GP Wilson

Unity High School grad Doug Wilson, who went on to star in TLC's 'Trading Spaces,' is back in town to shoot a movie.

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Before he was a New York-based interior designer and one of the stars of “Trading Spaces,” one of the original home-remodeling shows, Doug Wilson was a student at Unity High School. He’s back in the area, and he dropped by “Penny For Your Thoughts” to speak with host Brian Barnhart about his background with local theater, how he became an interior design and television host, the importance of proportions in design, and much more.

Below are some highlights of the conversation; the full interview is above.

On why he’s in town ...

I came in to shoot a movie, so that’s why I’m back. ... We shot in St. Joe of all places. It just had this charm of a small town, it had a great cafe that we used there, so it was the right fit for the movie.

On ‘Trading Spaces’ ...

With the resurgence of the reboot and a lot of nostalgia, we came back for at least two seasons and made a splash. They call us “The mother of all decorating shows.” We were the first reality-based home show to hit the market. Of course, now there are so many others. In that day, you only had so many cable television outlets. Now we have streaming, Hulu, this and that. There’s so much out there, you could not watch everything that’s out there.

On how he got his start in theater and interior design ...

In high school and college, I worked at Sunshine Dinner Playhouse. ... In the entertainment business, I got my start at Sunshine Dinner Playhouse when I was 15. I did their second show, which was their first musical, “Annie Get Your Gun.” And I was just a chorus member, but that was what really fed me into professional acting.

But also the design. When I was there on the sets watching them work with the lighting and the props and so on and so forth, I was really intrigued.

And then, I started working for a local artist by the name of Orrin Johnson. He was a silk-screen lithographer, graphic artist, interior designer, sort of a jack of all trades. I learned so much from him about fine art and detail, aside from the fact that I grew up on a family farm, where you did things yourself.

So, I combined everything. That’s really how I got my start here locally.

When I moved to New York in 1986, I started a business called Handyman Cam, and I was in high-end residential homes and started noticing the decorative paint finishes and design. I decided, “Hey, I can do that.” That’s what I did when I was younger. I became known in New York City with some of the high-end designers as a go-to decorative paint finisher.

On trends in interior design ...

So often, the media wants to call designers and say, “What’s the newest color? What’s the newest trend for furniture?” I don’t subscribe to that. I don’t want to tell people what a trend is. I want them to figure out what works for themselves and their home and their environment. I think that’s much more important than trying to hang your hat on what your neighbors are doing, what your mother’s doing, what your mother-in-law is doing. You are your own individual. Find out what your quirks are and put that personality into your home.

On the importance of planning in designing a home ...

Interior design, sometimes, people pooh-pooh it. But there really is a science to this art. And this is one of my biggest problems sometimes with working with a client or sometimes helping a client. They want to drop one element that is important, and it’s like a domino effect. You drop one element and it affects all of the other elements. It’s really about color, texture; lighting is one of the most important things — you can have a beautiful room in terms of what you put into it, but if you can’t see it, and you can’t put the elements of lighting in it to make things special and wonderful, then your job is half-done.

Proportionate scale is one of the big things. I talk in the book about putting artwork on top of a couch, and people will put these really small pieces, and maybe three or four of them, above the couch. And it’s like, “OK, it’s like postage stamps. You have a big sofa. You need to add a substantial piece of artwork or two to balance out the sofa.” So that’s one example.

On hard-set rules in design ...

I’m not a big “rule person.” It’s not that I make my own rules, but I know what’s right when I see it. Put furniture and fabrics on a table, and I can pick out the right one fairly easily.

On playing with unique ideas ...

Have fun with your space. There are certain rules that you can play with. Some of the great rooms to play with are powder rooms and bathrooms, because they’re small. They’re expensive, when you replace the sink and everything. But it’s a small place to be unique. Because after the plumbing and all of the furnishing, you can change the decor fairly easily. So if you make big mistakes, well, live with it for a little while, then learn from those and move on.