Dirty John showcases the real-life story of interior designer Debra Newell and her ill-fated relationship with con man John Meehan. From the very first episode, the show — based on a Los Angeles Times story and podcast of the same name — makes it abundantly clear that Debra has made a successful design career for herself. It doesn’t appear that Debra’s business in the show, Madeira Interiors, is a real company, but instead a stand-in for her actual company.
According to Debra’s LinkedIn page, the company she’s helmed since 1983 is actually called Ambrosia Interior Design. The page says she founded the company, and is still active in its operations. On what appears to be Ambrosia Interior Design’s website, there are a few other women listed as the top dogs with the company now, so it’s unclear to what extent Debra remains involved, especially as she has another project in Las Vegas. She now runs Ambrosia Home Furniture & Decor, launched in June of last year, per her LinkedIn page. The company offers new furniture and decor, tradeshow rooms, design services like countertops and flooring, and model home decor, according to its site.
The site also that Debra is “an award-winning designer who is recognized nationally and internationally for her designs.”
According to the Los Angeles Times series that made her story famous, Debra’s career was often a happy place for her away from her tumultuous love life. “Over the 30 years that she had built Ambrosia Interior Design, it had been her refuge amid many romantic disappointments,” the piece reads. “Work was the realm in which her success was unqualified.” The story also says Debra made a habit of hiring young single women and mothers as a sort of protective act because “she could remember how it felt to be alone, with one child and another on the way, after her first marriage broke up.”
The LA Times notes the words her character uses in the pilot episode of Dirty John — she liked to create “approachable dreams” for her clients; rooms that were high-end and impeccable while still feeling like homes in which you could create a life.
John takes an interest in Debra’s interior design work, as viewers see in Dirty John’s inaugural episode. It’s one of the things that pulls her into him — he’s actually interested in hearing about the life she’s built, rather than spending the entire date talking about himself. The same couldn’t be said for other men she was stepping out with. Of course, those who know the story laid out by the Los Angeles Times will know that underneath John’s facade, a much more sinister backstory was brewing, no matter how charming he may have seemed on the surface.
Though the drama revealed by the show is far from over, at least viewers can rest easy knowing that at the very least, Debra Newell is still running a thriving business, no matter what treacherous situations with John she had to endure. She hasn’t been taken down by any means, and is still setting people up with the homes of their dreams.