Kari Whitman, Designer to the Stars
has seen her fair share of Hollywood. From her "mindless" modeling days to picking out floor tiles with Jessica Alba
, this actress turned interior designer gave up auditions for plush pillows and drastic demolition. On WE's new design series, Designer to the Stars: Kari Whitman
— premiering Saturday, March 3, at 10 pm/ET — Whitman gives us a peek into Hollywood homes as she works with celebs on remodeling jobs. But it's not all sinks and sofas, because this luxury designer also lets viewers into her own
home, where you see her delegating tasks to numerous assistants, working out with her trainer and playing with her pups. Whitman talked with TVGuide.com about her whirlwind life, including her passion for design and
dogs, and her endless adoration for client and friend Emilio Estevez
TVGuide.com: I saw the first episode of your new show, featuring Jessica Alba. You redid her parents' kitchen so beautifully!
Kari Whitman: Thank you! You've got to watch them all, they're really funny.
TVGuide.com: What other stars will we see you working with?
Whitman: You're going to see Virginia Madsen, Kristen Bell from Veronica Mars, Kurtwood Smith (That '70s Show), who I pushed hard for the network to accept because I just love him.... He has an incredible bathroom that I do for him. That's probably one of my favorite rooms of all the shows, it's super cool.
TVGuide.com: Are you going to be doing a different room every time?
Whitman: It's a different room in each house, but they're all my clients, so I'm doing [just] one room for the show. I don't want to have, like, five bathrooms on my show. I try to mix it up a little bit, but they're all excited to get some free work from Kari.
TVGuide.com: There are so many design shows out there. How will yours stand out?
Whitman: Well, mine's the high-end, Rolls-Royce of design, but it's also tangible for people to be able to get ideas from. My show is so different. You've got the aspect of design, you've got the aspect of celebrities in their homes — they don't just put in an appearance, but are really involved in all of the process — and then you've got some really great tips that you can actually use at home that aren't going to cost you that much. And then you've got dog rescue and all the other crazy things that go on in my life. So, it's really kind of a "docudramedy reality show" that involves celebrity, design, passion, dog rescue and this wacky, single girl living in Los Angeles.
TVGuide.com: It's interesting that we see some personal points of your life, like working out with your trainer or hiring your new assistant. Why did you want to include those aspects?
Whitman: For me, I want women to see the show and say, "Wow, look at what she does in her life. She does stuff that she's passionate about." If I can be some kind of example to not go get married right out of high school and have kids because you're "supposed to," if there's something else you want to do, you should make it happen. I really wanted people to see that giving back is a big part of life, and if you have a successful business, do something else that you're passionate about, whether it's rescuing dogs or saving the environment or children. I guess I just thought it was important for it not to be another design show, but to show design, show cool tips, show the passion of my life, show celebrities, but also show what else goes on. The network and production company really liked that, and we decided to make it different than anything else.
TVGuide.com: I love anything that involves home remodeling and decorating. It's amazing to see the transformations. What's your favorite part about redoing a space?
Whitman: It depends on the space. I love tearing walls out and really making huge changes. Of course, a can of paint and flowers can make a huge change if you're on a budget, but if I have a [big] budget, I really like to go and remove walls. I've never had an unhappy client, and it's really amazing for them to walk into their space and really feel it and live it and go, "Wow, you're right, this totally works." That's the most rewarding thing.
TVGuide.com: Are you giving yourself the same budget for every situation on the show, or does it depend?
Whitman: It does depend. We have a baseline budget, but a lot of the celebrities pay for some of the stuff on their own, because I'm giving them my services for free and they're so passionate about the room. All the budgets are a little bit different. Probably out of all my shows, the kitchen and the bathroom are the most expensive, because I gut everything and move walls and add bathrooms. It's a little crazy.
TVGuide.com: We get to see your home on the show, too. How would you describe its look?
Whitman: My personal style is constantly changing, which I think is fun. It's very eclectic. If I see something I like, I buy it, and then I bring it into a room and make it work. If it doesn't work, I sell it to a client. [Laughs] I create a style for my clients, whether it be minimalism or Spanish Mediterranean, but I think it's good that we're all expressions of what we like and what we are, and I think that's really important when I'm doing somebody's house or when I'm doing my own house. I work with the person. It's not about ego for me, it's about communication and really making sure that the client is happy and that we're doing something that they're going to live with and they're going to feel good and proud about and maybe a little bit cocky when they have their friends over. [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: Who's your favorite celebrity client?
Whitman: Emilio Estevez. He's a dear friend of mine and I met him years ago and he gave me one of my first acting jobs. I'm a very green designer, I'm environmentally conscious, and he is, too. I did a wine room for him where everything in the room, except for the barrels that the wine is being held in, is recycled. It's probably my favorite room that I've done ever, and he's just an incredible, gracious, loving, wonderful human being. He has very good taste and we work really well together. His taste in art is impeccable.
TVGuide.com: Any chance we'll see him on the show?
Whitman: Yeah, actually. He was going to do one [episode], and I ran out of time and wanted to hold off a little before I did more episodes, but he'll probably do one if we decide to do more. He's definitely at the top of the roster. I just adore him.
TVGuide.com: Well, I was going to ask you about acting, as you mentioned before. What ultimately made you transition into your current career?
Whitman: Basically, I went to college for just one year, and I got approached to do some modeling and acting when I was 18, 19, and I hated doing any kind of modeling, because I just thought it was the most mindless thing I could ever do with myself. I started interviewing and booking these commercials, which had a lot of dialogue, and I thought, "Oh, I guess I'm good at this. I'll do some acting." I was working, but it was just not empowering enough for me as a woman or a human being, and I felt like I needed more stimulation. It was actually boring for me, and I had always had a huge, huge design sense from reorganizing my house as a kid to reorganizing hotel rooms when I went on vacation. My parents thought I was completely nuts, because every time they walked into my bedroom, it was completely different. I thought this was something that's innately inside of me and I should just go with it, it's something I'm passionate about.
TVGuide.com: Do you miss acting, or ever get opportunities to return to it?
Whitman: I never miss being an actress. I wouldn't do that again, but I do like being myself on camera and I like hosting shows, and I think I'm much better at that than being an actress. I just love being myself, and people think I'm funny and I don't know why. [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: I don't know how you juggle it all, not to mention your own design firm, Kari Whitman Interiors, and nonprofit dog rescue Ace of Hearts!
Whitman: I think I'm addicted to the chaos. It makes me feel alive and it makes me feel like I'm doing my job right. I really like my life. I wish I had a little more social time and I wish I had a little more intimacy — don't get me wrong, I date, and I've been on and off with this guy for a long time — that can happen more regularly, but other than that, I'm pretty much on target.
TVGuide.com: And it's nice how everything you're doing with interior design goes toward Ace of Hearts. Tell me about the Annual Dog Bowl.
Whitman: Oh, that's cute that you asked me about that, no one does! The Annual Dog Bowl is something that I came up with. I might change it a little bit this year, but it's still the same concept. It's a fund-raiser that I do for Ace of Hearts, and I have anywhere between 40 and 60 dog bowls that are painted and signed by celebrities and then we auction them off. I usually do it at a bowling alley [Laughs], so we call it the Annual Dog Bowl and I have really cute invitations — it's always a bowling pin with a dog collar hanging off. I might do a poker tournament this year, though, and still have the dog bowls there and then have playing cards with all the dogs that we've rescued on the cards.
TVGuide.com: When does that happen?
Whitman: I'm a little late. It usually happens every April, but I might be pushing it to May this year, just because I'm promoting the show and I've got a lot going on. But I love it, it's a really fun fund-raiser.
TVGuide.com: Oh, and your own line of paint, Wall Makeup! I love the name.
Whitman: The concept is great, I'm getting it produced right now. I haven't launched it yet. You can buy it online at wallmakeup.com, but I'm trying to figure out if I want to sell it to Home Depot or to Lowe's. Anyone that's into do-it-yourself stuff and really wants to create a cool color on their own without being at the disposal of every paint company's colors, I think it's a great idea. I've always mixed my own color with my clients and there's always a fun, child-like vitality that comes out when they're mixing their own paint. [Laughs] It's really cute, I make them put smocks on.
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