Top Design – Judging the designs – Episode 4

Episode 4: Diamond in the Rough
Challenge: Design a living/work space for an interior design student. $700 budget for materials and supplies; $500 budget for furniture/accessories purchased at garage sales. Items are to be re-worked so that they don’t look like garage sale items.
Time: 2-1/2 days.
Extra help: designers are assigned a carpetner
Guest judge: Joe Stewart – set designer (designed the White Room)
Winner: gets to select his/her carpenter on next challenge

This is an individual challenge and the designer are back in their white boxes at the PDC. It’s actually a very interesting and real-world challenge. One that will show their ingenuity, creativity and ability to stick to a small budget. I thought the time frame was reasonable. As someone who once lived in a studio apartment that was smaller than these 12×12′ spaces, this was a particularly interesting challenge to me.

Onto the designs:

I think this was Michael’s best work yet on this show. He was able to capture a cool mid-century modern feel in a contemporary color palette. While the judges clearly disliked the colors and they are not my favorites, I thought they worked. The bed was beautifully incorporated into the rear wall built-in unit, creating a sofa with side tables, and a bed with a headboard/footboard. The shelving and the dark stained tops of the platforms were a wonderful, finished touch. It looked very high end. He also created his forth wall by placing the desk front and center. The ducks/pidgeons/partidges – were, well, too Partridge Family-like (have I just dated myself?). Maybe Michael is too young to have picked up on that reference. The divided artwork on the back wall was much more successful. The carved lamp was very nice and folky and complemented the darker woods of the built-ins and furniture. The painting on the right wall is too small for the wall and seems like it’s hanging out in space. It could have been moved closer to the back, over the chair or placed on the top shelf. The small triangle tables were well proportioned for the space as well. Overall, I would say that it felt a little cramped in the back and everything could have been pulled out a bit. But, a very good effort and showed a lot of thought.

Andrea was initially taken aback by the challenge of garage sale shopping, having never been to one (how is that possible!!!) but she jumped right into the spirit of things. I thought her design had some very interesting elements, but was, in general, not very cohesive. The color palette was dull – although this was based on the clients’ dislike of bright colors – but there’s toned down, and then there’s dull. She mentioned that her client “said he was a mess”; this space wouldn’t have helped him overcome that problem. She did provide desk and dining space. I loved that she took a set of doors and made a table from them – but without a glass top or some kind of filler – they weren’t actually useful as a real table. She might have been better off using these doors as the front of a storage cabinet (literal – I know!) or as the base around the bed to create architectural interest. The use of the luggage on the wall as a display/storage unit was a good re-use of the suitcase. The floor color did nothing to unify the space – and actually added to the disjointed feel. The bed/sofa was too small and narrow for an adult. While the client suggested that he didn’t need much space – it’s the designers’ job to provide what the client may not realize he actually needs. She did provide a nice amount of seating – enough for at least 10 people. She mentionsed that her client likes comfort and soft and simple lines. My overall feeling was that this space was not comfortable and was not soft. The bed, being too small, wasn’t enough to provide the feeling of softness. There was no rug or other “soft” elements; almost everything else was hard and utilitarian. She did provide excellent work space and storage and the room is generally very functional.

Erik’s client asked for “modern, industrial and boatlike” and he was able to bring together these disparate elements very well. I love the back wall, which he covered with wood floor planks. It added a beautiful warm quality to the space and balanced well against the pale side walls and floor. He provided for desk/work space as well as a bit of storage/display. The light box with the mini green Eames-like chair in the back left corner is both decorative and functional. I also really liked that he mounted the red folding chair on the wall with room for the second chair. Very modern-meets-Shaker. The patterns on the fabrics were bold enough to add color and interest, without overwhelming. I think the ottoman in the right foreground is a little out of place where it sits. He might have actually just turned it lengthwise, creating a forth wall to the space and balancing the shelving unit on the left. He has seating for 6 or 7, which is less than some of the other designers, but still respectable in so small a space. The balance feels a bit off – with the bed, black bureau (is it?) and ottoman on the right against the open shelf unit and beige Wassili-esq-ish chair on the left. Perhaps if he’d swapped the open shelf for the black bureau, it would have felt more balanced and also made the ottoman more useful. Another angled rug – is this an Erik trademark? I think we’ve seen one in each of his rooms.

Goil (as in Gar-Goil)
A white box and pale floor – again… But he does it well. Loved, love the different levels and separation of the sleeping space from the work space. The canvas on the right with the pull out paint tray is completely inspired and really gives thought to the needs of his client. (One has to wonder if he took a cue from Ryan’s misstep from Ep. 2 where he provided no room for brushes and paints?). The inset bed was very interesting – but really would be painful to get in and out of. If he’d raised the mattress up just a couple inches above the platform, he would have created almost the same feeling of a flat plain, but would have been more functional. As we’ve seen in the past challenges, Goil will overlook function for form – which is interesting for an architect. Speaking of overlooking function – the pair of wooden chairs in the back were interesting. He removed the back legs and stretchers and thus, they needed to rest on the platform to be functional. He described them as a “Scene of domesticity, but sort of broken”. Huh? Why do we want our domesticity broken? This seemed really theatrical – like he was trying to tell some kind of sad story. While an interesting idea – it left the chairs with few options for placement. In a small studio apartment – the bed is usually the main seating area when friends are over. These chairs were rendered useless if anyone wanted to sit on the bed or anywhere on the bedding platform. The style of the chairs were somewhat gothic and very out of character for his usual aesthetic. He could have painted them white for a mod-gothic look. My eye was immediately drawn to them – but not necessarily in a good way. They really ended up looking garage sale. The print on the bedding fabric is amazing – I don’ t know if he painted it, bought it at Pindler & Pindler, or it was from the garage sale. Anyone? In general, this was a typical “Goil” room – clear and concise, but a little too intellectual.


Carisa was the winner. And I must say that I’m not sure why. The platform bed is pretty – love the pillows and colors, but it’s a bit too high! And the judges even made a comment about the height of Ryan’s bed, yet this one got a pass. There was no step or foot stool. The height rendered it useless for casual sitting and the cocktail table was therefor pointless. The color palette was similar to what we’ve seen from Carisa, but it worked and was as her client specified. I don’t like the speed limit sign on the back wall – screams of midnight, beer soaked high school hi-jinx. She mentioned that her client is a neat-freak, and this space is very neat and clean. I love the white and orange chair with the chrome lamp. But otherwise – I’m not sure what Jonathan was seeing when he said she hit the jackpot with the stuff. While she did cover the typewriter table in faux-ostrich, there didn’t seem to be much else re-configured from the garage sale excursion. As usual, Carisa does make use of the entire space visually, but there is actually very limited guest seating. The side walls are too bland as compared to the fuchsia rear wall and it looks unfinished. Which, in fact, it was, due to lack of required storage, bare walls and shelves. Carisa was able to overcame a potential catastrophe when her moveable desk had to be left out, but I don’t think this was a “Top Design”.

I thought Matt’s room was immediately visually very pleasing. It’s well balanced and looks much higher end than the typical garage sale finds usually offer. His client mentioned that he wanted an Armani Casa feel and he delivered.

His use of space was terrific – he provided seating for upwards of 8-10 people comfortably in the space, including an eating area, work space with drafting table, and a lounge area. I thought his use of color was sophisticated and mature. I loved the two stick lamps made into one signature piece – it was a terrific reconfiguration. The deep floor and back wall juxtaposed with the lighter side walls made the space feel much larger than it is. The back wall just receded away. He reused the wooden patio set to great effect – removing the back of two of the chairs and created an upholstered bench seat. The fabrics were very interesting looking – although a little hard to see in the photos and on television. The red “cocktail table” feels a bit out of place color wise – but it might have worked better in the space than it looks in photos. I appreciated that when asked about his two green walls that he was clear that he likes balance in a space. He came across as planned and thoughtful. (or a good tap-dancer). Good job Matt – to my eye, you should have been the winner.

Surprisingly, after having insulted the judges, the entire interior design profession and creating this horror show of a space, Ryan is still in competition. This room is what my nightmares are made of. I could go on, and on, and on, and on, about what I think is wrong, but I just can’t be bothered. The only thing I like is that he took the fabric he used on the chair on the right and created artwork/wall hangings/seating that mimicked it. Otherwise, this room is neither functional, nor interesting. It is, however, Ryan’s vision. And if part of the judging criteria is the designers’ ability to express his/her own vision, then, there you go.

This was so sad. Felicia has done well so far and this room really disappointed in so many ways. On the plus side she added architectural elements such as chair rail and wainscoting with a baseboard molding, and she’s the first to throw in a window! I like that she laid the floor boards side to side – adding a feeling of width in the space. The Thai printed fabric, which she applied to the back wall, was very interesting in itself. But I wonder if it might not have worked better applied vertically under the chair rail – creating a kind of faux-panelling? Or, she might have applied it in the corners on the side and back walls creating a column effect. Assuming that she only had enough for the space she papered, it ended up looking like an after thought and not tied in anywhere else. The color palette is so muddy – yet she said that she was planning a more muted palette, but her client said she wanted more bold and graphic. The back wall was graphic – but that was about it. The seating was a definite hodgepodge and very uneven – size wise. Although the client didn’t like the leather chair – I thought it was a real find for a garage sale. But, the black/white pillow was dull against the brown leather. She doesn’t seem to have created new uses for the garage sale items and clearly made her selections based on what the items were, not what they could be. The bed was a mess, plain and simple. Too “bedlike” for such a small multi use space and the afghan…a “what was she thinking? moment” if ever there was one. Maybe she could have de-constructed the afghan and made pillows from the patches, but otherwise, it was a waste of $25.00. Felicia was sent home for this effort.

I am torn by the decision to let Felicia go. This was not a good room, showed little decorative flair and no voice. But, we all know she is capable of much, much more. Ryan, on the other hand, used his voice loud and clear to say “F-U design world!” I’ve seen no real artistry or sophistication in Ryan’s work and it’s pretty clear he’s not striving for those things. He’s making a point and he made it in this space. It’s hard to imagine that he’s capable of future growth as a designer. So, if I were given the choice, I would have kept Felicia because she has potential and that would have, for me, trumped the “voice” of the angry young man.

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xoxo Linda

11 thoughts on “Top Design – Judging the designs – Episode 4”

  1. The strange thing about Carisa’s design is that there would have been plenty of storage space under the bed. After looking at your Casa Armani links I was convinced even more that Matt deserved the win.

    I completely agree with your assessment of the choice between Ryan and Felicia. I think that Felicia’s client really sealed her fate by having such a negative response to the room. Her room struck me as a total disaster but I softened my view after you pointed out some of the redeeming aspects as well as a few of the different choices she could have made that would have improved the look of the room.

    No matter how bad of a day Felicia had with this room, Ryan has a bad day every day. He is a bratty child [He is a few other things as well but I’m being nice here in case your mom is reading] and he is just baiting the judges into sending him home. I think that the judges are being disrespectful to the other designers (and to themselves as well) by keeping him on the show.

    As always your insights are so helpful and they make the show so much more interesting.

  2. I am de-lurking to compliment you on your analysis, which is always so thoughtful. I’m an audio girl and am therefore fairly awed by those who can make both functional sense and grace out of visual space.

    IMO re: poor Felicia, the judges were unduly influenced by her client’s drama-queen reaction (or perhaps I’m just biased, being a “mad crocheter” with many cotton and silk-triangled quilts in the family legacy’s cedar chests). Ms. Russell, however, did put a link to Felicia’s site in her post-episode blog post.

    Re: Ryan, I don’t think you could be more right. Too much credit given for POV and not enough attention devoted to his dismissive attitude toward the profession. After all, isn’t the point to SERVICE THE CLIENT?

    I’m also in complete agreement with the whole “angry young man” aesthetic. I think his transition from “angry young” to “angry almost middle-aged without the notoriety and financial returns he may have expected to see by now” and the fact that some men – people, for that matter – don’t know how to express fear except with anger may be influencing how he’s coming off to the rest of us mere mortals.

    And as for his art? Kudos for the 66th street installation but, having friends that exhibit regularly downtown in Chelsea and SoHo I have to say – meh.

    I also agree that that does seem somewhat disrespectful to the rest of the contestants who are taking the competition seriously.

    So thanks for your multi-layered insight on the recap.

  3. I agree with everything you’ve said (except that I never needed seating for 12 when I lived in a studio apartment, ha ha!)

    Matt’s room was excellent and probaly deserved to win.

    Michael’s was, however, my favorite. I would move right in to that room!

    I lived in a small studio apartment for many years and mostly furnished it from garage sales and thrift stores so I could really relate to this challenge.

  4. I don’t know – Is Matt’s room really *design*? Or is it *decorating*?

    If it’s an Armani/Casa style, it’s not Matt’s design, IMO. I don’t know that Armani would use acid green, either.

  5. Moi;) – sometimes design work is decorating work. If the client requests a certain aesthetic, then the designers’ job is to help them get it. As with the appeal of the “Something’s Gotta Give” set decor, it should be a jumping off point. The designers shouldn’t just copy a look, but he/she needs to tailor the look to the needs of the client and the situation at hand. So, I do think Matt was highly successful, because he gave his client the look he wanted – without just buying a whole room of stuff from Armani Casa. He created the look with garage sale stuff and his imagination, and provided for all necessary functional requirements.

  6. That is not “acid green,” by the way– it’s hardly green at all. If it appears to be the same color as Team Miami painted on the border of their cabana, well….you need to get your eyes checked.

  7. OK, anon, let’s not get out drawers in a twist. But you’re absolutely right, Matt’s room was most definitely not acid green and I don’t know why people started calling it that in the blogs. I’m not actually sure what acid green is, but this ain’t it.

  8. Great insights, Linda! I appreciate reading a recap from someone who addresses the technical aspects of the designs. I am confused about the description of Carisa’s wall as “fuschia”. I know fuschias come in different colors, but when I think fuschia, I think purple-y pink. Carisa’s wall looked pretty much straight up red to me. Or crimson. Or one of those other words that means red. Can you enlighten?

  9. Thanks Anon for your compliments!
    Hmm, about the fuchsia wall. Well, it looks almost fuchsia on my computer screen, but after your comment, I went back and watched my tape. It was supposed to be orange, but then Carisa changed it so she wasn’t accused of using the same colors week after week. It definately looks more red red on my tv. So, maybe that’s more the color and perhaps I picked up someone else calling it fuchsia inadvertantly. Hey, Carisa? If you’re reading, inquiring minds want to know.

    On another Carisa note, while I was re-watching the show, I was thinking of all the negative comments about her and her problems with her carpenter, on some other blogs. Unless it was edited out, in front of the judges, she never once blamed her carpenter. She said (paraphrasing) “I designed a rolling desk, but it ended up being a mess, so I left it out”. And later, when asked about her lack of storage, she just acknowledged that there was a lack of storage. “I did the best I could”. She never suggested it was anyone’s fault or tried to push off blame. As I said, maybe it was edited out, in which case it doesn’t exist as far as the audience should be concerned. I think people are being unfair to someone who is trying to show strength and authority. Perhaps she’s been a tad whiny, but I’ve seen worse on these shows.

    OK, off my soap box!

  10. In terms of Matt’s design, there is a very fine line between “being influenced by” or “in the style of” and out-and-out copying (much as there is a difference between having a distinctive personal style and doing the same thing over and over again). After all, there is “nothing new under the sun.”

    In my opinion, Matt’s fabulous design was definitely more a case of “being influenced by” than copying, and considering the materials he had to work with, it was a superior effort.

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