Gay Dallas designer wins HGTV’s “Design Star: All-Stars”

Leslie Ezelle, the gay Dallas-based designer whose story of surviving breast cancer inspired many last summer when she was a contestant on a Season 6 of HGTV’s Design Star but who was booted about midway through her season, redeemed herself by winning the first-ever edition of Design Star: All-Stars, which aired last night.

Ezelle bested fellow Dallas designer Hilari and sole male finalist Tom in transforming a storage container into a living space. Her genius touch: A Murphy bed that doubles as a blackboard for children to write on when not in use.

Ezelle, who became active in breast cancer awareness following her appearance on the show last summer, really deserved to win, as well. The judges praised her growth both as an designer and as an on-screen personality.

Ezelle welcomed the win surrounded by hundreds of friends and well-wishers by celebrating at a screening at Studio Movie Grill of the finale.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Great Big Texas Home Show at Cowboys Stadium

Better hunks and gardens

Whoever put together the celebrity guest panel of the Great Big Texas Home Show surely knows their gay market. This year’s expo of garden ideas and home makeover inspirations is also a major stud fest. HGTV’s Chip Wade, pictured, Bryan Baeumier and William Moss bring their expertise and beef to the worktable this weekend.

DEETS: Cowboys Stadium, 925 N. Collins St., Arlington. Through Sunday. $15.

—  Rich Lopez

Embracing the pink

Breast cancer survivor Leslie Ezelle turned tragedy into hope, with a new business and a spot on HGTV’s ‘Design Star’

DESIGNING WOMAN | Dallas designer Leslie Ezelle survived breast cancer and is now one of the hopefuls on the new season of HGTV’s ‘Design Star.’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor


Season premiere airs on HGTV July 11 at 8 p.m.


Going through the horrors of breast cancer may be the best thing that ever happened to Leslie Ezelle.

In 2008, the Dallas resident was a stay-at-home mom to her four kids and stepkids when she was diagnosed. Not a lot of people, even friends, knew about it at the time.

“During breast cancer, I was in complete denial — I wouldn’t talk about it,” Ezelle now admits. “I did six weeks of radiation and wouldn’t talk to anybody there; I just wanted to get in and out.”

But while outwardly nothing was wrong, inside she was falling apart. “What am I gonna be when I grow up?” she asked herself. And the answer was: Follow your dream.

“I thought maybe I could combine all the things I have always had confidence in — my artwork and my painting and my design — and make a living at it,” she says.

For years, Ezelle — a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader — had been an amateur decorator, offering her eye to close friends and family free of charge. But in the middle of breast cancer treatment, she decided it was time to make it official and “start charging for it.”

In 2009, she started her company, LeslieChristine Designs. Around the same time, she took another huge step.

“I was in and out of the hospital during breast cancer with infections and reconstructive surgery,” she says. “I started thinking, ‘What I really want is my own design show. And I want it to be different than other kinds of reveal shows, built around my crazy life. I want it to be like Modern Family.”

Ezelle’s crazy life includes sharing an adopted daughter, Ella, with her ex-partner Marisa Diotalevi; rearing her stepson and adopted sons with her wife Libby; managing “a petting zoo” of a four-legged family that includes a one-eyed Shih-tzu and countless other fauna; and fitting it all into a small house in Preston Hollow.

And the best way to get such a show, she felt, was to compete for it.

FAB CONFAB | Ezelle, above center, and another contestant confer with mentor David Bromstad on the upcoming season of ‘Design Star;’ below, in her cheerleading days with the Dallas Cowboys.

Ezelle and her clan were already huge fans of HGTV’s Design Star competition series, which pits 12 aspiring decorators against each other, with the reward being their own weekly series. She figures she might as well try it.

“The day of the deadline, I FedEx’d my stuff to them. Real soon I went up there to meet them. Then I got a call that I was accepted. It was quick and pretty amazing, but really cool, though. They were auditioning for close to nine months; to go through it that long would have made me a nervous wreck. I did it on a whim and it worked out beautifully.”

This season, gay designer Vern Yip returns as the head judge (alongside Genevieve Gorder and Candice Olson), with guest judges like Thom Felicia and Nate Berkus, plus the addition of a new mentor: The gay former series winner and current TV host David Bromstad, who serves as a Tim Gunn-esque mentor. (Gay judges, gay mentor, gay contestant: This might be the gayest show on TV not on Bravo — and that includes Logo.)

Until the winner of the series is revealed (she can’t talk about it), Ezelle’s own design business is doing well.

“I seem to be caught up with the straight-male-bachelor-penthouse scene, which is really great because they have money!” she laughs. “I’m actually doing my first gay male couple shortly — the first gay clients I’ve had.”

But Ezelle found the whole TV experience worthwhile.

“I felt like I knew all these guys,” she says. “Vern is so sweet, so straightforward. I’ve heard critics and other designers describe him as the Simon Cowell [of the show], but I’m not at all intimidated by him. We have much in common: He and his partner had a baby. He lost his mom to cancer, and he’s very dedicated to this foundation [in her memory]. I learned that the day before I went to check into the show and I just lost it. He’s a good guy!”

Ezelle herself is becoming a devotee of cancer awareness, as well. While she was undergoing treatment, she refused to acknowledge how serious things were.

“I didn’t want to see anything pink — I didn’t want to ‘play’ breast cancer. But that’s really what brought me to the show. I’ve decided to embrace the pink.”

For the season premiere on July 11, Ezelle is hosting an invitation-only screening party and fundraiser for Susan G. Komen foundation at Studio Movie Grill.

“I’m trying to raise $25,000 for Susan G. Komen, hopefully more,” she says. “It’s my time to pay back and bring awareness. Of course, I may be hiding under the table when [the episode] airs, out of embarrassment…”

Ezelle finished her last cancer treatment on Dec. 27 — a milestone for her, but not one she would readily trade.

“Breast cancer really drove me in this direction,” she says. “It makes you remember, ‘It’s not that bad — I’m not dead. I don’t have it as bad as this [person.]’ And I think my story is what got me on the show. Doom and gloom brought me to my dreams.”

And if all works out, it just may make those dreams come true.

To learn more about her designs, visit

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 1, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Great Spaces: There grows the neighborhood

Architect/TV host John Gidding offers tips for multiple-home improvement, or just a single room

By Steven Lindsey

Anyone who owns a home can quickly name the one house on the block that ruins the whole street for everyone. It could be as simple as an unkempt yard or as drastic as broken-down cars perched on cinderblocks on the driveway. Architect and HGTV host John Gidding’s new show, Curb Appeal: The Block, is all about tackling entire groups of homes and building a sense of pride in a community. Fortunately, you don’t have to go on a reality show to benefit from his advice, from ways to improve your own home to getting everyone living around you in on the act.

Taking on the neighborhood

In Curb Appeal: The Block, Gidding is challenged with designing and improving facades on more than one house. Rather than just helping one person make his or her home shine, his job is to upgrade an entire block while staying true to the aesthetics of the homes and rely on historic and contextual cues.

“It makes a big difference when multiple homeowners in a neighborhood feel the benefits of a curb appeal facelift, typically with the side effect that after we leave, those neighbors continue to find ways of beautifying their surroundings and further strengthening those neighborly bonds,” he says.

The biggest culprits for bringing down curb appeal, according to Gidding, are ugly yards, shoddy or unappealing front doors, little regard for quality lighting, lack of color, faltering shutters and gutters and a crooked mailbox.

“A clean yard with well-maintained planting beds and mulched details is all you need in terms of landscaping. Some colorful plants following the path to the front door doesn’t hurt.”

And, he says, if you don’t have a dedicated path to the front door and have people walking up your driveway, you’ve broken Gidding’s No.1 rule: Always have a path to the front door.

“After that it’s about bringing color to the front door to attract attention to the entrance, and then decorating the entrance with a place to sit, a sconce or lighting fixture that matches the metal finishes of the door hardware, and then complementing the entrance colors with accents on the facade like repainting shutters or installing window boxes. It’s really not rocket science, but it can require some color coordination and taste.”

Without a TV crew in tow, people may find it difficult to get their neighbors to feel the need to improve their homes’ curb appeal.

“The most effective grease for this particular wheel is from the elbow. In other words, if you are willing to put in a little work yourself, you’ll be amazed how receptive neighbors can be to chipping in. The worst thing you can do is tell neighbors how to improve their lot or side of the street. You end up fracturing the very fabric that needs to be built up,” he says.

“On the other hand, if you propose a weekend where whoever wants to can join in doing a few projects around the neighborhood, you’ll find more and more people willing to help out. Once that kind of relationship is built up, the sky is the limit for how much improvement a block can affect as a team.”

Increasing your home’s value

“Kitchens and bathrooms are the tried and tested focal points for a successful home renovation,” Gidding says. “Granted, they can be expensive to redo, but invariably the investment comes back in property values. For kitchens, cabinet resurfacing, countertop upgrades, and new appliances are the big-ticket crowd pleasers.”

“For bathrooms, it’s retiling and new fixtures. Both these rooms are slaves to trends, so it’s good to be well versed in what’s new and hot in the market.

One year it’s all about the convection ovens and induction cooktops, and another year it can be about natural cabinet fronts and stone backsplashes. To avoid picking trends that will become dated, always look for low-detail (no multicolored inlays within the backsplash), high-quality (granite and stainless) upgrades.”

When adding value to a home that isn’t for sale, the only difference is the ability to infuse more personality in the renovations. This is a good time to hire a designer and really work on changes that will enhance your lifestyle. Built-ins are a great example, as are custom pieces of furniture that fit within specific nooks in your home. Try to maximize the spaces within your home that aren’t being used optimally. Spaces under the stairs can be reclaimed, breakfast nooks created, offices built into bedroom corners, you get the idea. These are all upgrades that will improve your day-to-day, while still being generally appreciated down the road if you do decide to sell,” he advises.

Prepping your home for sale

Gidding’s first HGTV show was Designed to Sell, a show that helped people transform their homes to sell faster and get a higher price. There are a few projects that anyone can do to make a house more appealing to prospective buyers, including some that don’t cost a thing.

“The single least expensive and most effective strategy isn’t even a design tip. It’s a clutter tip. Get rid of it!” Gidding says. “I’ve found that the homes that stay the shortest amount of time on the market are the ones that have removed about 50 percent of all clothes, belongings, knick knacks and assorted items from their shelves and closets. Some choose to rent a storage unit, some are already in their new homes and smartly move everything but the staging items to it, and others simply call Mom and use an extra bedroom as temporary holding space.”

“I always tell people to make their closets look like they live a charmed life of white shirts, beige pants, and sandals. It’s the lifestyle you’re selling as much as the house, and a cluttered home is possibly the single biggest detractor when selling.”

As far as actual design strategies, the rules are simple.

“Make sure every room is staged to have an identity,” he says. In other words, no guest rooms that are “storage rooms” and no this-dining-room-could-also-be-an-office” spaces. He also advises to use neutral, low-saturation colors on all walls that complement any furniture. Add fresh flowers to the foyer and other appropriate spaces, plant annuals and perennials in the front yard for curb appeal, and make sure the house numbers are appealing and visible.

His most important tip, which goes hand-in-hand with clutter removal is to clean, clean, clean.

“That means within drawers, every bathroom and kitchen surface, under beds, and every nook you think a buyer will not look, but trust me they will. Oh, final tip. If any bathroom has carpeting, be prepared to keep that house on the market for a nice, long time.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 15, 2011.

—  John Wright

Defining Homes: Table of Contents

Ask the Experts: Social media and real estate marketing

Frisco a go-go: LGBT homeowners find affordability key in this northern ‘burb

Welcoming Home: Cora Sue Anthony comes back to Dallas as the new host of HGTV’s ‘Real Estate Intervention’

Need an intervention?: Believe it or not, some gay couples do not have that fabulous design gene in them

First Impressions: The Make Ready Group takes care of all those finishing touches before your house goes on the market — and more

Better to have than have not: Having total peace of mind or … how buying a home warranty was the best decision I ever made

There goes the neighborhood: One pocket of an Oak Lawn neighborhood gets a pick-me-up


—  John Wright

Defining Homes: Need an intervention?

Believe it or not, some gay couples do not have that fabulous design gene in them. And if they are trying to move out of one house and into another, that lack of genetics will bite them in the rear. Do you fall into that category? Well, you may just have an out.

Not only has HGTV’s Real Estate Intervention been revamped with new host Cora Sue Anthony, the show is on the lookout for applicants to be part of their show — or really, in need of their intervention to turn that house around and sell it.

“We are looking for all kinds of homeowners,” publicist Avelino Pombo says. “We love to feature diversity and not only would we want to feature same-sex couples, but any other family that represents America. Whether it’s a family of six, a blended family or even a “modern family.” We want to see it all on the show.”

Although the show has collected all the submissions for this new season, Pombo urges couples to apply. After reviewing the applicants, the network will offer the top four in Dallas a much-needed design step in.

“We’ll definitely return to Dallas for another season because the city gets lots of real estate exposure,” Pombo says. “With the new talent, newer edge and more design, Dallas is a prime place for the show.”

Whether all you need is a decluttering or a paint job, or something major like a stunning bathroom or a brighter kitchen, Anthony and the rest of the Real Estate Intervention crew can help out. You may not even want to move after they are done.

And LGBT families and couples will have to come out of that design closet if they aren’t matching the throw pillows to the flecks of matching color in the curtains. Oh how the gays pride themselves on one a spectacularly designed home.

Right? “Well, same-sex couples seem to infuse that,” Pombo says.

— Rich Lopez

For more information, visit

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 4, 2011.

—  John Wright

Real(ity) estate • Defining Homes

A Dallas couple’s adventure in house selling becomes an episode of HGTV’s ‘My First Sale’

By Arnold Wayne Jones

Keith Yonick, left, turned Dallas couple Troy and Cindy Hughes on to the idea of being on TV. But their youngest child, opposite, might steal every scene.

Although they live cosmopolitan lives — she’s a lawyer; he works for FM 105.3 with Chris Jagger — and count many gay neighbors in their gate East Dallas community among their friends, Cindy and Troy Hughes both grew up in small towns and craved the pace and benefits of the suburbs: lower taxes, good schools, safe streets. With a 4-year-old and a new baby, they figured next year would be a good time to look for a new home.

But the house-hunting started earlier than they expected. And more dramatically.

The Hugheses got a call from their real estate agent, Keith Yonick, with a proposition: Would they be interested in trying to sell their house now and have their experience filmed for the HGTV series My First Sale?

“When Keith called us and told us about the show, we went for it,” Cindy says.

“I think it’s great they chose Dallas for the show,” Yonick says. “I asked them why and they said because the houses are so different — they could film a townhouse in the city and a farmhouse in Forney or a suburban house.”

Yonick submitted four applications, and the network jumped at following the Hugheses. Still, it wasn’t the couple’s first foray into a reality series.

When Troy worked with Kidd Kraddick, he was recruited to be the “bachelor” in a radio rip-off of The Bachelor TV series. He was just supposed to chronicle his dates with several dozen women and invite one to a gala event. The one he selected was Cindy; they married three years later.

Still, a radio date is one thing; having yourself photographed 24/7 during a stressful process — the first sale of your home — was more pressure. Cindy even knows that on one day of filming, she came across as bitchy. (She’s hoping they edit that out, but Troy has forgiven her in any event.)
“We never treated it like a reality show but as a way to document this part of our lives,” Cindy says. “It was like making a home video.”

Knowing that “most houses take a year or more to sell” — Yonick says 370 days on the market is not unusual — they expected the process to stretch on for months, just in time for the next school year. So they were astonished that their house sold so quickly. In less than two months, they had a buyer.

Even so, the sale caught them so by surprise that they hadn’t even decided for certain where they would move.

“Our friends have all moved on to their next chapters — they were moving to Frisco and Rockwall.  They were always saying to us, ‘You have to move to Frisco!’ But we started looking in Wylie.”

It isn’t as far as it may seem. Troy leaves for work at 3 a.m. for his radio show (“I share the road with cops, construction workers and drunks,” he says) and Cindy’s job in Arlington meant she had a hike anywhere east of I-35.

“We thought we would move to Rockwall, but Wylie reminds me of what McKinney looked like when I came here in 1999,” Troy says. “We get more for our money out there, and there’s still a mall within four miles.”

Rather than buying an old house or going with a foreclosed property, they decided to build. Since the house won’t actually be ready until after they close on their sale, they’ll have to rent back their current house for a month. But as far as hardships go in real estate, that’s one they can live with.
“We got really lucky,” Troy says.

The Hugheses close on their sale on Oct. 29; their episode of My First Sale will air in the spring.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition of Defining Homes Magazine October 8, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens