Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Thank You, Thank You Very Much

Previously on Design Star: 11 contestants. Las Vegas. Happy judges. Sad judges. Presentations. Christina wasn't fun, so she got the boot. Everybody else had to implement Robb's tacky design for a wedding reception. Josh got the boot because -- well, just because.

Kim is flabbergasted to be in the final four. She's representing the females. Hmm, airtime. Does that mean she's going home? Clive arrives and has everyone stand behind a paint can. They'll pair up to do either a living room or a kitchen, with 24 hours, $10,000 and a carpenter. Because kitchens and living rooms take the same amount of time, money and effort to redo. Their client? "Mr. Las Vegas himself," Clive announces, "Wayne Newton." The designers all woo-hoo about working for a real celebrity. Todd is "intimidated" because a guy like Wayne Newton is sure to have "some solid design already in his house." The designers open their paint cans. Will and Todd are teamed for the living room; Kim and Robb are teamed for the kitchen. Kim manages not to scream in terror or resentment. But wait, there's more -- their hosting skills will be tested, too. Each one will present the finished room individually.

Newton estate. Horses, peacocks, nekkid statuary, fountains. Clive welcomes them and lets them into the house, which is -- um, ornate. Huge gilded fireplace mantle, statues, floral arrangements, that sort of thing. Will reveals he didn't want to mess with anything in case it breaks, so he was wondering what they actually have to do. The Newtons arrive and greet the designers. Clive asks them to talk about their style. Kathleen likes modern, Wayne is into antiques, preferably removed from European castles. Maybe they have garage sales. Wayne explains that they have agreed to divide the spacious living room and make part of it a kitchen. The designers are stunned. But then Wayne laughs. No, really, they're doing the guest house. Wayne claims they're "such fans of the show" that they didn't want to put any restraints on the designers. Which is certainly much nicer than explaining they're not letting a bunch of reality show hamsters muck around with their antiques.

Kim is still having trouble processing it all. The designers arrive at a house which appears to be built from cinderblocks (really not a bad choice in the desert). From the glass panel by the front door, it was probably built in the 1970s. The kitchen has a huge peninsula framed in lava rock and there's a big block of rock at one end of the wall of cabinets, sort of a 70s interpretation of a colonial hearth. The cabinets are pink. So is the oven stuffed into the rock wall. The mosaic tile counters are pink and brown. Kim understates that there was a lot to do. The living room is one long, empty room with a narrow end devoted to a stone fireplace matching the stone in the kitchen. The floors are all concrete, because desert houses have concrete slab foundations. (And during a heat wave, you have to water your house to keep it from cracking.) Todd loves the stone. Will suggests they get to measuring.

The Newtons arrive again and once again refuse to constrain the design. Except that they're already getting hardwood floors from one of the sponsors. Todd thinks some people have trouble handling a lack of input, but he's not one of those people. Kim lays out the good side/bad side of the ugly kitchen -- lots of work, but it's going to look so much better. Kim manages to get some input from the Newtons: they love the lava rock and they want something "warm." Robb promises they can get it done in time and then hams up dread for the camera. Play to the Newtons, pal -- real people come before cameras. Robb is feeling the pressure because "Master Todd" has the living room, so the room has to score big. Wayne kicks off the countdown and work begins. They have 8 hours left to the day.

Will suggests taking their colors from the lava rock. Todd has everyone get together on the palette so the house stays cohesive. Will wants to use a raised area as a dining room. Kim thinks they need a round table, and wonders if the others are doing a dining room. Robb relays that Will said they would. Robb plans stools at the counter. Todd is inspired to put furniture on a platform that pivots. Robb wants to swap the sink and the stove. Todd pitches Will that the pivoting furniture could face all four focal points in the room. Well, they have the fireplace on a narrow wall and sliding glass doors on a long wall. The dining room is opposite the fireplace, but I don't know that I'd call it a "focal point," and the long wall opposite the doors is blank. So it sounds like they're going to create four focal points in order to justify the platform. Todd claims his design will be "dynamic" and "fun." Will is looking like he needs more persuasion. Todd says he'll build it, but Will reminds him that they have a carpenter.

Speaking of carpenters, Jamie introduces himself to Kim and Robb, while Ramon meets Will and Todd. Robb and Todd start describing the projects to the carpenters. Kim wants to know where Robb will put the oven. Todd and Will realize that Ramon will just have to sit around until they get some shopping done. Yes, an empty room really doesn't leave much scope for demolition. Kim reveals that Robb assigned her the role of "note-taker" -- Robb starts measuring stuff while Kim writes down numbers -- rather than full-fledged partner. If they weren't "equal talents," she reasons, they wouldn't both still be in the race. She argues that the sink won't fit over the dishwasher, and Jamie backs her up. Robb interviews that Kim has no kitchen experience except for the one she didn't finish tiling. Although that had more to do with a lack of tile than a lack of talent. Nonetheless, Robb has done "many" kitchens. He tells Jamie that he's open to any ideas about the peninsula. Kim steps in, objecting that Jamie isn't "allowed" to give them ideas, and Robb should start talking to his partner instead.

Todd and Will head out. Will describes their plan to buy everything on the first day, so they don't have to go out again. He likes working with Todd because they can come to an agreement without fighting. Kim and Robb also shop. Kim explains that she "championed" their color scheme. She picks out some curtains while Robb looks disgusted. Robb interviews that Kim had "no idea what she was doing" and was stuck tagging along behind him at the home improvement store. Kim interviews that Robb has experience with kitchens, "God bless him" -- a handy Southern euphemism for "may he drop dead any second now" -- but he's not likewise appreciating what she can contribute. Robb figures if Kim had "half of a brain," she would just follow his orders. Unfortunately for him, Kim has more than half of a brain, and she's not afraid to use it. Will and Todd find a coffee table. It looks like the sofa and the dining table will have to wait for the next day. Kim says, "Every exchange with Robb is a combat situation." Robb asks her which pendant lights she likes, and she votes for the white ones. Robb gripes that the white ones are tired and overused; he installed some back in 2001. Kim doesn't care about all that, the white ones have the right look. Robb complains that he had to compromise with her in order to save time.

With 30 minutes left, the designers return to find the floors going in. Looking good. Robb wants to do something with the lighting now that the peninsula is all opened up, but Kim thinks other things are higher priority. Robb is disgusted some more. Kim describes how he was disgusted, and they discuss their communication styles. Robb tells her not to be "so sensitive" and Kim tells him not to "condescend." Fortunately, Clive calls time and makes them all go home.

Robb interviews that he got the "silent treatment" in the car. He makes faces like he's suffering while Kim looks out the window. So finally he asks if they're going to a funeral and Kim explains that his "communication style" "sucks." Robb thinks she's just saying that because his style is different. Yes, different and sucky. They start arguing. Meanwhile, Will and Todd discuss their project. Robb thinks Kim is too thin-skinned, but she thinks the way he talks to people is inappropriate. Robb then demonstrates his wonderful communication style by telling her that she would be lost without him because she has no clue. Kim isn't interested in all his much-vaunted experience, but Robb thinks that she should, and she's "lame" if she doesn't. "Do you think this is a popularity contest?" he sputters. Well, yeah. But it's also about not being a jerk.

Day 2. Kim is going to keep it "civil." Robb isn't going to carry a grudge; he's there to work. The designers have 14 hours in this workday. Will lists all the projects they need to complete. Clive drops in on the kitchen team to see what's up. Robb describes Jamie's framing and Kim talks about the countertops. Clive urges them not to disappoint "Mr. Las Vegas." Todd describes the spinning platform idea; they have a rug to show the platform size. Robb urgently describes everything that's going on, and it's "paramount" to him to get it all done for Mr. Las Vegas.

The carpenters arrive and get their assignments. Robb and Kim have to pick out backsplash tile. Todd is shirtless and building, as usual. He drills a hole into the concrete subfloor for the pivot point of the rotating platform. Robb and Kim return to find framing done in the lava rock block; they're happy. Kim heads back out for more shopping. She likes the division of labor that puts her far away from Robb. Will is also shopping. The sofa he found is "okay" but he doesn't want to spend more time searching. With 4 hours to the day, Kim is back; they now have everything. Todd and Ramon lower the platform onto its pivot. Looks heavy. Todd stands on the platform and does his usual "I am a golden god!" pose. Will returns. Robb starts tiling the backsplash. Todd is not thrilled with the sofa, but Will brings up the time issue.

Time ticks. Kim: "Robb characterizes himself as this incredible builder with years of experience, and -- the measurements are wrong, the countertop is too low, the appliances didn't fit." Why, hello, Karma, how've you been? Jamie the carpenter saves the day by raising the whole countertop. Standard counter height in kitchens is 36 inches; it would be nice to know where they wound up. End-of-day rushing about. Clive calls time. They have only 2 hours to finish up on the last day.

Day 3. The designers start loading in all the furniture. Todd likes how the wall color repeats in the chair upholstery. Robb hurriedly grouts the tile backsplash, explaining that time is a "luxury." Will calls the halfway point. Kim thinks they're going to have to skip a buch of details. Will and Todd argue about the placement of a chair. Robb gripes that his paintbrush is dry; Kim says it was "under plastic." Robb gripes that she's giving him "attitude." Todd wants to know if a frame is level, but Will can't see around his shoulders. Robb gripes about his paintbrush some more. Will and Todd load up a planter box. Kim calls the five minute mark as she climbs up to hang blinds. Robb thinks they'll only have time to hang one blind, so she climbs down again. Cleaning happens. Kim wonders if they can get the refrigerator in, but Robb thinks they're out of time. Perhaps he'll use a minute to paint of that unfinished spot on the wall behind him. Clive calls time and we're done. Oh, wait, we're not. They have to do their hosting bits.

The Studio. Monitors. Judges. Challenge recap. Todd and Will get to go first. The living room is really long and narrow, but it seems that the only furniture has been clumped onto the rotating platform. No, wait, Will won the chair argument, so there's one in the corner by the dining area. Martha likes the "turntable" but Vern calls it a "giant Lazy Susan." Cynthia goes for "inventive" but asks about the platform height. Todd explains that it's because of the height of the casters. Vern appreciates Todd's willingness to do more than decorate. Martha asks about Will's contributions and he has a whole list. Martha thinks the transformation is "amazing."

Now time to see their hosting segments. Will goes first. He goes all through the room, pointing out elements. He has a lot of information but he doesn't talk too fast or feel rushed. Vern loved all the information but wants more "intonation" from his voice. Martha agrees. Todd's turn. He spends most of his time dealing with the rotating platform; it's got a lot of awkward "acting out" and he doesn't look into the camera a lot of the time. Martha likes it. Cynthia was hoping for a "full-throttle." Vern wanted more information.

And finally, the client reaction. They're wowed. Kathleen likes the "peaceful" quality but she's "not sure" about the platform. Wayne is sure about the platform -- he loves it. But, as he points out, he's used to them. He calls it phenomenal. Clive has them sit down and he rotates the platform for them. Wayne tells Kathleen if she can't find him, he's hanging out on the rotating platform. So it looks like the client is hapy.

Now for the kitchen. Big transformation from the raw space, of course. Happily, the pink is gone. The peninsula has been reconfigured. The cooktop used to be next to the wall, with a double sink at the free end. Now there's a bar-sized sink next to the wall and the cooktop in the free end. The oven is under the sink with the dishwasher next to it. The green glass tile on the backsplash looks uneven and has black grout. The refrigerator is still out on the lawn. Vern points out that the kitchen was "a much harder space" than the living room. He likes some of the elements, but wants more accessories. Martha thinks the black-and-white dining set stands out against all the warm colors; Kim explains that the table has a metal base with a "tempered" top (presumably tempered glass). Martha asks about teamwork. Kim pauses to consider her approach. Robb interjects that they had "moments." Kim finally says Robb's style of communication was "combative." Robb points out that just last week, she was praising his management style. Kim says she still does, but this time out, they were a team so Robb wasn't her manager. Robb argues that his "knowledge and expertise" are responsible for the project reaching the "level" it did. Yeah, we'll get back to that. Kim claims he called her a decorator while pronouncing himself the real designer. Robb tells the judges she doesn't have any design experience. Cynthia is icked out by all the unpleasantness. Vern thinks Robb is a good designer, but you can't treat people badly and then expect them to help you put together a great show. Cynthia says a host has to be "authentic." Martha chimes in with "likeable." Robb is slightly shaking his head like he can't believe what he's hearing.

Hosting segments. Robb first. He hams it up. Martha grants he has a "big personality." Cynthia found it "entertaining" but can't get the recent unpleasantess out of her head. Kim's turn. She is energetic, but not so hammy, and more informative. Martha approves of her hosting ability. Vern thought she provided a lot of information without "lecturing."

The Newtons see the new kitchen and are amazed. Wayne likes the wine chillers in the lava rock block. Kathleen likes the colors, especially as they flow with the living room. Wayne also gives the team props for dealing with a more difficult room.

The designers go wait in the green room. Vern thinks Robb has "a lot of passion" but he needs to get along. Kim thinks something was "embarrassing" while Robb says she made them "both look bad." Cynthia approves of how Kim handled herself. Vern likes her on TV. As for Todd, Vern likes how he thinks. Cynthia uses "novelty" to describe both the man and his work, but not in a dismissive way. Martha wanted to see more "energy" from Will. Vern likes his content and his "genuine personality." The judges agonize.

The designers return. Kim and Todd are called forth. Kim was the best host. Todd had a "fresh and unique" perspective. They both get to wait in the green room. Will and Robb are left. Robb had "a great presentation" but bad teamwork. Will had good design but was missing "presence and energy" in his presentation. Robb gets the boot. Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah! His parting words? "I have fought my way all the way through this competition." Yes, that would be the problem. He's quite sure the judges made "the wrong decision," those "fools." Will lives to see another day. The final three celebrate their survival.

Right decision? This decision falls into the category of right decisions known as "high time." I have been waiting for this since week one, when Robb bullied Organic Josh into the harem pillows. I'm so happy not to have him on my screen. (Although it's quite possible he'll get dragged back to "help" the final two. But I'll worry about that when the time comes.) But the decision was not only welcome, but well-deserved. Robb claimed kitchen expertise, but he screwed up the functionality, and kitchens are all about function. There was nothing wrong with the original placement of the sink, but Robb moved it smack up against the wall, plus he replaced a double sink with a shallow, single-bowl bar sink. Good luck washing your pots in that. I haven't done any hands-on remodeling, but I read magazines and books for years before getting the kitchen redone, and I am quite sure the National Kitchen and Bath Association would not approve. Then he smushed the dishwasher and the oven right next to each other under the peninsula counter. Not pretty. A stainless steel wall oven would have blended into the lava rock surround and spared the peninsula from overcrowding. Plus his tiling on the backsplash looked uneven, and the black grout was grim. And then there's his personality. I'm not a psychiatrist, nor do I play one on TV, but I would guess that Robb is a narcissist. It's not just that it's all about Robb. The problem is that he doesn't see other people as full-fledged human being with lives and interests of their own. Everyone else exists in order to provide him with what he wants, and he gets nasty when they don't perform their appointed function. Narcissists can be quite charming, at least initially, as long as they get what they want. Since Robb was getting what he wanted during the audition process, I can see how his less attractive qualities were missed.

Clearly, though, Will was the weakest in terms of presentation style. I think Robb had too much energy and was putting on an act, but that's a matter of taste. Will hasn't yet gotten the knack of projecting his personality. But I don't think it's a boot-worthy flaw, because it's a lot easier to coach someone on presentation than to train someone not to be a jerk. Todd also needs to work on his presentation; the parts where he imitated someone else's reaction were stiff and unnatural. I think he simply lacks Kim's natural warmth and empathy. I'm glad he toned down his overgrown adolescent side, but that really seems to be his most authentic self. He doesn't seem to have much of the teacher in him, and a host has to be able to convey information. Perhaps he should pretend it's show-and-tell time.


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