Jenni Pulos’s heart is full. It’s natural, being so close to Thanksgiving. The producer, writer, and director best known for her role on Bravo’s home-design reality show “Flipping Out” is just like any of us in that way: She’s pausing to reflect on how grateful she is. She’s hopeful. She’s happy.
Yet Pulos isn’t just any of us. She just wrapped 11 seasons of a cult-status show and many of her waking hours were spent in the public eye. With the camera constantly hovering, Pulos hustled as an executive assistant at costar Jeff Lewis’s design firm. She also went through IVF treatments and the birth of a child with America watching.
“My journey became much more personal than I ever expected,” says Pulos.
That’s especially true of a recent episode that shows what turned into a much-publicized disagreement with Lewis. It’s left Pulos talking about the show, and her co-star, with an air of finality: “We built something very real, and that’s what I will take away from all this. We had a lot of big successful wins in our 17-plus-year friendship and business relationship. I’m looking forward now. I’m moving on.”
Contrary to news reports, Pulos, who is an executive producer on “Flipping Out,” says she never filed a wrongful termination complaint against Lewis, nor made an abuse claim. “There are a lot of mistruths out there. His perception is different than mine,” she says, admitting that what transpired on the show was hurtful. “There was behavior I no longer find acceptable. For all the times I seemed ok [and wasn’t], I needed to own that. I needed to say ‘no, this isn’t okay.”
Pulos is able to find peace in the fact that she now has a fresh start: “It’s so exhilarating… this feeling anybody can relate to as they go through change. But you have to find comfort in your fear and emotions.”
You also have to dare to dream. And Pulos has plenty of dreams to chase. For starters, and most importantly, it includes focusing on her family and the people she loves. Pulos has two children, Georgia (1) and Alianna (5), with her husband, Northbrook native Jonathan Nassos.
Pulos is also standing strong beside her nephew, Nicholas Kontaxis, who has faced overwhelming obstacles including an extensive brain tumor that has led to more than 50,000 seizures, developmental delays and autism. Despite the fact that doctors thought he wouldn’t live past age four, Kontaxis is now 22 years old and has built a successful career creating captivating large-scale abstract paintings. Pulos, alongside her sister, Kontaxis’s mom Krisann, is traveling nationwide hosting exhibitions of the colorful work.
“I see possibility, despite what is called ‘disability,’” says Pulos. “He gives us a reason to celebrate hard work and shows us the power of never giving up. [As a family], we’ve embraced believing in miracles. He’s been very much a part of shaping my life, and also my daughters’. Art has much more meaning in their lives.”
Pulos believes the world has a lot to learn from Kontaxis. In fact, her nephew’s artistic expression has inspired her to refuel her creativity and see the world as ripe with opportunity – much as it seemed before all the cameras and before she was a household name.
Early on, Pulos had dreams of moving to New York City and starring on “Saturday Night Live.” She had already captured some moments in the spotlight, such as being winning rapper on “Showtime at the Apollo.” Pulos later used this talent by cowriting and rapping the theme song for Bravo’s popular “Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen.”
In 2014, Pulos came out with a children’s rap album, “Old School Kids Beats,” which is still available on iTunes. Today, she’s reigniting her passion for children’s entertainment with a TV project. Pulos also plans to produce a documentary about her nephew’s life and art, with hope to inspire people to look at disabilities differently, and with hope.
“Anything worthwhile takes time and patience – and that’s all part of my lesson,” says Pulos. “You just have to put one foot in front of the other, run the race against yourself, keep getting better.”
Her race leads her to Chicago this month, when she and Krisann will host a show of Nicholas’s paintings at TAO Chicago (details below). Pulos adores Chicago. In fact, she was married to Nassos here in 2012; the wedding took place at the St. Andrew Greek Orthodox Church and the reception was at the National Hellenic Museum. When she’s back visiting, she loves eating out, especially at RL Restaurant, Soho House, and the Greek restaurants Mykonos in Niles and Psistaria in Lincolnwood.
No matter where she is, Pulos says she will be living for possibility. She’s grown to expect the unexpected. And she’s learned the value of saying “let me help you.”
“I’ve always lived in an ‘also’ world, not an ‘either/or’ world,” says Pulos. “I might be getting off this ride and getting on another, but it’s with kindness and support that I’m starting this new journey. And that’s exactly where I want to be.”
What: Pulos hosts “Walk With Me,” a special one-night-only solo art exhibit of the large-scale contemporary paintings created by her nephew, Nicholas Kontaxis.
When: Sat., Nov. 24, 7-10 p.m.
Where: TAO Chicago, 632 N. Dearborn
Tickets: Admission is $100 and benefits Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy, a nongovernmental agency committed to funding epilepsy research. Visit nicholaskontaxis.com for tickets.
Photo by Maria Ponce