Top Design – Judging the Designs Episode 7

“Chef’s Choice”
Individual Challenge: Design a chef’s table for Tom Collichio’s latest restaurant. Tom loves nature – stone and wood, the Arts and Crafts Movement and mid-20th modern. He’s looking for something very high end and luxurious.

$2,000 materials and supplies.
$40,000 furnishings from Pacific Design Center. (note that the quoted prices were referred to as “net” pricing. In the design biz, this means the actual designers cost, which can be up to 50% off the list/retail price. So, the list price value of these designs could be upwards of $80,000.)

According to the previews, the designers were given the use of a floral designer, but they only showed Michael actually using one. So, it felt like this element got lost in the shuffle.

Time frame: 2 days for entire challenge. 30 minutes to sketch, 1 hour to shop and the rest of the time to build.

Basically, this was a fancy dining room challenge and was pretty straight forward. The client (Tom Colicchio, Top Chef Head judge, famous chef and restauranteur) had clearly expressed his stylistic desires and how the space was to be used and there were no contrived plot twists. Just a bunch of hardworking designers plying their trade.

Let’s go to the rooms:

Andrea’s room:
This is a beautiful room and Andrea won the challenge, as she deserved to. Last week in my recap I was feeling that her architecture skills, while impressive, didn’t make her an interior designer. Up till now, I haven’t been see real beauty and luxury from Andrea. She certainly made up for it this week. The color palette was subdued, but not dull. The repetitive rectangles on the chairs, walls, lamps and field stone really brought the whole space together, without overdoing it. I don’t love the deep pink carpet (at least, it looks pink on my television and computer). It’s a pretty color, but felt jarring in the space and isn’t really in the aesthetic of Arts and Crafts/mid-Century modern. It has a beautiful looking pile to it, which added to the luxurious feeling of the space and it stands out nicely against the deep floor. Her use of fieldstone on the walls was great – unfortunately it doesn’t show up in this photo. Her space was beautifully accessorized, down to the placemats which were faintly Asian in feel – which speaks to the influence Japan had on design during the Arts and Crafts period. The entire space was filled, without being overwhelming. Congratulations Andrea!

Carisa’s room:
This room was something of a departure from the established “Carisa” style, but there are still some through-lines from previous designs. This is the second time she’s done stripes, the fourth time she’s done an accent wall and the fourth time we’ve seen a large, rear wall built-in, this time in the form of a banquette. She clearly had some shopping issues this week – seeming to miss out on “real” indoor sets of chairs (hence the need to go with patio furniture) and while the table is beautiful – it was way too small for the actual space. The strong horizontal visual created by the stripes and the banquette made the space feel very wide. Which isn’t bad – but it made the table seem even smaller than it was. She said in the show that she tried to select pieces with a Mid-Century Modern feel that were also hand-made looking (an appeal to the Arts and Crafts aesthetic). While this sounded good on paper, it wasn’t very apparent in the final design. I love a slipcover, but these weren’t good ones. One of Carisa’s strengths has been her ability to accessorize a room but there was little to none here – due apparently to her poor project management skills. She clearly needs to work on planning and execution issues. Timing is everything, as they say.

Goil’s room:
I think this photo makes this room look much better than in it did on the show. Like Michael, Goil selected three different types of chairs. But, his appeared much more unified due to their similar upholstery colors. They are all very beautiful. One thing I’d have worried about with the mismatched chairs is that their seat heights needed to be all the same – so as not to put one diner “over” another. While most dining chairs are fairly uniform in height – there are always exceptions due to the upholstery, seat back angle, etc. I don’t like the painted stripes on the wall – not only were they poorly executed, they didn’t add anything particularly interesting to the space. I would have rather seen elements of the wooden wall used instead. The wooden wall is built around the end of the table – which is interesting, but also looks like a serving “pass -thru” and thus lessens any feeling of luxury. The niches are interesting, but not particularly unusual or creative. I think the wood floor is beautiful, but hate the pebbles along the sides. (although, the use of stone was mentioned as something the chef would like). It think that they pose a real hazard in a space where people are moving quickly and carrying heavy loads of dishes. Plus, how do you clean them? Cleanliness, being fairly important to the health inspectors, might become an issue. Then, there’s the dried floral chandelier. Judges loved it. Carisa and Matt – not so much. Once again, it’s a Goil exercise in interesting but ultimately impractical design. Those flowers will dry out – due to the heat of the lights (are they flame retardant and do they live up to fire code law?) and it will eventually disintegrate. And then, as Matt said, fall into the food below. Yuck. Better to do this in an outdoor space for a flower show. (speaking of which, I went to the Boston Flower Show today and they featured several garden party dining tables styled by local interior designers. I took tons of photos and will be posting these soon!). But, back to Goil, this chandelier would have worked beautifully in one of these “temporary” spaces. It doesn’t work for a space that is permanent. Generally the space felt haphazard and cluttered and not luxurious.

Matt’s room:
Clearly, the best thing about this room is the floor. The leather inset “rug” with wood surround is beautiful, luxurious and chic. He furniture selections were the same. I think, in this photo, that the olive branches look sickly and Charlie Brown Christmas tree-ish. They also remind me of Carisa’s room from the kids room challenge with the wall of plants. There doesn’t seem to be quite enough serving and storage space – which the judges criticized Michael for. We’ve seen this color palette before – green and orange. I would have liked to see the fabric draping clear across the back wall, wrapping around the sides. The room lacks texture and visual interest high on the walls. So, while the floor is stunning, it’s not the only thing that one should be looking at. His table settings with leaf placemats were lovely, but combined with the pattern on the chair upholstery and the bamboo shoots in the vases, it felt a bit tropical. While the Arts & Crafts movement was all about stylized nature, it wasn’t about the tropics. The side niches in the rear wall unit created a nice hidden space for additional glassware and other supplies and showed that he was thinking about the actual use of the space, in addition to the look.

Michael’s room:
I appreciate that Michael created a “window” in the back wall that was slightly Mission style in feel. It seemed a little cheap in the video, unfortunately. The rug was really ugly and again, we have orange!! Why, oh why so much orange? The mish-mosh of chairs is too much. The upholstered chairs look like office furniture and really distract from the beautiful wooden ones. The metal feels harsh by comparison. The artwork did feel angry (Todd was right). Altogether, the room feels like family hand-me down and not beautifully eclectic. It also didn’t feel at all “Arts and Crafts”. The floor lamp was odd – no comments were made about it on the show – but it feels like it’s looming in from the wings. Michael was “latered” for this effort, and it was the right decision. He gets kudos for always backing up his design decisions and clearly has studied the field. With time, he will gain more exposure to the work of more established designers and learn from them how to create a beautiful, fully realized interior that looks more expensive than it costs and showcases the treasures within.

I’m happy that I don’t need to do any bitch-slapping again this week. Everyone was professional and got along – well mostly. While Carissa definitely has problems with her carpenters and does need to figure out how to be a project manager, she wasn’t wrong in wanting to be heard. Almost every woman designer I know experiences problems with contractors – from being insulted, patronized and ignored – particularly in the early career stages. It’s tough to learn how to manage someone who can do work that we can’t necessarily do. But, otherwise, they all worked hard and got the job done as best they could.

I’m formulating my list of ways to improve this show. Memo to Bravo! I’d love to see real designer critiques – while they are developing and executing their plans. The question asked at the end of the show “Who’s room would you not want to sit in and why” was on that track. But, once the work is done, it’s no long constructive criticism. It’s just criticism.

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xoxo Linda

3 thoughts on “Top Design – Judging the Designs Episode 7”

  1. Now that I’ve posted my Taste Patrol, I feel free to go around and read others’ opinions. Again, I agree with your insights, which are (obviously) well informed.

  2. Originally I thought Matt should have won this one. But after seeing pictures, Andrea’s room is much more finished looking, especially in looking at the side walls (I hadn’t noticed how empty the sides of Matt’s room were).

  3. Almost every woman designer I know experiences problems with contractors – from being insulted, patronized and ignored – particularly in the early career stages.
    I think that is something that gets lost in all of the criticism of Carisa. And this is not a “real life” situation where you have to figure out how to establish your authority with contractors and their subcontractors. That said, yelling at them constantly is not a strategy that I would recommend.

    I’d love to see real designer critiques – while they are developing and executing their plans. The question asked at the end of the show “Who’s room would you not want to sit in and why” was on that track. But, once the work is done, it’s no long constructive criticism. It’s just criticism. Excellent point. That would be interesting. So far we only get that from Carisa — and it is generally unsolicited and unappreciated!

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