Nathan Galui touches up paint on his entertainment center.

Nathan Galui touches up paint on his entertainment center.

I had a chance to speak with Nathan Galui, who was eliminated from HGTV’s Design Star last night. I was pretty shocked that he was sent packing. I actually thought they were going to give Jason the boot.

First of all, I want to get the pronunciation of your last name right. It sounds like “galouie.”

I picked you as one of the final two, and when I checked Hubdub, you were out front in predictions to win the title. Were you surprised to be eliminated halfway through the season?
I was a little surprised, I have to say. Not so much this challenge, I knew I took on a task that was a little ambitious. Throughout this entire competition, I was all about taking risks. I wasn’t about holding back. I think the other contestants maybe strategized a little bit to look better, but I never felt the need to fly under the radar or anything. Unfortunately in this episode, I definitely took a long time to build the entertainment center, but I will say, in my defense, it did not take 22 hours, as it was portrayed. It’s simple math–we designed for two hours, I went shopping for three hours. The entire challenge was 22 hours. (He stopped working on it an hour before deadline, so that leaves sixteen hours devoted to the entertainment center, still kind of a lot.) Once I went out and bought the materials for the entertainment center and started building it, the money was already gone from the budget. I just had to push through it as much as I could.

I didn’t see Lonni do anything other than her wall, so you both had these single elements you took ownership of. It just happened that they liked her wall and they weren’t as big a fan of your entertainment center. I’m glad you recognized that. I also helped Lonni on her wall too.

What was the conflict between you and Jason? I think our egos maybe got the best of us. I tried to be a team player and really stay focused on the team and the main task at hand but it was really hard because I felt like there was a constant animosity towards me from him. I’m not sure why.  (Could it be because you’re both furniture designers and he was threatened by a young whipper-snapper?)

Seriously? Yeah, it was interesting. I think he felt, because he’d been in the bottom two a lot, he was really gung-ho and amp’d up to prove himself and I felt the same way. We were both pushing to stand out. He took it to a place and I took it to a place and it wasn’t necessarily the best thing for the design.  (Wherever you both took it, I wish you’d left it there.)

So you think it was this challenge that brought that out? You seemed to get along well during the kitchen challenge. We also had a bit of a conflict during that challenge. It’s a competition, first and foremost, so there were definitely some frustrations with each other. This time we struggled a lot–we didn’t see eye to eye. There were a lot of “me, me, me’s” and “I, I, I’s.” We lost track of the main task at hand, which was to create a great design.

It seemed like the weeks you did a solo project or just paired up with one other person, you really excelled, but when you ended up in a group project, you got lost. Did you have a hard time injecting your personal style into group projects? I did, especially in the kitchen challenge. We’d only known each other for about four days and in a room of four ego-driven designers, there’s going to be conflict. If I could go back, I would take more control over the design end of it. That was a bit more challenging.

Was it hard for you to lead people who had more experience than you? At times it was, especially if someone had a skillset that I didn’t necessarily have. The kitchen challenge was a big, big construction project, so the focus was on construction. It was my job to make sure that the design was executed but I really wanted everyone to have a voice too. Everyone had strong opinions.  I didn’t know any of the designers yet, so it was weird to put my faith in them. I was definitely not onboard with the colors, I would’ve selected more contemporary cabinets. I should’ve made those decisions. Also, I would’ve done a different backsplash. I think we took the safe way to get it done. But I definitely picked a great team—it came together in the end and the clients were happy. That’s what it’s all about. We were the first team to finish the challenge and I’m really proud of that.

Was there any point along the way during this particular challenge where you thought, “I’d better have more than an entertainment center to show for myself.” Absolutely! I really felt that this piece was going to be the main focus of the space, but I underestimated my time. Once I started that project though, I was committed. I did re-evaluate the design a bit, to make it simpler. I also did some work in getting the room together. You didn’t get to see that.

You alluded to having designed doors for that thing originally…you nixed that?
Yes, I initially wanted to put doors on it but with the time it was going to take me, I had to re-evaluate. I’m a furniture designer, so this meant a lot to me. I was intending to create these funky sliding doors and had these really cool pulls, but (*sigh*) it didn’t happen.

Was it hard going back to work after such an intense experience? It was a little hard to adjust after coming back, but I was excited because I’m actually opening up a furniture boutique called Mesh Studios in West Palm Beach. It’s going to showcase my furniture pieces and pieces from other artists and designers. So I was really focused and ready to move on to that stage of my life. I’m hoping to have the store open by late November, early December—just in time for the Florida season. (Look for some preview pics here in the next few days and also at, which should be live by the end of October.)

Since you’re sort of just out of college, have any of your former professors critiqued your Design Star work? Yes! Actually, my professors at school have been really supportive, especially the professors at Drexel. They’ve given some soft criticisms for the most part. They’re really proud. I asked one of my professors what she thought of the kitchen challenge and she said, “Nate, c’mon. That’s not you–you can do better than that!” Which is true. If my designs had really come out in that challenge, they would’ve been awe-some(Nearly anything different would’ve been, to be honest.)

Out of the five episodes to date, which was your favorite room?
My favorite room to design was definitely the white room challenge. It was the first chance we had to be independent designers and have our voices heard. The idea that we had to shop at a grocery store was the most exciting thing. It really allowed all of us to push the boundaries and be as innovative as we possibly could and use materials in an unconventional way. I was really excited to see what people would produce (no pun intended!) and show America exactly what we were all made of. Design-wise, my favorite was the dining room Dan and I did. Working with Dan was always a pleasure, he’s a fantastic guy.

If you’d had to vote designers off the show, who would you have voted off after the kitchen challenge? Amy is a brilliant designer—she really knows what she’s doing. I felt for her because we were in the same boat. If she were still here, we both would’ve rallied and we’d have taken it all the way for you, Robin! In the end, I think Tashica should’ve gone home.

And this challenge? Definitely, it should’ve been between Jason and myself. I was very disappointed to go home. I’ve definitely proven myself in this competition. I’ve made some really bold statements. I’ve been at the top, at the bottom, in the middle. Jason was either flying under the radar or at the bottom. I’m actually excited to see what he does next week. He has another opportunity that I don’t have, so I hope he really shines and shows who he truly is as a designer. (I couldn’t agree more and think he needs to show he’s earned this spot, in my opinion.)

What was the biggest surprise of participating in a reality show? If anyone wants to lose twelve pounds in five days, go on a reality show! If I’d hung in there any longer, I’d have been emaciated! It’s a great weight loss plan. (Hmmm.  Dear HGTV…)

If there’s an outtakes reel, what are we likely to see you doing that we didn’t see on the show? I hope they show us having fun with each other. There’s a little bit of drama—there’s definitely that in a competition—but it was so much fun. When we went back to the house, we definitely enjoyed each other. We didn’t even know each other, but we were thrown into this house and in no time, we all just clicked. If there were problems in the competition, we just had to shake it off. The only moral support we had–other than ourselves—was each other.

I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to seeing Nathan’s new furniture line.  So check back in the next few days for photos!