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.

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