“More than a makeover” is the tagline of Queer Eye, Netflix’s hit reboot featuring the talents of the “Fab Five,” experts in fashion, beauty, interior design, food and culture who revitalize the lives of their subjects, with often tearjerking results. If you’re anything like me, you binge-watch each new season almost as soon as it premieres on Netflix—which I may or may not be doing as I write this, since the fourth season just dropped on Friday.
This season opens with beauty expert Jonathan Van Ness’ emotional return to his high school, but he’s not the only member of the Queer Eye cast to recently return to his roots. The show’s culture expert, Karamo Brown—also of Real World fame, and the author of the recent memoir, Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing, and Hope, and the upcoming children’s book, I Am Perfectly Designed—teamed up with HomeGoods (one of this style writer’s favorite places to shop) to gift a makeover to Gibbs Hall, a student space in his alma mater, Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Fla. In celebration of the partnership and reveal, he spoke to The Glow Up about being an HBCU alum, the inspiration behind the gorgeous transformation, and the importance of giving back.
“If my experience at FAMU taught me anything, it was that my voice matters and my words have the power to inspire others, so I wanted to be sure the students had a communal place where they could gather and let their voices be heard,” said Brown. “We chose the lounge within Gibbs Hall because it’s so popular among the student body and the first stop for most first-year students before they check into their dorms. I loved spending time there when I was in school, so I wanted to make sure it was re-imagined into a place where students can be comfortable no matter whether they are chilling out or hitting the books.
“College is such an important time to discover who you are as well as who you want to become and for me, FAMU was where I found my passion to help others. That’s why I was so excited to go back as part of my partnership with HomeGoods, [where] I was able to explore the wide selection of affordable back-to-campus merchandise, like chic colorful throw pillows and handwoven area rugs, to ultimately transform a student lounge into a creative and inspiring space for the FAMU community to enjoy,” he added. “When I was a student, I was super involved, serving on student government as freshman class president and participating in other on-campus student groups, so I love that I was able to give back to the school by creating a fun and inspiring space for students to find their passions like I did.”
And though he’s not known for design on Queer Eye (those duties are typically credited to interior designer Bobby Berk), Brown brought his own style back to FAMU for the reimagining of Gibbs Hall; with the ethos that great transformations are an inside and an outside job.
“On Queer Eye, my focus as the culture expert is to tap into the hearts and minds of the heroes we are helping. While my castmates help to makeover the outside of the person, I work to heal them from the inside out,” Brown told us. “What people don’t see on the show is that Bobby and I work together SO closely! How you set up your space directly affects your mental health and well-being; Bobby and I are always bouncing off each other in that way, so it was really great to create something new while also giving back to my alma mater.
“My inspiration for the space was to bring students a better balance of work and fun and create a place where they could feel comfortable being their whole selves. While exploring the aisles [at HomeGoods], I was so excited to find so many unexpected treasures...from classic board games, perfect to update the game area, to colorful woven cotton throws and floor pillows to create the relaxing ‘Zen’ nook. It’s now the perfect sanctuary for students at FAMU to come together and let their minds recoup after a busy day, host study groups, or meet one-on-one.”
As the sole black cast member of Queer Eye, Brown is in a unique position to give both a lens into our culture and open the minds of subjects and viewers alike on intersectionality (as a member of the LGBT community, a black man, a father and more). For those who have yet to binge it, season four of Queer Eye brings some especially poignant moments (no spoilers), building on narratives that have helped its subjects—or “heroes,” as Brown calls them—heal wounds both literal and emotional, and gain the confidence to graduate to the next level, much like the students at FAMU.
“[The] five of us have more confidence going into season four,” Brown said. “We know we are not just helping the heroes on the show, but also helping viewers in so many ways. I feel confident [this season] really pushes those boundaries within the show and, as a result, will go a long way pushing our fans’ boundaries. My hope is that season four continues the path of the previous seasons but the growth for everyone, from our heroes on-screen to our fans at home, is leaps and bounds beyond where it was before.
“I really try to be both a mirror for our heroes on the show to allow them to reflect on their current situation, as well as a guide on their path to changing,” he continued. “Thankfully, I am able to bring a perspective that I feel has never been seen on a TV program that is born out of my own experiences—as a gay man, as the son of immigrants, as a black man, as a social worker. And I am so thrilled to hear from so many people that, not only is my voice being heard, but also, it is connecting to people beyond the just the Queer Eye episodes, so that people of all ages, races, ethnicities, etc. are watching and going, ‘That’s exactly what’s going on in my life!,’ or the lives of their friends or loved ones.”
You can check out more of Karamo Brown and HomeGoods’ redesign of Gibbs Hall below. Season four of Queer Eye is currently available on Netflix.