Sunday, July 30, 2006


Make Yourself a Home

Welcome to the Big Apple! The contestants cab it to a brownstone somewhere in the city.

The first to arrive is Vanessa (26, designer/business owner), the design world's skunk-haired answer to Rachel Ray. I have a sinking feeling she's going to be in this thing right to the bitter end. As she enters the house, we see that it's empty. Nice wood floors, though.

Next is David (32, artist/designer), who freely admits to using his looks to get ahead, but claims the talent to back it up. And since he isn't smug about it, I'm willing to believe him. (Arrogant, sure, but not smug.) He and Vanessa figure they're all going to have to remedy the emptiness of the brownstone.

Third is Donna (49, designer/flight attendant). If she's married to a man in the oil business, it's a Texas trifecta. She has been a designer for 20 years, but since she's still a flight attendant, she can't be doing all that well at it.

Teman (26, architect/designer) admits to graduating from Harvard without apologizing. Yay, smart people! He thinks talent is one thing, but being able to think on your feet is another.

As they wait, Vanessa quizzes the current group on their styles. Donna is "European/Old World," David is "contemporary" and Teman likes to mix it up. Vanessa says her style is "glamalistic, by the way," as if the whole point of asking the question wasn't to create an opportunity to talk up her wonderful innovation of mixing glamour with minimalism. The others do not encourage her to go into details.

Ramona (50, found-object artist) describes herself as a "Renaissance woman." My childhood hero was Leonardo da Vinci, so I have pretty high standards when it comes to that kind of claim. I don't see Ramona making the cut. She carries a tiny dog in a purse. Gah.

Alice (31, designer/business owner) is another Texan. She doesn't mind if the best person wins, but she doesn't want the most obnoxious person winning. Cut to Vanessa shouting, "Welcome!" Bless you, editors.

Tym (46, artist/entrepreneur) thinks his biggest strength is his inventiveness. His only fears are "not winning and the regret of not winning." Kinda makes me wonder what will happen if he doesn't win.

Joseph (41, architect/business owner) is extremely aware that he's risking everything he's built so far to give this a shot. "Nerves of steel" is not the phrase that leaps to mind.

Temple (30, design enthusiast) is self-taught. Instead of credentials, she brings a backstory -- she was Miss Utah in the Miss USA pageant system, and now she's a single mother. I get ready to hear a lot about both.

The last to arrive is Teran (26, architect/designer) so they can spring on everyone the twist that he and Teman are twins. Handy how-to-tell-them-apart tip: Teman has the little dreadlocks. They're interested in the same things and work together, but they're competing against each other. Teman points out the disadvantage of competing against someone who can predict what you're going to do.

Now that everyone is assembled, it's time to bring in the host: Clive Pearse, who has a positive genius for turning formulaic interviews into amiable chitchat on Designed to Sell. He's sort of a human version of the Geico gecko. The competitors are all delighted to see him, because he knows people at HGTV and can help them advance their television careers. Also, I suspect they were coached.

Clive rallies the troops for the first challenge. The brownstone will be their home, and they have to complete five rooms: two bedrooms up, two living spaces down, and an outdoor patio. They have a combined budget of $7500 and a total of 24 hours to work. The first decision: Who will handle the money? Donna goes for it. Joseph interviews that he figured the money was a ticking bomb, and he didn't want to go near the responsibility. Clive wishes them luck and leaves them to it.

Alice is surprised that the first challenge isn't a little warm-up exercise. Donna teases the others that she's taking all the money. David thinks the first thing to do is divide up the spaces amongst the group. Everyone tours the house. Tym thought they were going to get to live in a cool place, and now it turns out they have to design the cool place.

Down in the basement, they discover a stash of tools and then a workroom with worktables for everyone. At this point, they've managed to spend two hours wandering around the house and such. Joseph tells everyone he's excited to be a part of all this. Vanessa wants to contribute to the creative process, rather than do things like paint, and she wants to get her "insert stupid name that I'm not going to repeat" style into at least one room. The other designers have been around the block a time or two, and they recognize "You guys do all the work and I'll take all the credit" when they hear it. Donna suggests figuring out who wants to work alone and who wants to work in teams. Alice points out that everyone has different strengths; she's not excited by tools, but she can handle a sewing machine. Ramona wants to paint a mural on one of the walls in the back living space. Donna thinks everyone should have some input about an element like that, and Ramona should give them sketches of her ideas. Someone mentions the need to coordinate with furniture and such, and Ramona lectures that matching artwork to rugs and such is bad. But then you still need sketches, so you can avoid matching, no? Plus, although no one mentions this, sketches can tell you if the mural is going to look like crap. Joseph expresses interest in the patio space.

People spread out to start claiming spaces. At this point, they've chewed up four hours of work time and have nothing to show for it. Temple, Teman, Donna and Alice all want to work on the living spaces. They split into teams of two -- Temple & Alice in back, Donna & Teman in front -- to simplify decision-making. Joseph and Tym pair up to work on the patio. It's a concrete pad surrounded by a chain link fence with extensive views of concrete walls. Talk about a clean slate. David, Teran and Vanessa take charge of the bedrooms. They already have beds, except they need to be fully assembled, and mattresses, which are 4" thick foam slabs wrapped in ticking. Comfy. Instead of wood floors, they have brown carpet.

Donna interviews that time was ticking away as they all talked and someone needed to take control. Not that she did, of course, because heaven forbid she should be forceful. Everyone is gathered around the fan of paint colors and now there are 19 hours left on the clock. Dave interviews that his team -- himself, Vanessa and "T2" (Teran) -- chose their colors together. Donna interviews that she grabbed the money like a wedding bouquet, so that kinda made her the boss. Temple is ready to stop talking and start doing. She requisitions some money to get started. Vanessa interviews that they should have worked out a budget, either per room or per square foot. Donna gives $300 to Temple and $400 to Vanessa. Joseph interviews that Donna never set up a budget.

Upstairs, Teran asks David if they're making the bedrooms boys and girls. David observes three beds in the smaller room and seven in the larger (two combined into a bunk bed), so that's how he's dividing things. Vanessa measures and charts out the rooms. She thinks the people in the larger room are going to get piled together. Since they're on the spot, the upstairs team claims the smaller room for themselves.

Teman and Donna are treating the front room as a parlor. They want to make it fun and designer-y.

Alice interviews that Ramona wanted to do a mural and they agreed. So their palette will be more neutral and they'll get their color from the mural.

Out on the patio, Tym reviews with Joseph that they'll do horizontal strips across the fence. Tym talks about extending the living space, and that they'll have to create the space almost entirely from scratch. (They do have a barbeque grill, so that's a start.)

At the paint store, Ramona looks through colors while Temple and Alice worry about budget. Ramona has no idea what she'll paint; she's just going to wait until inspiration strikes. It will come eventually. Preferably before the time limit expires. She asks Temple about the Miss Utah thing, and Temple explains the difference between Miss America (scholarship) and Miss USA (looks and interview). Ramona gets clarification that Miss USA doesn't require a talent. Ramona is not dragging her little dog around. I feel sorry for whomever gets stuck dog-sitting.

Donna interviews that she went shopping with "Temain? Temone?" (It's te-MAHN. And te-RAHN.) David should let her know she's working with "T1". They ask about the best price on a brown sofa, which they wind up purchasing.

Vanessa acts out this pillow grabbing her attention and speaking to her. It's a starburst-like flower in an orange-and-brown color scheme, and they already picked blue. But she takes a picture of it.

Donna observes to Teman that they've spent a lot of money, and he says they'll just have to convince the others that it was worth it. Somehow, I don't really see that happening.

Joseph is out measuring the patio with 16 hours left on the clock. He interviews that Donna went out and left them without any money. Tym says they used the time to plan, but they just lost a day of work.

Cut to Donna waving around a sheaf of bills. She says they'll have to make the money stretch for the rest of the project.

Temple, Alice and Ramona go shopping. Temple says they're in a thrift store because you can find really interesting things for a good price. She and Alice talk something over. Ramona holds up a giant candy dish-shaped thing in beaten metal, and they act like cheerleaders confronted with a math geek. Temple interviews that Ramona wasn't on the same page, design-wise. Ramona tries on a hat like a bird's nest of black tulle, and talks about a wall of hats. Cheerleaders. Math geek.

Vanessa returns with some shopping bags and some news. The guys, busy painting the large room an acid yellow, want the bad news first. She didn't have enough money. Well, no big surprise. The good news is actually maybe bad news, since she fell in love with the pillow and it's a different color scheme. She shows the guys the picture and they get on board with the change.

Teman and Donna return with stuff. She asks Joseph and Tym if they found great stuff, too, and they point out that they didn't have any money. Donna and Teman do the "oh, no" act. Tym interviews that yeah, he blames them.

Paint, paint, paint. David takes his shirt off. He should do that more often. Ramona rolls blue paint into the area that Temple is painting taupe. Yeah, not a lot of teamwork there. David would like to be farther along. They'll have a whole day to work tomorrow, but it doesn't necessarily look good.

Morning. 14 hours left on the clock. People start waking up. Donna was hoping for a hotel, or at least more bedrooms. Alice interviews that she's bunked under "Temone" and this is her first experience sharing a bedroom with a bunch of people. I hope they have more than two bathrooms. Five people per bathroom is not a good ratio. Teran didn't sleep well; he's too anxious about everything left to be done.

It looks like they have a fully furnished and decorated kitchen and dining area. Tym gripes to Temple and Alice that he didn't have any money and he needs to know what's left. Tym interviews that he doesn't think Donna knew what she was getting into when she grabbed the money. Donna starts parceling out the big bucks. Temple and Alice get $1900 for the family room; Tym and Joseph get $1300 for the patio; the bedrooms get $1900. (This means the front parlor winds up with $2400.) David interviews that Donna should have divvied up the money earlier. Donna is doing calculations on a sheet of paper; she's not sure yet how much money is left.

Clive arrives. He tells them that he was expecting to see a show house and was confronted with a "no house." He tries to scare them with the fact that they're ten hours into the project. Then he asks about Donna's banking skills. Everyone who's happy, raise a hand. Nobody moves.

Clive asks for a tour. They start with the bedrooms. The brown and orange room is only half-painted. In the brown and green room, Clive begins to think of fruit names like "Scary Lime." The walls are very bright. Vanessa said they wanted to do something completely different than the rest of the house. Clive assures them that they have.

Out on the patio, Clive says the space reminds him of his poodle's quarantine quarters. It's still quite stark. Joseph lays out the plan -- they're going to build up the far wall and paint it to make it more of a focal point.

In the family room, Clive asks how the mural will tie into everything. Temple and Alice are curious about that, too. Ramona still doesn't know what she's going to paint. Alice explains that they want to keep the rest of the room serene and get their color from the mural.

In the front room, Donna explains how they're going arrange all their stuff. Clive observes that they have more stuff than everybody else, and Donna was the one with the cash. Teman points out that they scored the couch for only $500, which is a steal. Clive doesn't remember anyone else having $500.

Ramona scavenges stuff that was left out on the street. She doesn't like the word "garbage" because it implies that something has reached its end. She returns with a vacuum cleaner and something that looks like a complicated microphone stand, and she's wearing a box on her head. Temple and Alice return (6 hours left on the clock) to find Ramona covering the vacuum with spackle. Temple interviews she was shocked to see no progress on the mural. I think the vacuum cleaner was something of a jolt, too. Ramona explains that she's making sculptures; Alice isn't clear if they're for indoors or outdoors and Ramona doesn't clarify. Alice interviews that the sculptures didn't look suitable for any of the rooms. Very tactful of her.

The clock reads 3.5 hours when Ramona summons everyone for a quick house meeting so they can review her sketches. The first shows Temple reclining in her Miss Utah sash. Temple looks less than flattered; the others look less than wowed. The other option is a deliberately childish abstract of lines. Temple votes for option 2. Alice interviews that no one liked either, but everybody votes for option 2.

David and Teran paint and find ways to describe Ramona's insanity. Tym and Joseph are making progress. Temple interviews that she didn't want to spend lots of money on furniture (the fact that she didn't have lots of money might have factored into this preference), so luckily she found some inexpensive things at a thrift store and she'll antique some of them. She sprays an armoire with black paint, then timidly whacks it with a chain, then gouges the surface with a screwdriver. "Distressing" perfectly good new furniture is one of those things that just gets on my nerves. Taking the shine off something that's gleaming new, I understand. Trying to make it look like you have hand-me-down furniture is pretentious. (With any luck, I'll now be boycotted by all the decorating magazines and they'll stop trying to get me to subscribe.) Ramona finally starts to paint. She's happy with the results.

Morning again. The project clock has 2 hours left. After everyone is up and dressed and fed (and in the case of Donna, hairsprayed), it's time to finish up. While everyone else is painting and carting around furniture, Ramona is breaking bottles on the sidewalk to make -- something. I hope she cleans up all that glass. Teran interviews that his team functioned beautifully. Temple wants to take out some of the color, but Alice is against last-minute changes because they might snowball. Donna interviews that they went down to the wire, which she expected. Alice continues to persuade Temple about the turquoise through-line of their design. Donna announces the 10 minute mark. Ramona is using the broken bottle as a vase for the patio. Teman needs nails to hang paintings. He interviews that it has to look finished, even if it isn't. Everyone runs around.

Clive shows up and puts an end to the work. He tells them to think about how they're going to justify their efforts to three very tough judges.

The Studio. It's a big, dark room. You can see purple walls where pot lights shine down and the floor is a shiny black. The three judges sit at a long table and the contestants line up across from them. Arranged on one side wall are two large screens in the corners and then small screens between, each with a picture of a contestant. Clive explains that the small screens represent their potential shows; as they're booted, their screens will be turned off. I kinda like the idea, but overall, I don't find the space very appealing.

Clive introduces the judges:

I think they should have let the judges design the judging space; it just feels really awkward. Maybe the effect is intentional, at least in regards to the contestants. Clive explains that the judges will review the before and after of each space. But first, the money issue. Donna thinks she did "very well" handling the money. In terms of not losing it or spending it all on pedicures, sure. Clive asks for comments from the competitors. Ramona (with little dog in tow) would have liked more planning. Why? She didn't spend anything on her materials, so what does she care about the money management? Tym's team lost a day because they didn't have any money to spend. Clive asks Donna if she would jump for the money again. "Definitely not."

Parlor ($2400): Donna and Teman step forward. The original space is long and narrow, with the stairways to one side. The main feature of the finished room is a tall curtain screening off the stairways; it's an icy green satin-y fabric that kind of billows. The walls are now taupe with a white chair rail. The window in front has dark blue and brown print curtains; a table, chair and ottoman sit before it. The back half of the room holds a brown sofa that has been angled away from the wall, paired with a covered side table. They have handmade artwork in brown, yellow and fuschia.

The judges all react to the narrowness of the room; it was maybe 10 feet wide. Martha asks about their plan to deal with the space. Teman answers that they were trying to make it "fun and cheeky," which doesn't really address the space issue. Vern is not happy with the sofa on an angle, which makes the room more narrow (the sofa juts into the traffic area), or the "explosion" of fabric, but he likes the mix of styles. Cynthia thinks there's a lot of stuff; Vern calls it "tchotchke-ville."

With a room that narrow, I wouldn't have bothered with a sofa. The room seems to call for groupings of chairs anchored by rugs to break up the length while leaving room to navigate. The staircase wasn't too bad-looking, so I don't know if I'd have bothered with the curtain. But better to use a fabric that hangs straighter so it doesn't impinge on the traffic pattern. As for all the decorative items, I think they suffered from having all that money available. A tighter budget would have forced them to edit.

Family room ($1900): Alice, Temple and Ramona step forward. The original room is long and less narrow, with French doors leading to the patio. Now the walls are the same taupe as the front room, except for the wall of the mural. Which is of a reclining woman wearing only high heels, fishnet stockings and a sash. I think Ramona has a different idea of the whole Miss Utah experience; I don't recall Temple talking about posing for Playboy. The black armoire is across from the mural. A linen-colored sofa faces the French doors; across from it are a coffee table and two black ottomans. Two chairs sit across from the armoire; it looks like they're slipcovered with fabric similar to the wall color. There's a black sideboard behind the sofa. To the side of the entry, there's a pair of black chairs with turquoise pillows, and a corner space that looks like a desk.

Clive gets right to the mural. Martha asks about the inspiration. Ramona says Temple was Miss Utah and she wanted to reference their work together. Temple's body language says she would rather not be having any part of this mural. Clive points out that the design came up rather late in the process; did they collaborate or were they "a group divided"? Ramona says somewhat huffily that they collaborated by dividing. Vern says he's perplexed. He looks pained. The furniture arrangement is a little too much in the center of the room and he'd like some fabric on the floor or windows, but really he's wondering if Miss Utah is what they want for a focal point. Ramona says everyone liked her Miss Utah sketch. Everyone immediately denies it. I can't tell if she's a brass-faced liar or just off in her own version of reality. Cynthia really likes the little chairs with the blue pillows (go, Alice!). She asks where they shopped and Alice reports that all the furniture came from thrift shops.

I'm on the same page as the judges in this room -- basically pretty good except for the mural, which really needs to be eradicated as soon as possible. If this is the TV room (as the armoire suggests), I'd prefer two couches for seating so people can stretch out or snuggle up, as moods permit. But I'm inclined to think they won't have much time for TV.

Bedrooms ($1900): The smaller room has chocolate brown walls at the front and rear, orange to the right and taupe to the left. Two beds are on the orange wall with two horizontal canvases making a joint headboard; the top canvas echoes the flower from the inspiration pillow. The third bed is lengthwise along the taupe wall and has three square orange canvases with small white flowers above. The sheets are all chocolate brown and the comforters are white; the pillows have starburst-shaped flowers in the colors of the room. The larger room has three beds and a bunk bed arranged along one wall; the remaining two beds are lengthwise head-to-head on the other wall. The bed walls are "scary lime" green; the front and back walls are white. The trim has been painted chocolate brown. The five beds on one wall have white sheets and patchwork comforters that mix the colors; they have brown canvases serving as headboards. The lengthwise beds have brown sheets and patchwork pillows; there's a shorter brown headboard between them and canvases along the wall beside them.

Martha likes. She asks who was in control. Vanessa yaps that she had a hand in every possible project phase known to man, except the artwork. Teran thinks about squashing her. Martha asks if they had the artwork made. Vanessa says David was an artist, so she was fortunate. The rest of her team is not feeling quite so fortunate. Cynthia thought the larger room "could have easily ended up looking like a flop house" and Vanessa "I know!"s with her whole body. Cynthia likes the organization. Vern gives them an A+ and praises the modern color schemes. Martha asks how it's going with everyone sleeping in those two rooms. Everyone answers at once; David wins with his contention that no one has been sleeping. With those mattresses, I can see why.

These rooms are clearly the most cohesive in design, and the canvas headboards are an inexpensive way to delineate smaller pods of space within the larger rooms. I wonder if they'll be removing beds as people leave. If so, there shouldn't be any problem rearranging things. I like design with flexibility.

Patio ($1300): Tym, Joseph and Ramona step forward. The far wall is now a grassy green; the side "walls" of chain link fence have been covered with wooden slats (about 10" high). There's a bench along the far wall and another in the center. They both have silvery tops and skinny legs. The benches are accessorized with a few plants. There's a stick-figure-looking sculpture in a far corner; by the entry is the spackled vacuum cleaner and a bouquet of flowers. The grill is on the left wall near the French doors.

Vern really likes the wood and the color. He thinks perhaps the vacuum cleaner gave its life in vain. Ramona protests that it's a sculpture. Vern likes the idea of putting sculpture out there; he just doesn't like the idea of those sculptures. Ramona says it's a matter of personal taste. Clive asks Joseph and Tym what they thought of the sculptures; Tym non-answers that it was a compromise. Clive throws it to the judges: how do you "tactfully but forcefully" exclude someone else's ideas, since collaboration is important? Martha answers that collaboration doesn't mean letting someone do something just because they want to. Vern puns that "you don't operate in a vacuum."

I think Tym and Joseph did a great job creating visual impact. The benches look good but I'm concerned they wouldn't make for comfortable seating. The pot-bellied sculpture in the back corner seems okay (I didn't get a really good look at it), but the ghastly vacuum cleaner needs to be consigned back to the sidewalk. I'm sure the trash collectors will appreciate the laugh.

Clive sends the contestants to the green room to await the judges' deliberations. In the green room, someone (Alice?) declares that the bedroom team will be safe. Cynthia thinks Ramona has passion, which is important. Donna tells Ramona that she didn't work with her team. Vern thinks the parlor was poorly executed. Teran thinks they need to take the lessons learned to the next task. Vern expects that the contestants will realize they're going to have to "step it up" as the competition continues.

The designers return. Clive names Alice, Tym, Joseph, Temple and Teman. They're all safe; they can wait in the green room. The remaining designers "represent the best and the worst." Somebody's been watching Project Runway. David and Teran are summoned forward. They were among the best and pass to the next round. Vanessa wins and gets sent to the green room. Donna and Ramona are on the chopping block -- Donna for budget and execution, Ramona for teamwork and design style. Ramona is cancelled; she and her little dog have to leave the studio. Donna takes a warning shot across the bow and joins the others in the green room.

Outside, Ramona interviews that the judges just "didn't get it." They just rejected her work because it was ugly. Well, she sniffs, people said that about the work of Vincent Van Gogh when he was alive. They also said it about the work of a lot of unknown artists whose names have deservedly been lost in the sands of time. What were the judges supposed to get? She didn't describe what she was trying to convey; she just claimed that her work was art. Even if everything is art if you just look at it the right way (which it isn't, and if it were, why would we need artists?), the point of the show is not to curate a collection. The point of the show is to create a space suited to the people who will inhabit it. Ramona got the boot because she was self-indulgent, doing whatever she wanted without regard to the input of her clients, let alone her teammates. And because she's a fruitcake.

In the green room, everyone hugs Donna because she's not Ramona. She interviews that she's sure she can do awesome things; she's just glad that this is over and tomorrow is another day.

Did Vanessa deserve the win? Sure, she found the pillow, but it's hard to say how much of the design was hers and how much came from her teammates. They seemed to work very well together and I'm sure they elevated each other's games. But I'm also sure that everyone is going to be leery of working with Little Miss It's All About Me in the future.


Hi Chelsea,

I couldn't find an email address for you on this site, so I figured this was the best way to contact you. I love your posts. I was wondering if you'd be interesting in working with my website to promote your recaps. Email me at if you would like to discuss this.

I am really enjoying your write up - very amusing - I look forward to episode4

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