July 24, 2010 10:03:00 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
Aberdeen native Billy Brasfield may be makeup artist to the stars, but when it comes to hometown preservation, his passion is putting the best face on some of the city''s hidden gems.
When he''s not transforming faces including Scarlett Johansson, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and the Dixie Chicks -- or glamorous subjects for magazines like Vanity Fair or Harper''s Bazaar -- he''s making over as many of Aberdeen''s faded architectural beauties as he can.
One of the latest is a circa 1904 structure at 208 High Street. The house sat empty and deteriorating for years before Billy rescued it. Its renovation generated a buzz around the small North Mississippi town, in large part because of the Los Angeles-based World of Wonder film crew documenting several of his projects for a series to air on the home and garden network, HGTV, in January 2011.
"It''s a new format, a six-hour miniseries special event," said Billy Tuesday, during a rare break as a production team set up to shoot work underway in the kitchen. Protective plastic and paper cover the floors and surfaces, but it''s apparent the newly-loved house is coming together.
Getting it done
Dawn Stroupe, the TV program''s co-executive producer said, "We travel with 12 of my crew from Los Angeles, and there may be 10 or 12 local contractors involved. There may be as many as 20 working here at any one time, and they''re working 12 to 14 hour days."
In spite of the controlled chaos surrounding him Tuesday, as everyone pushed to get the house ready for its public open house just 24 hours away, Billy exuded a laid-back calm as he talked about the TV concept and his attachment to old Aberdeen.
"This will be a reality show where you get to know the characters, including my mom, Ruth Brasfield, who still lives here; my dog, Pedro; my business manager from New York City, Brian Walls; and Ford Modeling Agency model Laurie Baker," explained the artist known as Billy B throughout the makeup industry.
(Baker is an Aberdeen native, too. Her career with Ford was launched when Billy snapped a Polaroid of her long ago and made sure it got to the right people in New York.)
"I live in New York City and Los Angeles and Aberdeen," said Billy, in T-shirt, jeans and sandals. "I sometimes seem to feel like I don''t live anywhere ... my preference is here, but other than here, I consider my home New York City."
After graduating from Aberdeen High School and attending Northeast Junior College in the ''80s, Billy was ready to trade in small-town life for something more exciting. In the Big Apple, he (almost accidentally) found his calling, working at a Macy''s cosmetics counter.
"I became a makeup artist just to do something in New York City; it had no connection to my aspirations, but I got lucky enough to discover my talent," he shared.
"When I left (Aberdeen), I had no intention of coming back. I''d visit once a year or every two years, and I eventually saw that the town was dying a slow death; it was changing. Things were closing and houses were being sort of forgotten."
Unwilling to see so many Victorian-era homes decaying, around 1990, Billy bought one, then another, then another. It became his mission to seek out houses that weren''t going to make it. At one time, he said, he''s owned 20 homes in various states of disrepair; currently, the number is 11.
"I buy them and get them safe; then I mothball them until I can do something with them," he explained.
Stroupe praised, "The changes he''s making are awe-inspiring. The before''s and after''s are fantastic, and they are changing the town, lifting it up."
Billy describes his own personal decor taste as "in general a lot of reinventing, which is taking something that is not seemingly meant for this purpose and using it. I don''t believe there is such a thing as junk. I salvage everything I possibly can."
Stroupe, a veteran of shows like "Extreme Makeover" and "10 Years Younger" corroborates.
"He''s got houses full of stuff! Dozens and dozens of salvaged windows, doors, shutters, everything," she said.
"I''m a little bit of a hoarder," Billy readily ''fesses up. "Let me put it this way: I can''t pass up a yard sale or a junk sale. I really enjoy the juxtaposition of the salvaged pieces with sophisticated furnishings or pieces."
That juxtaposition works in rooms taking shape Tuesday as Billy''s finds are blended with furniture and accessories brought in by Penny Bowen and designers with Bella Interiors of Columbus. Stroupe calls the process "Billy-fying."
"We''ve been ''Billy-fying'' here," she grinned. "Basically we''re weaving together high-end with Billy''s ''stuff.''"
Photographing interior rooms nearing their final look was off-limits, to keep images of the "reveal" under wraps until the show airs. But the overall result is a soothing oasis of style worthy of a glossy magazine spread -- or TV show.
The Granite Guys and Lighting Plus of Columbus, Signature Cabinetry in Aberdeen, and Bloomers Nursery in Caledonia, were also selected to work with the celebrity makeup maestro in realizing the new vision. All appreciated the opportunity to work on such a project and showcase local resources.
Bloomers'' owner Debbie Lawrence had landscaped with Billy on a previous project and was excited, on this one, to see how creative she could be on a budget.
"Billy is so enterprising in the things he comes up with," she said. "That inspires me to try to keep up with him."
The underlying philosophy in every renovation Billy undertakes is to respect the history of each structure. To further the preservation mission, he and antiques auctioneer Dwight Stevens of Aberdeen have formed the nonprofit Save Aberdeen Landmarks Group. Grammy winner Wynonna Judd performed in a fundraiser for it earlier this month, thanks to the singer''s long friendship with Billy.
As filming for the TV series nears a wrap in Aberdeen, the Los Angeles crew will prepare to head back to California. Life in the sleepy Mississippi town will return, more or less, to an even keel. But Billy Brasfield''s biggest makeover -- the one in his hometown -- will continue, one house at a time.
"I think houses have feelings," he said. "They were filled with families and laughter. When they get old, they''re too easily discarded, it seems, like some people do our senior citizens ... I was blessed with the success I''ve had. ... I''m not a wealthy man, but I want to do what I can."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.