Top Design – Episode 10 – And the Winner Is…


Congratulations, Matt Lorenz, you had the Top Design! $100,000 prize, a car, an Elle Decor spread and a slot in Dining By Design. While it felt a lot like you were the heir apparent to this win, you were certainly worthy of being in the top two.

The Challenge: Design a 1,700 sq. ft. loft space in LA.
Time: 2 months to plan, 5 days to shop and build (yikes)
Budget: $12,500 materials; $150,000 of furnishings and accessories memoed from the Pacific Design Center; $25,000 of GE Monogram kitchen appliances
The production provided labor for painting and floor. Plus each designer had their lead carpenter. Any additional labor had to come out of their budget, by which I assume the $12,500 budget. Additionally, I believe that the kitchen installation labor was paid for by either GE Monogram or the TD Production.
The client: Themselves!
The Guest Judge: Trudy Styler, whom I assume was chosen for her star value. I’d have rather seen a professional designer, but whatever. The judging was the least prominent part of this weeks’ episode.

I will say that I think that the final episode should have been longer – at least 90 minutes. To my view, Matt’s space fell flat on the screen, while Carisa’s popped. But, much like watching Top Chef – we can’t really “taste” the space from our living rooms. How something looks like in person and on television are two different worlds. I would have loved to have heard more commentary from the judges. So I look forward to reading their blogs once I’m done with this post.

Onto the designs:

Matt decided that his space was going to be a 1940’s inspired family home. I would agree with his assessment that he had a slightly more difficult challenge in that he needed two bedroom spaces, which caused his space to be more cut up. Unfortunately, it looked a bit too cut up and I think his space planning could have been better. 1,700 square feet isn’t that small, especially when it’s all on one level. I felt like his space was cramped feeling and, once again, looked a lot like a design center showroom. While he clearly knows beautiful furnishings, I do feel like there is a flatness that’s hard to overlook. I do like the pink side chairs. Again, perhaps Matt has a subtlety that’s hard to pick up on television.

I think the white “entry” table is out of place – shapewise – for this space. He also needed to raise up the artwork, or do 2 rows of three. I really might have preferred to see a screen of some sort to create a real “entry”, but maybe that’s my preference for traditional spaces talking.

This dining table is stunningly beautiful, no question. Very Matt-like. And I agree with him, glass is very cleanable and a round table isn’t a hazard for a small child. Especially one that is presumably raised to respect nice things. I don’t love the orange dining chairs – they feel jarring – especially after the pale pink chairs in the living room. The floor lamp looks a bit blah in the background of this shot. I would have rather seen a fabulous crystal chandelier over the table. Matt’s kitchen design was urban and slick looking. He did a great job styling the kitchen, down to the multi-colored cheerios and dish towel.
I think this bathroom is fabulous. I would have loved to see the eggplant walls in person – I’m sure they were beautiful. The chandelier is fab – makes me miss one over the dining table all the more!

The bedroom – eh… just a bummer, as Mr. Adler would say. First off, why would a married couple with a child not wish for more privacy? The whole room was bland and lacking in the elegance that he put into his hotel room design. He said that he prefers a “sterile” space in the bedroom. Well, he did achieve that.
The “Lily does Marie Antoinette” bedroom is a stunner. How could a little girl not love this? Generally hot spots caused by lamps can be distracting, but in this case, he created a wall texture that works. He certainly showed a great love for his daughter in putting together this room.

His family wall o’ photos was lovely. I would have liked to see something pop off the wall, however. A single different color frame or one color photo – just something to put a little snap into it.

On a final design note, Matt was smart to include so many fresh cut flowers in his space. Flowers and plants are usually the “final touches” in a space – so they became a subtle way of saying “this IS a finished space”. They also brought life into a loft that has no inhabitants.

A personal note about Matt: he’s pretty much a stealth snob. He initially came across as a nice guy, but when things got tense, his sense of entitlement was a bit over-bearing. And, he was not a gracious winner. I don’t care how tired you are, you are either a gracious person, or you are not.

Congratulation to carpenter Ed Schoen! He won a well-deserved $10,000 “Top Carpenter” prize!

A BIG CONGRATS to Carisa Perez-Fuentes for being the student who bested 10 other more experienced designers. She was cast as the bitchy underdog and put down by the viewers and her fellow contestants, but her final design proved that she deserved to be in the top 2. And her graciousness upon losing showed her to be a woman of class and style.

“Good job Carisa, way to go!” You said it girl!


Carisa’s program for her loft was a space for living, sleeping, entertaining and work. She created a visually expansive space, while also creating different zones throughout. Her black and white color scheme with pops of red was visually stimulating, but not overwhelming. Her use of mirrors reflecting the large windows helped expand and brighten the space exponentially. The black floor just receded away. She ended up spending $8,000 on the floor and I would agree with Ms. Wearstler that it was probably not the best use of the money. Additionally, the floor was supposed to be a refinished ebonized treatment and instead, the supplier merely repainted a pre-finished floor, causing it to peel. They were careful not to say who provided the floor, but one would assume it was Lumber Liquidators, since they were the only flooring supplier ever mentioned. But, they will tell me if I am wrong.


She used a lot of repeating blocks and squares, which created a nice harmony. Unfortunately, she opted to leave these book cases unfilled, although it appeared in the program that she had a few minutes to get something in them. So, this was a misstep as this wall felt very unfinished. I wonder if she took too seriously the judges comments about over doing the accessories and got scared? I don’t love the shag rug on the dining table and had she set the table, she might have brought in some of the feeling of life that the judges felt the space was lacking.

And yes, these are the same chairs and table that Andrea used in her chef’s challenge room. In fact, Carisa used several elements and ideas previously used throughout the competition. On the one hand, why not if the item is perfect for the need? On the other, it was a bit distracting playing “I spy…” with previously used items. I think Carisa is a real sponge who mentally stores everything she sees and is able to pull the ideas out of her memory bank when needed.
This is a lovely sectional. She could have totally pillowed up this sofa, but she opted to keep it sleek and simple. And, yes, “I spy…” the Buddha dolls that are similar to the surprise inspiration item in episode one.

And once again, a big wall of empty blocks, which looks unfinshed. But, otherwise, I love (J’Adore!) this little seating nook. Elegant and cozy!
This is Carisa’s work and play space. I like the idea of the cork wall, but she needed to pin something to it. She should have pinned all her plans, fabric samples, inspiration photos, etc. to the cork board to really personalize the space, plus make it look like a work area. This is also the ping pong table area. Personally not loving the ping pong table, but that’s personal preference. She mentioned Tom Hanks loft apartment in “Big”, which was a great inspiration concept.

Carisa’s kitchen was sleek and fab! It perfectly integrated in with the rest of her plan and looked like it would be a functional space to work in. But, unlike Matt, she didn’t style the space, so it ultimately looks a bit cold and barren.
This bathroom color is pretty fun. And, “I spy…” the mirror used by Andrea and Ryan in episode one.

Well, this bedroom was definitely her best moment. This could have been ticky-tacky in the extreme. Instead, it was sexy and unexpected and has a real swinging bachelorette style. She revealed on the after show that she was married in January and it sure looks like she’s pretty happy with her love life. Plus, I appreciate her explanation about the view out the windows. Oh, and yes, “I spy…” Goils sunken bed concept from episode 4. I did wonder about getting in and out of the bed. But the ladies on the judging panel didn’t seen to have a problem with it and Ms. Russell looked quite cozy sitting in there.

Unfortunately, Top Carl couldn’t win the $10,000 carpenters prize. But he certainly wins the “Top Sweetheart” viewers prize. And more than one recorded crush. Not saying who….

I’d like to thank Andy for reading my question to Carisa on Watch What Happens. I asked: “Congratulations on doing such a great job! When did you know that you wanted to be an interior designer and to what do you attribute your well deserved self-confidence?” I was finally able replay Carisa’s answer to my question. She answered that she’s “not very confident” and is “always surprised at where she is” to which Matt rolled his eyes and gave Andy a look and Andy made a few surprised noises of his own. Matt responded “you’re more confident than me” to which Carisa responded, well not in the “I know I’m better than you” way… like you Matt! Anyway, cute response. Unfortunately Andy didn’t let her answer the first part about when she knew she wanted to be a designer. So, Carisa – feel free to let us know! My question was followed by the call from Top Carl – swoon. When Erik was latered I wrote in a question, which was read out loud. The other WWH guest that evening was Tim Gunn. So my name (ok first name only – really Andy, would it kill you to say Linda Merrill, or Linda from ::Surroundings:: a dedicated Top Deseign blogger???) has been mentioned in front of Tim Gunn and Carl Mueller. Pretty good for me! Oh, and all of the viewing audience as well. But really, when Tim and Carl are around… who else is there!

The exercise of reviewing the rooms and writing my critiques has been a good one for me. It gives me a chance to “talk out” my thoughts on the spaces. Each week since Episode One, I have written these critiques prior to reading any of the real judges blogs, so as not to be swayed.

Going into this week, I didn’t have a preference on a winner. They are both so different and it made for a more interesting final. Carisa’s designs show real life and passion. Matt’s are luxurious and mature, yet a bit distant. I know and I love beautiful furnishings. Matt’s style is more akin to mine, but Carisa’s passion is endearing. I think Carisa’s bedroom was the most unique space of the show, and Matt’s Princess bedroom the most beautiful. Neither is pushing outside the envelope, however. Matt does classic interior design and Carisa does pop culture design. Both might have big careers ahead of them but only time will tell if either has an impact on the design world such as those made by Kelly Wearstler and Jonathan Adler.

I was happy both Matt and Carisa were in the finals and I would have been happy with either winning. I never had a “favorite” designer throughout the show. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Thoughts?

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xoxo Linda Would you like my Favorite Tips for a Well-Decorated Home? Click here!

5 thoughts on “Top Design – Episode 10 – And the Winner Is…

  1. Linda,
    It has been a real pleasure reading your recaps and analysis of the designs throughout the season. As always, this one is well thought out and spot on.

    My design sensibilities are a lot closer to Matt’s than Carissa’s, so I was really more drawn to his furniture choices and subtle fabrics. But I would love to party in Carissa’s loft, just not live there. I was pretty certain that Matt clinched the win when he broke out his best design accessory: his gorgeous four year old daughter in all those photos.

    I agree that Matt’s dining area would have benefitted from a chandelier. (But you’ll also notice the relative lack of overhead lighting in Carissa’s loft.) The practical rationale — concrete ceilings in many of these old buildings now being converted to lofts are not very conducive to running new wiring. From a couple of the pictures, it looks like there are only a couple of pre-existing junction boxes in each loft’s ceiling. I have marvelled throughout the season that the white PDC “pods” seem to magically sprout electrical outlets wherever necessary, unlike in the real world where such things can be an expensive and time-consuming undertaking!

    Thanks again for the great observations!

  2. I think you are right on the mark!

    The first thing I thought about Matt’s loft was his use of space. When I first saw the empty space, I thought it was huge. But his design made it feel cramped and not very lofty.

    I also agree about the privacy in the master bedroom. Though I love that it was raised, I can’t help but think what if he and his wife were having an intimate moment.

    I think Carisa’s design popped and looked amazing. The biggest qualms I have with the space were the lack of personalize accessories/styling, and also her use of things that were in previous episodes. Especially since I have a feeling that the styling was the reason Matt won.

    I think the use of previously shown furniture is acceptable since if you see something fabulous why not borrow on it.

    I couldn’t stand Matt in this episode. He was such a pompous a**hole. Carisa was definitely gracious and sweet in defeat. It always puzzled me why everyone disliked her.

  3. My post is going up tomorrow, it’s done but I wanted to spread my blog posts out, lol. I just couldn’t wait to come read yours, tho!

    All I could think, when Matt mentioned the sterile bedroom, was that he was talking to Mrs. Sting… Tantric Sex King of Great Britain…. I thought right there he lost….

  4. Linda, I wanted to let you know how much I have enjoyed your articulate, insightful, even-handed reviews/observations of the designs. Silly Andy Cohen, not to acknowledge you better on air. Your blog has definitely been one of the highlights of TD! Wishing you all the best with your own design career!

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