their homes.”
Inspiration is what Get a Room is all about. But it is not all about “the reveal” when the job is finished.
What makes this show stand out is the banter. Carson and Thom have known each other since the late ’90s when they met at a gym in New York City. The idea for the show came after Kressley hired Thom to help with a design faux pas. He bought a sofa that wouldn’t fit through the front door of his home.
Their repartee seems so natural, but is it scripted?
“No,” Kressley says. “Thom and I have been good friends for so long that it comes naturally. He isn’t afraid to call me out. I cannot work in anything scripted. It is not just a design show, it’s a buddy comedy. We both take design very seriously but we don’t take ourselves seriously. Crazy and silly things happen when we are around each other.”
Kressley adored the late Mario Buatta, known for his English country design and love of chintz. He calls him a master designer. One of his favorite Buatta quotes is: “A room is never finished.” Kressley agrees a home should be your changing autobiography. Unlike rooms in design magazines or those that look like stage sets, your home should show your interests – where you have traveled, love of books, colors that make you happy.
“The soul of the place is the accessories,” he says. “They should always tell the story of who lives there. Design should be current, useful and chic, but most important it should tell the story of the person who lives there.”
Those accessories don’t have to be expensive. Throw pillows, throw rugs other design elements can be changed easily. Style without a big price tag can be found at stores such as Marshalls, HomeGoods and T.J. Maxx.
Dressing your body and dressing your home are similar. Both, he says, involve an understanding of color and texture. He always tells people when building an outfit or a room it is best to start with a classic, such as a little black dress; or a neutral anchor piece, like a sofa.
Kressley’s love of interior design goes back to 1976 when his parents were building a house in Pennsylvania. Mom ordered custom draperies and he loved to inject ideas. He adored Mary Tyler Moore and the set of her namesake sitcom at the time, with its orange shag carpeting, sunken living room, gallery wall, Parsons coffee table and a bookshelf under the elevated portion of the room.
“I was gobsmacked by her,” he says.
Kressley’s schedule with appearances on Good Morning America, Live with Kelly and Ryan and Wendy Williams combined with his philanthropic work for The Trevor Project, The Human Rights Campaign, AIDS Walk and the Al D. Rodriguez Liver Foundation, make for a hectic life.
When the celebrity lifestyle gets overwhelming he retreats to his grandparents’ farm in quiet New Tripoli, Pa., and the adjacent property he bought. Fox Hill Farm is his haven for riding his champion American Saddlebred show horses.
Kressley’s love of horses also is reflected in his New York apartment, which he decorated in a style he describes as “Kentucky Regency.” Equestrian Living magazine showed photos of his décor with horse art on the walls and display of his ribbons, including a framed photo of his horse, Enchanted Memories, who won a national championship. The “Regency” elements – based on Hollywood Regency style – glams it up a bit with mirrored furniture and a zebra rug.
“Riding is such a wonderful sport,” says. “It is cheaper than a psychiatrist.”
* * *
If You Go:
Event: Fort Lauderdale Home and Remodeling Show
When: May 24-27; 4 to 9:30 p.m. Friday, Noon to 9:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Noon to 7:30 p.m. Monday (Memorial Day).
Kressley appearances: Sunday, May 26th at 2 and 4 p.m.; Monday (Memorial Day), May 27th at 3 p.m.
Where: Greater Fort Lauderdale Broward County Convention Center, 1950 Eisenhower Blvd., Fort Lauderdale.
Admission: $10 for adults, $1 for children 11 and under. Save $3 if you purchase tickets online (homeshows.net) by May 23.