HGTV's Design Star, Season 4: Antonio Ballatore Interview!

HGTV's Design Star, Season 4: Antonio Ballatore Interview!


As I’ve been transcribing yesterday’s interview with Design Star Season 4 winner Antonio Ballatore, I’m having the hardest time not spelling out his dialogue phonetically.  Between his New Yawk accent and my Texas Twang, this is one crazy audio file.  Even though a birdie told me he was feeling a little rough after a night of celebrating, it was “def’nitely” a fun chat.

Other contestants have said they thought you’d been cherry-picked all along as the winner.  Did you feel that way? Maybe they feel like that…I personally don’t think so, because I felt like I was really working hard.  I completed every single challenge.  I worked as hard, if not harder, than anybody else there.  I did all the same challenges.  I was under the same time constraints as everybody else.  I pushed it more than anybody else.  It is what it is—they can think what they want to think.

Is there anyone from this season’s cast that you’d bring on as a sidekick or for a guest appearance? I had a LOT of fun with Jason (Champion).  He kept me laughing through all those projects.  We bonded over the cabinet situation.  I think we’re gonna be friends for a long time and I’d love to bring him in.  I loved the kind of interaction we had together.  We were like total opposites but we worked pretty good together.  We had fun.  He called me this morning and congratulated me.  He’s a sweetheart.

Look how cute.  They even have matching headbands.

How cute. They even have matching headbands!

Who would you like to see win the online show? Either Jason or Jany (Lee).  I really liked Jany—she was supercool.  I think she didn’t really get to show who she was, she didn’t have a chance.  Jason could definitely rock his own online show and more.  Those two, I think, would be awesome.  (Vote for your favorite now!)

Did you have the hots for Kathy Griffin? I don’t know, maybe a little bit!  She had the hots for me!

Antonio and Kathy Griffin share a quiet moment.

Antonio and Kathy Griffin share a quiet moment.

Let me tell you something, Kathy Griffin has the hots for every guy! Aww, you just ruined it for me!  Thought I was special!  It was fun—we were just raggin’ on each other.  I love bustin’ chops.  I can take it and I can receive it and I can have fun with it.  It was great to lighten up like that, to have her for a client and working together.  It was fun.

I’ll bet.  She’s “no holds barred” and so are you, so it was a good mix. There were a couple takes of me at the beginning—she wouldn’t let me come in the house at first!  That got edited out.

There were many times throughout group challenges where you put your foot down about something that your teammates didn’t want but you were right in the end.  Did your teammates ever give you a pat on the back when it was over and admit you you were right? Let me tell you about that.   From day one, just me walking in there, they expected something different.  Every time I wanted to push the design a little bit, it was always a struggle.  As the competition went on, I felt like more and more, everything was just getting watered down and turned into these lame designs.  I felt I had to put my foot down on a couple of things—with the tan, with the ducks—it was just like, my voice wasn’t getting heard.  Everybody just wanted me to build everything and were expecting me to build stuff but not have any input.  I had to put my foot down, especially with the tan.  Goin’ home a proud American!  Everything on the base was tan.  We walked into a tan room, tan couch–the neighbors were tan, the house was tan—everything was tan!  I had to do it, I couldn’t let that happen.  (The neighbors were tan–you’re killing me!)

Fans of the show either love you or hate you.  How do you deal with the negative people? I’ve gotta stop reading the blogs!  (Except Fu For Thought–it’s my favorite.) Now that it’s over, I can’t read it anymore!  People are so mean!  Why are they so mean? (Laughing.) What did I ever do to get everybody so riled up?!  People are used to a certain kind of thing and I’m trying to bring a little something different…be myself and have fun with it.  Just push design a little bit.  As far as all the haters, hopefully they’ll give me another chance.  Hopefully they’ll start getting into it.  (Considering what I wrote about him before the show aired, no one’s more surprised than me at how big a convert I am.)

You said you came from a family of artists.  Can you tell me about them? My mother and father are both painters and designers.  My father did a lot of textile design back in the ‘60s and was also a visual director, doing windows for Henri Bendel, Tiffany’s, Macy’s, A&S—everything.  I grew up in my dad’s studio, sweeping up at first.  I had a little section where I did my artwork.  Growing up, I would help him and learn how to do all these sets and window displays and visuals and all that.  I didn’t even plan to get into design.  I played music my whole life.  I thought I was gonna be a rock star by now!  But I’ll take Design Star—it’s just as cool, I guess!

Some of Antonio’s work doing set and prop design:






Tell me more about the music stuff. The last big band I toured with was called Murphy’s Law. They’re a New York hardcore band and have been around forever.  They actually started out with the Beastie Boys.  I toured and played with a lot of New York bands.  It was one of those things where it would get so far and then something tragic would happen.  The singer would flip out or something would happen.  After a while, I just couldn’t take it anymore.  I was touring with six guys in one van, sleeping on a hotel floor for three weeks at a time.  It lost its fun after a while.

Then you were uniquely qualified for the living conditions of this show! Yeah, I was getting flashbacks, for sure!  It was almost the same, except there were no cheering fans at the end of the night!  It was just right back to the same grind.

So what did you play? I played bass guitar.

Much ado has been made of your tattoos.  Do you have a favorite tattoo artist? All my tattoos come from all over the country, all over the world.  I got some in Japan.  To me, getting tattooed is about what I’m going through at the time.  I have so many people that I’m friends with who tattoo, it’s hard to narrow it down.  There’s so many talented people.  I know I’d like to get a tattoo by Kat Von D (TLC’s L.A. Ink babe)—I think she’s one of the best tattoo artists going right now.  I’ve actually got a couple of friends over there—we’re trying to work on it now.  She’s hard to get an appointment with.

The Antonio Project—is that just a special, or is that something you’re going to build a show around? It’s a one-off special, just to recap the season and to give a little peek inside my life and get me all wrapped up.  When I was away on the show, I had bought this house that was in really bad shape.  It was really run-down.  When I came home from Design Star, I went right into another construction scene.  In order for me to keep going and do other people’s designs and do my thing, I had to straighten out my life first.

What an awesome opportunity, to just knock it out really fast. It was pretty rough—I thought my Design Star challenges were over and this was like one extra challenge.

Did you get to pick your construction crew or work with any of the guys who helped you on the final challenge? That’s what’s funny.  One of the guys on my crew was one of Dan’s crew guys.  I kept my eye on him—I was worried about him at first but he was cool.  I didn’t know if Dan sent him in or what.  Then I brought in a lot of my close friends that I’ve worked with over the years, like my one friend Jake, who’s also a set/prop designer.  He helped me a lot with the paint.  Brought in some low-rider guys I know who do cars, some metal sculpture dudes.  I used a bunch of my friends to help me out and they all pulled through and did some really great stuff for me.  It was definitely fun.

I have one last question.  Who would win in a fight between you and Steve Watson? Aww, that’s a silly question.  Me, of course.  What, are you trying to cause some problems for me with Steve Watson now?  He’s a cool dude.  I used to love his show, Monster House.  He was there in the beginning—he’s been around for a while, so I’ve got respect for him.  He’s definitely a cool guy.

Catch more of Antonio this Sunday night on HGTV. The Antonio Project airs at 10 pm EST.

SO.  Now that this season of Design Star has concluded, what can you expect here at Fu For Thought?  Well, a lot, actually.  I’m working on scoring an interview with Kathy Griffin (!!), to see what she and Team Griffin really thought of Antonio’s design.  She’s busy with her promo tour for Official Book Club Selection (the forward to Oprah alone almost made me pee my pants), but it’s looking good–so fingers crossed!  Thanks to Jason Champion, I’ll be talking with Eddie Ross soon.  Eddie was on the last season of Top Design.  We’ll compare and contrast Top Design vs. Design Star, which I’m hoping gets really dishy!  And the great people who gave me this opportunity in the first place have offered to set up interviews with anyone at HGTV that I’d like to speak to!  So keep coming back for more of that, plus all of the steals and deals on home decor products you’ve come to expect here at Fu For Thought!


  1. Angie September 15, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    Great interview! You seemed to get him to talk and elaborate more than I’ve seen him do with anyone else. I look forward to roomfu-ing in the future.

  2. Deb September 15, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    I’ve been an Antonio fan all the way…welcome to the other side! Antonio first won me over with the pink geese, then really tipped the scale in his favor when he refused to paint tan in base housing. I’ve lived in base housing a few times (22 year military spouse and counting) and would have loved to have anything but tan on the walls. I could go on…but I’ll say thanks for the great interview and great blog – and Antonio, I look forward to your show!!!

  3. Kathy Seals September 15, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    Loved the interview! Can’t wait to watch the show!
    Good Luck Antonio!

  4. LJS September 15, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    Love this interview- much better than your first assessment of him (tacky). Antonio’s show is going to rock- it will be so unique- I can’t wait to see what he does!

  5. frogponder September 15, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    More interviews! 🙂 Good going!
    Enjoyed Antonio’s interview. I’ll be watching his show. Will be really interesting to see how he does his own house.

  6. Terry Durst September 15, 2009 at 4:01 pm

    Great going Antonio! You were my favorite from the first night, and through every challenge. Thanks for the interview and pictures.

  7. Denise September 15, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    Love Love Love Antonio – from day 1. He’s raw, he’s a NY’er like me and single (I seriously want to have his children LOL). I used to have my own interior design company but lack of finances and all, didn’t pan out. I’d love to see his audition tape. . .I think we’re allot alike! At minimum I would LOVE to work with him. . .is he hiring?? LOL talk about a dream come true!

  8. MANDYMOM September 15, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    Fantastic interview
    Wish we would have known b/4 what a great caring guy Anyonio was and is

  9. Violet September 16, 2009 at 2:04 am

    Great interview – I love Antonio! He’s super cool! Can’t wait to watch his show!

  10. kmoxidine September 16, 2009 at 9:03 am

    Seems to me that AB has no understanding of how people really feel and their “take” on him.

    Did he real think that Kathy Griffin had “the hots” for him?

    Also, in the interview I noticed that he didn’t have a thing to say about Dan or Lonni. Interesting.

  11. Emily Toy September 18, 2009 at 2:16 am

    it was a bit of disappointment that he didn’t mention any about Dan. Thought his (Antonio’s)designs weren’t so bad but my taste is more like Dan’s. Congratulation to you Antonio! Best of luck!

  12. stevie September 21, 2009 at 1:13 am

    This guy is a joke unless HGTV has selected him to design a trailer park. Being different doesn’t mean settling on down right pathetic and bad. I’ll watch Jeff Lewis on Flipping Out leaving those that shop at the local mall to watch Antonio.

  13. Candy September 25, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    I really thought you were hot and I am glad that you one. I watched you design your house and your friend Jake is as hot as you…will look forward to see how things turn out. Make sure you put Jake on any shows you do. LOL

  14. Sharron September 26, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    Antonio- I want to preface this entry by saying I don’t hate you (your tattoos don’t bother me)and HGTV fans don’t hate you as much as they feel robbed that the “popular vote” wasn’t really heard or validated. . .additionally, why? no mention of Lonni or Dan?
    Although Vern, Candice, and Gordon voted you in, it will be your “fan-base” that keeps your show going. Period. Having said that, I wish you would work on NOT using your shows as “the dating show” or referring to women as chicks etc. Your kitchen design on Sunday had its strengths, but the Sombrero girl–was that really necessary? Of all your designs over the entire season, and there were some decent ones, Sunday was a nightmare. I could barely watch it in its entirety. I wish you “would” get an assistant–but, then that would mean you would need to be willing to listen to their advice. Can you take advice? You seem like a one-man show. Here’s hoping you’ll take some constructive criticisms and tone it down, loose what appears to be the in your face attitude, and re-direct that energy into timeless designs that actually can appeal to everyone. Again, you may have won the judges vote, but HGTV fans as a “whole”, despite your loyal following, will be your real judges here on out. Best of luck.

  15. Sharron September 26, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    P.S. To ALL the women who are throwing themselves at Antonio, (whether serious or in jest)asking for marriage, wanting to have his children, PLEASE!!! HAVE SOME SELF-RESPECT!!!

  16. Marie September 27, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    Have watched Design Star from day one. Sharron your comments were objectively stated and on point. If Antonnio doesn’t get his attitude in check; realize he’s not an island; tone down the “in yo face hard core” style of communication, the show won’t last because there won’t be fans to watch! In reality, he will not be going into a client’s home and telling them that he rejects their opinion and they’ll take his style or else. So, while that stunt was entertaining, it can’t set the theme for his show with longevity. The body art is borderline tacky. His whole persona reeks of BRUTUS (from Popeye!). Not sure what Vern and the team were thinking but it was a very risky and irresponsible decision and I can bet they won’t make this mistake again. By the way, have you noticed how Black women catch hell on this show! Remember Kim from a previous season. That poor woman spent half of her time demanding respect and to have her voice heard. The Producers and Writers of this show really need to monitor hateful behavior targeted toward any contestant.

  17. Kennedy October 7, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    This interview does nothing to change my perception of him. Yes painting tan walls is taking the safe way out BUT it is what the CLIENT wanted!!! I can’t believe the judges actually thought that his idea was a great one to not paint tan when the client specifically requested it. And did anyone else notice when the homeowner was showed the reveal she commented on everything she liked BUT chose to comment on the wall color as her last comment? Why is that? It’s because she hated it!!! I am 100% positive if HGTV goes back to that woman’s house the wall color the painted would be changed.

    Sharon and Marie.. well said!!!!! Kudos to the both of you!!! This guy will not last on HGTV because fans of the network knows that Dan was robbed unjustly!!!! I am a guy and even I was put off my his sexist attitude towards every woman he meets.

    It’s truly a sad day for HGTV when pink ducks/geese/birds/whatever is considered GREAT DESIGN!!!

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