A few years ago, designer Orlando Soria was having a low moment. First, there was a breakup. Then, days after moving into an expensive new apartment, he lost his job at the now-defunct design platform Homepolish. “I was miserable,” he tells Business of Home. “The one thing that was bringing me joy was designing my new apartment. After that experience, I was thinking about a way to pay that joy forward.”
That way became a show. Actually, it became two shows. First, there was last year’s Unspouse My House on HGTV, which chronicled Soria helping various heartbreak victims get rid of an ex’s bad mojo through interior design. Though the show wasn’t picked up for another season, Soria is back on HGTV this season with a new spin on the concept, Build Me Up, where he helps people out of low moments with the power of fresh paint, wallpaper, and midcentury-inspired seating.
As in Unspouse, there are a few clients looking to get over a bad breakup, but Build Me Up covers a wider range of trauma: a woman who has lost her husband to cancer, an overworked single mother, and a father who wants to build a home for his own mother all receive Soria’s ministrations. “From the get-go, we wanted to do more than just breakups,” says Soria. “It opened things up to more types of stories, which makes the show much more rich and nuanced.”
Build Me Up is debuting at a unique time. With much of America spending more time at home and in need of a little design pick-me-up, shows about the mood-lifting power of a room refresh may well have found the perfect moment to catch on. Ironically, the pandemic has made it more difficult to make them. Build Me Up finished filming just as COVID was upending America (one episode lightly touches on the subject). Since then, filming home-makeover shows has gotten weirder. A more recent episode was a strange experience: “Everybody stayed more than 6 feet away from each other and was wearing masks when they were not on camera,” he says. “I don’t know how they’re going to figure this out, to be honest. It’s a weird time for shooting. It’s really a big question mark.”
Having a little more free time has opened up Soria to get back to what TV designers rarely have time to do: interior design for private clients. “That’s one thing I’d like people in the world to generally know—if someone’s creating a TV show, it’s kind of impossible for them to be showing up to client meetings,” he says. “People will hire a famous designer and expect to see them all the time, which is this irony, because if you’re in the position to be marketing yourself by being on a TV show, you don’t have the time to actually be designing.”
As for the common complaint voiced by professional designers—that home makeover shows make clients think great design happens in three days for $300—Soria is sympathetic, to a point. “Things like HGTV and Apartment Therapy have created a more widespread understanding of interior design and have created an expectation that it’s approachable, when in fact, interior design is a service for very rich people—I can’t afford it!” he says. “I definitely hear that frustration in terms of setting an unrealistic expectation, but I think that’s counterbalanced by the inspiration it gives to people who really can’t afford interior designers.”
If there’s a common thread that unites the two (professional design for clients and inspirational design for TV), it’s the power of narrative, says Soria. “When I’m interviewing people about what they’ve gone through, and what they want for their homes—it’s one and the same thing. Interior design is all about storytelling.”
Build Me Up airs on HGTV every Wednesday at 9 p.m. EST.
Homepage photo: Courtesy of HGTV