If I’ve learned anything by conducting these interviews with Design Star finalists and judges, it’s that a whole other side of their personalities are revealed when you have the privilege of speaking with the actual person and not viewing an edited form of their character on TV. I’ve been so flabbergasted by how sweet and adorable these people have turned out to be–despite my perceptions otherwise at times–and Lonni Paul is no exception. She was warm, and fun to chat with…and she cleared up a few misconceptions I’ve been spouting off about, too.
You really appeared to thrive during this challenge. What was it about this particular project that brought out your best? It was nice because it was an individual challenge. I think I had learned how to work within reality show guidelines. It’s not like the real design world. After you get the hang of it, your real talents come through.
The question of the day on all of the HGTV blogs is, where can we get the printed grasscloth you used for your focal wall (seen above)? Design Your Wall. I use them a lot now, actually. They’re a wonderful company. It’s small and you get a lot of personalized attention. They take anything you want and print it.
At the end of your reveal, Tiffani Thiessen and Brady Smith said they wanted to hire you. Have they actually contacted you? Yes, I have been in touch with them and they’ve recommended me to some people. They’ve been really wonderful! They were the nicest people, I can’t even tell you. From the minute I walked up those stairs and met them, it was like old friends. There was no “Hollywood” anything about them. They were just real people.
Let’s go back to the beginning of the season. After you had a chance to size everyone up, who did you think was your strongest competition? Interestingly, I didn’t size them up so much in the beginning. It didn’t feel like a competition between individuals as much as it felt like, “we’re a team–let’s make this room great!” I really wanted to work with Amy—we clicked immediately, that’s why we got together on that living room. I also wanted to work with Dan and Nathan. In the end, I guess I’m right because all of those people had some really great designs.
Were you surprised to make it through the white room challenge? I wasn’t surprised, I was prepared for anything. I know a lot of people (including moi) have said, “She didn’t finish!” Really, I did finish a room. The room has all the furniture pieces in it and I designed a cool end table with sugar packets on it that I don’t think anyone really saw. The cups on the wall thing—I didn’t work on the cups up until the last few minutes, that’s not how it happened. When I saw that the cups were trouble, I geared up for something else and that’s what I spent my time on. Although the room wasn’t finished the way I would’ve liked it to be, I think it had a nice, modern appeal to it.
Umm, I don’t think it did. But this definitely does:
Since you’re based in LA, did you shop in stores during the production that you would normally visit for your interior design practice? We were given a shopping guide and we were only allowed to shop in the stores in the guide. There were some shops on the list I might’ve gone in with my real business, but because of time constraints and budget factors, we never used those stores.
I wondered if you might’ve accidentally run into anyone you knew. They did tell us that if we saw someone we knew, we were supposed to alert production.
Jason Champion suspected that HGTV wanted a guy to win this time since women have won the previous two seasons. Do you think that’s true? To be honest, going into it, I thought there may be that aspect to it and maybe that was one of the reasons the judges were picking the winner–rather than America voting like we’ve done in the past–but only HGTV can say for sure.
You and Dan Vickery became close on the show. What was it that clicked between you two? Dan is a really honest person. He was my roommate and it was just nice to have someone every evening that you could hash the day out with, who would never stab you in the back. We were both very open and honest and it just really worked with us. It’s kind of amazing—I have a friend for life in that guy, for sure. It was one of the best things about the experience, I have to say. (That, and all of the lovely bloggers who’ve been saying such snarky things about me.)
Do you think you’d ever consider collaborating professionally with him? Absolutely, we’ve already talked about it! We think it would definitely be a lot of fun. Dan and I ended up working together on a few different challenges. In the kitchen challenge, he and I were the ones who put up that entire kitchen—all but one of those cabinets—we did it together. They didn’t show me doing any physical work but one of us had to hold while the other one screwed in. We just got along really well. He could teach me something and I would pick it up really fast and we’ve talked about different ways we could work together…maybe one week he would build and the next week I could.
I noticed he’s done some modeling. Did you give him some advice on the subject? Okay, let me just talk to you about digging up those pictures! I have to talk to you about the “Lonni-with-an-‘i’, Lonnie with an ‘e’” thing! (Oops, Matt Locke–my Design Star Yoda–warned me I’d be in trouble over that.) My name has always been Lonni with an “i”—never have I put an “e” on the end of my name. Sometimes when you get credit for something on IMDB, a production person fills that out. So if they spell it wrong—and my whole life I’ve had people spell my name wrong—that’s how it sometimes ends up with an “e.” Not because I’ve gone back and forth with my name. My name on my driver’s license is actually “Lonni Partridge Paul” so I’ve never hidden that name either! (D’oh! My first retraction: Lonni-with-an-i Partridge Paul has no secret lives!)
Someone told me you were being secretive about it. That must’ve been Jason–he’s such a geek! That had to do with something completely different, and it wasn’t even secretive. When I was really young, I did a beauty pageant to get money for college. But that was Torie Halbert’s thing, so I just said, “You know what, I don’t really want to discuss it.” The show is not about me as a model or an actress. It’s about me as a designer–it’s my profession and that’s what I do. It wasn’t about being secretive, it was more about being focused on what we were doing.
Well, maybe that’s what Design Star is all about, but this here blog’s also about dish! Which includes more photos of Lonni as a smokin’ hot model!
How did that happen? How did you get started with modeling? Now I have to bring in the beauty pageant thing, don’t I! I entered an international beauty pageant when I was a teen and was second runner-up. I entered it locally and when I progressed to the international level, I went to Japan. I spent a month in Japan after placing third, touring with the top three. From there, I was offered a contract and modeled in Japan and then had contracts to go to Italy and Paris and Germany. What I thought was going to be a two-year thing ended up being 22 years! I had a really wonderful time seeing the world.
Your website says you’ve lived in six countries. What is your favorite? Probably Italy. I learned the language and I just loved that country. The architecture, the food, the language. I’ve even taken advanced Italian language at UCLA on the side, just because I love it so much. As for a country to see—not that I’ve ever lived there—I’d say Thailand. That’s just an incredible country. And then New Zealand, just for its natural landscape. Un-believable.
I noticed on your website that you’re a sculptor. Do you do that a lot? I did sculpt a lot and it is really a passion of mine. There’s something so calming about sculpting. But once I had my twins, I couldn’t do twins and run my business and sculpt too. I had to give something up and it wasn’t going to be my twins or my job!
Did having twins prepare you for the sleep deprivation that comes with competing on Design Star? Nothing prepared me for that sleep deprivation! There were days when we would stand on those elimination stages and I swear, I was asleep standing on my feet! It was so hard to run on four hours’ sleep a night. I think you can handle it if you don’t have that physical labor as well.
It must’ve been so hard to leave your little ones for so long, knowing that you wouldn’t have any contact with them. How did you prepare them for your absence? That was definitely the hardest thing. I left them notes and little picture books that I’d made. I recorded some stuff for them. My husband, Don, would talk to them every day about what I was doing and where I was. We tried to vary up their schedules so that it would be more like an adventure and less concentrated on me not being there. That helped. My little girl had a much easier time than my little boy. She just said, “I’m glad you’re home…and don’t go to that job again!” They’re fine now. I don’t think it’s scarred them or anything.
Did you ever fantasize about running into your family while you were out shopping? All. The. Time. Especially when we’d go down a street near my neighborhood. I ‘d think, what if my husband was driving down the street right now and I could just wave out of the window of the van and they could follow me so we could see each other! Actually, none of us knew where we would be located. They told us to be ready to be picked up…to bring our passports and driver’s licenses. We just thought, “Oh, we’re probably going to Miami.”
Was it harder for you and Amy Sklar, knowing that your families were within miles of you and you couldn’t do anything about it? Yes–that was really hard. I felt like, if I just sneak out that window at night, no one will see me and I can run down the hill, catch a cab, see my kids, and be back in the morning. No one will even know I was gone! We weren’t even allowed to bring photographs! Amy smuggled in some. My husband had this beautiful necklace made with a picture of each of my kids on it and I couldn’t have it. That was hard, so I would look at pictures of her kids and go, “oh, they’re so precious!” since I didn’t have my own kids to look at. But I have to say, as harsh as that is– and I resented it in the beginning–if you have pictures to look at at night, the separation would be even harder. A production assistant looked up a picture of my husband online on his phone right before the kids’ challenge and showed it to me, saying, “Is this your husband?” I just lost it. Just seeing his face made me lose it. I thought, I’m kind of glad I don’t have a book full of pictures. I’d be undone every day!
Lonni Paul is currently busy working on a celebrity’s kitchen (v. hush-hush), as well as five other residential projects. You can see more examples of her work off-camera at the Lonni Paul Design web site.
Next week I’ll be chatting with the WINNER of HGTV’s Design Star, as well as the runner-up. (And coming soon, hopefully a surprise super-star guest!)