“Making it in the competitive world of interior design is a challenge!” voices host Todd Oldham as Top Design begins, implying that the field of design is just as chic and spectacular as oh, say fashion or food. That remains to be seen as Bravo doles out its latest offering to the dramality demesne. The ads have promised us more drama than we can handle, but in light of the overwhelming and off-putting mayhem so much a part of Bravo’s other reality endeavors this season, I’m sort of hoping that Bravo’s Magical Elves will take it easy on the editing and keep things relatively simple. It can’t hurt that most of these people seem spectacularly boring anyway; it’s not like they’ll be giving much to work with.
Following the most obnoxious theme song ever, our contestants begin pulling up to their new homes. First we meet Goil, 33, with an architectural background. Before I scratch my itch to ask what the heck kind of name that is, I get a vision of 8 year old kids with broguish Popeye the Sailor Man accents standing around the playground sing-songing, “Goil is a goil,” and I take pity on him. Goil also has my heart for walking right into the designer’s loft, setting his bags down, and rearranging the furniture to sit just so. How precious.
Thirty-eight year old Felicia Bushman already has an interior design business, so I assume she’s only here to get one step closer to world domination. She talks about being involved in everything in the houses she works on, even wanting to place the food in the refrigerator and the toothbrush in the cup. Are we still talking about design here? I think that might just be crossing the line out of design into plain creepy. I’m keeping my eye on her.
Next we meet young Michael, who is 23 and says he always wanted to be a designer. Apparently he used to watch Dynasty as a kid and, instead of gasping at every slap Alexis dished out, Michael was analyzing the lush décor of all the houses. Wait, was Dynasty even on when Michael was born? That makes me feel old.
Ryan the 35 year old Skate Punk proudly defines himself as an artist who is “half Henry Rollins, “half Evil Knievel.” Pfft. As if either one of those guys would be caught dead in that horrible neon green bowling shirt Ryan is sporting. Because he is so very skate, we get a few shots of Ryan boarding through LAX, looking very ‘cool,’ as I imagine he believes. He thinks that his being an artist will give him an advantage, because he’ll be able to think “outside the box.” I’m not so sure one can call oneself an artist while using that trite phrase without a trace of irony. I don’t know about Ryan.
But I do know that Eric, 28, is upset at not having a place to put his mascara. And that’s all I know about Eric so far. Also, at some point Andrea, Heather, and Elizabeth have all come in and gotten acquainted. You know, I get that Bravo is going for a whole real life, cocktail party feel with these spliced and diced introductions, but it’s frustrating trying to get a linear recap out of them. And I care more about me than I do their production, so I’m taking this opportunity to whine. There.
The next to arrive with a full introduction is 31 year old Matt, who feels that design is his life, not just his job. Coming home from the pumpkin patch and finding the perfect place for the pumpkin is design. That’s cool, as long as you don’t try and tell me where I have to place my pumpkins. *side-eyeing Felicia*
Out of nowhere comes Lisa, a white-haired lady with white hair, who quickly leaves me puzzled over her white hair while the scene jumps to Carisa’s arrival. Carisa is a 26 year old student at FIT. She says her goal in pursuing a career in design is to “alter the environment and the life of people who don’t have the financial means to alter their own environment.” Yeah, so your goal is to make pretty places for poor people. Took me 6 words to your nineteen. Work on that, Carisa.
At the boy loft, all the boys are getting to know each other, when in comes John, 39, who immediately knows that this isn’t going to be a positive experience, once he sees the people he’s living with. I’m sure the feeling is mutual, jerk. John smarms that he’d rather go live with the girls, because he’s living with a group of girls regardless. Oh shut up, you big queen. I see right through that bravura and baseball cap to the decorating diva inside.
…Meets Design Again
So they’re all done with the how-d’ye-do’s and so on, and John in the boy loft and Carisa in the girl loft each find the contestants’ welcome note from Todd Oldham, informing them that tomorrow is the first day of work at the Pacific Design Center. Also? Todd signs the note, “Love, Todd Oldham,” which I think is really cute. Not cute? John’s psycho-eyed excitement face as he details his enthusiasm for working with Todd.
Bright and early the next morning we regroup at the elegant-but-intimidating-looking Pacific Design Center, and everyone’s all a-flutter at getting to meet Todd, and getting their first assignment. Tom comes out to much applause. I have to say my excitement would fade a bit at Todd’s appearance; I hadn’t noticed before, but when he shows up this time he talks long enough for me to recognize how grating his voice is. Todd sounds like Kenneth the Page on 30 Rock, only much less delightful, and with much more wood stuffed in his vocal chords. His inflections go up and down and up and down for no reason at all; listening to him kind of makes my ears dizzy.
But he is still darned cute, in an elfin sort of way, so I can’t stay mad at him. Todd gives the gist of the challenges, and explains that he will be a mentor, but not a judge. He lists the prizes: some big honking SUV, the Bravo standard-issue $100,000, and a spread in Elle Décor magazine, which I’ve never heard of and don’t believe is real, or if it is, it was recently fabricated for the purposes of this show. That done, he shows the designers to their workroom. Excuse me, design studio. Must be careful to use the word ‘design’ as much as possible. Wouldn’t want anyone to think these people were just plain old decorators.
What do you know, it’s challenge time! The theme for the first challenge is collaboration, as Todd says between designer and client. Today, standing in the place of a client will be the client’s things, a few assorted knickknacks – including a disco ball and some sort of baby-faced jar – that express the his or her personality. Todd’s being very careful about gender-specific pronouns, isn’t he? What’s up with that? The designers are duly shocked by the quirky knickknacks, and John continues the protesting too much by saying all the stuff was really campy, and he’s like, so not a campy kind of guy. Whatevs. Ryan embraces the camp and assumes that the client must be someone with a sense of humor, “like Weird Al, or Rick James.” Ryan then seems to recall that Rick James has passed away, but never quite remembers that Rick was not really noted for his great sense of humor.
Todd elaborates on the premises of the challenge, saying that the client has a very hectic life, and the designers should concentrate on creating an inner sanctum inspired by the items. White-Haired Lisa earns herself a new name by interviewing that when she heard ‘relaxing sanctuary’ she immediately thought ‘Asian.’ How reductionist and stereotypical can you get in the first ten minutes of a reality show? White-Haired Lisa is dead to me. She is now Culturally Insensitive Lisa, CILi for short. That over with, Todd instructs them each to pick from a selection of paint swatches spread out, and then takes them to the design space, three blank white walls and a floor, and notes that there are only six of the spaces. Here’s where his earlier hint about collaboration is fully fleshed out; the designers have to pair up according to the color swatches they chose. Carisa and Eric look thrilled to be paired together, but not so much Michael and John. Michael indeed looks terrified, and John tries to snap him out of his rigid fright stance, but to no avail. Get a grip, Mike. So you have to pick out a few couches with the guy. It’s not like he’s going to eat your young. (Although I’m sure John is fully tough enough to do that, if he wanted to. Yeah.)
So along with John & Mike and Carisa & Eric, we have CILi working with Heather, Goil with Elizabeth, who is a film production designer, Ryan with Andrea, who must not matter at all, and ditto for Matt, who is working with Felicia. Todd informs the teams that they will have a carpenter and seamstress, and access to all the Center’s showrooms. As well, each team’s budget for this first challenge is a whopping $50,000, plus another $1250 for lumber. Whoa. Who’s sponsoring this show again? I’d like to talk to them about my college education.
I can’t believe we’re only fifteen minutes in. So much has happened! Well no, that’s not strictly true, but it has been a fricking long twenty minutes if you ask me. But the designers are all more chipper than I; they head back to the studio, the design studio, to plan and sketch their ideas. Ryan and Andrea get flowing quickly, and along the way we learn that Andrea owns an architectural firm and teaches design. Their bedroom plan is going to be 70’s inspired because Ryan is convinced that the client is a guy. Why? Who knows. Maybe guys have a reputation for loving them some disco balls and framed butterflies. Goil and Elizabeth are going with a “minimal meets retro meets fun meets eclectic” look, and I have no idea what that means, but I’m fairly sure that the more “meets” you stick in your idea, the more awesome it is.
Andrea and Ryan are “Stanley Kubrick meets Funkadelic,” and no, that doesn’t mean a thing. Heather and CILi are doing “kitsch meets fun meets peace,” although in Heather’s opinion there’s a little too much peace and not enough kitsch. Meanwhile John and Michael are each freaking out over the other’s horrible taste. John wants a fresco and Michael wants a high-gloss wall somewhere, and it’s all so impossible to compromise! They each pitch mild hissies, and before I can scream “shut up already!” at my TV, John robs me of my glory but makes me laugh by sticking masking tape over his mouth. Way to go giving the people what they want, Johnny.
Todd gets the kids all together and lets them loose into the showrooms for two hours to place their orders. Goil and Elizabeth are still clicking, and Lisa’s still got her ‘Asian’ fixation going on, zooming in on a pretty daybed. John reprimands Michael for being loud in the store, and Michaels pouts off to another corner about having more New York experience than everyone else. I’m telling you, all I need is a foam to complete the picture of these two. The rest of the shopping goes smoothly, except for Heather and CILi coming in ten grand under budget. That’s never a good thing.
By the magic of television, it’s suddenly a shiny new day, and Todd instructs the designers to begin fixing up their spaces. They will have two days to get it all together. Most of day one is spent on the walls and floors – Elizabeth and Goil are doing some kind of swirly graphic on a barely blue wall, and Lisa and Heather have some horrible bright green going with a geographic print on the left wall. John is prepping his team’s walls for their wooden covering while Michael is buzzing around like that little mosquito who buzzed in people’s ears asking John what he can do. Dude, it’s your team. Shouldn’t you know your task and go do it? Instead, Mike chooses to grab a roller and horn in on John. Then he asks John to stop his own painting to show Micheal how to paint, because Michael has never done it in his life. Is it really that difficult? Stroke, stroke.
Day one is soon done, and the designers retire. Next morning after the obligatory love spat between John and Michael, they’re all up and at it again. Tom pops in to cheerfully remind them that there are only a few hours to work today, and to drop the bomb of there being a double elimination tonight. Awesome. Now everyone’s feeling the pressure. They’re rushing to finish their painting and floor-laying, and soon there’s another eruption on the John and Michael team. Michael put his hand on the glaze before it dried, and John yells, and Michael says he hates John. John says he’s not in love with Michael either. Then why nickname him Babydoll?
Todd comes in to see how everyone is doing; he tells CILi and Heather that their color is great, and Heather is upset because that means he couldn’t find anything else nice to say. Todd compliments Andrea & Ryan, and Carisa & Eric as well, but when he gets to Matt and Felicia he crushes them with some technical knowledge that I can’t understand at all. Apparently the fabric they’ve chosen for their walls is too locked at the seams, so it’s all draped and messy looking in the middle. They look suitably alarmed at Todd spotting this mistake.
That cute little enterprising Goil is the first to head out in search of his team’s furniture, and that stars everyone collecting their gear. CILi and Heather find to their dismay that the (huge) beautiful bed they designed the whole frigging room around is in a million pieces. They hadn’t planned on that. I don’t know why not. CILi works with the carpenter to get it put together while Heather takes care of the rest of the space. There’s your usual last-minute rush as Tom is in the corner counting down the seconds to deadline. It’s time for the judges, baby!
Todd is now rocking a blazer to show us all how very serious the judging in The White Room will be. He introduces the judges – Jonathan Adler, who I believe is some sort of designer, Kelly Wearstler, who must also be some sort of designer, and Margaret Russell, editor-in-chief of Elle Décor, which I still don’t believe exists. The guest judge is of course their mystery client; “he or she” in Todd’s words turns out to be Alexis Arquette, who may I say has a fierce strut. All of the contestant give their gasps and wows, and then it’s time for business.
Matt and Felicia: Their space ends up full of soul-deadening neutrals, with a gray walls, a fluffy brown couch and black accents. There’s also a cute little cut-out niche shelf in the wall, and they did smooth out that fabric. Felicia explains that they thought the neutrals would nicely offset Alexis’s louder style. The judges say that the room is chic, but nondescript in that it doesn’t really read as Alexis’s room. Felicia plays up the relaxing aspect, and Matt adds that their
boringmuted and subtle architecture would really allow Alexis’s things to pop.
CILi and Heather: Their room is basically the bed. It’s smack dab in the center, with two little accent chairs in the corners. CILi says she knows she did the right thing by not straying from her serene ‘Asian’ theme, since the room is supposed to be a sanctum. The judges immediately attack their inefficient spending. Silly CILi continues to defend her dumb executive decision to let the design rest on the one huge bed. This is a mistake.
Erik and Carisa: Erik says they tried to give their space a classic sitting room feel. But there’s nowhere to sit; their sofa is piled high and deep with humungous pillows. Jonathan thinks they missed capturing Alexis’s playful spirit, and Margaret slams them for all the excessive pillowness.
John and Michael: According to John their room is totally classy and beautiful, and any of Alexis’s items could fit in wonderfully. The space is hard to describe. Think of a Park Avenue hunting lodge. Dark brown wood-paneled walls and rust and bronze colored accents. Not what I'd call a sanctum. But what do I know. I once moved in to a one room apartment with 4 bare white walls and a futon as the décor. (I should be getting a coffee table soon.) The judges do like the homey feel of the boys' space.
Andrea and Ryan: Andrea calls their space delightful. Right. What with the bright green and red color scheme and huge shingled mirror taking up nearly a full wall. Delightful indeed. They wanted their room to have a sort of ambiguity between bed and living room. Calls it a sophisticated dorm room. That makes me feel sort of bad about the apparently wholly unsophisticated and vulgar dorm rooms in my own past. I guess I could’ve done better than that one old Breakfast at Tiffany’s poster. Alexis thinks their design didn’t have much continuity.
Bringing up the rear are Elizabeth and Goil: I’m really keen on their soft powder blue walls and clean, angular furnishings. Plus, they built a little grown-ups swing and a sandbox/Zen garden. Plus, there’s a cute little yellow pepper on the floor, and a chalkboard on the wall for no reason. Kelly praises Elizabeth for her sandbox idea, but Margaret comes in again with the slam, criticizing them for a very visible lack of seating. She says the swing was pretty, but she didn’t want to get on. Alexis interposes that the swing was much more than she expected it to be.
…Meets Pots and Kettles
So now the judges have seen what they went to see see see, it’s time to start deliberatin’ and evisceratin’. Jonathan, Kelly, Margaret, and a strangely subdued Alexis round up the crew. They immediately zero in on the conflict between Michael and John. I guess the tension is just palpable, and it has entirely nothing to do with producer interference. John says he tried his best to work with Michael, but they didn’t do well together. In his words, their effort was about a 70-30 split. Michael’s shocked face obviously disagrees but only says, “How do you argue with a narcissist?” Oh, I guess it’d be about as difficult as arguing with a drama queen. There’s some more whining and scratching, and then it all fizzles. Finally. A little more talk among the judges, and we have a decision! Finally.
Carisa & Eric and Ryan and Andrea are declared safe. Goil & Elizabeth and Matt & Felicia are the top two, and Goil & Elizabeth are the winners! They get what’s mysteriously called “a leg up” for next week’s competition, but I’m scared to ponder what that might mean.
Of course this means that CILi & Heather and Michael & John are the bottom two teams. I know my Magical Elves too well to doubt how this will go. Jonathan says that CILi & Heather’s room was way too theme-y, “like a Chinese restaurant.” Ouch. I’m feeling that burn for all Chinese restaurateurs everywhere. Jonathan then goes on to shame Michael and John for all their bickering. But as petty squabbles and histrionics, no matter how bland and ridiculous, are far more valuable to Bravo than irresponsible comments from domineering jerks, Michael & John get to stay. CILi and Heather are sent off with the show’s signature catchphrase, “Goodbye.” Seriously? Goodbye is all they could come up with? No, “brush off,” or even “drawing the line?” How very … fitting for this show.
Well, and so in a nutshell this was our first episode of Top Design: “greets meets design meets tension meets meets meets annoying meets frenzy meets harsh meets pots and kettles.” With all the dragging on forever, and all those those meets up in the mix, you’d think it was awesome, but nope. Another theory bites the dust. Stay glued like paper anyway, because next week SueEllenMishke is taking over to really shake up the paint.