Leslie Ezelle
Leslie Ezelle

The Design Star winner and breast cancer survivor on why she simply can’t stop.

Leslie Ezelle doesn’t have conversations; she has verbal hurricanes. “I’ve got a jazillion irons in the fire right now,” says the HGTV Design Star All-Stars winner, mother of one (and stepmother of three), former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader and breast cancer survivor as she tries to organize a viewing party for her crowning moment. “Tonight is the last night of the show finale but [we] started this construction project that was supposed to be done in June, and now we’ve had an electrical explosion in our neighbourhood so our TVs all got burnt out. It’s totally cramping my style, it’s spoiling my one big moment, it’s driving me crazy!”

This gal on the go is so busy she doesn’t even have time to breathe. “Deep breaths don’t help, they just make me hyperventilate. How can people meditate? It makes me think about how much I have to do.”

What’s keeping Ezelle so busy? “We’re adding a kids’ wing. We started last year [but] stopped for Christmas. We ended up not having floors for the holidays, we had these fake placeholder floors. It worked out because I could use the entire house as my studio, I had paintings everywhere. I spray-painted the floors,” Ezelle says. “Right now it’s like we’re at camp, we’re all in our bedrooms and have to climb out of windows to get to the front door. It’s going to be beautiful, but right now it’s a fucking war zone. And I thought breast cancer was stressful.”

The conversation came to a halt as Ezelle warns, “Hold on one second, my whole entire house is exploding, hold on one second.” There’s a minute’s tense waiting to find out whether that remark is literal and then she’s back. “My friend is here from Bedford, N.Y., and she’s here to help me with this party, but in the meantime, I had her in there sanding the handrails for my construction.” All of this mayhem happens against the backdrop of Ezelle’s winning ways on HGTV’s Design Star All-Stars. Ezelle premiered as the competitive reality show’s first openly lesbian contestant last year, but the judges knocked her out of the running on the seventh episode. “We had a viewing party for the night that I was canned,” she says. “I didn’t want to sit on the couch with my kids and cry about it so I threw myself a party and invited all of the press and everyone and all my friends showed up to watch me get canned. I made it a fundraiser.”

She must have made a good impression because the producers brought her back for the show’s seventh season as one of the “All-Star” designers from seasons past. At the time of the interview, Ezelle knew that she’d won, netting the $25,000 prize by transforming a repurposed shipping container into an ad hoc beach bungalow, but since the show had not yet aired she played it coy…or as close to coy as she gets.

“I’ve got to win this time,” she says. “I’d better win, because I’ve got to give my kids that speech about following your dreams and I want them to actually buy into it.”

In the midst of chaos, Ezelle never sounds anything but thrilled. She seems to have a perfect life, living her dream as a designer and TV star and sharing it with “a wife, four kids, a dog and a hamster that bites like a mean mother-f’er.” But there’s a phantom lurking in the wings: the memory of her breast cancer diagnosis in 2008, the same year she married her partner, Libby. Two years of treatment and multiple surgeries were enough to give even Ezelle pause—briefly.

“You question, why me?” she says. “I called it my titty-pity party. [But] I’ve really worked hard to turn that into a positive. I’ve had to go through a shitstorm to figure out what I want to do with my life.”

Despite her high-energy lifestyle, Ezelle’s home designs are famous for their straightforwardness and simplicity. How does the woman with the entire world on her mind manage to keep it simple? Actually, it’s cause and effect. “I’m the expert on total chaos,” she says. “Your home has to function right for you to be a happy, healthy person. Your home is the one thing that you have total control over.” Keeping her designs in line keeps Ezelle leveled personally. For the most part.

Ezelle says she’s happier with her second showing on Design Star, and not just because she won. “The first season I watched [myself] I said, who in the hell is that woman who is so professional and normal? This season is a little more accurate. It’s a bit painful to watch, but it’s more honest.” Ezelle also says she doesn’t care how she comes across on TV as long as it’s an honest depiction. “They told me to really be myself. Well, in my case that means pull up my skirt and show my panties.”

But don’t get your hopes up: The panties didn’t make it past the editing room.

Ezelle plans to parlay her success into a show of her own, Tame Your Domain so that she can help other busy working women corral their chaos. She even has plans for Curve’s own editor Merryn Johns. “Do you want to change careers? Come be my producer and we’ll do this. And let’s put Merryn on the show too, because she has a lovely accent. Is she Australian? I don’t remember. Whatever she is she sounds good.” (leslieezelle.com)