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So how did actor Scott Foley — known for playing the roles of Noel Crane on Felicity and Jake Ballard on Scandal — come to be the co-host of a reality series about furniture design? Chalk it up to a 2017 appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show (which will end its 18-year-run after its current season.)
Foley, the co-host and a judge of the HBO Max design-competition show Ellen’s Next Great Designer, which has its season 1 finale on May 20, recalls in an interview with THR that in a pre-interview for his Ellen talk-show appearance, he told a producer, “I have no idea what I want to talk about.” The producer then asked him what he liked to watch on television and he responded, “I love home improvement shows,” says Foley. (Among his co-stars on Scandal was DeGeneres’ wife Portia de Rossi).
“So I got on the show and she had a mock audition for me to be the next host of This Old House, which was my favorite home improvement show, the O.G. of home improvement shows. And that sort of stuck in her head that that was an interest of mine, a passion of mine,” continues Foley. “And when she called [about co-hosting the reality series], I was terrified having never done reality television. I’ve always been able to hide behind a character. And I tell you, I love the show.”
Foley appears on Ellen’s Next Great Designer — in which seven contestants are tasked with creating a new piece of furniture every week — alongside DeGeneres and two co-judges, L.A.-based interior designer Brigette Romanek and artist and designer Fernando Mastrangelo. The actor admits he felt unsure of himself at first amid the rest of the panel: “There was a certain point I think where we were doing the first round of judging and I looked to my right where my two co-judges were sitting and they have such experience in the design and furniture field. That doesn’t mean my opinion doesn’t count — maybe I can represent the average person, maybe I have a bit more experience building some furniture myself. I didn’t let my lack of professional experience in this world stop me from saying what I wanted to say.”
He can trace his interest in design — “It’s been a hobby for years. I’ve always been a builder, a maker, a tinker,” he says — back to his childhood growing up in the Kansas City area. “You know as a kid my father would build things. If we needed an entry way table, he’d go to the local hardware and buy some wood or metal and figure out a way to put it together and it would live in our house for the next 20 years,” he says. Ever since then, “I’ve always had that can-do attitude when it comes to renovations. Before I call a professional, I will usually fuck it up myself. For the most part, I can make my way around any situation.”
Foley’s became even more interested in everything house-related when he moved to Los Angeles early on in his career. “When I first moved to L.A. I got really into the Arts and Crafts movement, Stickley, Greene and Greene — that old house in Pasadena, we’d go visit a lot. And I found the way they joined the wood together. A lot of their furniture was made from oak, but it’s quarter sawn. They cut the wood so that the grain is more exposed. It’s not just beautiful to look at, but to touch too,” he says.
But after spending three decades in Los Angeles, he and his wife and their three kids moved to Connecticut last year — “We were just looking to get out of L.A.,” he says — buying a house built in 2000 in an area not far from New York City. The pandemic, however, prevented him from being on site during renovations, which he found frustrating. “It was a pretty big renovation, between floors, walls, painting. All of the stuff was done during Zoom. I’m talking to my contractor while on the Restoration Hardware website. It was an interesting way to do a renovation, but it worked out. I was bummed I wasn’t here to do more of it myself. I think my wife was happy I wasn’t doing more of it myself,” he says, noting that the house, “is behind this old farm. We find all these artifacts on the land. We found this old Clorox bottle. I was raking leaves and found a fully intact glass bottle that had the word Clorox on it and it was from like 1922. So we washed it out the best we could and it’s sitting on our mantel right now.”
As for his own design aesthetic? “I don’t know if I even have one,” says the actor, who veers toward classic pieces that marry form and function. “I’m a dad of three kids and three dogs. It’s got to be kid-friendly and comfortable. I appreciate the artistry of a lot of furniture. If you look at the Lips Sofa [by Salvador Dali, produced by BD Barcelona Design] — it looks like a big pair of lips. I can appreciate that as an art piece. It’s based on a picture of Mae West. I love the back story of it [but] I don’t want that piece in my house. I don’t want lips as a sofa. I get it, but not everything is for me.”
For his next project, Foley is starring in The Big Leap for Fox. “It was just picked up which I’m very excited about. It’s a new show based on a British reality show. We’re doing a scripted version of a reality show, in which they auditioned a bunch of dancers or people who wanted to be dancers and couldn’t make it for whatever reason to do a production of Swan Lake,” says Foley, who’ll play a reality-show producer on the series. “It’s sort of what people need right now. It’s a feel-good, uplifting underdog story.”
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Scott Foley’s Favorite Classic Furniture Pieces
Thonet Bistro Chair
“They’re everywhere and have been for over 100 years,” says Foley. “You’ve seen it a million times at every outdoor restaurant. It has a curved round back with another curved piece to support your back inside that. Thonet was the first designer and company to successfully steam bend wood and mass produce it. They are distinct in their style.”
Foley owns three of these aluminum chairs, produced by Emeco and first built for use on the decks of battleships and on submarines in the 1940s. “They are stackable. They are lightweight. And they fit your butt well. It’s just an iconic design,” he says.
“I’m sitting in one while I’m talking to you,” says Foley. “It redefined office seating. What were they using before this comfortable chair?”
Eames Lounge Chair
“If you are talking curves and visual appeal, it’s like the [Porsche] 911. It’s stood the test of time,” says Foley. “I have one myself.”
George Nakashima Conoid Chair
“It’s an iconic piece. I couldn’t make a list without something of his, ” says Foley of the Japanese-American designer. “He was sent to an internment camp. He [later] moved from the Pacific Northwest to Pennsylvania where he developed the Conoid studio. That was one of those chairs, it just elicited an emotion for me when I first saw it. Its lines, its angles, the way it sits above the ground — it’s something I can look at again and again and again.”
“For me, a chair is the most simple piece of furniture. It’s probably the first piece of furniture ever developed. It was a stump or a rock and a caveman sat on it and it became a chair,” adds Foley.
Casey McCafferty 004 Console Table
“I wanted to throw one in here that’s a new artist, a new furniture designer,” says Foley. “Someone whose pieces I covet is Casey McCafferty whose studio is in West L.A. He makes a lot of things from beds to chairs to tables to sculptures but he’s got a table he does. Instead of having four legs, it has three legs and the third leg intersects the other two. It’s beautiful. I’ve visited his studio and this table is on my wish list.”
Howard Credenza by Volk
“Volk makes beautiful hardwood pieces that are functional and really well built,” says Foley, who likes the studio’s Howard Credenza.
Other pieces Foley loves include the Restoration Hardware’s Maxwell Leather sofa. “They took a normal couch and they lowered the arm rests. Good design should be comfortable and this thing is forever comfortable. You can just sit there for half an hour and watch the nightly news or sit for seven hours and binge watch any show you want,” says Foley, who is also a fan of Ikea’s Pello and Poang chairs “in classic bent wood design. They are comfortable and affordable and really desrve to be more than just dorm-room pieces.” And for those who who like CB2, he recommends the company’s Peekaboo Acrylic coffee table. “It’s durable and unassuming and if you live in a smaller space, the clear properties of the acrylic make it seem to not take up so much space.”
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