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.


I totally agree with you, Top Design could have done much better. One thing I would suggest: stop with the team challenges! Every time you have an even number of contestants you DO NOT have to do a team challenge!
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