Sunday, August 12, 2007


Faux Finish

Previously on Design Star: Las Vegas. 11 contestants. Penthouse apartment. Will, Sparkle Josh and Todd were awesome. Lisa folded paper. Organic Josh managed not to decapitate anyone with flying lumber. Robb was on the chopping block, but Lisa got the boot. She was sad.

Morning. Scott threw out his back and spent the night in pain (also, tears). Neeraja is concerned for him. He's sure he's toast if it's a solo challenge. Fortunately, a doctor is able to make a house call to shoot him up with pain killer. Oh, right, it's Vegas.

Clive arrives and summons the designers to the work area, where they each stand behind a paint can on a stool. Two designers will be getting the boot, but the winning designer gets a $5000 gift card from Sears. I love the way they whip through the eliminations early. Two of the cans will designate team leaders. Clive asks who wants the job, and Robb loudly volunteers. He's looking for redemption. I don't think a leadership position will render him any less obnoxious. But Clive was just being rhetorical. And the real team leaders are: Neeraja and Organic Josh. Robb could probably be more disgusted, but it's short notice and that kind of emotion really needs to simmer. Josh is happy to have the chance to demonstrate his leadership. I'm guessing he doesn't watch reality competitions much. The leaders have $10,000 in cash and a star designating their challenge family. The teams will be renovating the kitchens of two neighbors; they'll have 28 hours to work. Time to pick teams:

Clive lays out the judging criteria: overall design, functionality, teamwork and satisfying the clients' requirements.

Sparkle Josh summarizes the two teams: it's Paul Bunyan versus Paula Abdul. They load up in their vans and head out to the houses, congratulating themselves on their teams. Neeraja thinks she has a strong design team. Todd's sure they'll crush the other team. Everyone on Neeraja's team is happy she didn't pick Robb. Todd tells the others he wouldn't trade them. Robb interviews that Adriana is a "dynamo, awesome carpenter chick" but she's one carpenter to his team's three. Kim confesses to being a kitchen novice. Will is worried about money and time, since it's a kitchen.

And we see the kitchens. Yep, they need makeovers. The teams watch DVDs of the families explaining what they want. Josh's kitchen has white tile floors with dark grout, dark wood cabinets and white countertops. The family would like a peninsula to separate the kitchen from the dining room, with cabinets for storage, and new countertops. For style, they like "old world." Robb claims lots of experience with that style. Robb claims lots of experience with everything. Neeraja's family wants to replace an ancient cooktop in their island. Also going: the orange laminate counters. The wall between kitchen and dining room has a pass-through with a bar counter on the kitchen side; they'd prefer to have the counter on the dining room side. A wine chiller would be nice, and maybe get rid of the paneling in the dining room. The team notes that they didn't give any direction on style, or even color.

Back in the "old world" kitchen, Todd wants to preserve the faux-painted stone arch around a doorway. In fact, he wants to make the stones bigger. Will can't figure out how Todd came to be in charge, but he is. Todd interviews that Josh's position as leader only entitled him to pick a team, as far as he was concerned. If Josh had a little spine, he could quickly derail this little mutiny -- Todd can design all he want, but Josh is the one with the money to make it happen. But Josh apparently has no spine, because he just sits and watches. Christina proposes turning a pantry into a fountain or some other kind of "wow" element. Will can't believe she wants to eliminate storage in a kitchen.

Neeraja's team discusses countertops. She interviews that she has done a lot of tiling, so she's "comfortable" with it. Kim points out all the wine paraphenalia, so they use wine as a starting point for the palette. Adriana proposes building out the island as their "element of surprise." Neeraja sums up the changes they want to make. She and Scott head out to shop while the others tackle demolition.

Josh explains his team's dynamics: they vote on something, the majority rules and the minority has to shut up. Sounds healthy. Sparkle Josh works with Kim to rip out panelling. He jokes that his experience with chisels and crowbars is limited to his morning routine. I think he needs to tone down the comedy just a smidge; he's working a little too hard at it. Will interviews that the whole design discussion took longer than it needed to. Robb sneers to Will that he doesn't even know about drop-in stoves, so obviously Robb has more kitchen experience. Will is not impressed. Josh summarizes the design plan: Tuscan, Tuscan, Tuscan. Robb, Todd and Josh head out to shop, because that's obviously the best use of their carpenter resources. In the van, Robb gripes to Todd, "I didn't hear anything coming out of Will that you could substantiate as professional designer speak." Could I get that in English? But if we're going to be picky about professional terminology, it's a drop-in cooktop, not a drop-in stove. Josh interjects, "You have no frame of reference." Robb tells him to go away, since Robb was the one being insulted. He and Josh bicker about who's calmer.

Over with in the grown-up van, Scott worries about the tiling because he doesn't have any experience with it. Neeraja assures him that it will zip right along. Back at the soon-to-be-Tuscan house, Will frets that Tuscan should be different than what they're doing, but he doesn't have enough experience with it to back up that feeling. Neeraja and Scott shop. Kim, Josh and Adriana work. Adriana interviews that she planned a lot of work, but she knows she can get it done. Christina explains that she and Will did prep work and primed the cabinets, but they were stuck waiting for supplies. Robb and Todd race their carts around the store. The manager is going to be so happy when they leave. Bored with waiting, Christina and Will climb over the cinderblock back wall (using the handily-placed ladders) and visit the other team. They've done a lot of demolition. Christina is envious of their progress. Robb finds "the most spectacular dining Tuscan set" ever. Todd pronounces it "epic." It's a big, dark wood table with armless chairs upholstered in some green fabric. The guys invoke the majority rule and buy it. They start invoking the majority rule a lot. Good thing they sent three people shopping.

Neeraja and Scott return; they're thrilled with all the demolition progress. Josh tells Will and Christina that they have a truck full of Tuscan stuff. Neeraja reports that the home improvement store didn't have glass tile, so they'll have to check the tile store. She and Scott display their finds and the team finalizes their choices. Will seems less-than-impressed with the new Tuscan dining set. The teams unload their stuff. Kim reviews her team's situation at the end of the day; she's pleased with the progress. Will's not so happy; his team didn't get any work done. I feel so sorry for Will, trapped on Team Tuscan with the bozos in command.

It's morning. Designers get ready and head out to their houses. Clive straddles the cinderblock wall and starts off the workday. They get 14 hours. Neeraja's team extracts the ovens. Neeraja warns the others that Scott should take the lightest weight. Scott gets verklempt as he praises his team for their decency in helping him through the challenge. It helps, of course, that he's trying his best to contribute despite his pain. But he is fortunate to wind up on the team with most of the nice people, instead of the jackals on Team Tuscan.

Team Tuscan gets to work. Robb is sure they can whip out the execution. Neeraja and Kim go looking for tile while Scott sands the existing countertops and Josh helps Adriana with island construction. Will describes the faux painting technique he used on the walls; a plastic sheet knocks down the fresh paint for a weathered effect. I think the result looks more subtle than sponge painting. Scott drops in to see how the competition is doing. He's worried: the other team looks farther ahead and they haven't started on the tiling yet. With 8 hours left (so 6 hours into the day), Neeraja and Kim discover that the glass tile is too expensive. Kim explains that they based the design around the glass tile backsplash. "Maybe we should have bought this first," Neeraja concludes. It's called a budget, people. Look into it. So they buy some tile at the specialty store, but they're also using tile from the home improvement store. Scott frets that they haven't returned. Kim calculates they have 7 hours left in the day, which has her worried.

Team Tuscan keeps chugging along. Shirtless Todd bangs out a fountain. Neeraja and Kim finally get back to the house. Scott is desperate to see the tiles, and then he doesn't like them. Shiny black tile would not be my choice for a countertop. I don't see how it fits into their earthy palette, and it gives the countertops far too much visual weight. Also, they have 4" tiles, and they would be much better off (especially at this late juncture) with larger tiles that go down faster. Scott brings up the bad news that the other team "looks good." Kim wisely says they can't care about that; they have to think about their own project.

Josh and Will go shopping for what Josh calls "very Tuscan-Italian" plants. Fake Tuscan-Italian plants. I guess they grow them there. Josh finds a grape vine. It's probably the same plastic grape vine that was draped along the other team's vent hood. They could get it for free if they just looked through Neeraja's trash. Scott paints while Kim and Neeraja tile. Kim disclaims expertise, so she's deferring to Neeraja, who is confident. Robb describes the crackle technique that he's using on the cabinet doors. Josh heads out to shop for some "big stuff." He grabs a huge mirror (probably 6' high and 3' wide) for a major discount, and scores some other speedy bargains. Neeraja's team is out of tile, so Josh will have to get more. The teams scramble to finish. Clive climbs the wall and calls time. They'll have 5 hours to finish everything up.

Morning. Scott is pleased that his back has improved, but he's worried about getting done. Robb rah-rahs that the other team will lose two people. Work happens. Clive drops in on Neeraja's team. They have a lot to do, so Clive scampers. Sparkle Josh goes out to get more tile; they figure they'll need 10 boxes. Clive checks in with Team Tuscan. Will reports that the cabinets are their only major project left, and Robb is tackling them. Will needs to stop saying "like" so much if he's going to be on televsion, though.

Sparkle Josh returns with tile and now even Neeraja is worried about finishing. Robb fauxs up some bricks on the backsplash "to match the faux work that they had." But they had faux stone, not faux brick, so how does that match? More last minute work. Robb bellows the 90-minute warning across the wall. Neeraja runs out of tile. Scott: "Neeraja will regret not getting out the tape measure and specing out that entire countertop surface." Wait, they didn't measure? How can you not measure? Time ticks and everyone bustles. Clive sounds the airhorn and that's a wrap.

Studio. Clive. Judges. The criteria: design sense, creativity, team work, execution and the final result. That's not what he said at the beginning. Team Tuscan goes first. The original space is one long room with the kitchen at one end and the dining room at the other. The kitchen has an L-shaped arrangement of dark wood cabinets; the refrigerator and pantry closets are on the long wall. In the dining room is a dark wood, rectangular table. The chairs have rounded backs with metal filigree around the upholstery. Both rooms have the same white tile floor with dark grout. The faux stone archway is opposite the pantries. The new room has white cabinets; the top cabinets have a crackle finish. The backsplash is painted green; the other walls are a mocha brown. The dining room table is a bigger and darker wood rectangle; the chairs are upholstered Parsons chairs. Curtains frame the stone archway. One set of pantry doors has been stained a rich brown; the other set was removed to create a lion's head fountain. There's a stone lion statue under the new peninsula, which also has bamboo barstools covered in black fabric with white polka dots. The sink is now stainless steel.

I don't see how any room with those floors could be considered Tuscan. In general, I'd expect warmer colors, stone or terra cota tiles, and warm wood tones. I like the countertops, the wall colors and the stain on the pantry doors. On the downside, the crackle finish looks dingy at a distance, the white cabinets blend into the floor and there's just a lot of crap strewn about. Who needs a lion statue in the kitchen? Or, for that matter, a lion fountain? The family asked for storage under the peninsula, so would they really be happy about losing a whole pantry?

Vern wants to know who the leader was. Josh brings up the democracy approach and Robb clarifies that Josh was not in charge. Vern is perplexed, because Tuscan style uses natural materials and they didn't. Martha points out a bunch of fake stuff, and then checks that Robb was the crackle guy. She wonders if they're happy with the results. Robb expostulates that yeah, they're happy, because they got the job done. Vern likes the laminate countertops, at least. Cynthia thinks they were successful on a "superficial level." Clive introduces the reveal to the homeowners, who are thrilled with the changes. The woman of the house loves the fountain; she had wanted one, only she was imagining a fake, painted one. Everyone claps. Martha is happy they're thrilled. Vern explains that designers should provide the "best possible version" of what the clients request -- which is a discreet way of saying that the clients have bad taste, and the designers shouldn't have catered to that.

Now for Neeraja's team. The original dining room was covered in medium-toned wood panelling, except for the stone around the fireplace. The table is a dark wood trestle and there aren't many chairs; the carpet is off-white. The kitchen is visible through the door and the passway. The cabinets are medium wood and the countertops -- including those of the island with the cooktop -- are orange. The cabinets are essentially L-shaped but the counter continues all the way around the room. The backsplash is a sandy brown, almost mosaic-looking tile. The new dining room is painted a sage green. The round glass table has been placed on a rug with reds and browns. The large mirror leans up against the stone wall that isn't adjacent to the fireplace. The passway has a wooden counter that protrudes into the dining room. The kitchen also has green paint in the few places where the walls are exposed. The cabinets haven't changed. The wrap-around counter is gone. To the side of the passway is a stained wooden counter; underneath is a wine chiller and above are two wine storage racks. The island is now L-shaped and stained darker; the countertops are stained wood (plywood?). Unfortunately, the tile isn't finished. The backsplash looks like a small, gray-veined marble tile while the countertops are mostly covered in shiny black tile.

The dining room looks very well put-together. The kitchen is a disappointment. Not just the countertops, but the island -- it's an awkward shape and the surface looks unfinished even though it's stained. As for the countertops, I think the tiles were a bad choice. The original backsplash looked like it worked with their palette. They should have gone with one of their backup tile choices for the counter, or used prefabricated laminate. Instead of painting the range hood red, they should have painted the island red and come up with a better surface for it. That would be the place to use tile, while the surrounding countertops were laminate.

Martha thinks the original might have been better. She has clearly forgotten about the orange counters. Neeraja explains that they didn't have any color or style instructions. Cynthia wants to know about the white grout with the black tile and Neeraja has to confess that they didn't get around to grouting. She and Kim both wanted tile rather than laminate. Cynthia thinks they had enough resources to get the job done. Vern thinks the condition of the countertops is "unforgiveable." Scott agrees; the whole team "left with a pit in our stomach." Kim thinks the team needed a realist. Vern wonders if Neeraja considered a balance of skills when she picked her team. Neeraja blames Josh for snatching up Todd, and she couldn't pick Robb because he was difficult. Vern wonders if maybe construction skills wouldn't be worth it. He clearly needs to spend more time with Robb. Adriana volunteers that she was the carpenter, so she did all the construction. Cynthia and Vern agree that the dining room works. Vern likes the mirror in particular. Neeraja gives Sparkle Josh credit for the dining room finds. The family gets to see the dining room and they're thrilled. On first impression, they love the kitchen with the new fridge and new wine chiller. But Clive prompts a closer look -- the counters are unfinished, the lower cabinetry has no knobs and the sink is missing a knob. Clive reveals that contractors finished up the work. Vern has a lesson: "The reason why you guys are designers, it's to improve the quality of somebody's life by improving the quality of their space." They have to manage their time so they can maximize the benefit to the client.

The designers go wait in the green room. Martha vents that no one on Team Tuscan knew what Tuscan meant and it was all just fake and wrong. Cynthia likes the design direction of Neeraja's kitchen, but not the execution. Vern notes that Scott didn't let his back injury sideline him. Robb wants to know why Neeraja was willing to throw him "under the wheels" when he's barely had anything to do with her, and Neeraja said she just answered a question. "How do you know that I would be difficult?" Robb challenges. Well, she has eyes and ears and a brain. Cynthia talks about something being "such a bad trait in anyone." Will explains to Robb that he is, in fact, difficult and nobody wanted him on their team. Cynthia might be a little delicate for judging; she doesn't like seeing "people upset like that" or "bad design." Vern thinks Robb's passion could be great if he could just channel it constructively. Kim thinks Vern's criticisms were on target. Vern grumps that the designers get to leave, but someone is stuck with the results. Scott tearfully confesses to feeling like a failure for not finishing. The tension ratchets higher and higher.

The designers return. Clive scolds Neeraja for making bad decisions. She gets the boot. Her perspective is "woulda-coulda-shoulda" -- it's too late to fix anything. But she made friends and she learned something from everyone, so that was good. Sparkle Josh is summoned forth. He's the winner (yay!), so he gets to escape to the green room. Todd, Christina, Will, Adriana and Scott all did good work, so they're safe. Robb, Organic Josh and Kim step forward. Kim hasn't shown her style, but she's a "good team player." She's safe. Josh failed to show leadership or design. Robb crapped up the kitchen. Josh gets the boot. He admits to feeling "out of my element" with the Tuscan design. Robb returns to the green room. He's greeting with glee by his fellow Lost Boy Todd, but the other designers are stunned and, I daresay, disappointed.

Right winner? Josh made the biggest contribution to the dining room, which turned out really well. So yes, he deserved the win.

Right losers? Neeraja's team was doing really well until they hung themselves up on the tile project -- and even after running out of tile once, they failed to measure to get the right amount. That's all on Neeraja, so her dismissal was fair. It's too bad, because it turned out she had people skills and design skills. She just couldn't adjust to the accelerated schedule of a competitive reality challenge. I do think that once again, Robb was responsible for the crappiest elements in a room. However, Josh could have put a stop to it by stepping up and being a leader. Todd and Robb can talk as much as they want, but money talks louder. As long as he kept the power of the purse, he could force the team in a direction. Unfortunately, he wasn't sure where to go and he wasn't willing to trust his instincts. Josh has potential, but he's just too green (ho-ho) to handle this competition.

Since Robb has displayed some truly bad taste in the last two challenges, I'm hoping he'll finally be gone next week when he gets a chance to strut his stuff in an individual challenge. I'm sure Todd will be a contender, but I'm not voting for him if he makes the finals. Christina continues to be useless. Sparkle Josh is still the front-runner. Will, Adriana, Scott and Kim are all useful and personable. So with any luck, Robb and Christina will be out next week, but given her inexperience, I suspect Kim could be at risk.


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