Wanting to do something special for DJ’s birthday I decided it would be fun to host a party to unite his adopted and birth families, amidst a TV show, with a renovation of a barn.
Early in 2003 I was living on the Quebec / New York border on a near 100 acre farm that we had purchased called “LollyGag” (Australian for ‘do nothing‘) and I used to commute south to New York City in my jeep. On the weekends we would pop up north to Montreal and visit friends.
During one of the trips, I had learned on the radio about a TV producer in Montreal named Hans Rosenstein who was looking for ideas for a BBC TV series about home renovation surprises — generally to redo a bathroom or bedroom. I searched for his contact info when I got back to LollyGag.
I am a gay Broadway producer who recently bought a 100 acre property on the US/CA border, and I want to surprise my long term partner with a barn makeover to convert into a fabulous retreat. I will invite Broadway talents to cameo, and bring together my partners adopted and birth families together for the first time for a giant surprise birthday & pool party at reveal… Help? Partnership? You bring the working labor and design and TV production unit. I’ll pay for hotels and buy the cocktails and bring the partygoers. We can split material costs. You can have exclusive TV rights, we can share online streaming. Let’s meet, I will buy you an expensive coffee. Toby
I sent Rosenstein’s production company, Whalley Abbey Media an email describing our situation and suggesting it may be fun to create a bigger TV show using LollyGag and renovating one of the barns on my property. I was thinking that this could be a fun way to give DJ a surprise birthday gift. I suggested to Hans that the TV show could be very theatrical in its nature and could be a lot of fun.
I was pleasantly surprised to get a phone call from him the next day to explore the possibility.
After a bunch of emails and photos back and forth, celebrity design guru Debbie Travis and Han’s team from Whalley Abbey Media came down to visit me secretly at LollyGag to look at the opportunities.
We had a great initial visit while DJ was away in Toronto. During that meeting we set up the basic structure of the deal terms whereby I would commit dollars to support the birthday party and the production team while they were down at the farm. Further, all would ensure complete secrecy and I would get DJ out of the region entirely for at least the 7 days required to do the TV production (for TV contractual purposes, it was referred to as 5 days).
This involved months of preparation, white lies, planning and culminating in surprise reunion, birthday party and renovation of one our barns.
The LollyGag Facelift plan was set
Prior to the event, we set up hidden cameras and microphones inside a cigarette packet, the air-conditioning vent of my jeep and a backup in my sunglasses case. My job was to take the unsuspecting DJ for a drive and get him to talk about his dream for what he he would ideally like to do to one of the barns both giving his ideas for color and for usage. It worked perfectly, and is featured in the show.
With that footage Debbie Travis and the production team along with their photographs from the site survey at LollyGag were able to now plan the physical renovation and TV show.
In addition, in the months leading up to the planned birthday surprise, I coordinated the birthday party, inviting DJ’s friends and family across North America paying for their flights/limousines and everyone’s hotels in the area. Hotels/motels were scarce on the border and so months before I booked and pre-paid for every hotel room in the area within about 20km, knowing that I was going to have about 60 out-of-state guests that I was bringing in long-distance from Florida, Vancouver, Toronto, New York and other places, plus about 45 crew for this event.
Preparing LollyGag for TV and over 100 people
Renovation and upgrading of key areas of the house and grounds at LollyGag plus some of the infrastructure would obviously be required prior to over 100 people converging that week to do the renovations, landscaping (and attend the party).
This included hiring a couple of local tradesmen, and building a huge deck along the entire frontage of the house, resurfacing and repairing the beautiful Hollywood style swimming pool (and adding our LollyGag logo to it’s bottom for aerial TV shots), repairing / upgrading electrical and water services in and around the barn and house along with installing additional bathroom as well as repairing the steam room, Jacuzzi, hot tubs and other pleasure features in the ‘party’ house.
I added exterior security lighting around Woop Woop, re-leveled and filled potholes with gravel on our driveway anticipating trucks, raised power lines, cleared Jackaroo, Jumbuck and Flicks barns in preparation for film equipment, emptied Never Never barn to store advance wood supplies, repaired bridges to forest road, and repaired fencing around the main paddocks.
Additionally building what I think was the worlds largest chicken coop and improving the various animals barns and food storage areas knowing that this would become part of the outtakes and fun of the production of the show. Plus, via wholesale pricing (a benefit of owning a Quebec Corporation) from local SAQ (Quebec’s Liquor Commission), ~$12,000 in beer, wine, champers and liquor was brought in, along with 2 palettes of bottled water, multiple cases of soft drink and 50 bags of ice.
All while trying to convince an unsuspecting DJ that these were just ongoing normal maintenance/infrastructure projects.
Family 1st meeting party at LollyGag
For months I told his extended family to ‘save the date’ for a secret surprise, but anticipating ‘loose lips’, told nobody the details of what I was preparing until a few days before. I had already coordinated travel arrangements long before the family members knew what was happening. Finally I was able to invite DJ’s 2 families — his birth family and his adopted family for the first time to all come together at this event with other guests including his best friends from the other side of the country and from Manhattan.
I also engaged the most fabulous Anastasia, a dancer friend of DJ’s to be my time-keeper (and controller of DJ) to meet him in Toronto with the plan to drive with him back to LollyGag, keeping her cellular phone on, so I would know exactly where he was at all times on the day of the reveal and we could prepare the production crew and all of the guests accordingly for his precise moment of arrival.
I hired a limo and driver (with cellular phone) to race DJ’s family from Toronto to the event (whom he had just left), following DJ’s truck, and then bypassing him during the 6 hour highway drive at a time when Anastasia gave the all clear to pass.
The LollyGagFacelift occurred during the extended July 4th weekend of 2003, with the renovation from July 2, and the ‘reveal’ on July 8. The amazing transformation of our old milk barn, fondly called “Woop Woop” which was lovingly recreated as a spectacular garden retreat – a summer dining & lounging cottage as a birthday surprise for DJ. Following the LollyGag Facelift “reveal”, a surprise birthday party was revealed with DJ’s friends and family from all around North America.
It was a rather large logistical operation all done in complete secrecy to pull off — but it was so much fun!
Watch the entire show (commercial free):
Debbie Travis’ Facelift in honor of DJ Wizniak. Written and Hosted by Debbie Travis. Produced by Whalley Abbey Media and Facelift Productions in association with LollyGag Enterprises Inc. / Toby Simkin. Directed by Catherine Pilon, Designed by Anne Cote, Landscape Design by Kim Nakatawase, Senior Producer: Nikila Cole, Creative Consultant: Kit Redmond, Project Manager: Derin Henderson, Lighting by Hugo Roy and Alexis Marcoux, Sound by Jean Asselin, Makeup by Mireille St-Laurent, Hair by Donato Ramondo, Assistant Art Director: Carin Schwartz, Set Dressers: Julia Kininmonth & Charlotte Grant, Contractor: Ian Butzphal, Carpenters: Paul McElligott & Derek Boudreau, Assistant Carpenters: Jason Tustin, Fred Henderson & David Parisot, Landscapers: David Seraphine, Paul-Julien Tanti & Graham Sandiford, Delinquent Teenagers: Will Cundil, Chris Deruchie, Alex Kaluza & Max Rosenstein, Decorative Artist: Jim Connelly, Head Painter: Joseph Brady, Painters: Travis Champion & Beata Nawrocki, Concrete Floor by Dan Speth, Assistant Director: Scott Bailey, Production Manager: Jessica Weller, D.O.P./Cameras: Barry Russell, Erick St-Hilaire & Raymond Quenneville, Videographer: Petro Duszara, Hidden Camera: Benoit Paquette, Opening Sequence: Catherine Pilon & Ronald Plante; Graphic Designer: Eliza Bogossian, Editors: Andrew Kemp & Nabil Mehchi, Online Editor: Akritas Akritopoulos, Assistant Editor: Guy Georgeson, Grips: Alexis Marcoux, Hugo Roy, Frederik Bernier, Sound Mix: François Lacasse, Production Assistants: Jessica Rodriguez, Guy Georgeson, Production Accountant: Annie Kaprielian, Assistant Production Accountant: Monika Maiewski, Production Secretary: Antonia Medeiros, Production Transport: Michael Bolen, Original Music by Nigel with Additional Music by Stephan Bourassa.
The show is still in network & cable TV re-runs globally: 🇧🇪Belgium Flemish: Interieur facelift; 🇪🇸Spain: renovación de lollygag sorpresa; 🇫🇷France: Debbie LollyGag rénove; 🇹🇷Turkey: lollygag yüz germe yenileme; 🇯🇵Japan: 改築農場の改修; 🇮🇳India Hindi: फेसलिफ्ट फार्म नवीनीकरण; 🇮🇩Indonesia: travis facelift lollygag kejutan; 🇷🇺Russia: Рестайлинг дом Ремонт; 🇦🇪Arabic: تجديد المزرعة الأمريكيةه; 🇲🇽Mexico: Renovación de debbie travis lollygag; 🇵🇱Poland: lifting twarzy Lollygag niespodzianka; 🇻🇳Vietnam: Cải tạo trang trại nhanh; 🇭🇺Hungary: Átszab-lak LollyGag; 🇳🇴Norway: Nytt rom LollyGag
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR
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The Facelift team has never worked on a farm before, or tackled quite as huge a job as we did when we arrived at Toby and DJ’s rural acreage called LollyGag. The main farmhouse is surrounded by a large number of barns and sheds, and it was the milk storage shed called Woop Woop that was to be transformed into a peaceful oasis, unlike anything the owners and animals had ever seen.
Woop Woop was originally built to store milk, and had a hayloft above, still loaded with hay and a massive stainless milk tank under the floor. There was an interior partition with window openings cut out for the cows’ heads to poke through as they would stand while being milked. We gutted the interior to open up the cathedral ceiling and make space for some seating and tables.
The concrete floor was cracked and filthy and would need some serious attention, but the lumber from the ceiling and floor was thick and still very solid, so we recycled these heavy old planks to make the furniture and doors.
The front door wasn’t adequate for what we had in mind, so we made a series of double doors on the side of the shed that open up to a large deck and views of an Asian-style garden.
This all resulted in an entirely new focal point from the driveway on arrival at LollyGag.
The milk storage shed is aptly named Woop Woop, which Australian Toby told us means ‘middle of nowhere.’ The exterior shell is all that is left; it is now designed for a completely different purpose as a retreat for DJ, Toby and friends to party or relax after work in the big city. All the hay was forked out of the loft and the ceiling removed–a horrible, dirty job made worse by the heat and rain.
Once cleaned up, the interior was primed and painted a wild citrus green. Cobalt blue makes a cool contrast on the exterior of the building and the decks. These two colors are not your common country shades, but they work perfectly to set a young, lighthearted mood. The shed floor was in dismal shape, but a company that specializes in decorative concrete came to the rescue. They unrolled a huge stencil and sprayed tinted concrete over the pattern to produce the look of flagstones. This product, first made for driveways is extremely durable and weather resistant.
Three double doors were cut into the side of the shed and open up flat against the wall so that everyone gets an unobstructed view of the garden. A cobalt blue deck outlines a perfectly designed space filled with a water fountain, fire pit, pebble paths and plants. We had a good supply of lumber from the old ceiling and partition, which was cleaned up and recycled for benches and day beds, a table, and as part of the new double doors.
Lively colored pillows decorate the handmade benches that double as beds, and as a final whimsical touch, we fashioned an oversized chandelier from tree branches and tiny white lights. It makes a magical display.
The producers wish to thank
Rona | Torizuka Landscaping | IKEA | Stencil Systems Decorative Concrete | Para Paints | Masterpieces Studio | 3M | The Broadway League | Citibank NY
for their support in the production of this show.
Letter From Debbie…
This was the biggest Facelift ever.
It took many people, including a bunch of teenage boys, 5 days and about $130,000 to complete this makeover.
Toby and DJ have been partners for over 16 years. They left the hustle and bustle of New York City to live in the country. After the turmoil of 9/11 they bought a farm in the country. Toby is a famous Broadway producer who now commutes between the farm and the city. DJ is learning the complexities of running a working farm.
I met Toby for the first time on a rainy day when he invited us down to see his place with the possibility of surprising DJ. I thought he meant his farmhouse but what he had in mind was a small milk storage shed. The last inhabitants were the cows and they had definitely not cleaned up behind them!Well always up for a challenge, we moved in a few months later after an unassuming DJ had left for a well orchestrated family visit 6 hours away. Although it was an enormous amount of work it was more like the ‘Facelift team go on holiday’.
The hotel was so horrid that we all ended up camping in Toby’s fields. Luckily he had a large well-stocked cocktail bar and pool so the extreme heat and intense dust was relieved with periodic jumps in the pool and bottomless refreshments.
I hope you all have as much fun watching this show as we had converting a run down milk shed into a bright cabana with it’s own Zen garden.
Lots of love,
Letter From DJ…
THE AWARD FOR THE MOST DRAMATICALLY IMPROVED MILK BARN GOES TO… FACELIFT AND ITS TALENTED TEAM OF DESIGNERS, LANDSCAPERS, ARTISTS, CARPENTERS, FILM CREW AND DELINQUENT TEENS LEAD BY THE AMAZING DEBBIE TRAVIS FOR WOOP WOOP.
Each time I pull into LollyGag I relive that day.
I can still hear my passenger, Anastasia telling me to get out of my truck and the dead calm of the farm.
I felt like I stepped onto a movie set of an old western ghost town, waiting for the tumbleweeds to blow across the driveway. I thought to myself that Toby had gone a little overboard for my birthday with the trees and lattice. I just could not figure out where everyone was — not a car or person to be found — and for LollyGag that is not normal.
Then I saw a lone cameraman moving across the rooftop of our house and the calm broke and turned into the best birthday bash LollyGag has ever seen. We will never be the same.I didn’t even notice the color of Woop Woop as I parked my truck (which is surprising since they are my FAVORITE colors!). When I finally realized something pretty amazing had taken place, there was Toby, tears rolling down his face, G&T in his hand, sitting in my new little piece of heaven — what is the all new Woop Woop.
Then someone grabbed my arm and I instantly recognized her as Debbie Travis and history at LollyGag was made.We have spent many nights reminiscing the events of the past few months — the “reveal” and surprise party with my large family who came from all over North America — both on the front porch and inside of Woop Woop watching the trees sway to the sound of water from Kim’s rock waterfall and hosting friends under the rustic chandelier inspired by Anne — of course raising a glass to you Debbie and your talented team.
I need to thank you and every one who put their energy and talents into this special LollyGag treat. I find it unbelievable that for months I was controlled, manipulated and talked into doing things to support the transformation of Woop Woop without my ever knowing it. From now on I will second guess everything Toby tries to talk me into — and I guess more importantly those things he doesn’t!What a way to celebrate a birthday — I cannot wait to see what Toby does next year to top it!
Debbie, you, Hans, your teams led by Anne, Catherine, Kim and all your talented staff are welcome back to LollyGag anytime. I promise to take care of a very special place we call Woop Woop.
Thank You, Thank You, With the utmost respect and bushels of love.
Your latest and very happy victim
The Renovation & TV Shoot
The Parties & Thanks
The Guests & Family United
Very special thanks to accompliceAnastasia Galadza and thanks to the onsite Facelift team led byHans Rosenstein, Debbie Travis, Catherine Pilon, Anne Cote and Kim Nakatawaseincluding Akritas Akritopoulos, Jean Asselin, Scott Bailey, Frederik Bernier, Michael Bolen, Elize Bogossian, Joseph Brady, Derek Boudreau, Stephan Bourassa, Ian Butzphal, Travis Champion, Nikila Cole, Jim Connelly, Will Cundil, Chris Deruchie, Petro Duszara, Guy Georgeson, Charlotte Grant, Derin Henderson, Fred Henderson, Alex Kaluza, Annie Kaprielian, Andrew Kemp, Julia Kininmonth, François Lacasse, Monika Maiewski, Alexis Marcoux, Paul McElligott, Antonia Medeiros, Nabil Mehchi, Beata Nawrocki, Nigel, Benoit Paquette, David Parisot, Ronald Plante; Raymond Quenneville, Donato Ramondo, Kit Redmond, Jessica Rodriguez, Max Rosenstein, Hugo Roy, Barry Russell, Graham Sandiford, Carin Schwartz, David Seraphine, Dan Speth, Erick St-Hilaire, Mireille St-Laurent, Paul-Julien Tanti, Jason Tustin and Jessica Weller and others, plusspecial thanks to guests...Erin Bénard, Patrick Bénard, Jim Boudreau, Judy Boudreau, Cassie Boyachuk, Tyler Carter, Ed Chambers, Theressa Coombes, Donna Marie Davidson, Louise Davis, Sarah Gaudet, Vanessa Gaudet, Victoria Gaudet, James Gaudet, Alison Hallett, Troy Hallet, Garth Heslop, Keith Hurd, Kristine King, Cicely Osborne, Donna Ramsay, Mary Ramsay, Melissa Rennie, Richard Roy, Renee Serrao, Bruce Shearer, Craig Shearer, Lisa Shearer, Jean-Guy Turgeon, Tammy Vaillancourt, Tony Vaillancourt, Albert Wizniak, Stella Wizniak, Janice Wray, Kris Wrayplus the unsuspecting guest and victim… DJ Wizniak.