While driving through Skaneateles, New York in the summer of 2008, Thom Filicia was not in the market to purchase a new house. The interior designer, known as the “Design Doctor” of the “Fab Five” on the former Bravo series Queer Eye, already owned an apartment in Soho and a country home in the Hudson Valley. But when he saw a Colonial with brown cedar siding and a sloping roof set on Skaneateles Lake, just 40 minutes from his hometown of Syracuse, he knew he had to own it. Filicia details the process of meticulously overhauling that home in his second book, American Beauty: Renovating and Decorating a Beloved Retreat, in stores November 13. “I decided to do a book to share with people that you don’t have to tear things down to make them relevant again,” he says. “You can do things that fulfill your sensibility, your personality, your point of view. It’s a story of modern Americana.”
Admittedly, if ruled by logic, Filicia would have never put a bid on the fixer-upper that he called “an expensive jalopy.” But the ambitious designer—who oversees his namesake interiors firm in Soho and eponymous product line and is planning a return to television with a daytime show, which will include design-focused segments—trusted his instincts and bought the property. “I thought to myself: This is crazy! What am I doing?” he admits, adding, “It was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life.
Although his friends thought he was maniacal for undertaking such a huge renovation project, Filicia never even considered knocking the house down. Rather, “it was about me understanding the vision of what the house was intended to be,” he says. “I see it as a case study in how all things can be revitalized to be relevant today and also be respectful of the past.”
Overall, Filicia’s greatest design challenge was reminding himself to be true to his original intention and not go overboard with the possibilities. “From the materiality to the look and feel of it, I wanted it to be sophisticated, smart, and relevant for today, but also old school,” he says. The key was to make modern upgrades like a high-tech indoor/outdoor sound system and heated floors disappear within the design and not lose the look and feel of the original home. “Too often designers try to make something look Tuscan, French, or English, but I wanted to celebrate American living. This home in Skaneateles is a very true extension of who I am when I’m out in the country.”