Prime Time

Written by: Shydale James,
Interior design student Elouie Gaspar helps to renovate a restaurant featured on an episode of Restaurant: Impossible.
“Given the opportunity to see materials fabricated and constructed on-site came with a dose of reality. The show provided me with a sense of realism."
Contrary to popular belief, the world of interior design isn’t all pillow fluffing, couch shopping and paint sampling.

“Sure, it’s a part of the job, but it goes far beyond that,” insists Elouie Gaspar. “I feel like anyone can decorate, but not everyone has the skills to design a space. We care about the infrastructure of the building. We care about plumbing. We care about electrical. It’s not just about does this couch go with this wall.”

Destined for Design

Gaspar’s foray into the world of interior architecture is no surprise. The son of an architect and a civil engineer, the Philippines native—Gaspar and his family relocated to Bloomfield, N.J. when he was 12 years old—grew up visiting sites to see structures built from the ground up.

“I would go to my mom’s office and watch her draw plans and sketch designs for residential homes,” recalls the 21-year-old with a smile, moved by his reminiscence. “She would tell me to get a pencil and draw with her. That’s when it all began for me.”

After his mother created the architectural plans for houses, Gaspar would accompany his father to the construction site where the homes would be built. “It’s kind of like I’m filling in the missing piece with interior design,” he laughs.

It was David Brothers, head coordinator of the School of Art + Design’s interior design program, who schooled Gaspar on the realities of the profession. “I didn’t know there were programs available that provided a balance of both the interior and architecture mediums until I came to an open house here,” says Gaspar, who transferred to NJIT from Essex County College, where he studied architecture design.

“He really opened my eyes. He explained that there’s a relationship between interior design, architecture and even construction, and that all the elements exist in the program here. That’s when I knew this was my calling—and I’m going to be really good at it.”

(from left to right) Celebrity chef and Restaurant: Impossible host Robert Irvine, NJIT interior design student Elouie Gaspar and NJIT alum and Restaurant: Impossible construction manager Tom Bury

When Reality TV Bites

Sitting at a table in the sundrenched loft inside Weston Hall, three years into the rigorous interior design program he fell in love with during that fateful open house, Gaspar is admittedly tired. “I’ve got so much homework—and a physics exam to study for.” He seems less than thrilled.

It isn’t his ambitious course load—five classes, 20 credits—that’s left him drained; rather, it’s playing catch up for missing a week of class to work as an intern on the hit Food Network makeover show “Restaurant: Impossible” that’s really tuckered him out…until it’s time to talk about it, that is.

“Oh, my god,” he says, eyes widening. “It was such a great experience. Tom was very welcoming. He was really invested in my skills and gave me a lot of responsibilities. Everyone was very sweet and kind.”

The Tom in question is NJIT alum Tom Bury ’02, who owns Division 9 Design + Construction and works as the construction manager on “Restaurant: Impossible,” where he gets his hands dirty transforming drab eateries into fab, functioning restaurants. For the past two years, Bury has welcomed a current NJIT student to assist on the show.

This season of “Restaurant: Impossible” is executed ambush style. “We’ve been going in to surprise the owners,” says Bury. “They know they sign up for a TV show, but they have no clue we’re coming.”

In the past, Bury and his demolition bar-wielding crew have had an extra day to setup their tools. “Now we don’t,” he says. “We show up that morning, surprise the owner, and they have to decide if they want to do it or not. When they agree, we roll in like a circus, rip everything out and start the design from there.”

All in a Day’s Work

Holed up in New Kinsington, Pa. (about 220 miles east of Pittsburgh), Gaspar, Bury and the production crew toiled away for 48 hours under the directive of notorious tough-as-nails host and celebrity chef Robert Irvine (“He’s really a sweet guy off camera,” assures Gaspar), modernizing the outdated country décor that plagued the inside of Stella’s Dine-Inn Restaurant.

Contractually obligated to remain tight-lipped about the details of the redesign, Gaspar can only confirm that they outfitted the space with a warm, industrialized theme, borrowing inspiration from nearby Pittsburgh.

“I did more than just paint,” he says. “Tom didn’t put me on a leash. I worked on a hallway with him. I helped out with some industrial piping. They taught me how to sand floors. We also identified and worked on a load bearing wall.”

Working on the show was a unique undertaking that required Gaspar to be nimble on his toes and think on his feet.

“As crazy as it was, we were able to find this common ground of cohesiveness, and I even got to contribute ideas and concepts on the spot,” he says. “Being surrounded by people and a creative team feeds your energy. I learned so much about how important collaboration is and how dealing with different personalities and ideas really generates a complete recipe.”

Gaspar (right) with his new friends from Restaurant: Impossible

Sage Advice

“I do a lot of projects but have no idea how they’re going to be made in real life,” admits Gaspar. It’s one week after our interview, and Gaspar’s back to discuss his experience on “Restaurant: Impossible,” this time in front of a small audience of faculty, staff and fellow design students, who’ve gathered in Weston Hall for an intimate Q&A with Bury.

“Given the opportunity to see materials fabricated and constructed on-site came with a dose of reality. The show provided me with a sense of realism,” explains Gaspar. “If you have a certain budget and a certain amount of time, then these are the things you can build. That was very helpful.”

Bury makes it his business to engage with the apt pupils roving the halls of his alma mater. Whether he’s recounting a day in the life as the construction manager on a hit restaurant makeover show or doling out tips on how to report workplace hazards, his practical, real-world advice is a welcome breath of fresh air for CoAD students eager to step into the workforce.

“Yes, I think it’s important to find a working point between reality and your creativity,” says Bury.

But he also encourages the students to rise above the cookie-cutter projects bound to come their way.

“When you graduate, everyone is going to try to take all the imagination you have and squish it down into a square box with a drop ceiling and fluorescent lights,” he continues.

“Pushing your creativity is so important. There’s 100 million ways to do something. Your concept may be a curvy, crazy, lightweight wall that floats magically in the air. There’s probably a way to do it. And if your heart is in it, you can push the engineers and the team to get what you want. Remember, never lose your creativity and sense of imagination. That’s what helped me to break down my boundaries—and it’s the best thing I learned here at NJIT.”