Monday, February 19, 2007



Previously on Top Design: The contestants had to design bedrooms for clients they hadn't met. The clients turned out to be 10 years old. Erik's client liked pirates. John had no floor. Erik's pirate ride of a room won him immunity. John's unfinished room got him the boot.

The designers arrive at the PDC. Ryan interviews that he must be under scrutiny, as an artist in a design competition. "It's important to me to have my style be an icon," he continues. I understand what he's getting at, but when I try to parse the actual sentence, my brain hurts. Carisa interviews that she's the youngest and least experienced, plus she has been doing set design rather than interior design -- but so far she's happy with her performance.

Todd arrives and has the designers open up the tote bags sitting at their stations. The bags are full of beach gear. Looks like a clue. Turns out the next challenge is to make a cabana. Some of the designers are psyched (or wisely pretend to be) but Goil has to have the whole "cabana" concept explained to him. For those at home in similar straits, Matt helpfully interviews that a cabana is a private little beach getaway. The designers will have to finish their cabanas at the actual beach. So, finally some relief from the white box rooms. Michael interviews, "I was really excited about this challenge because I designed a cabana once." For the backyard, I'm thinking, but no, "in West Palm Beach." Okay, on vacation, then. Todd reveals that the randomly-assigned beach bags contain postcards from three exotic travel locations. Ooh, another clue. Hey, it's a team challenge! This should suck. The teams:

Todd describes the judging criteria as "originality, ingenuity and just how well you've incorporated your destination into your design." Matt interviews that he happens to be working on a couple of projects in Miami, so he's familiar with "the scene." Carisa thinks her team of "an artist, an architect and a set designer" is an "interesting combination." The teams get $2000 for fabric and materials plus $3500 for shopping at this week's product-placed store, which would like you think that they're exotic. One team will get the win, and one person from the remaining teams will go home. Erik has immunity, so he's safe. Matt shows off his math skills by observing that only two of the team members will be on the chopping block if his team fails. Todd starts the teams off on 30 minutes of designing.

Andrea interviews that her team will be making an elevated cabana, "much like the structure of a palapa" which is raised above the water. Elizabeth explains her thinking to the team. Matt interviews that Elizabeth immediately "took off on the design" so he "stepped back" because you can't have all three people trying to lead the team. Elizabeth interviews that they talked about doing something "more sophisticated" than the "cliché color palette." She tells the team that she really likes their chosen colors -- "It's gonna save us." The colors? Black, grey, acid green and eggplant. Ew. I suppose the acid green could work for a "neon Miami" presentation but the eggplant is way too heavy for a fashionable beach resort. Goil starts constructing a model of a cabana using a flip-flop and some mechanical pencils. It's like MacGyver became an architect. Ryan calls him "my hero." Goil interviews that their cabana is more "modern" and "minimal." And he's not just an architect; he's handy, too.

Todd calls an end to the design period. He orders them to divide up the shopping responsibilities: one person each on hardware store, product-placed store and fabric store. On Team Miami, Erik volunteers to handle furniture and accessories. Elizabeth interviews that she predicted the eventual division of labor from the team's personalities: she took hardware, Erik took furniture, Matt took fabric. Felicia interviews that Andrea was pretty much the structure person, so she got the hardware store, while Felicia got furniture and Michael got fabric.

And now for Team St. Tropez. Remember how Ryan and Carisa got little interviews right off the bat? Ryan interviews that Goil got the hardware assignment "because he was the architect guy." Carisa proposes that Ryan do fabric while she shops for furniture. Ryan interviews that the fabric store "would be a misfit" for him. Carisa tells the guys to "figure it out." Goil starts to tell her something about the fabric, and Carisa asks, "Do you want me to go to the fabric store?" Naturally, Goil says yes. I don't think he was saying, "Ryan will do a better job with furniture" so much as "Someone needs to handle fabric and you sound like you just volunteered." Carisa interviews that she suspects she got the fabric job "because I'm the girl." Which is more or less true. Goil is obviously the hardware person, and I get the feeling that Ryan would almost rather quit the competition than go to the fabric store, like that would somehow be demeaning. And Ryan clearly sees Carisa as a person of lower value, because he's awesome and she isn't. (This despite her top three finish compared to his bottom three finish last time.)

So Carisa interviews that she's not sure that sending an installation artist to buy furniture is the best decision. It does seem like the fabric store is being designated the assignment where someone could do the least damage. Ryan tells her, "You know, I've been making stuff for like, ten years." Carisa waves a hand and says, "Okay. Whatever." Which means it's not okay, but she doesn't want to hear him talk any more. Ryan interviews that he prefers to make furniture, but he was really up for shopping; he thinks Carisa is "the least qualified." Carisa worries that they won't get "usable" pieces, but Ryan yes-yeses that "utility" will be job one. Carisa is not pacified: "I'm worried. No offense." No offense? She just told him she thinks he's incompetent. Which is actually kind of awesome, considering how Ryan has been patronizing her. I tend to think Carisa is right about the shopping, and she's right that they're not taking her seriously, but the way she's handling it is not earning anyone's respect.

Everyone splits up to go shopping. Michael interviews that he's confident in his taste but has "yet to really let it shine through." No doubt from modesty. But he's going unleash it on this project. Stand back! Carisa interviews that she doesn't care if the guys like her fabrics, because she didn't want to go to the stupid fabric store anyway, so it's all their fault. Because nothing says "I'm a capable and competent designer" like pouting. Felicia interviews that she was pleased with her selections at the product-placed store; she went with "less is more." Erik interviews that he's "always up to spending money," so he had fun. Ryan interviews that he used the color swatches to guide his choices for pillows and other fabric-y things. Sounds like he could have done just fine at the fabric store, then. He continues that he got a lot of "filler" in the form of tchotchkes, so the team will have options to choose from. The hardware store shoppers briskly consult with carpenters (each team gets three). Goil interviews that they had a good plan for shopping, which made him happy. What makes him unhappy is the number of people working on the challenge. He prefers individual challenges.

Back at the PDC, the fabric shoppers wait for the others to return. Carisa confides in Matt and Michael about her disagreement with Ryan. Michael asks how Ryan got the furniture job, and Carisa says Ryan gave it to himself. "I tried to stop him, but I didn't want to be a (bleep)," she explains. Carisa needs to figure out the whole "how to be tough without being bitchy" thing, or she's always going to be "the girl." She interviews that "Ryan's a little on the fringe" and perhaps hasn't mastered "how to put a room together." The other team members return.

Carisa reviews Ryan's heap of pillows and announces that they're going to be "too loud." She proposes covers. Ryan wants to have something to use for "pop." Carisa interviews that Ryan's pillow choices are "just scary" and so she's going to make covers. Sorry, product-placed store! They picked their colors based on the French flag, and Ryan missed the boat. Ryan argues that his choices aren't "too painful." Carisa concedes that they're not "horribly painful" but they're not right. I agree. The only way these pillows work is if St. Tropez is invaded by an army of tween girls. (If the next generation of celebutante heiresses decides to skip high school and start inflicting themselves on the world instead, that could actually happen. So maybe Ryan's on to something. But I hope not.) Ryan interviews that Carisa's ideas are "a little too conservative." He tells her that he doesn't want to make a granny cabana. Carisa explains that St. Tropez is "really, really classy" and Ryan protests that it's "topless women in motorboats, man!". Yes, but those are classy topless women in classy motorboats. Ryan interviews that he wants to "amp it up a little bit" and be risky. He tells Carisa that her fabric choices are "conservative." Carisa protests that she doesn't do conservative, but Ryan thinks she does, based on her last two rooms. Carisa is surprised that he thinks her orange jungle room is conservative, but Ryan says, "Compared to my sensibility, yes." His rooms are like some obnoxious noise which is meant to signify that he's so punk rawk, and anything less daring is just chopped liver. And yet, he bought tween girl pillows. How does that compute?

Felicia tells Team Tahiti that she has a bed frame, and they're making a mattress. Carisa reviews fabrics with Goil, who pronounces her selections "perfect." Todd comes through for a looky-loo. At Team Miami, Erik explains they're providing both indoor and outdoor space. Matt contributes that they didn't want to do "typical Miami" but provide "a respite, a retreat." Todd is concerned that the colors don't really say "Miami," since incorporating the setting was a big part of the challenge. Erik recaps Todd's opinion. He's puzzled because the green and purple say "Miami" to him, and it's best to stick with your first idea. Not when it's acid green and eggplant.

At Team Miami, Todd finds Michael constructing a mattress out of foam and batting for their daybed. Oh, one of those mattresses. How comfy. Todd suggests basting the foam pieces together so it will be easier to manage as they wrestle on the cover. Good tip.

Team St. Tropez reveals their collective ignorance about their location. Carisa says they know about the boating and the class, and Ryan contributes the topless part. Carisa points out the fabric choices which came directly from the postcard. Todd advises them that St. Tropez is "crazy money." Carisa interviews that their cabana needs to be "elegant, sexy, chic."

Todd gives the designers some good news: they can alter their furniture pieces however they want. And now the bad news: they have until midnight to construct their cabanas and then break them down for assembly at the beach the next day. That's a bit less than 5 hours to work. They won't have electricity at the beach. Matt interviews that he has no idea how they'll get it all done. Todd runs away before the designers recover from their shock and stab him to death with their mechanical pencils. Felicia interviews that with the limited time, they'll probably have to drop some projects. Erik recaps the situation and adds that they have a lot of planning to do, so "challenge" is an accurate word. Elizabeth tells Erik and Matt that the team's priority is to finish the construction. I think the time limit is bogus, especially the way it was presented at the last minute. However, since each team has three carpenters, they wind up with almost 30 labor hours on the project, so it's not completely ridiculous.

Work begins. Goil interviews that he's concerned about finishing on time, since their cabana is more of a "sculptural piece." Elizabeth interviews that she had the idea to wash the lumber rather than paint it, so it would dry in time. Andrea interviews that she's concerned about the roof, because their structure is so big, and they'll have to see what happens. Carisa surveys a lumber layout from atop a ladder and pronounces it just like the design. She interviews that she and Goil seem to be "on the same page" about their modern structure, but Ryan might not be. Now off the ladder, she warns Goil that she and Ryan are "having tension." Goil interviews that "Ryan is not a team player and Larissa is not a team player. No team players here!" He laughs in an "I'm so screwed" way. Okay, now I'm thinking that Goil doesn't much respect Carisa, since he doesn't even know her name. Although his attitude is not so much disdain as the absence of an opinion. Carisa tells Goil that she thinks they're "on the same page." She interviews that she'd really, truly like to "get along with everyone" but "that's not my mission."

With 40 minutes left, Team Miami reviews status. Elizabeth thinks Matt can go back to fabric stuff. With paint all over his hands? Elizabeth interviews that she just has to ignore the stuff she can't control and concentrate on making it work. Matt admits to his team that he's worried, but Erik reassures him about their progress. Matt interviews that he's not fully confident in their design, in addition to being worried about the deadline.

Felicia helps Michael cover their daybed "mattress." He decides he'll crawl inside to push it around. Felicia interviews that Michael's previous bottom three finish has spurred him to a "gung-ho" effort. Well, good for him; that's the right response. Michael emerges, spitting out lint, and Felicia urges him back in to fix the other side. She interviews that she's really happy with her team and their effort. "It was good stuffing with you," Michael confides to her. That's as likeable as he's ever been.

Time keeps ticking. Goil interviews that he's really worried; the other teams seem to have made more progress, but they'll have to do their assembly on site. Ryan and Carisa are at it again, fussing with the cabana design drawing. "We just have a difference of opinion," Ryan observes. What they don't have is a method for resolving their differences. Ryan wants the rafter ends to be cut at a certain angle to "draw you in," but then says that it doesn't matter because they'll have the fabric overhang. Since it doesn't matter, they proceed to bicker about it interminably. Ryan recaps the disagreement as "two different people trying to mesh up, and I don't think it's going to work." More bickering. Carisa interviews that she hopes Ryan can learn from "people with maybe a little more experience in the actual design of spaces as environments and not necessarily as art." Like Carisa.

Ryan draws his proposed cut on a rafter and checks with Goil, who's like "Fine, but we're doing that last." Ryan interviews that he and Goil clicked, but Carisa didn't listen, so making a point or coming to agreement was hard. Ryan asks Carisa about the proposed angle and she says she doesn't like it; she'd prefer straight ends. Goil's okay with the cut. Carisa declines to argue. Goil interviews that he felt stuck in the middle. Carisa asks Goil: cut or straight? Goil says they'll cut it, but at the end. Carisa tells him she doesn't like it, so Goil agrees to leave it alone "for now" because it's "less work." He interviews that it's hard to be the person in the middle, trying to keep the team together. Carisa is still talking about the angle; she thinks it looks like a spear if it's at an angle. Goil is like, "Yeah, we're leaving it alone for now." Carisa leaves, so I guess the issue is finally settled. That was a whole lot of time wasted on something that everyone agreed was a picky little detail.

Morning. Designers get ready for their day at the beach. I don't really need to watch people brush their teeth, although I'm sure their dentists are pleased. Andrea interviews that part of their job will be easy, and part hard. Matt confides that he's trying not to think about the whole elimination part of the day's schedule.

And we're at the beach. Team Miami discusses the orientation of their cabana. (In Miami, I think the question is not so much "gay or straight" as "gay, straight, bisexual or omnivorous." Oh, wait, wrong orientation.) Erik interviews that he doesn't have to work for himself, what with the immunity, so he's working to protect his teammates. That's not very cutthroat of him. The trucks pull up and the designers have 4 hours to put everything together. Ryan interviews about the "build it at the beach" plan. Michael's interview reminds us that Team Tahiti's cabana will be raised off the sand. Elizabeth and Erik paint an acid green stripe down the length of some boards. Erik interviews that it was Elizabeth's idea, to break up the bulk of their structure. Carisa whines to a couple of seamsters that she's a New Yorker and therefore essentially allergic to beaches. Goil interviews that "Clarissa" would step back and criticize things (Carisa tells the seamsters that she can't tell how long things will take, since the 4-hour cabana build is not part of her repertoire) but Ryan was surprisingly ready to dive in (Ryan energetically helps construct the cabana). Ryan calls for Carisa, but she's busy misting a hunky carpenter. One must have priorities, after all. Matt frets about finishing some more; he's feeling vulnerable.

Todd drops in. He compliments Team Tahiti on the profile of the structure; it looks really "dynamic" from across the beach. Felicia says they've been too busy working to gaze at it from a distance. Todd assures them that it looks good. Michael jokes, "It takes a village of gay designers to build a cabana." Wait, Felicia and Andrea are gay? Todd warns them that they only have an hour left, "so make good choices, okay?" Workety-work. Michael looks up at the non-existent roof of the cabana and announces that he likes it that way. He interviews that the structure looked good with "the sky as the roof" so they chose not to build the roof even though they had the materials. This is what happens when you don't wear a hat at the beach. Goil calls urgently for a seamstress with scissors. Todd announces the 5 minute mark. Felicia is incredulous about the time remaining as she hauls a rug across the sand. The workety-work continues. Todd calls 30 seconds, and then counts down the final five seconds. Everyone celebrates being done. Erik recaps Todd's color criticisms of the previous day, but he thinks they got it just right. Elizabeth thinks everything "came together." Todd sends everyone off to get ready for the judges.

And here they are. Todd recaps the challenge and introduces the judges. The guest judge is designer Kathryn Ireland, whose name once caused me great confusion when she was called "Kathy" Ireland. The winning team gets a weekend at the Viceroy Hotel, where Kelly designed the cabanas. Somebody other than Erik will get the boot. Jonathan lists the judging criteria: "overall design and execution, originality, ingenuity, how well you incorporated your resort destination into your design and, of course, on teamwork." Carisa looks at Ryan like, "Oh, wait, teamwork?"

The judges stroll. First is Team Tahiti. Felicia explains that they all started sketching designs based on the "typical Tahitian hut." Margaret asks about the roof. Andrea explains that they had planned to build one, but "made the conscious decision" to skip it. Michael thinks the cabana wins the prize for fitting its locale.

Next, Team Miami. Elizabeth explains that their design came from Miami's architecture, which is not just art deco but a mix of many influences. Erik describes how he came up with the louvers at the corners, to play with light and let the occupant be both "seen and unseen." Jonathan asks about the wood and Elizabeth replies that it's a wash treatment. Erik repeats his color assessment. Matt is just relieved and happy that they got something done. Wait, Matt was worried about finishing? You think they could have mentioned it more than half a dozen times.

Team St. Tropez. Carisa explains how they drew inspiration from the postcard's picture. Kelly verifies that the top of the structure is supposed to be unfinished. I think she's talking about the natural wood, because the cabana has rafters and a fabric awning. Goil talks about the difficulty of cantilevering the structure on its supports. Ryan is happy that their cabana isn't ordinary.

The judges head off to regroup in the White Room. Carisa voiceovers that she doesn't want to get the boot. Matt confides that everyone did well, so it could be a tough call.

White Room. Jonathan tells the designers that they'll be interrogated to find out which team member was responsible for which decisions. All the teams made some bad decisions, and someone's gonna have to pay.

See Team Tahiti's room at

Team Tahiti: Michael is looking rather pink, but Felicia and Andrea don't seem sunburned at all. Margaret loves the gauzy curtains wafting in the breeze. Kelly wants to know why they skipped the roof and the shade it would have provided. Felicia explains how they planned a roof with retractable sections. "But it wasn't there," Kelly protests. Oh. Right. Andrea explains how they looked at the structure from across the way and decided to skip the roof, so that the cabana would be a sort of "fantasy." Jonathan likes that word, because he thinks a cabana should be a "fantastical, dream-like space." Kathryn thinks it looked unfinished. Margaret observes that the design wasn't particularly exotic; was that on purpose? Michael protests that they didn't want to be too "literal" and "if you want to go to Gilligan's Island, you can do that." Margaret coldly replies, "There is absolutely something between Gilligan's Island and what you did." Michael adjusts his glasses, belatedly realizing that he still has a head only because Margaret is contractually obligated not to shed his blood.

Overall, the structure works for me. I like the curtains wafting in the breeze, but it looks like you can fasten them down if you're not into the wafting. The lack of a roof is a major problem, though. The other main flaw is that the cabana looks so bland. Tahiti inspired the paintings of Gaugin, after all. I don't think they need tiki torches and thatching, but some bright colors -- a nice, jungly green, for example -- would convey a sense of the tropics.

See Team Miami's room at

Team Miami: Jonathan wants to know Matt's opinion of their work. Matt praises the combination of outdoor (for showing off) and indoor (for privacy) spaces. Jonathan agrees that part was well done, but he hates the colors. He wants to know who to blame. Elizabeth volunteers that she "started" the color selection, but she remembers it being a team effort. Matt gets quizzed again on the team leader. He says that Erik and Elizabeth ran with the design, but everyone decided to include "pops of color" to a neutral structure. Jonathan wonders if Matt participated in the designing, since he's not seeing anything Matt-like in it. Matt says that Erik and Elizabeth had a meeting of the minds right off the bat, so he went along with the cooperative effort. Kelly thinks the indoor space was "too small." Kathryn can't picture herself sitting back there. Erik wants to revisit the color complaint. Kelly thinks their colors were more Vegas than Miami, which has "refreshing" "sherbert" colors. Margaret thinks acid green doesn't say "resort" or "beach" or "water." Elizabeth protests that they passed the colors by Matt, who had been working in Miami. Kelly wants to know who had the "final word." Elizabeth talks about blending three individual styles. Kelly thinks you have to speak up if you see something you don't like.

I like the louvers at the corners and the two connected spaces, but that's pretty much it. The flaps of fabric remind me of a car wash and the colors are boring when they're not ugly. It's just not a happy or relaxing space.

See Team St. Tropez's room at

Team St. Tropez: Ryan got roasted. I guess tough guys don't wear sun screen. Jonathan guesses that the cabana structure was Goil's work. Goil explains that the team direction was to reference nautical elements like yachts and masts and sails, so the structure reflects the theme. Jonathan describes how he found the structure very St. Tropez-like, but the interior was "Buffalo" with its "warm and cozy" colors and fabrics. Jonathan verifies that Ryan bought the furniture and Carisa shopped for fabrics. Margaret wants to know if they thought of blue. Carisa's like, "We had blue" but the judges are looking for something brighter and less denim-like. Margaret finds the look "heavy" with "earthy, grounded colors." Kelly thinks they were too literal interpreting the postcard. Jonathan asks Carisa if she felt shut out by "the guys" and she confesses her sense of exclusion. She brings up the "I should have gone shopping" issue again, pointing out Ryan's lack of experience. Jonathan asks Ryan to comment, and he says his experience is with "space." In other words, working in three dimensions instead of fabric's usual two dimensions. He agrees with Jonathan that he could have "done something" with the furniture -- presumably, if they'd had more time. Kathryn is forced to call their cabana "boring."

This one is the most pleasing to my eye in terms of color, but those colors have nothing to do with St. Tropez. I think they should have kept with the yachting theme and at least gone with more nautical colors, instead of basing the palette on the French flag. Navy blue isn't particularly St. Tropez, but it's crisp when paired with a bright white. The red is just wrong, and so is the boxy furniture. They need deck chairs with slats and curves, not rattan cubes.

Time for the judges to confabulate. Jonathan thinks Team Tahiti had "panache." Kelly liked the "nice negative space" among the clean lines. Kathryn likes the "modern" aspect of their "reinterpretation." Margaret adores the curtains, but the downside is the lack of a roof. "You're gonna get fried," Kelly predicts. Jonathan is still loving the fantasy angle, but Margaret argues that it wasn't a fantasy challenge and Jonathan is forced to agree. Margaret can't stand Team Miami's colors. Jonathan agrees: "I feel bad because I know that color is, like, subjective, but I just couldn't get beyond it." The judges try to analyze what was so bad about the acid green. (What about the eggplant?) Kelly sums up, "It's like the colors that you go to the paint store, and the paint's on sale." On the plus side, Margaret loves the indoor/outdoor design, although the indoor side needed more square footage. Jonathan and Kelly both think the design needed more Matt. The judges suspect Elizabeth was the driving force behind the color palette. Jonathan is struck by how they all keep going back to the color. Kelly wonders if Erik was "too domineering" but Jonathan thinks it's hard to tell; maybe Elizabeth was driving. Kathryn is ready to hire Goil based on Team St. Tropez's structure. Kelly agrees that the cabana was "original" but "the architecture and the furniture absolutely had no dialogue with each other." "And no dialogue with St. Tropez," Jonathan adds. Margaret thinks the curtain ceiling is less "chic" and more "hamburger shack." Kelly disagrees with the choice of Ryan to handle the furniture shopping. Jonathan doesn't like Carisa's choice of colors, especially the brick red. Kathryn thinks the red throw was "St. Tropez in February." Kelly argues that the design doesn't reflect much of Carisa, and Ryan made "poor choices." And the judges have agreement.

The designers return. Jonathan praises Team Tahiti for the Tahitian feel and the "ethereal" drapes, "but where was the roof?" Team Miami is praised for the indoor/outdoor design but scolded for the "cramped" indoor space and "terrible" color. Team St. Tropez had a "fantastic" structure but a "bummer" of an interior that didn't suit the locale. Team Tahiti takes the win. Michael interviews that he "really needed" the win (to offset his two previous finishes in the bottom) and it will motivate him for the next challenge. Jonathan awards them the weekend getaway prize. Andrea interviews that the win was a big "validation" but they also get to have a "girls' weekend, all three of us."

Now for the bad news. Erik still has immunity, so he's safe. Goil is safe. Carisa is safe. Ryan is spanked for not reworking the furniture and therefore disappointing the judges. Elizabeth is spanked for "apparently" picking the "horrible" colors. Matt is spanked for not speaking up. Matt is safe. Elizabeth gets the boot, so Ryan is safe. Jonathan hugs Elizabeth and sends her off to Todd. Elizabeth is quietly displeased. "I think we successfully achieved a good, solid design," she interviews. She defends the color as "not the worst color." Well, it was definitely in the neighborhood of "worst." Todd arrives for consolation. He compliments her commitment. Elizabeth confides that she was really hoping to last longer. She interviews, "I just wish I didn't go out with ugly colors. (bleep)!"

Right winner? I think I would have preferred no winner. All the teams made some major mistakes, and not because of the time constraints. But they had a prize to award, so I guess someone had to win. Team Miami had two major flaws (the color palette and the small indoor space). Team St. Tropez had two problems (the furnishings and the color palette). Team Tahiti had only one major flaw (the missing roof). So I can see how they took the win. But the main reason they didn't have a bad color palette is that they really had no color, and that's disappointing.

As far as the judging criteria go:

Based on all the criteria, I think Team Tahiti comes out ahead. Of course, if you start weighting the different criteria, you'll get a different result.

Right loser? The judges booted Elizabeth on the presumption that she was responsible for the color palette, so there are two points to consider. First, was the Team Miami color palette the worst mistake? Team Tahiti's roof omission was at least a contender, but since they won, I have to take it out of the running. Team St. Tropez's interior was wrong, but not actively ugly; it would look fine in the right setting. So yes, I think the Miami color palette was the worst mistake. Second, was Elizabeth responsible for the color palette? I think not; I believe it was a group effort. However, it seems the team failed to make that clear to the judges. With Erik and Elizabeth working so well together, it's hard to distribute responsibility for every little decision. I do think Matt missed an opportunity to play devil's advocate a bit, to keep the others from falling into the trap of groupthink. I can see it's not necessarily in his personality to challenge the prevailing tide, but I think a top designer should be able to do that. All three of them were candidates for the boot, but it's easiest to make the case against Matt.

It was nice to see them venture beyond the PDC. Now if we could just do something about the logistical awkwardness of the judging.


Sunday, February 11, 2007


Room to Grow

Previously on Top Design: Designers arrived at their new digs. At the PDC, Todd challenged them to create an "inner sanctum" for a client, inspired by five objects the client collected. Goil and Elizabeth worked well together. John and Michael did not. Goil and Elizabeth won. Heather and Lisa got the boot for their Chinese restaurant lobby. Heather was very sad.

The remaining ten designers hang out. Carisa interviews that John was having issues with aggression and decided to speak up. He announces that he's HIV+ and has been for several years. The infection depletes testosterone, so he received a massive dose from his doctor to carry him through the filming. (They don't have doctors in LA?) He's speaking up not to make excuses but to address the tension among the group. He disclaims any hatred or ill-will toward Michael. How can anyone work with Michael for two whole days and not hate him? I've only watched him for a couple of hours, and I want to squash him. John interviews that "nobody could get past" the John and Michael Show, and he thinks the resulting tension is "unhealthy." He tells the group that he spoke up because they "all have to live together." Michael interviews that of course he was shocked, because it was all so shocking. Elizabeth kindly interviews that she hopes John "can feel well" or at least "less pain." Ryan interviews that John "is an aging prize fighter, at some level." It's obvious he feels a lot of respect for what John has dealt with. John escapes to take a hot bath, leaving the designers to talk amongst themselves. Or not.

It's a new day, and we're back at the multi-colored PDC. Michael interviews that he needs to prove himself after the last challenge. Todd arrives with the new challenge. He has information on 10 new clients who want bedrooms designed. They'll arrive at 3:30 for a presentation. The rooms are all 12' square. The designers have $600 for paint and supplies, plus $8000 for shopping at the PDC. Matt interviews that the budget was an issue, because you can easily spend it all on one piece of furniture. I guess the PDC doesn't have an Ikea showroom. They will receive mattresses, but they must build the beds themselves. So that's one piece of furniture they don't have to buy. After meeting with their clients, they'll get a little more money for bed linens. The winner gets immunity. (Everyone looks happy.) The loser goes home. (Carisa looks stunned.) Todd gives them 30 minutes to design and lets them grab client info sheets at random.

Erik interviews that he's a little worried; normally you at least get to meet a client before putting together a presentation. Andrea recaps the challenging aspects of the challenge, like the lack of time and the lack of client impressions. Everyone picks out flooring from a big table covered with product-placed samples. Carisa interviews that she picked a bamboo floor because her client likes South America (where they don't grow bamboo) and rain forests (where maybe they do). John whines that Felicia took the sample he wanted. If you can't make up your mind, is it her fault? Ryan plans to make a custom easel for his painter and a cat walk for her cat. It's like he has two clients. Todd is impressed to see that Goil has made a mock-up (or maquette) of his room, including a scale figure representing someone six feet tall. Felicia is providing her client with a king-sized bed so he'll have plenty of room for a "lady friend."

Todd calls time on the design phase and sends them out "shopping" in the PDC showrooms. Michael asks a showroom assistant for help, since he only has an hour. He interviews that the items at the PDC are expensive (just in case you've forgotten since the last time someone mentioned it) and it was going to be hard to get everything he wanted for only $8000. Carisa rejects a $4200 item as too expensive and looks harried. Goil tells an assistant, "My client is a comedian, so I need something that is sort of fun." The assistant shows him an oversized clear glass fishbowl-type vase, which is only $400. Not seeing the humor in it, but Goil grabs it. Matt scores a couple of end tables. John interviews that he didn't get all the pieces he needed. The Art Deco-like chair he likes is $4500. Erik interviews that he got the items he planned for, but he still doesn't know if they're what the client wants.

Back in the workroom, Todd brings in the clients and the designers are flabbergasted. The clients are all ten-year-olds. Okay, time to rethink those presentations. I have to say, 10 years is a good age. Before puberty, kids are willing to be individuals and indulge their creativity; once they hit puberty, they start worrying about conforming to their peer group. The designers clap in welcome, which is nice of them. The clients find their designers. Ryan shakes hands with Madison; he interviews that he was expecting someone fifty years old. Michael interviews his "moment of panic": "Oh, shoot, I should have bought something pink and fuzzy." Now, now, let's not make assumptions. Maybe your client hates pink. John tells his client that she's "50% tomboy, 50% girl." He interviews that his design could take her through her teen years. Erik proposes an access door to his client, who approves. Erik interviews that he discovered his client was really into "pirate ships," so "we changed our room just a little bit." Elizabeth proposes a soccer field to her client. Andrea wants to give her client a Murphy bed. She interviews that she doesn't get girls, because she grew up with two brothers and now she has two sons. So, she never played with other girls? Carisa explains that the room will look like it's in a forest, and her client is all set to play Tarzan. Matt explains to his client that he already spent most of his money, so he'll have to work around the things she does like. His client nods, patiently waiting for him to tell her something she cares about.

Todd the timekeeper puts an end to the consultations. The randomly-assigned carpenters are coming in next. Todd says they have $400 to spend on supplies. But the original allowance was $600 for paint and supplies. What gives? After the carpenter consultation, the designers will go shopping again for more "kid-friendly" items. Everyone has $300 except Goil and Elizabeth, who get $400. The others "ooh" with envy. Michael interviews that the extra money is "probably" an advantage, but "it could change the direction of a lot of things." Todd throws out the final twist: the mattresses they're getting are all for twin beds. And it's carpenter time!

The designers consult. Felicia interviews that she had to change her bed design (she originally planned for a king-sized bed), so she turned her twin bed sideways. John interviews that he didn't pick a wood floor because he didn't like his remaining choices, so he picked a "high-gloss linoleum floor." Todd the timekeeper kicks off the shopping expedition.

The designers shop at a non-product-placed store. Goil rides the red plastic shopping cart down the aisle. He interviews that the extra money was a big help. Everyone heads for the bed linens. At the checkout, Goil teases Ryan about his foofy pink items. Erik, wearing a giant fake anchor chain around his neck, thinks Ryan's hot pink feather boa can't compete. Ryan interviews about all the "pink, pink, pink, pink" items he bought. Michael gets almost everything he wants for $298.60. He announces to the others that he's "really pooping a brick right now" because he's so impressed with his accuracy. I'm pretty sure this is not what "party in my pants" means.

Back at the PDC, it's time to get to work in the 12'x12' spaces. Andrea interviews that she had a lot to accomplish. Goil identifies painting as his "first priority." Michael paints. See, even if he doesn't win, it was a learning experience. Ryan apparently doesn't have all the materials he wanted; he's painting a big wave mural with a broom. He's making a "beach scene" so his client can "paint at the beach." No sunblock required. Everybody paints. Michael jokingly offers painting tips to the other designers. Matt wants to know if Michael will paint his room next. John grumps that he's missing a "duvet insert." He interviews that his carpenter was over budget at the store, and didn't get the floor, so now he has to figure something out. He's "fustrated" with everything going wrong.

Morning. The designers are back to work. Workety-work. Andrea interviews that "people are a little panicked right now" with time counting down. Erik worries about getting all his "finish details" taken care of, since they always take so long. He paints a design on a piece of cheesecloth and the paint goes through, onto the floor. Hope he got a rug. Michael congratulates himself for installing his own floor and Felicia gives him a high five. "Probably the most manual labor I've ever done in my life," he interviews. Ryan interviews that he thinks he really "nailed" the design, incorporating the client's creativity and the client's cat. Goil interviews that his room is "fun" and "interactive." He sums up: "The concept of the design is to have a room that is more than what it seemed." Matt interviews that he has to finish his recessed lights; they mimic the lights from a makeup counter, since his client is an actress and wants the glam. Felicia asks if he'll be able to turn on his lights. How come Felicia has time to talk to everyone? John discovers that his duvet is too big and tries not to freak out. He interviews, "There's nothing I can do right now except do the best I can with every single thing that is left." He refuses to "be a drama queen" about it all.

Todd wanders in for a looky-loo. He's blown away by Erik's construction; there's a pier in the middle of the room. Erik describes how he discovered his client was into the pirate thing. He put a door on the side of the platform bed (which is about 18 inches tall) so the client can stash treasure under there. Todd thinks the client will be "thrilled." In Goil's room, Todd finds skateboard wheels under the bed, so it rolls. He compliments Goil's "ingenuity" and Goil sort of curtsies. Todd is concerned about Matt's use of black, but Matt assures him that the client signed off. Todd calls it "counterintuitive to most children's design," so now he's intrigued. Matt interviews that his client is very "sophisticated." Over in John's room, Todd provides a little counseling as he listens to John's tales of woe. John interviews that his "biggest mistake" was "not just settling on a hardwood floor." It seems like his floor choices have put him in a downward spiral, so yeah, I think that's right. John describes how he tried to paint the floor brown, but all painting has to get finished on day 1. (The floor is half brown and half white.) Todd tells him to focus on his priorities and starts making some suggestions. John interviews that he has to work on his top three things and hope that will be enough to earn a spot. Todd wishes him luck.

With about 40 minutes to go, the designers load in furniture. Felicia interviews that she's confident, with just finishing touches to do. Her room is "sophisticated." Well, since it was originally designed for an adult, I'm not surprised. Carisa needs help knotting rope. Michael interviews that he feels confident in his "beautiful, girly" room; he disparages Erik's pirate ship enterprise. Michael compliments Matt's lights, but doesn't like anything else. Todd calls five minutes. Andrea interviews, "There's this peculiar calm when there's that much stress." John rushes through with more stuff. He interviews his hopes that he might "have a chance." Erik is "nervous" but wants complete all his little touches and "make it great." Todd calls time and summons the designers. John hugs his carpenter, who wishes him luck.

White Room. Todd recaps the challenge and introduces the judges. Guest judge is Liz Lange, maternity wear designer. Andrea, mother of two, interviews her gratitude to the guest judge. Todd turns it over to Jonathan, who announces the judging criteria as "design concept, execution and how well you modified an adult presentation to satisfy a 10-year-old client." The judges inspect the rooms:

White Room again. Everyone regroups for the ritual quizzing. Overall, I'm seeing some typical designer flaws, like assuming the rooms will all have spacious closets for storage. Most of these rooms have no places for stuff, and kids have lots of stuff. In a similar vein, the rooms don't have much latitude for a kid to make his or her mark on the space with pictures or posters or favorite items. It's like the room is supposed to be complete on paper, and must never deviate from the designer's original vision.

See Goil's room at

Margaret likes Goil's room but wonders how the hole in the wall for the bed would work in a real house. Goil answers, "Space doesn't go anywhere, right? So, like, it would sort of get displaced into another space. So it's a good way for children to learn about sort of, um, space." Okay then. I still like Goil, but I suspect he's one of those architects who can't be allowed to design kitchens because he's more interested in cool ideas than how things actually function. Footage of Matt rolling the bed around and looking at the niche. Kelly, accepting the room as more of a concept piece, jokes that Matt wouldn't have to make his bed; however, the hiding niche needs a door. I like the open space and the wheels, very appropriate for an active boy. The wall treatment is interesting but I don't know how personal it feels to the client. Most of the "activity" in the wall design is lower, so it should be possible to hang art or posters. The fold-down desk is clever but how often would it be clean enough to fold up? Still, there's at least some storage available, so it's reasonably functional except for the bed and niche cutouts.

See Carisa's room at

Jonathan wants to know how Carisa's design changed once she learned her client was a child. She explains how she was having trouble finding furnishings she liked, so she decided to build the end tables and desk into the bed. Again, it sounds like she didn't change much at all. Kelly likes the "depth of field" and the orange walls. Footage of Kevin trying to climb a knotted rope. Margaret likes the way she wrapped the color around all the furniture pieces, but she doesn't like the hard edges for an active boy. Carisa agrees on the need for "more softness." I'm very fond of the back wall and the construction of the end tables, but it's too reminiscent of her previous room with Erik. Also too reminiscent of the past room are the big pillows on the bed. Pillows are nice for color and texture, but they're just too fussy for everyday living. I don't think there's enough room to swing around on the ropes, so they're not as interesting an addition as they first seem. The particleboard surfaces need to be smoothed or covered. But it's certainly a good start for a room.

See Andrea's room at

Jonathan tells Andrea that Shea would have liked "more girly touches." Footage of Todd asking Shea if there's anything she'd change, and Shea suggesting more glitter. Andrea says she did buy "glitter and pipe cleaners and beads" but didn't have enough time to do anything with them. Margaret admires her chairs but doesn't think they're quite comfy enough for a bedroom. I'm not so fond of all the brown in the room; it's not the right tone for the blue. The chairs are attractive but not really suited to a kid's room. I do like all the bookcases; a perfectionist might enjoy arranging them and storage is always good. The Murphy bed is interesting but what moves into that space when it's up?

See John's room at

Next up is John, who is asked about the floor. He unfolds his tale of woe -- no dark hardwood, and then no floor from his carpenter. Jonathan tsks, but John says that he really did the best he could. Kelly complains that the end tables are too far from the bed. John argues for a while that they're not, but he's assuming the room has a queen-sized bed to fit the headboard, and the room actually has a twin bed, so Kelly wins. I like the headboard design. The larger side table works as a desk, so that's good. The big mirror needs to be fastened securely, and I think it's more than any girl really needs. Also, I don't see how the room addresses the tomboy half of the client; it's all pretty girly.

See Felicia's room at

Felicia is praised for fitting her bed to her headboard (by rotating it). Liz likes the outline and hooks for the bicycle, but overall the room was "a little serious" for a kid. Felicia claims that he seemed "a lot older than his body size." Jonathan says Joey liked the chess set but not the wall color. Felicia says she showed him the color and Jonathan sympathizes about "those fickle clients." I like the color palette, but I agree it isn't very youthful. The only signs this is a kid's room are the outlines and hooks on the wall for bike and skateboard, and a couple of soccer ball drawer pulls. There's not enough fun. The drawers under the bed are nice for storage, but shelves or drawers under the night stands would be nice, too.

See Elizabeth's room at

Elizabeth learns that Victor liked the soccer theme. Footage of Todd asking Victor about the soccer net, which he likes. Jonathan continues that Victor was confused by the buckets (inset into the desk). Elizabeth explains that they were for his memoribilia. I don't think buckets are the best containers for that sort of thing. The buckets only hold the memoribilia, when it should be displayed. I'm thinking more along the lines of shadow boxes or shelves. I'm not sure what's up with the yellow rope on the red chair. The chair seems to have rockers, so it would belong on the floor, but the rope makes me think it was supposed to be suspended from the ceiling. The shelves are nice, and I like the little rolling table by the bed. However, the bed itself and the desk look like they've been squeezed into the corners by the green astroturf, so it feels a little cramped.

See Ryan's room at

Jonathan is perplexed by the emptiness of the shelf along the top of Ryan's walls. Footage of Madison jumping up to touch the shelf. Ryan explains that the shelf is a catwalk, so accessories would be counterproductive. Jonathan complains, "Without a cat there, it looked kind of sad." A cat does add something to a room. Kelly compliments the mural, but thinks the room skewed more toward the cat than the girl. Ryan wonders if the easel and the bedside "art station" don't balance out the cat features. Margaret thinks the art supplies should be kept by the easel. Ryan argues that he paints, and that's his set-up. Margaret condescends that he's "a professional artist and this is a 10-year-old." Despite the huge mural, this room feels overwhelmingly white with the empty floor. It needs a little rug by the bed, which is much too high for comfort. What's the point of making it that tall? And the easel needs to hold the art supplies. I don't think the room is all about the cat, but I do think the cat elements were designed better than the girl elements.

See Matt's room at

Matt also gets the "we suspect you didn't make many changes to your adult design" question. He agrees that it didn't change much; his paint color was chosen to suit any age. Liz is worried about "the sophistication level" with the touches of black. Footage of Samantha complimenting the white and black fabrics. Matt assures the judges that the client was on board with it. Kelly compliments the recessed lights. I think the problem with the black headboard fabric is that there's so much of it; that rectangle has too much visual weight. A broad band of black around one of the black-and-white fabrics would have had the right balance. I like how the molding creates panels on the wall, and the lights are a good idea (although they'd need to be implemented differently in a real room, for safety). But how can you have a room for a girl called "Hollywood" without a mirror?

See Erik's room at

Margaret is surprised to find that she "loved" Erik's room. Footage of Trent grooving on the pirate theme. Margaret explains that the most popular designs for children's rooms in her magazine are the theme rooms, and this one was "fun" and "creative." Kelly likes it but finds it a little too reminiscent of an amusement park. I want to know, what happens when the kid grows out of pirates? It's a great room if you can afford to redo it in a few years, but I prefer more flexible designs. Most of the pirate decor is up on the walls, but you're still looking at some kind of outdoorsy theme if you clear that all off. I do like the desk and the underbed storage, so it's reasonably functional for an amusement park ride.

See Michael's room at

Finally, Michael. Margaret sums up the room as "granny." Footage of Breanna leaning on the bed, reading. Margaret thinks there are more youthful ways to do flowers and reading. Jonathan found the "Home Sweet Home" pillow depressing. Michael disagrees; the pillow is "quaint" and he "accomplished her personal design aesthetic." Kelly agrees that the room is functional, but it made her think of "an assisted living facility." I like the wall color, at least the deep teal that appears on my television screen, but I'm into blues and greens. The room does seem rather ordinary in arrangement. The shelf is too high for an avid reader's books and where is she supposed to write her poetry? As long as you're building a bed, create a platform resting on bookshelves, so books are a featured element in the room.

The designers go away so the judges can talk. Margaret gives Goil high marks. Liz thinks it has the right kind of sophistication, something that adults enjoy looking at but is still child-like. Margaret takes points away for random items sitting on the floor. Jonathan hopes Goil will get over that. Liz puts Carisa high on her list. Jonathan calls it "confident" and thinks she was creative in solving the functional needs of the space. Kelly likes the desk. As for Andrea's room, Liz is just okay with it. Jonathan is still impressed with the functional Murphy bed. Margaret thinks John started out with a "strong" design that captured the client (footage of Tessa telling Todd how the wall color matches her shirt), but couldn't pull it off. Liz is unimpressed with an unfinished room. The judges are all uimpressed by the excuses. They all commend Felicia's handling of her bed in relation to the headboard. Kelly did find the room comfortable, but they all agree it felt like a hotel room. Kelly didn't like all the soccer stuff in Elizabeth's room and Margaret didn't like the carpet, but they agree when Jonathan observes that it was an actual kid's room (rather, I think, than a barely-tweaked adult room). Ryan's room did not win Liz over, and Margaret thinks the bed is too high for safety. She complains, "I mean, you just can't design a room around a cat." I bet you can if your client asks you to. Kelly sticks up for Ryan; at least he had an idea and it worked as a kid's room. Jonathan calls Matt's room "confident" and all the judges like the lighting. However, they diss the black headboard fabric. Jonathan points out that the client was a "sophisticated kid." Jonathan is impressed with Erik's execution, even if it was over the top. Margaret has fallen for it and can't get up. Kelly thinks it was a bit much, but that's okay for a kid's room. Margaret hopes the client "really likes pirates." Jonathan brings up "the very, very, very, very sad room of Michael;" he calls it "melancholy." Kelly observes, "It could have been designed by a state-appointed designer." Jonathan thinks the wall color has "a mournful quality." Liz damns with faint praise when she observes that at least it was finished.

I wish the judges had viewed the footage of the kids inspecting their rooms, rather than just relying on summary comments. If pleasing the client matters, shouldn't they see for themselves how well the clients were pleased?

The designers return. Jonathan confirms that the winner will get immunity. Andrea, Matt, Elizabeth and Felicia are all safe. Goil is praised for his innovation and for "capturing your client's personality to a T." How would Jonathan know; did he ever meet the client? Erik is praised for a "cohesive and successful" design. Carisa is praised for her "confident and creative" design. And the winner is -- Erik. He interviews that his room was "total fun" and he accomplished what he intended. Goil and Carisa are safe.

So the bottom three are Ryan, John and Michael. Ryan gets spanked for designing for a cat; his "artist mentality" didn't translate into design. Michael gets spanked for designing for "a nursing home." John gets spanked for his messy floor and unfinished room. Ryan is safe. Michael is safe. John gets the boot. Jonathan gives him a hug. John bids farewell to Michael, who is standing closest to the exit. He interviews that he wanted to win, and he had all the necessary assets, so he's disappointed. Todd arrives for consolation. John doesn't understand how the judges couldn't see the design's direction and just recognize "that (bleep) happens." He tells Todd that it's just part of the same bad day (or two days), but at least he was one of the chosen few. He feels "cheated" but he knows the room isn't a true reflection of his abilities.

Right winner? Let's review the judging criteria: design concept, execution and adaptation of an adult design to a child. Of the top three, all had interesting concepts. Carisa's room needed a little more polish on the execution and she didn't do much adapting. Goil's execution was good and he clearly adjusted his design to make it more fun. However, Erik had it all over everyone when it came to execution and he obviously came up with a whole new design, so I can see how the judges would find his work (if not his room) the most impressive. I think Matt's room was also strong, but perhaps a bit empty to stand up to the top three in terms of execution. Felicia's room was well-made, but felt more like an adult room. Andrea's room was also rather staid, but I think it allowed the most room for her client to add her own personal stamp.

Right loser? I was pretty sure Ryan was safe. It wasn't a great room, but he really thought about his client's interests and the wave mural was cool. I think Elizabeth was the other possibility for the bottom three; the room was almost cartoonish with the colors and the simplicity of the furnishings. So it came down to Michael's uninspired but finished room versus John's more sophisticated mess. At that point, it's a matter of weighting the criteria. Since John was booted, execution was deemed more important than concept. That seems backwards, considering how unrealistic the execution schedule is. However, John's room wasn't so much poorly executed as incomplete, and I can see how the judges might consider that unprofessional.

The floor problem really derailed John and he never managed to get back on track. It seems he was off his game during both shopping trips, too. It's possible the hormones impaired his ability to concentrate; it's hard to tell. I do think he's capable of better.

At this point, I really want to see the designers break out of the white boxes and the PDC. Design Star did a good job of coming up with challenges using actual rooms (including the designers' own living quarters), so it can be done.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007


Boxes for Stuff

Fancy-shmancy rooms. Judges judging. Designers standing around. Designers workety-working. More fancy-shmancy rooms. More workety-working. Over it all, Todd Oldham explains the premise of the show: 12 designers, "grueling challenges" (which could involve actual gruel, if Project Runway and Top Chef are anything to go by), 1 winner, lots o' prizes. Welcome to Top Design!

Establishing shots of Los Angeles. I was expecting New York, but okay. Designers begin to arrive at their assigned living spaces. In due deference to age:

Goil is the first to arrive at the men's loft. He interviews that he's "more of a problem-solver and not a stylist." Meanwhile, he rearranges furniture. It's good to be the early bird. I half-love him already. Felicia arrives at the women's loft and strolls around, reminiscing about dorm life. Goil introduces himself to Michael, who interviews that he has "always wanted to be an interior designer." I think the question was, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" He explains that he used to watch Dynasty and critique the interiors instead of playing.

At the airport, Ryan arrives with his skateboard and proclaims himself "half Henry Rollins, half Evel Knevel." Well, I suppose skateboarding amongst pedestrians could qualify as a daredevil act, but I think the pedestrians are assuming most of the risk. At the loft, Ryan shows off for his new roomies by skateboarding off the kitchen table (ew, they have to eat there) and fails to hurt himself. Erik checks under the bed and gripes, "No place for my mascara? That's called wasted space." Matt interviews that design can be finding a pumpkin at the pumpkin patch with his daughter -- "Everything's design." The last to arrive is John. He interviews his dismay on learning that he'll have to live with a bunch of young, "queeny" guys who are just the same as a bunch of girls. Yes, yes, you're the manliest man who ever manned. Now stop oozing testosterone on my screen and get to designing some pretty rooms.

John and Carisa discover letters, which they read aloud. The letters welcome them to the show and let them know that they'll be getting started at 8 a.m. at the Pacific Design Center. They're signed by Todd Oldham. "Shut up, Todd Oldham? Oh no way!" squeals manly John. He interviews that he's totally excited -- "How many designers are going to be able to say they worked side-by-side with Todd Oldham or got feedback from him?"

Morning at the conspicuously colorful Pacific Design Center (PDC). Todd Oldham walks out and the designers all clap, because the production assistant is holding up the "Applause" sign. Todd welcomes them all to the show. His voice is mellow but his speaking style is upbeat and announcer-ish. It's kind of like Mr. Rogers had to host TRL and make all the kids go "Woo!" every 40 seconds. Todd explains that he'll assign the challenges and give them feedback, but he's not a judge. Todd reviews some of the prizes, including the "spread" in Elle Decor -- Felicia interviews that they have "the best taste" -- and the money. Although I think Design Star had the best prize. Since the whole point of going on a reality show is to be on TV, what could be better than your own show? The PDC will be their base of operations. It's chock full o' fancy-shmancy stuff. Heather interviews that PDC stuff can be very pricey. And it's time to get to work.

Todd leads the designers into a big workspace. Everyone has a table and a bunch of supplies, including a fan of product-placed paint colors. (I happen to use the product-placed paint, so it tickles me to see them advertising. But until I see some free samples, they're still "product-placed paint" to me.)

First challenge: Todd explains that design is often a collaboration between designer and client. He reveals five objects on a table: a white-on-black framed abstract of a face, a small disco ball, a giant doll's head, another head-like object on a green block, and a framed green butterfly sculpture. The client is too busy to meet with them, but has sent over these items to give them a sense of his -- or her -- taste. John interviews his concern that the items were all "kind of campy. I'm not a campy decorator." No, he's a manly decorator, and don't you forget it, or he'll bitch-slap you into next week. Ryan deduces that the mystery client has a sense of humor. He suspects Wierd Al Yankovic, or possibly Rick James, "except he's dead." That would explain the not-being-available-to-meet part. Todd explains that the items are for inspiration only and won't be included in the room.

The assignment is to create an "inner sanctum, a very peaceful room" where the client can recover from her -- or his -- very busy and stressful life. Lisa interviews that her design style is "Modern Ethnic," so for a "relaxing sanctuary," she immediately thought Asian. That's the nice thing about clichés -- no thought required. Todd gathers them to look at the space they'll be using. And on the way out, just pick up a paint chip, if you would.

And here we are, in a big, warehouse-like space. There are six large white "rooms" (minus a ceiling and a fourth wall), three on each side of a wide concrete aisle. Since there are twelve designers, they have to pair up. Which will be accomplished by matching those oh-so-innocuous paint chips. Cut to Michael looking gobsmacked. (Get used to that expression, by the way.) The results:

Todd says they'll have half an hour to confer and come up with a design. Each team will have a carpenter randomly assigned. By special arrangement, they can borrow furnishings from the PDC showrooms, with a "budget" of $50,000. Felicia speaks for everyone when she interviews that "$50,000 for a room is great." They also get $1250 for paint and lumber. And go!

Back in the studio, the teams get to work. Andrea explains that she and Ryan are doing a room that's "very '70s-inspired, very pop graphic." Ryan figures an inner sanctum is all about sleeping and having sex. Okay, that covers his extracurricular activities, but what about the client's? Andrea agrees with him that the client is male. She interviews that it's hard to come up with the right design just based on some objects.

Goil and Elizabeth have a meeting of the minds on their pit. Elizabeth describes their concept as "minimal meets retro meets fun meets eclectic." So basically they'll get whatever they want, and then not use most of it.

Felicia and Matt agree on asymmetry; Matt is pleased with their minimalism.

Heather tries to push the kitschy angle but Lisa is all about the peaceful angle. Heather recaps their different approaches.

Erik proposes some club chairs and Carisa calls him a "genius." Okay, that's a team player.

John proposes a fresco finish on one wall using a rag technique; Michael practically has a seizure at the word "rag." John assures him that he's not talking about rag rolling. Michael proposes a "really high gloss wall" and John retches. Michael interviews that working with John is hard because he's "very dominating." Michael tells John, "I'm thinking, like, Chicago suburb." Uh, why? John interviews, "His looked like your basic floor plan with the couch, two chairs, blahblahblah. And mine was a little different, so we opted to go with that." What do you mean "we," Testosterone Man? Michael tells John that he has "a very strong personality" and John protests that he can't concentrate. Michael points out that they only have 10 minutes left, and he already picked out colors. "But you didn't write them down!" John complains. Michael tries to figure out how to hide John's corpse in the workroom; John tapes his own mouth shut before he bites Michael's head off.

Todd calls an end to design time and gives them two hours to shop the bountiful showrooms after they turn in their product-placed paint orders. The designers shop. Lisa interviews, "With two hours and $50,000 in the PDC, you could do pretty good damage there." Goil and Elizabeth both love a giant yellow pepper. Erik doesn't like Carisa's lamp idea. Lisa pounces on an $8000 four-poster bed. Heather interviews again that they had different approaches; Heather kept trying to pry her out of Asia and into something "wacky." The John and Michael show continues in a fabric store. As they start talking over each other, John says, "Ssh, we're in a store" although Michael's voice wasn't any louder than his. Michael glides off in a snit. John interviews, "Michael acted like a spoiled little kid. I can tell from the way he handles himself that he has probably never been anything more than an assistant." John lectures Michael to tell him when he has fabrics, and Michael says he does, leading John to his choices. Michael explains he's thinking linen, and John rejects linen. Michael interviews, "It was not a pleasant experience. All of my ideas are instantly vetoed." John laughs at something and calls Michael his 'bitch," then hustles off while Michael glares. Michael voiceovers that he has "more high-end New York design experience than anyone else here." Unlikely, and so what? The client isn't looking for a high-end New York space.

Elsewhere, Matt and Felicia admire a large, white banquette and dark wood table for $17,300. Ryan and Andrea shop framed bug art, similar to the butterfly item. John asks Michael what he thinks of a black chest. Michael waves his hands and says, "I don't know how I feel." Other than wounded and rejected and dismissed. John takes that as an "ugh" and says, "Let's keep looking." Michael snips, "Fine." And that's how they get along when they agree. Michael interviews, "Working with John was a blow to my ego." John warns Michael that if they don't finish on time, he's on the chopping block, too. "But after much evaluation, I realized it's not me," Michael continues, "it's him. It's John." I wonder how many milliseconds of self-doubt elapsed before he came to that conclusion.

Carisa asks Erik about a $3000 Buddha statue. She interviews that you just have to get everything done before the deadline. Yep, that would be what a deadline is. Heather and Lisa agree on their cocktail table. Heather announces that they have $10,000 left. She interviews that she wanted to grab more stuff. But shopping is over.

Back in the work room, Todd announces that their supplies have arrived. He reminds them that they get carpenters (Matt's interview is all, "Yay, a carpenter!") plus they get seamstresses. They have until midnight to work on their rooms.

Work begins. Specifically, painting. Andrea interviews that two days is "the design equivalent of, it's like a minute." John interviews his approach was to create a neutral room so a featured object would look "like a museum piece." Goil and Elizabeth experiment with painter's tape. Elizabeth interviews that they "pushed the envelope" by choosing curves and a graphic pattern. Lisa explains that their wall treatment was just a bunch of abstract lines. Michael arrives at the space with his cup of coffee and is shocked (shocked!) to find work happening. "What's going on here?" But then he figures it out. "Let me help, please. What can I do? Can I do anything?" Constructive? No. John thinks he'll just get in the way. I have to say, Michael looks like he has a positive gift for getting in the way. But he proposes painting a wall. Not that he's ever painted before, although he has watched other people paint. So John instructs Michael in painting ("Go in a W"). Michael thinks that "in the real world of interior design, I wouldn't be handling a paint brush." If you have to hazard a guess about it, how much real world (let alone "high-end New York") experience can you have? Michael gets the roller going and John cheers him on. Then John leaves and Michael wanders off. John explains that Michael was always eager to do stuff, but then he'd go off and talk to people. Michael is visiting Matt and Felicia, bragging, "Well, you wait and see who wins. And it's going to be moi." John sums it up, "He's lazy."

Elizabeth warns her team that they only have two more hours to finish up painting. Carisa interviews that her design with Erik has "bright and funky colors and furnishings" that go with their horizontal stripes. Ryan describes his design with Andrea as "Stanley Kubrik meets funkadelic."

Time passes. Midnight approaches. Heather interviews that she saw Matt and Felicia doing "major construction" (they're creating a horizontal niche) and she realizes that her team lacks "design innovation." "We're being decorators rather than designers at this point." What she means is that they've limited themselves to the existing space, instead of changing the space to suit their needs. Which is not necessarily wrong, but it shows less creativity. She's feeling worried.

Michael urges someone to "hurry, hurry, hurry!" He interviews that the diagonal floor layout was "counterproductive" because it's taking more time than he expected. And with all his watching other people work, he would know what to expect. Michael stands with arms akimbo, aggressively chewing gum and staring at John, who voiceovers, "If Michael is nervous, it's because he knows in his heart that he wasn't a team player." Midnight arrives and the designers file out. John continues that he was "majorly pissed" with Michael's "prima donna" attitude.

Morning in the designer lofts. I could never be on a reality show because I don't want to share a bathroom with that many people. Andrea interviews that she's feeling sluggish. Today I notice that her ponytails are arranged horizontally rather than vertically. I'm not sure of the point of that, other than, "Hi, I'm creative." Over in the men's loft, John warns the guys that they have 20 minutes and Michael says, "Thanks, Mama Bear." John calls his roomies "little bitches." Michael whines, "If I get eliminated because of that jerk, I'm going to kill him." I suspect he has not looked past the actual murder, to the trial and the eventual prison sentence, because I'm sure prison-jumpsuit orange would give him the vapors.

And off to work they go. Goil interviews that seeing the space again gave him a chance to evaluate and prioritize. Carisa compliments the seamstress when she delivers their goods. I don't know how far she'll make it, but at least she's pleasant to have around while she lasts. (Next week: Carisa reveals she's really a bitch on wheels.) Todd arrives to give the designers a pep talk. To help motivate them, he breaks the news: two of them will be eliminated at the judging session. The designers bum out. Goil interviews that his reaction was, "Todd, I don't want to go home. I want to hang out with you!" Okay, it's official; I like him. (Next week: Goil reveals he's really a bitch on wheels.) Felicia sums it up as "pretty harsh." Todd dismisses them to get to work.

Workety-work. At least three teams seem to have had the following though process: "There's green in two of the items. The client must like green. We should paint the walls green." In a non-green room, Michael touches a wall panel and comes away with a palmful of stain or paint. John yells at him like he's a twelve-year-old, which he sort of is. Michael marches off, pouting, "I hate him." John back-atchas the sentiment. He gripes about having to "babysit."

Todd arrives for a looky-loo. He admires the green in Heather and Lisa's room. Heather interviews that he complimented their paint because that's all they had ready. Well, it is a fairly nice green. Ryan is pulling up tape, which Todd interprets as a good sign. The green here is more of an acid lime. Ryan is feeling good. "I can see a lot of you guys have used green," Todd observes while standing in Erik and Carisa's green-on-green striped room. He congratulates them on their progress. Over in Matt and Felicia's room, he spots a problem with a seamed fabric panel; the selvage (or seam allowance, as Felicia calls it) is "locked" so it doesn't have any give, unlike the rest of the fabric, which drapes. "You might want to think about unlocking that selvage and then your fabric will relax," he advises. Shouldn't a designer know this? It's not like seams are a rarity in their world. Matt interviews that having Todd Oldham critique his work was kind of nerve-wracking. He examines the seam while wearing a white coverall, like he's about to go excavate asbestos or some other hazardous material.

Goil zips off to fetch furniture. People start loading stuff into their spaces. Erik interviews that they all started loading with about an hour left on the clock, so everyone was busy. Heather and Lisa discover that their centerpiece bed has been broken down into a gazillion pieces, which now have to be reassembled. Heather recaps the discovery, and admits that the bed could not have been brought down in one piece. Their carpenter studies the pieces and he starts putting it together with Lisa's help. Or maybe "help." I can't tell. Heather watches with a frowny face and voiceovers that she was "freaking out." Lisa sends her off to finish "everything else." Frantic, rushing workety-work. Todd arrives, calling the five-minute mark. Designers hustle. Todd counts down the last five seconds and they're done.

Todd tells them that all the rooms look "dynamic" but now it's time to hand things over to the judges. Goil recaps the part about two people getting the boot; he doesn't want to be one of them.

Some time later, the designers file into the White Room, which is probably more of a cream. The front and back walls have a large-scale quilted and button-tufted effect which is probably not actually fabric. A third wall seems to be covered by a scrim-like curtain. We don't see the fourth wall, because the cameras are over there. The judges sit on tall, gilt stools and the designers stand at attention across the room.

So, this room. It does remind me of the judging room on Design Star. The good news is, the walls are not purple. However, the judges are separated from the designers by a sea of shiny black flooring. It's just not that interesting a space. I think the judges should be on a platform. And instead of the spindly stools, I'd like to see them sitting in historically significant chairs that change from week to week: Eames, Stickley, Chinese Chippendale. If there's an outdoor project, the judges could lounge in Adirondack chairs. Just as long as it doesn't turn into the Ikea Chair of the Week.

Todd welcomes the designers and recaps the challenge. Time to meet the judges. The lead judge is Jonathan Adler. Heather interviews that "his product design is amazing" and she's honored to be in his presence. Next is Kelly Wearstler. Andrea gives her props for mixing "glam into everything she does." Finally, we have Margaret Russell, editor-in-chief of Elle Decor. She smiles at the designers all kittenish and cute, but you know she can slash a jugular before you can blink. Carisa comments, "There probably isn't a better person to give us advice." Well, I don't know if "advice" is going to be the right word for it.

And the fourth judge is the mystery client, an actress and "member of Hollywood royalty" -- Alexis Arquette. John is starstuck because "she rocks it." Ryan snarks that without his glasses, he wondered "How did they get Iggy Pop in drag?" Probably by asking, Mr. Oh-I'm-So-Punk-Rawk. I mostly know her for being an Arquette, but she seems to have interesting taste, so we'll see how it goes. Todd decamps and Jonathan takes over.

Jonathan recaps the challenge again and announces that the judges will be looking at their work now. Carisa regrets not giving into her wild and crazy instinct. I think the whole logistics of the judging and the judging room need some work; this back-and-forthing feels awkward.

So we're back in the warehouse-like space, with the teams lined up with their rooms. The judges stroll, notebooks in hand.

Everyone heads back to the White Room for the judges' critiques. Jonathan summarizes: "Some of it was really, really good and some of it wasn't." Erik and Carisa are up. Jonathan says he gets "playful" and "young" from the five objects, but not from their room. Erik explains that they wanted to go contemporary "without beating it into the ground." Margaret wants to know about the pillow bonanza. Carisa wanted to fill up the space, and they might come in handy if you had a lot of guests over. "Party in the inner sanctum!" Nope, I don't think that was the idea. Nice thought, but not the assignment. I love their "fireplace" wall, though.

Jonathan turns to Goil and Elizabeth -- who came up with the sand pit? Elizabeth raises her hand. Kelly praises their originality. Margaret wonders about seating; she didn't think the swing looked comfy. Jonathan queries Alexis, who sat in it; she admits the swing was more comfortable than she expected. I think having a back cushion helped. I really like the idea of the swing, and the sand pit could make a nice Zen garden, but I would place the swing adjacent to the pit rather than over it. If you make a nice sand design, you don't want to step all over it on the way out.

Now Heather and Lisa. Jonathan asks whose vision it is, Heather describes how Lisa "immediately" drew a daybed, and then they "created around that." Margaret asks if they were under budget and Heather confesses. Jonathan wonders why they didn't "splurge" on some terrific pieces, but Lisa argues that they "nailed it" with the bed and they didn't want to distract from it. Jonathan just wouldn't pass up the opportunity to get all spendy if the client would let him get away with it. When Jonathan asks, Margaret admits she wouldn't publish the room in her magazine; it's too theme-y. I love the bed for sprawling, but the room is entirely too busy. For all Lisa's talk about serenity, she picked some ornate pieces, and she piled in a lot of stuff.

Jonathan wonders if Ryan and Andrea's room would work as an inner sanctum for Alexis. She comments, "It's almost like you took these things and threw them in a box and shook it up, and these things became a room. But I wasn't so sure if you were being too literal." Andrea answers, "I think we were really responding to the objects themselves and I think we really took this as, this is a vibe, and can we blow that up into 3D space." In other words, yes, they were being literal; they designed the room to "be" the objects. Kelly likes the "dialog" of the painted floor and walls. I think the furniture arrangement was rather sparse, though.

Jonathan tells Matt and Felicia that their room was "really, really chic" but he didn't see the client's personality. Felicia speaks to the "relaxation" angle. Matt explains that they used neutrals so the display object would "pop" and be the focus of attention. Now Jonathan gets what they were going for. Kelly compliments them for playing with the space itself; she liked the bench. Margaret complains that the bench is too high for the table. Felicia explains how the bench math works out to eighteen inches. I get the point of the neutrals, but without the featured object(s) to brighten things up, it's pretty dark and sort of dull.

Margaret wants to know if John and Michael were designing for a man, since they placed a man's shoes under the table. John explains that he tried to "stage" the room to be "very warm and inviting." And since Alexis is the judge, it was her "man there waiting." Jonathan likes the "narrative." However, he's "struck by the chasm between you guys." John admits that they were very bad at working together. Michael explains, "John is not somebody who should ever work in a team, and there is no team that should be subject to working in a team with him." But, Michael concludes, the room expresses both their viewpoints. Kelly asks if it was a "50/50 collaboration." Michael agrees and looks challengingly at John, who thinks the room is about 70% him. Michael wants him to break it down, but John is all, "They asked for my opinion." Michael turns to the judges and asks, "How do you argue with a narcissist?" How long do you think it took him to compose that line for the judges? You can just see him thinking, "Ownage!" Margaret is not amused. John announces that his "skin is crawling." Jonathan is like, TMI, dude. John continues that "It was the worst situation I have ever been exposed to" while Michael looks around all, "Can you believe this guy?" Michael argues that he "dove right in" and painted. Jonathan is surprised that he has never painted. Michael breaks out his "I've watched plenty of homes being painted" line, but the judges are all, dude, you have to get dirty. Michael insists that he did. John essentially calls him a big, fat liar. The room is nice, but again, I don't see the client's personality.

Jonathan puts an end to it by sending them all away while the judges review. Margaret thinks Erik and Carisa had a "tasteful room" but nothing special. Kelly commends the fireplace, though. Margaret was not impressed with the little round table. Jonathan calls the room "a bummer." Jonathan thinks Goil and Elizabeth were "totally original" if "weird." Alexis comments that the horizon line pulls the viewer out of the room and makes the room more of "an experience." Kelly thinks "unique and original" is much harder than "pretty." Margaret hates the rake sitting on the bench; it made her think of a litter box. Kelly gets the Japanese sand garden idea, though. Jonathan turns to Ryan and Andrea. Kelly likes their effort. Margaret observes it's the only room with anything "glitzy" or "mod" but "at the end of the day, to me it looked like a reasonably sophisticated dorm room." Jonathan is forced to agree. (Me, too.) Alexis found Heather and Lisa's room "a little cluttered." Kelly is thinking Chinese restaurant. Alexis agrees it would be hard to display any objects in the room. As for Matt and Felicia, Alexis loved the niche wall. Margaret calls it "tasteful" in a "damning with faint praise" tone and likes their attention to detail, but she's convinced the bench is too high for the table. (I believe she's right.) Jonathan found their display explanation convincing. Alexis thinks her objects would look "more high-end" in that room. Jonathan thinks John was doing most of the work in that partnership. Margaret calls the room "terrific" but doesn't see Alexis in it; Kelly and Jonathan agree. Jonathan verifies that they've reached a consensus.

The designers return. Jonathan reveals that the winners will get "a leg up" in the next challenge, but of course offers no details. Carisa and Erik are safe. They go stand to the side, along the scrim wall. Ryan and Andrea are safe. Now for the winner. Matt and Felicia had a "chic and sophisticated" room which "pushed outside of the box, literally." Kudos to Jonathan for using "literally" correctly. Goil and Elizabeth "captured your client's personality." Alexis chose the winners: Goil and Elizabeth. They hug. Elizabeth interviews that they took a risk, and her "voice as a creator was validated." Goil interviews that he didn't realize that he really wanted to win until he was actually in the White Room. Matt and Felicia are safe. The remaining designers step forward. Heather and Lisa had a theme room. Michael and John get spanked for their bad behavior, and Michael needs to paint. Heather and Lisa get the boot, so Michael and John are safe "for now." Jonathan hugs the departing designers (I'm ignoring the kicker line as a form of protest) and sends them to workroom to get consolation from Todd.

Heather interviews, crying, that losing was her fault, because she let Lisa walk all over her. Lisa is convinced that the judges "made a mistake." Todd arrives for consolation hugs. Lisa interviews the "thousands aspire, but there can be only one" premise. Todd reminds them that design is subjective, because it's personal. More hugs, this time in farewell. Heather interviews that she's really mad, but "the only person I'm angry with is myself." No, I'm pretty sure she's pissed with Lisa, too; she's just following the "how to lose well" script. But plenty of "superstars" have gotten "knocked down" repeatedly only to fight their way back to the top, so she's not giving up.

Interesting challenge. The premise behind the commercialization of design and the branding of designers (that's "branding" in the business sense, not the cowboy sense) is that our stuff tells people who we are. (Shopping is a form of self-expression, and therefore arguably an art form. So no need to feel guilty about that credit card balance!) Here, the designers were challenged to figure out who someone was based on some stuff, and struggled.

I saw three approaches to the challenge:

So it's not surprising that Goil and Elizabeth were the winners. I didn't love their room -- they had too many objects strewn around, like a surrealist painting -- but I loved their overall idea. The wall treatment is subtle, but I appreciate it more each time I see it. The swing is genius; it just needed better positioning. I would have liked to have seen more structure inside the room and a little more attention to function. There was no place to put anything down, so the room seemed more like an art installation than a real, usable space.

I suspected John and Michael were safe. Not because they bring the drama, but because Margaret, who is the hardest judge to please, liked their room. None of the judges liked the Chinese restaurant lobby, so Lisa and Heather were clearly doomed. For all that Lisa was going for a peaceful vibe, that room was far too busy. I think Team Drama got put on the chopping block because the judges (if not the producers) don't care about the drama and spanked them for carrying on at the judging conference.

Overall, the show still has its rough spots, so we'll have to see if they find their groove in the coming weeks.


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