I’m sure we’ve all dreamed about being a bona fide professional house-flipper, turning a profit while building and decorating a beautiful home (just me?), but few of us can say that we actually do it. Unless you’re Kortney Wilson, of course. You probably recognize her name from her show Masters of Flip alongside her husband Dave, but there’s more to this singer-turned-designer than you think. We caught up with Kortney on her visit to Toronto with Quaker to chat how she got started, her design secrets and how she keeps it all balanced.
29Secrets: How did you get started flipping houses?
Kortney Wilson: I moved to Nashville in ’98 to pursue a music career and Reba McEntire signed me my very first couple of months, and my very first week I got a postindale that allowed me to stay there and get a VISA. That allowed my to pursue a music career for many years, do some acting and then ended up flipping houses — because as they say in the music business there are really high highs and really low lows. After me and my husband had our very first son, we realized we need to make a living and so we decided to start flipping, and we flipped our first house. And now, almost 13 years later, we have flipped over 100. But during that time we were making TV still, just different shows. A few years ago a network in Canada came to us and said let’s make a show about you flipping houses. At first we were like “oh my god, I don’t know, how many houses are we going to have to flip?” but it actually integrated really well, and it is very real to what we really do. So we really are buying them, we really are flipping them and we really are selling them.
So how did you hone your design skills to create a viable career out of it?
When we flipped our first house I couldn’t afford a designer. I had a decent eye for design and I figured I could do it on my own. It’s a little more difficult then saying “hey, its not rocket science,” but I have just been living and learning as I go from house to house, following trends and trying to incorporate them with things that are going to stand the test of time, that are classic enough that people wont have to change in a few months or years. And now here I am and now I feel like I have a certain expertise having flipped over 100, but I am constantly learning.
Where do you draw most of your inspiration from?
I can draw form anything, I read online magazines, print magazines, TV, Pinterest. I’m also constantly drawing from every day life. The other day I texted Dave a picture of a bouquet of flowers and said, “This would make for a really great house,” and he’s like “Umm, all I see is flowers.” Sometimes it’s the littlest thing that will dictate the entire house décor.
So many designers play it so safe when they flip, but you go with colour, which I love.
I love how you love it!
How do you make that creativity work and what is the response? Obviously it has been working really well, but do you sometimes find that you have to scale back?
Occasionally I have to scale back, but I feel like its easier to go for it and scale back then to just play it too safe. One of the reasons why I wanted to use a lot of colour, especially for the show, is that it can get boring watching house flipping shows where they all start to look the same. And you know, it is true when your flipping, you want to appeal to the masses — grey on grey on grey on white. That’s easy, you’re not going to offend anybody and the masses will love it. But when you’re making a TV show, I want to make sure that it’s interesting. So love it or hate it, by the end of the episode, I hope that you are still tuned in and you want to see that “hey, there is a different way to go,” and sometimes that’s keeping a really neutral pallet and just incorporating a tone of accent colours, which I’ve done. So I’m not afraid of it, again, we’re not saving lives here, we’re just decorating houses, and so we want people to have fun with it and know that they can do the same with their own house.
For people who are starting to get spaces that they are making their own, whether they are buying or renting, what are some tips for upgrading your space on a budget?
Right now I’m really into DIY accent walls. I always say that wallpaper’s back — not our grandmother’s wallpaper, but peel-and-stick products are back with a vengeance. I’m also really into peel-and-stick barn wood — things you can actually do yourself, so you know you don’t need to hire a big company to install it where it’s thousands of dollars. I love gallery walls and I think one easy tip for people is to just get a bunch of inexpensive frames — like you can go to a second-hand store, sometimes people even leave them in their trash — and you can paint them all one colour and then go to the fabric store and buy some pieces of fabric, and just frame fabric. We did that on the season finale of this past season, it can look really cool and it’s really inexpensive.
You’ve got a lot going on; what does work life balance look like for you?
It means thinking ahead, it means proactively trying to do things before they’re due. So I do have three kids — I have four some days if I count my husband — and I definitely do count him on some days. Love him, but I am definitely more organized than he is. And so we try different things like packing our backpacks for the kids before, making sure all the homework is done the night before, making sure their clothes are out the night before, and we even make breakfast the night before. So a lot of times we actually do over nights with Quaker and so I can customize them for each of my kids. One likes berries; one doesn’t like nuts, dates or raisins; one likes dates, raisins and peaches. And it’s a seasonal thing and I can make it pretty, as you know I’m all about pretty and colour. So I can get creative with it and make my refrigerator look pretty. And its grab and go in the morning, so they eat, sometimes we eat on the run — we try not to, we try and sit down in the morning and be in the kitchen together but I would rather be sitting in the kitchen together in the morning and talking and laughing and setting the pace and the tone for the morning routine or for the rest of the day then just being frantic, so that’s one of my tips.
So how do you unwind?
Umm, I like wine [laughs]. I unwind with a little bit of Netflix. My latest thing is playing Monopoly with our kids, the kids just learned how to play Monopoly and they think this is the coolest thing ever. Dave is not on board; he’s like “oh my god is this game ever going to end,” but that is our latest thing. We have family game night, and that’s unwinding to me, hanging with the kids where we aren’t stressed, we’re not doing homework, is pretty much golden. And music, we have occasional dance parties in our kitchen where we are all just like turn on the must and be like “DANCE PARTY” and then we just go crazy.
How do you separate working with your husband and being at home with your husband?
That’s a loaded question. I will say that it’s not always easy. It’s not always as easy to just draw a line in the sand and say “ok, we don’t talk about this anymore,” so we really try hard and we always try to remember that family comes first and we come first before anything else, and we’re not going to agree on everything whether it’s to do with the kids or definitely our business. We are two different people. And we always joke, we’re like “everybody says you get married and you become one,” but I’ve never really understood that statement because we really are two different individuals. We are so happy to live our lives together but I have to respect him and he has to respect me and we have to respect that we are not going to agree with everything. Once you lay that out and you understand that it is still going to be ok, if we don’t agree, it’s still ok. That helps us get through everything.
What is some of the best career advice that you have been given over the years?
Best advice? I’ve been given some really bad advice. People always say you need to find a balance and I feel like there was so much pressure on me for so many years because I felt like I didn’t have balance and I was longing to find balance and so I felt like I wasn’t achieving it, I wasn’t capable of balance. And now I figured it out: balance isn’t a thing. I don’t know what balance is. I talk to other moms and going “wait, no, we’re running out the door, we’re running in the door, and we’re trying to get showers done, and we’re doing the best that we can.” And so instead, let’s just be content with where we are at instead of trying to find a balance everyday, let’s be content with the fact that sometimes there isn’t going to be a balance, some days are going to be heavy this way and some days are going to be heavy that way.
But I think that is the balance.
Maybe that is the balance, maybe you’re right. But to try and go “ok, everyday is going to be measured this way and I’m going to have a little me time and I’m going to have a little you time.” We don’t have that. You know, some days we have three birthday parties to go to and other days we’re like “wow, are we free? This is great, let me cut the dog’s hair and put the stew on the oven and get caught up on emails.”
What are some of your guilty pleasures?
I do like a pedicure every once in a while. I love having girl’s night — I have some amazing girlfriends and we go out and we usually say we are going to dinner and a movie but we very rarely do we get to the movie. We’re usually getting kicked out when the restaurant closes because we’ve stayed too long. That’s definitely where I get my strength from, is my girlfriends so we can talk and feel like we’re all in this together. As far as what I watch on Netflix, I definitely do binge watch things like Stranger Things and The OA. I also just started bingeing Mad Men.
What’s next for you?
I have been constantly checking things off my bucket list. I am definitely a bucket list girl, so last year I ran my first 5K, I just jumped out of a plane for the first time. I have a really big bucket list item that I am not talking about just yet but it’s a big one — it’s probably one of the biggest ones and I’m really excited about it. But I think just watching my kids grow into these amazing human beings is pretty high on the list. And traveling; I really want to go to Africa, I want to go to Australia, and I want to go there with them, I want to see it through there eyes and that was something I didn’t have the luxury of doing when I was a kid. My parents couldn’t take us all around the world, so I want to have those experiences and I want to show them that people matter and I just want them to be good human beings.