Flipping houses does not necessarily have to be expensive. You just have to do it right. Accomplished interior designer and real estate agent, Barrie Livingstone, shows us how in this episode. Barrie shares his design and house flipping tips and tricks that will have your property look appealing without the high price tag. He gives out great suggestions on doing renovations on A-grade rooms, choosing a style design, and looking at what is on trend. On a more personal note, Barrie takes us across his journey of becoming who he is now – from moving to Malibu to working with celebrities like Cher and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Listen to the podcast here:
The Behr Essentials: Flip Tips 101 With Barrie Livingstone
We have a fantastic guest. I’m super excited. He’s another Brit living in LA. When I first met Mr. Barrie Livingstone, we had this synergy, this connection and we’ve become great friends and he’s got a lot to offer. He’s very insightful and he’s a fabulous guest to have on. Welcome, Barrie Livingstone.
Thank you for that introduction. It’s amazing. I’ve lived here since I was fourteen and I feel like I’ve just got off the bus from Manchester and it’s been so many years. It’s funny when you go home, it goes to places where you didn’t know it was there. It just comes out.
The funny thing is I used to date a guy in Manchester when I was much younger. After spending a weekend there with him, I’d come back being like, “What’s for tea, love?” My mom would be like, “I’m sorry, what were you saying?” It’s infectious. I have a good ear, so I pick up accents quickly. For me, I was all coming back like that. What did you miss about up North?
I miss going to England. You go to someone’s house and have a cup of tea in the kitchen. The world’s problems are solved just half-an-hour in the kitchen with a cup of tea and a biscuit. In America, in certain places, one of the reasons why I do love living in Malibu is we seem to have a slower lifestyle like you do go to a friend’s house for a coffee or something. In general, in most cities, especially in LA, you just don’t go to someone’s house. You and I, we sat down in your living room and have a cup of tea and had a little chat.
We call it a pop in. You can pop into anyone at home with no warning. You can just show up and it’s the norm.
It’s not the same in a Starbucks because when you’re in somebody’s home, you’re in somebody’s home. You’ve opened your heart and your home to someone. I use hotels a lot. I like The Montage or in Malibu we use the Soho House a lot. It’s just when you use that third space, it’s not the same as being in a home, is it?
No, it’s not. It’s those casual relationships that bond you. I do miss that part too. Why are you in LA? Let’s have a quick backstory. How does Barrie Livingstone from North ended up in La La Land and Malibu of all places?
We moved to Florida. I was in Miami and part of that whole South Beach resurgence.
That was when you were a child. Did you come with your parents?
I came here when I was fourteen. I went straight to design school at seventeen. I knew I wanted to design. I did great things as a designer from 17 to 29. I had my own furniture showroom on Lincoln Road with a business partner called South Beach Design Group, which was amazing. It was 5,000 square feet. It was very ahead of its time. As we got towards the middle of 1999, I was so over. I’ve been in Florida for eighteen years and it changed. Versace died in ‘96 or ‘97. It did change and it starts to get very touristy and I wanted to be on television and do big celebrity houses. You can’t do that in Miami because you just couldn’t.
Miami has amazing big estates. Let’s get into that house property thing.
It’s obviously changed now. My frame of mind in 1999 obviously and where it was in ‘99 is something very different than where it was now. I needed a change. I needed out and it was either go back and live in London and do design or go to LA. It so happened that one of my dear friends from design school was building Cher’s house because they did Versace’s house in Miami and then Cher’s house in Miami and then Cher phoned him to do the Malibu. People say, “Why are you in Malibu?” Very directly it’s because I’ve got a job to do. It was because of Cher and I can’t turn back time.
What is Cher like? I think that’s what everyone would love to know.
When you’ve been famous for five decades like she has, I can’t say she’s down to Earth because I think you get affected by people treating you a certain way for so many years. I was working on the property for about three months. She was away on the Believe Tour. This was at the end of ‘99. I actually didn’t meet her. I met her by chance in her bedroom. That’s how it happened. I knew she was back from Micronesia or wherever she got back from for Christmas, but I didn’t know she was in the house because there were no cars. Our office was in the garage. I ran in because the upholsterer called. We were doing this upholstery. She’s got these beautiful Gothic arch windows in the bedroom. These windows, when you’re doing a pull-down shade, you don’t want the light to come in. You do these upholstered corners all the way around. They needed a measurement. I ran into the bedroom and as I’m walking across the bedroom, I hear Cher’s voice say, “Barrie, is that you?” Honestly, as a self-respecting gay man, I nearly died. My heart rate was like fast. She was lying on the bed and said, “Thank you so much.”
Let’s set the stage. She’s lying on the bed. What was she wearing? Is she in sequins or feathers?The room should be beautiful without furniture in it because, at the end of the day, that's what you're selling. Click To Tweet
She was watching Larry King Live. It was 12:00 in the afternoon. She had a little cup of tea and she was wearing a very thin shaped mink coat and it had these cool buttons on it because it was cold.
She’s lying in bed in a mink coat watching Larry King with a cup of tea?
She had a t-shirt and whatever underneath it. She was using it as a dressing gown, but it was clearly probably an extravagant $30,000 Versace.
I’m so happy she didn’t disappoint and that’s your first-ever visual of Cher.
I’ll never forget, she was drinking green tea with three little raspberries in it.
Is she somebody you can talk to or is she quite messed up? Is she quite real once you get into it?
We had quite a few little conversations here and there and she’s a very real person.
Was she married to one of those truck driver type boyfriends she was with? She’s been with all sorts, isn’t she?
I think the bagel boy was around then, from Brentwood.
Maybe she wanted a bit of norm, that’s why she dated those types of fellows. She doesn’t need a guy for security or money. She’s very independent when you think about it. Maybe for her, dating somebody that is the truck driver, the bagel boy is just to be around a normal lad.
I think so because it has to be very difficult for somebody at that level. You either have to be with someone at that level because the egos have to be out the door. Even if you think about Barbara Streisand and James Brolin, he’s a successful actor but he’s a regular guy. That’s why I think she needed that grounding.
Tell us about who’s your famous celebrity Malibu neighbors because everybody loves to know who.
I live on the beach. Cher is literally right above me. I’ve got Jeremy Piven who’s across the street. We’ve got Adam Sandler on Malibu Road. If I ever forget, I’ve just got to go outside because the TMZ bus comes down four times a day. The TMZ bus tells me who my neighbors are. I’m walking my dog and all of a sudden, all these Chinese buses are like, “John Cusack.” I’m like, “I’m not John Cusack.” Apparently, I was standing outside his house, so I was that guy.
For anyone that doesn’t know Barrie Livingstone, just so people can get a picture, who do people say you look like?
When LA Confidential came out in 1992 and I was living in Hollywood, I got Kevin Spacey all the time, so much so because of his jawline and the lips. As he’s grown older and I’ve grown older, we’re not that much but at that moment in time, it’s so uncanny. When I was 26 and Kevin Spacey was 36, I got it all the time.
This is the last person you want to compare yourself to.
Now, no, especially the way he looks. I think it was in the lips and the jawline.
We’ve got all of those guys. As far as you want to design work, people love to talk about celebrities. Who was your favorite celebrity to work with that you know was your neighbor? Who defies expectations and also completely different from the image, would you say?
It would be Dwayne Johnson. I did his house and I worked with him for years. I sat next to him on a plane. At the time he was with Dany, his wife and they called me three months later and I did their gorgeous house in Hidden Hills.
I interviewed him years ago. He is a lovely man.
I met his mom. It was a very bonding family experience. I think that’s because he’s Hawaiian and he’s mixed. Anytime you’ve got that Asian influence, it’s this very calm, soothing and even in spite of all the world around him, he’s very centered and a very family person and a very educated guy. When I was working with him, the movie, The Rundown, had just come out. It was his first big film. He was still known as The Rock, the wrestler. Whereas now, he’s evolved into something different but he is a very grounded guy and very lovely.
I remember interviewing him for a TV show. He was very matter of fact and not gibberish in any way. This might be because it was pre or the big-time movies, but I would think that he kept that dignity and that level of groundless.
When you have a good family upbringing, clearly his mom had a big influence on him. It’s the same way with me professionally whenever or personally. When you meet people who have a problem with their family, if people have a problem with their mom and dad and a problem with their family, I think they have problems relating to other people in general, problems with boyfriends and partners. Obviously, we can come from dysfunctional families. That is not our problem.
A lot of mothers drive us crazy. That’s what we do.
If somebody says that, how can you relate to them?
That’s all the celebrity stuff, which clearly you are the mayor of Malibu. Why do you like living in Malibu? I lived in Malibu for about six months with my ex-husband. For me, I call it God’s waiting room. You just wait to die. There’s nothing to do. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a city girl and I love the hustle and bustle of the city and the energy and that’s why I’m a bit obsessed with New York. I love going to Malibu on a weekend or for a day. I love to be able to go there to switch off. For me, being in the middle of the city center of LA and then going to Malibu for a day or weekend is the perfect balance for me. I could never understand my friends and my ex-husband who would love to be there all day long, all week long or year long.
I have to tell you when I work, I am extremely intense. I will sit at my laptop or I will sit doing things on the phone and when I go it’s like a train with steam coming out of my ears. I can go for hours and hour. Being on the ocean with all that energy coming at you it takes all those positive ions. It doesn’t matter where I am. The first thing in the morning, it’s England and it’s East Coast and then it progresses through the day as it goes. For some reason, always at the end of the day, between five and seven, everyone wants to talk to you in LA. LA people, they don’t want to talk to you until the end of the day, until they’ve had the Botox set in, until the third coffee’s kicked in. It healed me. I was living between Dubai and Malaysia for two years and when I moved back to Malibu, I needed to feel very rooted. My partner is in Hollywood so we spend more time in Hollywood.
You’ve got that balance to the city?
I feel like it’s more balanced. We’re going out to Malibu and we’re going to spend a night. It’s so wonderful to know that I got this gorgeous flat to go back to and listen to the ocean.
That’s the key. It’s having the balance. If you’re able to have a bit of beach life and ocean life and having the day-to-day convenience of being in the city. LA is one of those cities where you should live where you work purely because everything is so far. People love to bag on LA traffic. To be totally honest with you, it’s not that bad. It just looks like a lot because there are seven lanes of it. Whereas in England, there are one or two lanes. In New York there are two, three lanes. Most of the cities there are one, two, three lanes, whereas we’ve got seven lanes of it. It looks excessive. Seven lanes on each side. It looks bad. Actually, from somebody who’s lived on four continents, it moves. Rush hour anywhere in the world is hell on earth. It actually moves faster than London, New York, Toronto and any other city that I’ve experienced a rush hour in. Living and working in LA is a big thing.Everything is more contemporary in design, so you're seeing style pieces. Less is more. Click To Tweet
We both have our property. I used to flip houses from the age of sixteen. My father was a big real estate broker in London and my mother is an interior designer. I started on television at a very young age and my dad would say, “Save your money and buy real estate.” I was working and earning some money from twelve. Not that much, but you put a little here and there. By the time I was sixteen, I had enough for a down payment, which obviously in London at the time was still expensive, not compared now, which is astronomical.
I remember getting my first bit of savings and I had about £50,000, which was quite a lot for a sixteen-year-old. I’d worked for it and I found this townhouse in South Hampstead, which is a very nice area of London. I remember putting about £20,000 to £25,000 down. It was about £100,000 townhouse and using the rest of the money to fix it up. I remember fixing this townhouse up going, “I love this,” because I love a transformation. Unlike you, Barrie, I know you’re the same as me, you can walk into an absolute crap hole. Give me the worst, most disgusting house and I am so excited and it brings me so much joy and pleasure. I know you have those same vibes when you do your flips. The crappiest house brings you the most joy because you can see the upside. That was my first experience of that flip and obviously I did it for decades afterwards both in England and here in LA. I know you love doing your flips as well. What tips and tricks as flippers can you give the readers? What should they look for when you’re buying? What are your fundamental top five?
First of all, I have to tell my book is called Interior Design Tips Every Realtor Should Know but Doesn’t. It’s anybody who owns the property and it’s my 68 tips on how as an interior designer I see real estate. Because I just became a realtor, whereas I’ve been designing for many years and I became a realtor as an extension of my design services. For many years, I’ve either been preparing people to move into this space that they’ve bought or helped them get rid of it, helping them prepare it to sell it.
All journey is very similar to that, aren’t they?
Yes, but you have to look at the whole thing. I hate to say holistically, but it all has to be from the outside of the house, around the side of the house, through the house. Everything has to be clean and new, not expensive. One of the tricks of the trade for me is every single switch, it’s not expensive to have an electrical company come in and put all new switches and new plug outlets everywhere.
That gives it that shiny appeal.
It’s white, clean and new. All of the door handles are $10 at Home Depot, even $15. They all should match. I will not have painted hinges. Hinges cost $5 and there are three hinges on each door. Most little places have $10, $12. Go in and redo it. People always say painting is the cheapest way and most effective way and it is, but it has to be done properly. It can’t be sloppy and it has to be the right color scheme. Also, I like to use everything the same throughout. If you are changing the light fixtures, which they all should match. It doesn’t have to be expensive but makes sure it’s the same company and go with two or three variations. It doesn’t have to be expensive. It needs to be done.
Let’s reiterate that. The light switches and the outlet plates should all be new and that’s a cheap fix. Just get some cheap new door hinges, door handles because if they look new, it gives it an appeal.
The lighting fixtures, they need to all match. That’s all. My motto always has been, “The room should be beautiful without furniture in it because at the end of the day, that’s what you’re selling.” Actually, that helped me win on this last Bravo show I did, Best Room Wins. I spent 75% of my budget on the construction because I had to make the room look beautiful. To me, the furniture was the accessories. I’ll never forget that one of my first clients in Miami Beach, she’s like, “I’ve seen this gorgeous sofa.” At the time, it was expensive at $7,500. Now, they’re at $25,000. She wanted to buy the $7,500 sofa. I’m like, “She had that horrible white elephant Berber carpet that was awful in the late ‘90s.” Everyone used to have it. It would get dirty. I said to her, “Why would you spend $7,500 on a sofa when it’s going on that dirty carpet? I’ll tell you what to do. Let’s get a big piece of carpet and make it like a rug and cover it.” She was renting. She couldn’t change the floor. I said, “Let’s do a massive, inexpensive rug on top of it all and then you can put your sofa there.” It’s always about making the space look as clean and as updated as it can be.
What do you suggest for spaces that are more expensive like bathrooms and kitchens? What do you recommend for people to do as a quick cheap fix to update the A-grade rooms?
Because it’s so easy to buy vanities that come with a countertop, sink and upholster.
You can get them in Costco.
It’s $250, $300 or even less if it’s smaller. What happens is because renovations are expensive, we tend to do it in stages. When you do it in stages, your taste changes. You can’t do a black faucet or a black tap as we call it if everything else is chrome. What you need to make sure is that you migrate throughout your home doing your renovation, make sure that everything matches. It doesn’t have to be the same exact style, although it should be. Make sure you’re keeping your metals to a minimum. It’s okay to mix. People are doing black with antique bronze. It’s a big thing like a vintage look or you do all polished chrome. All I say is that make sure the repetition is there so that as you walk through the property, it looks the same. I learned this from designing hotels. One of the best things about hotels, Dani, is that when you approach a hotel, whether it’s a Holiday Inn or a Grand Hyatt, from the outside of the hotel, the lobby, the elevators, their public hallways, the rooms, they are all variations of three to five color schemes and they’re all variations that have the same lighting fixtures. That’s what makes it cohesive and that’s what makes it feel larger even.
You can change up the star but keep to a running theme or make it uniform. The same type of metal or at least the same metal with different styles.
What you don’t realize is, in Joshua Tree, I’m doing these flips and for some reason I love the black matte hardware. It’s not expensive. You have to order it. It takes two or three weeks, but it looks so cool to do the black. Straight away it’s got that farmhouse vibe.
It’s got a little masculinity as well in the other less masculine areas.
The next thing is that we don’t have to use expensive. Everyone loves that white subway tile. It’s classic. If you want to play around with it, you can run it vertically.
I’m going to have Barrie come back on the Behr Essentials and we’re going to do a show about all about champagne tastes on a beer budget, which is Barrie and me through and through. We love a coupon, we love a discount and we don’t like paying full price for anything.
Five-star look with a two-star budget.
Let’s get into trends. What are you seeing as the new trends in home design in interior and exterior?
I go to all the trade shows. I go to Dallas, I go to High Point. I’ve even been to the ones in England and Italy as well. There is so much available. It’s almost catastrophic. It’s very confusing to someone who doesn’t know. Gray is being done to death. It’s doing my head in because it’s always gray.
Gray is not an uplifting color. Black can be uplifting in a very strange way, but gray not.
The light gray is. What you have to realize are the warm grays. What people are making this big mistake with the flooring, they’re doing this blue-gray, which is no-no. I can’t bear it. It’s not natural. Wood doesn’t look natural with blue-gray, purple-y gray or black-gray in it. When I do the gray on the washed floor, you need to look for a 50/50 medium. I’m selling this house in Malibu. I did it with 50/50. It looks like a beige floor with a gray wash. It’s so exquisite because my client got teak, they’ve got wood. It looks natural. It doesn’t look fake and it won’t go out of style that quickly. I know you studied color as well, but when you look at grays, I call it grayish. Gray with a beige is a warm gray. I’ve always called it grayish. You think it can be sandy color. Because when you look at sand, depending on where you are in the world, but most sand is particles of a little bit of gray rock and a little bit of beige or a little bit of sand color. If you go with natural colors, you can always be okay. Whereas a bluish-gray floor to me is false.
What are two other trends that you’re seeing a lot of that you love?
I’m loving all the lighting. The mid-century is strong, especially in LA. It’s the future.
Describe what that is to people that don’t know what mid-century look is.
The classic design from 1950 to 1970. There was some very specific design that was considered classic like Eames chairs and Barcelona chairs. They’re very specific designers. What’s happened out of that movement is, there’s a saying, “Less is more,” by Mies van der Rohe said. It’s having less than a room and more on people having a lot of styles but function. Having the sofa look cool from behind. They’ve got these nice angle-like so it sits up off the floor. Instead of having the sofa with a skirt or all the way down to the floor, which looks heavy, everything’s lifted up off the floor so you can see all the furniture. It makes it look lighter and nicer. Also the biggest trend because of Netflix is television and television programs because the production designers are so fierce. We are looking at movies and we are looking at programs and emulating the interiors of what we are. I look at things in the future in Netflix is mid-century modern because people are paring down.
Talking of TV, I’ve noticed as well the trends and some of the homes that I go into is that TVs don’t have to look like TVs anymore in a house. People are putting TVs on easels. They’re putting them in frames. When they’re not watching them or they don’t want them on, the TV screen is transformed into a painting and that looks fabulous because I’ve always had a bit of an issue of a TV in every room, which I know is much more American than British. You have your one TV in your TV room and that’s it.
I have it in the bedroom.
I have friends that I have to have a TV in every single room because that’s what they like. I don’t like the look of the TV in a nice, formal living room.
You can have a button and you have the roller come down and choose your poison.
You can have your painting, your digital fish tank or your digital fire crackling, fireplace on the TV. Those things are fabulous.
Everything is more modern, contemporary, more mid-century. You’re seeing style pieces and less is more. I believe that television is looking at what we’re doing and we’re looking at television. Also, hospitality is a big thing. Anything that’s coming now for the past years because of boutique hotels. The hotel room used to want to be like a house and now people want to design their homes like a lounge in a hotel.
Because they’ve made hotel rooms much cozier as well and much more homey so that the mix has definitely crossed over. You and I, Barrie, could talk for hours and hours. We’ll get Barrie on again and we’ll hit some different subjects in the home renovation space and in the property market. I love having you on so much.
Thank you. It’s nice to be here.
Check out BarrieLivingstone.com. If you’ve got any other comments for Barrie or suggestions for the show or anything you’d like to know Barrie on the Behr Essentials again to discuss, go to @LalalandedPodcast on Instagram or our Facebook page La La Landed. Barrie, thank you so much. We will be back soon.
- Barrie Livingstone
- Interior Design Tips Every Realtor Should Know but Doesn’t
- Best Room Wins
- Behr Essentials
- @LalalandedPodcast – Instagram
- La La Landed – Facebook
About Barrie Livingstone
British born Barrie Livingstone is an accomplished Interior Designer and real estate agent. Barrie’s design projects scan the globe from Los Angeles to Dubai and Miami to Malaysia. His passion for buildings and how people occupy them on a global level is the driving force for him, pairing the right property with the right person or group.
Barrie’s unique combination of seasoned Interior Designer “meets” savvy realtor makes perfect sense to have access to when designing or renovating a property. In the world of design, presentation is nine tenths’ the law. It is all about how the design makes one feel and how many years good design will last.
With over 30 years of experience in the Residential and Hospitality Industries in both design and marketing, his clients gain vital insight on how to present properties in the best possible light. Barrie has designed for international hotel brands such as: Intercontinental Hotel Group, Marriott, Southern Sun and Mandarin Oriental in the Near and Far East, also luxury residences and yachts.
Barrie’s current projects include TV programs in development. Licensing deals with home furnishings manufacturers along with house flips in Joshua Tree and the usual mix of fun for sale and lease real estate listings and his usual design client business.