Hill has eyes

mgpSELF TAUGHT DIVA | Steven D. Hill, top, combines his flair for drama, color and makeup in his self-portrait; right, two of his fashion shots are more monochromatic but undeniably sexy and eye-catching.

Photographer and makeup artist Steven D. Hill knows how to bring the drama

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer

When Steven D. Hill decided to showcase his two talents — photography and dynamic makeup artistry — in a local exhibit, he was turned down by every gallery he approached. Rather than accept defeat, he pooled his resources and produced one all on his own.

It’s not his first time making himself over. In college, Hill took courses in fashion design and makeup for the stage, but it wasn’t until after graduation that he discovered his talent for photography. Other than skimming through a photography how-to book, he’s completely self-taught. Hill has already made a name for himself in the local fashion community through his work on both sides of the camera.

“To be honest, my technique and point of view came from trial and error,” he says. “The talent was there, I didn’t know.”SG1L7107

It isn’t all just an ego trip Hill. At 26, he is ready for his art to help give back. On Aug. 18, his Heads with HeARTS exhibit debuts, benefiting Vogel Alcove, an organization dedicated to helping homeless children. (Admission is free, but patrons are asked to bring an in-kind donation such as toys, arts supplies and clothing for children aged six weeks to 5 years.)

Hill takes the principles he learned from design communication and color theory and translates that to what he sees through his camera lens. His specialty is shockingly fashion-forward imagery with splashes of supersaturated color contrasted to moody monochromes.

“I believe the interactive media side of my studies taught me how to better understand composition and how to communicate through design,” he says. “It’s my art. I really enjoy creating art and capturing it through the lens of a camera, using the unique forms of light to DSC_0205create an amazing photograph. Just like a painter, it takes tools to produce a great image.”

Hill says that his photography is his way of expressing his artistic creativity through the power of a digital process. He describes his photographic style as the foundation of fashion, pop culture and media combined — a twist on fashion and photography.

His interest in makeup, however, came years before he ever thought about looking through a lens.

“I watched my mother in the bathroom as she prepared for her day,” he says. “I have always felt the power behind what she was doing.”

That inspiration led him to the path he’s on today.

“I admire the fact how you are able to recreate the appearance of someone. How the smallest amount of color can make the pupil appear different; how lining the eye makes it pop.

“Adding false lashes changes a person 50 percent,” Hill says. “It just shocks me how people feel once I do my job as a makeup artist. It’s lovely to hear people say, ‘You just made my day, only because you made me feel beautiful.’”

His main goal in makeup is to make people feel different and look like something other than their normal selves.

“Transformation!” Hill declares. “While the traditional use of makeup is to enhance beauty, it can be used to create illusion. I do not confine its use to the standards necessary for a typical photo shoot.”

It’s clear he has a flair for the unusual. His style ranges from showcasing models who look like they’re wearing no makeup at all to avant garde uses of color and texture to create an otherworldly, super-glam aesthetic.

A rising star, he continues to evolve and learn new aspects of both his complementary crafts, while continuing to showcase them in tandem. There’s still room for him to grow and though doors have been shut in the past for the young artist, his perseverance will surely find them opening faster than ever. This year, he had the pleasure of working with Grammy -winning recording artist Erykah Badu, but that’s just the beginning of the climb for this artist whose aspirations have him dreaming really big. His ultimate goal, he says, is “to become internationally known, make a name for myself.”

The second part is already falling into place, so he’s definitely off to a great start.


Carved in stone

If anyone can appreciate rock-hard abs, it’s a gay man. And Scott Gentry knows how to create them in several ways: For himself, through rigorous sit-ups; and for his subjects, a hammer and chisel. And both require a lot of work.
Gentry used to call Dallas home, but he’s been in North Carolina in recent years, working on a degree in nursing while still pursuing his stone sculpture art.

Gentry gets a homecoming or sorts on Saturday, when he returns to Dallas for a showing of some of his latest work (which includes phenomenal male nudes that approximate discoveries in the ruins of Mycenae) with a one-night-only event at The Brick. Best of all, a portion of the proceeds from sales that night will benefit Resource Center Dallas. Just think: You go to a bar and can take home a hunk. And you don’t even have to buy him a drink.
— Arnold Wayne Jones

Scott Gentry: Expressions in Stone, The Brick,
2525 Wycliff Ave., suite 120.
Aug. 13, 7–11 p.m.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 12, 2011.


—  Kevin Thomas

Suit & tide

Sand and deliver in sexy swimwear that doesn’t beat the heat but outshines it

DSC_0029bLBreaking news of the obvious: It’s hot outside. If you’re tired of everybody talking about the heat, it’s time to do something about it: Get out there and show the sun who’s boss.

Of course, in the gay community, you do that by looking better than anyone else. And you do that by sporting a sexy, skin-baring swimsuit that highlights your assets while making a bold fashion statement.

This is no time to break out the board shorts that go past your knees — you might as well swim in your Levi’s. And unless you’re sunbathing on the Baltic Sea, nobody should ever see you in G-string, T-back, thong or the ever-dreaded banana hammock. There’s an art to showing off without crossing over into full-on creepy.

That’s why we’re particularly fond of Rockstar Swimwear.

Created by fashion designers Natasha Sarah and Prashant for the South Beach community in Miami, their dramatic designs have gone global thanks to benefits like flattering fit, an eye-catching color palette, and undeniable sex appeal. Some suits even come emblazoned with crystals for anyone daring enough to sport a little bling on their weenie sling.

Rockstar has also just launched some new products for August, so even though the summer may be quickly drawing to a close, it’s never too late to have the most current style by the pool, on the boat, or hanging at the beach. They’re made in the United States, too, so really it’s your patriotic duty to buy these and make America even more beautiful (and do your part to keep the economy going).

So even if you can’t play a single chord on the electric guitar and your groupies consist only of your adoring mother and her Gin Rummy partners, you still have the opportunity to feel like a rock star. Without ever setting foot in rehab.

— Steven Lindsey

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 12, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

The Pimentoist

OLIVE THE ABOVE | Rocker-like painter Michael Godard (who, ironically, is a teetotaler) specializes in cocktail art, often with witty images — including the occasional cross-dressing garnish.

Michael Godard, rock star of the art world, brings his martini-soaked (and sometimes subversively gay) painting to Dallas

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer

Long hair, black nail polish, colorful tattoos, a soul patch, a bandana: It’s a look common to hard-living rockers … and maybe should be one you’d expect from an artist. Yet Michael Godard, sometimes criticized for creating work that is too commercial, still considers himself a rebellious outsider. He sees truth in the world around him and puts that truth on canvas. So what if the citizens of his universe are anthropomorphized olives, dancing strawberries and drunken grapes? Through his martini goggles, we are able to see life as a constant party — complete with its share of mornings after.

“I always say that I’m more of a storyteller than I am a painter. I like to tell stories with the paintings,” Godard says. “I like to mix a lot of humor into them. For me, rather than try to create something funny, it’s a lot easier to take life as it happens and turn it into a painting. To me, they’re like a giant diary and they have all kinds of things going on. No two are the same, that’s for sure.”

For somebody whose first book was titled Don’t Drink and Draw, and whose paintings almost exclusively deal with some form of alcoholic libation, it would be an easy assumption to peg this guy as a heavy drinker. But nothing could be further from the sober truth.

“It’s funny, I really don’t drink at all,” he laughs. “People ask if I’m a recovering alcoholic, but it’s not that. I was in junior high and my mom always had Kool-Aid in the fridge. I grabbed what I thought was Kool-Aid and drank a bunch of wine by mistake and got so, so sick. Ever since, the smell of alcohol sort of just turns me off. It’s really kind of ironic.”lead-3

His teetotaling even has the occasional professional drawback.

“Because I am so illiterate about alcohol, I’ll do a painting of a margarita and a gallery will call me up and say, ‘Mr. Godard, the painting is wonderful but actually it’s a salt shaker not a sugar shaker that goes with a margarita,’” he says.

But he continues to use the metaphor of martinis because of what it represents.

“The wonderful thing about alcohol is, it’s such a social magnet with people. We have a drink at a wedding and it’s a toast of good wishes; it calms the nerves on a first date; buddies share a beer together while playing poker. It’s a great thing that pulls people together when they’re stopping life momentarily to relax and enjoy themselves. And that’s why I think I chose to paint alcohol because there are so many situations that come from that. Humor is quite often there.”

His signature subject matter came about almost by accident, as a fulfilled promise to a friend who begged for a painting every year for five years for his birthday. Godard eventually asked the friend what he’d like to see.

“My friend said, ‘I love your sense of humor, I like to drink, martinis are my favorite, just have fun with it.” And so, the world of mobster olives, stripper olives and yes, even gay olives came to life.

“If you look at the painting I did from Fantasy Fest in Key West, which is a gay celebration, I have a cross-dressing olive standing on the street corner,” Godard, who is straight, lead-4proudly notes. “There’s one particular bouncer across from the place where I do my shows, the guy must be 6-foot-5. He loves to cross-dress and he’s one of the funniest people I know. There are gay people walking down the street holding hands. And, of course, in my world you know that a male olive has a pimento on top and a female has it strategically placed at the bottom.”

So naturally, if you ever see an olive with a pimento on top and a feather boa and high heels, you now know that’s an olive in drag.

lead-2Godard acknowledges that his work is popular with gay audiences, a relationship he cultivates; it’s easy to see why. His work if filled with subtle humor and witty observations (not to mention that some of the legs on those dancing strawberries can be pretty damned sexy).

“I have a lot of gay friends,” he says. “One of the neat things is that my gay friends seem to have a better and a more sophisticated sense of humor I must say, than a lot of my straight friends. Any time we can get together and do something for the greater good, that’s what it’s about. When you think about people that have lost their lives and wonderful people that we’ve lost to AIDS, it’s overwhelming. You realize it can happen to anybody, gay or straight.”
Godard, who recently lost his 16-year-old daughter to brain cancer, has always been dedicated to giving back through a variety of charitable organizations.

“There’s a lot of artists out there that are a lot more talented than I am, but I think the guy upstairs knew what I was going to do with my success,” he says. “I’m so about giving back and doing things for someone else. I’m in a very unique position where I have an opportunity to help a lot of people.”

Now that’s a true rock star.


Conover in sync

We’re used to seeing the bold and colorful Pop art of Robb Conover depicting comic book icons of late. Whether he’s giving his take on Wonder Woman or exploring a queer element to Batman and Robin as they kiss, Conover adds a definite punch to the local arts scene. His work has been seen in the gayborhood at Buli, Drama Room and Lucky’s.

He goes in a different direction, above, in Ro2 Art’s exhibit Synclines. Conover joins local artists Cabe Booth and Kevin Obregon, to present, what the gallery calls, new and unexpected works.

— Rich Lopez
Ro2 Art Downtown, 110 N. Akard St. Through Aug. 13.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 5, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Class in session

Ru & crew, back for ‘Drag U,’ Season 2

RuPaulThere’s a difference between a TV show that is intentionally cheesy and one that induces cringes by mistake. Thankfully, RuPaul’s Drag U knows exactly what it’s doing, laying the puns on thicker than Jujubee’s makeup. They can still induce groans, but at least we’re all in on the joke.

After all, Drag U is all about the fun side of our favorite competitive drag queens. Leaving (most of) the drama over at the Drag Race, each week queen “professors” (including Season 1 winner Bebe Zahara Benet, pictured) are tasked with making over three ordinary women and unleashing their inner divas, complete with drag personas and styling. On the line are sorta-fabulous prizes like jewelry, a vacation and a cash prize of $3,166.17 (seriously).

But it’s what the women gain in self-esteem that’s the most valuable parting gift, and don’t think the producers don’t know it. In the first episode alone, one of the women is trying to overcome the pain of having her ex-husband end their marriage via email; she, of course, learns “to love herself again” with the inducement of wigs and outrageous makeup. That’s some powerful Oprah-level stuff, but Ru, “Dean of Drag” Lady Bunny, guest judges like Beverly Johnson and the rest of the girls give advice that’s equal parts sassy and sincere.

The result? Incredible transformations at the end of an hour of deliciously fluffy television — and every one of these straight gals owes it to the gays. For anyone in withdrawals since Drag Race ended, or in love with makeovers, or just interested in learning more about one contestant’s husband’s “diesel mangina,” the second season of Drag U is more than deserving of a season pass on your DVR.

— Steven Lindsey

Premieres Monday at 8 p.m. on Logo

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 17, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Men about towns

Jason Dottley and Del Shores are happy making Dallas their second home

POWER COUPLE | Dottley, left, pursues his music career with a show in Dallas Friday, while Shores has added standup comedy to a resume that includes challenging Republicans to debate gay issues.

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer


The Rose Room at Station 4,
3911 Cedar Springs Road.
June 17. Doors open at 9 p.m.


Hollywood has had more than its fair share of powerful couples. Bennifer. Brangelina. Tomkat.

And now, Delson?

Yep, Del Shores and Jason Dottley are gay, they’re in love and they’re diversely talented. And they seem to have made Dallas almost a second home.

“I love Dallas so much, I listed it twice in an article on my favorite places in the South that I did for a gay travel site,” Dottley says.

“We have great friends here and always stay with our friends Patrick and Kevin. Texas will always be my home state and Dallas has adopted me and treated me like a star and a friend,” adds Shores, who grew up in Winters, Texas, and sets most of his plays in the Lone Star State.

Both stay incredibly busy. Between them, they have nearly every entertainment segment covered: singer, actor, dancer, playwright, producer, director, screenwriter, activist and standup comic. Throw in craft services and they’ll never want for work again.

Shores gave the world a comedy classic with Sordid Lives, a play-turned-movie-turned-TV-series-turned-live-comedy-show that has practically become the writer’s alter ego. Then there are his other plays and movies, like the upcoming 2012 release of the movie version of his tragicomedy The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife, as well as plans to turn his latest critically acclaimed play, Yellow, into a film.

For husband Dottley — whom Shores married first in 2003 and then again (legally) in 2008 prior to passage of Proposition 8 — acting in Shores’ projects is only one of his occupations. Pop music is keeping him busier than ever; his first single, “Party Round the World” with Debby Holiday, brought him a Billboard Top 20 record. He followed up with “Hit Play!,” which broke into the Top 30. He’s performed both in Dallas.

Now, he’s making it a threefer. This week, his latest single, “Pop It,” dropped and will certainly be one of the songs he performs as part of his Nation of Jason tour at Station 4 on Friday.

Tonight is just the beginning of a full summer for Shores and Dottley, who will be touring again together: Shores with his new show, Del Shores Sordid Confessions (booked for July 8 in the Rose Room), and Dottley with Nation of Jason.

For anyone looking to catch either star while they’re in town, there’s a certain diner that is a pretty sure bet, as it’s on both of their short lists for favorite places to eat.

“Lucky’s, every time,” Dottley says. “Same dish: chicken fried chicken. I don’t even have to say it, they just know.”

For Shores, favorite hangouts include “The Rose Room and the Round-Up. And I like The Tin Room for a not-so-guilty pleasure. I gave up guilt,” he says. “Uptown [Players] is always a treat.”

“Oh, and anywhere Krystal Summers is performing,” Dottley adds.

If he’s lucky, he won’t have to go far, as Summers is a regular cast member at the Rose Room where Dottley performs tonight.

“My Nation of Jason tour is eye-candy mixed with hot music and a sense of old-school style that I think has been lost on club culture. It’s fun. It should make you feel good about life, to make you wanna dance!” he says.

Shores has been tap dancing a bit himself these days — only not onstage. First there was the bitter fight with the Logo network over residuals from the Sordid Lives series, which left heartbroken fans yearning for a second season that will never be. (There appears to be a happy ending though: He is already talking about doing more Sordid Lives movies, and the experience provided grist for his standup routine.)

He also engaged Tennessee state Sen. Stacey Campfield (“What an asshole, right?” Shores says plainly), who sponsored a bill preventing the discussion of homosexuality in schools, in a war of words on Facebook, challenging the politician to a debate and calling him a coward when he tried to wiggle out. And he’s currently on a crusade against gay Republicans.

“Oh, and I can rant, can’t I?” Shores laughs. “Let’s just say that the Log Cabin Republicans and I are not loving each other lately. I challenged the [Dallas Chapter] president, Rob Schlein, to a debate here in Dallas. I wanted to charge and give all the money to the cause of our choice — mine was Youth First Texas. He would write nasty comments on my fan page, but was too chickenshit to debate me on the topic: ‘How Can You Support Gay Rights and be a Republican?’ It’s appalling the anti-gay rhetoric in the Texas GOP platform. I don’t get it.”

Rants aside, the meat and potatoes of his life is supporting Dottley, and vice versa. Dottley has booked the first date for his debut one-man show at the Rrazz Room in San Francisco: XXX: My First 30 Years … Get Your Mind Outta the Gutter (he hopes to bring it to Dallas eventually, too). And Shores has more irons in the fire beyond pissing off the political right wing in this country.

“I pursue my writing and directing, Jason his acting and singing and we work our asses off to make everything work!” Shores says. ”And we love it still.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 17, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Log cabin Republican

In ‘Big Gay Dance Party,’ Level Ground portrays Lincoln as never before

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer

KD Studio Theatre, 2600 N. Stemmons Freeway. June 3–25. Fridays–Saturdays at 8:15 p.m.  $20.  LevelGroundArts.com


Was the 16th president of the United States really Gaybraham Lincoln? That question is posed in the most unlikely of places — a fourth-grade Christmas pageant — in the play, Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party, a new production from Level Ground Arts Theater.

It’s not just the outrageous theme that makes this show stand head and stovepipe hat above the rest. Each of three acts portrays the story from a different character’s viewpoint, and at each performance the audience chooses which order the acts are performed. Democracy in action, and all that jazz.

The theater company, which has only been around since 2009, got its start with what artistic director Billy Fountain describes as a “minimalist, very raw and gritty traveling production” of Julius Caesar. “We really just wanted to do shows that we were excited about working on and it didn’t seem like anyone around town was doing the shows we wanted to do.”

They started off in Deep Ellum before moving to KD Studio Theater last July. “Technically we are in our third season, even though we had a bunch of shows before the start of our first season and I’m so proud of what we have been able to accomplish and look forward to what is coming.”

With A Samurai Nosferatu and The Hunchback of Notre Dame: A Musical on this season’s roster, it’s clear this company dares to be different. Hence Gay Dance Party.

“We approach all of our projects with an open mind, a dedicated spirit and a clear vision and process,” says Fountain. In the case of this play, the title is what piqued Fountain’s curiosity.

“I saw it and thought, ‘Man, I have to read this.’ The first time I read it, I cried. I couldn’t believe how much the characters grabbed me and the way the story moved. I fell in love with it almost immediately and knew it was really an LGA show I had to do,” Fountain says. “It’s a brilliant, amazing script and so painfully silly and loving and honest. It’s rare to find a script that accomplishes everything that it does. It’s beautiful in so many ways. How could I not do this show?”

So just how gay is this show?

“The focus is gay, but the story is about truth, fairness, and the power of each of our individual voices,” says Lloyd Chambers, who portrays three characters, including Honest Abe himself.

Taking a moment to rattle off a quote worthy of a Playbill cover, Chambers calls it “a roller coaster ride that swerves wildly and then descends into black hole, only to reappear wearing a stovepipe hat. It’s a real story that finds absurdity and reality sharing the same bill. I think it has a great sense of humor with big laughs and lots of dancing, both straight and gay.”

Fellow actor Collin Duwe describes the play more simply: “It’s gayer than Peter Pan on a pair of ice skates.”

Lincoln isn’t Level Ground Arts’ first foray into gay. Their Poseidon!

The Upside-Down Musical had its share of gay characters, and most everyone knows how ultra-queer their upcoming production of Xanadu is.

“I think Lincoln is probably one that really, boldly addresses many issues and does so in such a cool, direct way. I am thrilled we got to do it first here in DFW,” Fountain says. “I love getting to work on shows that are not afraid to present more sincere and honest voices. So often those voices get buried or hidden or silenced.”

Or shot in the head while watching a play.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 3, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Putting the pedal to their mettle

545 MILES OF HOPE | Wild Stallions Trae Schaefer, Christy Lestina and Burt Barber raise money on Saturday to pay for their rides in California this summer. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Lone Star Ride veterans the Wild Stallions take their biking-for-bucks operation on the road

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer

There are much faster ways to get from San Francisco to Los Angeles. But few more scenic. Or more charitable. For a solid week — this year from June 5–11 — more than 2,500 cyclists will pedal the 545 miles between two major California towns to raise money for fighting and bringing awareness to AIDS.

But you don’t need to be from Cali to participate. Indeed, among that group of enthusiasts pumping along the Pacific Coast Highway will be Dallas’ Wild Stallions.

Made up of gays and straights alike, The Stallions are united in their love of biking and their desire to help a greater cause. Saturday, the team hosts a two-hour Spin-A-Thon at the Cooper Aerobics Center to help raise money to get the cyclists ready to ride. It’s not small change to enter: A minimum of $3,000 per rider is needed to cover the cost of travel, hotels, meals, entry fees and the cost to ship their bicycles.

It’s all part of the fun of cycling for a cause. In 2002, Stallion Burt Barber was invited to a fundraising event for the Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS. At the time, he chose to donate money rather than participate because the idea of riding 175 miles over two days seemed nearly impossible.

Nine years later, he’s an old hand, preparing for a ride more than three times as long. Following back surgery in 2003, Barber was no longer able to run, so he quickly took up cycling as an alternative.

“As I started training, I met friends and we started training together. We named our group the Wild Stallions after an energy drink at the 7-11 by White Rock Lake that we made into a pit stop during our training rides,” Barber says. “We trained hard and realized how fun and enjoyable this has become, so we started to ride in various charity rides.”

The Stallions have participated in the Lone Star Ride Fighting AIDS every year since 2003 and have no plans of stopping. The California ride is just an opportunity to raise awareness in a different way. This year will mark Barber’s second time in the AIDS LifeCycle, his first just two years ago.

“That was a difficult ride emotionally for me,” Barber says. “One week before that ride, I paid a visit and said my goodbye to Jason Harmon. This was difficult because as I said goodbye,

Jason told me to come back and tell him how the ride went.” Two days before the ride began, Harmon passed away.

“Jason was inspirational to me and instrumental in my cycling. He was the crew captain and always cheered me on training rides. And on the rides themselves, he was always there flagging me in and pushing me to finish.”

Barber rides in his honor and for Janet Park, the woman who first introduced him to the Lone Star Ride.

For fellow Wild Stallion Trae Schaefer, participating in the ride is essential to getting out a bigger message.

“There is a misconception by a lot of people that HIV/AIDS is no longer a life-threatening disease because of all the progress with the various medications,” he says. “You see advertisements every day that make it look like simply taking a pill will allow you to lead a normal, healthy life even if you are HIV-positive. Anyone who knows someone who is positive and takes these pills knows there are serious side effects, which are sometimes just as bad as the disease itself. We need to remind people that no cure has been found and we need to remember all of those that have died from this dreadful disease.”

He says this ride, like so many others, provides awareness, remembrance, and most importantly, a reality check.

Straight team member Christy Lestina participates for personal reasons, as well.

“I have friends who are HIV-positive and need my support. I have also had a dear friend pass away from AIDS in 1993 and I am still saddened by his loss. I want to make a difference in my friends’ lives who are affected by it,” she says. “I feel that riding my bike 545 miles is the least I can do to ease their pain.”

It has benefits for the riders as well, though.

“What you really get is a sense of becoming part of a family, knowing that all the hard work you put in fundraising, training and riding really does make a difference for a lot of people,” Schaefer says. “You get to personally meet these people and hear about how much you help change their lives by doing something as simple as riding your bike for seven days. I may not be able to donate a million dollars, but after the ride, I feel like I have.”

Cooper Aerobics Center, 12200 Preston Road. April 16, 1-3 p.m. Anyone interested in donating to the Wild Stallions can email Burt.Barber@yahoo.com or visit AIDSLifeCycle.org and donate in the name of a team member.

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

—  John Wright

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

2011 Readers Voice Awards: Services


PARTNERS IN CRIME (AND REALTY) | Chad West, left, and Brian Bleeker, who are a couple, were both winners in their respective categories. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Chad West

614 N. Bishop Ave., Suite 2
Open Monday–Friday at 8:30 a.m.


Brian Bleeker

Hewitt and
Habgood Realty
2828 Routh St.,
Suite 100.
Call for appointment.

Imagine being in the West-Bleeker household today. There’s probably a ticker-tape parade happening right now on their street owing to the one-two punch that saw Chad West voted as the city’s top criminal attorney and his partner, Brian Bleeker, honored as the best Realtor. Forget Brangelina or Bennifer: Dallas Voice readers have gone and taken a power couple and made them even more powerful. (BleeWest? Or Chian? We’ll keep working on it.) That’s OK — these guys are both at the top of their games and they deserve the accolades. Plus, you never know when you may need one or both of them on your side. Picture this scenario for a second: You walk outside to get the morning paper, the front door closes on your robe and rips it off your body. There you are, standing half-naked on your porch as a school bus full of children passes by. When the lewd conduct charges start rolling in, you’re going to need a good criminal attorney (Chad, of course!), then when word spreads through the neighborhood that there’s a pervert on the block, it’s time to hire an real estate agent (Brian!) to sell your house so you can start over some place where nobody knows who you are. And he can probably even find you a house where the front doors don’t automatically lock behind you.

— Steven Lindsey

PILLOW TALK | Aaron Duke’s eye for sleek, contemporary style made him the favorite decorator in town. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Aaron Duke

1501 Dragon St., Suite 104
Call for appointment

Aaron Duke, a young and buzzed-about designer, says in his design philosophy statement that “interior design should create an emotional response from all who enter the space.” But if that response is the wrong kind of gasp, with hands covering mouth, then chances are you’ve done something wrong. And you might want to consider a new designer, such as Duke. What we like about his portfolio is that he’s not afraid of bold choices, but they’re always clean and sleek, and more importantly, never cold. He’s known for sophisticated interiors, and excels at handsome but comfortable contemporary looks. And like any good designer, he gives the customer what is wanted, without compromising his own aesthetic. We know a few stuff-loving queens who need to call him, stat.

— Mark Lowry

Rebecca S. Covell

3710 Rawlins St., Suite 950
Open Monday–Friday at 9 a.m.

Although Rebecca Covell won the award for best civil or family law attorney, she points out that she’s not a divorce lawyer but someone who does wills, estates — keeping families together, she explains, not pulling them apart. That’s the kind of low-key, problem-solving approach that Covell says gets her thank-you notes more than hate mail. One client recently told her, “This is the first time I’ve ever felt good writing a check to a lawyer.” There are civil-law attorneys, and there are attorneys who know how to be civil. Covell does both — but it’s the latter that has won her so many fans.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Steven Graves

2919 Welborn St., Suite 100
Open Monday–Friday at 8:30 a.m.

Since opening his agency in 1995, Steven Graves has not only specialized in getting the best coverage for his customers, but in giving back to them and the broader community. From helping Heath Services of North Texas get new computers, office furniture and personal care products donated to filling the last 30 requests from the Leather Knights Angel Tree at Dallas Eagle (buying everything from MP3 players to watches and gift cards) to sponsoring Youth First Texas and the Texas Bear Round-Up, he insures a better Dallas for everyone. “You have to give back to the community,” Graves says. “Support those who support you.”

— David Taffet


Nicolas Villalba

Call for appointment


The Make Ready Group

Call for appointment


Prime Lending (Ron Watterson)

3500 Oak Lawn Ave.
Open Monday–Friday at 8:30 a.m.

Shelter Mortgage (Alex Arce)

5950 Sherry Lane


Melanie “Angel” Irvin

Farmers Insurance Agency
14651 Dallas Parkway, Suite 110
Open Monday–Friday at 8:30 a.m.


Ebby Halliday Realtors

4455 Sigma Road
Call for appointment.


Chase Bank

4236 Wycliff Ave. (additional locations)
Open Monday–Saturday at 9 a.m.

David Gates, Spa Nordstrom

8687 N. Central Expressway
Call for appointment.

Bill Richard

Available daily.
Call for appointment.



4113 Lemmon Ave.
Open daily.


Hollywood Nails & Spa

3517 Oak Lawn Ave.
Open daily.

The Nail Spa

4020 Cedar Springs Road
Open daily.


Obscurities Tattoos and Piercings

4008 Cedar Springs Road
Open Tuesday–Sunday.



4107 Lemmon Ave.
Open daily.


Advanced Skin Fitness

2928 Oak Lawn Ave.
Open Tuesdays­–Saturdays at 10 a.m.


Clint Thompson

3000 Carlisle St., Suite 103
Apple Genius Bar
Apple Store, 4525 McKinney Ave. (additional locations)
Open Monday–Saturday at 8 a.m., Sundays at 11 a.m.

1 Conx Internet Services

2525 Wycliff Ave., Suite 124
Open Monday–Friday at 8:30 a.m.


This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

2011 Readers Voice Awards: Travel


W Dallas — Victory Hotel

2440 Victory Park Lane

If you’ve never taken a staycation — or even heard of one — trust us: If gas prices continue to head the way they are, you will. A lot. Staycations allow you to get away without going away (and paying for travel). Crave a spa treatment, clean sheets every night, a breathtaking view of a miraculous city skyline, access to a swimming pool and fine dining without stepping outside? Then you’re talking about a few nights in the W Dallas Hotel in Victory Park. With Craft restaurant serving up top-notch meals and the notorious Ghostbar providing pulsing dance music and loads of delicious cocktails, it’s just like a vacation to WeHo or Lauderdale without the TSA agents performing a cavity search. Save that experience for your birthday.

— Arnold Wayne Jones


Palm Springs, Calif.

It’s not in any official guidebook, but it’s probably a pretty safe assumption to say that Palm Springs has more naked gay men per capita than just about anywhere in the world. Home to tons of intimate gay resorts where clothing is almost always optional (except in line for the continental breakfast), it’s no wonder that people consider this one of the best places for singles to “have relations.” It’s a quaint little city where you not only don’t have to buy the milk, the cow will show you everything it’s got for free. And then some. Of course, even if your goal isn’t to get busy in the desert, Palm Springs is a great gay destination for anybody looking for plenty of sunshine, beautiful pools and scenic views in every direction. Just don’t be scared if there’s a nude man behind that cactus when you go to take your new profile pic for Facebook.

— Steven Lindsey

American Airlines

Travel tech junkies rejoice with the American Airlines app available for iPhone, iPad and Android to make flying easier — even fun. The app can be used for check-in, to review schedules and notifications, to access AAdvantage accounts, book flights and even act as a mobile boarding pass, complete with scanable code. It’ll even give you gate and seating information and track your spot on the standby list. American has made traveling as simple as a swipe and a tap. And for those with layovers and delays, it has you covered: The app features a Sudoku program to play while waiting for your group to be called.

— Rich Lopez


Where the Cowboys Are

In announcing this selection, we aren’t referring to the kind of cowboy you’ll see wearing Wranglers and Stetsons and showing out every weekend dancing together at the Round-Up Saloon (although that’s a good spot for this category, too). Give your visitors a taste of real cowboy culture at the Fort Worth Stockyards, which not only has some dandy shopping  (best place for boots and leather goods) and restaurants (Tim Love’s Lonesome Dove, for instance), but does a twice-daily cattle drive of Texas Longhorns, at 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Find out more about the Fort Worth Herd at FortWorth.com/TheHerd. They’ll even let you pick one out.

Or, for another kind of Cowboy-spotting, but one no less sexy, take them on a tour of Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. It got a lot of not-so-positive press attention when Super Bowl XLV was hosted there, but the facilities themselves are pretty amazing, despite the seating issues for the big game. It’s also a monument to hubris, and in our state, that’s not necessarily a bad thing: We are famous for boasting that everything is bigger here.

— Mark Lowry

American Airlines



San Francisco
New York City
Provincetown, Mass.

Puerto Vallerta, Mexico

Cross Timber Ranch Bed & Breakfast

6271 FM 858, Ben Wheeler, Texas 75754



Atlantis Cruises



This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.

—  John Wright