Jeff Andrews had never seen “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” when Khloé Kardashian called and asked: Might he decorate her Mediterranean-style mansion?
To prepare for that first meeting two years ago, Andrews turned on E! and, by the grace of the reality-TV gods, found a repeat episode recounting Khloé's wedding to Lakers forward Lamar Odom. Homework completed, Andrews landed the job as interior designer for the youngest Kardashian sister. And then for sister Kourtney. And then perhaps most significantly, for Kris Jenner, the matriarch-manager of the Kardashian empire, which, Twitter-follow it or not, remains an undeniable phenomenon.
When Season 6 of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” premieres on Sunday, Andrews’ work will be featured in almost every scene set on the ground floor (all 6,000 square feet of it) of the redecorated Jenner house in Calabasas. Phase 1 of the overhaul includes the formal living and dining rooms, a family room, offices, a guest suite, the regal black-and-white foyer and that site of much Kardashian drama, the kitchen. Post-face-lift, the room is a sparkly white-on-white space with a herringbone-patterned antiqued-mirror backsplash and double islands lighted by matching Murano glass chandeliers. In the dark-as-night powder room — the one with Swarovski crystals studded in the ceiling, like stars — even the toilet tissue is a coordinating black.
The decor may be over the top, high on drama and screaming for a close-up, but Andrews is not. The designer, 47, turns out to be a soft-spoken, borderline shy guy who left a career as a choreographer 11 years ago to begin quietly building a business with mostly on non-Hollywood types. Though he did count “Dexter” star Michael C. Hall as a former client and said that he worked for America Ferrera of “Ugly Betty” fame for “like, a minute,” he has established his base not in Beverly Hills or Bel-Air but in Mount Washington, commuting to the Calabasas area four or five times a week (occasionally weekends too) to juggle projects at the three Kardashian homes.
Perhaps most tellingly, though his clients are people for whom life seems not worth living unless it’s lived on camera, Andrews has yet to appear on the show. “It’s OK,” he said. “I don’t need to be the star coming in and waving my arms around.”
It’s ironic given that Andrews’ tale would make for a decent Hollywood story. Five years ago, his best friend was working as Ryan Seacrest’s wardrobe stylist at E! The “American Idol” host was looking for an interior designer. Through the friend, Andrews got a meeting — and eventually the job decorating Seacrest’s house in the Hollywood Hills.
Seacrest, as luck would have it, also was a co-producer of the Kardashians’ show. Because the Kardashian sisters, Kris Jenner and husband Bruce Jenner are frequent guests, they inquired about Seacrest’s designer, one thing led to another, and ....
Now Andrews finds himself fielding design challenges major and minor from Kris Jenner, on this weekday morning dressed in head-to-toe black with a gold-studded jacket.
“Today someone asked me if I wanted a plug on a particular side of the barbecue,” she said. " I don’t know. I’m the kind of person who really needs someone on site. That attracted me to Jeff. I don’t want someone to order furniture and never be here.”
Andrews said Jenner’s tough deadlines and rapid-fire requests come with a diva-free attitude. “She’ll always show up with a box of Krispy Kremes and always has a very high level of respect for what we do,” he said, referring not only to himself but also to his three full-time employees.
Decorator and client make for a high-functioning odd couple. Jenner speaks passionately in sweeping declaratives and leans toward highly dramatic design. Andrews is the stealth sidekick, quietly adding charcoal accents to keep his clients’ penchant for black and white from looking extreme.
“Jeff is low drama, more of an observer,” said Samantha Nestor, formerly an editor at Metropolitan Home magazine and now a partner in a design and arts marketing firm that hired Andrews to decorate a New York show house for Showtime. “It’s part of what makes him so likable. There’s nothing aggressive about him except his design.”
Because Andrews worked as a choreographer with names such as Madonna, “it’s not like he gets star-struck in the world of design,” Nestor said. “He sees celebrities as people. There’s no false sense of who they are.”
Raj Kapoor recalls meeting Andrews at an audition at which hundreds of dancers were auditioning for the then-choreographer. There always has been a “cool factor” about how Andrews lived, said Kapoor, who owns a creative agency and production company that will be directing the “American Idol” summer concert tour.
“I’ve known him for about 20 years now, and I feel like almost nothing fazes him,” he said.
Cool-headed amid the crazy busyness
Andrews, who has no formal training in design, does indeed work off his natural eye, work ethic and ability to be unfazed. For further proof of that last point, ask him about the timeline for Phase 1 of the Jenner job, which couldn’t start until Season 5 filming had ended in June but had to wrap before the family geared up for Halloween.
“They’re big on the holidays, so it was important to have it mostly completed by the end of October. That left me with four months to pretty much do everything,” he said. “I’ve never worked like that before. It was crazy. Some days we’d have as many as 20 people working here.”
He streamlined the approval process for fabrics, materials, colors. And he made sure to have backups on hand — for everything.
“When I present stuff to Kris, her first question is always, ‘Is it in stock?’ and then it’s, ‘How much does it cost?’” the designer said. “I have to know those two things. If not in stock, then I need to know the exact lead time.”
The kitchen had been slated for Phase 2, which will start when Season 6 filming ends and will encompass the upstairs bedrooms and bathrooms. But then Jenner called and announced, “We’re doing the kitchen.” Andrews, who was in New York working on another project, went straight to Artistic Tile, made his picks and was back at Kardashian Central presenting his plan two days later.
“We completed the entire kitchen in eight weeks,” he said.
Mortals should be so lucky. But Andrews has benefited from the relationship too, his name now associated with clients who are everywhere — and who have redefined the concept of word-or-mouth through their masterful manipulation of Twitter and other social media.
“We don’t ever say who our clients are, but word gets around and there is definitely some cachet to it,” Andrews said. “The best part is that we’re getting stuff fast now that usually had longer lead times, which is great.”
It also helps to have a client who may inquire about prices for individual items but has yet to cap total spending. Master budget has never been discussed.
Here come the paparazzi!
Beyond speedy delivery of fabrics and trims, another novelty for Andrews: getting followed by photographers to spots as mundane as the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood. “Sometimes I’ll take them on shopping trips to the PDC or La Cienega and the paparazzi will be waiting outside the stores,” he says. “It’s a little surreal.”
What about a spinoff show tracking the trials and tribulations of a celebrity decorator working furiously around the clock? Andrews isn’t interested.
“I love design and working with clients. This is my passion,” Andrews said, adding that he’d rather develop a line of furniture, rugs, lighting and accessories. “Working with this family isn’t at all where I pictured myself, but it’s turned out to be more than amazing.”