Tuesday was Day Two of my HGTV Celebrity Phone Tour and this time I was speaking with Candice Olson, star of HGTV’s Divine Design and Design Star. Or rather, I was laughing with Candice Olson, star of HGTV’s Divine Design and Design Star. So much so, I can barely understand my recording of the conversation at times. Part of it is this loud, raucous laugh I have (my best friend at age five couldn’t invite me to her house because her mother said *in whining, bitchy-sounding voice* “she laughs too loud!”) and part of it is…she’s just pretty freakin’ hi-larious. And even though I’d hoped to find out some interesting information that no one else might get out of the Design Star judges, the last thing I expected this stunning, refined, polished (albeit funny) woman to open up about…would be boobs. And nudity.

But before you start putting the cart before the horse and think it was all just about having virtual pillow fights and talking about our periods, we did discuss the topic at hand, which is her show, Divine Design, and the upcoming season of Design Star. (Some of these questions are questions I asked each of the judges, so my apologies if you thought I was going to be all 100% original in my question-asking. I think the answers are unique enough to warrant the duplication.)

Fork It Over
When my mom and I talk about episodes of Divine Design, we’re very curious about the budgets…and who pays. We treat the show just exactly like the real world except that once the client gives us their money, they don’t get any input into the design. (Sign me up for that gig!) So from a design perspective, it’s heaven. But it’s wrecked me for life, because I can’t really go back and do that “what do you think of this lamp and what do you think of that lamp” kind of thing! When we first meet the client we sit down and I introduce myself and right away say, “What do we have for a budget?” These are real people who are ready to renovate, so they have a budget in place. Sometimes it’s a big budget, sometimes it’s a little budget. You can always see when it’s a little budget because you’ll notice a tear in the corner of my eye during those close-ups…

(Laughing.) And one of the toughest parts is that sometimes people will say, “I’m thinking my budget will be ‘x’” and they’ll ask for a whole bunch of custom items. My fees are included and there are some trade discounts that we’ll pass on. We price it out, it’s wa-a-a-y more money than what they expected, we phone them, they keel over dead, they revive themselves, and then just like in the real world, we squeeze and manipulate the budget. But we’re doing that without them knowing what they’re getting. And people just don’t want to give you money when they don’t know what it’s for! (Note to Divine Design clients: Just give her your money. You know it’s going to be for the best so just let it go-o-o.)

Sometimes Design Star finalists are required to incorporate some wacky stuff into their designs. What’s the craziest thing a client has asked you to leave in a room? I had a couple who, the fellow had a toy train collection and he wanted that worked into the perimeter of their family room, and it was just kind of a weird Peter Pan Syndrome thing going on. That one was a real challenge! I’d heard that they split up and I thought, you know what? That was not a hit with the wife. (Marriage derailed. News at 11.)

If we were going to rewind about fifteen years ago, would you have tried out for Design Star? It would’ve been a great way to sort of fast forward fifteen years! When I was hearing the contestants grunting and groaning about how horrible it was, I thought, well, you’re going to get something that myself, Vern, and Genevieve have worked for for upwards of fifteen years! So it’s a lot of pain–but for a quick gain–whereas I think the three of us have really put in our time. I can say that as a bitter old woman now!

How old are you, if you don’t mind me asking? I’m 44. On Design Star, the lighting was just so incredible. It filled in all the wrinkles and made me look like I had cleavage and everything, so I loved it, loved that whole production! And believe me, I have lots of wrinkles and no cleavage! (No, I did not tease you. Be patient! She will seriously talk about boobs in a little while.)

Attention, K-Mart Shoppers
I actually auditioned for BravoTV’s and while I was hanging out, a designer from Denver was talking trash about how the previous season they’d made the designers shop at Target and how unrealistic that was. Do you agree with that or are there some places you shop that are more low-end?Top Design Well I’d love to talk to her now and see if she’s still in business!

Oh t-r-u-u-e! That’s a good point! I started out on my own during the last recession. I think in times like these when people are really tightening their purse strings, you have to be able to give your clients a good bang for their buck and that’s when big stores like Target and the Home Depots and Lowe’s of the world really come in handy because you can’t blow that budget on high-end everything. So no, I don’t think it’s unrealistic at all. A big chunk of our budget shopping comes from Home Depot and Lowe’s–and Ikea, we use a LOT. But we make it look like something that’s not out of a box. We’ll personalize with wallpapers and trims to give that sort of high-end, custom look without that high-end, custom price tag. You know, that was my calling-card back in the last recession.

Absolutely. I think that’s why I’ve stayed so busy. Well, for sure. And it’s funny, on Design Star, there were incredible challenges where I’m sure that some of the contestants would’ve wished they could’ve been shopping at Target! There is a great challenge where they’re sent off to the grocery store. (Wha? A Project Runway ripoff?) So Target would’ve been a dream at that point! I thought that was really great, that everything that they needed to do or use for this room, they had to get from the grocery store. (I’d think it was great too if I hadn’t already seen it on Project Runway. Twice.)

And I’m sure that looked real good after about six days. Yeah, it’s not Smell-O-Vision!

You seem like such a nice person on Divine Design. Are you worried about how your fans will react to seeing yo
u being critical on camera?
That was a real tough part for me. Well, it was and it wasn’t. What I loved about this group for Design Star was that they just really all had design chops. (As you know, I think that’s debatable.) They all come from a design background, so they are all familiar with constructive criticism. You know, I’m not swearing and cursing like I do on my show! There’s hours and hours of footage that they can’t even put on the air! (Swearing and cursing? Candice?)

I’m shocked! Oh, you have no idea. There’s lots of swearing and nudity, but…

(Laughing.) Oh–that’s my headline! You know, that’s what makes the day go by!

Well, speaking of nudity (which makes me think of hot guys), what happened to Hunky Paul? (Paul Daly, the original lead carpenter, whose level of hotness—in my opinion—is marginal.) Yeah, well, it’s funny how he got that nickname. When we were putting together the crew, some were guys I’d worked with forever and some of the guys were new, but none of them were actors. It was an era of all these hunky carpenters on TV, so Paul–being your regular Joe Blow carpenter–I just started calling him that, thinking the guys with the union would give him a hard time. It went right to his head and I had no idea how much until his wife, Tina, phoned me and said, “what are you doing to my husband?” And I’m thinking, what could you possibly be referring to? (Laughing.) And she said, “no, you don’t understand. He’s going for pedicures and he’s bought himself the Ab Master!” But we had these guys a few days out of the week from the union and the unions were needing him back on a gig, so that’s why we have Lorne (Hogan) now. Then our sewer (sewing specialist Edmond Joseph) left for love and went to Chicago. (Here’s where I can almost hear the gears grinding to a halt as Candice realizes I’ve accidentally implied that there was a connection between nudity and the disappearance of Hunky Paul.) But neither has appeared nude on the show…in any of the parts that we aired. But everybody else has at some point in time! *Gasp! Clutch pearls.* And that’s just a little wrap reel that we play at the end of the season! (HGTV After Dark!)

The Virtues of Bark Brown
A designer friend and I think we’ve gotten more creative since we’ve had kids. Do you think you’ve experienced the same phenomena? Um, the fact that I have a poo-brown sofa? Don’t read into that! I like to call it “bark brown.”

Nice! Yeah, it hides a lot of sins! I mean, I had kids late—I had my first at 39 and my second at 41 and they are the number one influences–along with the dog and the two cats–in the decisions that are made in our household, for sure.

If you couldn’t design your own living space, who would you hire for the job? (My answer? Candice Olson.) Outside of design, the thing that I love to do is laugh, and you can see that on our show. If we could only air our outtakes, you’d really see it there! The designer that really combines those is Philippe Starck. I can’t imagine that the house would be all that liveable, but I do like the idea that everything he does has this real whimsical sense of humor to it. Is it a faucet? It looks like a little dingo dog! There’s just this real sense of fun and an Alice in Wonderland quality. I’d love to see what he would do if I said, “Yeah, and I’ve got two toddlers. Make that work! With the poo-brown sofa!” I mean, bark. Bark brown.

Bark, or barf? Fawn. We’ll call it fawn!

Describe the first time you were recognized by a stranger. Oh, that was very strange. Well, the first time, here in Toronto (“T’ranno,” in Olson’s Canadian accent), There was this really beautiful wine store and it was right around the corner from where we lived. Late one night, I had the fireplace going, I was already in my little fuzzy flannel hockey pajamas and I thought, I’ll just throw on my slippers and walk around the corner. Somebody recognized me in my pajamas at the liquor store, so I’m sure that was a great story! ”Guess who I saw in her pajamas at the liquor store!” But then in the States, I think I was at O’Hare, going through security. This woman just went a little wacky and went running through security—post 9/11—so, it didn’t go well for her! I was a little further along in the security process than she was and she wound up being taken back for a talking-to behind some bullet-proof glass! (I hope they put that lady on the no-fly list, ’cause she crazy.)

Do you consider your current residence your dream home? No! I’m married to a builder, which means that we do everyone else’s dream home except for ours. We refinished some floors about five years ago and all I want for Christmas is the baseboard trim put back on in our dining room! That’s how little gets done around our house! We have a beautiful lot on a golf course with a great view and to make the house really work, we just need to do a major reno. If we stay put, we’ll make our dream home, but that’s definitely to come. We’re still in the business of making other people’s dreams come true! When you’re in the business, people always think, “oh, you guys must have all the bases covered,” but it’s an interesting scenario.

Well, I definitely face that myself, but it’s interesting to see that everybody kind of deals with that. (Even Candice Freakin’ Olson!) I wouldn’t have time! Honestly, it’s crazy. If Philippe Starck reads your blog, then please. Call me. Anybody! (I would offer, Candice, but geez, the PRESSURE!)

What do you miss most about the early days of your career? I miss the impractical side! That sort of “let’s just design for the sake of design!” whereas experience brings you the idea that form really does follow function.


You know…I miss my boobs, before my two children. That’s what I miss.

Thanks to Candice Olson for a memorable experience! Next up, Genevieve Gorder! Be forewarned, we talked a LOT and I’ve got a busy couple of days. So keep checking back!