My Experience Designing for Extreme Home Makeover!



I had an an incredible opportunity last week to be involved with Extreme Makeover Home Edition! While I can’t be very specific about (or post photos of) the design I worked on until the episode airs on November 14th, there are some things I can share. We worked on rebuilding Lighthouse Christian School, part of which was destroyed in the flood Nashville experienced in May of 2010. It is run by the Sweatt family, who we found out actually lives in our neighborhood! Many of you may remember this image that made its way through the national media circuits:

Nashville Flood

Part of Lighthouse Christian School's preschool floating down I-24

Many people have been asking questions about this past week. I’ll try to cover some of them here!

How did I get involved?

Nate and I heard about Extreme Makeover Home Edition coming to the Nashville area through our neighbor, Famous Donna, who coordinated the catering for the whole event. We knew right away that we wanted to be involved in a worthy effort to restore hope and happiness to some deserving people. I cry just about every time I catch an episode on TV! Admit it… you do too.

We signed up on the website to volunteer. I submitted a link to my website along with my application and indicated that I was an artist and graphic designer, and happy to help with any project that could use a creative or detailed touch. Very soon, a design producer named Courtney Sanders contacted me and said she had a project she wanted to give me full control over. It was her “baby” and she wanted it to be stunning and she loved my work. Imagine my excitement over getting to have full design privileges on a special project!

Design Team

Me, Courtney, my hubby, and Nate Galui from HGTV's Design Star

Nate and I met with her that evening in her headquarters, a trailer reserved for the design team on site, and we selected paint colors and discussed specific design details. I came home and stayed up late laying out the design in Adobe Illustrator so that my team and I would have something visual to refer to as we worked. That night and the following morning as I corresponded with the carpenter, the producer, and others, I got several flashbacks from my whirlwind time creating a piece for NBC’s Today Show just this past April. I’m beginning to associate “TV Production” with “Quick Turnaround.”

I quickly gathered an arsenal of creative types to work with the carpenter and I: a master faux painter, a muralist, a seamstress, an auto-cad designer, a sign printer, my supportive husband, sister, and friends who helped tremendously with general painting work. I couldn’t have done it with each of these talented people, and I’m so grateful for them! We worked literally night and day for 3 1/2 days to pull off the project, and it was incredible to see it come to life from my original design.

When our project was finally ready for installation, I was asked to help put finishing touches on one of the classrooms. It was here that during my nearly 7 months pregnant and sleep-deprived state, I stepped off of a ladder and into a bucketful of bright Bemini Blue paint. It was classic! I spent the next two hours barefoot and unable to leave the room to eat or visit the ladies room due to strict shoe rules on the work site. Nate graciously rushed home and brought me back a backup pair.

What was it like being on the set?

Okay, I’m not gonna lie: it was awesome! The area we worked in is known as “Art World,” and it’s where Ty Pennington, Paul DiMeo, Tracy Hutson, and others you’d recognize from the show spend much of their time. We worked alongside master woodworkers, painters, and artists, and were frequently “interrupted” to be filmed with one or more of the show’s personalities. These were the moments you were thankful you had held off on that lunch break or cooling off time in the AC.

Ty is exactly as he is on camera: energetic, to-the-point, and yes… a bit ADD. I did happen to borrow him and visiting artist LeAnn Rimes for a photo op as they came through our set one day:

Ty Pennington and LeAnn Rimes with Kelly O'Neill

Me with Ty Pennington and LeAnn Rimes.

Paul is a true gem, and I got to know him the most throughout the week. He frequented our set, helped paint several times, and even sat with me at lunch one day and brought me milk and cookies after I teased him about mentioning them in to a pregnant lady without actually offering her some! Of course, I got a photo of us with said milk and cookies:

Paul DiMeo and Kelly O'Neill

Paul DiMeo and me with some delicious refreshment.

What did I take away from the experience?

I’ve never been a part of such a monumental effort where so many people came together to create something this amazing before… it was humbling and awe-inspiring. There were over 1,000 people who volunteered their time, used their skills and talents, and donated supplies over the course of 6 feverish days to get this preschool built and looking fabulous. My part was only a small fraction of the overall effort, but it was an honor to have been able to contribute.

I’m grateful for the connections that were made, friendships that were formed and strengthened, and that a deserving family-run school can now continue in its efforts to bring up young children in a Christ-centered atmosphere.

I also amazed myself at being able to get through a week of 14-16 hour days working outdoors while 29 weeks pregnant. It helped that Nate made sure I sat down a lot, drank plenty of water, and delegated as much work as possible. I’m convinced that our first week home with our new baby in December will not be as physically taxing as this past week was!

Some other cool happenings:

My rockstar agent, Laura Travis of Connect The Arts came to the big reveal and talked with some contacts of hers with News Channel 2. They asked to interview me about my involvement in the show, and it aired on the 10:00 news that evening. Click here to watch it, though the link will not be live indefinitely.

News Channel 2

Interview with News Channel 2 on Reveal Day

If you ever get the chance to volunteer at an Extreme Makeover event in your area, I highly recommend it!

15 comments


  • This was one of the most amazing experiences of my life seeing Nashville come together and help Lighthouse Christian School!

    I can’t wait to see it on air!! :-)

    September 22, 2010
  • Steph Scheinman

    You are amazing! I really do not know how you and Nate do it all! We have the date blocked off on our calendars and CAN NOT WAIT to see what you have masterminded! Lots of Love from FL:)

    September 22, 2010
  • Shannon Carter

    It was truly a blast! You are incredibly talented and awe-inspiring yourself! You gave it 110% and I am proud of you and what you accomplished in such a short amount of time. I am so happy you asked me to be a small part of it, it was pure fun. Love from your proud sister!

    September 22, 2010
  • I am so proud of you and everybody who came together to make those kids lives brighter. I must get to Nashville and see the preschool!

    September 23, 2010
  • Looks like it was fantastic! (and, yes, it is SO so wrong to tease a pregnant lady with cookies) Can’t wait to see the episode and all of your hard work!
    .-= Kate Crafton´s last blog ..Nashville- TN Engagement Session =-.

    September 23, 2010
  • Congrats! You all look like you had a blast! Thanks for sharing the fun.

    October 18, 2010
  • I loved reading your post. My husband, Brooks worked with you on the murals and painting. I was wondering if you happened to have any pictures with him that you wouldn’t mind sharing? He had a blast working with you. It’s definitely something he will remember forever. I can’t wait to watch the show!!

    November 2, 2010
    • Kelly O'Neill

      Dana,

      Hi! Sure thing. :) I’ll email you some tomorrow. Be sure to tune in on the 14th instead of the 7th as originally assumed.

      November 2, 2010
  • Hey Girl,
    So incredible the way the Lord is utilizing the talents he’s given you. I so wish I could have been there to help out as well, but it is definitely inspiring to see what you’re doing. Miss you and pray all is well!

    November 4, 2010
    • Kelly O'Neill

      Tiffany! Hey girl! I miss you, too. :) What are you and your awesome Aussie hubby up to these days? Any plans to live in the states again?

      November 4, 2010
  • Linda Sandefer

    Hey Kelly and Nate, I am just like the others and can’t wait to see the finished product. I just know all of the school children and adults will just love the new building and your new work on it. You are a very talented person and I so look forward to seeing that new baby girl and her pictures that you will draw and paint of her. Keep up the good work. Love ya lots, Linda

    November 4, 2010
  • Linda Sandefer

    Hey Kelly and Nate, I am just like the others and can’t wait to see the finished product. I just know all of the school children and adults will just love the new building and your new work on it. You are a very talented person and I so look forward to seeing that new baby girl and her pictures that you will draw and paint of her. Keep up the good work. Love ya lots, Linda

    November 4, 2010
  • Linda Sandefer

    Hey Kelly and Nate, I am just like the others and can\’t wait to see the finished product. I just know all of the school children and adults will just love the new building and your new work on it. You are a very talented person and I so look forward to seeing that new baby girl and her pictures that you will draw and paint of her. Keep up the good work. Love ya lots, Linda

    November 4, 2010
  • That’s awesome!!! I work with the company (Shaw Contract Group) that manufactured the flooring used for that project and they posted a memo about watching it this weekend. I then went around saying, “HEY, remember that girl that drew my son a while back? She is one of the designers on that episode!” haha

    Congrats on an incredible experience! Can’t wait to see it!

    Oh…and congrats on the lil “bun in the oven”! 😉
    .-= Shane´s last blog ..How to Stop Friends from Checking you into Facebook Places =-.

    November 12, 2010
    • Kelly O'Neill

      Shane, thanks for commenting! It’s a small world, isn’t it? We’re excited about this airing and our little girl coming soon. It’s great to hear from you! I hope you and your family are doing well!

      November 12, 2010

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