The Untold Truth Of HGTV's Windy City Rehab

Windy City Rehab has connected with viewers like few other HGTV shows have. The series, which launched in January 2019, follows interior designer Alison Victoria as she renovates rundown homes in historic neighborhoods throughout her native Chicago. Working alongside contractor Donovan Eckhardt, the duo undertake massive makeovers that transform dilapidated dumps into stunning show homes to sell at a profit. "It's my dream to flip houses in my hometown of Chicago, but renovating homes in this price point leaves a ton of money on the line," said Victoria in a 2018 HGTV announcement. "These are high-stakes projects that could spiral out of control at any minute. It's big risks and big rewards."

Windy City Rehab proved to be an instant hit, hooking viewers with Victoria's entertaining efforts at giving old homes sharp new style for profit. "Despite costly structural damage, permit delays, failed inspections and other challenges, Alison is determined to create gorgeous homes and earn top profit," declared HGTV's press release.

Viewers may think they know everything there is to know about the show, but there's plenty to be learned. Get ready for the untold truth of HGTV's Windy City Rehab.

Windy City Rehab is the fulfillment of Alison Victoria's lifelong dream

For Alison Victoria, Windy City Rehab isn't just a home-improvement show, it's the fulfillment of her childhood dream to beautify the streets of Chicago, one historic home at a time. "Growing up, my dad used to take us driving around the city, and I would see all these houses, and I just would like dream of living in one of them one day," the designer said in a 2019 interview with Roku"It's an even bigger dream to be rehabbing, like, a ton of them now."

It's something in which the lifelong Chicagoan takes immense pride, and she comes by it naturally. "The passion comes from being born and raised here. And I want to make sure that this city is absolutely just sprinkled with beautiful homes that it really was once known for," she explained. She continued, "When I look at a potential property to rehab, it's usually about the potential. And that word is used a lot, but it is real here in the city, and really anywhere. So, you know, everything from curb appeal to square footage and to the potential to add more."

Renovating her own Chicago house set the stage for Alison Victoria's Windy City Rehab

HGTV's WIndy City Rehab is an outgrowth of Alison Victoria's love of Chi-Town heritage houses, and, when she was able to buy one herself, she made it her mission to restore the property to its former glory. "I lived in an old historic home in Wicker Park that was so rundown and nobody wanted to touch it," she told Roku of her very first reno. She continued, "And I fixed it. And instead of people running by, they would stop and take photos of this house. And I knew that I wanted to keep doing that on every single street in Chicago."

Tackling even more challenging projects on Windy City Rehab is a continuation of that mission, she added, insisting that the best thing about doing the show is "being able to do what I love, and have millions of people watch — and learn." She went on, "That's what I hope comes out of this show, that people really learn how to prepare themselves and how to do it the right way. And hope for the best, sometimes expect the worst."

How the launch of Alison Victoria's own design firm paved the way for Windy City Rehab 

Alison Victoria's passion for design launched her on a career path that took her to Windy City Rehab. According to her website's official bio, she left Chicago after high school and attended the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. After graduating, she landed a job at Vegas-based Christopher Homes, becoming the youngest designer the firm had ever hired, tasked with "creating stunning interior designs for affluent, semi-custom residences."

Just two years later, she struck out on her own to launch her own design firm, Alison Victoria Interiors. "The Las Vegas home-building industry was at its peak," she said in an interview with Vegas magazine (via Victoria's website). "The timing couldn't have been more perfect."

Whether she's designing a Vegas casino or reviving one of her beloved Chicago homes on Windy City Rehab, her design ethos has been indelibly influenced by her hometown. "I guess I would say that I have a more traditional style when it comes to interior design," she told Vegas. "Coming from Chicago, I grew up with all that history, and that's what I like to reflect in my work." 

Alison Victoria's journey to Windy City Rehab began with a "ghost designer" gig on another show

Oddly enough, it was the financial crisis of 2007 that spurred Alison Victoria's journey to HGTV's Windy City Rehab. Just as her design business was taking off, "the economy crashed," she told House Beautiful. She had accepted a job offer in Las Vegas and worked there for five years "when [she] got a random email from a production company in L.A."

The company was seeking designers for a new home-improvement show and hired her as a ghost designer of the DIY Network's House Crashers. "I didn't know what that meant," Victoria explained. "What that meant was I do all the work, I get zero credit, and I'm not on television."

The job wasn't glamorous, but Victoria saw the possibilities it presented. "They were like, 'You get to design the episode, but we'll never show you on TV, and your logo will be shown for one split-second.' I was like, 'Done, I'll take it,'" she said at the 2015 AOL BUILD Series. "Because everything's a stepping stone, and I knew that this was a real opportunity, so when I had that opportunity I took it and ran with it."

HGTV's Windy City Rehab isn't the first home-improvement show Alison Victoria has starred in

While working behind the scenes on House Crashers, Alison Victoria had an epiphany about the hosts of the DIY Network's various Crashers shows. "I was like, 'Wait, they're all dudes. There should be a woman in this space,'" she told House Beautiful. "Now that I had a contact, I was like, 'I'm going to pitch myself as the first female crasher and do kitchens,' and that was it."

Producers loved her pitch, hiring her to star in Kitchen Crashers, which ran for nine successful seasons and even led to her joining another series, the Travel Channel's Hotel Impossible, before HGTV's Windy City Rehab.

From the outside, Victoria's leap from behind-the-scenes designer to on-air host may seem like it was effortless, but first she had to overcome her fear of giving up the security of a steady paycheck in order to pursue a risky opportunity. "You have to be scared," she told A Drink With. "If you're not scared, then what is it worth? I was so scared to quit my job. I was 22, making a lot of money but I was [not happy]."

A chance meeting on Kitchen Crashers sparked the idea for HGTV's Windy City Rehab

While working on Kitchen Crashers, Alison Victoria met contractor and fellow Chicago native Donovan Eckhardt. "Alison and I met on Kitchen Crashers — I was in three episodes — and realized we had a lot of friends in common, and then we became friends," Eckhardt told Sophisticated Living. "One night, we went to a Blackhawks game and started talking about renovating old buildings. And we decided there and then to do it. I still remember us laughing and saying, 'Let's buy a building!'"

The pair put together a sizzle reel for HGTV, pitching a show in which they would buy decrepit Chicago properties to renovate and then sell. HGTV loved the concept, and, shortly after, Victoria and Eckhardt were shooting the new series, Windy City Rehab.

"We're building homes that look like they could have been there for the last hundred years," Victoria told Sophisticated Living of their goal for the show. "We don't leave one single detail unturned," she continued. "We're meticulous in the way we build. I'm meticulous in the way I design."

Alison Victoria isn't afraid to take big risks on HGTV's Windy City Rehab

Buying rundown heritage houses to renovate and then flip offers the potential for big rewards, but also carries with it some serious risks. While that tension is at the very heart of HGTV's Windy City Rehab, sometimes those risks don't pay off. "Not all of the rehabs make money," Alison Victoria admitted in an interview with Parade. "Some of them, I actually have to pay our investor back at the end."

Landing a big payday at the completion of a renovation is always preferred, but she believes the projects she undertakes on Windy City Rehab are about more than just money. "So it's not about the profit," she added. "At the end of all of it, it's about being able to say, 'This is where I grew up.' So to be part of the architecture and have somebody look at my homes — maybe another young girl is going to be in the car with her dad in 50 years — and be inspired by what I'm doing is probably the best part of the job."

Alison Victoria's success with Windy City Rehab led her to some unexpected business opportunities

Alison Victoria's TV success on Windy City Rehab and other TV series opened plenty of doors, and she seized new business opportunities thanks to her growing fame. One company that came calling was bathroom and kitchen fixture manufacturer Kohler, which enlisted Victoria's design skills in designing rooms using the company's products, such as a Paris-inspired kitchen.

Another new venture was Sophisticated Living magazine, which launched in 2019 with Victoria as publisher. "Sophisticated Living Chicago really is a reflection of me and all the things, places and people that I love, whether it's destinations to travel, places to eat, spas to enjoy, fashion houses to frequent or art galleries to admire," she said in an interview for the magazine's inaugural issue, revealing plans to launch a Las Vegas edition as well. According to Victoria, she brings the same passion viewers see on Windy City Rehab to her publishing venture. "I'm bringing sexy back to home building and publishing," she added. "I'm building 'sophisticated living' every day with each home I design and build, and this is the same direction I'm taking the magazines in."

The truth about Windy City Rehab's ratings on HGTV

Windy City Rehab turned out to be a hit for HGTV. According to Deadline, the first season proved to be the network's "highest-rated freshman series in more than a year," with steadily climbing numbers that demonstrated viewers were coming back to the show each week — and were apparently telling their friends to tune in.

In fact, Deadline pointed out that Windy City Rehab was HGTV's No. 1 series overall in the 25 to 34 age demographic, in addition to landing in the top 10 of all cable series among women 25 to 54. Within a month of its January 2019 premiere, Windy City Rehab attracted more than 9.3 million viewers, prompting HGTV to renew the show for a second season.

In addition to earning a new season, the show's ratings success has also brought Alison Victoria new opportunities with the network, such as her role competing against three other female HGTV stars in the event series Rock the Block. "Cultivating and growing home renovation stars is a big part of HGTV's success," said HGTV president Allison Page during an appearance at the Television Critics Association press tour in February 2019.

Here's what expert renovators say HGTV's Windy City Rehab always leaves out

Viewers don't always see the whole story when watching HGTV's Windy City Rehab. Speaking with Architectural Digest, Chicago designers Kristin Petro and Michael del Piero explained how the series only shows viewers a fraction of what actually occurs.

"I love that the design shows are happening, because it has allowed us to access a clientele that maybe wouldn't have considered using an interior designer," said de Piero. "The negative side is that the TV crews don't show what goes into all of this. ... I don't think TV depicts all the decisions that pop up and require us to change course."

It's understandable why a TV show would gloss over mundane elements and focus on a reno's more dramatic aspects, but Petro cautioned viewers that what they're seeing is more entertainment than reality. "I often tell people that if they were to walk into our office at any given time, they would just see people typing quietly at their computers for the majority of their day," she explained. "It would be a very boring show if someone really showed what we did."

Why one Windy City Rehab project ticked off Chicago neighbors

There's plenty of drama in each episode of HGTV's Windy City Rehab as Alison Victoria and Donovan Eckhardt tackle high-stakes renovations, but there's even more drama behind the scenes. According to Chicago's ABC 7 Action News, residents living near one of the series' homes were not happy about having a home-improvement series filmed on their street in March 2019.

One neighbor complained about early morning noise, alleging that work crews were starting well before they were legally allowed to. "You can't start until 8 a.m.," said neighbor Jacquie Vidmar. "They start sooner and then they all pretend they don't know. They were doing brickwork with the saws and doing all kinds of things before 8 a.m. and the dust was going everywhere. They were clearly on a very aggressive timetable." 

Eckhardt responded to the complaints. "We're trying our absolute best to be the best neighbors we can," he said. "I understand it's frustrating to live next to construction. But at the end of the day I think we're doing really good work. I'm a neighbor. I live in Bucktown, and I'm proud to drive by every single home we've done."

HGTV's Windy City Rehab battled with Chicago authorities over permits

In July 2019, one of the Windy City Rehab's projects received multiple citations for violating city ordinances, including some regarding the time constraints for when construction work is supposed to begin and end each day. As the Chicago Sun-Times reported, that particular project was hit with two stop-work orders after officials determined there had been multiple violations, while the show was also cited for construction jobs that were being undertaken without first acquiring the necessary building permits. 

According to the newspaper, Chicago Department of Buildings spokesman Gregg Cunningham said officials from his department would be meeting with builder Donovan Eckhardt "to make sure they are meeting our standards and to bring the concerns of neighbors to Eckhardt's attention," adding, "We will continue to monitor their work closely and will take further enforcement action if necessary."

Subsequently, Cunningham stated that Alison Victoria had taken steps to comply with the department's concerns. "She is making an effort to clean her permit applications up," he told the Chicago Sun-Times. "We appreciate the efforts to come into compliance."

Why HGTV's Windy City Rehab contractor Donovan Eckhart's future with the show is murky

Windy City Rehab's scuffle with Chicago's Department of Buildings resulted in even bigger consequences than stop-work orders. Due to the violations, reported the Chicago Tribune, in July 2019, Donovan Eckhardt had the license for his contracting firm, Greymark Development Group, suspended for 45 days. This, the Tribune pointed out, is "less than the year-long suspension the department considered for a slew of alleged violations."

According to the Tribune, Eckhardt was "accused of building garages at three properties without first obtaining permits and not requesting final inspections, as required by law, in addition to other alleged infractions." In order to meet the show's tight production deadlines, Eckhardt's suspension left the show with no choice but to bring on other contractors so the work could be completed.   

The show has since addressed the various issues and is moving forward with construction, albeit without Eckhardt's participation. With these projects forming the basis of Windy City Rehab's second season, Eckhardt's role in the show appears to be uncertain.  

Alison Victoria has addressed uncertainty about the future of HGTV's Windy City Rehab

With Donovan Eckhardt's contractor permit suspended and new contractors brought in to complete home renovations for the second season of Windy City Rehab, Eckhardt's future with the HGTV show remains uncertain as of this writing. 

However, all appearances indicate the second season proceeded with or without its star contractor. Windy City Rehab's Alison Victoria responded to the controversy in an Instagram post in July 2019, insisting that the issues flagged by the department were being addressed. "I want you to hear it from me directly that I am working closely with the City of Chicago to repair and amend any and all permits with our new general contractors," she wrote. "The building department says they are pleased with our efforts and we will continue to work closely together to move in the right direction."

Victoria also teased that the second season of Windy City Rehab would return in the early part of 2020. "I can't wait to get back home to Chicago to continue building beautiful places and spaces for all of you to see in early 2020!" she wrote.