An Interview With Hilary Farr of 'Love It or List It'

She discusses her real-life relationship with her co-host and more

Home designed by Hilary Farr
••• Hilary Farr, with permission

Hilary Farr is an internationally renowned designer and one of the co-stars of the HGTV hit “Love It or List It,” along with real estate agent David Visentin. In this interview, Farr reveals whether the show is scripted and what her real-life relationship with Visentin is like. She also shares her design inspirations, how she satisfies clients, advice for aspiring designers, and even her secret to relaxing under stressful conditions.

'Love It or List It'—Scripted or Real Life?

On “Love It or List It,” the homeowners come to the show with a dilemma, usually brought on by the age and disrepair of their home or the expansion of the family and their needs. Do they “love it” and accept a remodel of the existing structure, designed by Farr, or do they take co-star Visentin’s advice and list it for sale?

While Farr and her team are designing and remodeling the house, which often includes major renovation work, Visentin is showing the homeowners how he could help them meet their desires by listing their current home and buying one on the market. The tension usually builds as the homeowners visit updated, well-appointed homes, then check back in on their own place, which is mid-renovation.

When asked about it, Farr said the tension that comes across in the show is genuine. "The show is not at all scripted, and the reactions of the homeowners to renovation realities and bad news is very real."

However, she also noted that the audience sees a one-hour rendition of a three-week process.

Her Relationship With Co-Star David Visentin

As much as audiences are often captivated by the tension brought on by the show's premise, they’re also drawn in by the ongoing rivalry between co-hosts Farr and Visentin. Their back-and-forth snark is real, but they are still the best of friends in real life, according to Farr.

Farr also recognizes the collective effort needed to produce the show and praised the entire team. "They're incredible,” she said. “Without them, it wouldn't be possible. We are working on three homes at once, and it's exhausting."

Her Design Inspiration

Farr’s inclination to be a professional designer evolved over time and across continents. She was born in Toronto and has lived in Australia, England, across Byzantium and into Tehran, New York, Los Angeles, and finally, back in Toronto.

Along the way, instigated by her mother's passion for art and decorating, Farr absorbed the rhythm of the places she called home. "The colors, sounds, images—I can conjure them all, even though some of them were formed when I was only three years old."

Farr noted that her travel and exploration have given her access not just to the artifacts of the countries in which they were created but the cultures from which they were born: the emotions, perceptions, and mindfulness of the native artisans. “It's curious, but you don't realize it at first. In a sort of osmosis, you absorb what's around you, what you experience,” she said. “At some point later on, when deciding upon a design strategy, these sensations come back to you, and you say, 'Ahh, that's it; I know exactly what to do.'"

She continued, "The sights and smells, the variations of color and style are processed over time. The key to design is to let the ego recede and let the senses take over."

Making Clients Happy

Not every client has the opportunity to gain Farr’s unique world perspective, and she keeps this in mind as she guides them through the creative process.

“I try always to steer clients away from trends,” she said. “The tried-and-true first step is to have the client look at every design magazine they can and pull out the pictures they love, without regard to particular elements. Invariably, they choose the same thing over and over."

Some designers think clients don't know what they want, but Farr believes that they do, even if they don’t realize it. "My job is to give them what they need and want in the same aesthetic—to translate what they love into the reality of a great space,” she noted.

In a housing market with high property values like Toronto’s, homeowners can be tempted to let concern for resale value take precedence over aesthetic ideals. Farr tries to remind these clients that it’s not just about property value. “A home is a safe haven, and the memories, art from the kids, all the trappings of life, fold into the texture of the home,” she said, adding, “Resale creates transience."

To help clients break through their concern for the market, Farr said she selects a specific area of the home and makes it "so perfect, to suit all their needs and reflect their personality.”

Advice for Aspiring Designers

What advice does Farr offer to people considering a career in design? "I don't mean to sound flippant," she said, "but you must understand business, or you will work for free." She pointed out that her professional life is 80 percent business and 20 percent design.

Farr also impressed the importance of self-control, particularly when dealing with clients. "It's important to know how to process thoughts and to hold back emotions and reactions. Set your ego aside,” she advised. “I've noticed young people who are having a difficult time in the business are either too timid or too assertive. Sometimes they are afflicted with a massive ego."

Her Secret to Relaxing

Farr must keep up with the furious pace of television production, as well as the rest of her life: running an expanding business, being a mom to her son, and tending to three cats and a dog.

When asked if she has a secret to handling such a busy lifestyle, she pointed to a simple solution: "Deep breathing. I'm addicted to it. It relaxes me and allows me to shut down so that I can have restful sleep."

Farr said that it can be difficult to manage the workload and stay in a forward-thinking mindset, noting that her public and private clients often have difficulty letting go and moving forward. "People must learn there is a difference between holding on to the past and using it to inform the present," she said.