Kim Lewis’ 1977 Ford F-150
“I always knew I wanted a truck like this,” says 36-year-old designer Kim Lewis in reference to her ’77 Ford F-150. Kim was eight years old when she first learned to drive her granddaddy’s pickup truck at his lake house. “One day I was playing with Barbies, and another day I was playing with Matchbox cars. Cars are just in my blood.”
Kim is best known for being the lead designer behind ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and the founder of Kim Lewis Designs in Austin, Texas. When she opened her design studio in 2014, she began her search for a work truck just like the one from her youth, scouring ads on Craigslist and Autotrader. She needed something rugged to haul plants, furniture, and building materials, and had fond memories of her grandfather’s two-tone blue-and-white F-150. It didn’t take long before she ran across something that piqued her interest.
She found the ’77 Ford F-150 Ranger on Craigslist. It belonged to a couple that owned a local pawn shop. Instead of using its rusty, poor condition as an excuse to walk away, she leveraged its humble state to negotiate the price, bringing the owners down from their $5,000 asking price to the $3,000 she ultimately paid. As Kim drove the truck home, challenges already became apparent: problems with the carburetor caused it to stall at almost every stoplight, neither the odometer nor the gas gauge worked, and it needed new brakes and tires. Those things didn't matter, though. She had found the truck she loved. “She fits me so well,” Kim says. “I'm so little, I can sit under the hood.”
Taking inspiration from a dreamcatcher she found while working on a project in Vietnam, Kim named the truck Pearl, adding “I chose the name because I knew the truck would require patience”—like a pearl forming in an oyster that would eventually shine as a part of her design business.
Three years later, Kim’s work truck is her daily driver. Pearl is still a work in progress, though, with much of the work performed after watching YouTube do-it-yourself videos. Even though Kim immediately replaced the battery, brakes, and tires and repaired some wiring and the carburetor, she’s still fixing the rust issue. Kim estimates Pearl now has about 300,000 miles on her, and says, “She's really reliable; it’s a testament to the quality of Ford.” While the truck has required no major repairs, she says the radiator does experience quite a bit of evaporation, especially during Austin’s hot summers. The Austin heat can be problematic because the air conditioning still needs repairs as well.
Pearl is popular around town, too. “People know her and wave when they see her...we do that around Austin,” Kim says. People often leave notes on Pearl while she’s parked, Kim explains. “I've received several random notes to join local girl truck clubs!” Pearl is also now part of Kim’s personal branding for her business and will soon have her own page on Kim’s website—kimlewisdesigns.com.
In her six years with Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Kim designed more than 120 homes in 43 states. Her work has been featured on television networks ABC, HGTV, TLC, National Geographic, Spike TV, Animal Planet, and FYI. Kim has also recently launched her own line of tiny homes, with several styles inspired by the locations she has visited in her travels, and has partnered with an Arizona builder with the capacity to build her tiny home designs in volume.
“My designs bridge the gap between a recreational vehicle and a tiny home, are ready for hookups, and feature the comforts of a real home, such as a regular-size refrigerator and 24-inch range. They’re very fashion-forward in a variety of colors and trims,” she explains, “are sized similar to single- or double-wide trailers and, while they can be moved, they’re not recommended for driving.”
In her time during Extreme Makeover, Kim saw how design truly can change lives. In 2013, she partnered with Touch A Life in Ghana, West Africa, to build a therapeutic art center for children and also volunteered to design art centers in Cambodia for Rapha House.
Her new brand, Kim Lewis Designs, centers on global inspiration and local collaboration. Kim believes “every design should speak to clients’ ‘roots’ (their story and where they’ve come from), their ‘wings’ (where they want to go), and ‘purpose’ (being intentional).”