Interior designer Mikel Welch rose to fame on US cable network TV show, Trading Spaces before gaining traction on his own business, a New York-based interior design studio, Mikel Welch Designs.
His latest foray into TV though is as co-host and a design expert on the Quibi entertainment streaming app’s Murder House Flip — a series which features makeovers of homes where grisly crimes were committed.
For Welch, his latest project has been “the craziest show”, but also one of the “scariest” things he has ever done.
“I didn’t believe it when I got the phone call that it was real,” he said in an exclusive interview with TheLatch—. “I love scary movies and horror movies, but I am chicken.”
“I get to leave these houses and go back to my hotel room, which is actually worse than being on the show, if you believe it or not. Because you’re like back in the hotel room by yourself.”
The series has also been one of the most enjoyable for the designer because this is the first show “where they let me be me”.
“They let me say what I want to say,” he said. “I really appreciate the fact that they allow me just to be me, and I don’t have to think about, ‘Oh, my gosh. What did I just say?'”
With this, Welch has also been able to stand up for what matters and even did an interview with People magazine on the Black Lives Matter movement — but it was something he felt he had to do.
“I’m going to be very honest with you. A lot of times when you’re on television, it’s hard to have a voice, because you’re nervous that if you say something, you’ll be blackballed. You’ll be blacklisted. And they just won’t use you. But I felt like I needed to say something.
“Oftentimes, here in the United States, there’s this thing where if you are a Black person, and you speak a certain way or dress a certain way, you’re treated differently. But, if I don’t have on a shirt and tie when I just have a baseball cap, and I’m just going to the grocery store, women clutch their purses. They don’t know that I’m Mikel Welch. They don’t really care. So it can be difficult.”
Here, Welch talks about his experience as a black man in the United States, why Murder House Flip is such a unique concept and details a very scary supernatural experience on the set of the show.
AA: We had a chat prior to our interview, and I found it so funny that you’re actually somewhat afraid of the paranormal?
Mikel Welch: Let me explain something. That show is one of the scariest things I have ever worked on before. So I didn’t believe it when I got the phone call that it was real. Because I love scary movies and horror movies, but I am chicken. Like, I’m scared of that stuff. So, you know, it’s the craziest thing I’ve ever worked on, unlike in my house, I get to leave these houses and go back to my hotel room, which is actually worse than being on the show, if you believe it or not. Because you’re like back in the hotel room by yourself.
AA: Murder House Flip is such an exciting and different concept. How did this come about for you?
MW: Honestly, it was just kind of like the stars aligning. And it was the most random, bizarre call. My manager, she’ll call me, and she’ll say, “Oh, you have like a new design show, like Trading Spaces or something.” And I’m like, “Okay, cool.” Then when she told me this concept, I’m like, “Okay, this is satire. Is this like a Saturday Night Live spoof or something?” And it was real. And it was just the craziest thing. I honestly didn’t believe it was real until they purchased my plane ticket.
AA: You’ve already done Trading Spaces, what makes this project stand out against the rest?
It’s been the craziest show, but it’s so much fun. This is the first show where they let me be me. They let me drop an “f-bomb”. Like I can say things. But they let me say what I want to say. I really appreciate the fact that they allow me just to be me, and I don’t have to think about, “Oh, my gosh. What did I just say?” So that’s like the difference.
I actually started out in design in set design. So I’ve worked on the other side of the camera. So in those meetings where it’s like, “Oh, we’re going to send you to this house because the family meets a certain demographic.” But this is different because we’re going to people who really need help. They’ve experienced something traumatic, and they really need help with getting over it, because they don’t want to live in that space.
They purchase these homes prior to the internet, like the mid-1990s and they didn’t have access to Google. Unless you went to the library and looked on microfiche, you wouldn’t have known what happened.
AA: Hang on! So, people buy these houses without knowing the horror and the history behind it?
MW: Ooh, honey, we have some real shady estate agents here in the United States. So there are like a couple of years clauses and every state is different. So after five years, or three years, after that period, if you don’t ask, then you won’t know.
WATCH: Mikel Welch’s Top 5 Tips for Removing Negative Energy From Your Home. Story continues…
AA: Have you experienced any supernatural experiences during filming?
MW: The very first home we talked about, Dorothy Puente. There was a scene where you hear me tell Joelle [Murder House Flip co-host], “I would typically say ladies first, but you’re not going to leave me upstairs in this haunted house.”
I’m like walking down the stairs. That is where we both felt it. Because all of that episode was primarily outside. We filmed at night and that was scary enough. The producers have to move all the cameras and while they’re moving the cameras, they asked us to wait at the top of the stairs.
Well, five minutes of sitting in a stairwell by yourself, just the two of you. As soon as they said, “Cameras rolling,” I jumped in front of her. Because we felt a presence. I can’t explain it, but you know what I mean.
I’m telling you, it was just, I just wanted to get the hell out of there.
AA: To be honest, you can’t tell you’re so afraid on-camera…
MW: At the end of the day, I have to be a professional. It’s my job to go in there and help these people, so I kind of have to tuck how I’m feeling away. And I don’t want to add any of that tension to something they’re already feeling. And I just have to, I have to pull myself together. I don’t have a choice. You know, I’m at work. I have a job to do. And I would like that check at the end of the week. So you pull yourself together.
AA: Which project really stood out to you the most? The one where you felt you really helped them.
MW: Hands down, the last family. The Barsi house, where the child actress was killed by her father. The young lady who lived in that room, you know, she grew up in that room as a child. I really felt bad for that family, because it was a hardworking blue-collar family father, who saved up all of his money, and unbeknownst to him, this happened in the house. Nobody ever told him.
I really think he was taken advantage of because of a language barrier. I really do. I seriously think he was taken advantage of. And their whole family was affected. They’ve been in that house for 20-plus years. The wife is crying. The daughter was crying. And she was like shaking. There were so many scenes that were cut. I was so happy to help them out.
AA: I’d like to talk a little bit more about you. You were named as one of the Home Beautiful 2020 Next Wave designers! Congratulations! What did that mean to you?
MW: That was such a surreal feeling. As someone who was a self-taught designer, you have so much to prove and so when they called me to let me know that I had been selected, I couldn’t believe it.
I have been in the design industry for about 12 or 13 years now, and I never thought I would see the day where someone who has a marketing degree and came from a business background would be in a national magazine like that and so I’m honoured. I’m excited.
And I don’t take it lightly. I’m hoping it’s one of those things where, as a black man, it opens up the opportunity for others who look like me.
WATCH: Mikel Welch’s Top 3 Tips for Renovating on a Budget. Story continues…
AA: You mentioned that it opens up the opportunity for others. How important is it for you to be a black man in this current climate and to have a platform?
MW: It’s a lot of pressure. I actually did an interview with People magazine. We — in the States — we’ve had a lot of issues with just like police brutality and whatnot here. It’s scary.
I’m going to be very honest with you. A lot of times when you’re on television, it’s hard to have a voice, because you’re nervous that if you say something, you’ll be blackballed. You’ll be blacklisted. And they just won’t use you. But I felt like I needed to say something.
Oftentimes, here in the United States, there’s this thing where if you are a Black person, and you speak a certain way or dress a certain way, you’re treated differently. But, if I don’t have on a shirt and tie when I just have a baseball cap, and I’m just going to the grocery store, women clutch their purses. They don’t know that I’m Mikel Welch. They don’t really care. So it can be difficult.
Oftentimes here as well, we have what they call designer show houses, where it’s an event where there’ll be 20 designers and everybody gets a room in a house, and we all have to create these lavish rooms. And there have often been times where people mistake me as the help, or they’ll ask me, “Where’s your restroom?” Like I work there. All the time.
I would like to applaud the design community, though, for stepping up. Because there have been so many forums. I probably speak at least once a week on this topic. And I’m just glad those conversations are being had.
And I’m just hoping now that people move to a place where, if something isn’t right, they speak up. Because I feel like so many things, like, it’s beyond social media. Like when we’re in our intimate groups with our friends, speak up. If something isn’t right, say it. I feel like a lot of times Black culture is appropriated, and it’s never applauded. It’s difficult. Like people love Black music when it’s time to dance and go out, but Black people don’t get that same applause once the music goes down.
So, I’m just hoping that things will change. I’m very positive about it. And I’m just glad the conversations are being had because everybody’s not going to understand.
AA: Thank you so much for sharing that with me. What has been your most proud moment thus far?
MW: Of course, I love Murder House Flip because it’s my current show, but my proudest moment was when I got cast on Trading Spaces. And that was for a specific reason. Prior to that, my other big moment was when I got cast on Design Star.
The judge, Vern Yip, then became my castmate on Trading Spaces, so it was kind of like the student meets the teacher. This is the first time we’re on the same playing field. So it was a huge full-circle moment.
WATCH: The official trailer for Murder House Flip.
You can watch Murder House Flip for free on the new mobile entertainment app Quibi.