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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Debbie Travis paints a colourful career

By Linda White
Special to the Toronto Sun

Decorator, TV producer, TV host, author and newspaper columnist. Those are just some of the hats Debbie Travis wears in a typical week. She's known around the world as the guru of home decorating, a reputation she earned one brushstroke at a time.
Debbie Travis and the Facelift crew end up with 40 hours of film for a one-hour show

"Kids today don't understand that the best way to build their career is to start from the bottom," Travis says. "You need to be open to learning and doing everything you possibly can."

Travis gave up a career as a model because she preferred working behind the scenes. She worked as a freelance editor and producer for several British TV networks, including the BBC.

Early stints included making sure a musician's bald spot didn't show during the shooting of a video. She was once fired for splicing together a news feature because it included shots of an upside-down helicopter.

"It was a growing learning process," Travis says. She later established a small production company that produced a documentary series about self-made millionaires.

While promoting the series at the Cannes Film Festival in 1986, she decided to crash a party hosted by CBC TV. Instead of selling her documentary, Travis met her future husband, Hans Rosenstein. They married three weeks later and she moved with him to Montreal.

"There was very little English TV and I didn't speak any French," Travis says. She put her career on hold and began painting her Victorian home using historic finishes popular in England. Friends and acquaintances hired her to paint their homes and she was soon commissioned to paint department stores, auditoriums and theatres.

Travis opened a small studio to teach paint finishes. Together with her husband, she began producing a series of instructional videos. Soon, she was invited on TV shows across North America, including monthly appearances on the Dini Petty Show.
Debbie Travis

"I went from being a bit nervous being on TV to quite enjoying it," Travis says. Over the next few years, she pitched The Painted House to Women's Television Network (WTN), but it wasn't picked up until a network overhaul in the mid-1990s.

"The new producer was going through shoeboxes and found my proposal," Travis says. "We did 13 shows, never thinking we could do more. It went on to sell around the world. Seven years later, we had done 250 shows."

New book

The Painted House earned Travis two Gemini Awards. She began writing a series of home-design specialty books and is set to release a new book next April. It's geared to fans of her newest endeavour, Debbie Travis' Facelift, which airs on Home & Garden Television (HGTV).

She developed the concept for the renovation-meets-reality-show

towards the end of her previous series. "As a TV producer, my other hat went on. People were sobbing in their bedrooms because our crews had taken over their homes.

"I thought it would be great to turn the cameras on ourselves ... When Martha Stewart showed us her perfect cake on her show, I wanted to see the 20 bad cakes in the back and the assistants crying."

Travis is involved in every aspect of her new show, beginning with the selection of homeowners. "Sometimes the letters are so good that you think they can't be true. We had one from a woman who wanted us to renovate her ex-husband's kitchen because he kept dropping by her place for breakfast and dinner."

She works with a crew of about 40 that recently descended on a home in Toronto for an upcoming episode. "We end up with about 40 hours of film for a one hour show," says Travis, who hosts the show without a script. "It takes about a month to edit and put the show together."

Two companies

Travis and her husband own two production companies: Whalley Abbey in Montreal and RTR Media in Toronto. She's the executive producer of several shows, including Buy Me and Sexy Girl.

"All you have to have is a passion for what you do," Travis says. "I remember walking into the BBC for the first time and thinking my heart was literally going to come out of my chest. I turned around so I could experience that feeling again.

"I love the medium of being inventive and creative, of putting something together and see it on the screen. It's difficult. You wonder if you can pull it off and if you can make it a success."

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