HGTV's Galey Alix Speaks About Her Unique Approach To DIY Design - Exclusive Interview

Galey Alix isn't your typical HGTV star — how she came to love DIY and remodeling and how she approaches each project is not what you've seen before. What makes her stand out from other designers is that design wasn't ever her first passion. "I've been an executive on Wall Street for a little over a decade, and that has always been my focus. I'd never thought much about design or interiors," she told House Digest in our exclusive interview.

But how she got started with interior design is only the beginning of her interesting story. Her background has led to her unique approach and philosophy, and with that, she leaves a little bit of herself in each room. Alix has recently finished wrapping "Home in a Heartbeat" for HGTV, in which she takes over a home to completely remodel a space in a weekend — sometimes just 72 hours. But having a unique perspective is beneficial when it comes to designing, and Galey Alix sees hers as a bit of magic. You can see it through the fans who comment on each of her social media posts and in the faces of the homeowners she decorates for, and she gave us a look into her process during our conversation.

An unconventional background

I saw that you are an executive for an investment firm while you also pursued this passion for interior design. Can you tell me about what sparked that passion for interior design?

I've been an executive on Wall Street for a little over a decade, and that has always been my focus. I'd never thought much about design or interiors. I went through a whirlwind of a relationship. I got engaged to who I thought was the love of my life. We bought our dream home together, and I started fixing it up and decorating it to impress him and help us both love our home. I posted videos of me doing that ... The videos were less about the design or showing it off and more about trying to have fun, editing fun clips and cool transitions and things. Then he ended up leaving me right before our wedding, and I was going through a hard time with a mental health battle and also heartbreak.

I had left those videos up on my social media of me decorating our dream home. I logged out of social media but let the videos stay up — I wasn't ready to face my closest 800 family and friends who were following me at the time. I wasn't ready to face them asking why I didn't have any wedding pictures up or anything like that. I went into therapy, and a couple of months later, when I logged back in, I realized that those videos had gone viral and people were asking me to do what I did in those videos in their homes. That was the first time I even realized that somebody might want me to decorate or design for them.

I still was working on Wall Street. On the weekends, I started saying yes to strangers and going in and helping them with their homes. I don't really know how to collaborate with clients because I'm not a designer, and I have no experience with it. I asked if they would let me do surprise reveals, where they give me the budget and then they move out for the weekend ... That was how this was born.

Weekend renovations have their own challenges

You do your renovations over the weekend, sometimes in just 72 hours. What about that expedited process do you find the most challenging?

The biggest challenge is trying to problem solve and get things perfect on very little sleep, because the sleep deprivation is very real, not to mention doing manual labor. I'm doing the construction part of it, too, not just the design. The toll it takes on your body physically is no joke. When it's 5:00 a.m., and I realize the sun is coming up in a couple of hours, and the family is about to come home, and I still have half a room to paint, get it to dry, and then hang on my artwork and do whatever else I wanted to do on it, it's hard.

I hope that comes through in the show, because I never want to make something difficult appear like it's easy. I'm humbled by every single install and realizing what I don't know — which is a lot — and how much of a challenge this continues to be. We're as efficient as we can be, and we're still down to the last minute every single time. The biggest time constraint is that it forces us [not to sleep], to be on our feet for 72 hours straight, and to also have to be mentally strong to be creative and think on my toes and problem solve and make it beautiful with the sleep deprivation. That's the hardest part for sure.

She approaches design in her own way

When it comes to decorating, you're self-taught in everything that you've learned. In another interview, you mentioned how you learned that you had to put wallpaper glue on the back of the wallpaper, not on the wall, and that you weren't able to cut it with scissors. Are there any other DIY tips or anything that you've learned on the job?

Oh my goodness — there are literally hundreds, maybe even a thousand, different little tips and tricks that we've learned along the way. I will say, because we have to do this in such a short period of time, a lot of my tricks have to do with efficiency, because economies of scale are hyper-important when you're trying to pull off what normally takes months in 72 hours. [We're trying] to squeeze something that takes so much detail and effort into a short window, so all of my tricks, for the most part, have to do with efficiency.

I almost never use a measuring tape because it takes too long to find it, [or it's] lost somewhere in all the tools. Then you have to pull it out, you have to close it — that adds up when you're doing it all day long. So I keep a Sharpie in my sports bra. [L]et's say it's a console table, and I'm putting it in the foyer and want to hang a mirror over it. Instead of carrying the console table from the garage into the foyer, setting it there, marking it on the wall, measuring it with the measuring tape and the height, I'll literally walk into the garage where the console table is, mark on my leg with the Sharpie marker the height of the console table, and I'll walk in and replicate the height [with] the Sharpie marker on my legs on the wall. Then I'll be able to eyeball where I want the bottom of the mirror to be and hang it. That alone saved five minutes of carrying the cable in, carrying it back out, finding the measuring tape, marking it all. I did it in under 30 seconds. What I've learned is how to be hyper-efficient.

Those little cheats of the job — that's cool.

Boy, do we need them.

Her design approach is a unique niche

You said that since you're not a designer, you did the surprises because you didn't really work with clients. Do you approach designing for clients now differently than you did when you first started?

No, it is literally the exact same business model. Something I've learned in finance is that you're always looking at the key differentiators that make one stock more likely to generate profit than another stock. You want to look at the company whose stock you're buying, and you want to say, "Okay, does this company have a competitive niche in its industry? Is this company doing something different than everybody else in their sector is doing?" Because that creates more likelihood of them [being] successful in earnings.

When it comes to my business, I realize what I'm doing is very different, and it gives me a competitive niche [compared] to anybody else in my sector of design and home renovation. It will be a unique business model that is very hard to replicate because it requires people's blind trust to do surprises like this. It requires them to trust you with their savings — which, because of my fiduciary background, I think people are more comfortable trusting me with their savings because I work with money. It also benefits the client, this business model, because they're not having to meet with me 30 times, go to different furniture stores, look at different textures and rug samples and wallpaper clippings. They literally just have one decision to make, and it's, "Do I hire Galey or not?"

If it's yes, then they don't have to think again. They don't have to lift a finger. They just have to go somewhere for a weekend and let me work my magic. So my business model will never change because it's too beneficial to the client experience to change, and it's too differentiating for me as a competitive niche, as a business owner, knowing that will help set me apart. I'm still doing the exact same thing.

She believes function is essential

Do you have any advice for the best way homeowners can make their spaces work for them?

You can never underestimate the benefit of functionality. When it comes to design, first and foremost, don't ever sacrifice the functionality of your space to make it pretty. You want to make sure that it works for you and that you can live in it. Even if it isn't as pretty, it's so important that it functions.

Second is whenever you get a new home or you want to upgrade your home, never force anything. A lot of people, especially when they move into a new house, run out to all these different stores and buy what is there right now, what they can get quickly. They decorate the whole house in a couple weeks and they're like, "Okay, it's done." Then they live in it, and after a couple months, they maybe settled on 80% of what they bought — meaning they liked it, but they didn't love it, because they were in such a hurry to get the rooms filled.

Be okay with an empty house. Sit with it a little bit, figure out what rooms you spend time in, how you use the space. Slowly invest in pieces that you're going to love. If you buy a bunch of chairs and console tables and rugs because they're available right now at a store down the street, you're going to be switching those out and spending double the money over the next year anyway because you don't love them. Spend it once and wait to buy something until you absolutely love it. That is how you love your house, not by filling it up quickly so that you can check the box and be done.

Creating calm is more important in a home than any specific textures or trends

Do you have a home trend that you've been loving lately as you've been decorating?

I don't watch or follow anything in the design world, mostly out of insecurity. I fear that if I watch other designers or look at magazines or follow their accounts, I fear that I'll subconsciously steal their ideas. Then it won't be an authentic, custom Galey Alix design when I create something, because I've seen it now and I might pull from it without realizing it. I don't even know what is trending right now, but I can tell you something that I have been doing a lot on these projects is mixing metals.

Traditionally, people think, "Okay, if all the hardware in your kitchen is bronze, then everything needs to be bronze," from the sconces to the fridge handles to the door pulls. But if you can mix metals in a sophisticated way, you create a very custom-feeling space. I'll mix brass and bronze all throughout a room ... as long as each piece has a sister piece. What I mean by that is if you have a bronze sconce and a bronze door pull, but you want to introduce brass — you can make the faucet on the sink brass, but you have to have a sister piece to tie it in. Maybe I'll have a brass candle sitting on the island. As long as there's at least one other piece that can tie in and you have a sister piece, then you can mix metals and nothing feels out of place.

I'm all about mixing metals and taking some risks there, because too many people find one metal and do it in the entire house, and it doesn't feel very custom.

Is there one thing that you think every home needs?

Every home needs calm. At the end of the day, everybody says, "We're all trying to find happiness" and "How are you going to get to happiness?" I don't think that's really what any of us are looking for — I think we're actually all looking for peace and calm in our lives and in our heads. A home is an instant way to create calm and tranquility. You can do it in the colors that are soothing to you. You can do it by adding a lot of cozy, comforting textures. You can do it by creating more space and getting rid of clutter so it's calm and not stressful and loud.

The number one thing that every home needs is calm, because this is the place you come home to after a long day out in the world battling traffic. This is the place [where] you make memories with your family or with your animals, or even just with yourself and your growth. The number one thing every home needs has nothing to do with furniture or textures. It has to do with how you create calm.

She has a dream client to design for

Your new show, "Home in a Heartbeat," is premiering soon. Did you have a favorite renovation from this season?

This is so hard. There's probably two spaces. One is a project called Dan Cave. It was for a single dad and his living room ... His style was very similar to my personal style. In that one, I created a living room where I also would do exactly the same thing in my own personal living room if that was my house. [For] a lot of the other projects, I'm always trying to design for the client, and because I felt like his style was so similar to mine, I loved [that living room] with the arches and the big couches and the wood ceiling.

The other space that I was really proud of was a hallway I did, which is ironic because it's this little, skinny, long, low-ceiling hallway. I turned it into what I felt was a masterpiece. That was at Project Casablanca down in Miami. You'll see that one toward the end of the season; Dan's you'll see toward the beginning of the season. I added all these arched doors and a lot of tricking your eye into thinking the ceiling was higher with how I did the cutouts for a lot of the bifold doors that were there. It's beautiful, and I'm proud of it.

Can't wait to see it! Is there anything you'd love to do or any people you'd like to work with?

I'm a Swiftie, so I think Taylor Swift is one of the most incredible, inspiring, motivating, talented people of our time. If there's ever an opportunity that I can do something for her, I would do it in a heartbeat.

"Home in a Heartbeat" premieres on HGTV and discovery+ on Wednesday, April 19 at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT.

This interview has been edited for clarity.