Beautiful and infectiously charming Jillian Harris returns to TV tonight on the W Network’s Love It or List It Vancouver at 10pm. Although Jillian first won us over as the runner-up on the 13th season of The Bachelor and then as the star of the fifth season of The Bachelorette on ABC, the Canadian interior decorator from Peace River, Alberta has since been making a name for herself in the design world on shows like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Now on Love It or List It Vancouver, Jillian has the challenging task of renovating and decorating Vancouverites’ homes on a budget, while realtor Todd Talbot tries to convince the homeowners in question to by a new living space instead. Jillian and Todd go head-to-head every episode in a battle for the homeowners’ loyalty. While Jillian assures us that Team Jillian versus Team Todd is definitely a friendly competition, we’re still hoping to see her kick butt tonight on the premiere. We talked to her exclusively about her biggest challenges on Love It or List It Vancouver, her favourite home stores to shop at, and her best budget-friendly home decor tips that everyone can easily follow.
Related Link: Jillian Harris’ 5 Favourite Beauty Products
Real Style: What has filming Love It or List It Vancouver been like for you, and what has it been like facing against Todd Talbot?
Jillian Harris: Anyone who works in publishing can probably attest to this. Every project is different, and it’s like starting completely new. Yes, you have to learn different things, like how to be more eloquent in front of the cameras or how to stand in the right light, or what it means when you’re “rolling” or not rolling. Everybody learns those things, but every project is so different and this project really demands different things than the other projects I’ve done. Obviously, I’m not in a hot tub drinking champagne. That was very different, and different than Extreme Makeover Home Edition. You’re not filming 12 hours a day for 10 days straight, but you’re filming different types of content. So the first month or so, I was really distracted when we were just trying to learn the format and trying to do everything correctly. After the second month or third month, I started to realize how much I loved working with Todd. He and I are like brother and sister. Sure, it’s a competition. We make fun of each other on the show. But anybody who knows me from any other shows or social media knows I’m not technically really that competitive of a person. I was worried that the show would be about arguing with my co-host and the homeowners. But in reality, I’ve realized at the end of every episode it’s not like we’re going to lose our jobs or anything. We’re fighting for a glass of wine, let’s be honest here.
It’s a competition-based show, but it’s all in good fun because at the end of the day whether the home owners decide to leave or they decide to stay, they’re making a positive decision. It’s a good move either way. It has actually been so much fun, so lighthearted, so positive. Absolutely, you have conversations with homeowners, and the contractors and sometimes you lose your mind. But at the end of the day, everything always turns out the way you want it to, which is like a dream job.
Real Style: What have some of the biggest challenges been for you?
Jillian Harris: Definitely, the costs of construction. Homeowners will give you $80,000, and you have to spend three quarters of that fixing a foundation that is falling apart. The cost of construction is very high in Vancouver, and just like Toronto, there are a lot of old homes. As a designer, for the most part, I’ve been very lucky. If somebody wants to spend 80 grand on their home, I get to make their home look pretty for 80 grand.
In this case, a lot of times people are considering moving for a reason. And so oftentimes, that $80,000 doesn’t get me a beautiful sofa from Restoration Hardware. It gets me a new set of pipes that nobody can see. And so that’s been my biggest challenge, but that’s part of the game!
Real Style: Speaking of Restoration Hardware, do you have top five stores that are your go-to for places that will change the aesthetic of the home?
Jillian Harris: Definitely HomeSense. I would say HomeSense is one of our biggest — it’s no secret. You can get every different type of aesthetic from HomeSense, so inexpensive. I don’t know what I did as a designer before that store, I honestly don’t. I love, love, love that store. We get most of our sofas from Van Gogh. I actually have just ordered a sofa from there for my own personal home. And the great thing about that is, you can actually custom design anything to look high-end and you’re paying a fraction of the price of what you’d pay for something that is custom and high- end. So, I think those two stores are really important. And of course, we have our regular sponsors who help us out with the show. But I would say HomeSense is one of our biggest ones, to be honest.
Real Style: It’s a pretty cool “special finds” kind of place. Would you even say Ikea?
Jillian Harris: Yeah, absolutely. I’m definitely not one of those designers… I considered going back into interior designing when I was done with The Bachelorette and Extreme Makeover. The problem with the way I design is that I’m the kind of person who designs very high-brow, low-brow. And so ? I actually had a client who didn’t end up working out because she didn’t like HomeSense. And to me, it’s like, “Why would I spend $400 on this lamp when I can get it for $59.99?” I just didn’t understand that. To me I didn’t understand that. What I get to do on Love it or List it, is that I get paid to design inexpensively but make it look expensive. And that’s what I love about fashion, that’s what I love about design, that’s what I love about cooking, that’s what I love about life. Money is a strange thing, and a lot of it gets wasted. I’m not into wasting money. I’d rather save that money, or have my client save that money to be able to travel, or put their kids through school, or put a down payment on their first home, second home. I’m not a big fan of wasting money, and I definitely do not have to have a designer piece when I can get the same thing for $50.
Real Style: Are there any trends in upholstery that sort of make something inexpensive look expensive?
Jillian Harris: I just ordered a sofa, and it’s very modern, very straight-lined, but I actually had it filled with down and I had the pillows filled with down. And it only cost me an extra, say, $200, but the look of that piece is just so much more plush, so much more cozy and approachable. So definitely, that’s a huge one. Changing out the hardware (so the legs of a chair) — getting a chair from Ikea, and then going to an antique store and getting some beautiful spindly type legs is a great way to sort of change the look of a piece.
Then you are also ordering a sofa, and you’re selecting those cushions, those accessory cushions, I would say very rarely do I go with a pattern. I think a pattern, to me, that’s when you go to HomeSense and use one or two cushions (or throw cushions) that are really really unique.Let’s say you get a cream sofa, you should order the tossed cushions a crisp white or just a shade or two off of the sofa. And then when it comes to mixing patterns in there, I think that’s where you go out to HomeSense (or maybe even go somewhere, like Country Furniture, or my favourite store The Cross, and spend $50 to $100 on one or two throw pillows and get something really special that just kind of add a little bit more of a dimension to the upholstery.
Real Style: I know people talk about antiquing, but I feel a lot of people don’t actually have skills to do it. What are your top few tips for someone who wants to add some elements to their home for character?
Jillian Harris: I’m actually working (hopefully) on a company right now that is all about antiquing. I’ve been antiquing since I could walk. Antiquing is my passion, I love it. We don’t get to do enough of it on the show unless we are using homeowners’ antiques, which oftentimes we get an opportunity, which is exciting. But I think antiquing first and foremost is, before you go out there antiquing, I will guarantee you that your great aunt, or your grandma, or your mom — you have those products in arms’ reach. You just have to go to that attic, or go to that basement. It’s no different if you’re going to the store or if you’re rummaging through your grandpa’s stinky old garage — it’s the same thing.
When you find something that’s in the family, whether it’s your best friend’s grandma’s place, or your great grandma’s place, or your boyfriend’s parents’ place — if you can find something that’s within arms’ reach, it’s going to have a story. And that’s the first thing I look for when I am looking for a piece. What’s the story? If I am getting it from an antique store, where did it come from? What year is it from? What’s the story, the background of the design? That’s I think the most important part.
The second part with antiquing, if it’s going to be furniture, it has to have good bones. So it costs actually a lot of money to have pieces reupholstered or legs put back on. So unless you’ve got that budget, make sure that piece has good bones. And I used to be all about taking pieces and reupholstering them, but now I just love them for face value. I don’t care if there’s a scratch, I don’t care if the colour is a little bit off to me, I actually love to see that age in a piece. Sanding something down and painting it isn’t expensive, but sometime reupholstering something can be expensive. But still at the same time, I would rather have something that’s got good bones and just needs a good reupholster. So, it just takes time, and honestly, you’ve got to put your phone away and grab a tea with a friend, and go out there. And you’ve got to get out to the suburbs. Antiquing in the city, it’s fabulous, you’ve got some great pieces, but you’re going to end up paying a premium for those pieces.
Real Style: What tips do you have for art on the walls? I know people often think that’s something that you have to spend a lot of money on, because if it’s a good artist it’s going to be expensive. Do you have any tips regarding that, that would make it more reasonable but still as interesting?
Jillian Harris: I love art so much, but I am very thrifty, so I have one really expensive piece of art that was actually given to me. It’s a drawn mural lithograph,and that inspired my love of art, but since then, I haven’t been able to afford, obviously, thousands of dollars worth of art. I think first and foremost is finding pieces that tell a story, or that speak to your heart. So, my pet peeve with art, is a cliche set of pears that you put in your kitchen because it matches. That is my pet peeve! So, if it doesn’t tell a story, then don’t bother. On the other hand, why not grab your great aunt Virginia’s perogy recipe that has seen better days, and frame it in an over-sized frame? Do something really different! So for me, it’s about framing things that are around the house, that you might not otherwise frame. So maybe the bow tie that your dad wore to his wedding — framing that in an over-sized frame and having that as a part of a collection on the wall, doing a collage on the wall. I love framing artifacts, I love framing things, whether it’s an old teaspoon, or an old necklace, or a ring, or the key to your first home. I love framing artifacts!
You know, there are a lot of ways to get inexpensive prints, at The Cross in Vancouver here I just picked up a print for $46, which is just a big white print with a tiny little heart in the middle. And ever since I’ve started at Love it or List It, I’ve kind of become obsessed with hearts. And that’s something that I am going to get framed, probably an Ikea frame, and the print all together won’t cost me over $100, but it’s an original piece, it’s something different. It’s something that not everybody has, but it also tells a story. So yeah, definitely finding things that tell a story is really important. And if there is a piece of art that you love — for example, one of my favourite pieces of art is Gray and Gold. And I’ve seen it- I can’t remember which MoMA it’s in, but it’s an oil painting of a golden wheat field, but the sky is really really dark and grey, and really moody. And I love it because it reminds me of Alberta. But obviously, the painting itself would probably be worth about half a million dollars. So I went down and I found a poster, and I had it transferred on canvas, and then had it framed exactly like they did in the museum.
So when people look at it, they’re like, “Oh my gosh, this is gorgeous! Where is it from?” You’re able to tell the story of who the artist is, where the original painting is. It looks original, it just costs $200.
Real Style: You must feel like a therapist at times trying to tell people how to do that!
Jillian Harris: But I love it, because you start to go through places and go through their lives, which can sometimes be a little bit like treading into dangerous waters doing that! You can stir up good memories but you can also stir up bad memories. But I think your home to me, I’m definitely not a modern designer. I love people coming up to me, and holding their hearts, and going, “Oh my gosh! That’s so me” or “That’s my grandma’s recipe!” or “Where did you find that?” or “How did you know?”
I think that is what makes a home a home. Anybody can win a design award, if they go to design school and they learn the exact dimensions, and how to cut and colour block properly. You know, anybody can do that! I think figuring out how to pull somebody’s soul into a room, that’s the fun part.
Real Style: I want to go home and decorate now! Now, in terms of paint for walls, do you have any sort of tips you would recommend that are very 2013?
Jillian Harris: Well, I’ve been boring in the last two years. I have definitely fallen back in love with just white. I went through a stage where I was like, “Colour! Paint the whole room! Colour!” And now I’m just all about the colour being in artwork and accessories.
But I think it’s just a personal taste. I definitely think if you are going to go colour, you can’t be a chicken sh*t — you’ve just got to paint the whole room. I’m not into painting one wall. I think one wall is meant for wallpaper, and that’s about it. So that’s definitely one of my philosophies. As far as colours go, that’s a good question! I definitely have been attracted to smoky blues lately — smoky blues, smoky teals, emerald greens, almost like the colours of a peacock. I’ve definitely been attracted to that, but then again, it’s always a personal preference. I just always recommend to people that if there’s a colour you love on the swatch, you have to take it down a few notches and over a few notches. So you’ve got to gray it out a little bit and lighten it up a little bit.
The human eye is so sensitive that often even a swatch, which would look white can be blue, can be green. You know what I mean? Unless you’re going for a super glossy, super rich emerald room, which to be honest is really really hard to pull off (it’s like wearing a pleather jumpsuit), you have to just ease up on the colour a little bit.
Real Style: And what about with other trends in lighting right now, that you like? Or if you think there’s a specific way in general that lighting the room should be done?
Jillian Harris: Well, the interesting thing about lighting is that one of the trends in lighting right now is filament bulbs in antique style lighting, but it is really really energy inefficient as well. It’s been interesting because I’ve been working with BC Hydro on energy efficient lighting, but yet having a filament bulb in a 40 light chandelier is all the rage. So figuring out how to balance the two I think is really important, but I definitely think raw metals, raw woods, items that people wouldn’t normally use for chandeliers, beads — just really different lighting, and definitely a lot of chandeliers. People are getting away from those flush mountain fixtures and either doing recessed pots or just a nice droopy chandelier. Gas, gas is back (which I think people cringe when they hear that, but I love gas).