Thursday, March 08, 2007


Cheap Tricks

Previously on Top Design: The designers teamed up to create beach cabanas on an actual beach. Elizabeth charged ahead and Matt let her. Ryan told an incredulous Carisa that his rooms are an obnoxious noise while hers are conservative. They clashed interminably. Team Tahiti won for their roofless but otherwise decent cabana. Ryan was spanked for not fixing his furniture, Matt was spanked for slacking off, Elizabeth was spanked for Team Miami's grotesque color palette. Elizabeth got the boot and regretted getting stuck with "ugly colors" on her resume.

Daytime. PDC. Ryan interviews that he hasn't had an opportunity to shine yet. "Given the right set of circumstances" -- like a client who's into punk rock and skateboarding -- "I would really be able to blow some minds." Because that's what interior design is all about. Matt interviews that he didn't like being in the bottom three and he'll try not to do it again. In the last episode, Ryan and Carisa got the opening interviews and then spent the episode feuding. Are Ryan and Matt going to duke it out this time? I would love to see Ryan get smacked down, but I don't think Matt's the guy for the job.

Everyone sits on the bright green grass as Todd introduces the next challenge. The designers are pleased to learn that they'll get a chance to talk to their clients before coming up with their designs (what a wacky twist!) but not so pleased to learn that their clients will be picky, since they're interior design students. The challenge is to create a "post-college living space" for sleeping, eating and working. No socializing? The clients find their designers and get to talking.

Todd sends the designers off to take care of paint and fabric; tomorrow, they'll tackle furniture shopping. All told, they'll have 2.5 days to complete the challenge. Wow. That's like six years in real-world time.

The designers head to the fabric store for 20 minutes of shopping. Michael interviews that fabric is usually his starting point for a project, and he draws colors and textures from that. Matt is having trouble finding what he envisions. Carisa sympathizes. Ryan interviews that his fabric is very "pop" and "loud." He confesses to the clerk that this is his first fabric purchase. No wonder he didn't want fabric duty last time. Still wondering why he signed up for this show. Felicia interviews that she won't just cater to a client's wacky demands; she's going to give the client her best efforts. And what happens if the client doesn't want her best efforts? Something Donald Trump's decorator has to ask herself or himself on a regular basis, no doubt.

At 6:25 a.m., Todd apologetically wakes up the women. Carisa interviews that she never imagined awakening to the sound of Todd Oldham's voice. There's much moaning and groaning. Todd then wakes up the guys. More moaning and groaning. I thought TV shows got off to an early start, so what's the big deal? Todd even brought coffee and muffins. He explains to the assembled designers that the challenge will incorporate a "great American tradition -- the garage sale." The designers would probably be more shocked if they weren't half-asleep. I actually like this twist. It fits with the idea of someone young and just starting out, furnishing their new digs with hand-me-downs and scavengings. Andrea confesses that she has never been to a garage sale, so she was "horrified." Todd warns that the judges will be looking at their ability to make over their finds. They'll get $500 (which can get you a lot at garage sales) and can shop until noon (although the good stuff is usually gone by 8:05 a.m.) with a randomly-assigned travel buddy. Only so many product-placed vehicles to go around, I guess. Todd heads off for a nap while the designers venture forth in search of bargains.

The graphic says the designers have 4 hours to shop, so it looks like they're moving out at 8:00, which is a late start if you're hitting garage sales. Everyone has maps. Carisa fusses that they have to turn around. Her travel buddy Michael interviews that they went all over the city. Carisa disses the neighborhood they wind up in, convinced they won't find anything. No more grumping! Goil introduces himself to the homeowner, who giggles over his name. "Some bastards are already here!" Michael announces as he climbs out of the product-placed vehicle. Go get 'em, tiger! He finds some Danish modern chairs, while Carisa goes for something orange and mod. The seller wants $200 for it. Is this a real garage sale? Who charges $200 for their discards? Michael does a "my stuff is great but her stuff is crappy" interview, because we can always count on Michael to pooh-pooh someone else's choices. He tries to shake off Carisa by striding off to another sale down the street.

Erik does some bargaining. He interviews that no one starts out with big budgets, and the challenge reminds him of his own early years. Which, since he's 28, are only a year or two in his past, at most. Felicia interviews that she's not used to working with such a small budget. She finds some necktie fabric that reminds her of wallpaper. In texture rather than pattern, I hope. Goil finds a kilt and does a quick jig, but Felicia will not be distracted. Matt marvels at the piles of crap spilling out of someone's garage. If only there were a chance of a Clean Sweep/Top Design crossover. Matt interviews about his steal of an outdoor dining set. Andrea interviews how she found a lot of raw material for reworking. For someone who never saw a garage sale before, she got right into the spirit of things.

Ryan interviews that he found a bunch of "upscale junk" -- no low-class junk for him! -- that he has to rework. He much prefers doing his own thing to buying the same things as everyone else. Yes, yes, you're unique and special. But unless you're customizing your socks and underwear, don't pretend you're too good for mass-merchandising. Goil has racked up $100 in items. He interviews about all the stuff he got, that he'll be reworking. Felicia offers $25 for a granny-square afghan that's worth maybe $3, and the seller does a good job of acting like he's doing her a favor.

Back at the PDC, Todd announces that the carpenters are imminent. But first, an announcement. "Uh-oh," sighs Felicia, who has learned (like the rest of us) that late-in-the-game announcements are not a good thing. But the twist is, this is not a twist. Instead, Todd informs them that they will get to pick their carpenters in the next challenge, and the winner of this challenge will have first pick. Will the carpenters be wearing little black slips? I would pay good money to see that. Carisa interviews that it would be great to be able to pick a carpenter. The carpenters arrive for consultation and Felicia celebrates. She interviews that her carpenter is good about getting her explanations. Carisa has Sarah, the only female carpenter. She wears a tasteful bead necklace with her black t-shirt and brown cargo pants. If she doesn't make it as a carpenter, I think she has a future as a stylist. Carisa interviews that the centerpiece of her design is a rolling desk, which will be awesome if it can be "executed correctly." More gabbing from designers. Todd calls time and sends the carpenters to shop at the hardware store.

Now it's time for Todd to check in with the designers, which is always a highlight. Felicia explains that she's having a little trouble with her paint selections, and Todd suggests toning down her lavender with some of her gold paint. Felicia recaps the suggestion; she's pleased with her direction. Matt explains that he decided to plank his back wall with reversed flooring; Todd compliments his creativity. Carisa tells Todd about a handmade rug she found. He loves her colors, but raises a concern that she's doing green and orange again. Carisa gets his point, but her client loves orange. Carisa interviews that she never mixed orange and green before coming on the show. Todd gives the designers six hours to work, with the promise of more time the next day, and heads out.

Workety-work. Designers unload their stuff. Carisa paints a wall red and makes a pre-emptive apology to her client for not using orange. Ryan interviews that he's going to pretend the room is an art installation, because he knows art and he doesn't know design. His room is black with white stripes accented with crushed glass for a diamond effect. Somewhere in France, Hilda Saint-Tomas stands up and cheers. Goil seems envious of Ryan's "bold" color choice. Felicia interviews that Ryan is "totally in his element." He inspects the application of glass in one of the broad black stripes. Felicia can't tell if his room will soar or flop. Goil has a little miscommunication with Jared, his carpenter. He interviews that as much as he loves Jared, he gets along better with a couple of other carpenters. Carisa frets over her rolling desk, which she interviews is a "major" piece. She offers to help Sarah, who's like, don't help. Carisa confesses that she gets nervous when the time ticks down. She interviews that she's trusting Sarah to get it done. Her face interviews that she doesn't trust Sarah one little bit. And the designers are done for the day.

And it's morning again. Andrea interviews that she has lots of little things to finish. "Let's roll, sugahs!" Michael urges as they load into their vehicles. And back at the PDC, sparks are flying as someone welds or maybe cuts metal. The camera's not getting too close. Matt interviews that he thinks he has a shot with his "high-end" room. Felicia's feeling much better now that she's getting her fabric "wallpaper" up. Michael does another "diss a fellow designer's choice" interview about Felicia's wallpaper; he thinks maybe she's having trouble because she usually does "high-end" design. Goil explains that he divided his room into two areas, one raised a foot off the floor to create separation.

Carisa interviews that she and Sarah are not on "the same page" and the room is starting to get away from her. Sarah reveals that the desk is not coming together, despite her best efforts. It's very long and there aren't many supports. Carisa interviews that Sarah's wood choice was too heavy. But it has to be strong enough to support the long span. I don't know my lumber tolerances, but it seems like there are some trade-offs involved. Carisa frets. Sarah tells her to calm down as she fixes the paint job. Carisa "borrows" Michael to confirm her decision to ditch it, because she can count on him to hate it, too. Sarah tries to find out what needs fixing, but Carisa is past it. She interviews her disappointment. "I'll never trust a carpenter again," she mourns. Drama queen.

More workety-work. Erik compiments Ryan's colorful bullseye tabletop and predicts a win for him. Ryan "sobs" that he's scared of success. Michael urges his carpenter to make something "straight." Todd calls five minutes. Cleaning and sweeping and last minute details. Todd calls time and the designers file out. Matt interviews that he thinks he has disguised the low origins of his furnishings, so he feels good about his chances.

The White Room. Todd recaps the challenge and introduces the judges. Apparently scientists have discovered time travel and the only way to preserve the integrity of our space-time continuum was for Kelly to make an appearance at Studio 54, and she just got back. That's my best explanation for her appearance; feel free to make up your own. The guest judge is set designer Joe Stewart, who has 23 Emmy nominations and the White Room in his credits. I'm thinking the White Room is not going to make it 24.

Jonathan outlines the judging criteria: design, execution, meeting the client's needs and refurbishing the garage sale purchases. He already has the clients' feedback. Time to review the designs.

Michael does another designer diss interview, calling Ryan's room immature and "Willy Wonka"-looking. I'm guessing Michael had a typical middle-class childhood, and he hated everything about it. Ryan interviews that he doesn't care about any negative opinions, because they're from people who don't get his awesomeness. The whole "they didn't see it" excuse is really arrogant. First, it means that he must have been completely successful in presenting his idea. Second, it assumes that his idea was worth the effort. From what I've seen of Ryan's work, he hasn't earned those assumptions.

See Matt's room at

The White Room again. Jonathan asks Matt what came from the garage sales, and Matt says it all did. Even the bed? Margaret thinks he did a "brilliant job" providing what the client requested, and Jonathan confirms, "The client really dug it." We see Chad admiring the space, and when Jonathan asks, he agrees that he would rent it. Margaret and Joe criticize Matt's choice of green as too common. I guess green is no longer the new black. I don't care if the green is common; it's a nice color. I love the desk unit and the dark back wall. The wall stain came out better than the stain on the furniture; the weathered effect works for the table and chairs (to contrast with the back wall) but not so much on the bed. The fabrics aren't really my thing, but they work in the room. I'd ditch the gold statuette and put some shelves on the side walls, but it's really a solid room, and it doesn't look at all like a garage sale.

See Andrea's room at

Jonathan likes the functionality of Andrea's room. He wonders what Joe thinks, since he frequents garage sales to dress his sets. Joe likes the storage on the walls and her upholstery work. Kelly thinks the bed is too narrow. Andrea explains Steve's willingness to sleep on a couch. Yeah, but a narrow couch? Margaret asks if she considered a single cushion instead of the "split cushion" she used. Andrea explains she wanted a couch look, but agrees that a single cushion would be more bed-like. My first impression is that this is more of a work space than a living space; it just doesn't feel homey. Nothing really says "comfort." The couch tries, but it's not something you can really settle into. And after studying the picture, I think the room is unbalanced. The right side is boxy and solid with the built-in sofa, while the left side is all leggy with the chairs and tables. The wall treatment would work better in a room that wasn't so full of pieces.

See Goil's room at

Goil's turn. Jonathan thinks it's his "most room-like" work so far. Margaret likes his creativity with the wooden chairs. Kelly wonders about the recessed mattress. Goil wanted to keep the horizontal line "clean." Kelly asks about comfort, and Goil thinks it works because "you never fall off your bed." Points for making the judges chuckle. Zeal tells Jonathan, "I definitely could sleep here. Me and another person." This room needs some wall color stat. Goil has gone beyond "clean" to sterile. Well, at least he put some colorful items on the walls. The chairs are kind of silly, although resting them on the elevation means they take up less floor space. But if he rearranged the work desk (which is pitifully small) so it didn't crowd the table, he'd have room for fully functional chairs. I also disagree with the fully-recessed bed. He has a mound of pillows messing up the clean plane of the elevation anyway, so pop up the mattress a couple of inches and make it more inviting.

See Felicia's room at

Jonathan wants to know about Felicia's afghan. She thinks it fits the client's "funky edge," but Jonathan reveals that the client was "really disappointed." Mary tells Jonathan that she'd want to change a lot of things, like the chair. When he asks what she "love, love, loves," she says she likes the wallpaper, but the afghan feels like Granny's house. When Jonathan asks for her general reaction, she says, "I'd shoot myself." Jonathan tells Felicia that the afghan became the focus of Mary's distaste. Felicia confesses to wavering on the afghan. Margaret compliments the wallpaper and her lacquered chair. I really like the black lacquered chair, and kudos to Felicia for mocking up a window. Other than that, it's really kind of a mess. The wallpaper just doesn't tie into the golden tones in the rest of the room. Even if you get rid of that (and toss the afghan while you're at it), the remaining pieces don't really pull together. There's eclectic, and then there's muddled.

See Erik's room at

Kelly admires Erik's use of space. She and Jonathan both love his little green chair on a pedestal light, but Kelly thinks his artwork was "scary." Apollo tells Jonathan that it looks like "John Wayne Gacy art." Erik was going for "pop literal fun" but admits that maybe he didn't pull it off. I like the combination of wood and metal; it has a good balance. I'm not so fond of the mini-dividing wall; it makes the bed feel like an MRI machine. And the big cream ottoman, although nice, feels sort of smushed into the room. I like the little pops of red; there's just enough color. But the artwork is just not working for me. If you're going to be that literal, you need to be more playful, I think.

See Carisa's room at

Carisa confesses that she had to ditch her "really interesting" rolling table. Jonathan was impressed by her garage sale finds. Margaret asks about her pillows and Carisa explains that she made some from napkins. Margaret gives her a pass from the "pillow police" for having just enough pillows. Eden tells Jonathan that she repeatedly requested storage. Jonathan points out that other designers managed to incorporate storage on the same budget. Carisa can't argue the point, so she says she did her best. Did she make the coffee table out of the failed rolling desk? Because otherwise, I can't see how the desk could have fit into the room; there's not a whole lot of space to roll around between the bed and the chair. The bed is rather spartan, but I love the shelving at the end. The white walls are also rather stark; she should have used some pillow fabric to create wall hangings and turned the failed desk into shelves to break up all that white.

See Michael's room at

Kelly likes the lamp in Michael's room, which he included for its "organic" or "handcrafted" qualities. When Jonathan asks, Justine admits she likes the lamp, although she doesn't enthuse. Jonathan turns to the colors, which he calls "grape and banana." Michael disagrees with that characterization, as well as Kelly's contribution of "macaroni and cheese." I think the judges need a dinner break. Michael asserts that he achieved a "happy and bright" look, but Margaret disagrees. The yellow looks cheerful enough on my TV, but the purple is way too heavy. I love all the construction along the back wall, but the furniture arrangement makes it hard to see. Put the seating area on one wall and the desk (preferably a more substantial desk) on the other, and you've got something. I confess, I like the wooden partridges. They have such a great, curvy shape.

See Ryan's room at

Ryan is ready to take the judges on. At least he's not shadow boxing, although I wouldn't put it past him. Kelly calls the room "chaotic." You'd think she could appreciate that, given her hairstyle, but no. Joe wants to know about the screen. Ryan explains that he wanted to add privacy and divide the space. Kelly doesn't like the permanence; a drapery panel would be more flexible. Ryan thinks that's a "standard solution." A functional standard is better than an original failure, though. Jonathan reports, "The client, she thought, like, you know, she was sleeping behind bars." Carrie tells Jonathan that the space is "a little too eclectic" but she likes the art. Joe wonders if Ryan treats his spaces like "art pieces." Ryan thinks this was his time to shine, since he reuses and recycles things. Too many people shop just to have stuff. He doesn't just wave around color chips, he tries to "think about things on a much deeper level." And what deeper level would that be? You can't just assert that you're deep; you have to show depth. I'm not seeing the depth. Margaret observes, "Actually, there's nothing wrong with paint samples and fabric swatches" and Ryan agrees. "But you speak about them in a really derogatory manner," she complains, and the other judges concur. "Do you want to be a designer?" Margaret wonders. Excellent question. "As long as I can have it, you know, have my own rules," replies the eternal rebel. Bad answer. "You know, I can make a room pretty but, you know, I don't think that's a hard thing to do." Not if you know what you're doing. I suspect Ryan doesn't. So does Jonathan, apparently, since he advises Ryan to start with the pretty and then add the art. I don't know why Ryan bothered with the crushed glass; with so much black in the room, it just fades into the background. The "screen" doesn't create any privacy for the bed area. Putting the bed on legs is an interesting way to visually expand the space, but the bed is at a really awkward height. What's up with him and beds? Plus the bedding fabric is random and garish. But if you ignore the back left corner, the rest of the room is not that bad. I like the locker, the work table and the hanging benches/art. There are just too many ideas competing for attention. Ryan needs to learn how to edit.

The designers go away while the judges talk. Jonathan likes Matt's consistently good style and furniture placement, and Kelly likes his accessories. She and Jonathan love his conjoined lamp, but Margaret isn't into it. Jonathan thinks Andrea's room had nice "bits" but nothing with real impact. Kelly approves of the industrial look and Joe thinks the room worked. On the other hand, Joe thinks Goil had a lot of "interesting ideas" but they didn't add up to a coherent room. Margaret thinks the bed needs to be revisited. Kelly thinks "the overall design was flat." Jonathan turns to Felicia. Joe points out that granny afghans aren't "youthful and hip." Jonathan is thinking Mama's Family, not chic young designer. "What was she thinking?" Margaret wonders. Jonathan reports that the room made the client feel suicidal. Kelly praises the tie fabric, but that's it. Margaret just can't understand how someone so experienced could produce that room. Kelly likes Erik's room; he satisfied the client and his shopping choices were good, although the art was a off note. Jonathan agrees that it satsified the client but he'd like to see Erik's taste improve a bit. All the judges admire Carisa's shopping choices. Joe likes the use of napkins to make pillows. Margaret finds the room thoughtful and well-done. Jonathan points out the client's disappointment about the storage. Margaret and Joe are not getting the "clean, bright and happy" feeling from Michael's room. The judges all hate the grape color. Jonathan thinks he at least showed some taste. Margaret thinks this was better than his kid room, and Jonathan agrees that he has shown improvement. Finally, Ryan. Kelly finds the room thought-provoking. Thoughts like "What was this guy on?" and "What's the fastest way out of here?" Jonathan isn't loving the attitude; if you're going to be all "badass" then you need to have the chops, and Ryan doesn't. Margaret thinks he lacks sophistication and experience. She's shocked that he can speak so slightingly of standard designer tools. Kelly sticks up for him because he at least has a point of view. Oh, dear, it's a Santino redux. Margaret seems unconvinced. The judges reach a decision.

Jonathan recaps the carpenter bonus for the winner. Erik, Goil, Michael and Andrea are all safe. Matt is praised for delivering Armani Casa with garage sale finds; Carisa's room was "well-edited" and "balanced and beautiful" with successful colors. Carisa gets the win. She does the "yay!" interview. Matt is safe. Felicia is spanked for disappointing everyone with her "depressing" room; Ryan is spanked for impracticality and a prison atmosphere. Felicia gets the boot, so Ryan lives to fight another day. She hugs Goil on the way out. In her parting interview, she disagrees with the result. Todd consoles her that the stars just didn't align. She interviews that the challenges don't leave time to step back and "critique" your own work, so that's her lesson learned. "I have to say that anybody who can paint so beautifully in a Prada skirt" is going to go places, Todd tells her. Felicia continues that it was a great experience with great people, and "of course" she would have done it differently if she'd heard the feedback. Well, good for her; she really did learn something.

Right winner? I think Matt was gypped. Let's looking the judging criteria again: design, execution, meeting the client's needs and refurbishing the garage sale purchases. I find Matt's room more appealing than Carisa's. Execution? Can't really tell, but they both seem reasonably complete. Carisa's room lacked the requested storage, while Matt's client seemed entirely happy. As for refurbishing, Matt made a high-end room out of garage sales finds while Carisa's room involved more building than transformation. Seems to me Matt definitely comes out ahead.

Right loser? Felicia and Ryan both had ugly rooms, so you can make a case for either one going. I don't buy Kelly's "point of view" defense of Ryan. First, I'm not convinced Ryan's "point of view" is anything more than self-indulgence. Second, a crappy point of view is still crap. I suspect this is a case of lowered expectations working in Ryan's favor. If I watch something that I expect to be bad, then I'm happy to relate to it on its own limited merits. If I watch something that I hope will be good and it disappoints me, I relate to it based on my expectations. The flaws bother me more if they mar otherwise good work. Ryan's room was par for the course for him; Felicia's wasn't.

So, how many trips to the bottom three can Ryan survive? Will he manage to hang on longer than Michael? I hope neither of them is long for the contest. That leaves Andrea, Carisa, Erik, Goil and Matt. Of them, I think Goil has the most "wow" factor but he seems to be more architect than interior designer. Carisa's immaturity just bugs. The other three are solid, but I'm not in love with anyone's work yet. I'd like to be dazzled, please.


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