Monday, August 1, 2011

Design Star Obsession - Six Seasons of White Boxes; a Lot of Opinions; Tips for Design Star Wannabees; a Few Extras and a Whole Lot of Fun

I'm obsessed with Design Star.  Like most things in my life, I was late to this obsession.  I didn't discover Design Star until Season 5.  I had already been watching David Bromstad and Antonio Ballatore (both of whom I adore), I didn't realize they were Design Star winners.  I'm not a fan of reality TV, but after watching my first episode of Design Star, I was hooked.  During a week-long illness, I was grateful the previous seasons were on the HGTV website in their entirety.  Since I couldn't get off the couch, I caught up on the previous seasons.  Talk about making a positive out of a negative.  Since cable TV is not in my very-restricted budget, I still watch the show exclusively on their website.  This takes supreme control on my part.  On Monday, I'm very tempted to attend the Twitter party and look at the blogs, but I don't want any spoilers!  Fortunately, HGTV is getting the episode on their website pretty quickly on Tuesday.  Thanks HGTV!

Before I start posting some photos and dishing some of my opinions, I'd like to say thank you to the designers who appear on this show.  You are so brave - putting yourself out there and making yourself vulnerable.  I understand why you cry, because you are so passionate about your art.  I must admit, I am a cry baby, I cry every week!  Even when I agree with who should be eliminated, it still makes me cry.

The most iconic - and my favorite episode - is the White Box Challenge.  The designers are given an unusual and very limited place to shop.  The most important thing to remember is not to be literal in the treatment.  Most designers do some kind of graphic paint treatment or mural.  Murals are a funny thing on Design Star, sometimes the judges like them, sometimes they don't.  The judges say:  Go Big or Go Home.  Don't play it safe.  Step outside your comfort zone, but execution must be perfect.  This last statement seems like a contradiction to me.  In the real world of design, you have professionals to help you with execution.  We soon learn that the TV design world is very different from the real design world.  I'd love to see Vern, Genevieve - and most especially Candice - do a white box challenge, with the same restraints the designers face.  I'd especially love to see Candice get dirty.  On her show, she has a large budget, and a lot of people to do the work for her. 

I always wrack my brain to think what I would do with the limited resources they are given, and usually can't think of anything.  I'd probably go for something unexpected and make it absolutely blindingly white. This is really an art challenge more than it is a design challenge.  Here are a few of my favorites from past seasons.  I think these white boxes would make a great installation exhibit at a gallery.

Please forgive me for some of the poor images.  When I couldn't find images on the web, I photographed them from my computer.  This was necessary at times to illustrate a point, I'll think you'll get the idea.  Also, please remember these are only my opinions, criticizing is a lot easier than doing.  I could never put myself out there the way these brave designers have.

Season 1

In Season 1, there were two girly-girls named Donna and Temple, who argued a lot.  Okay, we get it Temple, you're gorgeous, but the arguing was tiresome.  Not as tiresome as hearing Vanessa say "Glamalistic," however.  For their white box challenge, Donna and Temple had to shop at an automotive store, and honestly, they both rocked it.

Here's Donna's room.  The judges really gave Donna a hard time throughout her tenure about using too many tchotchkes (the hardest word in the English language to spell).  I'd edit this room a bit, but it's still pretty great.  Love her coffee table and lamps.  I'd edit the book case out and straighten the sofa.  I hate sofas on an angle.
Love the lamp made out of an air filter (I think).  Ya'll already know I love me some lamps.  All in all a great job.
Temple rocked it too.  Her's is a little more streamlined, so more successful with the judges.  I've always wanted to do a room in auto parts since my brother is a car buff.  These ladies have proven it can be done with style.
Teman shopped at a camping store.  This season paint was not provided, the designers had to set aside part of their budget for paint.  At the last minute, Teman realized he had not set aside money for paint, but he got resourceful with tape on the wall.  I thought the graphic was cool.  I actually loved this room, it didn't scream camping store to me.  Teman was eliminated for this room, and I wholeheartedly disagree with the judges.  This was one of the most tearful moments in Design Star history.  Teman was standing at elimination with his twin brother, Teran.  They cried.  Judge, Cynthia Rowley cried.  I really came to love Cynthia for her sensitivity and kindness.

Here is Teman's room, which is a little unimpressive.  I love the paint treatment, which I think was done with gold hair gel.
I also love the lamp.  He put panty hose over the lamp shade, which I admit is the influence for my own panty hose lamp shade (see previous post here).  I want to do more experimenting with hose and shades.

Tym had to shop at a pet store.  I love edge, but i must admit the leash hanging from the ceiling was a little too edgy for me.  Tym stated he was influenced by Warhol, but I think the influence looks a little more like Robert Mapplethorpe.  I still think the room is pretty rad, love the deconstruction of the dog cages, the dog food labels as art and the coffee table.  I gotta give Tym props for taking his design to the extreme.

David Bromstad, the winner of of Season 1, also shopped at the pet store.  His room was absolute genius, of course.  David was a sure winner from the beginning.  He was stellar throughout the competition and remains stellar in his show.  I've written about David on this blog several times.  I love his designs, and I wish I could paint like him!  If you didn't watch Season 1, you simply must see David's solution to the glass house in the final competition.  It was a sculptural, Zen masterpiece perfectly incorporating inside and outside.  I couldn't get a clear shot of it, click here for the full episode on

The lanterns he used in the room were to die for!  Thanks for always being such an inspiration David!  It was not a surprise that David won Season 1.  His show is called Color Splash, and it's always great fun.

Season 2

One thing that is clear to me, the White Box is the time to shine as an individual, the rooms don't have to be functional and are more like art installations.  The challenge where the competitors design their living space is about team work and functionality. 

In Season 2, unfortunately Lisa didn't realize this and was eliminated too soon, in Episode 1.  This is always a devastating blow for a designer.  She worked as an individual on the home challenge  - a big mistake - and infused her sensibility too soon.   I get it, though.  As an artist you are so excited to show who you are.  She wanted to show her rock/punk industrial lounge style. She made the coolest phone book sculptures, but again, that's art not design. Unfortunately, this didn't succeed as this was an area that was non-functional.  I think this would have been successful had this been the white box challenge.  Still, she was sent packing too soon which made me wonder if her crazy skunk hair do played a part.  Organic Josh really deserved the boot this week.

The White Box Challenge showcased a couple of rock stars.  For this challenge the designers all had to shop at a 99 cent store.
Todd!  Cowabunga dude!  Todd totally rocked all season long.  Scott said his favorite tool is a Todd, and I have to agree.  Todd can design, build, and his infectious joy of life was great to watch!  He made it to the finals, and I was flabbergasted that he lost to Kim Myles.  Fortunately, Todd now has his own show called Room Crashers.  I haven't gotten to watch it yet, but am looking forward to when HGTV uploads it to their website.

Robb really rocked it too.  I love this color palette and love the coffee table turned light alcove with the graphic continuing on the sofa.  I've seen this design copied like a zillion times in magazines.  I'll do a post on this topic at a later date.  Unfortunately, Robb is one of those designers whose arrogance and meanness got in his way.  Here's a lesson for future competitors.  No one wants to watch arrogance and meanness.  Control your temper, get your point across without steamrolling.

I also thought Will's room was astonishing.  Modern colors, clean lined, definitely doesn't look like he shopped at a 99 cent store.  I love the repetition of the chip and dip plates.  I loved Will's soft demeanor.  I hope to see more from him in the future.

Season 3

I'm sorry to say that Season 3 was the most boring of the seasons.  No one really impressed as a TV designer on this season.  Matt Locke was a standout with his exceptional construction skills, but surprisingly lost the competition to Jennifer Bertrand.  Here's a look at their white boxes.  Again - sorry for these poor pictures.

The designers had to shop at a craft store.  Jennifer's inspiration was Italy, so she did a mural inspired by Italian ceramics.  The judges loved it.  Murals.  They're funny.  Sometimes the judges love them, sometimes they don't.  There seems to be three rules to murals:  they must be perfectly executed, they must be large and wrap around more than one wall and don't become a one trick pony.  Don't do murals over and over again.

This is Matt's room inspired by Thailand.  This is a tricky one.  The judges like when designers think conceptually - just don't get too conceptual or it becomes too "obtuse" (Candice Olsen's word).  This is a representation of a Buddhist temple.  I think it might actually have benefited from a couple of tchotchkes.  Does the craft store have an outdoor area?  I think a couple of large outdoor sculptures, like maybe two large Buddhas on either side flanked by palm fronds, or even foo dogs, would've made it look less obtuse.  Matt has appeared on the show HGTV Showdown, I'll suspect we'll be seeing more of him.

I think this one is a little obtuse as well.  But it was my favorite this season.  This room was designed by Stephanie and is influenced by Mexico.  She decided to construct a poolside cabana at night.  I think it's lovely.  The judges liked it too.  I was sad when Stephanie was eliminated in a later episode, I found her very likable and would enjoy seeing more from her.

Season 4

The plus side of Season 4 is that they amped up the talent by 1000 percent.  The downside is that Cynthia Rowley and Martha McCulley were replaced by Genevieve Gorder and Candice Olson.  I really missed the kindness of Cynthia and Martha, and I could never quite watch Genevieve or Candice's shows the same way after that.  Their criticism is often very good, but so condescending.

This was the season with rock star designer and all around cool guy, Antonio Ballatore.  It was obvious from episode 1 that no one could touch him.  I adore Antonio and have written about him many times on this blog.  Antonio's toughest competition came from Dan.  Designers who are able to build have a distinct advantage on Design Star.  Those who don't have these skills often struggle when it comes to execution.  Antonio and Dan made a formidable team in episode 5, but a couple of times Dan proved to be flighty and didn't seem to stand firmly behind his decisions.  Antonio and Dan face off in the final challenge and they both design beautiful spaces.  I think Dan deserves a show as well.  He has an online show where he designs children's rooms, but it's not really enough to showcase his talent. 

Surprisingly, Antonio didn't shine in the White Box Competition, but it was his only misstep.  Dan won the challenge, and I disagreed with the judges' decision.  His room was fascinating, just not aesthetically appealing to me.  In Episode 1, Dan worked on a dining room with Nathan that was fabulous!  Nathan did a graphic mural that was successful because it wrapped around several walls and the floor (Vern loves that) and then was tempered by some linear wood.

In my opinion, Nathan should have won the white box challenge.  For this challenge, the designers had to shop at a grocery store.  Nathan did the most amazing paint treatment with milk.  He also made a beautiful chandelier with orange slices!  Love it.  Nathan is extremely strong in Episodes 1 and 2, and then fails to impress after that.  Not sure if the kitchen challenge ruined his confidence.  The kitchen challenge is far too difficult - to the point of not being fair.  Perhaps Nathan will need to mature a little, I believe he was the youngest designer.  I'd love to see more of him in the future.

This is the room designed by Jenn.  Jenn really got the shaft.  She was sent home.  I love this room.  She called it Japanese Eco inspired.  She definitely has the green going on, and I love the upcycling with the Japanese labels. 
She's inspired me to want to experiment with making a collage of Japanese labels.
I love the repetition of mundane elements.  I think maybe the judges didn't like Jen's personality.  She seemed very shy.  There were several others who really deserved to go home.  Lonny - sorry to say because I really like her.  Her one big concept fell apart and she had nothing in her room.  Jason - failed to impress throughout the competition.  I did not see one impressive design from him, but he had compelling personality.  His white box was an ugly brown and yellow.  Ironically, Candice said it should have been brown and teal!  The colors Jen used!  Tashika was another one who should have gone home.  There was nothing she said or did that impressed, and she copied (poorly) Robb's alcove light from Season 3, I think that's criminal.  Jen, I loved your room and hope to see more of you!

Not a surprise that Antonio won this Season.  His show is called The Antonio Treatment.  It's rad, just the kind of show HGTV needs more of.  Not sure if there's going to be another season.  I hope so!

Season 5

Like I said, I discovered Design Star at Season 5.  I'm always late getting to trends.  I had never watched reality TV before, so I was shocked.  I could not believe the meanness!  I cried when designers were eliminated, even when I thought their designs warranted it.  I missed the clippy humor and grace of Clive.  I could not believe how mean the judges were and how designers (Nina) bullied each other. 

I have to admit, I liked Emily Henderson from the beginning.  I love her quirky personality, she's someone I'd love to be friends with.  Emily showed a lot of grace throughout the competition.  I also liked her kind of laid back approach.  I pegged her to win immediately.

As far as her white box goes - I know this goes against the popular opinions - but it was my favorite!!!  The designers had to shop at a Chinese market, and every one else's rooms looked too literal.  Emily's was the only one that might have had you guessing where she shopped.  I love the lamp, I love the sparseness of the room.  I even love the little banal vignette on the table.  And I think the art is really cool.  This is a room she designed for Michael, and given his love of repurposed, found items I thought it represented him pretty well.  Nina won this challenge, and did not deserve to win.  Her room looked like it was designed for a nine year old girl, not a man who loves to travel.  I actually thought Alex deserved to go home.  Alex did not impress me at all in the competition, except for - you guessed it - a mural he did for the firefighters.  Alex's execution was terrible in every competition and he never carried his weight.  But wouldn't you know it - he nailed every one of his hosting challenges.  I think TV is his medium, but his design needs improvement.  On the flipside, Michael is a design talent, with poor hosting ability.  For some reason he comes across insincere.  I think he can work on this, I hope we see more of him in the future.

It was not a surprise to me that Emily was the winner of Season 5. Emily's show is called Secrets from a Stylist, and though her style is very different than my own, I enjoy watching it.  Emily's blog is also a lot of fun too. 

Season 6

So here we are to the current season.  I still miss Clive.  Tanika needs a little work on her elocution.  I love the addition of David Bromstad as their mentor.  The judges must have read the blogs last year, they are being a little nicer.  There are so many likable designers this year - here's my run down.  Remember these are just my opinions and are to be taken with a grain of salt.  Feel free to disagree with me in the comments!

Cathy is the Nina of this season.  But the designers have learned from the previous seasons and they are not letting her get away with it.  Leslie is an absolute saint in Episode 1, Cathy is down right mean and Leslie lets it "in one ear and out the other."  Cathy's artifice is really getting in her way.  She's an emmy winning reporter and has that stiff reporter elocution that drives me crazy.  If I hear one more time that she's got a global perspective, I will vomit.  Honestly, honey, you are not the only person to have ever traveled.  And if I hear the judges say "great coffee table" one more time, I will again - uh - vomit.  So what - you can buy a coffee table!   Design and build a coffee table.  Maybe I'll be impressed.

Although, I must admit the coffee table Leslie bought in Episode 1 is amazing.  It's made of tires!  I love upcycled art.  At first I thought I wasn't going to like Leslie because she had been a cheerleader, but I do like her.  Believe it or not, she actually has a very understated, demure way about her.  I like Meg's personality, but not her style so much. Kelly kind of bores me (sorry).
This season for me, is all about the men.  I think Mark will go home soon, he's just not a fighter.  This is not a criticism, I actually like that about him.  Teams are going to be a problem for him.  Doug really tramples on him in Episode 3 and the design suffers greatly.  Doug is sent packing and deservedly so.  I'd like to see more individual challenges, but I suppose team challenges are a necessary time saver.  I'm not really interested in Kevin.  I was not as enamored with his White Box as the judges were, but I love his design in Episode 3.  I just don't think I would watch his show.  Maybe his hosting skills will improve over the season and he will change my mind.  Remember - it's much easier to criticize than to do what they are doing.  I could never compete on Design Star.  I have much respect for all of them!

I am really interested in Bret, Tyler and Karl right now.  Here's their white rooms.

This year the designers were standing by a graffiti-bombed building while they were given their instructions.  They were told they would be shopping at a restaurant supply warehouse.  This is the room Bret did.  Vern called it "bunker chic."  I think it's pretty rad, but I don't think the judges got the bombing reference.  I also really like how orderly it is.

This is Karl's room, and I kinda love it.  Karl won week one's challenge by painting a mural.  A mural which was successful because it was executed perfectly and made a small room look taller.  Genevieve said, "We already know Karl can paint, I was hoping to see a new super power."  Her criticism can be so informative, but she can also be really catty.  I actually love the Mondrian color blocking technique in this room, especially how it carries from the walls to the furniture.  (I recently wrote about my interest in color blocking, see previous post here.)  I would like to design a room with color blocks - instead of art - and then experiment with how different lighting affects the colors.  I also think this color palette is gorgeous.

The chandelier he made from to go cartons is gorgeous!!!  I want to make chandeliers!  I wish I had Karl's skills.
This room is designed by Tyler.  Mark won the challenge this week, and even though his piece was amazing, I disagreed with the judges.  In my opinion, Tyler is the winner of this competition hands down.  Tyler, very smartly, got rid of all the mundane furniture immediately.   His upcycled chair/light is made from water bottles.  It's graphic and has a green perspective.  I love that the room really packs a punch with a small amount of elements.  The chair was so strong, it needed to speak on its own without competition from too many elements.  This is what the judges call the "Big Wow Factor."   This is definitely a piece that should be in a gallery.  Great work Tyler!


I cried when they sent J home - I told you the show makes me cry every week.  I really wanted to see Cathy go home.  J was missing the Big Wow Factor.  Her big concept - a fire box was too small. And she totally winged her hosting challenge.  She was kind of laid back, like Emily.  Maybe HGTV doesn't need another Emily, just sayin'.  Don't get me wrong - I love Emily.   Meg's room was kinda bad, and I felt sorry for her when her table broke at the last minute.  I think her hosting saved her.  I do think J's floor is really pretty and I wish I knew more about how she executed it.

I'm absolutely fascinated by Tyler, Bret, and Karl.  I find all three of these guys extremely kind, smart, funny and very, very watchable.  Here are some photos from Episode 3 where Bret and Karl were teamed with Cathy.  Cathy tried to pull rank thinking she was superior, but luckily the guys didn't let her get away with it.  They showed a lot of moxie and I gotta give them props for doing it in a tactful way.

Bret designed this seating area in the mother-in-law suite and took a lot of flack for it.  David Bromstad hated the painting, but c'mon David, no one paints as well as you.  I actually dig it.  It reminds me of the Zara Hadid desk in the Novogratzes home.
What I love about Hadid's designs is they are just organic shapes with no historical time reference.  Bret's art work reminds me of that.
I think Bret would have done well to ditch the too small scale furniture and get an organic bench.  A bench would function well as a landing strip, and as place to take off your shoes.  Something like this one by Hadid would have worked very well.  Maybe her pieces are too pricey for HGTV, but you get the idea.  C'mon Bret bring on the rock 'n roll!  We want to see more of you.  You are likable and industrial chic is a style we are all interested in at the moment.

Turns out Karl does indeed show another super power in Episode 3.  How's this for another super power - for the first time in Design Star history, Karl completed a tile project!  He broke the tiles, designed and executed this stunning back splash.  Karl is my favorite and my prediction for winner.  He's smart, humble and kind, he's a great designer and can execute his plans.  Remember, you heard it here first.  Go Karl!

I really had a lot of fun, writing this post.  I hope you enjoyed it as well and would love to hear your opinions.  What about you dear readers, who is your favorite designer?  Are you hooked on the show too?  When are some of the times you have disagreed with the judges?  Who would you like to see more of?

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