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.


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