Tune in to HGTV at 1 p.m. on Thursday, February 14 and you're likely to see some familiar faces. Travis Gulick ’02 and his wife, Felicia Smith, will be starring in Former Glory, a new HGTV pilot along the lines of Fixer Upper and other popular home improvement shows. Watch for Harvey Treat, former Country School facilities manager, to make an appearance or two. And if all goes well and the pilot gets picked up, we can look forward to seeing a lot more of our Country School friends on the small screen as they transform historic buildings across Connecticut.
Travis, co-owner of Gulick & Co., renovation contractors, and Felicia, who works in project management, first met at a historic preservation conference. After graduating from Savannah College of Art and Design with an honors degree in Historic Preservation, Travis had returned home to Madison to join his father, Peter, at his historic renovation business, where Harvey serves as lead carpenter. Felicia, who received her BA in Art History and American History from Tulane and her Masters in Historic Preservation from Pratt, was working as a real estate property manager while continuing to enjoy interior design and historic preservation. Who knew that a historic preservation conference could prove so life-changing? Felicia and Travis were married a few years ago, spent a lot of time and energy renovating their own historic home in Madison, and, four months ago, became parents. Soon they will add TV personalities to their list of accomplishments.
In recent years, we have seen a lot of Travis at The Country School, where he has served on the Board of Trustees for nearly four years, overseeing the busy Buildings and Grounds Committee as The Country School experienced the largest campus transformation in decades. He and Gulick & Co. also carried out some of our most visible construction projects, including the stunning dining room renovation and improvements to DeFrancis Gymnasium.
A little over a year ago, Travis, who also serves as a volunteer firefighter and is on the board of the Madison Hose Company, has been a baseball coach for various Madison teams, and until recently served on the board for the Madison Historical Society, was approached to see if he would be interested in adding another item to his already lengthy resume. The producer of a show called We Bought the Farm, which had been on HGTV for a few seasons, was interested in doing a new project in the area. Travis’s name had come up as a contractor she might want to work with. They had a conversation, which apparently went pretty well, and when Travis mentioned that his wife designed interiors, she said she’d love for Felicia to be a part of it too.
Things moved quickly from there. Felicia and Travis were asked to spend a few days with a production crew, pretending they were doing a home renovation and showing clients around prospective properties with the cameras rolling. A test video was sent back to HGTV, and eventually the word came back: Yes, let’s do a pilot.
At that point, Travis and Felicia had to line up a house to renovate. They found one in Guilford, an older home on State Street owned by a young couple. The clients didn’t have an enormous budget and the deadline was tight. They had just 12 weeks to renovate the house from top to bottom, and it all had to be done in front of cameras.
Much like Chip and Joanna Gaines of Fixer Upper fame, Felicia was the designer for the project, while Travis led his crew through the actual construction. “I do the work, and she tells me what to do, how it’s going to look,” Travis said.
Getting it all done wasn’t easy. “It was very strenuous and stressful,” said Travis, who has had his share of challenging projects in the past (remember when he and his team completely transformed the locker hallways and dining room floor at TCS during a two-week span over spring break a few years back?). “At one point I had 15 guys working in the house – my crew, plumbers, electricians. It wasn’t a big house, and the space was pretty tight. We were filmed every day.”
He also had to work a little differently than he typically does. “I’d have to narrate everything I was doing,” not because his crew needed to know details, but so that the audience could follow along, he said. “So I’d have to explain, ‘We’re going to do this and then this,’ and they’d say, ‘Yeah, we know.’’’
How did he like being in front of the camera? “Anything in the beginning can be tough – public speaking, being in front of people, performing,” said Travis, who said some of his experiences reciting on the DeFrancis stage for the MacLane Poetry recitation may have come in handy. Like anything else, you grow more comfortable the more you do it. “I got used to it toward the end.”
On July 27, the project was finished. The production team did some editing and they sent a finished show back to HGTV. While Travis and Felicia awaited the news on whether the pilot was a go, they prepared for another, perhaps even more momentous occasion: the birth of their first child. On September 4, a little more than a month after the pilot episode had wrapped, their son, Jackson, was born.
Talk about a jam-packed couple of months. “It’s been fun,” Travis said. “It was perfect timing. We got over the whole filming, got through August, and then we had Jackson. We’re settling into the whole parenting thing.”
Travis and Felicia don’t know yet whether the pilot will evolve into a more long-term project. But they are excited for friends to see it. And whatever happens, the pilot is a pretty terrific way to mark the arrival of young Jackson. “It’s really fun to watch,” Travis said. “In the beginning Felicia is a little pregnant. By the finale, her hand’s on top of her belly, fully pregnant.”
We miss seeing Travis on the Country School campus as much as we’d grown accustomed to. (Recently he resigned from the Board of Trustees, because he had a few other things on his plate). However, we are extraordinarily grateful for all he has done for our school, and we wish Travis and Felicia all the best in all of their exciting endeavors – as new parents, as business people, and as TV stars. We can’t wait to watch! Be sure to tune in at 1 p.m. on Valentine's Day!