Typically, two of television's most beloved genres would never overlap in a Venn diagram. True crime and home makeovers are on opposite sides of the bingeworthy spectrum: The first evokes images of a bloody scene from a cold case. The second is a much tamer — soothing background TV. In what world does someone watch Trading Spaces and think, "Needs more...dead bodies"? Well, someone did think it, and now we can all witness it on the new streaming service Quibi, which launches April 6.
Murder House Flip is the app's most enticing new series, despite its lack of celebrity appeal. There's no Liam Hemsworth fighting for his life, or Jennifer Lopez doing acts of kindness, but there are homeowners trying to eradicate the bad energy and haunting memories of real-life murders that occurred in the place they currently reside. I'd take the latter any day of the week.
At a time when everyone is staying inside to flatten the curve, the fact that some of us might be scrolling through Instagrams of the inside of homes where previous tenants died gruesome deaths is extra spooky and chilling. (I looked up my address, just to make sure — I think I'm safe.) The show's hosts, Joelle Uzyel and Mikel Welch, are responsible for striking a balance between respecting the victims and their families, while also bringing levity and a lightness to these soon-to-be made over spaces. Some may recognize Welch from TLC's Trading Spaces, where he brings his signature neutral-loving look to homes across America, but Uzyel is a newcomer to television — this is the J-Decor founder's first ever TV gig.
So, how does one end up the host and interior designers helming a show that sounds like a genius Mad Libs? Refinery29 caught up with Uzyel and Welch during quarantine to talk about how Murder House Flip isn't really about murder and haunted houses, it's about new beginnings.
Refinery29: What was your goal when you signed on to do a show combining home design and murder?
Mikel Welch: "The trickiest thing about this show, unlike any other show that I've worked on, was the fact that actual murders happened. The biggest thing was the balance of being respectful of the home as well as using the design. People really lost their lives there, and I think typically as designers, when we walk into places, it's like, "Oh, we just want to make it look pretty." But this is more of a psychological thing where someone [has] been affected by this because they're living in this house where this tragedy happened."
Joelle Uzyel: "When I first heard the two concepts, I didn't understand how the both of them would work together. One is dark, and the other one is joyous. Luckily, in our first house, [homeowners Tom and Barbara] embrace[d] the murders. They weren't affected by the history of the house emotionally — they personally weren't affected by it. The following home [we work on in the show] was greatly affected by the murder. Gradually easing into that helped a lot. I also wanted to be respectful of the murders that took place there and not overstep, but at the end of the day, these are the family's new homes. They wanted to take ownership of their homes. It was nice that we were giving them a new beginning."
Was it just a coincidence that Tom and Barbara's Sacramento home was your first stop?
Uzyel: "Their house in Sacramento should [be] a landmark if it's not on Google Maps already. Even when we weren't filming, people would come by and stop. It was Halloween and [there was] a tour and they stopped in front of it, and they're like, "These are the doors." [Dorothea Puente, who killed at least seven tenants who lived in her home in the 1980s] was notoriously known in that neighborhood. We loved [Tom and Barbara] but it didn't make sense: Why did you buy this house?!"
On the flip side: Some people on the show didn't even know that they were living in a murder house.
Welch: "In California, unless you ask if a murder happened, the real estate agent doesn't have to disclose that. And some of these people purchased their homes in the late '90s when Google wasn't really a thing. You're stuck in this murder house you can't do anything with, so I feel for them."
Uzyel: "Episodes 4, 5, and 6, I think a lot of people will be able to relate to. It's a typical husband and wife — first time homeowners — [who] found their dream home in their dream area and they want to start the family. [Then], the neighbor shows up and says, 'Oh you bought the [murder] house?' And they were crushed."
How much background on the murders did you know before you went to each home?
Uzyel: "Always, in every house, the major focal point of every renovation was where the murder actually took place. While we were renovating, we were also looking for evidence or residue of anything that had taken place there. You'd be surprised about the things we found."
Did you ever find new evidence?
Did you ever find new evidence?
Uzyel: "If we found something that was as much as evidence, I think by law we would have to shut down production. If we found something very serious, it would turn into a crime scene."
Welch: "If we found something, I think I would walk away. I'm not talking about residue, though, [but if] we found like a bone. I think everyone would be out."
What was your first reaction to the show's title? Did you have any input on it?
Welch: "When Quibi approached us, the name had already been approved, and submitted, so we kind of had to roll with it. When my manager called me and told me the name, I laughed and I thought, Oh, you're punking me. I really didn't believe it until they sent me my flight information."
Uzyel: "I actually wanted to do this show because of the name. I was like, that is the most bizarre, twisted concept."
Since filming, have you looked up your own homes to make sure you're not living in a murder house?
Uzyel: "I know a very infamous murder took place a couple of houses down from me and I actually pitched it to the producers. They were already trying to cook it up, but the owner is not interested."
Welch: "I'm in a New York apartment, but as soon as I got back I called my superintendent and asked, Did anybody die in here? I Googled it and didn't see anything, and my super said nothing happened, but moving forward, I'm only going with new construction."