Living the Dream: Shea and Syd McGee Talk 'Dream Home Makeover'
With 1.7 million followers on Instagram (and counting), Shea and Syd McGee have quickly gone from rising stars on social media to the fresh face of interior decorating on TV. The dynamic married duo run their own business (Studio McGee), raise two young children, and now host a brand-new show on Netflix!
We sat down with Syd and Shea to talk about their new series, Dream Home Makeover as well as their first book, Make Life Beautiful. The couple tells us the behind-the-scenes process of making a home design show, how they’re handling their newfound exposure as local celebrities, and the emotional rollercoaster of writing a memoir.
Between your pitch to Netflix, the show’s filming, and today, how has your brand grown and your personal and work lives changed?
Syd McGee: The brand has grown a lot. I think we’re at about 120, 115ish people-wise now. It used to just be Shea and I sitting at our kitchen table whispering while our little one was napping. Then, we hired our first person and it kind of took off from there.
We have the Studio McGee side, which is design, the furniture and the commerce side, and then everything else that goes along with that media side of things. So, I think Shea and I always had aspirations to build something like this, but it’s kind of interesting when we pause and look at it now to see what it’s become. From like 50 people to 100 people.
Did you find it challenging to fit everything Studio McGee into each 30-minute episode?
Shea McGee: I think even those short little clips hardly scratch the surface of what’s going on behind the scenes. People know us for the design aspect of what we do, so we show a lot more of that, but the bigger side of our business is actually McGee and Co, which is the furniture side of our business. Some [renovations] take almost a year sometimes to build. Cutting all that down into 28-minute episodes is a lot.
Was there anything specifically that got left on the cutting room floor that didn’t make it into the show?
Shea: “Install day,” when the builder hands the keys over to us to fill it with furniture, sometimes takes a whole week to do. Of course, on the show it’s like two minutes and I’m just placing some flowers and putting a sofa in place, but for some of those houses, we were there for days.
Your Instagram and YouTube have so many little touches of your personal aesthetic. How did you infuse the look of your TV show, the filming of it, with that same kind of McGee design?
Shea: Yeah, so, this was a big deal for me. When we shoot our interiors, we shoot just natural light. If the room is dark, then we just do a longer exposure. So, trying to translate that to TV, we would change out all the bulbs in the room so that it had a more daylight effect to it. I’m not as into the real estate look when we shoot our interiors, where there’s super wide angles. So, we pulled in a little closer, like we do in our YouTube videos.
In addition to being the host, you were also director of the show in a way.
Shea: I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, but…
Syd: I would go as far as to say that. Shea worked really well with the team that was filming to make sure, like, hey, are we getting the look? Because we want this to be and feel like Studio McGee.
Shea: I wasn’t sure if I trusted that it would implement that way until they started showing the footage and I was like, “Oh, this looks so good!” So, then we were really able to establish that trust.
What was the reaction to your show like from your day one fans from Instagram?
Shea: Oh my gosh. They had been waiting for this day for so long. I think that everyone was just really excited to see more of Syd. He is often behind the scenes and he plays a bigger role in the show than he does in our videos and on our Instagram. Also, to show our family and to show our clients. Our clients are rarely on our normal content, so being able to share those stories was really, really fun for people.
How are you handling the increased exposure as a family?
Shea: Our kids have no idea. They think we’re watching another YouTube video basically, but it’s on Netflix. They watch Netflix shows all the time and they’re like, “Oh cool, there I am!” Which I want. I hope to keep it that way.
You know those Hollywood celebrity tours? Have you ever heard of people going by the houses you designed and just admiring them in a pass by?
Syd: Yeah, it happens to our own house. On the weekend, we’ll probably have 50 to 100 people that drive by and they’re not deterred by me with my shirt off washing a car or bike. They just stop and take pictures. Then they see the Hutchinson’s home on there from the second episode and they’re like, “Oh, sweet, we got two houses on one street.”
You’ve mentioned that the move to television was very difficult. How did the process of accepting a publishing offer differ and was it easier for you to accept?
Shea: We were approached when we first started about doing a design book. It didn’t feel right because it didn’t feel like we had enough of a story to tell yet. Even at this point, we’re still very much in the middle of what we’re going after. So, we wanted to approach this book not as a “look we made it” but as a, this is a peek behind the scenes of the entrepreneurial journey that we’ve been on as a couple and as parents.
What feelings were swirling around as you narrated the audio book?
Shea: The audio book was like a true test of our marriage. It was harder than writing the book!
Syd: Oh my gosh. It was like, “I need more energy!” Then, “not so much energy.” Then, “maybe calm down a little bit.” It was just fun though, to be like, “Hey, we’ve got through this together and we felt like we could achieve this thing together and overcome anything that comes our way.”
Shea: Yeah, we were in the middle of writing our book when we ended up having to close our store in California, which was sad but I think it also put us in this mindset of like, showing people that we’ve had hurdles and this will all work out.
Blueprints and layouts are really big for you. What’s one thing people can improve about the layout of their living room space?
Shea: When I go into homes, I actually find that people tend to buy furniture that is too small. So, really go for larger pieces. In the show, you see I put blue tape everywhere all the time. It’s painter's tape and I love to tape things out on the floor and on the wall before you commit to something so you can really get a sense for the scale.
How do you feel about wallpaper, like as a concept? Do you think it should be brought back, like 1970’s type stuff?
Shea: I’ve already brought it back. I love it. I use it in small spaces when I can. I think it adds a lot. I think that you don’t want to put it in a space where it gets a lot of steam. But a powder bathroom or a bathroom that is like a guest bath I think is a great place. Or, even an office. I tend to avoid really large spaces with wallpaper, but I think small spaces work really well.
Then you say “Season 2 is coming out” right at the end of the series, like James Bond. What about Season 2 is going to be different? What’s going to be the same?
Shea: We tackled some different bases in this new season. We’re doing a huge home that has a regulation size basketball court for our client who was a professional basketball player. Then, we also do a kitchen that belonged to our client’s grandmother and everything was butter yellow — cabinets, counter tops — and it was over 100 years old, and we renovate that kitchen, which is a really, really fun project as well.
Dream Home Makeover, Streaming Now, Netflix