You’re a born and bred Chicago girl.
Born and raised in Chicago! I grew up on the 45th floor of the John Hancock building, we lived right above the pool. There’s a playground by the Water Tower that we used to play at a lot. We were just kids running around the city.
When was your first big break?
After graduation I went to University of Nevada Las Vegas. I was only 19 so if you don’t have your head screwed on tight you can really be sucked into the Vegas lifestyle. I had a blast but I had always known I wanted to be a designer so I stayed focused on meeting the right people. At the time I had been interning for a local designer and modeling—as much as you could model being 5-foot-1—but I really wanted to work for this high-end home builder, Christopher Homes. I ended up seeing [a colleague from my internship] at a convention and he had asked what I wanted to do. When I mentioned Christopher Homes he was like, “Chris is right here actually,” so there was my stepping stone! It’s all about being at the right place at the right time.
How do you go from an intern to HGTV and DIY Network host, Travel Channel personality and celebrity designer?
You have to be scared. If you’re not scared, then what is it worth? I was so scared to quit my job. I was 22, making a lot of money but I was [not happy]. One day on my lunch break I read “Secrets of Six-Figure Women” and it was the best book I had ever read. The best chapter is called “Letting Go of the Ledge” and it’s all about letting go of the fear of not having this umbrella of a steady paycheck and insurance and all the other bullsh-t that really holds you back from believing that you can do it on your own. That day after I read the book on my lunch break I walked straight into my boss’s office and quit. Had I not read the book or quit the job I would have been too fearful to start my own company or do anything on my own.
You’re engaged. How did you meet your fiancé, Luke?
We met on Match.com! Luke is like, “If you tell one more person, I’m gonna kill you!” [Laughs] Let’s be honest, guys go on Match for a different reason so he wasn’t looking to meet me, it just happened. You never know, sometimes it works! You just gotta bank on that one time!
What kind of shape was his bachelor pad in prior to dating you?
For a 30-year-old guy in Chicago it was honestly unbelievable. He had it really well done and it wasn’t from a past relationship either. He had such a great sense of style, I wasn’t expecting it. I’ve met wonderful guys in Las Vegas and Chicago but this was just one of those moments where you just know.
When did you finally meet one another in person?
I was living in Vegas at the time but I knew I wanted to be back home in Chicago. We had been talking on the phone for a month and I was coming in town for Cubs opening weekend and we were supposed to go on a date. Then he was like, “Well, I’m gonna be at the game and you’re gonna be at the game so why don’t we meet by the concession stands and have a beer and see what happens?” So we did and that’s really it. When I moved back to Chicago, he had a condo and I actually ended up buying the house three doors down from him. We gutted it and then moved into it together.
When you’re filming, is it all real or are the scenes set up?
Okay, so on “Kitchen Crashers” when I go to a home improvement store and I find somebody that is real. That’s immediately real but it’s hard to somebody that, first, owns a house and then also has a really bad kitchen and wants to take me home that minute. This is what’s not real; a lot of people think that I start construction the very next day but I actually don’t start until a month later. That gives me a month to design it and to order things but it’s still a quick turnaround.
Biggest pet peeve when designing for a client?
Clients become difficult when they want to tell you how to do your job. It’s funny because when I hire a lawyer I don’t tell him what he’s going to do, I hire him because he’s an expert in what he does. I love so much about what I do but it is also stressful and really tough. It’s not the glitziest job in the world but the best part is the reveal when I’ve made your house into a home and now I’m a part of it forever.
Favorite spots to shop for design elements?
I find a lot of stuff from Luminaire. I also like finding pieces at Home Goods, TJ Maxx and vintage stores. Then it’s nice to take things that are really high-end and mix them in. It’s like dressing up and having $500 shoes but then a bangle that’s 10 bucks. I always get to go to Marshalls, TJ Maxx and Home Goods on my show. The last day is when I get all the accessories so I’ll go all over to every suburb because each one has such a different selection of stuff.
How would you describe your design style?
The one thing about me is you can’t open a magazine and go, “That’s Alison Victoria,” like you can with other designers that have a staple style. For me, I give my clients exactly what they want. Whether it’s bubblegum pink floors like I did in an L.A. boutique or an American Indian themed cabin in Park City, I’m doing it because it’s what the client wants. Why try and talk them out of it? I may guide them in the right direction and put my own spin on things but I’m very much, “This is what you want, this is what you get!”
Where can we find you on a Friday night?
I like to stick close to home. I bought my place because the neighborhood of Wicker Park is so attractive to me. I can walk out my front door and be at Big Star within two seconds so you’ll find me there a lot. I love Francesca’s Forno. I like Coast Sushi. I chose to come to Bavette’s tonight because I’m a huge fan of the city of Paris. Paris is where Luke and I got engaged and where we took our first trip together so I go to Paris a lot. Bavette’s to me is just so French and so Parisian and so sexy. It’s very rare that restaurants get the lighting right and candles right so it’s a great date spot. It’s all about the lighting! I was a vegetarian for almost five years—kind of a fake vegetarian at the end—but this place helped me go full -blown meat. They cure their bacon in house, it’s thick and just amazing. The food here is so good.
What is your key to being camera-ready?
I don’t have a makeup artist on set because it’s not a glamorous TV show. You’re sweating and covered in drywall and insulation, it’s not pretty. My only regime is washing my face every morning and night. My grandma always taught me to take care of your skin and to start young. You know how they say to just use a dab of eye cream? Well, I like lather it on then try to sleep coffin style. [Laughs] I get my hair done by Morgan at bSalon and she’s unbelievable. She does a blowout for me every Wednesday. I only wash my hair once a week, it probably smells like sh-t right now but it looks good.
As a designer on “Hotel Impossible” do you have a favorite hotel in the city?
My favorite hotel right now is Public. It’s an Ian Schrager property and I love his “lipstick on a pig” approach. It still has all of the natural elements but with a new coat of paint and some new curtains. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on a property to make something great.
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?
I’ve thought about it and I would have a drink with Bethenny