HGTV’s Design Star: Genevieve Gorder Interview

HGTV’s Design Star: Genevieve Gorder Interview

My HGTV Celebrity Phone Tour continues with my chat with Genevieve Gorder, star of Dear Genevieve and one of the three judges on Design Star. I had a great time talking to her and it got me all revved up to see the first episode.

What can we expect to see from you, as a judge? All I knew was that I really wanted to be very honest. I would get really mad when people presented things that were afterthoughts, like they were trying to fool us. To play any of us as a fool was very foolish in itself, and I would fist-pound! I couldn’t control myself! I would slam the desk and say, “What are you thinking? You’re giving me tea lights on a table? Are you really doing that? That’s really what you want to show me? This has been SO done on every show for the past ten years.” We all know it’s kind of a lame effort to fill up space at the last minute. I want you to do something better than I could ever imagine–humble all of us. It’s a tall order, but the prize they’re getting on this show is the best gift on television! Where else could you possibly get a career for the rest of your life and millions of dollars invested in you? That’s something it’s taken all of us ten years to get to.

Did you enjoy it? It was a b-l-a-s-t. It was the best job EVER. Absolutely.

Why’s that? You’re not there trying to convince someone that it’s okay to paint their living room. Or…this stain, I promise you, is going to look good. (Okay, I can definitely relate to that.) It was definitely a more cerebral part of the mind that you exercised. It was fun and challenging for me. It was just wonderful, I really enjoyed it. I taught at art school in New York for quite a while too, so it was a nice way to kind of warm up the educator muscles again.

Where did you teach? I taught at my alma mater, the School of Visual Arts. It’s a great school. I feel like I’m educating on all of the TV programs that I’m on, in some way or another. Design Star is just so much more dramatic and I think it’s solely about the process, the execution, and the concepts. I get such joy out of talking about it. The panel was so much fun, with Vern and Candice. It was a really balanced group. Both Vern and Candice have a more scientific way of approaching everything and I definitely felt I came from the more artistic side of things. And Candice and I are both around six feet tall, so we had a little Vern sandwich!

I wondered how it might be different working with Vern this time around, since you do have a history. It was a very nice reunion. There’s not a lot of people who’ve been through the trenches with us. Everybody on that boat with Trading Spaces–whether you’re friends in real life or not–it’s a relationship that you covet always. It was a very special time and a very strange thing to happen to anyone.

How do you think you’re different, and how do you think he’s different? Vern comes from an architectural background and before that, he was pre-med. You definitely can see how his mind works throughout his planning and his process. I come from it more from a design and fine art background…without his 70 pages of plans. (Laughing.) It’s more of a sculpture for me and I like to have the flexibility of altering things throughout the process. Do I have a concept and plan? Absolutely. I’ve sourced out everything and I’ve definitely written up two or three pages about what the room is going to feel like and what it’s going to emote. From Vern, you’ll see exactly to what degree the wall should be shaved down…he’s got all of his angles figured out as someone from a more mathematical and architectural background could. I could not do that. Mine is more heart-driven, his is more head-driven. More cerebral. It’s a different approach to design and I think everybody’s happy with the results…it’s just a different ride.

Would you have tried out for Design Star fifteen years ago? How old was I…nineteen? Probably not, because I wasn’t really interested so much in interiors, honestly. The world of interior design felt a little conservative and stagnant to me at that age. I was kind of focused more towards advertising and packaging–that end of design–but I grew up designing homes with my family. I didn’t really know that it would become a relevant part of my life. As a graphic designer, I didn’t know this would parlay into interior design down the road. It was a happy accident.

That’s something we have in common—I started out as a graphic designer too. How do you think having a background in graphic design makes you different than other interior designers? I think graphic design is more experimental because it’s a bit more temporary and disposable, so we’re willing to play a little bit more. That is a huge gift. It’s important to take design seriously but not who you are and how you should approach it. No one wants to live “seriously,” 24 hours a day. I’m not saying make a joke of it, but I think it’s important to have varying emotional qualities about your design and not just one very serious tone, which I see so often in the interior design world. I think that’s why I was crazy bored of it as a 19-year old. It just felt so conservative and just the one small facet of the population could afford it. Then when Trading Spaces came to me, I felt like, here’s my chance to help the people who were like my family. We didn’t have that kind of money to hire Designing Women. (The Sugarbakers! What a blast from the past.)

You had asked about shopping in a discount store…of course I do! I think that you have to shop in every store to be a really thoughtful designer. From architectural salvage to discount to high-end. If it’s not a careful balance, you might as well walk down the street with a Prada bag, Prada shoes, Prada pants, Prada shirt, Prada bra and all in a matching pattern! You’ve got to vary up your stuff, otherwise, you’re just a “shopper.” You’ve got to combine the new and the old, the worn and the shiny…design is all about balance. If someone gave you guff for shopping at Target for Top Design, they can stuff it. They don’t know what they’re talking about.

Yeah, I just thought, are you kidding me? It wasn’t even like she even really looked the part, to be so haughty about it. (If you missed it, here‘s the origin of this line of questioning.) Well, I think those are the type of attitudes that really scare people off from interior design and make it really unapproachable. And it shouldn’t be! HGTV is so successful at giving people the tools to understand it. Martha Stewart did a great job of paving the way for all of us, but what I think the next generation has had to do is make it soulful, emotional, practical, approachable. You know…we don’t have eight hours to weave a basket. We don’t have a million dollars to do a living room! Let’s make this tangible for everyone. It’s really not that hard. I’m surprised it took this long to do it.

Kelly Wearstler. Design Mess or Design Maverick? I have a feeling you have some kind of beef with Kelly Wearstler! (I think she has a whiny voice, appears vacant, and is highly overrated. After looking at her stimulation-overload of a house in Domicilium Decoratus, I literally needed a nap. As I noted in my Vern Yip interview, I think she’s only gotten worse.)

Oh, you are so right. I just think, why are we lauding this woman? She had her fifteen minutes where she was pretty good but… Yes, you see this on dance shows, I think she does what she does really well. Like if you’re a pop and locker on So You Think You Can Dance—I’m totally outing myself for watching that show—and then they ask you to waltz and you struggle a little bit, they say, “the way you dance is great, we’re just wondering if you can do any other styles.” I think that’s what I wonder a little about with Kelly Wearstler. I think she’s amazingly successful and does this beautiful job of this one style. I think she has an incredible eye, let’s just say that. But when it comes to fashion, it’s still a bit contrived for me at times. I think she should lead more with her heart. If I were to give her advice on Design Star? Follow your heart! (I would also tell her to stop dressing like Charlize Theron’s mentally-challenged character in Arrested Development.)

I think that’s the difference between Design Star and Top Design. The judges on Top Design were so pretentious. There is that air about it, yes. I have an enormous respect for their whole panel, but I think interior design has been stuck in that place for a really long time and it turns a lot of people off.

I’d asked Vern if competing on HGTV’s Showdown made him more empathetic to what the Design Star contestants were going through and he said, “Absolutely not!” I agree with Vern. What they’re being asked to do really isn’t anything different than what we’ve been doing on camera from the get-go. It’s not like we went to school to be on camera to do this. We were designers in the world who were plucked up to try this out and you’ve gotta learn really quick. But I know they’re tired and I don’t envy their living situation at all!

How is designing for television different from designing for off-camera clients? You can never repeat yourself. Most designers have a style and a color palette that they rely heavily upon for a short period of time. They rotate that through many homes…but on television, you can’t. That was a really big point for me when judging, because I would often see a lot of repeats from some of the contestants. If I’ve seen it before, I’m bored, I’m changing the channel. I’ve seen that room. I’ve seen you do that before.

You were famous for working barefoot on Trading Spaces. Was there ever a house, without naming locations—where you thought, uh-uh, no way am I walking barefoot in here. Absolutely, but I did it anyway. If I’d worn shoes in one home because I was grossed out, it would’ve been kind of obvious. Also, my feet are nothing to celebrate! I played soccer for about fifteen years, I have about two-inch thick calluses on the bottom of my foot, I can’t feel a thing! So if I step on a nail, I can’t feel it. If you’ve got a nasty carpet, it’s not gonna kill me. You want to know what the thing was? I didn’t want to ruin my shoes. I was on a tiny little show with a tiny little budget–no wardrobe–I didn’t want to buy new shoes, so I went barefoot. There was no other reason than that. I think I’m banned from going barefoot on HGTV because it was such a big deal on the other network. I’ve gotten to a place in my career where I can afford to buy a couple more shoes!

I can so totally tell that you’re a mom when I see you interacting with the families who have kids. I think there’s a way it changed you that is really obvious. There’s a whole other level of emotion. Especially after coming back to the production, a matter of months after I had her. Working those long hours, you start to transfer what you’re missing from your own home into what you’re working on at the time. You have to, because you’re missing your child. It was really nice to be able to work with other people’s children. I felt a bit more satiated. All moms have such a hard time going back to work. It was really hard, but I couldn’t think of a better job to go back to. My husband stayed home with her that first year.

Speaking of your husband (former Junkyard Wars host Tyler Harcott), did you really meet him on A Dating Story? Well, we were supposed to. They set us up! Through publicists they asked if we would be interested in doing A Dating Story. He asked me out…he said he’d like to go out with the Viking from Trading Spaces (laughing). The network backed out because if it’d gone wrong, two people from their number one shows would’ve looked bad. Which is totally relevant, I can totally understand why they said that. But if it’d have gone right, duh, they would’ve had a miniseries on their hands. They would’ve had A Baby Story, A Wedding Story…they could’ve had it all!

And then I also saw something about you being on Faking It? (Another show on TLC, Faking It involved people taking a 30-day crash course in a completely new profession. They had to demonstrate their skills alongside two seasoned veterans, before a panel of three judges…the judges were surprised to find out about the existence of a newbie in the bunch and were asked to pick out the faker.) I was a little mad, actually, because I didn’t know I was on Faking It. They told me, “Gen, this is a pilot for a new show we really want you to be on,” blah, blah, blah. We all got Punk’d. It was definitely funny but I was just too exhausted to find the humor in it. They faked me on so many levels. I could’ve been a better sport about it. (I would’ve been pissed too, if I’d told my friends and family about being shooting the pilot for a new show and then it turned out to be a big, fat lie. I understand the object was to blindside the judges so they wouldn’t know to look for the faker during the demonstrations, but it seems borderline abusive to manipulate a key player in one of your most successful programs. Makes me wonder if they weren’t throwing hot young babes at Jon Gosselin of Jon & Kate +8, just to build a certain story arc. Like, if we break ‘em up after we ship ‘em off to Hawaii for the big wedding re-enactment, think of the drama!)

That’s weird, the article I read said that you were faking it as a fish catcher. Oh, that was another show called Switched…I think it was on ABC or something. I switched lives with a fish-throwing teenager from Seattle who came and lived my life in my house as an interior designer and I went out to be a fish thrower with his dad. (laughing) The worst part was living in his apartment with five other roommates who were doing beer bongs…that was a little much! I kind of felt like they probably should’ve put me up in a hotel! Meanwhile, he was sleeping at my house with my husband in the other room. It was so weird! I think their original concept was that I was this Sex in the City girl living in Manhattan, who doesn’t know anything about nature and getting her hands dirty–like most interior designers, right? They picked the wrong girl because I’m from Minnesota, Land of Lakes. What do we do with lakes? We fish! I grew up doing that so this was not unfamiliar. I didn’t exactly throw fish, but touching them, getting them on ice, filleting them–I could do it. They tried to contrive a little forced story out of there that really wasn’t. I think that made me mad. I was mad on two shows!

You had a lot of pent-up anger! I think so too—it comes out in Design Star! Laughing. I was like, c’mon guys, do your research. You should’ve picked Dixie Carter for this!

No one would argue that you’re not feminine, but you’re not that scaredy-cat kind of girl. (Like me.) It was a complete mismatch and definitely an experience to remember. Throwing fish was quite fun though, I will say that. I’d do that any day. Not for a living maybe, but once in a while, sure!

The PR dude breaks in on our conversation to make us shut up and get off the phone, but Genevieve has one more thing to add:

I too mourn the loss of Domino. It was design pornography as we all know it. It was truly, truly missed. Blueprint and Home gone too? It’s like, seriously. I think Domino hit the hardest though. Côté Sud, that’s my substitute. It’s nothing like Domino but it really is the design porn that you need. It’s so beautiful and delicious. I think who’s filling the voids are the blogs, like you. I’m on the blogs all the time.

Well, I hope you’ll check mine out sometime. I’m on it right now! I’m reading the whole thing!

Design Star premieres tonight at 9 pm CT. I’ll be comparing notes with Matt Locke (Season 3 runner-up) sometime after it airs on the West Coast and then tomorrow I’ll interview the first designer to get the boot…so watch the show and we’ll dish about it here!

2 Comments

  1. Claire July 20, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    My husband had to tell me to "calm down" when I read the Charlize Theron comment – I was laughing so hard. I'd never thought to compare Kelly to Charlize's character on AD, but you're absolutely right. Hahahaha.

    I still don't know how you're scoring all these interviews, but I'm glad you are. They're certainly fun to read (and I think this was my favorite).

    I nearly had a panic attack last night when my dvr didn't record Design Star. Thank goodness it re-aired at 1am. (:

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Room Fu July 21, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    Thanks Claire!

    RE: "how you're scoring all these interviews…"

    Their PR team asked if I'd be interested. I said yah. I think I ended up on their radar thanks to Matt Locke (Season 3 runner-up), who found my blog during his go-round on the show.

Leave A Comment