Welcome to another season of Top Design! This season, we’ll begin with 13 interior designers and will see 10 challenges. The panel of judges is, once again, headed up by Jonathan Adler. He will be joined on the judging panel by Margaret Russell, the Editor in Chief of Elle Décor magazine and Kelly Wearstler, influential designer with bad hair. The winner of this season will get $100,000, a spread in [Elle Décor and bragging rights over creating the top design. This was an extra long episode, so let’s jump right in and get to know our 13 hopefuls.
Andrea – 36, Calgary, Canada
Blonde and beautiful, Andrea could be the separated-at-birth sister of host India Hicks. A full-time mom, Andrea is actor Rick Schroeder’s wife. She will either milk this for all it’s worth or not tell a soul.
Eddie – 30, Greenwich, CN
Eddie lurves vests. He probably sleeps in one. Apparently, Eddie is also the Senior Style Editor of Martha Stewart Living. He now wants to begin his own empire. Martha will not be pleased.
Jennifer – 28, Minneapolis, MN
An architect, Jennifer says her background gives her a good understanding of structure. I would hope so.
Kerry – 40, Easley, SC
Everyone calls Kerry “Big Daddy.” His earliest design memory is of being given $1,000 by his parents to remodel his bedroom. When he finished, his impressed parents asked him to do the entire house.
Natalie – 24, Montgomery, AL
Blonde and busty, Natalie says that, in spite of her age, she won’t be intimidated by the other designers.
Nathan – 30, Denver, CO
Nathan claims that he had an eye for design practically while he was in utero. He calls his style “absolute chic.”
Ondine – 38, Mountainside, NJ
Ondine was a set decorator on Sex in the City and says the show opened her eyes to the greater world of decorating.
Preston – 27, Amarillo, TX
Preston has owned his own business for 6 years and says that most of his clients – including Kelsey Grammer and Janice Dickenson – are in the entertainment industry. Preston, while possibly being the hottest guy in the show, also has unfortunate facial hair.
Robert – 40, Frederictown, New Brunswick, Canada
Robert claims to have an eye for detail. As we will see, his eye for detail doesn’t extend to lighting.
Serge – 27, Los Angeles, CA
Serge says the best word to describe him is “intuitive.” This means he has no formal training. Serge will tell his team he’s artistic, but when asked if he can draw….well, yeah, he can’t draw. He has a great eye though.
Shazia – 30, Plano, TX
Shazia’s had her own company for 2 years and claims that the fact that she has brown skin sets her apart. He says it’s unusual for a Pakistani to be a designer, since they’re all usually doctors , lawyers and designers. Way to stereotype your own people, honey.
Teresa – 35, Tulsa, OK
Teresa tells us she’s never been given the opportunity to show what she’s able to do. That’s all I wrote down about Teresa, so I’d say we won’t be seeing too much of what Teresa is able to do.
Wisit – 30, Gibson City, IL
Wisit is a fashion designer who switched to interior design. He says he’s multifaceted. Wisit speaks with no space between is words. He’s like a little gay, Asian robot. Wisit says he wanted to be an opera singer and then demonstrates his signing ability. He probably decided he didn’t want to be an opera singer when he found out he couldn’t sing the woman’s part.
Mission Next-To Impossible
The designers all gather and are greeted by India Hicks and Todd Oldham. India is the daughter of a famous designer and will serve as the host of the show this season. Todd is back for another season and will serve as mentor to the designers. In case you were wondering, yes, he still sounds like he’s reading off cue cards…..at a screen test for the updated version of Mister Rogers Neighborhood.
India tells the designers they will have an arduous road ahead of them. For their first challenge, they must fully furnish, decorate and design an entire apartment in two days. They will be divided into four teams. Because there are thirteen of them, one team will have an extra member and a little less time to work. They will be working for a specific client and, as most of them know, clients can be both difficult and opinionated. Todd tells them that their choices should reflect the client’s needs as well as their own tastes.
The designers are divided into teams and then head off in a fleet of SUVS to meet their clients. The designers soon discover that the “clients” are actually the four members of the judging panel this season. The first team meets with Jonathan Adler. He explains that he wants his space to be chic, dog-friendly and open, with panache. The most important piece of furniture for Jonathan is the sofa. He tells the designers he wants to walk into his apartment and feel happy. He then points to the blue toilet water and tells them to takes their cues from that. Mkay.
Kelly Wearstler is next. She tells her team she wants spaces for china and art , but no TV. What is wrong with her? Margaret Russell tells her team she hates beige and wants no neutrals in her loft. She likes hot pink and cobalt blue. She likes abstract collage and wants room for books and TV. She also wants no clutter in the bedroom: everything should be able to fit into the closet.
India Hicks asks her team for a loft with a Caribbean plantation feel with warm colors. The space shouldn’t be modern and should reflect easy living. She asks for things like sea grass and wood floors. This is a challenge because this space is a contemporary loft. As she leaves, India tells her team that there is a letter from her in a kitchen drawer. In fact, each loft has the same letter from India. Apparently, she didn’t want to deliver the bad news face-to-face. The bad news? The budget for the entire project is $2,000. They will be shopping at the junkyard and at thrift stores. So begins the whining about both the budget and the time allotted.
I don’t know who most of these people are by name, so forgive me for not giving the blow by blow. Maybe in a few weeks, they’ll turn into distinct people for me. Until then, bear with me.
Meaner Than a Junkyard Dog
Andrea quickly takes the lead on her team. She has more experience with this style of decorating so her teammates Serge and Shazia, let her. Serge whines that, if he’s going to win, he wants more of a voice in the design.
The teams head off to get their shopping done. They will have $500 to spend at the junkyard and $500 at the thrift store. Presumably, the remaining $1,000 is going to be spent on non-pre-owned items like paint and flooring. Teresa takes one look and the junkyard and proclaims the stuff there “scary” because it’s, like, junk. Hey! There’s a real junkyard dog! The teams communicate by phone while some team members are at the thrift store and others at the junkyard. One team – those designing for Margaret – discuss who will be buying the lamps and decide that Richard will take care of that purchase.
Times runs out for shopping and the teams meet India back at the lofts. They won’t be getting back to work just yet, she tells them. She has a surprise for them upstairs on the balcony. When they arrive, the designers see a bunch of shadow box frames waiting for them. It’s time for a pop quiz. Call it pop design. The designers will have to use the shadow box frames to create wall displays using everyday objects in their own loft (vs. the one they’ve been designing). This will be an individual test and their performance here will be taken into consideration at this week’s elimination. The winner of this test will get immunity. They have 30 minutes to create something and then install their work in one of the common areas of their loft.
Serge is excited about working for himself finally. There’s lots of scrambling and gluing and craziness. Eddie calls himself a traveling butler’s pantry and seems to have packed everything, including the kitchen sink in his suitcase. Wisit tries to have a sense of calm about the situation. He goes to his room and begins drawing fashion designs.
Shazia decides to put a bunch of green apples on her shadow box. That was original when I saw it on Martha Stewart’s show…..8 years ago. There’s lots of glass breaking and drama as the designers try to finish their creations. Time quickly runs out and Jonathan and Kelly survey the work. Everything is kind of a blur, but I want Wisit’s trio of shadow boxes with fashion drawings.
The designers all gather back on the balcony to get the judges critiques. The least successful designs came from Natalie, Serge, Shazia and Teresa. Jonathan cautions Serge in particular: you can’t break the rules if you can’t show you understand them. The judges’ favorites were Eddie, Kerry, Ondine and Wisit. All four receive immunity from elimination this week.
From Bad to Worse
Andrea starts to worry that both of her team members were in the bottom two for this challenge. With 10 hours left in the day, the designers return to the lofts. Andrea fumes over the fact that they seem to have ordered the wrong color wallpaper: they thought they were ordering a neutral beige and what came is a golden yellow.
Because the sofa they bought is filthy, Andrea removes the cushion covers and puts them in the sink with the water running. She asks Shazia to turn the water off in five minutes so she can go work on another project. Predictably, Shazia forgets about the water almost instantaneously and, when she returns, she finds the sink overflowing. All of the fabric and wallpaper are now soaked and Shazia has to find a way to dry 60 yards of fabric. Andrea is now sure the project is going to be a train wreck and I can’t say I disagree. Andrea tells us that, before she came on the show, she promised herself that she wouldn’t lose her temper. She really wants to ring Shazia’s neck, but restrains herself.
The guys, including Richard and Preston, are now reading the manual for the sewing machine: none of them has ever sewn before. Of course, there are still no lamps. Preston takes control of doing the artwork for the loft. He spreads the un-stretched canvas on the floor and paints it white. Partway through the process, he realizes that the canvas is too thin and then spends way too much time trying to cleaning the paint off of the concrete floor.
Back at the house that night, Ondine looks at picture of Andrea with her husband and comments that he looks just like Rick Schroeder. Andrea keeps mum: she wants them to judge her on who she is, not who she’s married to.
The next morning, the designers all return to the lofts. They have 4 more hours within which all of the remaining work must be done. Kerry is still working on building a lamp, while Jennifer is working on building a dog bed for Jonathan’s pooch Liberace.
Todd Oldham pops in to check on each of the teams and gives suggestions to help the designers with any problems they’re having. He tells us he’s impressed with what the designers have pulled off so far. I think Todd is lying. Or blind. He tells us time is the most difficult constraint they have to deal with: working within a budget isn’t nearly as tough.
Surveying the Damage
Time’s up and the judges come around to survey each of the lofts. Jonathan’s loft is first. They tell him they wanted it to be “easy breezy, Caspian Sea.” It looks more “college apartment” to me. Jonathan loves the dog bed, but not much else. Margaret asked for hot pink and cobalt blue. Her team delivered on the blue in Preston’s paintings, but the dusty pink sofas, don’t hit the mark. She likes the candelabras, since there doesn’t appear to be any other lighting. Robert tries to throw the rest of his team under the bus, by blaming them for the lamp situation.
India takes one look at her loft and immediately points out the mirror next to the door - Serge leaned it against the wall, balanced on one of its corners – and wonders why it’s set at an angle. India is also alarmed about the under-stuffed sofa. Shazia stands by and fumes as Andrea takes credit for the design. Didn’t she tell us that she and Serge let Andrea take the lead on the design because she had more experience with that style? Kelly’s team really seems to have impressed the judges. They seem to have melded their own style with what Kelly asked for.
All four teams joins the judges in the judging room. India has her own chair while the others are crammed onto a little loveseat. They really got stuck in the cheap seats.
Kelly says her team really listened to her needs. Margaret compliments their eye for shopping within their budget. India tells everyone her father always said that good taste isn’t dependent on money: this team proved that. They are this week’s winning team. The top two teams – Kelly’s team and Jonathan’s team – are excused.
The bottom two teams are Margaret’s team and India’s team. Margaret admits she disappointed: she gave specific directions as to the colors she’d like the designers to use. Dusty pink is definitely not hot pink. Kerry points to Preston as the author of the hideous pink couches. Kelly says she’s pleased with the art work, but says the bedroom as horrible. Jonathan says the space just didn’t work. India asks Kerry who he thinks was the weakest member of the team and he won’t name anyone. Robert tells the judges that Preston was the weakest, citing his poor management skills. He also narcs on Preston about the paint seeping through the canvas and getting onto the floor. Margaret notes the absence of lighting. Preston tells the judges Robert was in charge of the lamps.
India’s team had a clear and precise plan, but the didn’t fulfill it. Margaret notes that the bedroom delivered more than the rest of the loft. Jonathan Adler agrees: Andrea did a great job. Shazia admits she was responsible for the sofa and launches into an explanation of how Andrea asked her to remove some of the batting, but she took too much out. Serge says he wasn’t involved in the sofa fiasco because he was working on the hardwood floors….and nothing else. Andrea gripes that all Serge got done was the floor. He disagrees, but I don’t know how much work turning a mirror on it’s end really is. Andrea tells the judges that both of her team members were weak. When asked, both Andrea and Shazia point to Serge as the weakest member of the team, which Serge names Shazia as the weakest.
The Worst of the Worst
The teams are dismissed so the judges can deliberate. Margaret says her loft was random: some was good and some sucked. She cites the paintings as the best thing. The designers didn’t give her anything else she asked for. She asked for a cocktail table and they have her a bar. It was bad, but India’s loft was worse. The only good thing was the bedroom and the entire place would have been terrible without Andrea. What was with the stuffing and unstuffing of the sofa? The judges all agree the explanation was ridiculous and boring. Margaret was surprised that Serge had so little to do with the design. Margaret thinks Preston may have been a strong team member, but he did bring in the horrid dusty rose sofa. The judges conclude that Robert, Preston, Shazia and Serge are all in deep, er, shag carpet.
The bottom two teams enter the judging room to learn the verdict. Jonathan Adler says this challenge was about working with a client and with a budget. They had to serve the client’s needs and still show their own style and creativity. Kerry has immunity, so he’s able to leave the room. Since Andrea’s team would have fallen apart without her, she’s in as well. Preston, the author of the dusty rose sofas, set the tone for his team and it was a bad tone. Robert spent most of his time sewing and the lamps never got done: that’s his responsibility. Shazia hid behind Andrea and had a key role in Sofa-gate. Both of his teammates Said Serge was the weakest link and he didn’t give the judges reason to disagree.
Alas, Serge and his “edgy” design style are out. Apparently, a wonky mirror trumps soggy wallpaper. The exit line? “We can’t live with your design. You’re going home.” Meh. Serge thanks the judges for the experience, saying he’s been inpired by all of them. Now he can’t wait to get back to New York and get to work. Serge says the show has been an intense, personal, artistic and almost surreal experience. It was amazing too, of course.
This season on Top Design: It’s time for decorating boot camp, which seems to involve backstabbing, falling lumber and probably some broken glass and bloodshed. I have my fingers crossed from some Major League hissy fits! We’ll also see some designers from past seasons of Project Runway who will be the clients for one challenge. Plus, we’ll bear witness to Kelly Wearstler’s parade of bizarre hairstyles.