Sunday, November 18, 2007

The best Charleston firms (chapter one)

I've been meaning for a while to intersperse a list of my favorite Charleston firms with my regular blogs. (This assumes, of course, that I actually write some regular blogs, a challenge lately since business is still--happily--booming! I know, excuses... )

Rather than put it off any longer, I'm going to take the plunge and name my first favorite firm. I should note that the favorite firms won't be listed in any particular order.

It will be no surprise to those who know me that Stella Nova Spa Salon comes in at number one in the salon category. Before any of those people start groaning too loudly, let me assure one and all that they'd genuinely be number one on my salon list whether I did any work for Stella Nova or not... and you'll see why in a moment. (Those who know me also know I'm honest, maybe too much so! I'm not going to recommend every client I have here; I'll only recommend the ones I've used as a customer and have truly enjoyed.)

I've always gone to reputable salons, and I've had some lovely stylists. Unfortunately, though, perhaps because I'd always pre-reserve my appointments on Saturdays, as time went on I almost inevitably would arrive on time for my appointment only to find that someone had booked my stylist as the sole service provider for an entire wedding party... during my appointment. If I was lucky, she'd only be trying to do one other person at the same time as me, but from spring to fall I was often shunted aside or stuck under a dryer in a corner with a magazine to read, hoping I would be remembered before my (processing) hair started falling out. My stylist would always be kindly apologetic and completely stressed.

Then I had my first appointment at Stella Nova's West Ashley location, one of its newest. I walked in, and rather than being shunted off to a waiting area I was whisked to my stylist's chair, where I was the sole focus of his attention for the duration of my visit. About 20 minutes into my appointment, the stylist next to us offered me some wine, and when I accepted (hardly believing my luck), delivered my order with panache. I was not charged for this, nor would I have been for the hot tea, chilled water, or snacks waiting invitingly next to a vase bursting with fresh roses in the waiting area. As I sipped, my stylist highlighted my hair exactly as I had asked while offering me tips on the best way to care for my hair after my visit, and other stylists took interest as well, discussing the best colors for my complexion. The salon area was bright, clean, streamlined, and perfectly balanced in terms of design; club music pulsed with energy in the background; and the sunny view (every wall is filled with windows from floor to ceiling) was green and lovely.

My stylist, Marty Proctor, later moved to Birmingham (alas!), though the stylist who offered me wine, Jack Duane, is still there and regularly gives my husband the best haircuts he has ever had. I've since had my hair done regularly by both Kate Grabowski and Tasha Mattox, and both have been absolutely lovely. Tasha is always on the cutting edge of fashion, and Kate is thoroughly experienced, having owned her own salon in the past. Kate makes me want to melt during every appointment at the shampoo bowl; after she works shampoo through my hair, she uses the warm water and suds to wonderful effect as she delivers the perfect neck massage. Aaaahh.

From harried stylists and dark, forgotten corners to wine and neck massages... I can never go back to the old days! Stella Nova has definitely earned its spot on my favorites list.

If you're thinking of partaking in the same delights, don't be afraid to ask Lisa Rickel, the extraordinary manager at the West Ashley location, who would be the best stylist for you. It's very difficult to go wrong with any stylist there, but each one truly excels in different areas. Lisa is unfailingly honest about their individual areas of excellence.

If you're closer to downtown, ask Kalena Doo for the best stylist for you; if you're closer to Mount Pleasant, ask Lesli Antley; and if you're closer to Summerville, ask Margie Sutton. If you can't reach one of them, the customer care specialists who staff the front desk usually have a good handle on this as well; just ask to speak to the most senior customer care specialist present. You can find phone numbers, directions, and addresses (and can usually find my latest ad handiwork on the home page) by clicking on the "contact us" link at

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Wine Awhile: I *did* feel better

Patrick and I attended the "soft" opening of new wine shop Wine Awhile last night, and we did not come away disappointed!

Located in a fairly swanky new shopping center just off Highway 71 on Highway 41 in Mount Pleasant, the smallish store was full of good company and delightful surprises, from the two modern yet highly comfortable easy chairs to the clean, zingy interior design that was a delight to this designer's eye. (Kudos, by the way, to designer Steven Lacoursiere for everything from the logo and store sign to the business cards and retail tags, all very well done.) Patrick was immediately drawn to the specialty beer section---he came away with a devilish three-pack of Belgian ale, made by monks, called "Satan"---and owner and chief wine taster Anthony Pugh was on hand with personalized wine advice.

I asked for a jammy Cabernet/Shiraz mix, the likes of which I've been trying to find since dining with friends and family at a jazzy Omaha seafood restaurant nearly a decade ago, accompanied by three bottles of the same. I came away with a bottle of Padthaway Parson's Flat, a Shiraz/Cabernet blend from Australia priced just under $20 that I'm eager to try.

Other highlights, besides the truly delicious catering: a silver tabletop wine rack with a distinctly Scandinavian flavor (tempting...), a sake section (even more tempting...), and three clever herb/spice blends designed to heighten your food and wine pairings; rub the chive-dappled, peppery Cabernet blend, for instance, into beef.

This was just the "soft" opening so I imagine the next time Patrick and I stop by there will be even more to browse and savor. A new table will adorn the space between the two comfortable chairs, and Anthony plans to boost the shop's educational offerings, so you'll be able to find out even more about that wine you're contemplating. I'd love to see the wine racks supplemented with a few decanters too, but no matter what type of new items arrive, it's clear from Anthony and Co.'s taste that it will be a good thing.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Another reason I enjoy operating a design business in Charleston

Besides the endless vistas across water (just the drive across the James Island Connector to the peninsula makes it all worthwhile), the nearly winter-free climate, my choice of dozens of atmospheric, tasty eateries, the French Quarter Art Walk, a historic downtown like none other in the nation...

Okay, enough of that, you may be saying. Right.

I've been holding onto an issue of the Charleston Regional Business Journal almost since I wrote my last blog entry, which was shamefully long ago. It centers on law firms, but I saw much in the article that's applicable to me as an entrepreneur and business professional as well as a graphic designer.

Written by Kathleen Dayton, it's headlined, "As market expands, some law firms choosing to stay small."

It begins, "First there were boutiques: small stores focused on specialty merchandise. Then boutique hotels came along; smaller, more intimate versions of the giant flagships but with the same upscale flair."

Call me a boutique kind of girl. Every word in that paragraph rolls off my tongue with ease and enthusiasm: small, intimate, upscale, flair.

The concept applies to designers as well as it does hotels and law firms. Dayton goes on to say, "...[S]ome say there is something about Charleston that is downright boutique-y."

They're right.

"'I would say one of the reasons Charleston supports so many small firms is that the bar and the local lawyers are very supportive of each other,' said J. Rutledge Young III, a partner with Brian C. Duffy in the newly formed practice Duffy & Young LLC.

"Many Charleston lawyers want to help their clients find the right type of lawyer, as opposed to taking every client they can possibly get, Young said.

"'I think that's unique to Charleston,' he said."

His partner is later quoted in the article. "[Duffy] said he senses a different atmosphere surrounding the legal profession in Charleston. 'I would say it is the respect for the lawyers in this bar. It is a much more professional environment, and it makes it a more enjoyable practice.'"

At first glance, the average reader might think this a lot of blather, staged for the benefit of a local reporter and the potential PR value, and maybe it is; who knows? I can't speak for the legal profession. I can speak for myself, though... and with very few exceptions, for me the concept is true.

It's seldom I find a cold shoulder inside Charleston's marketing profession, even when it comes down to other firms offering graphic design. Probably my closest "competitor" (if I were to think of things so coldly) at the moment and I enjoy a warm relationship, have worked together on one client project so far, and are currently serving together on a committee for the local AMA chapter. She has referred at least one party to me; I've referred potential clients to others when I feel I'm not the right designer for them and feel certain I will soon be returning the favor to her. I respect and enjoy her company and her talent, and we both end up with a great deal more by sharing than we do fighting.

I think of an old friend who works in the upper King design district in the commercial furniture business (and some stunning commercial furniture at that!). Maggie purchased a sporty little scooter when she and her colleagues first relocated to their upper King location, and could be seen regularly scooting around to neighboring businesses and shops, sometimes just to chat, sometimes for a second opinion on a thorny issue, sometimes to help. "We all support each other," she said at the time, and there was a light behind her eyes and smile.

But before I go on too long sounding like Pollyanna, I'm not saying we're all handing each other every bit of potential business that comes along. We're each thriving, though, and the idea that there's enough business to go around is much more attractive to me than a scarcity mentality. Suffice it to say that it's much more enjoyable working in a city where the professional atmosphere is "boutique-y." Here's to everyone who makes it so!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Design for tea lovers

As a tea drinker in America I'm a member of a distinct minority, though our numbers, I think, have been growing. While coffee is pretty much assured everywhere in the nation, I still have to bring tea with me to many meetings and conferences and hunt down a member of the staff to procure a cup of hot water in which to steep the tea.

At home or the office, though, I'm free to drink as much tea as I like. For Christmas my husband purchased a very zen little teapot that brews two cups of loose tea for me (from his all-time-favorite coffeehouse, The Mill in Lincoln, Nebraska), but in my online travels today I ran across another perfect mix of product design and practicality: the tea stick.

The company's web site describes it as, "A contemplative toy that gently rocks as it infuses clouds of flavor before your eyes. This is what happens when designers and connoisseurs meet for tea." Further delving led me to the creators: to my delight, not a nameless manufacturer but Gamil Design, a product and (fellow) graphic design firm out of Raleigh, just over four hours north of here.

It looks like their tea stick has been enjoying some substantial buzz, from the likes of Metropolitan Home ("a sleek, high-grade stainless-steel unit that also acts as measure and container") to a few of the experts in the far east: The China Times' living section. (Now, that isn't bad. When some major metropolitan US newspaper reviews a cowboy hat designed halfway across the world, that little foreign firm will be approaching Gamila's feat.)

It appears that Gamil has won at least one award for it, too, from The Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design.

So, kudos and admiration from a design colleague in Charleston, South Carolina... and where can I get one?? I know of a cool little burgeoning design district on upper King Street that absolutely should carry it...

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A walk down Charleston's design district

I've missed another weekend of posting, but better late than never! Things have been crazy busy here; I've taken on my first employee and am in the process of rebranding my graphic design business to reflect that it's transitioning from a single practitioner operation to a firm. In a few weeks it should all be sorted out, but it's meant about 12/7 (as opposed to 24/7--mercy) for the past several days!

I made myself break away from the desk on Thursday evening, though, for the much-anticipated (at least by me) spring design walk on upper King. For those who don't live in Charleston, King Street is a rather cosmopolitan shopping boulevard in historic downtown Charleston; CNN has called it the "Rodeo Drive of the Southeast". A bit north of Calhoun Street (a major downtown thoroughfare), though, King Street has seemed rather downtrodden in the past. During the past few years there has been a revival of sorts, with lofts and hip new restaurants going in... and even better for the likes of someone like me, design shops of various stripes: lighting, furniture, home decor, commercial decor, etc. Now it's quickly becoming known as Charleston's design district.

(For more on the revitalization of upper King, read Caroline Fossi's tidy, very good article in the Post & Courier. Unfortunately I believe the Post & Courier now charges for its archived stories, but you may be able to locate the article elsewhere.)

Likely based on the highly successful French Quarter Art Walk a bit to the south on Charleston's peninsula, the design walk opened the shops up to attendees without any unwanted sales pressure, whether real or imagined, accompanied by some rather upscale refreshments... very nicely done! No plastic wine glasses here.

So, without further ado, here are some of my favorite items from the evening...

Interior design shop Dwelling made the top of my list Thursday evening. It's hard to choose favorites here, but the sight that greeted my delighted eye as I first entered the shop is to the right: a modern little living room vignette. Coffee tables can often be boring but this one, with its Asian-inspired curves and dark lines, is pure elegance. I'm confident Carisa (Bravo's Top Design) would love the retro green pillows.

Another from Dwelling: this bedroom vignette was *much* more striking in person. It has all the right elements, which can be distilled down to two words: comfort and style. I especially liked the padded headboard and stainless steel desk lamp used on the bedside table.

Just one more from Dwelling! Unlike the bedroom above, it's not high on comfort... but it's definitely high on style. I imagine it can be difficult to pull off the equivalent of a bus stop bench with flair, but this designer has done it. I'd love to have that in my bedroom or foyer.

This scene, from restaurant Chai's Tapas, wasn't on the design walk's list of participating venues, and indeed Patrick shot this picture through a wrought iron gate/fence since the restaurant was closed at the time, but the fountain and modern courtyard decor caught our eye as we walked by. The camera angle (necessitated by the fence) perhaps do it justice, but in person it was quite striking.

Two displays of teas caught my eye at the French Hare. ( Elegantly designed, each silken tea bag was housed in a paper pyramid stretched tall, with a single paper leaf atop a flexible wire stem extending from the tip. Each pyramid even had its own little square ceramic serving platters shaped perfectly to its base. I was sorely tempted and may go back for these.

I'm hoping I have the name of the shop right in this case, since we came home with quite a collection of photos and only our memories to match them up with the proper locales... but I believe this sophisticated little table set for two resides in the rear of Lesesne. ( The wood and the craftsmanship of the table itself was stunning.

Besides memories of all the eye candy and a determination to come back to many of the shops on a more regular basis, strangely enough I came home with a hefty bar book from Maine Cottage. ( Can't wait to try out some of those recipes! Though I don't take time away from my business often enough to indulge, an interesting cocktail is one of my favorite things. When my schedule becomes sane again (stop laughing), it's off to Total Wine for whatever ingredients I'm missing.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Top Design's top elements (finale)

With the way the show was building, I honestly expected the judges to choose Carisa in the white room. Words like "exuberant" and "bold" were used to describe her style, while in a rare and brief moment, Matt was demoted to a simply "a decorator."

And in this, the final episode, Matt's quiet arrogance built up a head of steam and became just a bit too much for this designer. I said earlier that I felt Matt would work well with clients; if he takes this kind of attitude, though, his welcome could wear thin quickly. Of course, the producers of the show are able to pick and choose from reams of footage and perhaps they were playing up the drama; maybe they asked him leading questions or baited him, one can never know.

But onto the actual designs!


As elegant as ever, it's difficult for me to quibble with Matt's loft. The furniture was pristine, I adored the chocolate browns and the very occasional accents of blue, and the master bedroom was spare elegance itself, clean and inviting. The chandelier and aubergine walls in the bathroom were where Matt took his boldest risks, and they paid off.

The only thing possible detraction is that it is not very loft-like; Matt seemed to try his best to turn it into a fairly modern house in the suburbs, but that's just a matter of style. Some will gravitate toward urban loft living, some will gravitate toward traditional suburban living.

Bottom line: I'd live in this loft in a New York second.


Carisa showed a surprising amount of (a) affection toward Carl and (b) generosity and compassion in this episode, with the exception of the decidedly uncomfortable moment during which she walked off cursing from a threesome of carpenters who had just busted their rears for her. But again, the producers will show what the producers will show...

I admired Carisa’s bold use of red, paired with black and white (many times in the form of a grid) in her loft. The corkboard wall and dining table-slash-ping pong table were very cool, and she surprised and delighted the judges with her round, sunken bed. I noted she chose the same dining set for one of the rooms that Andrea had utilized in her chef’s room, which makes me wonder how extensive the Pacific Design Center really is (they always make it look huge on the show, but in the chef’s room episode there were only four designers and yet Carisa could not find a matching set of chairs that had not been taken except for patio chairs) but I can’t blame her: it’s a striking set. I liked the black shelves besides the table but do wish she had filled it a little more with accessories. My own style is more minimal than Carisa’s natural style, but this was too minimal even for me.

The green shade of the bathroom was risky and striking, if a little harsh, but the mirror would have driven me crazy every time I looked at it. It’s nice as a piece of art, but as a mirror when you’re trying to get ready in the morning, it would be a cruel joke.

I came away from the entire Top Design show with an important lesson (thanks, Todd Oldham!): always let your natural style shine through. So often on these reality shows, contestants seem to be chosen on the strength of their personal style, but the judges quickly become bored with it and then want them to branch out into what are truthfully their weaker areas, and that’s not always fair. These judges didn’t seem to want that; they did seek to shore up weaker areas and they did want to see risks taken, but they applauded each contestant’s natural style and missed it when it wasn’t there.

When I look back at all of Matt’s rooms (at least, those where his voice is evident enough; in some of the group challenges it’s not), I see his signature elegance carried all the way through, and it became even stronger in the end. He knows his style and as a practicing designer, if he chooses his market/niche to match, he’ll be in a very strong business position. This is a good reminder for me as a graphic designer as well.

(Apologies for the late date of this post; due to severe storms we lost power over the weekend when I normally post, and it took down not only our cable modem but that of many others, so that there was a long waiting list for a replacement. Life without internet and email = life in the dark ages, ugh.)

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Top Design's top elements (episode 9)

When the designers entered the white room this week, for once I didn't have any idea who the judges were going to send home.

Two of the three rooms this week were very beige; the remaining selection featured walls slathered in bright white. With the exception of Carl's textured brick wall, there was little pattern other than in small doses.

Don't get me wrong; I actually love beiges and taupes as warm yet neutral background colors in interior design and much prefer a smooth, sleek wall devoid of pattern to wallpaper... and I'm not afraid to admit I was glad to see Matt stay away from the high-contrast striped walls of his chosen inspiration room. The confluence of neutrals just didn't provide the judges with a whole lot of variety. Of the three, Carisa's room stood out the most, while Matt's and Andrea's might have appeared in the same house or article.

I didn't have a strong favorite. Matt's natural style, as usual, was closest to mine, but I didn't see much of a connection between it and his inspiration room. Carisa's was boldest, but the furthest outside my natural style and so difficult to judge; one of the features the judges loved the most, too, was her carpenter's idea rather than her own.


Andrea, a hard worker who has shown consistently good taste, made it hard on herself by choosing an inspiration room with tall, narrow dimensions, despite the long, horizontal dimensions of her blank space. It would have been hard for any designer to meet that sort of challenge. What would I have done? I don't know if it would be possible within the time constraints of the challenge (though I think that about nearly everything these designers do), but perhaps she might have added two walls to make three narrower rooms rather than one long one.

As it was, her very well-done windows were spaced much too far apart, and the guest judge was spot on: all her furniture was on the same horizontal plane. She also spent a great deal of time on what I thought was a creative idea but ended up looking like a rather hokey touch (though the judges did like it): embroidered baseboards painted a dingy hue rather than matching the striking and elegant molding around the windows. Her artwork on the right wall didn't seem to relate to her inspiration room at all, and the plant and pot in the left-hand corner seemed too small or otherwise somehow out of place.
Interior designer Linda Merrill, who also covers Top Design in her blog, made an observation that was right on: "The windows might have served this purpose, but she needed a big bold cornice molding around the ceiling to really pull it together." Without that the room seems unfinished.

On the other hand, the tall windows themselves were perfection, the console against the left wall in right on in terms of the inspiration room, the shades of the wall and floor were elegant and sophisticated, and aside from the lack of height differences, the furniture was right on. I also liked the artwork along the back wall and wish she would have replaced the large artwork piece of the right wall with those. Though the room did not seem like a cohesive whole overall, the marks of excellent taste were present here and there.

When Andrea was sent packing, I was sad to see her go. She would have made a formidable opponent against Matt in the last round.


Many viewers don't like Carisa, but this seems to be their personal reaction to her, which I lack. She doesn't annoy me though I think it is essential that she address her eye-rolling habit, a passive-aggressive mannerism that could hold her back professionally. I don't think she even realizes she does it, and it was painful to see her scramble when the judges called her on it a few episodes back.

As mentioned, Carisa's chosen inspiration room is the furthest from my own taste so it's difficult for me to judge, and I can claim very little expertise here, even as a graphic designer.

What I liked: the artwork (nicely lit, as the judges pointed out), the shades used (just not in the right places/proportions for me), the spunk, the uniqueness of the room as compared to the other two designers, and that Carisa knows her own taste and style. This room seems the most cohesive of the three.

What I didn't like: the Dr. Suess fireplace flue, the stark white walls, the stark laminate blacks, and the slabs and plastic nature of the furniture that seem to boast all the comfort of sitting on cement.

All in all, the high contrast, the low comfort level, the starkness of the main colors, and the self-congratulatory artsiness of the room combine to shout "uninviting!" and if I came across such a room in an upscale establishment of some sort, I'd want to run away. This, however, goes for both the inspiration room and Carisa's room, and is a matter of personal preference and taste, not skill.


Matt, as ever, proves himself an elegant designer. The inspiration room aside (which his room does not much resemble), his room oozes a smooth sophistication that I love, and is definitely the one where I'd be most at home. The curtains are both cultured and graceful, the chairs flanking them are well-placed, and I also adored the placement of the furniture in the center of the room, lending the room a museum-exhibit-type quality. I loved the almost Asian simplicity of the bordered rug and the lighting, and to me the dark woods and black ink of the artwork versus the white molding and light upholstery on the daybed added just the right amount of contrast to the room.

I do wish he had chosen a different stain or paint for the floor. It was absolutely gorgeous going in; the sort of drab "old suburban back deck" shade it ended up with just did not do it justice. Kudos to Goil's carpenter for stepping in on short notice, though, and to Matt for being game to work with another carpenter after he had become accustomed to relying on Ed.

Unlike the judges, I would have loved to see the artwork hung with cables from the rod, and like them I think the right wall begs for its missing mirror. It's a shame Matt wasn't able to squeeze everything in during the time allowed, but I'm consistently amazed at how much the designers are able to squeeze in during each challenge, regardless! How they manage to start the last 15 minutes with no furniture or accessories installed at all and end with a finished room is nothing short of a miracle.

As a side note, Margaret notes in her blog, "Matt chose our April 2006 cover, which features a bedroom in Amy and Todd Hase’s château in the Normandy countryside, and he seemed quite miserable that he didn’t have a château-size budget to shop with." Matt's snob factor unfortunately did rise in this episode; every day on HGTV designers are scrambling for dramatic makeovers on a $500 or $1,000 budget, and Matt was seen turning up his nose at $7,500. Carisa (who was in the very same boat) managed to find her materials cheerfully enough. On the other hand, this was probably one of the most difficult challenges to take on without the resources of the PDC, and it had to be difficult to find furniture in an unfamiliar city, much less furniture on a budget. I can definitely sympathize with Matt's plight, and at least he knows his market: those who have much, much more than $7,500 to spend per room. There's nothing wrong with knowing your market and sticking to it; in fact, it's very smart.

Congratulations to Matt and Carisa! Andrea, meanwhile, gained many admirers during her tenure on the show (see the title of the blog Project: Top Design; it's just one word, all in caps, "NOOOOOOOO!!!"), and I am certain business will be plentiful for a good while as a result.

I'm on pins and needles for the final episode. Will Carisa surprise us all by toppling Matt, or will Matt breeze through his final challenge with his usual aplomb? I'll be joining design fans everywhere next Wednesday when I'm glued to the television.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Top Design's top elements (episode 8)

This Wednesday I was excited to see the four remaining designers challenged to create an upscale hotel room.

When I travel, this type of hotel is where I stay... and those who say travelers are only concerned about clean sheets and a lock on the door are sadly mistaken in my case. Before I make reservations I pore over the web sites of every hotel available (four stars and up), and if the rooms don't cut it aesthetically, they're off the list. Everyone's looking for something different, of course; I look for rooms that appeal to my own design aesthetic---clean, simple, and upscale---and heavenly bed linens you can sink into.

The addition of the four elements (earth, fire, air, and water) was a nice way to mix things up in this challenge, too.

Matt consistently gets it right, and his room was lovely, but Carisa's was a surprise hit.


Her finished design struck me as almost feng shui-inspired. The blues she chose ranged from lively to soothing, and divided by dramatic black slats, popped... but paired with the serene white curtain wall, white bedding, platform bed, dark woods, white upholstery, white towels folded on the table, and wooden floor, it offered a unique mix of drama and a spa-like atmosphere. And though I could have done without the quirky dog statue its proportions were right, and the tall, colored glass bottles and the lamps chosen were all nice touches.

The only real ding I'd give it is that middle screen: the idea is neat, but the execution is a little heavy. You don't want to feel like you're in jail while lying in bed.

Carisa seems to get a bad rap with viewers and the judges alike, and I have the idea Carl really hates life while working with her, but she doesn't strike me so badly. I'd say she's just out there trying to make her own way, and she's done an excellent job with this room.


Matt's style sense, as ever, is right on here. He started out well, tipping and gazing at some bottled water for inspiration. In the hands of a lesser designer, a water-inspired room might have waterfalls, water droplet light fixtures, yadda... but Matt focused on the idea of clean clarity instead, painting his walls in the palest of blues and pairing it generously with white. His floor lamp selection was perfect, and the mirrored bedside tables continued that theme. His screen (between bed and seating area) was minimal and light, and though the judges didn't care for the khaki rug, it offers a nice grounding element. He took a design risk with the low wainscoting and it paid off: the judges loved the vertical feel to the room. I could easily stay in this hotel room for days or weeks.

Matt's personality is quiet but confident, and until now has tended not to offend anyone, though he tended a bit toward the arrogant in this last episode. He strikes me as more versatile than the other three, with the possible exception of Andrea, and I'd bet he work wells with his clients.


Andrea was off her game this week. I can sympathize; to an extent a designer can operate outside his or her natural style and areas of strength, but it never feels natural to them, and if they're not fortunate the end result can appear stilted or forced. In my own work (graphic design) it's good to work with clients whose styles and demands are outside my own natural style, because it causes me to stretch and do things I might not otherwise, but my ideal client has found me because s/he has seen my style and wants that same look or mood for his/her project. That's not to say that every project done within my natural style will look exactly the same; to me that would be a travesty, but there is much to say for using someone's strengths to advantage rather than asking a right-handed person to write with their left hand, so to speak.

Despite this, Andrea turned in at least a decent performance, and she impressed me with her hard work: how many other designers were up at 4 a.m. working on their design?


One of the innovators, with valuable experience in architecture, Goil strikes me as one of the most honest, nice personalities on the show.

I have my quibbles with him design-wise, chief of which is his dogged use of stark white walls (think of those years living in a rented property where the landlord wouldn't let you paint the walls) paired with brightly colored stripes (hearkening back to poorly funded college dorms everywhere...ack!). The padded stripe he used this time, while utilizing a gorgeous montage of colors, reminded me of handicapped-accessible hospital hallways, alas. If he would have only painted the rest of the walls in a deep red or burgundy, at least...

The judges call it "not designing a complete room/a room people want to be in" and the above, I think, is at the heart of the problem. He has brilliant ideas, though, from his striking beach cabana structure to his Bacardi Limon chandelier idea, and when he selected the arching bronze sculpture at the beginning of this project my heart rose. Because the judges on these types of shows tend to reward innovation, from the beginning of Top Design I thought he'd make it to the top three.

He's young, though, and his design style has decades to mature: over time I think he'll marry his ideas and design elements into a more cohesive style. For his personality and innovation alone I'd love to have him on my own project. I hope his participation on the show brings him greatly increased success. May his phone be ringing off the hook.

All images are courtesy of