There are certainly many ways to judge whether HGTV Design Star’s newest season is a success. Do you like the designers? Are the rooms they create beautiful and interesting? Is there drama and intrigue?
But what will keep me coming back - other than the promise that I’ll write these posts each week - is that I see something inspiring, something that gets my creative juices flowing and makes me want to try something new.
By that measure alone, Tuesday night’s season debut was a great one.
In particular, I saw wall treatments - one done with MDF and another with just paint - that I absolutely loved. I saw a great ottoman makeover accomplished with a shower curtain. And I spied lots of tufted furniture, which I’m digging right now..
So for me, it was a great start to the season.
But if you’re judging on other criteria, it may be too soon to tell. The first episodes of these reality series are so packed with people that it’s tough to get a handle on them right away.
Still, I saw some things to like and to dislike. Let’s look at those and then move on to the narrative of the first episode.
Signs of a good season:
- Judges Vern Yipp and Genevieve Gorder are back and seem to be in good, gracious moods, which hasn’t been the case in every season. Gone is Candice Olson and, while I love Candice’s rooms, that’s good for the show. The first episode’s guest judge was Daisy Fuentes.
- In the first challenge at least, there was a fairly reasonable timeline. Don’t get me wrong, three days to redesign a room isn’t much. But by reality show standards, it’s a lifetime. The result: Better conceived ideas and better looking rooms.
- So far, there doesn’t seem to be anything just silly - like those odd whispering conferences the judges had two seasons ago. And while David Bromstad is still a mentor on the show, his role seems somewhat lessened, which takes one more star out of the spotlight so we can focus on the rooms.
What was annoying:
- If there was a budget for the rooms, viewers didn’t know about it. This has been a problem in recent years. One of the biggest challenges that any designer faces is the budget. Apparently, though, not on Design Star.
- There was no camera challenge on the first episode. Last year, the show did the best job yet incorporating the very important camera skills into the competition. Hopefully, that will come as this season progresses.
Now, onto the episode. Let’s meet the characters.
You can see the whole list of designers here. But these are initial impressions of a few of them:
Mikel - This guy (below) likes a “vintage, chic look,” which is one of my favorite styles as well. “It’s all about taking pieces from the past and breathing new life and energy into them,” he says. Yes!
Luca - Not a good first impression. Luca (below right) at the beginning of the episode points around the group and says, “I can do his job, your job, your job...”
Britany - I always like a photographer and I think she described her style as “modern glam chic,” which sounds good to me. She likes high contrast designs and bold fabrics. Again, yes.
Hilari - She describes her style as glitzy transitional, which I’m having trouble picturing. But apparently that includes some gold metallics, which I don’t like.
Next up was the first challenge: Work in pairs to decorate rooms in the odd house that will be their home for the duration of the competition. (I say odd because it looked from the outside like some kind of duplex and on the inside like, well, a suburban mini-mansion.)
The designers are charged with incorporating design accessories that they had previously sent the producers as representative of their styles. David tells the designers, “They want to see you in that space.”
Here are the matchups, how their rooms progressed and what the judges had to say:
Danielle & Luca - The great room
This room appears to be long and narrow with a ridiculously high ceiling. I mean, this ceiling is so high it distorts the space. Vern at one point calls it “cavernous,” which I think is an understatement.
Danielle clearly takes the lead here, choosing a beautiful warm grey - not quite a charcoal - and suggests using white molding to break up the huge walls and draw the eye up. Luca spends much of his time working with the carpenter to make the molding work, but he also picks some gorgeous tufted white sofas.
Danielle has an odd, chrome wing sculpture she must incorporate into the room and Luca has a pair of oversized, metal jacks (which reminded me of some ‘80s bookends or something) that must be included. Danielle suggests they take photos of the items and blow them up as art. They look good.
These two work well together and the judges are pleased.
Guest judge Daisy Fuentes calls the room elegant and says it reminds her of a “super trendy hotel lobby” that makes her want to drink a martini.
Bex & Kris - The master bedroom
This immediately seems like a difficult pairing. Kris keeps telling Bex to finish her thoughts as he’s interrupting her. And he wants them to work independently and then bring their designs together or something.
(For some reason, I can’t find a room photo!) They pick a strong color called passionate plum, which I like but doesn’t prove popular with the judges. Kris mistakenly calls it a “homerun” and Genevieve says it’s “muddy.” They also have to work around a huge black fireplace and Bex tries to balance it out with a clunky black daybed, which just doesn’t work at all. It’s the worst piece in the room.
Their individual accessories also seem tough to bring together.
Kris has a colorful, striped side table. It’s curved and I think it might have been made of Plexiglas but I’m not sure. It’s interesting. Bex finds this cool, oversized matchstick sculpture and Kris leans it on the wall behind the table and then uses red tape to draw a line to it. It sounds odd but works.
Bex has one of those wooden hands with jointed fingers, which I really do love. She struggles to integrate it into the room but does so by painting several round table saw blades and mounting them on the wall to look like gears. Then she puts the hand near the top and poses it so a finger is reaching to make the gears move.
The room also includes four Wasilli-style black and chrome chairs, which are cool.
The judges love the gears and the matchstick/table combo. But they say the rest of the room is out sync and can’t be saved by a couple nice art pieces.
“I don’t think either one of you brought it,” Vern says.
Britany & Mikel - A bedroom
These two seem thrilled to be paired and you get right away that they’ll probably be safe because the cameras just don’t spend that much time with them.
This room had one of my favorite elements - an amazing graphic wall created with MDF, a sort of pressboard that’s easy to cut and paint. Britany - whose personal accessory is an ottoman with a graphic print - imagines and installs the wall, which includes white MDF on top of a turquoise painted wall. Gorgeous!
Mikel’s accessory is an old globe he had found and painted with chalkboard paint. I really like it. It’s a nod to the globe trend but different. When David arrives (in those way too tight pants), he tells Mikel that he better fin d a way to bring more of his style into the room.
So he finds a vintage ottoman and recovers it with a pretty shower curtain. It looks nice. I’m rooting for this guy.
Still, I just didn’t like this room. It seemed all over the place. And while the turquoise walls looked great with the white MDF, it did nothing at all for a wall of wood built-ins. It made them look a sickly yellow.
Hilari & Rachel - The den
Rachel seems pretty fun but I’m not sure about the pairing with Hilari, probably because I just don’t think I’m going to like the latter’s style. So I’m a little nervous for Rachel, whose accessory is a big white moose head. Love it!
“It says I’m a high fashion outdoors girl,” Rachel jokes.
Hilari’s piece is a leopard print pillow, which I think lacks some imagination but you can’t go wrong with a little animal print...right?
Hilari (at right) creates what I think is going to be a really interesting metal sculpture. It’s very geometric and interesting, a real focal point. But then she incorporates a small television into an opening in the metal molding and, well, it looks ridiculous.
However, Hilari does choose an interesting sofa that gets Genevieve’s attention. It’s an odd shape that seems perfect for a room that will be inhabited by designers.
And Rachel designs a gorgeous coffee table with curving lines and legs that their carpenter creates (nice job!). Vern calls it “really interesting.”
The judges are clearly impressed with Rachel but Genevieve just can’t get over Hilari’s decision to call so much attention to that little TV. Ugh.
Yuki & Stanley - The studio and lounge
These are the two so-called artsy types in the house, which you’d think would make them an interesting pair. But they are not. Stanley is a contractor and metal sculptor, who provides one of his very industrial pieces as his accessory.
Yuki, well, you just never get a sense of her artistic style. Her item is a colorful fleur-de-lis, which I think was decoupaged from magazines or something. I just couldn’t tell - just like I could never tell what direction Yuki was headed in.
She chooses some crazy colors for the walls - a deep purple and a green. And then she adds a very bright, tangerine colored sofa. Now, I love this tufted sofa. It’s beautiful. But not with those walls.
Vern says later he was trying “to make the wall color go away by closing my eyes.”
Yuki does, however, create a nice, two-tone striped wood floor, which the judges like.
Meanwhile, Stanley expands his sculpture and then hangs it in front of a window, which really highlights it.
Yuki tries to incorporate her fleur-de-lis into a larger collage that includes the names of places where the other designers live. But the collage is a mess. Stanley calls it the “most god-awful thing I’ve ever seen” and then tries to save it by nailing up some brightly colored frames. That makes it worse.
“It’s a windswept collage I want to blow right out the door,” Vern says.
Miera & Jordan - A bedroom
Miera’s accessory is a blue and white jar, a fairly traditional piece. But it inspires a beautiful chevron pattern that she freehand paints in white on a blue wall. This was the other inspirational moment for me. That chevron was absolutely beautiful - light and airy and yet graphic and fun.
Vern said the hand painting makes the room more special.
Jordan’s accessory is a very interesting acrylic side table he’s designed. I like it. At least, I think I liked it because we barely got to see it.
The pair argues a little over the fabric they’re going to use for a headboard and settle on a silver metallic that Jordan thinks will be young and modern. But when the fabric is delivered it turns out to be mounted on animal hides, which are not large. Neither seems capable of sewing them together into a larger piece and so they make the headboards out of smaller squares that they upholster with the hides. It looks OK and Daisy thinks it brings some sparkle to the room.
Otherwise, it’s a fairly simple space.
The winner and loser:
Personally, I think this is an incredibly safe choice by the judges. I liked Rachel’s work but there was nothing particularly interesting or innovative about it. I wonder what the choice says about the rest of the season.
Before the judges announced the winner, they say that the rooms done by Brittany & Mikel and Miera & Jordan are good enough to move them onto the next round.
Also safe are Danielle, Hilari and Luca. Next, the judges say Kris and Bex are safe, even though they clearly did not like their room.
That leaves Yuki and Stanley on the hot seat. This is not surprising. They didn’t work well together and the room was a disaster.
Genevieve announces the loser: Yuki (shown below).
I think it’s the right decision, even though I always hate to see anyone get cut on the first episode.
Stanley is safe. “What saved you was that metal sculpture,” Vern says.
Previews for Episode 2 indicate the contestants are headed for the white box challenge - my favorite - and the guest judge will be Vanilla Ice, whose moved on from rapping and now has his own flipping show. Believe it or not, it’s not too bad.