This week’s episode of HGTV’s Design Star takes us to New York City’s flower district for design inspiration. Not a bad idea by any stretch, but with nary a client in sight over the past three episodes, we’re in the throes of yet another impersonal space design, à la Bravo’s defunct Top Design.
CHALLENGE: Each designer chooses one flower that inspires them the most—and there are some unlikely selections, my friends. This will be their individual inspiration for this week’s challenge. Both teams will design a 660 square foot studio apartment inspired by their team bouquet.
TEAMS & INSPIRATION: Casey Noble (hyacinth), Dan Faires (daffodil), Emily Henderson (some kind of pink weed thing), Nina Ferrer (orchid), and Stacey Cohen (carnation) versus Alex Sanchez (asparagus—er, I mean, snapdragon), Courtland Bascon (cala lily), Michael Moeller (ranunculus), and Tom Vecchione (tulips).
First of all, a carnation? Really, Stacey? “A carnation is the starting point,” Stacey says, trying to rationalize her odd choice. I will go along with the carnation if you—like Liza Minnelli*—really happen to love carnations. It’s not my thing, but if it’s truly personal to you, then great. But “it’s the starting point,” is not very compelling.
Judge Candice Olson starts out by throwing colleague Vern Yip under the bus: “Believe me, this is the only time you’ll get flowers from Vern!” Does this mean he’s cheap or that he’s not thoughtful enough to send someone flowers? Either way, no one has any trouble believing her statement is true. And then we get a brief glimpse of levity from Vernbot. Watch closely for it, folks—if you blink, you’ll miss it:
“I feel like a float in the rose parade!”
Then he gets back into character, reverting to his stern—some might use the term “asshole”—judge demeanor, and tells the finalists, “Remember…I don’t want you guys to take this literally. Dig a little deeper. If you literally translate these floral bouquets from a color palette standpoint, You. Will. Go. Home.”
“The first thing I noticed was the cohesiveness of our bouquet,” says Courtland. “It was the type of thing that, when you looked at it, it was just easy on the eyes.” Michael describes their team bouquet as “clean, minimal, soft, fresh, and happy,” and goes on to say that their apartment’s design “is going to be much different than you’ve seen from us in the past.” Psyche–the men basically turn around and regurgitate their previous designs: cue Courtland painting vertical stripes on the wall, cut to their ubiquitous Herman Miller chairs, and oops! Alex is sort of effing things up again. Déjà vu. The resulting apartment is definitely cohesive and features a petal-soft palette, but there’s nothing stylistically different from the other spaces this team has designed. Tom’s inspirational concepts stand out again this week as he seizes upon the luminous quality of tulips and brings that into the space through glowing glass lamp bases, a side table that features cutouts that allow light to pass through, and the way his arc lamp suggests the soft bend of a tulip stem is brilliant. Kudos to Tom for not bringing in a literal tulip table. Michael’s bookcase as room divider idea works functionally but is very seen-it-done-it.
DAMSELS & DAN
The ladies (and Dan) set out to create a space that Emily describes as “romantic, bohemian…loose.” I love this idea, but as the words come out of Emily’s mouth, you can see Nina’s skin crawl, so you know she’s going to put the kibosh on that somehow. Dan tries to take a stand and break out of his contractor box, but Nina’s not having that either. “Dan has been kind of like, more my assistant. He helped me with the swing, and that was Dan’s choice—he likes being the helper and he likes being part of the construction side. It’s not my responsibility to push him to do more for himself. He has to make sure his elements are there. That’s his responsibility.” I don’t care if castoffs Tera Hampton and Trent Hultgren think Nina’s getting a bad rap—that kind of attitude is pure evil. The men aren’t the only team to duplicate some of their hits from past challenges—Nina’s determined to squiggle something on the wall, there’s more faux molding everywhere, Emily’s sewing pillows in the background, and the furniture feels roughly the same as the fashion challenge. Not a lot of new meat there, other than the swing that Dan fashions for Nina. Would a rope swing have really been so difficult to construct yourself, lady? Seeing much more than an errant strap on Nina’s bra is cringe-inducing, but when she bats her eyelashes at Dan and asks him, “Do you want me to hold the screws for you?” I lose every last shred of respect for her. The styling of this apartment is charming, presumably thanks to pro stylist Emily, but the rug seems too bold and Nina’s squiggles are a redundant bore.
Nearly everyone on the women’s (+ Dan!) team weighs in with negative criticism for Nina’s paintings:
DAN: I don’t think hot pink is romantic.
STACEY: It’s very “Cyndi Lauper.”
CASEY: I’m afraid the room can’t support that. That’s my fear.
Emily sits this one out because she’s dissed Nina’s paintings before and ended up with egg on her face. Stacey whines, “Nina wants to do a mural. Nina wants the big wall. Nina wants the big moment, and it’s like a broken record. I get it. If you take walls, it makes (f’ing) ugly wainscott. If you paint a mural on the wall, it does not make you an artist. If you keep doing it over and over again, it’s really tiresome. It could hurt us.” True, but still whiney. Tell her she can’t have the big wall this time. Is that really so hard??
The producers roll a montage of the men’s team making fun of Tom’s huffing and puffing throughout the installation. “What is that?” Michael complains. “I feel like he’s going to keel over and die any moment!” If Michael got off the couch and helped, maybe Tom could breathe a little easier.
LOSING THIS CHALLENGE: Rather than choose a winning or losing team this week, the judgebots throw a curveball and single out Alex, Courtland, Dan, and Nina as the weakest links. Why exactly is Stacey not part of the bottom? I don’t see how “the starting point” appears in this space, but she must’ve spun some good BS for the judges. Alex explains his inspiration by comparing snapdragons to asparagus—irrelevant, but true. Dan starts flailing around a little like someone who sees Furio Giunta roll up in the driveway when they owe Tony Soprano money. He agrees with Vernbot, that he’s “put design on the backburner to help this team,” to which judge Genevieve Gorder responds, “Stop!”
I loathe the disdain the judgebots seem to have for being a strong team player. When the designers think more about their own skin than the team as a whole, we end up with rooms that feel a little chaotic. There are too many focal points and too many elements vying for attention. How can it be any other way, if everyone is struggling to stand out? If HGTV is really looking for a star and are so hell-bent on recreating The Apprentice, why not stay true to form and pick a team leader for each team challenge so we can get a real vision in the works? Each week we could see how someone else would shine as the head of a team (or show) and being a team player is actually an asset. If everyone gets their opportunity to be the star, I don’t see why this couldn’t work. Let the chips fall where they may.
BOTTOM 2: Dan & Alex
Dan reminisces about his childhood, picking daffodils with his mama in some beautiful, beautiful Arkansas pasture and telling the judges all about how he associates the daffodil with “clusters” and therefore he deliberately clusters some frames on the wall and clusters pillows everywhere and he clusters this and he clusters that and he’s a regular General Cluster. Dan and Alex’s host presentation reels end up sealing their fates. While Alex comes across as relaxed and in control, Dan is nervous and fails to mention the object of his design inspiration. Clusters! Of daffodils! Dan’s video is so shaky, the judges seemingly reverse their preconceived decision and send Dan home instead of Alex. Dan is…ummm…cluster f###’d.
Next week the designers are gussied up in firefighter attire and torched. And I’m not even kidding.
Stay tuned for my interview with this week’s castoff, Dan Faires, a.k.a. McEyelashes!
*Look at me, flaunting my obscure knowledge of celebrity trivia, as gleaned from Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List.”