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.


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