Mover and shaker - Angelo Surmelis champions breaking the mold

At age 6, some of us liked to play with LEGOs and building blocks. Others preferred dolls and dress-up clothes. Angelo Surmelis, designer on The Learning Channel's home-design show "Clean Sweep," liked to move furniture.

"It is so sad, but yet so true," said Surmelis during a visit to sunny Seattle to tape Northwest episodes of "Clean Sweep." "They always say that you are born with what you are going do. I don't know where it came from. I would literally move things around the house. I thought it was normal - what everyone did."

Surmelis, clearly an independent little boy, moved furniture while his family was at work. At the time both parents, originally from Greece, worked in Angelo's uncle's restaurant. His dad was a cook; his mom, a waitress. Neither spoke any English.

"They would come home, and here is their 6-year-old sitting in the living room that he had completely redone," remembered Surmelis. "I was pretty proud of myself, and they were mortified. I was moving large pieces of furniture, and they were worried."

Then something interesting happened. "After a while my dad said to my mom, 'You know, we should leave him alone. I think that the kid is on to something - it looks better.'"

Thus began the career of a future interior designer.

Today, aside from larger muscles, Surmelis' life is not too different from when he was a kid. On "Clean Sweep" he and a team of experts help homeowners transform their cluttered rooms into stylish, organized spaces. He is still moving furniture, he does it while the inhabitants are out of the house, and no one can deny that "the kid" is on to something: the space looks better when he is finished.

"Design affects everything that you do," said Surmelis, a passionate Greek who makes you want to rearrange your living room. "Your space is not only a reflection of who you are - it can change who you are."

He has seen this change firsthand. "People suppress their creativity," he explained. "It sounds kind of corny and pious, but I don't think that you can help but change people's lives. I don't think that anyone walks away from the ['Clean Sweep'] experience without being changed - including me."

Surmelis, who studied theater in Chicago and New York, uses character-acting techniques to help explain his design approach. "There is change from the inside out and change from the outside in," he explained. "I work from the outside in."

In theater, that means dressing like the character. How does it apply to home design?

"Paint is huge," said Surmelis. "It is always the number-one piece of advice I give to people. Even if you are afraid of color, painting forces you to clean out the room. You are doing unconscious self-editing."

For many, unconscious self-editing, or cleaning out your closet, can be a cathartic experience. "I have seen more tears off camera from the husbands than the wives," he said. "One of the things that you hear time and time again is that I never thought that I could live this way."

When Surmelis is involved, living "this way" translates to adding style and panache to a home. "I think that the men get overwhelmed," he noted. "The tears are about 'Oh my god, my life is going to change!'" Suddenly their master bedroom is romantic and their kitchen is hip.

Design affects how people perceive themselves. "People should walk into your place and say, 'Oh, this is totally Angelo's place,'" he said. "It should never be about trends and what is hot, because if it doesn't pertain to you, it doesn't work."

He suggests bringing parts of yourself into your home. "If you go on vacation, bring something back. If you look back at your life, it is a postcard of where you have been," said Surmelis. "Every time I go somewhere I bring something back. Those things make you who you are."

He also recommends, moving furniture away from the walls. It constrains the room, and most rooms can allow for breathing space. "If you are living in a space that is cluttered and not getting enough light, you will feel overwhelmed," he said. "Your home needs to be a place that you can come home and feel refreshed."

Color is one simple way to bring that refreshed feeling into your home. "You got a weekend free?" he asked. "Paint a room and give your life a whole new start. Color is transforming."

If you are ready for the color transformation, Surmelis suggests colors that make you happy. Use nature's palette to help make decisions. Most importantly, remember that there is no wrong choice. "Seattle is one of those places where everything is possible. It is this really cosmopolitan city that is surrounded by nature. Nature is everywhere, and it is the juxtaposition of things. The hard and the soft, the concrete and the natural."

The conversation turns to beauty. "There is something about beauty in objects, in people and in architecture," offered Surmelis. "Not what we are told is beautiful, but beauty that is real to you. We all know how powerful that is. There is not a person alive who cannot get emotional about how they were overwhelmed by beauty at sometime in their life."

Bring beauty, that indescribable quality that appeals to the senses, into your home, and you too could be overwhelmed by the influence it has. "Your life could be spectacular where you are," concluded Surmelis. "Your job doesn't have to change - you have to change. You can have the life of a rock star just as you are right now. Let go and break out of your mold just a little bit."[[In-content Ad]]