Thom Filicia shares career advice during virtual University Lecture Series

SU alumni Thom Filicia speaks to SU students during virtual event

University Lecture Series guest Thom Felicia speaks about design trends, the LGBTQ+ community, and "Queer Eye."
Published: October 28, 2020
Thom Filicia Quote from Syracuse University on Oct. 27, 2020

This Wednesday evening, over a hundred Syracuse University students gathered virtually to hear SU alumni Thom Filicia give insider insights on pursuing a career in design. Filicia also shared his thoughts on how the discussion on LGBTQ+ rights has changed since he first starred on “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” and gave students some encouraging words in the face of the pandemic.

Part of Filicia’s career that increased his recognition as an interior designer early on was his role on the original version of “Queer Eye,” which aired from 2003 to 2007. Back in the early-to-mid 2000s, marriage equality was still years away from being realized. The gay male stars of the show were facing a much different cultural landscape when it came to acceptance of identities outside of heterosexuality.

“The idea that a straight guy and a gay guy could be friends still felt a little bit like uncharted territory,” Filicia said. “So the different groups that were watching us realized that they could do that,” he said.

Today, a new edition of Queer Eye is still airing. The show began in 2018 and is still running today, sponsored by Netflix. Filicia is happy with the direction the show has taken and maintains a positive relationship with Bobby Berk, the new interior designer on the show.

“I just think the conversation today can be a lot more,” Filicia said. “It can go a lot further because people have [a] comfort zone with the idea as a bigger concept. “We were excited that we were able to open the door.”

Filicia is passionate about pushing the boundaries of design, whether it be including more LGBTQ+ people in the industry, or creating opportunities for young designers.

“One of the things that I realized as I was working… was that we really were catering to that one percent of one percent,” Filicia said. “The idea of great design actually starting to become something that was available at multiple levels, from entry level to mid-level to the high end, to me felt like a really exciting new opportunity for the world of design,” he said.

Another trend Filicia has observed over the course of his career is the move to a focus on personalization and individuality. The beginning of this shift towards emphasizing what makes you and your style unique, versus only following what is on-trend, is part of what drove Filicia to start his own interior design firm.

“All of a sudden, people’s homes were a mixture of interesting things that they collected and that they love,” Filicia said. “It was more of an expression of your personality or your style,” he said. “I like when you go into someone’s environment, and there are unusual and interesting and provocative and fun and quirky things, as well as things that we see every day, but you see them in a different way because of the context, because of the environment.”
Creating opportunities for others is a passion for Filicia, and something he recommends that all students do as they further their own careers, whether that’s in design or in a different realm entirely.

“For every door that’s opened for you,” he said, “you have to remember to leave the door open for the next person. And I think that everyone here will have that opportunity.”