Michel Smith Boyd On The Many Facets Of Budget Design In Luxe For Less - Exclusive Interview

Money is no guarantee of good taste — it's terrifyingly easy to lavish thousands of dollars on gaudy, overdone décor that will sear the eyeballs of anyone unfortunate enough to encounter it. But as those of us with champagne tastes and Bud Light budgets know all too well, a lack of money can be a real obstacle to creating a home that meets our exacting standards. If you've ever spent an evening staring at your vinyl laminate countertop willing it to turn into marble, you know the feeling.

Superstar interior designer Michel Smith Boyd feels your pain. While he's built a career designing ambitious, high-end interiors for wealthy clients, he grew up in modest circumstances and understands what it's like to eke the most value from a limited budget. In his new HGTV show "Luxe for Less," he takes on his toughest challenges yet: helping ordinary homeowners create high-impact, luxurious interiors on a limited budget. In each episode, he and his team of contractors, makers, and fellow designers share tips and strategies for creating luxurious looks that won't break the bank. In an exclusive interview with House Digest, Boyd explained how he does it.

Michel Smith Boyd felt honored by the trust his TV clients put in his team

I'm excited to hear about "Luxe for Less." Could you tell me a bit about how the idea for the show came about?

The idea was presented to me, believe it or not, and this is the craziest thing ... The show creator approached me — I remember it like yesterday, May 11, 2020, in the middle of the mess. I was like, "Oh my God ..." I was thinking that I might have been done with television, to be perfectly honest with you.

When the show came along, they were excited about it. The concept sounded so good — so close to what we were doing right now or in the midst of the pandemic when it came to design — that I was like, "How could I say no?" They were so excited that their enthusiasm was infectious. I was like, "If they're anxious to meet me, then you know what? I'll talk to them."

Have you noticed any differences between the homeowners on the show and your normal high-budget clients, besides their budget?

One of the biggest things that I appreciate most about the television clients is that they actually are exuding even more trust. We're not spending as much money, but they didn't have time to research me and interview designers and decide if my aesthetic works with theirs or even if our personalities would mesh. It's a big risk to invite myself and my team into their home, so any time I have an opportunity to do my job, I'm incredibly grateful.

The biggest difference is how much trust, not to mention the timeline. The timeline is virtually impossible and ridiculous. However, everybody has a vested interest, and we make it happen.

Michel Smith Boyd got to choose his own dream team to star on the show

Can you tell me about the other builders and designers of your team? Did you know them and work with them before the show?

One of the things that I'm so lucky about [is] they built the show for me, but also that I got to cast the show. My friends are my castmates.

Anthony Elle, the maker on our show, is one of my oldest friends, my dearest friends, and we work really well together. He's been admiring interior design from the sidelines, designing couture for years. I've been admiring fashion on the sidelines, designing interiors for years. Our mutual respect and love for what the other does has made an incredible partnership. Anthony's a master at turning nothing into something.

Kai Williamson is another designer, another friend of mine. She understands the woes. I can give her directive and share my vision, and she is great at helping me execute it. Laura Green is a contractor who doesn't back down from a crazy, eccentric designer that has last-minute changes and big ideas with no time and no money.

You got to put together your own super team.


For Michel Smith Boyd, designing on a budget takes him to his roots

You are used to working with high-budget clients in your usual business. What was the biggest adjustment you had to make to accommodate the smaller budgets?

Seriously, it's tough. I'm not going to lie. It is tough, but I know it can be done.

What's so funny is this show is a metaphor for my life. I work with these high-end clients and I have this great lifestyle now. That's not exactly where I'm from — that's not exactly my background. I'm from a very small town in Louisiana, and we had a very modest life. I understand the balance and the idea of deciding where the money should be spent in order to create this luxury feel. [It's] second nature to me. I grew up that way, and then I've had the other experience, so here's my opportunity to merge those two worlds and make [them] match on television.

What was the toughest design challenge that you pulled off on the show, in your opinion?

Each show presents its own challenge, I'll tell you that. However, for instance, in the first episode, it is the Harris family. The husband, aka always the skeptic, is like, "Why do we need wallpaper? What do you mean? My grandmother had wallpaper ..." I love making a non-believer a design lover, and that's what happened in the first episode. He was the biggest challenge in that one, getting Jeff to agree, getting him to bend a little bit. I got his wife on my side and we double-teamed him, but it worked.

Here's how you can get a luxurious look without a luxury price tag

Can you recommend some strategies that homeowners could use to get a luxurious look with a small budget?

Sure. They [should] make a list of priorities, especially in compromising. If it's two partners, each of them makes a list about what their priorities are, what they love the most — [then] combine those lists and decide who wins. Hopefully, there's some things that match up.

But I like to use luxury where it creates an experience. Luxury isn't an object; it's more of an experience. Anything that's a tactile experience, like the countertops, if it's the kitchen, the hardware, the lighting — everything that's going to upgrade the space ... You want to spend your money on the things that are going to be used the most, that will get the most wear and tear, and that you'll have the most actual physical experience with. That's my tip.

"Luxe for Less" premieres Thursday, December 1, at 9 p.m. ET/PT and will be available to stream on discovery+ on Thursdays beginning December 1.

This interview has been edited for clarity.