As a designer on the popular ABC hit show, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Tracy Hutson has witnessed incredible transformations, not only in the homes she helps build, but the lives she helps change. When she is not designing under the gun and building new homes in a week on location, Tracy is at home in Los Angeles, constantly working on her designs and spending time with her actor husband, Barry Watson and their two young boys, Oliver and Felix. Her book, Feathering the Nest , recently hit stores across the country and is a beautiful and resource-laden guide to decorating kids rooms in an eco-friendly way. Tracy Hutson sat down with our contributor, Jeana Lee Tahnk to discuss her design philosophy, how the show has impacted her life and how all she wants on her day off is a pedicure.
Congratulations on your recent book release, Feathering the Nest . It’s beautiful and has some really fantastic advice for creating environmentally-sound living spaces for children. Why are you drawn to decorating children’s rooms and nurseries? Did that progress since you became a mom yourself or have you always had that in you?
Thank you! I really wanted to create the book because I noticed a lack of good resources out there for smart, eco-friendly design. When I would go to the decorating section at bookstores, I definitely noticed a void. And if there were any books, they were all outdated. When I was pregnant with Felix and taking some time off from the show, I decided to just write a proposal and see what happens. Plus, a lot of people around me were expecting so I just wanted to get all the information in one place to create a go-to book. Eco-friendly design is the smartest direction for me personally, and I hope it is so for others as well. It really took a life of its own and turned into a beautiful book that is packed full of information. I’m really proud of it.
What is your shooting schedule for Extreme Makeover? How do you manage the travel and do you ever take your kids with you?
Being on the show is such a passion of mine and I’m looking forward to a new season. They have always been wonderful working with me, so this season I’ll be shooting about 4-6 episodes. Since each episode requires me to be away for about 9-10 days with travel, I used to take the boys with me. But now that Oliver is in preschool three days a week, we’re going to try something different this year. The new plan is to leave them both at home with daddy. It’s gut-wrenching and it kills me, but they’re just better together. The boys are so close that when I would take Felix, Oliver would be like, ‘why did mommy leave and why did she take my brother?’ I’m not sure how this new plan will be, but we’ll see how it goes! I know I’m going to be counting down each day when I’m on the road and taking pictures of myself to send back home, but I think this will just be more comfortable for them.
It must be so fulfilling to be part of such a compassionate and generous show. Whenever I watch, I always get emotional when they “MOVE THAT BUS” and see the families’ sheer exaltation and their new beginnings. Is it hard to keep your composure when you see how much you’ve changed these families’ lives, especially the children’s?
Yes, there’s nothing like it. It’s amazing. First of all, what you see on the show is what is really happening. We build these houses in one week and when the family comes home and we’ve all been working so hard, it’s just overwhelming. They tend to cut to me all the time because I’m always the one crying! Providing this kind of joy and hope is addicting. We just want to keep doing it again and again.
You’ve helped so many families on Extreme Makeover and witnessed some very difficult living situations. How do these experiences impact you as a mom?
Gosh, I’m sure you can relate just having little ones yourself. I squeeze them a little tighter, give them a million kisses every day. On the last episode, we worked with a family where the mother lost two kids, one to domestic abuse and the other to drunk driving. They had me go to MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) to spread the word and just talk to families who were in the same situation. I was a mess, sobbing the whole time and it’s hard not to be empathetic and put yourself in the same position. Seeing what I’ve seen on the show makes me certainly realize how fragile life is. But being a mom has heightened that a million times over. It really makes me appreciate life.
And how wonderful that your boys will get to see what it is that you do and how much you have changed people’s lives.
Thanks, that’s sweet. I haven’t even thought that far ahead truthfully. I feel guilty schlepping them all over the U.S., staying in small hotels, but I really do hope that one day, they’ll see their mom on the show and witness that I was able to do wonderful things for people.
It’s clear from your contributions to Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, as well as with your recent book Feathering the Nest , that you’re a big advocate of green living. How do you impart that passion onto your two boys?
There are lots of ways that I try to get the boys involved. Oliver helps out a lot with the recycling and we often go through our toys to figure out which ones they don’t play with anymore. Those are given to friends or donated. The good thing about having two boys is that Felix gets all of Oliver’s hand-me-downs, that’s perfect in terms of re-use! But overall, I try to put things into kid’s terms, like taking shorter baths means saving water for the fish in the sea. What’s amazing is that little things like turning lights off when we leave the room starts becoming such a part of the routine that now my son reminds me to do it. It’s really a lifestyle change and all of these things that I have trained myself to do over the years, is just part of his everyday life. He won’t have the option of paper or plastic in the future, he’ll just take his little cloth bag with him to the store and not know any different.
You’ve decorated so many houses on Extreme Makeover and have always come up with fresh and innovative design ideas. Where does your inspiration come from?
Honestly, I find an inspiration piece based on a child’s personality, preference or what they tell me they’re into. It’s my job to interpret people’s wishes into design, even if they’re not even sure of what they want. So, I always start with an inspiration piece and then go from there. There are a hundred different ways to go about designing a room, but it’s like second nature to me. The key is finding something that you love, whether it’s a piece of art, a chair, a color and then use that as a starting point. I also like to take my time. When people move into their homes, it’s always ‘hurry, hurry, hurry’ to get everything unpacked and settled, but to me, there’s nothing more comforting than a room that’s been lived in, so just take your time.
As a decorator, you want to surround yourself with beautiful things and live in an aesthetically-pleasing environment, but let’s face it, kids are messy and always leave a trail of something behind, be it food, toys, etc. How do you manage to keep your home looking its best with two active boys?
Come on, we both have young kids, it’s not easy! At our house, we are lucky to have a dedicated play room so we can contain the toys in one area. The easiest thing to do is to get large containers that don’t look like they’re for children. I have a big patinaed pot that blends into our décor, but doubles as a toy holder. Or, you can get a nice credenza to use for toys. I also enlist the help of my sons to clean up after themselves after the tornado has swept through and that always helps.
I saw on Twitter that you have a Tracy Hutson QVC line coming out this October. Can you give us a sneak peek into what you’ll be selling?
I know, can you believe it? I’m really excited and still in shock, but it’s awesome. QVC reaches so many homes and I was oblivious to that whole world, but there is a huge market out there for our generation that needs home décor. When my line launches in October, it will consist of about 10-15 home goods, or home accessories as they call them, of coordinating items. Everything from serving trays, lamps, decorative pillows, just little touches that can help transform a room. I haven’t yet come to terms with the fact that I’m going to be on QVC in a couple months, but I’m so excited. It’s a great platform for my ideas and it will hopefully make design much more accessible to a huge audience. It’s really pretty cool.
With your busy career as an author, decorator and being on Extreme Makeover, when do you find time for yourself? What is your most indulgent “me time” activity?
Let’s see…[long pause] Oh wow, it’s so rare. Definitely a pedicure. I would say a manicure too, but between car seats and strollers, they get beat up pretty easily, so I’d opt for the pedi. I would also love to squeeze in some friend time. Lunch, a glass of champagne, maybe. All my friends are moms now, and getting together with them is so helpful to serve as a reminder of who we were a few years ago. We’re still in there somewhere! Sometimes I don’t know how I get through the day, sometimes it’s just auto-pilot. I’m usually an afterthought, so getting a couple hours to myself would give me the chance to dial down, chill out and take a deep breath.
Designer and television star Tracy Hutson was interviewed by Jeana Lee Tahnk  As a writer and professional photographer, Jeana's work and personal essays on parenting have appeared in high profile outlets as The Boston Globe, NPR's This I Believe and Woman's Day. She is also a public relations consultant with an agency in San Francisco. Jeana currently splits her time between her dual careers of PR and writing from her home on the North Shore in Massachusetts.
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