Tommy Rouse was parked at a gas station in Kettleman City when he learned about his Emmy Award nomination.
The central San Joaquin Valley native has spent the last decade designing sets for television shows such as “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” “Kitchen Nightmares,” “Hotel Hell,” and most recently, the popular Netflix reboot “Queer Eye.”
Rouse, 34, happened to be on his way to Clovis in July to film an episode of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” when his phone rang.
The “Queer Eye” crew, including celebrity designer Bobby Berk, called him screaming and dancing.
“Bobby FaceTimed me and we were screaming up and down,” Rouse said. “I was having a meltdown.”
At first, Rouse thought it was only the show that had been nominated, but then the crew showed him his name on the list of nominees. “I just started crying immediately,” he said.
Rouse’s ‘Queer Eye’ legacy
Rouse walked the red carpet with his husband on Saturday in Los Angeles, and although he ended up losing the Emmy to “Saturday Night Live,” Rouse says he is still proud of his work on “Queer Eye.”
“The most powerful things about its success is its reach and how we helped rebrand it,” said Rouse, a production designer. “Philanthropy mixed in with television is very uncommon. I love what I do and to be in the background to make it happen.”
Rouse has worked on all four seasons, plus a mini-series set in Japan that will debut on Netflix at the end of the year.
The show’s original incarnation, “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” ended its run in 2007 after 100 episodes on Bravo.
Rouse said meeting Berk and realizing they work well together was a relief for him. Since season one, Rouse has designed the lofts the Fab Five use, as well as the homes and even a barbecue restaurant that are featured in each episode.
Although Rouse has enjoyed his time working on the show, he said he needed a break from the road. As season five shoots in Philadelphia, he only remains on as a consultant.
“I just didn’t know I could be part of a show like that, something that highlights positivity in the world,” he said. “It was really hard to leave when I did because we all became so bonded.”
Avenue Twelve, a nod to Madera
Although it was hard to exit “Queer Eye,” Rouses’s home in San Luis Obispo County was calling.
He says his Los Osos house is a respite away from the big cities where he’s been working, such as Atlanta and Kansas City.
“My backyard is Montaña De Oro (State Park),” Rouse said. “It’s a mix of country and hippie come together. I can kind of disappear. I love big cities, but I get overwhelmed.”
Although Rouse is not on the road as much, that doesn’t mean he’s slowed down.
He recently opened a wedding design and rental studio in San Luis Obispo. Its name, Avenue Twelve, is a nod to his upbringing in Madera Ranchos.
He and his business partner have opened up a warehouse and showroom in 2019.
Rouse says San Luis Obispo’s vibrant wedding industry made it the perfect place to open up shop. And he gets to stay close to home where his nieces and nephews are.
During his time on the road, “I fantasized about permanently being here,” Rouse said. “I had multiple dreams happening at once, and I had to choose between the two.”
Returning to Clovis
Although Rouse grew up in Madera Ranchos, he moved to Clovis as a teen, graduating from Buchanan High School and then Fresno State, where he studied graphic design and mass communication.
Interior design wasn’t always on Rouse’s radar, but he was given outlets at home to explore his interests. His dad is a carpenter, which may have helped.
“It’s something I fell into,” he said about interior design. “Growing up in the Central Valley, I wasn’t really brought up in the way of arts. It was very sports-motivated, (and) you’re gonna be a teacher, doctor, dentist.”
It was when “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” came to the Valley for the first time in 2009 that Rouse set up the connection that would propel him to success.
“Oddly enough,” Rouse said, “I was in school so I couldn’t go out to the build.” But he did have a friend who knew someone on the crew. They had dinner and Rouse reached out to him after graduation.
So Rouse felt his life coming full circle when he got the chance to come to Clovis and work on the “Extreme Makeover” home back in July and August.
But returning to the region that helped raise him was also nerve-wracking.
“I left Fresno on a bitter note,” Rouse said. “It was around the time of Prop 8 and Fresno was pretty intense.”
Rouse recalls gatherings on street corners in support of Proposition 8, which temporarily banned same-sex marriage in California.
But Rouse feels he was welcomed back to the city this time.
“Fresno has definitely changed since I left,” he said. “It was really fun to come back. It was a pretty proud moment.”