Friday, April 20, 2007


The Ooh Factor

Previously on Top Design: disappointment. Cool idea, uninspiring execution. I think it could be better.

But first, in the spirit of constructive criticism, let's look at what was good:

  1. No wakey-wakey montages. Project Runway used to drive me crazy. In order to let the viewers know that it was a new day, they would show us several shots of designers trying to rouse themselves out of bed. This was not only boring but occasionally unappetizing. When Top Design begins a new day, we see designers having breakfast or designers heading out or designers arriving at the PDC. In general, designers interacting. Far more civilized.
  2. Todd Oldham. I don't care about his hosting prowess. A host handles exposition; a good host is a delight, but a bad host is not significant enough to wreck a show (see the first season of Top Chef). What I love is his interactions with the designers. If Tim Gunn is the professor with exacting standards whose approval you long for, Todd is the cheerleader in your corner who always knew you could do it. His kindness doesn't keep him from raising pertinent issues, but he's always confident that you'll come up with a solution. And nothing could soothe the lacerated self-esteem of a booted contestant like one of Todd's fond farewells.
  3. The party tent challenge. It reminds me of Top Chef's Restaurant Wars challenge: Yes, it's a team challenge, but it's a good one. There's enough scope for everyone to exercise their abilities, but the objective is well-defined. And we got to see the designers work with real, 3-dimensional spaces, even if they didn't have walls in the traditional sense. I don't care if the space varies from season to season (hotel reception rooms, gazebos in the park), but keep the task.
  4. The garage sale challenge. Every designer should know how to stretch a dollar. More importantly, every designer should know how to recognize and imagine possibilities. The garage sale challenge really illustrates how designers think about objects, and for that alone, it needs to stay. But I'd like to see them working in real student or volunteer housing.
  5. The chef's table challenge. There's nothing really specially about this challenge when you get down to it: just a client with specific tastes looking for a specific atmosphere for a specific room with a specific function. They should all be so well-defined.

Now, before I get into detail about what needs to be changed, I have an observation. When you deal with a clothing designer or a chef or a hairstylist, you're spending a fairly limited amount of money for an item or service that is simply one of many items or services you will purchase in your lifetime. And you're exposed to the work of dozens of clothing designers or chefs or hairstylists, so you can pick and choose. So what attracts you to a particular one? Call it the "ooh" factor -- the ability to make you say "ooh, I want that." Now think about how you deal with an interior designer. You're spending thousands of dollars, and you'll be stuck with the results day in and day out for several months at the very least. You want to be reassured that you're making the right choice. So most designers, if they want to earn a living, don't concentrate on standing out; they want to be perceived as stylish but safe, someone who can take the client's taste and make it work. That's not the kind of designer this show is looking for.

So, start with the premise that you want to find a tastemaker, a style-setter, an "ooh" factor. Then think about how you identify someone like that. Hint: it does not involve team challenges.

More than anything else, it's the challenges that need some work. Since it's going to take a while to cover all that, let's discuss some of the smaller problems first:

  1. Cut loose of the PDC showrooms. I'm sure it's convenient not to spend real money on furnishings, but the PDC showrooms cramp the designers' style. They're wickedly expensive and the range of styles is limited. What if your strength is working with antiques or vintage pieces? You're screwed. I do think there should be a luxury challenge -- but just one.
  2. Fix the judging logistics. Meet and greet in the White Room, visit the designers' work while the designers talk about it, then go back to the White Room for Q&A -- too much back and forth. I know you don't want to look like you're copying Design Star, but display the designers' work on video screens while everyone talks about it.
  3. This should leave more time for the judges' comments. Unlike some people, I am willing to believe that the judges know what they're talking about. I'd just like more evidence.
  4. Put the judges in real chairs, for heaven's sake.

Okay, now let's dig into the challenges. The biggest complaints are the lack of real spaces, the number of team challenges and the number of twists. The twists have to go. You can throw them for a loop when you challenge them, but no fair changing the game halfway through. I think there's a certain value in giving designers identical spaces so you can compare their solutions -- but not for every single challenge. After a couple of episodes, we've figured out that Carisa is pop modern and Matt is chic, so it's time to learn something new. I think there's a certain value in seeing how well someone works with others -- but that's already largely covered by their interactions with the carpenters and seamsters. I'm happy to see the party challenge continue as a team challenge; that shows how the designers interact with their creative peers, rather than their subcontractors. And maybe one more team challenge along the way, but that's it.

There are plenty of possibilities for challenges, of course. However, the guiding principle is to find people with the "ooh" factor. So the challenges should fall into three tiers:

  1. Show us your style. It's okay to use fake spaces here so everyone starts with the same blank slate. Make contestants present their point of view. Weed out the people who don't have anything to say.
  2. Show us your professionalism. Have the contestants prove that they can do the job on time, on budget and to the client's satisfaction. Make them demonstrate a solid foundation of technical skills. Weed out the people who don't have the dedication.
  3. Show us your creativity. Make the contestants apply their skills and their points of view to specific situations with difficult limitations. Weed out the people who are good but not great.

So the first two challenges, at a minimum, should be individual challenges that let the designers strut their stuff. If space is limited, you don't have to assign them a whole room; it would be interesting to have everyone create a fireplace or dress a bed or arrange a set of bookcases. Give everyone the same basic room and have them accessorize it. Give everyone the same basic white room and let them change only the color. Have them design the perfect chair. If you're looking for an "ooh" factor, you have to give them a chance to do whatever they want, so keep the clients out of it at first. Give everyone a chance to express themselves and size up the competition.

At this point, it would be interesting to see what the designers think of each other. So I'd be willing to have a large team challenge where the designers have to nominate the two team leaders (you can name yourself, but only once) and then the leaders pick teams. And since the focus of the team challenge is not their design chops (which we've presumably already seen) but their ability to work together, I'd have the guest judge provide the design, which the teams then have to implement in a very limited time. It takes a certain skill to bring a design to life, even if it's yours, but moreso if it's someone else's.

Back to individual challenges for the middle section. Hopefully we've weeded out the weirdos and the hopeless by now, and it's a matter of separating the competent from the accomplished. One of the things the judging sessions illustrated, but left unspoken, was the importance of being able to present your work. So there should be at least one challenge where each designer has to present to the client, and the winner is based on the presentation rather than the design. This doesn't mean the designs get a pass; part of the presentation is defending your choices to the judges once the client has had a say. I like the garage sale challenge; I think that's a keeper if the designers get to work in actual rooms instead of pretend rooms. Perhaps even rooms with limitations on painting and pounding nails. I'd also like to see a challenge involving historical styles; after all the fuss over the combination of mid-century modern and Arts & Crafts, I'd like to see what designers actually know about various design periods.

Then it's the party/event planning challenge, and you should be left with the top of the crop. Now it's time to try to stump 'em. I think you see some of the best creativity in response to constraints. This would be the time for a universal design challenge, perhaps combining that with the luxury challenge. To see how well they've paid attention to the competition, have them design a workspace for another contestant. I'm running out of ideas here, but a common problem for many homeowners is the multipurpose office/guest room. It was a staple on Clean Sweep but they came up with different rooms every time.

And for the final round? If we're looking for tastemakers, we want them to do what they want, but we also want to see if they can get others to respond to their work. So I'd revisit the boutique hotel room challenge, only with real hotel rooms, and let guests vote on which room they like better.

There are plenty of other challenge possibilities. What it all comes down to is, this show could be really good. The challenges are the heart of the show, so work harder at coming up with good ones. And always keep in mind the purpose of the show: to find a designer with the "ooh" factor.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Lofty Ambitions

Previously on Top Design: Twelve designers showed up, hauled, painted, whined, groaned, yelled, triumphed, labored, griped, argued, sniped, pouted, pooped out, melted down, rushed, nagged, flipped out, panicked and suffered the slings and arrows of the judges. Ten got the boot. Matt and Carisa survived.

Matt interviews that he's ready to take on the next challenge, whatever it turns out to be. Carisa marvels that she's in the final two; she was sure she had talent, but now she knows she can put it to work. They arrive at the PDC ready to dive in. Todd assigns the challenge: each will design a 1700 sq ft loft. They'll have two months to come up with the design and 5 days for construction. The budget is $12,500 for materials and $150,000 in PDC play money. "It's my world!" Matt rejoices. Carisa interviews that she has never handled such a big project. Todd hands out the dossiers on their clients. They're designing -- for themselves? It would be a lot more interesting to see them design for each other. But okay, the finale usually involves expressing your personal aesthetic on a grand scale, so I guess it works. Matt calls it a "dream challenge" but immediately goes on to say that he has to design space for his family, unlike Carisa. He'll have to spend the next two months refining his design. Carisa outlines the functions she has to include: working, sleeping, entertaining. How come everyone "entertains"? What ever happened to just having people over? Todd sends them off to inspect a representative loft.

And we're at the product-placed lofts. Matt and Carisa marvel at the space, especially the windows. "This is already, like, really you," Carisa tells Matt. He agrees, drooling over the transom windows. Carisa categorizes the space as "a 1920s Los Angeles loft" rather than "a New York loft." Matt has already decided on a 1940s design direction. Time to measure. Carisa offers to cooperate, but Mr. How-Can-You-Call-Me-Competitive wants to go it alone. Measuring. Photographing. Carisa ponders how to deal with the floors, which look like some kind of tile. Matt can already see his family in the space, "so I'm sorry, Carisa, but you're going home." Funny, he doesn't look sorry. Carisa interviews that they'll have completely different spaces because they have completely different styles.

Back at the non-product placed lofts, Carisa packs. She interviews that her challenge is to show the judges -- especially Margaret -- that she can bring the luxury and glamour. Matt interviews that he can't possibly lose to Carisa, a student with no experience. If he does, he will have no choice but to ruin his life. Last week, the prospect of losing had him contemplating suicide, so he seems to have gained a smidgen of perspective.

And it's morning, two months later. The designers return to LA. Carisa reveals that she spent two months in Miami with her family, constantly thinking about the loft. Matt lined up information from his PDC vendors, trying to have a plan ready to go. And there's a new element to the challenge: the designers get $25,000 in product-placed appliances for their kitchens. Guess it took the producers a little while to negotiate that; they really should have these details worked out when the challenge is assigned.

The designers meet Todd at the lofts. Specifically, at Carisa's loft. He'll go over her plans with her, and then visit with Matt in his identical space. Oh, look, a glimpse of a floor plan. Carisa plans to paint everything white with black trim. She'll use cork to cover one wall; she bought it from the product-placed flooring provider. Her floors are "hand-carved, 5 inch wood planks with this beautiful texture, and they're going to get refinished so they're ebony black." Todd asks about the windows. "If it was really up to me, I probably wouldn't put anything at all," Carisa confesses. Todd is concerned that she's not doing what she wants, but she assures him, and then us, that she is.

Time to see Matt, who also teases us with a glimpse of a floor plan. Todd observes that he has lined everything up; it would be nice to see exactly what he's talking about. The master bedroom will be elevated a step. He's going to do a "princess room" for his daughter in the style of Marie Antoinette; it will have pink walls and purple trim. Matt interviews he's worried about getting everything done in time. Because it wouldn't be Top Design without Matt fretting over his deadline.

Everyone gets together again. Todd again praises their designs and lays out the order of the day: The designers will go shopping at the PDC while work crews paint and install the floors. When they return, they'll meet up with their carpenters, Carl for Carisa and Ed for Matt. If they hire additional labor, that will have to come out of their budgets. (Presumably their $12,500 materials budgets; I don't think the hired help will go for PDC memo money.)

And the shopping begins. Matt interviews that he's happy to be back in the lap of luxury, and the PDC memo money should get him all the lovely stuff he needs. Carisa browses. She explains that her style is "mid-century pop" -- because we can't be counted on to remember little details like that -- and that she gives a lot of cocktail parties -- okay, that would count as "entertaining." Shoppety-shop. Large quantities of money are dispensed with. Carisa recaps, "I went really sticker-happy." Matt interviews that she tagged "like a hundred things" but she's operating without a furniture plan. "I would rather have things that are beautiful, quality, elegant." So there are things in the PDC showrooms that aren't beautiful, quality, elegant? I thought that was pretty much their shtik.

Back at the hotel, Carisa thanks the staff helping her out of the car. She's really much easier to deal with when she's happy. Over a takeout dinner in their suite, the two finalists do a little posturing.

Morning. Four days left. The designers arrive at the lofts to check out the work that took place while they were shopping. Carisa is eager to see how her floors turned out. And they turned out awesome. Which they should, since she spent $8000 on them. Matt is also happy with the work; his floors are painted concrete, which he calls "minimal." Interesting choice for a self-confessed "floor snob." Also an interesting choice for a father. Concrete floors are friendly to children's activities, but not so much to the children themselves. I hope he got a whole lot of rugs.

Carisa tells us that she's looking forward to seeing Carl again; "despite all his issues," she's very fond of him. She gives a big "yay!" when he comes in and they hug, so it seems they're getting along. Matt is thrilled to have Ed back on the job after the Great Thumb Incident of 2007. Consultations begin. Carl determines that a space is a coat closet. Carisa isn't sure that the natives wear coats, but Carl assures her they do. Ed and Matt agree on the daily plan. Matt still has work to do at the PDC, so Ed's on his own. He's fine with that.

PDC. Carisa's sticker-happiness has put her $18,063.26 over her spending limit. Mr. She-Doesn't-Even-Have-A-Floor-Plan is also over budget, and he hasn't finished shopping. Plus he has gotten emotionally attached to all his selections. The designers go through the PDC and un-memo a bunch of stuff.

Carl summons his labor force to haul materials upstairs. Alas, the freight elevator isn't designed to handle freight of that size. Carl posts guys along the fire escape and they hand up the long boards. Hey, is that Sarah on Carl's crew? Time passes. Matt walks into the loft to find framing up. He interviews that he was worried nothing would be done. So, I guess he doesn't trust Ed all that much after all. It turns out Ed has things mostly under control, except they still have 60 sheets of drywall downstairs. Matt interviews his relief at drawing the third floor loft rather than the sixth floor loft. Carisa arrives in the courtyard to find Carl talking with two laborers about the whole "hauling material upstairs" issue. Carl explains the situation. Carisa reacts with her usual grace under pressure, stomping off and swearing. Carl rallies the troops to haul. Carisa flips out some more. She interviews that Carl took care of things, and assures us that while she's very expressive, she really does have things under control. Except stomping off and swearing are not controlled behaviors, so maybe not so much.

Three days left. Carisa greets Carl and meets the cabinet installer. Matt arrives and finds Ed at work. Carisa praises her crew as they work. That's the upside to not having filters -- sure, you know when she's not happy, but you also know when she is happy, and she's not lax about showing her appreciation. More walls going up in Matt's loft. And it's night. Matt is pleased with their progress. Ed's waiting to see what happens the next day with the kitchen. Matt interviews that he will find out tomorrow if everything is on schedule. I guess if the kitchen work slips, his whole schedule slips. He sends the carpenters off to their beds with a "Peace out." I'm willing to let him lose just for that.

Two days left. Michael's old carpenter Cary installs marble-looking tile on the kitchen walls. Matt wants the kitchen finished in time for the appliances, and he's worried about Cary's perfectionism. Ed decides to help Cary, but Matt doesn't think he can devote himself to the kitchen all day. Ed assures him that he won't. Carisa brings a bazillion bags of stuff upstairs and finds a bunch of unpainted display cubes. She starts talking about cutting the project, but Carl sends her to fetch some paint. She interviews that she thought the work would be farther along. Carl asks if she can skip a stripe and they reach a compromise. The appliance guys haul big mechanical things up far too many flights of stairs. So the freight elevator can't handle a refrigerator? What's up with that? Matt coos over the seriously pink princess room, complete with tiara display. Carl learns that the tape on the floor is pulling up paint off the floorboards; he has everyone rip up the tape as fast as they can. Sarah wonders what Carisa thinks about brown floors.

It's night. With 15 hours on the clock, Carisa arrives and praises her crew for their "unbelievable" progress. Sarah points out the tape damage. Carisa realizes that the floors were painted rather than refinished. Had he known, Carl would have covered the whole floor in plastic. But they'll just have to fix it.

Matt bids farewell to his crew. He's staying behind to repaint the floors, which are covered with dust. Carisa is also staying late, finishing projects. It's shortly before 5 am when Matt paints himself out the door. Carisa puts her legs up against a display cube and rests on the floor.

Morning. Only 4.5 hours left. Carl arrives to find an exhausted Carisa and they get to work again. Matt interviews that he's almost up the mountain. Ed is thrilled that Matt got so much done. Carisa waxes rapturous over her cork wall. She interviews, "I've just received my second wind." Or she's gone loopy from lack of sleep. Time to load the furniture. She cheers on the furniture guys as they haul heavy stuff around. Matt's furniture has also arrived. One of the guys decides the glass-and-lucite table "looks kinda good." "What do you mean, 'kinda'?" Matt sniffs.

Todd arrives. I hope he's been stopping in daily, because I can't see him letting the finalists go for so long without encouragement and feedback. Matt needs help getting his flowers to open and sure enough, Todd knows just the thing: hot water. Up in Carisa's loft, Todd interrupts Carl's curtain hanging and the curtain rod snaps. Todd decides it's an easy fix and gets Carl's attention by telling him that the winning carpenter will get $10,000. We see Todd breaking the same news to Ed. Back in Carisa's loft, Carl says Todd can interrupt him "all day with news like that." Except then he wouldn't have time to actually win. Speaking of time, there's only one hour left. Carisa interviews that she wants to win so Carl can have the money to educate his two baby girls. (If they're young enough, he can invest the money for several years. Of course, if tuition rises faster than inflation, that'll cover about a semester.) Matt interviews that Ed is "the most deserving carpenter" just because.

Carl tells Carisa to stop fussing over trivialities and do something important; he wants to win. People work. Matt interviews that winning would let him open his own firm; hopefully he'd get enough business to support the family. Carl suggests books but Carisa thinks minimal works. Workety-work. Todd calls time. Carisa hopes the judges will see "refinement" in her work. Matt is worried that he's too tired to deal with the judges.

The White Room. Todd recaps the challenge and introduces the judges. Kelly is dressed like a normal person in shades of peach with long, slightly messy hair. It's pretty, but I was hoping for something with more oomph. The guest judge is Trudi Styler, who has helped design the eight houses she owns. Plus, she's famous, at least by marriage.

Carisa's loft. The windows were the starting point for her design; she used the squares as a motif. She was also inspired by the loft in Big (the Tom Hanks movie), which was a "creative environment." The big surprise is the bedroom, which is a sunken "bed pit." Not only is it fun (and we see the judges having fun with it) but it "maximizes the best view in the loft, which is on the floor level." In the work space, she has a ping-pong table resting on a dining room table. I don't see any ping-pong paddles, so I guess she just needs a lot of room to spread out her work. She interviews that it's finished, and it looks good.

See Carisa's loft at See Carisa's loft at See Carisa's loft at

It does look pretty good. The color scheme is a little stark for my taste, but the black and white are well-balanced throughout the space. I like the repetition of the squares with the black grids, and it's always nice to have places to put stuff, especially books. I'd like to see more stuff on the grids, especially the one dividing off the bedroom space. They seem strangely empty. And one red pillow on the sofa would be a nice touch. At least it isn't covered in pillows, as her usual wont, so she did learn something.

See Carisa's loft at See Carisa's loft at See Carisa's loft at

Yes, those are the chairs Andrea used in her winning chef's table. No, I don't care. She was trying to repeat the square motif around the space; those chairs do that. She had her own reasons for choosing them, so it's not copying. I really like the dining room mirror, but I'd feel better if it were hung on the wall instead of leaning against it. In the office, the ping-pong table and the speakers feel weird; they don't really relate to anything. It's more a collection of stuff than a room. The cork wall is very nice, but again, no connection to anything else. The office just doesn't have the cohesiveness of the main space.

See Carisa's loft at See Carisa's loft at See Carisa's loft at

I think the sunken bed really makes her a contender. There's been some griping that she "stole" the idea from Goil, but he did something quite different. He kept the mattress level with the plane of the raised area to keep the lines simple. Carisa's bed is sunk into the floor by about a foot, creating a nest-like atmosphere entirely missing from Goil's room. I suspect it's one of those ideas that's better in concept than in practice, but it's a cool idea. The bathroom's green is not my favorite shade, but it does brighten up the space. The mirror is definitely a problem. I'm sure you can see enough to apply eye shadow, but how can you tell if one eye is darker than the other? I'm also not fond of the pedestal sink smushed in the corner. The kitchen has the refrigerator, stove and sink much too close together; the sink needs to slide a couple feet down the counter. Kitchens can be tough to get right and the giant scale of the appliances isn't helping her.

The main spaces are strong and cohesive, lacking just a few more finishing touches, but the auxiliary spaces are weaker. I suspect the problems were inexperience and a lack of time management. Kitchens and baths are such highly functional spaces with so many product options that they really should be left to specialists. Her kitchen and bath at least look pretty good. However, the office is a disappointment, and there's really no excuse for its lackluster appearance.

Matt's loft. He was also inspired by the windows. He wanted to create a "calming place" for his family. The raised bedroom can be opened up to the main space if he needs more seating for a party. (Yes, the master bedroom is where I want to sit at a party.) His daughter's room is walled so it will stay quiet when they're "entertaining." Or even just having people over. He got the giant range for his wife. They were allowed to incorporate family photos, so he did a whole wall of black-and-white shots that start with his wife's pregnancy (the picture of him leaning against her pregnant belly is a bit too narcissicistic for my taste) and progress through his daughter's childhood. This is the point where I figured the judges would give him the win. I'm sure Jonathan is a sucker for the sentimental. Matt interviews that if the judges don't like his loft, "they need to get some glasses."

See Matt's loft at See Matt's loft at See Matt's loft at

I already have glasses, and I'm not that fond of it. The sitting area feels cramped and smushed together, particularly in contrast with the sparse foyer and dining room. I really don't know what happened in that dining room, but it's a huge disappointment. I feel sorry for the poor lamp off in the corner, trying to fill up at least 16 square feet all by its lonesome. The chairs are interesting, the "banquette" is nice and the table is lovely, but I don't feel that they add up to anything. And then there's the drab-looking rug. No doubt it looks better in person, but the putty color in the picture depresses me.

See Matt's loft at See Matt's loft at See Matt's loft at

I'm not convinced that the side alcove right off the main living space is the best place for the master bedroom, and the curtains block both the light and the view from the beautiful windows. A better solution would be sliding panels with translucent transoms of their own. At least the curtains give the master bedroom some warmth, because damn, that's stark. Monasteries have more going on than that bedroom. Matt seems to have expended all his oomph on the intensely pink princess bedroom. Yes, televisions screens are not the best medium for accurate color reproduction, but we're dangerously close to Pepto-Bismol territory. And I suppose we can pretend the splotches on the rug are flowers, but how is it pink or princess-y?

See Matt's loft at See Matt's loft at See Matt's loft at

The photo gallery is a good use of otherwise wasted space. I just wish we had seen more cute kid pictures instead of the one of Matt being in love with a headless pregnant belly. The chandelier in the bathroom is totally fabulous. I'm not really into dark, dark colors, but the eggplant in the bathroom is a great way to disguise the pipes and awkward elements. However, the fabric really needed to lighten up because the overall effect was entirely too cave-like. Getting out of bed in the morning is hard enough without facing a gloomy bathroom. The kitchen? Looks shiny. That's about all I can tell from the picture.

Maybe you really need to see it in person, but this loft just doesn't come together for me. The rooms don't hold up individually and they certainly don't integrate into a sum greater than its parts. Perhaps there's some subtle textural allure that just doesn't translate on television, but I don't get it.

And we're back at the White Room. Carisa gets to go first. Jonathan asks about her architectural contributions. She talks about the wall between the bedroom and the workspace, which holds the bedroom closets on one side and her cork wall on the other. She then talks about the ping-pong table with it's "beautiful base." "But you don't see the base," Trudi observes. Carisa thinks you can see it at a distance. Jonathan is enamored of the bed pit. "I can imagine getting into some really freaky scenes in that pit," he drools. "Jonathan!" scolds Margaret. But she's pleased with the "surprise" element of the bed. Trudi liked the kitchen. Margaret wonders if she ran out of time; the space wasn't personalized. Carisa says she had some books but ran out of time. Not really, but at that point, she was probably having trouble concentrating.

Matt's turn. Kelly wants to hear about the floor plan. He needed to create sound control around one of the bedrooms, so he chose his daughter's room. The judges all coo over her baby pictures. Trudi thinks a glass table isn't child-friendly, but Matt is sure he can wipe it down and keep it clean. Perhaps he's had some practice. She thinks the bathroom was "sexy." He thought the original space was awkward with the exposed pipes and different ceiling heights, so he used the dark eggplant color to hide everything. Trudi thinks the bedroom could have had more "sex appeal." Matt's like, "Sex appeal in a bedroom? Interesting thought." Matt finds a "sterile" space "soothing" and claims, "That's how we live." With a four-year-old? Sterility is going to be in short supply.

The designers go away and the judges confer. Jonathan thinks Carisa is "fun," "stylish" and "bold," and her loft really reflects her personality. Margaret admits that the bed won her over despite herself; it added "playfulness" and "drama" to the space. Jonathan likes the screen of cubes. Margaret agrees that she preserved the loft feel. Jonathan loves the kitchen, and Trudi agrees that it felt spacious. Kelly thinks the money for the floor could have been spent better. Jonathan thinks Matt is always "chic." Kelly approves of his color. Trudi is not happy with his architectural work. Margaret wants more of the opulence of the bathroom. Jonathan adores the pink bedroom. Margaret loves how the color looked in the light; she would have loved that room as a child. I think she kind of wants it as an adult. Jonathan sums up the competitors as "order and serenity" versus "exuberance and life." The judges decide.

Carisa is praised for her "confident" loft with her "fierce" bed. Matt is praised for his sophistication and his "magical" girl's room, plus his loft looks lived in and "really expensive." Well, with $150,000 in furnishings, I should hope so. Matt gets the win. Oh, there's a surprise. Jonathan bids Carisa goodbye. She interviews, "This is the best possible outcome." Well, except for Carl and his baby girls. She explains that Matt would have been "devastated" by a loss, but she isn't. Instead, she's very proud of what she has done. She leaves, and Matt lets the victory sink in. He interviews, "I had the top design. Was there any question? Really? People, seriously." Dude, Carisa just kicked your ass in the graciousness department. Ed comes out and gets his kudos. Matt interviews that he couldn't have done it without him. He gets a hug from Todd and there's some sedate boozing to show us out.

Well, that could have been a lot more interesting. Did Matt deserve to win? I don't know. I didn't see enough of the spaces to make an in-depth comparison. I would have liked to see more of the floor plans; I'm still not exactly sure where the kitchen and bathroom wound up. It would have been nice to have a long shot starting at the door and moving through the space, so I could get a sense of how much room there was. I like Carisa's loft better -- but her graphic style is going to be more appealing at the larger scale than Matt's subtle chic. If the loft people are looking for a model home, Carisa's loft works better because it feels more open and loft-like. Just dress it up with a few more accessories and it's a keeper.


Sunday, April 08, 2007


Cover Me

Previously on Top Design: The designers had to create boutique hotel suites. Goil had a meltdown. Again. Carisa and Carl clashed. Again. Ed almost cut off his thumb. At last, something new! (Sorry, Ed.) Matt whined to Andrea that Carisa said his room looked like a nursery, and Andrea bitched about Carisa's bitchiness. Matt won with a "fabulous" room. Carisa showed "confidence" and was safe. Andrea's more colorful palette won her a reprieve. Goil got wrapped up in his wall treatment and got the boot. He gave it everything he had. Sadly, by that point, he was kind of squeezed dry.

Matt has a lonely breakfast in the men's (now man's) loft. He recaps that they're down to three designers. He threatens suicide if he doesn't make the final two. Possibly not the best tactic to take with reality show producers. The remaining women sit around and celebrate the gender makeup of the final three. Andrea interviews that Carisa's presence is surprising because she always does the same thing; she thinks another Carisa room will get Carisa the boot. Carisa admits that she has no idea what the next challenge will be. Andrea reveals that Matt thinks they'll have to do a formal living room; since that's right up his alley, she hopes the challenge is completely different so he gets the boot. Carisa laughs nervously at the discovery that Andrea has claws.

Matt interviews that he feels guilty for abandoning his family to participate in a competition, so he hopes it pays off. A man fretting about putting his career ahead of his family for a whole month -- is this supposed to represent progress? Maybe I'd feel it was more adorable if he weren't so whiny. The remaining designers march up the stairs to the PDC. Matt declares that they're Charlie's Angels and he, obviously, is Farrah. The others are like, "Of course you are."

Todd congratulates the top three on their success. Carisa interviews that she's happy to have survived, but she wants to keep going. Contestants usually do. That would be the whole point of contending, really. Todd points out 10 covers from Elle Decor and requests the designers select the one "most synergistic" with their "design sensibilities." Apparently they've drawn paint chips, and this time, Andrea's luck has not failed her because she's going first. She interviews that she chose the most "elegant." Matt explains that he liked three, but the third was the best fit, with the monochromatic palette and the furniture from different periods. "It's just kind of an empty, clean space," he sums up. After I make him design a Victorian parlor, I'm going to torture him with a basement family room or seven. Carisa decides she's done too much green, so she goes with the orange cover. That will be something fresh and different for her. She interviews that the colors and patterns drew her, plus she likes fireplaces. I think it's those horizontal mantels that get her.

Todd finally reveals the challenge: design a luxurious living room (score one for Matt!) inspired by -- but not duplicating -- the magazine cover. They'll have three days to work. However, they'll only have $7500. Matt, of course, whines that the rooms on magazines covers cost thousands upon thousands, and here they're stuck with "the least money ever." He's forgetting the garage sale challenge, not to mention the kid's room challenge. You will be shocked (shocked!) to learn that Matt is nervous about this challenge. But this will be real money this time, not PDC credit, because they'll be shopping in real stores around the city. Todd points out that Andrea has the advantage of being from Los Angeles, but claims that they will "level the playing field" by giving all the designers internet access to research sources. That's their idea of level? I think they should make Andrea tell the others about all the stores she plans on visiting. "This is the challenge to win," Matt interviews, "because if you don't win this one, then you're like adios, amigos." And that would be different than all the other challenges how?

The designers search the internet with the product-placed search engine. Carisa recaps the "Matt and I don't know Los Angeles" angle. Matt has to ask how to spell Los Angeles, but I think he's forgotten how to spell his own name at this point. Andrea points out her competitive advantage, just in case we haven't totally grasped the significance of her home field advantage yet. Because, you know, we're slow. Carisa gripes about the prices.

The designers go shopping. Once again, Andrea points out the home field advantage. Because, you know, we're really slow. Carisa is happy with the GPS device in her product-placed vehicle. She's so much easier to deal with when things go her way. Carisa visits a store and is stumped by indecision. Andrea hits an architectural supply store that she knows. She interviews that she felt very comfortable in familiar territory. We. Are. Sloooooow. Matt explains that he was going to work with the "dreamy" angle of the cover story. He identifies his first goal as finding affordable pieces that would work in his room. Okay, good start. Second goal is what, an ice cream cone? He whines some more about the budget. Carisa tells the product-placed vehicle that she just doesn't know where to shop in LA. Glacial, that's what we are. But then she finds a fun store full of happy things, like pillows. "I really like pillows," she observes as she sorts through her options. She buys a bunch of stuff. Andrea visits the store that Carisa was in first and buys a bunch of stuff. Matt reports that he was freaking out trying to find everything he needed. If he makes it to the finals, they'll have to have a medical team standing by in case he ruptures something. He crunches some numbers and manages to buy a bunch of stuff. He whines that he prefers shopping at the PDC, and the whole challenge has turned sour on him. Also, his stomach, I'm guessing.

Back at the workroom, Todd announces that Ed, Matt's carpenter who nearly sawed off his thumb, has been told by the doctors not to do any carpentry for a while. Except for when he rushed back from the hospital to resume working with Matt on his hotel suite. If he shouldn't be working now, he shouldn't have been working then. Anyway, Matt is going to get Goil's carpenter Sarah for this challenge. Apparently there will be a break before the final showdown, because he'll get Ed back if he makes the finals. The carpenters arrive, no longer wearing identical clothes. Matt interviews that Sarah is a perfectly fine carpenter, but he has never worked with her and he's used to Ed. So he's -- you guessed it -- nervous about the challenge.

Matt plans on a lot of "detailed millwork" inspired by the picture. Carisa plans on building a sectional, since she couldn't find one she liked. Since the cover has a fireplace smack in the center, she's going to build one. Or a reasonable facsimile. She tells Carl that she wants fake brick paneling for the back wall, and he suggests a stucco treatment which they can paint. Woo hoo! Successful designer/carpenter collaboration! Who knew they had it in them? Andrea's keeping the construction simple, but she is replicating the two tall windows from the picture. Carisa tells Carl that she's going to get plastered herself when she gets "home."

Day 2. Carisa and Andrea try to figure out what Matt is up to. They agree that he doesn't share. Matt whines about the budget some more. It's a challenge. Suck it up. Matt talks to his "seamster" (does that make women truck drivers teamstresses?) about drapery panels. He reveals that he always designs to please Margaret. If you're going to suck up to a judge, Margaret would be my choice. She could take the other two judges in a rumble, if it came down to that. Matt confers with his seamster some more and has to verify that he's getting all the instructions. Since he's wearing dark glasses, Matt can't see his eyes, which apparently means Matt can't read his expression to see comprehension, or at least a lack of confusion. He interviews about his wonderful seamster, whom he chose, which we never saw, and why are we just learning about all this in the penultimate episode?

Carisa is balking at Carl's firebox with angled sides, rather than square. Carl's all, "I know what I'm doing," and Carisa's like, "It's not about you, I like square." Which is the right thing to say, but she's trying to be all non-confrontational when they are, in fact, having a conflict. These two have not figured out how to disagree without dragging their egos into it -- and yes, Carl is part of the problem here. I'm sure he's very talented, but Carisa is the one who gets to specify square or angled. If he can't handle that, he needs to stop working for designers.

Workety-work. Matt recaps his shopping meltdown of the previous day, but now he's "just cranking out" his design with the help of Sarah, with whom he just loves working. He recaps his "dreamy" angle. Andrea interviews that she wants to do something "warm" and beautiful (rather than sad and depressing). She thinks the cover room is pretty darn perfect, so she'll use a lot of personal touches, like making her own artwork. The prospect is not nearly so scary as Michael making his own artwork, but I'm feeling a bit worried on general principle.

Todd drops in. Andrea explains that she's painting the floorboards in preparation for embroidering them with yarn. Nothing too complicated, though -- no satin stitch or French knots, just a simple backstitch. Todd is wildly in love with the idea and hugs her.

Carisa wants to lower the hearth, but Carl says it's too late for that. He can build up the hearth to the lip of the firebox, but he can't lower it. Carisa pouts but lets him continue. I notice that the firebox has angled sides, not square. Todd arrives and she explains about the plaster idea for the back wall. Todd worries that she won't mock up a model first. Carl chimes in, "She just has to trust me." Hmm, I'm detecting a theme here. Todd strokes his ego, with an assist from Carisa.

We jump back to Andrea and her baseboards. She interviews, "I love embroidering wood, because it seems wrong." She raves about it to her seamstress, who is actually doing the threading.

Matt uses pliers to rip the striped fabric off his "daybed." He interviews that his "seamstress" was busy with the drapes. He has watched his upholsterer redo lots of furniture, and it always looked so easy. If everybody could do it, they wouldn't charge so much. (Although yes, I've watched enough decorating-on-the-cheap shows to know that it can be easy. This job doesn't look so easy.) Matt gripes that he developed a blister, but I suspect he's secretly happy to have something to whine about. He explains that Margaret always touches things, so he wants her to like the daybed. His other concern is the time Sarah is spending on his complicated floor. As he surveys his partially completed room, he announces that he's going to "be Carisa" and waxes rhapsodic over his floor. He interviews that Carisa does good work for someone of her age and experience (which naturally do not compare to his). "Your floor and my wall -- let's call the whole thing off," Carisa says as they stride off to lunch. But he thinks she can only do Carisa rooms. As opposed to Matt, who does Matt rooms -- and Matt rooms. Okay, and one orange-and-brown chef's table.

Andrea invites Carisa's opinion of her wall color, and Carisa wonders why she bothered painting. Andrea grumps that it's "a huge difference" and Carisa makes nice that it's a "happier grey." Carisa interviews that she wonders if Andrea can ever "pull together a beautiful and finished room." Other than her chef's table? Not so much. Sarah observes, "Nothing says happy like grey" and Andrea says, "That's what I'm trying to prove." Andrea interviews that she doesn't always like the way Carisa expresses herself, and she hopes Carisa will go home before she does. But then, if she wants to win, she hopes everybody else goes home before she does.

Carl instructs Carisa to pour as he mixes, and Carisa says, "Okay, I've done this." She does not say, "You have to trust me." She interviews that she's repeating the cover's architectural elements, including the fireplace and the "exposed stone" of the back wall. Carl tells her to gather all the tools. Basically, he's making her the surgical nurse to his surgeon. Carisa complains that she can't anticipate if he doesn't tell her what he's thinking. Carl doesn't share.

Andrea decides that her wall color is "terrible" and has to be changed. She tells Blair that she's thinking of using brown, maybe making the room "less depressing." "You think this is depressing?" Blair wonders. Yes, Andrea does. She interviews that she needs a "happier" room this time instead of a "muted" one. She repaints the walls brown. Andrea tells Matt that one of the baseboards was already stitched, and has him rubberstamp her decision to cut off the embroidery, repaint and restitch rather than paint around the embroidery. Well, yeah. She gripes about having a setback.

Carl is about halfway finished with the back wall. Carisa babbles that her "concern" about the bigger, blobbier "stones" is that the judges have sometimes criticized things for looking too "log cabin." "I have seen these walls a hundred thousand times," she says. "They don't make 'em any more," Carl interjects. "I don't live in a cave," Carisa rejoins. The mid-century walls are flatter. "That's a different kind of stone," Carl says. Yes, that would be her point. She interviews that she wants a shape more like fieldstone, but Carl keeps doing blobbier stones. Short of ripping the tools out of his hand, there's not much she can do. And yes, it sounds like Carl has gotten the bit between his teeth. It's all very well and good for the judges to say she should control her carpenter, but she can't threaten to withhold payment for work that doesn't meet specifications, and she certainly can't fire him, so she has a limited amount of leverage. She interviews that if the judges complain about her room looking like a "log cabin," then Carl is toast. Carl tells her that he's recreating the "artistry" of workmen from that era, and the stonework was exposed because people appreciate that artistry. Carisa agrees, and then rolls her eyes at the camera. I was hoping Bravo would create Top Diva as their high-falutin' version of American Idol, but it seems Carl and Carisa have already co-opted my title for their own show-within-a-show.

Day 3. Andrea interviews that she's very competitive and wants to make the finals. Because we can't just assume that competitors actually want to win, you know. Carisa revisits her point about Andrea's lack of a "finished or even really beautiful room;" she hopes Andrea doesn't suddenly figure things out and bump her from the finals. Matt voiceovers that both Andrea and Carisa are copying their covers, while he's the only one truly responding to the "inspiration" part of the challenge. "I want to kick both those girls' asses," he concludes. In the design arena, of course. Because in terms of actual physical ass-kicking, he has no chance against either.

Now that we've established that everyone is a seething pool of ambition, we see the designers meet and greet nicely on the sidewalk for their ride to the PDC. And the work, it continues.

Matt interviews that he's not going to finish because his daybed is dragging him down. Todd drops in and Matt reveals that he has discovered his own Achilles' heel: upholstery. Todd tells him how to finish the upholstery. Matt interviews that Todd's da man.

Over at Team Diva, Carl pokes through his toolbox while Carisa asks him to listen to her. Carl calls her "sweetie" when he asks her not to talk to him like he's a "four-year-old." Carisa says she's not, but he never listens. Carl says he does, too, listen -- which he probably does, but then he doesn't respond as requested -- but she's wasting time with her "yapping." Carisa yells that she's not "yapping" -- nope, she has a yappy voice, it's almost impossible for her not to yap -- and she needs his help painting something so it will dry in time. I'm so glad we had this time together.

Matt tries to take over painting from Sarah, but she tells him to leave it to her, since she can be done in no time if he just leaves her alone. He interviews that she's disappointing him. I guess the honeymoon is over. He gripes as he holds up a mirrored French door, waiting for her to come back someday. He interviews that the French doors "look like crap" even though she spent all day working on them. Except we saw her working on the floors yesterday, so I think she wasn't lollygagging with the French doors. Matt chases after Sarah, saying they only have fifteen minutes. Sarah orders, "Don't freak out." I wonder how many times she had to say that to Goil? Matt says he's not. Andrea, working on her artwork, observes, "I love to hear other people freaking out."

Team Diva. Carl mopes, "We're covering the gorgeous wall," as he hangs a pair of mirrors. "We're not covering the gorgeous wall; we're drawing attention to the gorgeous wall -- with the gorgeous mirrors," Carisa explains in a please-stop-whining-already tone of voice. She proclaims their positioning "Perfect!"

Matt removes a hammer from his room. Andrea and Blair start loading the room. She interviews that she's worried whether the elements will all "gel" into a cohesive room. Everyone rushes around to finish. Matt interviews that he's not happy with his room for the first time. Todd counts down the final seconds and time is up. Carisa interviews that she really wants to make it to the finals. Good to have that cleared up.

The White Room. Todd recaps the challenge and introduces the judges. The winner will get a feature in Elle Decor. Hang on, isn't that part of the grand prize? It's not enough that they can't come up with challenges, now they have to struggle to come up with prizes? (BTW, they might want to consider that winning a round is its own reward. Although the little budget and time boosts also work for me.) Carisa's interview lets us know that yes, this is a really big deal. The guest judge is Michael Berman. Who? (Okay, I didn't know most of the guest judges on Top Chef either.) Jonathan lays out the judging criteria: design, execution, conveying "the essence" of their magazine cover. It looks at first like Kelly's wearing a towel, but her dress is actually made of some flowy material, so not terry cloth. Her hair and shoes indicate that she's taking her styling cues from the techno '90s today.

Matt interviews that his whole life is at stake, and he'll "feel like a complete failure" if he gets the boot. The man seriously needs some perspective right now.

See Carisa's room at

Back in the White Room. Jonathan asks Carisa to go through the "inspiration" versus "imitation" in her room. Carisa says her fireplace was "literal" but she used it because she likes fireplaces. Her inspiration came from the "exposed building materials" in the back wall, her pillows and her chair. Jonathan thinks the back wall is "groovy-looking." She had a "strong" furniture plan with her sectional, and the yellow chair had "pop." But "too many tchotchkes." Margaret agrees, she needs to edit. Kelly also likes the layout, but the color is just a big strong. Michael thinks the colors really relate to the cover, and he loves the mirrors. The other judges murmur in agreement. Michael asks about the walls. Carisa says she has done something similar, but with tape and a brush; Carl suggested the quick-dry grout. It did crack, but she thinks the texture is "interesting." All the judges like the wall. So, no log cabin complaints today. (Or any other day that I can remember. Kind of like Andrea's "sad" room reputation.)

This is the most "real-life" room of the three; I can believe it would be in someone's house. The color is strong, but again, I think a white ceiling would really help balance that out. (If the finale doesn't involve real, actual rooms, the producers all need to be taken out and shot. Or at least reassigned to the mailroom.) There's too much stuff, but that's easily fixed. The sectional on the left is a little too squared off; a real piece of furniture would have helped so much there. The right side of the room with the desk seems like a bit of an afterthought. I'd like to see the fireplace hearth built out more and incorporated into the room, but there's only so much time. The mirrors on the back wall are very cool, but mirrors need to be placed to reflect something interesting, but I'd hold that against her more in a real room.

See Andrea's room at

Jonathan observes that Andrea pulled the windows and the orange element from the cover; "those were two really good choices," he approves. She also gets the imitation/inspiration question. She points to the white trim around the doors as imitation, but other "architectural ornaments" were a departure. She also started with the same color palette, but made it "warmer" and "more saturated." Jonathan calls her baseboards "beautiful." Andrea explains how she embroidered them. Kelly approves of all the trim work. Margaret thinks she got the essence of the cover room "and it doesn't seem gloomy." Michael injects a sour note by complaining that the furniture was all the same height, so the room seemed a little "flat." Kelly likes the visual weight of the dark sofa, but thinks more open chairs would have been a better choice. Margaret asks what the most expensive piece was, but Andrea says she spent her money pretty "evenly." She does point out the sofa, which she reupholstered from a "seafoam tweed" to a deep brown.

My first impression was that the room was nice but a little off. I don't like all the seating confined to the square in the center; the sides seem like afterthoughts. The orange paintings on the back wall seem overwhelmed by the tall windows; I think she should have tried switching the artwork around. The baseboard embroidery looks nice at a distance; up close, I'm not fond of the rope-like texture of the yarn. I agree with Michael about the uniformity of the furniture height and with Kelly about the blockiness of the chairs. Still, it's a complete, believable room, which is progress.

See Matt's room at

Matt also gets the imitation/inspiration question. He thinks the cover showed "an older home" that "had a lot of architectural details in it." He copied a chest on one wall, to bring in some wood tones. Kelly loves the furniture arrangement and Jonathan agrees it was typical Matt. Not so typical was the curtain rod along the back wall. Matt confesses that he got hung up in his reupholstery and didn't get to finish the room; the artwork should have been hung on cables and he was going to hang a mirror over the chest. Michael thinks he nailed the inspiration challenge, and loves the linen on the chaise with its rough/smooth "juxtaposition." Kelly also points out the contrast welt, which Jonathan also likes. Matt does not volunteer that it was Todd's idea. Kelly asks about his budget and Matt says he had $5 left. Kelly thinks the room is "beautiful" and Jonathan thinks it looks "expensive."

I'm not seeing the cover in this room. The cover room had energy, and with the stripes and the ceiling angles, it really played with lines. This is a typically tasteful Matt room. I like the floor, but the finish looks gray and doesn't bring out the intricacy; it needs to be darker and shinier. As with Andrea's room, all the seating is smushed into a center square and the side walls look like afterthoughts. More than any of the others, this looks like a furniture showroom rather than an actual room. If it weren't for the artwork, this would be dull, dull, dull.

Now for this week's awkward question: Why do you deserve a place in the finals, and why don't the others?

Overall, they're pretty dead-on. Jonathan praised Carisa for knowing her style, but I think the risk of having such a strong perspective so early is that she gets locked into one particular approach. Matt is conservative; his rooms are tasteful but not surprising. You want the occasional plaster poodle statue in a room, just to show that a real person was involved. (They kind of approached that idea with the first challenge, designing around objects, but I'd like to see a "white elephant" challenge with an object that has to be featured in the room.) Andrea's rooms tend to feel like exercises, rather than actual, livable rooms.

Overall, I think the rooms are very representative of the designers' strengths and weaknesses and it's kind of anyone's game. Matt's room was attractive but unfinished and unsurprising. Andrea's room was a bit off, but mostly good. Carisa's room packs a bit too much of a punch. I think you can justify booting anyone; it all depends on what you decide is most important.

The judges confer. Jonathan thinks they'll have to get "nipicky" to decide the winner and loser. Jonathan digs Carisa's "pop," "young," "playful" voice. Margaret doesn't think the room is "upscale" enough. It's too busy with stuff, but the back wall is "brilliant." Jonathan thinks the color is balanced by the "richness" of the wall. Michael thinks her work shows "balance." Kelly observes that she's the only one who lit her artwork. Jonathan thinks Andrea is obviously "passionate" about design. Michael thinks she's better with architecture, such as the white trim around the windows. He and Jonathan like the wall color. But Michael reiterates his point about the one-level furniture. Kelly praises the baseboard detail. Margaret argues that it's subtle and easy to overlook. Michael likes the furniture layout in Matt's room and his mix of periods. Margaret disapproves of his plan to hang the art on cables. The judges reluctantly decide.

Jonathan announces the winner: Matt. His room was sophisticated and tasteful. He (not the room) will get a feature in Elle Decor. Matt does the standard "yay!" interview. Carisa is praised for her "bold, iconic and sculptural" room with its "inventive" back wall and "graphic" punch and spanked for her lack of restraint and luxury. Andrea is praised for being "talented, articulate and chic" but her architecture was more successful than her furnishings. Carisa gets the win and looks overwhelmed. Andrea is out. Jonathan sends her off to Todd. He congratulates the two finalists. He tells Carisa to keep the "exuberance" but "grow up a little." Matt needs to show them "some sizzle."

Andrea tells Todd that she's "proud" to have made it so far. Todd burbles about her talent. Andrea thinks this has been a great learning experience. She interviews that she did pretty well, considering that she's an architect with not a lot of interior design experience. She's sure that she will go on to create "the most beautiful spaces."

Right winner? Right loser? I can't choose. No one completely nailed it, so everyone was vulnerable. While I assume the judges only considered these rooms, the results reflect the overall competition. Matt is clearly the frontrunner; the only time he was really criticized was for not stepping up more, but he hasn't stepped wrong. Carisa's rooms were generally stronger than Andrea's, except for the chef's table. I do think Andrea is very talented, but until her chef's room, I thought that as a designer, she was a good architect. She didn't have that feel for putting a room together. I think she'll get much better with practice.

So here we are, getting ready for the finale. Overall, the season has been disappointing. Who would have thought that dumpy little HGTV could have put on a cooler design show than Bravo? Conceptually, Top Design looked like a winner, but they couldn't execute. Meanwhile, HGTV has tons of institutional experience in filming shows about people designing rooms. The challenges on Design Star were far more interesting because they involved real spaces for real people, instead of random student exercises. If Top Design gets another season, they're going to have to put a lot more work into developing the challenges. I don't know if shifting to New York or even Chicago would help; as a city, Los Angeles has an unwieldy sprawl that discourages exploration. Maybe they should move to San Francisco and work on some "painted ladies." I'm still holding out hope for an honest-to-goodness Victorian parlor.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Suite Escape

Previously on Top Design: Finally, an individual challenge! The designers had to create a chef's table for Tom Colicchio's new restaurant. Goil felt out of his depth and threw a tantrum. Carisa nagged Carl, but saved her precious table from his toppling beam. Michael's artwork made Todd think of a crime scene. Professor Andrea's reputation was at stake. Fortunately, she won. Michael got the boot.

The remaining inhabitants of the men's loft are anticipating a "weird" challenge. Goil interviews that he's relieved that he lived to fight another day. Andrea reveals that she's really very competitive, although she usually keeps that under wraps. Looks like the secret is out now. She's fighting through some mental exhaustion.

The designers arrive at the Viceroy hotel. Matt interviews that he was "shocked" when he arrived at the hotel, because he ripped pictures of the place out of a magazine and hung them on his walls as inspiration. So, he didn't know they were pictures of the Viceroy? Todd explains that Kelly designed the hotel, and I'm thinking it might have helped to see more of the judges' work earlier, because who knew what kind of design chops Kelly had? Andrea does an "all hail Kelly" interview, mentioning her colors and textures. Todd explains that the design is critical to a boutique hotel (as opposed to your mass-market hotel, where no one cares what it looks like as long as they haven't lost your reservation). He finally gets around to introducing the woman sitting beside him: Linda O'Keefe, design and architecture director of Metropolitan Home magazine. Which is a sister publication of Elle Decor, so we shan't expect a major cat fight between Linda and Margaret in the White Room. Linda has violently red hair and trendy clothes, which tells me she's really conscious of her appearance, so I'd have to put my money on Margaret if it ever came to bloodshed. Andrea does an "all hail Linda O'Keefe" interview, because it never hurts to suck up to the judges.

And now Todd finally gets around to the challenge: create a luxury hotel suite for the modern traveler. Linda justifies her presence by explaining that high-end hotels depend on good design to hang on to their customers. Which Todd already said, but she has to say something. For a change, Goil has some actual experience with hotel rooms, although he has never designed one. Matt interviews that he does mostly residential work, but he'd love to do more work for boutique hotels because it's so creative.

Now for the twist. Todd has the designers randomly pick cards representing the four elements:

Budget: $30,00 for PDC borrowing, $3000 for linens, $1550 for supplies. What's with the weird numbers? I think they pay everyone for the episode and then figure out how much money they have left to divide amongst the designers. They'll also get an astonishing three days to put their rooms together. Wow. Sadly, they will not be designing actual hotel rooms, which would certainly have justified the extra time.

Sketching. Matt recaps the time allotment, and then differentiates between incorporating the element (good) and going over the top (bad). He wants to keep his room "pure" and "clear." This is where we'd hear Michael disclaiming any desire to recreate Disneyland, if he were still with us. Carisa isn't going to have clouds or birds; she's trying to think of something unexpected. Andrea's struggling with the color palette, trying to meld earth with the "clean and bright and inviting" look a hotel room needs; she thinks shades of brown look "dirty." How about chocolate? That's not dirty. Evil, maybe, but not dirty. Goil interviews that fire, alone of all the elements, "perplexes" him. Really? Fire is energy; you'd think Goil would have plenty ideas about that.

Matt shows his sketch to Andrea, who announces that they've all come up with the same furniture arrangement. Well, it's a hotel room. They tend to be like that. (If the producers had thought of it, they might have even made it a requirement.) Matt tells the others that they should change, but he's not going to. Andrea and Goil decide to change. Goil interviews that it seems unfair. Well, then, don't change. Matt interviews that everyone has a distinctive style, but "mine just happens to be better than the rest." It wouldn't be a reality show if the frontrunner didn't decide to tempt fate, I guess.

Todd calls time and sends everyone out for an hour of shopping. Carisa interviews about the prices at the PDC, just in case we've forgotten that they're obscene. Matt interviews that he looked for "sheen" and "clarity" to embody water. Shoppety-shop-shop-shop. Goil interviews that he chose 40 different 1-yard pieces of fabric "because I like to mix and match." Dude, it's a room, not a jigsaw puzzle. The designers all hit the linen store. Matt's keeping it clean. Carisa gets graphics, but in all white. So subtle graphics. That's a new one for her.

Carpenter time. Carisa is using screens based on air vents to divide the sleeping and living spaces. Andrea tells Blair that something will be made out of trim pieces so it will be "evocative." Evocative of what? Ed looks worried as Matt describes his plans, and Matt is finally inspired to ask him, "You scared?" Ed doesn't answer. I'm thinking that's a "yes." Goil has an idea for a "glittering curtain" which will represent flame. "I hope it's fabulous," he says, looking tired. Would someone please let that man have a nap?

Back at the lofts, Carisa shows off her fabric choices to Matt. Goil interviews that they were talking to each other, but they weren't interested in talking to him. He feels insulted that they're not treating him like a threat. Well, if they were threatened by each other, they wouldn't be discussing their plans. Carisa shows some swatches to Andrea, so all four designers are hanging out in the same room. Andrea explains that she's doing modern instead of "earthy" and asks the others to sanity check her design in the morning. She interviews yet again that earth is a tough element, and Matt and Carisa got lucky with their picks. Earth is a perfectly fine element, so stop whining already and make it work.

At 4:00 am, Andrea is up and drawing. She interviews that she woke up and had to get her design worked out. "When you're that worried about doing something great, it hinders you because you're so concerned with hitting it out of the park and that's not always the time when you do." Sounds like she's in danger of over-thinking things. She's hoping someone else screws up.

Construction time. Andrea reviews things with Blair, now that she has an actual concept. Her idea is to use conventional materials in unconventional ways. Not exactly a new idea, but the results can be fresh if you're creative enough without being too weird. Goil tells Sarah that he has shifted his focus from fire as a destructive force to fire as a life force. He's using horizontal lines to evoke a sunset. He'll use the fabrics to create something like a headboard along the walls.

And now it's time for the Carisa and Carl show. Carl is worried about something holding together, while Carisa is worried about the wood splitting. She panics as he screws something together. "You gotta let me make them strong," he insists. Carisa wants to know how they can do that; she's thinking "little tiny screws." Probably not what Carl was thinking. Moving on, Carl thinks some things should be identical; Carisa agrees that they should but she's going to be "OCD" about it. You'd think the OCD approach would be to make them all exactly the same. Now it's Carl saying they don't have time for OCD (instead of Carisa saying they don't have time for his finicky finishing). Carisa interviews, "Carl does not play well with others." Well, considering he hasn't strangled her yet, I think she's underestimating his ability to get along. "The thing is, he's here to aid me in realizing my designs and it's hard to work against him." Which is true, but what's the problem exactly? If a design is impractical, then Carl needs to say that, but he should also help find ways to create a similar effect. And if the design isn't impractical, then Carl needs to start embracing the "good enough is good enough" philosophy of temporary construction and crank it out.

It's day 2 and the designers have 8 hours to work. So they work. Goil interviews that he still feels harried even with the extra day. He and Sarah try to work out some details. Sarah defers to Goil, who wants an opinion. Matt is working with shiny white fiberboard as a floor so he can be different from all the others. Andrea grumps about her element again. She's trying to avoid "dark" and "dusty" and keep it clean. You know, I have a sudden urge to make them all design a Victorian parlor just to watch them scream in horror. Matt interviews that he's not getting Andrea's design yet. She visits Matt as he's cutting diagonal lines in his fiberboard. He'll paint the cracks white so the sheets will look like large tiles. Andrea interviews that Matt's room is looking "elegant" and that bodes well for him.

Goil is soliciting opinions again, this time from his seamstress. "Stain always looks nice," she votes. Good choice. Goil interviews that he used dark tones for wood, as if it had been burnt, and he has metal because it's forged in heat. There's the shot from the promos, where the seamstress kind of looks like Felicia (except she's wearing flip-flops) and I wondered if the designers would be getting help from their former competitors. But no. At least, not yet. (No, I don't know anything, but it's a tradition on these shows.) Carisa tells Matt that the proportions of the low wainscoting look nursery-like. For some reason, I kept thinking plant nursery instead of baby nursery and was totally confused for a while. Matt is sure it doesn't look like a nursery. Carisa recaps the nursery comparison just in case we didn't get it the first time, so maybe it wasn't just me. After she leaves, Matt asks Andrea if his room looks like a nursery. She thinks hers "looks like an ice cream bar." They agree that the nursery opinion is bitchy. Maybe, but it's also accurate. Andrea interviews that Carisa's presence in the final four is surprising, since her style can be "simplistic." And yeah, at the outset, I expected her to go fairly quickly. Certainly before, say, Elizabeth or Felicia or Erik. Carisa asks Andrea if her colors are too bright (so far, I only see one blue on the wall) and Andrea thinks they're actually "muted." Carisa is astonished. I'm astonished anyone would think Carisa capable of being muted. Carisa interviews that she "loves" her design, as usual. As for Andrea's: "I'm not sure what's happening over there."

Day 2 winds down. Goil hangs his metal curtain, and Sarah declares it "certainly unique." Well, that's encouraging. I like it, but I think it needs more, smaller elements for a more fluid look. Carisa and Carl paint a big wooden unit, but Carisa is not happy with the paint job. As the designers file out, she interviews that she was nagging Carl to finish thing he should have done "hours earlier." Do they have a project schedule? Is Carl ignoring it or is Carisa too optimistic about getting things done? It would be nice to have a better picture of what's going on.

Day 3 begins. Matt interviews that he only has one win, and that came from a team challenge, so he wants a win he can call his very own. Carisa interviews that she's staying focused on her own work and ignoring the others. Goil describes the furniture layout to Sarah, who thinks he's packing in "a lot of stuff." Goil has another meltdown. He interviews that he needed to work on his time management. He decides the wall and the bed are the priorities. Andrea is touching up paint because her "Swiss coffee" color is "dingy" and "dirty." Looks like your basic creamy white to me. She seems to be worried about triggering one of Jonathan's pet peeves, athough I don't recall a "dingy" rant in past episodes. She interviews that she still has to get the trim pieces up, and "it just looks like a bad Smurf Neapolitan sundae thing." Sad but true.

Todd drops in. (Hi, Todd!) He finds Matt's room looking rather empty. Matt explains his "water is clear" angle, which his furnishings will help play up. Todd loves the oh-so-soft blue on the walls. He also loves all of Carisa's blues. She explains the vent idea; Todd had been wondering how she would use the wooden grids. She explains that she wanted to "be me" again. Todd thinks Goil's color choices are quite fire-appropriate. Goil explains that the upholstery is supposed to represent the "softer" side of fire, since you can't expect people to sleep in a room that screams with color. He's worried about time, though. Sadly, we don't get to see Todd visit with Andrea. I was looking forward to his reaction.

Workety-work. In particular, work with saws. And then Goil cries, "Oh, my God!" There's a shot of an incompletely-sawed board with blood stains. Matt tells Andrea that his carpenter cut himself. "Badly?" she asks. Matt doesn't know; he's been carted off for medical attention. Andrea calls it a "scary saw." Matt feels guilty: "If I go home because my carpenter got his finger cut off, I go home." There's something about a permanent physical deformity that puts reality show competitions into perspective. But even if Ed did cut off his finger, surgeons can probably reattach it, although they would recommend against hammering and sawing for a few weeks afterwards. So Ed's long-term prognosis is good, but Matt's short-term prognosis is looking iffy.

Everybody gets lunch while we wait to hear about the Ed situation. Matt interviews again that he felt bad about it. Todd arrives and rallies the troops. He announces that Ed is back and urges them all to "be safe." Ed strides in with a whole roll of gauze around his left thumb. Matt verifies that he's good to go, and asks for the details. Ed says he ran his thumb into the saw blade and wound up with eight stitches. Wow, excellent reflexes, dude. "You can still have me, right?" Ed asks. Matt pledges his devotion and they get back to work. Ed finishes cutting the blood-stained board and avoids damaging himself further, so that's encouraging.

Meanwhile, things are still going badly for Goil, who is still not coping well. Todd calls fifteen minutes and Goil says, "We need to dress the room." Yes, now would be a really good time to do that. The designers rush around. Goil interviews that he was rushing around, trying to dig himself out of his hole. Fifteen minutes is just not enough time for that. Make that five minutes. No, one minute. No, time's up. Andrea interviews that she's worried her reputation for "sad" rooms is going to do her in.

White Room. Todd recaps the challenge, and reveals that the winner will be featured in Metropolitan Home's "What's Next" issue. Carisa lets us know that yes, this is a cool prize. Jonathan is wearing a truly hideous tie, which actually blends with his olive velvet blazer but not his blue-striped shirt. Kelly has giant '80s hair and a funky silver dress which I wouldn't mind except the shoulders remind me of Vincent Libretti from Project Runway season 3, and that's just not a happy thought. Margaret's hair has been straightened a bit for a more modern look, but otherwise she's her usual classic self. Linda's hair is still violently red and she's wearing drum major pants. Jonathan reveals the judging criteria: design, execution and incorporation of the chosen element.


Andrea once again grumps about getting stuck with earth, instead of something like air or water that she processes "more intuitively." Yeah, well, they don't call it a challenge for nothing, so suck it up.

See Carisa's room at

Back in the White Room, it's time for the individual quizzing. Jonathan proclaims that Carisa's "back" with "color and happiness and confidence." He wants to hear more about the screens. Carisa explains that they frame negative space (the air) and once again references the air vents. Margaret calls it a very "strong design motif" for such a small space, which implies that she thinks it's a bit much. Which it is, a bit. Kelly likes the wall of white drapes and thinks the "panelling system" gives the room depth, but it would be hard to clean. Carisa recommends a central vacuum system. Linda asks how she feels about the room and Carisa once again says that she loves it and she wants to stay there. Linda thinks management would give her a deal for the night. Overall, I like the room, but I like strong colors. The black is a bit much, especially the rug in the sitting area, but I think a white ceiling would help balance it out. Although it would be interesting to see what the vents look like in silver. I'm impressed that Carisa came up with a bold, graphic concept instead of the usual wispy presentation.

See Goil's room at

Kelly likes Goil's layout, but his chairs didn't seem comfy enough. Jonathan thinks he got wrapped up in his upholstered wall, and Goil agrees that it took a lot of time. Linda likes his daring, but thinks he was a bit "literal." She asks about the luxury element. Goil thinks his textures were luxurious, but suspects he has a "different idea of luxury." Linda approves of his direction. Margaret thinks he made "enormous strides" in terms of presenting a finished, habitable room. She observes that fire was a toughie -- "fire and hotel room are two things that you really don't ever want in one sentence" -- but he's still too conceptual. In the end, "it's about sleeping in that bed." You know, someone who talks about senses being "activated" probably doesn't have the right frame of reference to come up with a sybaritic wallow of a room. I think he would have been better off confining the patchwork to the headboard, and then using the metal "flames" as a room divider. If nothing else, the headboard wouldn't have chewed up as much time and he might have finished the room. I'm not sure how he decided on those chairs, other than "I'm running out of time, these look nice, I can afford them." They just don't seem to fit. Unlike the wooden lampshade, which I love. I'm not a big fan of statuary, but his metal figure could have worked if it weren't just randomly stuck in a corner. I'm glad Goil decided to emphasize the softer side of fire, but I wonder why he didn't make the connection between hospitality and the hearth.

See Andrea's room at

Jonathan asks Andrea if she thinks she avoided the "gloomy" label this time. She explains that while she needed some earth tones, she lightened the mood with the bright blue (alluding to the sky) and the bold graphics of her prints. Kelly wonders if she considered green, and Andrea said she was worried about using it. Kelly and Jonathan would be happy to see a "good green." Jonathan asks about the bed; Andrea was going to have more posts to allude to a forest, but that felt to enclosed. Kelly approves of the bed, but doesn't get the bench. Andrea was trying to reference a stone without being too "literal." Except the bench is faced with literal stone, so what's up with that? Margaret isn't into the grass patches; the idea is good, but the reality involves bugs. Andrea disclaims any intention of being practical. Kelly could live with one grass plot. Hoo boy, this room is a mess. The problem here is that Andrea was never inspired by her element. Instead of finding some aspect of it that she could embrace, she defined her room by what she didn't want. And quite frankly, she got a little freaky about the colors. Her creamy white walls looked "dingy"? Tan and rust look "dirty"? Get a grip. Also, in what world does a rectangular box with a cushion constitute luxurious seating? I don't know if she's afraid of success or failure, but she really psyched herself out.

See Matt's room at

Kelly thought Matt's room was "luxurious" and enjoyed his use of "verticality." Linda also likes that element, particularly in contrast with the low moldings. Matt went low for a more modern look. Margaret raves over the wall color and approves of his accessories, but questions the rug. Matt admits that it looked lighter in the showroom. I'm surprised he went with a beige rug at all. Why not grey? I'm also not thrilled with the sunburst wall mirror. This is a lovely, soothing room, but it feels more like air than water. Matt emphasized water's translucence, a quality it shares with air. However, water is a tangible substance and Matt's room feels insubstantial. Also, the low wainscoting emphasizes the volume of the space, which points more towards air.

A couple of general observations: After the discovery that they all had the same layout, only Goil actually changed his. I'm wondering why no one simply flipped the bed to the left side and the seating area to the right. Also, while I'm very fond of wood floors, I don't expect to see them in luxury hotels. I know they have a sponsor and all, but the floor is a major surface in any room. Matt made the right choice by going in a different direction.

Jonathan pulls out this week's stumper question: "Who do you think stands between you and the title of Top Design?" I think it's perfectly fair to make them size up the competition; the judges want to know about their critical faculties and it's not an inherently mean question.

The designers are dismissed so the judges can talk. Jonathan is pleased that the results were so exciting. Jonathan likes the "color" and "fun" in Carisa's room; he's impressed that she has found her "voice" as a designer. Kelly agrees it was a big improvement over last week. Jonathan enthuses, "She knows how to make a bold gesture with the amount of time she had." Linda thinks Goil should have pushed his ideas even farther. Jonathan is "impressed" with how room-like the room was. Margaret gives him credit for trying. Jonathan thinks he spent too much time on his fabric wall, but he does appreciate Goil's fresh perspective. Margaret was disappointed in Andrea's room; she didn't see a "consistent plan." Jonathan wants a happier vibe, although Andrea did try this time. Kelly likes the open quality of the space, but her use of "botanicals" was "too literal" and the room wasn't comfortable. Margaret finds her "tentative" and self-doubting. Jonathan agrees that "she's thinking, whereas Carisa and Matt are doing." Margaret is full of praise for Matt's room, "although he did get the easiest element." Kelly points out that mirrored tables are not practical. Jonathan likes his sense of scale. Linda also approves: "It was very resolved." Jonathan and Kelly agree that the designers have made great strides in their make-it-work skills. Margaret finds them all "distinctive." Linda thinks the winner "is pretty clear."

The designers return. Matt gets the win and the feature. He does a "yay, that feels good" interview. Carisa is safe. Andrea gets praise for her colors, but she was too "theoretical" and not functional enough. Goil is praised for responding to the judges' feedback, but he got too involved with his walls and "missed the big picture." Andrea is safe. Goil gets the boot. Margaret looks a bit regretful. Goil interviews, "Of course I don't want to go home, but sometimes, you know, what can you do?" Todd is sympathetic. Goil breaks down as he interviews, "I feel like I'm the only one that consistently put my heart out there in every project." I don't know; I think I saw more brain than heart from him. Todd compliments his ability to surprise "in the most beautiful ways." Goil has recovered his composure in his interview, expressing his appreciation for the experience.

Now, at last, he has time for a nap.

Right winner? I was sure Matt would get the win, and I think it's deserved, but part of me wants to give it to Carisa. Matt's room was lovely but rather safe, while Carisa took a risk.

Right loser? It's a close call. Goil at least had a design direction that incorporated his element; Andrea had execution, but no real direction. I have this suspicion that Goil could have survived if he had just painted his white walls a soft yellow to add to the room's warmth. This was yet another white-walled/light-floored gallery space featuring some interesting ideas, although it was the most room-like gallery space he's done. Andrea's room reminded me a lot of her child's room, even down to the fake windows. She kind of psyched herself out on that one, too, because she didn't "get" girls. I'm surprised she depends so much on intuition in her process; I thought she'd be more analytical. Based on the rooms, I'd probably boot Andrea. But it's just as well Goil is out; I don't think he could have survived the strain of another round.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007


Table Tops

Previously on Top Design: The designers teamed up to throw parties for a product. Michael and Carisa clashed. Goil felt like Jan Brady. Matt won an extra hour of work time. Erik got the boot.

Carisa is happy to have had this experience. Andrea really wants to make it to the final four. Now for the fun stuff: Matt and Michael tease Goil about his "Jan Brady" breakdown. Goil interviews that the stress is getting to him. Matt decides that he's Marcia because he's the oldest, and Michael is Cindy because he's the youngest, so Goil really is Jan. Michael rejects Cindy in favor of being Cousin Oliver.

Andrea discovers a letter from Todd and recoils in fear at the prospect of another plot twist. Goil also finds a letter. Carisa steels herself and opens up the letter. In the men's loft, Goil announces that Matt has to leave, but the boys aren't fooled. Matt and Carisa read the letter aloud:

Interior Designers,

It's time to celebrate all of your hard work. so, as they say here in Hollywood, "Let's do lunch." A car is waitng for you downstairs. See you in an hour.


Andrea is much relieved. Goil, still looking for the twist, asks, "What does that mean?" "That there's lunch, and there's a car waiting downstairs," Michael deduces. Andrea's just happy that they aren't being summoned in front of the judges.

Apparently they're down on Sunset Boulevard, since Goil interviews that all he knows about Sunset Boulevard is that it's fabulous; since Norman's restaurant is on Sunset Boulevard, it must be fabulous, too. Only if fabulousness is a transitive property. And shouldn't it be Norma's? Todd welcomes the designers to a private dining room, also called a "chef's table." Carisa helpfully interviews that it's a place where restaurants can gouge clients even more by offering exclusivity (paraphrasing). Todd lays down the new challenge: design the chef's table for the mystery client, a world-famous chef. Good thing they warned the promo department to keep the identity of the mystery chef under wraps, so I have no idea who he is, and am thus being driven utterly wild with suspense. Andrea reveals that she teaches restaurant design, so a bad showing would make her look really stupid. Michael speculates about the identity of the mystery chef: "Julia Child is dead, so we know it's not her." But you can see a hint of uncertainty. Maybe the producers exhumed her.

Todd talks about the client: "modern", "clean" food made from "only the highest quality ingredients;" "eclectic" style encompassing natural materials, Arts & Crafts and mid-century modern. Andrea explains the incongruity: Arts & Crafts involves hand-made objects while mid-century modern (the contrast implies) does not. Todd says that the final result must be luxurious and "high-end." Poor Goil interviews that he's "a bowl of noodles kind of guy" so this is not his thing. The designers are relieved to learn they'll each get $2000 for materials and $40,000 for borrowing, which certainly makes the whole luxury look more attainable. They have two days to work, plus Matt gets his extra hour. Goil interviews that Matt's a lucky guy to have won extra time. Before the party breaks up, Andrea proposes a toast and Todd wishes them all "a lovely adventure." Oh, that's right, he hasn't actually seen the show yet.

Sketching. Carisa explains that Arts & Crafts is a 20th century movement involving hand-made objects and Frank Lloyd Wright. Well, it started in the end of the 19th century in response to increased industrialization, so craftsmanship was important. Wright was not strictly part of the movement, but was influenced by it. I'd give her a C+. For her usual big carpentry piece, she's designing a banquette that will stretch the length of one wall and seat "an unlimited amount of people." No, I'm pretty sure there's a limit. Also, serving people at a banquette requires reaching over some of the other diners, which isn't exactly luxurious. Andrea interviews that she's using stone and wood, plus she's upholstering some walls in suede to add texture. That sounds more like it. Michael's design will put the focus on the food. So, spotlights?

Todd calls time and sends everyone out shopping for an hour. Presumably part of the challenge at this point is knowing the different showrooms well enough to shop efficiently, because an hour is not a lot of time to make your way around a place as big as the PDC. The designers stride about. Goil interviews that shopping was the hardest part of the challenge, since he couldn't figure out how Arts & Crafts connected with mid-century modern. I'd say it has to do with clean lines and an appreciation for the materials. Andrea picks out a console table. Goil finds his destination showroom closed. He really needs a nap soon. More shopping. Carisa discovers that Matt has already picked out some chairs she's interested in, and she is stuck with patio furniture because it was the only set she could find. She worries about Margaret questioning her choice, and well she should. I'm sure she could have found something better with more time, but them's the breaks. Michael avoids this problem by deliberately choosing unmatched chairs. He's venturing into "uncharted territory," he explains in his usual "see what a good designer do-bee I am" interview.

Fabric shopping. Separate from furniture shopping, I presume. Matt gets leather for his floor to score some luxury points. He's using orange and chocolate as his palette. Carisa plans to upholster her patio chairs, hoping to disguise their lowly origins. Michael decides that the dishes will be the only white objects, to help draw attention to the food. He heads into what would be a florist's outside the PDC, but is probably a floral design showroom since it's in the PDC, and requests something simple and natural-looking. The floral designer gives him a look like "Oh, we are so going to rumble now" and Michael adjusts his glasses like he's gearing up for it, but then we cut to rooms being constructed and I have no idea if Michael got eviscerated or not. It's unkind of the editors to tease me this way.

So, workety-work. Todd comes through for a check-up. Andrea shows him the ultrasuede she'll use to upholster some walls, and Todd praises the acoustical dampening that will result. Matt has a sheer fabric for some draperies; Todd suggests that he not even bother seaming it, and Matt says that was his plan. Todd likes Carisa's "rich" teal color. He's concerned when Carisa explains that she's "very plastic and colorful and artificial," so a room with a lot of natural elements is not like her, and urges her to put herself into the room. She interviews that she'll still have horizontal lines and graphic elements, so hopefully that will cover it. Matt interviews that he's trying to be original with the first-ever leather floor of the competition. "You know how things always seem like a good idea until you start doing them?" he asks Michael, who is only now learning how to actually do things, so probably not. You'll be shocked (shocked!) to learn that Matt is worried about completing everything on time.

Goil has a little meltdown trying to put some flooring together. Not something I've done, but my impression is that it tends to go better if you work your way out from a wall instead of starting it in the middle of the room. Finally, he calls in Sarah. He's annoyed that he's wasting time. She makes a suggestion and they seem to make some progress. Goil frets about everything not being done. Sarah advises him not to worry about the past, but just deal with the present. Goil generously interviews that Sarah is "better than me because she's calm when I'm not." Who isn't? Sarah assures him that she's experienced with floors, so they'll just bust this one out.

Michael decides to be clever by interpreting red as a "visual taste" because it makes people hungry and makes food taste better. I thought that was orange, but he has picked an orange-y red, so close enough. He's making his own artwork. Never a good sign. Andrea and Blair lay slate tile on some wall panels. I'm rather fond of slate, so I approve. Matt reaches the end of his floor panels. Goil frets about painting, but Sarah assures him that the goop they're applying will just need a couple of minutes to dry. He's using colorful, vertical stripes to highlight the table area. Carisa thinks a chef's table should feel like part of the kitchen, but a luxurious part of the kitchen. She tells Carl that she'd like to see "his" benches finished in a "but you need to do something else first" tone of voice. She interviews that he's "a perfectionist" who gets lost in details. And we saw Matt warn Carl in the party episode that they didn't have time for his perfectionism, so the man certainly has a reputation. Carisa tells Michael that Carl has spent the last hour on the benches, when she told him it was a low priority compared to all the other work. And you know it drives Carisa nuts when people don't listen to her.

More workety-work. Andrea interviews that she's just pooped. Even more workety-work. Goil interviews that he can usually "muscle out" a room "but now it seems my most fabulous power is diminishing" just as "my competitors are becoming stronger." It's like he's living a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode. The designers pack it in for the night.

And it's morning. Matt interviews that the second day is for all the finish work. The guys disapprove of Carisa's banquette and patio chairs, and Michael deems her upholstery fabric "grampa." Michael would know. Meanwhile, Carisa tells Andrea that Goil is doing another Goil room with white walls and "weird cutouts." She doesn't see the Arts & Crafts. Andrea interviews that everyone is "competition in a different way." For example, Carisa is "bold," so Andrea doesn't want to get booted for not being bold, too.

Back to work. Goil pulls off his tape and discovers his paint bled. Matt interviews that his drapery treatment will take time, and he wants to make his table perfect, so it's nice to have the extra hour. Todd's back for another checkup. He raves over Goil's "amazing" wooden partition wall, made out of many slats of wood. He's also pleased that Goil has deviated from his usual crisp lines to use wavy paint lines, although some of them look like masking tape accidents. "Just make sure that your blotches are intentional," he advises. Best Todd advice ever -- if you screw up, make it look like you meant to do it all along. It works for cats. Michael explains that his canvases are a representation of hunger, so the big blob is the bite of food and the trailing slope is the savoring. Todd finds it reminiscent of a "crime scene" because it looks "violent." Well, if you think about digestion from the food's perspective, yeah. However, Michael doesn't see any violence, so doesn't matter that Todd did. Todd is relieved: "I can't wait to see how you'll tie it all together." He's so cute when he's optimistic.

Goil staples plants around a piece of wood to make a light fixture. He's not sure how it will turn out, but if it works, it will be a big success. I do like that Goil takes risks; I just wish sometimes they weren't so risky. Carisa is in love with her really expensive table, which is "like a big piece of tree. With legs." It is a really cool-looking table, except for the chunk missing at the head so you have to worry about your place setting falling on your knees, and well-suited to the challenge parameters, except for the missing chunk thing. Goil raises his partition wall, and the slats of wood have been stained in different tones, which I like, only I think the colors could be a little richer. Carl installs a beam above the piece-of-tree table, and Carisa is worried: "Carl, it's going to snap. Carl." I'm reminded of the old Star Trek episode where Kirk and crew find Harry Mudd living on the planet of the robot clones, and visit some improvised justice on him: "Harcourt Fenton Mudd!" Yes, I'm a geezer. Anyway, Carl just yeah-yeahs. Carisa frets about the expensive table some more. The beam drops and Carisa gasps. Commercials.

And we're back. And back in time. We revisit Carisa's "Carl" and then she shifts the table out of the way moments before the beam falls. It looks like there was some problem with the joinery in the middle. "Just in <bleep>in' time," Carisa mutters. She interviews that Carl would have gotten the beam up the day before if he had just listened to her. "It's not the Carl show, you know. It's not Top Carl. It's Top Design. I'm the designer. Listen to me." And yeah, she was right; the beam snapped and it would have fallen on the table. But being right is (sadly) not enough. I think it's a vicious cycle: Carisa worries that people don't listen, so she nags, so they tune her out, so she nags harder. And when things go wrong, her message is "You didn't listen to me" instead of "This is derailing the project." She needs to learn how to project authority and she needs to focus on the work, not her ego. A good mentor or role model would really help. Like Andrea.

Todd issues the one-hour warning. Goil pours out a bag of rocks; he interviews that he got some stone to make the client happy. Andrea interviews (again) that she really wants to make the Final Four. She fingers Goil as her main competition, since they're both architects and tend to have similar ideas. She thinks that Carisa's rooms are strong but lack subtlety: "Hopefully that would be the thing that will make her go." Andrea catches herself and wonders, "Is this terrible?" No, actually, that was fine; she wasn't being mean. But it does show that even someone as capable as Andrea still worries about being perceived as a bitch. As opposed to Michael, who totally embraces it. He, by the way, is using a hand-knotted Tibetan rug because of the whole "Arts & Crafts = handmade" thing. He's pleased with his mixture of chairs. Goil hangs his plant chandelier. I can see how it could look really cool, but it hasn't quite gotten there yet for me. He interviews that being Thai gives him a funky edge, since his culture is so colorful. "Goil scares me," interviews Matt. Not so much in the "serious competition" sense as in the "what the hell is he thinking?" sense. Todd calls fifteen minutes for everyone but Matt, who goes "whoo!" with joy. He interviews that he can really use the time. Everyone else works frantically until Todd calls time. Carisa interviews that she needed more time for styling, but since her carpenter was busy trying to finish the stuff he was supposed to finish earlier, she didn't have it. I think this is just a bad pairing; you need to be a darn good manager to keep Carl on schedule, and Carisa is not even close to being that good.

Matt dresses his table. He hopes the judges see that he's stretching himself. "My wife and daughter would be like, you better win this damn competition because if you left us for all this time and you're not winning this thing, don't come home." Ah, conditional love. Makes the heart go pitter-pat.

White Room. Todd recaps the challenge and introduces the judges. Kelly has combined Edwardian frizzy curls and leg-o'-mutton sleeves with a pencil skirt. It's like Meryl Streep from The French Lieutenant's Woman crossed with some 1930s office comedy. The mystery judge turns out to be Tom Colicchio from Top Chef. Who would have guessed? Carisa interviews that he's "really scary" because he's "not easily impressed." And not afraid to say so. Todd announces that the winner will get a big gift certificate from Jonathan's store. Jonathan lays out the judging criteria: design, execution and meeting the needs of the client.

Carisa interviews that she won when she expected to lose, so she's going to think positively.

See Matt's room at

Back in the White Room, it's time to quiz the designers. Jonathan thinks Matt's room was "impactful." Matt explains the "wooded setting" concept again, with the brown representing the trees. Jonathan likes the "graphic" punch of the leaves as placemats. Chef Tom loves of the leather floor. Margaret approves of the olive branch arrangement against the back wall. I like it, too; it lightens the room a bit. Overall, it's a very good room, but I have two complaints. First, the chairs are too bulky. I'm sure the table is very interesting, but I can't see it because of all the chair in the way. Second, I liked it better when he softened the back wall with his sheer drapes.

See Goil's room at

Chef Tom wants to know what Goil was thinking, since everything seemed so mismatched. Goil explains that he was going with the idea of the chef's table being "an individual experience," with a meal just for this group. Kelly and Margaret love the colorful and "whimsical" chandelier. I'd like the chandelier better if it were made out of something that wouldn't decay. I'm still quite fond of the partition wall, but that's pretty much it for me. One whole wall is just a big, empty, white surface; Goil really needs to get over his fear of color. The glass table and the mismatched chairs have no feeling of luxury. The stone walkways are silly and dangerous. It's just not a room for real people to inhabit.

See Andrea's room at

Kelly could "hang out" in Andrea's room. Margaret calls it "polished" and Jonathan thinks it fits the "luxury" requirement. Andrea explains that she was inspired by Napa Valley. Jonathan likes the "fieldstone" and Chef Tom appreciates that she used it on the walls, rather than the more-expected surface of the floor. He thinks she paid attention to the challenge requirements. I suspect this room looks even better in person, because it's hard to see the detail of the textures and the wall panels are a bit hidden by the table. I think the rug should be a deeper color and I'd like to see that color sprinkled around the room to tie it in. Otherwise, excellent work.

See Michael's room at

Jonathan thinks Michael's color palette was "a departure." Michael explains that he wanted the backdrop to recede and let the furniture stand out, particularly the chair combination. Chef Tom could do with fewer varieties of chair and Jonathan agrees. Margaret loves the look of one chair but finds it impractically heavy. Kelly doesn't care for the rug or the lack of storage. Michael disagrees; his room isn't going to have any boring old storage. I might have paraphrased a bit. I hate pretty much everything about this room except for the baseboard and crown moldings, which I absolutely love, and the window, which I like a lot. The wall color is dreary, the mismatched chairs don't relate, the artwork is ghastly and I don't see the point of the rug.

See Carisa's room at

Jonathan thinks Carisa's room feels empty: "Big banquette, teeny table." Carisa smilingly points out that the table really isn't "teeny." Chef Tom gets down to the real problem with scale: the banquette overwhelms not just the table but the whole room. But he "loved" the fabric on it. Jonathan segues to the chair fabric, which no one likes. Carisa explains that she had a hard time grasping the natural elements part of the challenge. Margaret wants to know about the missing flatware; Carisa says she ran out of time dealing with "carpentry issues." Jonathan observes that she picked her carpenter, and now she's not managing him. This room is clearly incomplete, but it has a definite direction that I find interesting. I'm sure the accessories would have added some visual punch to lighten the gloom. The contrast of the white back wall is too stark; if she had put a little white in her teal and a smidgen of teal in her white, it would have brought the walls together. With the rectangular table, she had the freedom to mix up her chairs, using different looks for the ends and the sides. So with a little improvement, it could be a good room. To create a great room, she'd need to get rid of the banquette; ideally, she would have kept the round table in her original sketch. The table she found is really a great natural element, but the overall shape is unimpressive. A round table would make serving easy and would set her apart from the field. To get her usual horizontal lines, she should have built a fireplace and faced it with river rock. A fire would create the sense of occasion that her room needs. I'd raise the fireplace to table height; the space underneath could be used for storage. The room would still be more Prairie than Arts & Crafts, but I don't think Chef Tom would mind.

Jonathan puts the designers on the spot: "Whose room wouldn't you love to eat in?"

The designers go away. The judges discuss. Chef Tom thinks most of the designers paid attention to the challenge. Jonathan starts with Matt, whom they can count on to be "chic." Chef Tom is still impressed with the leather floor. As for Goil's room, Chef Tom likes the "cheery" vibe, the colors and the flower fixture, but he doesn't see it meeting the challenge. Where was the luxury? Speaking of luxury, Jonathan turns to Andrea. Chef Tom is particularly impressed with her sideboard. Kelly praises her acoustical awareness, as well as the "depth of field" and visual layering. However, she thinks Michael's room was "empty" and lacking in luxury. Margaret thinks he just shopped. She and Chef Tom diss the rug. Kelly appreciates that Michael stands up for his decisions, but he has turned "defensive." Jonathan is cranky that he wouldn't answer the trick question. He's also bummed about Carisa's lack of "optimism" and Chef Tom blames the chairs. Margaret pronounces the banquette "a little bit big" and the judges laugh. Chef Tom thinks a banquette would be okay in a narrow room. Kelly is not happy with Carisa's inability to deal with contractors.

Wow, that was a good judging session. I guess people were reluctant to look stupid in front of Chef Tom. Something about him tends to discourage it. He had a lot to say, and Kelly contributed some good, technical opinions. I can finally see what she's doing here.

The designers return. Jonathan announces that Chef Tom picked Andrea's room; it was "luxurious and well-crafted." Andrea interviews that she had a "clear vision" and was able to implement it; she hope that continues to happen. Matt is safe. Goil is praised for his originality, but his rooms are too cerebral and not user-friendly. Carisa's room was a "bummer" and the judges didn't like the excuses. Michael made "bad choices" like the rug, and his room "didn't look luxurious or complete." Goil gets another chance. Michael gets the boot, so Carisa is safe. Hugs all around.

Michael interviews that all the rooms were so different that anyone could have won, and "it was just my turn." In the sense of being the least-talented person remaining, yes. He has learned a lot about the "construction" side. He's very gracious with Todd, talking about how he appreciates the experience and learned a lot. He's going "back to my bubble" where he can "appreciate" the world's perfection "and live happily ever after in this bubble of splendor." That bubble? I believe it's called self-delusion.

Right winner? Matt's room was a contender, but I think Andrea pretty much nailed it. Instead of alluding to nature with abstractions, she featured tangible natural elements with a light touch.

Right loser? Yep. Carisa's room was decent, and could be improved with a little work. The table was great, the shoji screens were cool and the color could be brightened with the right accessories. Goil's room was weird and wrong but cheerful; you could use the partition wall as a starting point for a more appropriate space. Michael's room was weird and wrong and depressing; you'd have to strip out everything but the woodwork and start over. And realistically, he didn't deserve to make it this far. That's the problem with so many team challenges -- Michael, a poor designer but a good assistant, can be carried by his teammates, while stronger designers (Elizabeth and Erik) struggle to mesh with their peers. I'm sure Michael will continue to have a career in the industry, but I'm not going to follow it. Perhaps one day he'll get smart enough to realize how little he knows, and maybe then he'll become interesting.


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