HGTV Design Star winner Kim Myles had the idea for her new Discovery+ business makeover show High Design, on which she helps some of America’s small businesses, because she’s a customer herself.
“I have loved it for most of my adult life,” she told me. “And as a consequence, I have purchased a lot of it over the years in a lot of different shops. And the origin of the idea, the real lightbulb moment, was realizing just how much money I was spending in environments that made me feel like I was a criminal. They were dark, they were dingy. They were ugly.”
What Kim is buying is pot, in one of the 19 states that have legalized its recreational use, and she’s now turned her experience into terrific reality TV that also breaks new ground. “We are the first cannabᎥs design makeover show,” she told me.
As I told Kim when I interviewed her, I was surprised how much I loved High Design, but only because I’m not a customer. There have been other reality shows in this space, like Netflix’s Cooking on High, but I think the people on screen are having more fun than I am watching them.
No one’s high here, but everyone is in high spirits, thanks to the tone set by both Kim herself and the editing of High Design, which has a buoyancy I didn’t expect.
While these are struggling small businesses, Kim isn’t yelling at their owners. She’s having a blast helping them out. Her combination of design acumen, empathy, and ebullience make High Design, well, highly entertaining.
Kim isn’t just a customer; she also knows the business. She spent most of 2017 working for a large, corporate company, starting as “the sales rep on the floor, and I worked my way up to assistant manager,” she told me.
“I understood what the challenges are, the inherent obstacles,” she added, including “the regulatory morass, the hurdles you have to clear, just the sheer amount of money it takes to get started.”
The rules and regulations make the business complicated—and that means the actual stores get neglected. “The margins are really tight. It’s really complex, the business, and the last thing on their mind is the retail environment,” she said.
The complexity affects television, too. When Kim pitched the show, “everybody said, There will never be ad dollars, you’ll never sell it. We can’t buy it,” because the content is still “taboo.”
But the changing nature of television made the show possible. “The rise of streaming has created opportunities for content makers like me to bring something to the table, and for major companies like Discovery+ to say, Yeah, we’re gonna bet on that. We aren’t strangled by ad dollars in that very specific, old-school, legacy media way.“
One of her major challenges as a designer is that the stores must remain open during the makeover. “I can’t shut them down. I cannot close down operations while we are making them over. These are active businesses. And the whole point is they are on the edge,” she said.
On top of that are very specific regulations that vary from state to state, and violations can carry huge fines—thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. That limited what Kim and the production crew was able to do, from changing the floor plan (which is prohibited in Colorado) to organizing the products.
“I’m designing a space where I have to dress the space and neither myself, nor my design producer, nor the assistants can legally touch” the product that’s for sale, she told me, and that’s one of the “things I just didn’t even expect that for sure make compelling television.”
How High Design is different than other business makeover shows
With an expert coming in to assess problems and remake a space, High Design is part of an established sub-genre of reality TV that includes shows from Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares to Restaurant: Impossible. And of course, there are plenty of design makeover shows, too.
“I’m not going to sit here and say that I have reinvented the wheel” of makeover shows, Kim told me. “Yes, I’m going to make over a space, you are going to see a before and after.”
“But the meat of the sandwich—I want to be highly entertaining. I want people to laugh,” she said, “but also to really tell the story and illustrate just how deep cannabᎥs runs within these individual communities.”
That’s what Kim hopes sets the show apart, and what she saw as an opportunity: “to try to involve the local community, people to tell a community’s story. This is so many stories, you know, all wrapped into these tiny shops,” she said. “It was—you know, I just want to say: warmer and fuzzier than I expected.”
In addition to using local artisans and craftspeople in the actual makeover, High Design includes mid-episode field trips to see just how products sold in these stores come to life.
Ultimately, though, the focus is on the store and making it look better. “The money is in anesthetics. If you are here to pull people in, it’s important that you create a user experience that makes them want to come back, and that gives you that edge,” she said.
Kim recognizes that filming High Design and doing the work isn’t easy. “It’s me bringing in a team of people … that are massively disruptive. Everybody wants us here, we all want to be here. But it’s got to be highly collaborative,” she told me.
That collaboration is also financial: Kim told me that the budget for makeovers “was variable based on the place to place” and “each dispensary paid a portion, and the show paid the majority.”
Kim won season 2 of Design Star in 2007. But she told me her core mission hasn’t changed in those 15 years.
“The bottom line is my job is to walk into a space, connect with the people that own that space, find the heart of what needs to happen—to give that brand a leg up and help them succeed—and then execute that in a timely fashion while having fun,” she said.
And that last part is key: “Whatever industry I’m in, I like to have a good day at work professionally, or for something that I enjoy. It’s a fun business; it lends itself to funny conversations.”
“When I am not making television, I am a hairdresser in New York City. And I’m very, very lucky that I have been able to create an entire career of doing the creative things that feed me,” she added. “And a huge piece of what feeds me about hair is I get to meet all kinds of people, and I get to hear all kinds of stories, and it is never dull.”
High Design certainly isn’t dull, but entertaining and informative. As Kim told me, “it’s all one grand adventure in a world that nobody has explored on camera in a way that, for me at least, has felt really fun and accessible.”
High Design with Kim Myles
Kim Myles’ combination of design acumen, empathy, and ebullience make High Design, well, highly entertaining. A-
What works for me:
- Kim’s approach and humor
- Involving members of the community in the makeover and design
- Giving positive attention to small businesses that don’t get mainstream attention
What could be better:
- The field trips, while interesting, interrupt the pacing
- More on-screen discussion of the obstacles, like the inability to change the floor plan in Colorado