Earlier this morning, I chatted with Dan Faires, the most recent castoff from HGTV’s fifth season of Design Star, and got the lowdown from this season’s Mr. Nice.  There’s a little surprise for the ladies out there, too, although I’m not sure they’re going to love it!

Do you think you were too nice in this episode?

No, you can never be too nice.  In a challenge-type situation, I think I’ve learned you’ve got to stick up for yourself and put your niceness a little bit to the side to protect yourself, but that’s all hindsight stuff.

How do you feel about getting in trouble for being a team player?

I don’t feel like I got in trouble for being a team player, I just should’ve taken care of Dan a little bit more and made sure they saw me in the space.  I made it clear to (judges Vern Yip, Genevieve Gorder, and Candice Olson) that I put my design on the backburner and that’s something they don’t take lightly.  In a competition like this—you heard Vern say it to Courtland (Bascon) in the first elimination—if you’re going to let people steamroll over you, you might as well just eliminate yourself.  I may have been a little naïve during the process, but I feel like I did a lot to pull that team together too.  The designs got better once I stepped onto that team and the relationships between everybody else were a lot better too.

What was your reaction to Nina Ferrer calling you her assistant?

I felt like I was helping the team, but when you hear a comment like that, it’s upsetting. You realize that there may have been some manipulation there or that people were using me to better themselves.  It’s a competition, so some people were playing the game from Day 1 and I think that’s obvious.

Dan Faires and Nina Ferrer.

Dan Faires and Nina Ferrer.

And by “some people,” you mean Nina?

Definitely Nina was playing the game, but there were a few other people.  There is a lot of strategy involved.  You have to fend for yourself.

Who, besides Nina, employed a strategy to keep them going?

We saw it the previous episode with Stacey (Cohen).  She doesn’t have a lot of hands-on experience, so she relied heavily upon me in that outdoor space.  You have to realize your own capabilities, but use them to your own advantage and not someone else’s.

If you weren’t supposed to be literal, how were the judges supposed to pick anyone’s inspiration out of the design?  Was there some way that you were communicating to the judges where your inspiration appeared in the space?

I’m surprised they don’t show that more.  Honestly, as soon as they call time and the space is finished, the judges come in and they give you about 20 seconds to articulate why you chose the flower you chose and how it’s translated into the space.  They were only looking for about 2-4 words and they’d jot down a couple of notes and then they walked through the space.  They literally judge solely on the finished product and the way they see your inspiration in the space—and it can be very subjective.  They don’t care how it got from A to B.  They know what it looks like at the end and they want to see your inspiration in there.

Dan Faires' clustered frames wasn't enough "daffodil" presence for the judges.

Dan Faires' cluster of frames wasn't enough "daffodil" presence for the judges.

How awkward was it to have the judging panel surveying your apartment and whispering in front of you?

It is kind of an out-of-body experience!  You’re constantly wondering what they’re saying .  You know when you come on a show like this that you’re going to be scrutinized and they’re gonna pick apart every little thing that you do.  It’s very subjective, but if you don’t bring your A-game every week, you’re gonna be going home!

Did you know you were going to be on the hot seat?

Not really.  When they pulled the four of us out (for elimination), I felt like they were pulling us out because we were in the top four.  When you build the space and you do so much to contribute, you feel like you’re all over it, but it’s all about whether or not they see your inspiration.  You have to articulate yourself well.  That’s when I started to realize, maybe I didn’t.

Alex Sanchez has been in the bottom before and had the opportunity to practice taping a hosting segment before this elimination round.  Do you think this gave him an unfair advantage over you–that he’s sort of rewarded for doing poorly?

I don’t think it’s an unfair advantage.  It was a bit of a letdown that I wasn’t able to save myself.  He did have some experience because he’d already been there, but my hat’s off to him.  He did a good job!

Which team did you prefer working with—the men or the women?

That’s an easy answer.  Working with the men was so great.  That second challenge, everything seemed to flow.  We were respectful of each other.  We all contributed in our own way.  At the end of the day, I kind of feel everybody had everybody’s back.  We trusted Michael (Moeller) and Trent (Hultgren) to shop for us and they did a terrific job.  They trusted us to select colors and make decisions back at the apartment while they were out shopping.  I was happy to get to know both groups of people.  I was able to connect with the men’s team immediately and when I switched over to the women’s, I was able to get to know them too.  I feel very fortunate.  They’re all talented in their own way and I feel like I got to know most of the cast.

From left: Alex Sanchez, Michael Moeller, Dan Faires, Courtland Bascon, Trent Hultgren, and Tom Vecchione.

From left: Alex Sanchez, Michael Moeller, Dan Faires, Courtland Bascon, Trent Hultgren, and Tom Vecchione.

Last season, most of the contestants felt like there was a pre-selected winner.  Do you think that was the case this season?

I don’t—I really don’t.  From what I saw, everybody has an equal playing field and I think HGTV and Mark Burnett worked very hard to make that apparent to everyone.  You have to be well-rounded and really have the complete package to win the thing.

What did you do to prepare yourself for competing on the show?

I worked really hard to close out the clients that I had before I went on the show, so preparation was kind of not an option at that point in time!  My whole life’s been preparation for this.  I didn’t want to leave my clients high and dry but at the same time, I couldn’t tell them what I was doing for two months!

That brings up a good point—what did you do with your business while you were on the show?

I had two big projects going on.  One, I got 100% done and the other one had loose ends, but the contractor I hired kind of knew what was going on  While I was gone, I just let phone calls and emails go in and out and got back with people when I was off the show.  It was really hard to put everything on hold, but it’s worth it, obviously!

Did you score brownie points with your mom when you brought up being a kid, picking daffodils with her?

I don’t think I have to score brownie points with my mom, but yeah, she was touched by that.  It’s the honest truth.  When I picked out that flower, there were a lot of childhood memories that came along with it.  With hindsight, it evoked so many different emotions in me that I probably should not have picked it.  I wanted to incorporate a lot of different things but you still had to make it work with the whole bouquet—that made it super difficult.

What else would you have liked to have done?

Most of what they focused on were the clusters, and maybe the judges can’t relate with that, but here in Arkansas, those flowers literally grow in clusters in pastures.  You’ll see pops of yellow—it’s the first sign of spring.  That’s what it evoked, was the sign of a new season and pops of color and clusters and it was also a childhood thing.  To me, the swing represented my childhood.  Nina did come up with the original idea, but she wanted to use chain and make it really gaudy like her artwork.  I said, “It’s not a bad idea, but let me take it from here.”  At the hardware store, I got some nice rustic rope and fished out a piece of wood to make it look like a childhood rope swing.  In elimination, I think I gave her too much credit for the swing.  As a designer, anyone can come up with an idea and a lot of the ideas you see—even on the show—are created from somebody else.  There are very few original ideas and I feel like it’s more about how you implement those ideas and execute.  That’s what makes you a true designer.

Nina/Dan's rope swing in their team's living room design.

Nina/Dan's rope swing in their team's living room design.

All the ladies in the audience are all aflutter over your looks!

(Dan starts singing, “All the single ladies, all the single ladies!”) I’m only single for another week and a half, so they’d better hurry!

Are you getting married?

I am!  That’s why I’m back in Arkansas.  I’m here for the next two weeks and I’m getting married on the 23rd of July.  I’m excited!  I’m actually marrying my high school sweetheart—we’ve been together almost eleven years, believe it or not.  She’s my biggest supporter and has been so gracious throughout this whole process.  We weren’t allowed to take our cell phones and we had no connections with the outside world, so I definitely missed her and absence made the heart grow fonder, for sure.  She’s in fashion, so she’s the reason I ended up in New York City.  I can definitely attribute a lot of my success to her.  If I had not moved to New York City, I would not be the man that I am today.  She’s helped me be that person.


Dan Faires and his bride-to-be, Dasha Sprague, 26.

I wondered about that.  I was going to ask how you went from getting back into construction after Hurricane Katrina and then ended up in New York City.  It seemed like an odd trajectory.

Right out of college, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do.  After Katrina, my eyes were really opened and I realized what a home is to people.  From there, I rode out the storm for a couple of months, but things were in shambles and I had to start thinking about my own career.  I started looking for jobs in New York City because I knew Dasha was going up there and everything worked out.  I found a great job—that’s where I gained a lot of my formal knowledge of construction, working at Fields High-Rise.  I’m a strong believer that things happen for a reason.  This is just another part of that journey and I feel so honored to be a part of it.

Tell me about your line, Capsule Furniture.  Is that new?

This furniture line has been a dream of mine for a couple of years.  I’ve been laying the groundwork to bring it to fruition and I built the website myself.  It’s a very time-consuming process, but I’m a young guy… I don’t have any money saved up, so I’m a scrapper!  If you want something in life, you just have to go after it.  I build all the furniture myself.  I hope it will evolve into something bigger and better but it’s all me and I’m just trying to make it happen.  It’s very rustic furniture but it’s all reclaimed wood and eco-friendly.  I thought, while doing construction, that it’s a shame that these 200+ year old buildings are demolished every single day in New York City.  Some of them need to be redone, but some of them I feel they could preserve.  The other alternative is to take the wood out and make furniture, so I’m going to continue to do that and try to serve a greater purpose that way.


Made from reclaimed wood, each piece features a capsule containing the wood's origin.



Capsules contain the address and brief history of the building the wood is salvaged from.

Besides the furniture, what else are you working on these days?

I just finished up a terrace at the Ritz Carlton Residence.  It’s just absolutely gorgeous and overlooks Central Park.  The homeowners are really gracious people and I’ve just fallen in love with them and their kids.  I hope to do more interior work with them too.  I’m also about to finish a bathroom renovation in TriBeCa.

HGTV’s Design Star airs on Sunday nights at 9pm Central.  Check back each week to read recaps and my interviews with each week’s castoff designer!  Missed previous posts?  Click here for all of my Design Star coverage.