Photos by Paul Flessland
Design & Living Magazine Associate Publisher Tracy Nicholson had the chance to do a behind-the-scenes interview with HGTV’s Chip Wade at the 2017 Eco Chic Design Conference.
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN TO FARGO OR NORTH DAKOTA?
“No, I was so pleasantly surprised by everything. I was eager because I’d never been here and I always like to see new places. I have actually driven through the state on my way to some outdoor projects, but I just remember it being very cold.”
HAVE YOU MADE IT OUT TO ANY OF OUR LOCAL RESTAURANTS YET?
“I haven’t made it out much yet, but Maria’s husband Tate and I did go to breakfast this morning at Village Inn, which was good. I love to eat. I’ve been cruising around with Tate last night and this morning. He and the boys from Grain Designs are fantastic folks. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about the people in this area and the Minneapolis area that really remind me of home. There’s just an authenticity to it and everyone I’ve met, especially Maria and Tate, have been so gracious and so kind.”
WHERE ARE YOU ORIGINALLY FROM?
“I was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. That’s where my business is and where all of my family is, so we’re real close with family. We have about three generations deep there, so we are about as native as it gets.”
HOW DID YOU END UP ON TV AND WHAT WAS THAT LIKE WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED?
“A lot of people think that everyone on television is seeking television out, but it was kind of the opposite scenario for me. I started out as an engineer. I went to Georgia Tech, studied engineering and then one day, as I was sitting in my cubicle doing my engineering, nerdy work, and an email came across my desk and it said there was a show called “Designed to Sell” that was moving to Atlanta, so they were actually looking for people to renovate homes.
“I had never struggled for self-confidence, so I thought, ‘Don’t they need a young hot-shot engineer?’ I sent back a little self-promotion paragraph and one thing led to another and I ended up getting cast as a sidekick character on the show. That was over 10 years ago and now 14 shows later, we’re still cranking along. So, to answer your question, spam, I guess is the moral of the story.”
DO YOU TYPICALLY SHOOT FOR TV ALL YEAR?
“One of the beauties of shooting in the south is that it is acceptable to shoot most of the year, but typically we try to cram it into about a six-month window. But, we try to make it as efficient as possible. The shows that I work on are fairly large-scale. They usually go between $60,000 and $100,000 per episode of renovation budget. And we usually are doing five to seven projects at a time.”
WHAT IS A REALISTIC TIMEFRAME FOR THE PROJECTS WE SEE ON TV?
“On TV, we do it very quickly. For the scale of projects we do on the show, you should be able to accomplish these in a two to three-month time frame. Also, on TV I manage and execute all of the construction on all of my television shows. In real life though, things are completely different. I have an architecture and design firm. We don’t do construction for folks outwardly, but we do architecture and design services nationwide.”
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR PEOPLE SEEKING TO REMODEL?
“The biggest thing people can do is to start with a plan, prior to ever reaching out to your builder or general contractor. This isn’t always the case, but builders are not typically designers. So, getting that plan completely flushed out and then bringing that to them, makes the entire process go faster, even though you might think it’s adding an additional step.”
WHAT HAS YOUR GROWING FAME BEEN LIKE FOR YOUR FAMILY AND KIDS?
“I have a wife and three little kiddos: 3, 5 and 8. I have two boys and a girl with Mara, my daughter, in the middle. We have a great time. They all think they’re famous because they’ve been on episodes. Mack, my 8-year-old, always asks me when he’s going to be on TV again. It’s a really fun thing. My family’s really involved and they all come to the set. I work with my dad, my mother and sisters all the time, so we’re very integrated. I’ve got a very talented family, so we all just kind of enjoy the experience. My dad was also an engineer, he was amazingly talented. I learned all of my trades and all types of skills from him. To this day, he’s still the hardest working guy I ever met and it’s a joy to work beside him, although he’s retired now.
“My wife’s name is Paulie. We actually went to Georgia Tech together, she was a CPA and graduated as valedictorian. Believe it or not, we were both actually cheerleaders–I got suckered into it after I went to college, but it ended up being great. I got a full scholarship and I met my wife. Out of college, we started in separate paths with her as a CPA and me going into television. But now, she’s a controller over all three of our businesses. She actually runs our real estate branch—the design and architecture side is not really her wheelhouse. People always ask assuming that Paulie did the design, but she doesn’t do any of that. That’s kind of my piece of it.”
HAVE YOU ALWAYS HAD THE PASSION FOR BUILDING?
“Well, I started out in more of the electrical engineering arena, but I just always had that passion for building. Growing up, we always had a workshop. That’s where my dad taught me about tools at a young age. We have pictures of me running a chop-saw when I was 6 years old when we were remodeling the basement. I look back now as I have an 8-year-old and think, ‘What was he thinking?’ But, it was really all about teaching the proper ways to use tools and getting the experience of knowing what’s possible and that kind of just sparked the interest.”
WHAT DID YOU THINK WHEN MARIA BOSAK ASKED YOU TO COME SPEAK IN FARGO?
“It’s amazing. One of my favorite things to do is to talk to folks who are interested in bettering their homes or interested in doing things themselves. I’ve done over a thousand renovations in the past 10 years, so I don’t say that I’ve seen everything, but I’ve come very close. I just love to be a resource and share my experience on how I’ve done it wrong, but more so, ‘This is the way I’ve found that really allows us to get those top level results, efficiently and to the point.’ I love to talk to people who are eager to learn.”
HOW DO YOU BALANCE ALL OF YOUR PROJECTS, YOUR BUSINESS, THE TV SHOWS AND YOUR FAMILY?
“It can get crazy, but busy is one of the best types of problems. I feel it’s kind of my personality. I’m very high energy and I’m better when I’m firing on all cylinders. We have a full architecture and design firm, a real estate brokerage and a production company, in addition to doing television shows. But, they all play off of one another and they all further our ability to give our clients an elevated level of service.”
“You don’t actually have to have a designer or a contractor give you the inspiration that is most vital. Walking around your own life with your phone or your notes can provide more valid input for a quality design than anything else.”
– HGTV’s Chip Wade
DO YOU HAVE ANYTHING NEW ON THE HORIZON?
“A lot of new. I’m coming out with a couple of brand new things this year. In addition to servicing our architecture, design and real estate clients, I produce digital experiences for a number of different brands in the home and lifestyle categories. We do a lot of architecture rendered environments for product photography. What’s really exciting is that we are transforming the whole digital point-of-purchase experience.
“A lot of what I’m going to be touching on, even today, is showing a vision of what everyone is going to be experiencing when they go out shopping for a new couch or hardwood flooring, light fixtures or a kitchen faucet. Completely virtually, but also making that purchase from a digital platform. Nobody’s seen it yet, but I’m creating it and working on it for a lot of big brands right now. I’m also coming out with a new furniture line this fall. It’s all going to be multi-purpose furniture. Later this year, I’m also coming out with my first set of architectural design plans for homes.”
WE’VE SEEN YOU DO LANDSCAPE OVERHAULS AND INTERIOR REMODELS. WHICH ONE CALLS TO YOU MORE?
“On television, you predominantly see interior renovations. About 80 percent of the work we do is interior. I love interiors, but if I had to nail down one thing I love to design, it’s actually exteriors. I am passionate about landscape design. That’s actually where I started when I was in high school. I had a landscape company and I almost didn’t go to college. I just feel as though I make compelling spaces fairly easily and it’s something that is gratifying. You can do things on the outside that you can’t do on the inside.
WHERE DO YOU GET THIS DRIVE TO BE SO CREATIVE AND INNOVATIVE?
“I am very driven by creating something new and for productivity. I do not like to sit still. I like to see things accomplished and I like to set up the idea. I’m always creating concepts. Now what I’m setting up for is surrounding myself with talented individuals that can help me execute that vision so I can be off creating the next concept. It’s really that drive to create something that’s never been done before and solve problems that have never been solved. Even with me moving to producing my own content on television, I just have a passion for it.”
CAN YOU EXPLAIN YOUR ROLE AS A TELEVISION PRODUCER?
“We actually ended up winning an Emmy for our show, ‘Elbow Room,’ which is still the only Emmy that HGTV has ever won. I was mostly proud of my team. I ask my team to execute at a high level that in the moment does not give them a return, the cameras go away and might not even be shown on television, but it’s about what’s been created, more so than my contribution. It’s the amazing individuals surrounding me. We’re a real family. The guy who does my camera work is still the same guy who did my audition tape 11 years ago.”
WE HEARD YOU’RE AN AVID GUITAR PLAYER. IS THIS STILL ONE OF YOUR OUTSIDE HOBBIES AND WHAT ELSE DO YOU LIKE TO DO IN YOUR SPARE TIME?
“Yes, I’ve played guitar for more than 25 years now, I have many, most of them come from MusicCritic. I love it and it’s something that I do to relax and get away. I don’t get to play nearly as much as I’d like to anymore. I’ve actually gotten into hunting, believe it or not. I hunt mainly whitetail. I actually didn’t hunt at all until a year-and-half ago. I’m someone who’s either all in or all out, so once I tried it, I was all in. I’ve also heard there’s some great hunting in this area so I might have to come back for that. I’m trying to get my family into hunting as well. Something I’m trying to do more of is creating experiences for us as a family.”
WHEN YOU GET ON THAT STAGE, WHAT DO YOU WANT THE PEOPLE AT THE DESIGN CONFERENCE TO WALK AWAY WITH?
“A lot of it is about inspiring. I’m going to break them down so I can build them back up again. I plan to show them that if they can answer a few questions, how great renovation could be? Renovation can be stressful, but imagine if you knew exactly what it was going to look like, exactly how it was going to feel and how much it would cost. If you could figure out all of those without spending a dollar, wouldn’t that take the pressure off? It’s actually possible, but it takes a cognizant process put in place and you don’t get there by doing the traditional means. We all look at the inspiration and try to cram beautiful images into our own spaces and, in fact, it just doesn’t work. The best case scenario is that you end up with a pretty picture. The worst case is if you don’t do it right and it doesn’t function well.
“I think people have the wrong mentality about inspirational images as well. Even if it’s on the cover of Better Homes & Gardens or one of your favorite magazines, it’s easy to think that it must function well because an architect or designer put that together but, the real bummer is that it’s not always the case. I’ve actually created spaces that have been on the cover of magazines and I live in one of those in my own home. But, there are still spaces that I think are beautiful, but I despise the space because it doesn’t live the way it needs to.
“I actually spend the first 80 percent of my time designing spaces for clients, completely devoid of their style. So, I take your Pinterest boards and ideas and shelf them and create a completely personalized, universal design, completely devoid of style. From there, I start weaving in that last 20 percent of your style. Patience and right process always win.”
WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION?
“I look at magazines. I look at a ton of online imagery, not necessarily just the Pinterest and the Houzz sites. I use a lot of blind google searches, then images spark inspiration and I actively search based on that idea that pops into my head. You don’t actually have to have a designer or a contractor give you the inspiration that is most vital. Walking around your own life with your phone or your notes can provide more valid input for a quality design than anything else. An exercise that I love to give everyone is, take a week and write down anything that your spouse or kids do, anything that creates a bind or negative feeling. The dirty dishes in the sink or the clothes on the floor that you don’t like, tabulate those things. Those are the active gold nuggets that we use as designers to solve problems. I’m going to show that today, that it’s all about proximity and the tactical layout of spaces that end up solving so many more problems organically. Having that list first, before you go to any designer or construction professional, might be the biggest key to getting you what you want.”