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 BravoTV.com

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 BravoTV.com

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 BravoTV.com

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 BravoTV.com

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 BravoTV.com

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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