What It's Really Like to Be a Designer on Trading Spaces

New designer Mikel Welch gives CQ some behind-the-scenes details

Trading Spaces
Diana Fujii

Getting an unexpected phone call inviting you to be a part of a TV show you've been a fan of for over a decade? Sounds like a dream come true. For Atlanta-based this dream did come true when the producers of Trading Spaces—which was revamped by TLC last year—asked him to be a new designer on the latest season of the cult-favorite design show.

"Oh my gosh, it's been a whirlwind," says Welch. "It's just such a thrilling feeling." For the show, Welch is one of 14 designers who try their talented hands at refitting a space in just two days—and with just $2,000. It's a difficult task for sure, but also, as any fans of the show know, one that's insanely addictive to watch. Ahead of the premiere this weekend, CQ caught up with Welch to hear about his experience on the show—and what he wants fans to know.

image
Mikel Welch
Courtesy of Mikel Welch

CQ: First of all, congrats! So are you a longtime fan of the show?

Mikel Welch: Yes! I’ve watched it for 10, 15 years, so to now be a part of something that I used as inspiration for a career path is mind blowing. Standing next to Ty Pennington during our photo shoot was unreal.

HB: I can imagine! What was your first reaction when you got asked to be a part of it?

MW: It was one of those things where literally all the stars aligned. I got a call from a coworker who used to work on The Steve Harvey Show with me. He said, "we’re looking for designers, and I put your name out there and the producers would love to have a conversation." So we get on the phone and I’m thinking it's just an initial call and they say, "Ok it all looks good; can you start next week?"

HB: Wow!

MW: Yeah. I’m like, uhh ok—oh my God!

image
A Chicago home by Welch.
Courtesy of TLC

HB: What did you love most about the show before you were on it?

MW: For me, when I first watched the show I had just graduated from college and I was living on an IKEA budget, so that $1,000 was speaking my language. What inspired me was the innovation of the designers who could take some impractical things and turn them into design solutions. That’s what captivated me the most, them being able to use their ingenuity to come up with creative solutions and out-of-the-box thinking. And then obviously because I’m a designer, I love to see reactions. So watching people’s faces, it blows your mind!

HB: What do you think made the show such a hit?

MW: It was one of those first kind of reality shows, right after The Real World. This was the first time people let other people into their homes on that type of platform. What people love is that it’s raw; it’s not fabricated. If somebody doesn’t like something, you're getting their real reaction. And they're really stuck with it!

Welch promises fans he "stretches his imagination" in his project for the show. "I’m someone who works in neutrals and a big thing about Trading Spaces is creating a big, impactful design," explains the designer. "So seeing me try to stretch my neutral aesthetic is going to be a surprise."


HB: So as a new designer, what does your participation entail?

MW: Since there are so many of us, it rotates. Each of the new designers gets one episode and then if it does well, next season we’ll get more. Mine is June 8. The episode rated really high, so they made it the finale. It’s bittersweet because I have to wait, but that’s huge.

HB: What about the experience was most different than you'd expected?

MW: The hardest part has been that I’ve been in the world of luxury design. When you’re used to working with a half-a-million-dollar budget and now I have $2,ooo...I’m used to using that just for the fabric on a chair! And the time frame. You have two days and you can not go over that. When they call "time," it’s serious. You can’t throw extra money at it!

A post shared by (@mikelwelch) on

HB: What's your favorite memory from the show?

MW: One behind the scenes things that no one really knows: Vern Yip and I have an episode together and what was fun was, I used to be on Design Star on HGTV, and Vern was one of my judges, so it was kind of like a mini-reunion. And it was a huge pat on the back to now have him as a coworker.

HB: How cool! What would fans be most surprised to know about the show?

MW: It’s very real and it’s not scripted! No one believes we really have two days to pull it off. I've done a few shows, and for most, I’ve had for TV purposes, a few days, when in reality it’s been a week and a team of 12 laborers. With this, I’m really in there working, painting, doing the work.

HB: Whew, sounds exhausting!

MW: Yes, but the whole adrenaline rush of getting this done in two days was awesome because my episode was in Charlotte, and I shopped everything everything locally when I got there. You literally hit the ground running. I felt like G.I. Joe!

HB: We can't wait to see!

Trading Spaces premieres on Saturday, March 16 at 8/7 Central on

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
More From Design Inspiration