Alexis Arquette: "More Options Than Constraints"

Alexis Arquette on what it takes to be a great designer.

All I knew when I arrived on set was that the show was called Top Design and that it was very Top Secret. I knew I was only going to learn as much as they needed to tell me.

In the end, it was fun to be involved in this show. I love Top Chef and Project Runway, and all of those. And I love design. I love furniture and interiors. When people come to my house, they can tell. I was surprised when I arrived on set to see that this was still the beginning of the series. There were so many designers, and I thought it would be overwhelming until I saw the rooms and that they were paired up for the challenge.

During the judging, now I look back and think I could have been a little more candid, but I didn't want to hurt anybody's feelings.

Overall, I was a little surprised with the lack of ingenuity I saw. To me, once something becomes repetitive, I understand that it becomes "classic" but it also becomes safe. And I was hoping that some of these people, even if they were students or up-and-comers ... I thought I'd see more innovation and a lot more original thinking. I really did think that all of them really needed to get on their game and dig a little deeper.

If I'd been a professor at a design school, I would have been unimpressed.

There was another room, the first one I saw, I think, where I probably wasn't mean enough about it. It was like an inner sanctum, but only if you're into a sort of "Pottery Barn" mausoleum. I've been in warmer cemeteries.

Even the winning room with the swing, while it was also the one that took the greatest reach, it was something you would have seen during the 70's or even 1920's. It was surrealism and during eras past you wouldn't have blinked an eye or thought anything of a room like that. And thus, in and of itself, this is a classic style; it's now a convention. I was kind of surprised by that.

Some people went too literal with the objects. When I chose my objects, I tried to give them things that represented my design aesthetic and my personality. I was happy to get one of my paintings in there. The velvet painting in there is mine. I painted it based on a photograph from a vintage Life magazine. Seeing the rooms design "for me" was interesting because I often wondered if the designers created their rooms for the objects, or were they designing for the person who owns the objects? And I don't know if it's their fault, if they were given enough instruction, and I think a lot of them really thought they were designing a room based on these objects. Which is a very literal inspiration, unfortunately.

As for the personality clash, it was obvious. John -- the guy who had gone out and picked out the wood for the floor that had the strange knots -- I liked the bleached look of it. But John and Michael clearly butted heads throughout. I think the trailer for the first episode has that guy saying, "My skin is crawling right now" and that came directly out of me asking them, "You guys seem really uncomfortable right now." I was really surprised that nobody was going to address it. They were literally ready to kill each other.

I love it when people are honest. I'm sure they're nice guys individually, and I hope people learned a lesson about working with someone else. That's what the whole challenge was about, the give and take -- you'd think you'd have a lot in common, but clearly not. The final decision?

It was harder for me to decide who was going to go home than who was going to win the challenge. It was up in the air for a minute between the ones who lost (Heather and Lisa) and the duo that put the bed sort of shoved in the corner (Ryan and Andrea). They didn't really address the corner, and the bed seemed almost an afterthought. Even with the lights under there, they had more options than constraints, as far as I'm concerned, and they didn't take advantage of them.

Ultimately, my sense is that being a great designer means having to stay on your toes. People who are hired to design know that they're going to have to, at some point, call into question everything they've learned about design. It comes down to the fact that when you're designing a room, that you, the designer, are not going to live there. Who cares if the client wants a self-portrait of himself or herself in mosaic on the wall behind the bed? You do it. And you find a way to do it that redeems you. You have to walk away from it with your integrity intact, but you have to design for the client.

Thanks so much for having me on the first episode -- everyone should want to be on that show! It was a lot of fun.

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