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HGTV's Orlando Soria on Changing Homes (and Their Owners) for the Better

by Billy McEntee

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Sunday September 6, 2020

Something is addicting about HGTV: so many of its shows follow a similar, satisfying pattern. You see a house in need of repair, wonder how it will ever be revitalized, and then — poof! — after a few commercial breaks, a crumbling house transforms into a sleek, desirable home.

Orlando Soria instills these familiar beats on his new show "Build Me Up," but there's a moving twist. As the title might suggest, it's not just homes that are built up — so is self-esteem. In each episode, Orlando tackles the home of someone going through or recovering from a major life change, not only getting to know the architecture of a house but the lives, personalities and struggles of its owners.

The openly gay designer (who's increasingly ubiquitous on HGTV) discusses his new, binge-able show, his little quarantine decorating projects, and the secret to sturdy relationships.

Season 1 of "Build Me Up" just concluded. Of course, you finished filming a while ago, but how has it felt to watch the episodes roll out?

It's honestly been so fun to see all these stories go out into the world! We kinda make these shows in a bubble, and it's a bunch of hardworking people doing their best to make the homeowners happy and make a show that is entertaining and provides great design takeaways people can try at home. I'm a big communicator, so for me, the most satisfying part is when people see what I made. And it's fun to watch as the homeowners see themselves on TV — it's really a kick for them, and it brings joy to their families and communities. That joy is contagious, and I take it with me through the rest of the year.

The title of the show is so great — it suggests both an architectural and a personal upgrade. Can you discuss the ethos of "Build Me Up," which feels refreshingly, well, uplifting?

For me, the show is all about using my skill as a designer to help other people feel good about their lives and themselves. So, what you see on screen is people interacting, loving on each other, and tackling some not-always-straightforward life and design conundrums. What we set out to make was a show that gave the same design before/after content but also weaves in some personal stories that make you root for the homeowner. So, by the time we get to the reveal, we're all just really happy this person is having something nice for them.

Your HGTV career keeps expanding: soon you'll be seen as a guest judge on "Brother vs. Brother." What can audiences expect?

That was so fun! I'd never met the brothers [Jonathan and Drew Scott of "Property Brothers"] before, and they were so fun and funny to work with. What you can expect to see is drama. The brothers are really competitive with each other and it's so funny to watch. My episodes are gonna surprise people; I made some choices that shocked Jonathan and Drew and it's hilarious to watch how they responded.

The pandemic has affected us all differently. For a designer, there might be the impulse to want to reinvent your space with all the at-home time. Where have you been spending most of your time, and do you feel you've created the proper nest to weather this storm?

I've gone into full-on self-isolation because the way everyone around me is acting is freaking me out (STOP POSTING YOUR VACATION PICS!). I have definitely been making little updates around the house and enjoying being domestic. I did a bedding update, which totally changed the look of my bedroom. I have been doing a ton of indoor gardening. I've been making tons of art. I feel like now is just a time to accept that life is different and try to do things you normally don't make time for. For me, that was making paintings and writing more.

So much of your work is influenced by your personal life: your first HGTV show "Unspouse My House," your book "Get It Together!" How has your personal experience — and life experience as a gay man in this field — affected your professional trajectory?

I kind of see my work as an interior designer as a conduit to talk about the things I really want to talk about, which are life, family, humanity and identity. Growing up as an artsy gay kid in a tiny town, I had a ton of time to myself to play in the woods, make art, imagine, read. When you are singled out for being different, you grow empathy for other people who are also maligned. And I think you just generally get a stronger sense of understanding for the fact that everyone goes through their own struggles and that listening to them, allowing them to express their worries and sadnesses, or even just to tell you their story and who they are, is an act of service we can all do for each other to make the world a better place.

My design career has been mainly focused on content — blogging, book writing, television shows, social media, etc. And that is by design. It was never my goal to choose pillows for the 1 percent. I'd rather be there to show everyday people how they can make their homes more beautiful, that regardless of income or class, there are small things we can do to show care for our homes and thus ourselves and our families.

We love Ormomdo and Orlandad [Orlando's parents' nicknames]! What do you think your parents are proudest of, and what's the secret to a healthy family relationship, especially for LGBTQ youth and their parents?

I lucked out with my parents. We grew up in the woods, but my parents are both well-educated liberals who always know what's going on culturally before I do. I wish I were as smart as they are or as well-read! What my parents gave me was an entitlement to the fact that I deserved respect and the ability to brush off any homophobia as the result of a lack of intelligence, education, or both. I actually can't imagine not having accepting parents because of how I was raised; think I'd just never talk to them. I know that's a super privileged thing to say, I just can't imagine having to deal with that (and my heart goes out to everyone that does).

I think the key to relationships — all kinds, not just parents — is being vulnerable enough to be the one who picks up the phone and reaches out. Relationships are energy, and if you don't put substantial energy in, you're not going to get it back. I'm lucky that I have parents who are fun and easy to talk to. And I'm looking forward to stupid COVID being over so I'm allowed back in their house again.

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