LAS VEGAS -- When you are a successful designer with celebrity clients like Tina Fey and guest appearances on late-night talk shows, you don't need to look for work. The work finds you.
Yet, Thom Filicia, whose first blush of fame came with "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," found himself knee-deep in a restoration project he hadn't planned for.
"I was visiting Skaneateles on the Finger Lakes in New York and fell in love with this house," he recalled.
The house on the water's edge is less than an hour's drive south of Syracuse, where he grew up. The location and charm of Skaneateles (pronounced skinny-ATlas) plus childhood memories of summering on a lake had him at first sight. Built in 1917, the house was considered a tear-down by most people, which made restoring it a monumental undertaking.
"The challenge was to keep the integrity of what it was and adapt it to the needs of today," he said.
Out of the effort came a stunning home and his latest book, "American Beauty: Renovating and Decorating a Beloved Retreat" (Clarkson Potter, $32.63).
During the furniture market in Las Vegas earlier this year, Mr. Filicia talked about the book, his new collection of area rugs for Safavieh, his furniture line and a cause he has embraced wholeheartedly -- sustainable living.
"I believe in the democracy of design," he said, noting that he had worked with Albert Hadley at Parrish-Hadley as a young designer.
"It used to be interior design was only available to a very small percentile of people. There is a democracy of design now with so much great design out there available to everyone. It's about what I do for my clients at the high end but also developing products that are approachable and accessible to a lot of people and not outrageously expensive."
With his furniture line by Vanguard, his rugs for Safavieh, and lighting, fabric and wall art, Mr. Filicia has created a lifestyle brand that is also eco-friendly. His eagle-based console was inspired by watching the great bird swoop down and grab a fish from the lake. "When I was growing up, eagles were on the endangered species list, and here they are circling my house. I thought it was pretty spectacular."
Soon after, he noticed eagles featured on consoles when he was watching the president speak on television. "I thought it would be interesting to take this iconic piece of furniture and update it for the way we live today." He used his Copake eagle console in the lake house as a bathroom vanity with a soapstone counter.
The house, which is decorated with many of his brands, has become a base. "I think of it more as my home than my apartment in the city, even though I am based out of New York."
He enjoys being part of this small community and loves his views of the lake throughout the house, especially from the living room.
Getting that open flow feel meant taking down some walls.
"I opened up the wall to the dining room and kitchen but did not use recessed lights. I wanted to keep it as authentic as possible," he said.
The designer said he uses the house "as a lab for my furnishings." The indoor/outdoor rugs are made of 100 percent recycled plastic bottles, and his indoor rugs are done with natural fibers and vegetable dyes and are handmade. Vanguard, which manufactures his furniture line, is a family owned business and is a member of the Sustainable Furniture Council. Mr. Filicia is one of the council's DesigninGreen Leaders.
"I think it is becoming a part of the social fabric, and it's about making smart choices," he said.
"I made [the house] to get back in touch with the beauty and simplicity of nature." But nature did get a little too close for comfort; he had to evict a family of squirrels before work could begin. Every time contractors took a wall down, nuts would come rolling out.
"They were not excited about moving out, and it took a lot of convincing to get them to relocate," he said.