How could I not love this week's challenge?
The designers were given three days and the choice of ten Elle Decor covers to use as inspiration for a luxurious room -- all on the relatively small $7,500 shopping budget.
As Andrea, Carisa, and Matt are all seriously talented and come to the competition with diverse sensibilities and experience, I was fascinated to see which covers they selected and how they approached their projects.
Here's some background: The producers asked me to send them Elle Decor covers from the past three years and they narrowed them down to ones that suited their purpose.
Cover images can be an enigma: many rooms are photogenic, but not all will make a strong cover, and the cover and its coverlines are truly what sell the magazine on the newsstand.
I wish there were a foolproof formula for creating terrific covers each and every month, but sadly there's not. For the record, Andrea's choice sold the best at newsstand, then Carisa's, and -- although it's is a beautiful room and one of my all-time favorites -- Matt's cover was not a great success.
In fact, it sort of bombed.
Todd told the designers to choose the magazine that was synergistic with their design sensibilities, "one that speaks to you." He specified that they shouldn't duplicate it, but be inspired by it. "This is your design," he said.
Matt clearly paid attention to the guidelines; Carisa and Andrea? Not exactly.
Carisa selected our November 2004 cover, which is a photo of a Chelsea loft that belongs to Lori Goldstein, a celebrity fashion stylist. We had a huge response to this cover, receiving hundreds of e-mails asking where to find the orange lounge (alas, it's vintage).
Lori's place is eclectic and intriguing, with a slightly rough, industrial-loft vibe that nevertheless carries a generous price tag.
Carisa's version is quite literal, down to a cement fireplace and white painted-brick wall. I want to know how she produced this room in three days when it seems that she spent most of the time quarreling with Carl the Carpenter?
And when did they start referring to themselves in the third person while arguing? Plus, when we walked through her space, I don't believe that she mentioned that Carl single-handedly created the faux-stone wall surface.
But all in all, it's a successful interior and she once again shows a strong flair for styling -- anproperly finishing -- a space.
Her floor plan was smart, her colors are vivid but not unpleasantly so, and if I recall correctly she made the sectional sofa (a thrifty decision but it was a bit foamlike and stiff).
The drawbacks? Too many vases and cushions (placing three pillows on a Jacobsen Egg chair is a sacrilege) and a distinct "I bought all of this in one amazing store" feeling. Because I think she just about did.
Matt chose our April 2006 cover, which features a bedroom in Amy and Todd Hase's cháteau in the Normandy countryside, and he seemed quite miserable that he didn't have a cháteau-size budget to shop with.
However, Matt created a space that was quietly striking and had real presence -- definitely not a literal interpretation of the cháteau interior, which was very graphic and crisp, with snappy black-and-white stripes. His gray-washed parquet floor was brilliant, the French doors were not as bad as he said, his re-upholstered daybed was superchic, and his mix of furniture pieces showed a deft sense of style and scale.
I believe that he planned to hang his artwork and the mirror from the curtain rods -- which didn't happen -- and I think his side chairs looked a little nervous all by themselves in the corners, but the overall feeling of his space was supremely elegant. Even without the curtain rods, Matt's room stood apart.
It's funny, but when I heard about the cover challenge, I assumed that the designers would focus on the rooms pictured, not coverlines, however both Carisa and Matt used the wordsshown for inspiration as well.
Matt, in particular, mentioned the word "dreamy" which appears in barely legible pale-pink type (hence, the newsstand bomb) in the lower-right corner.
Matt's room was rather dreamy, but I wish he'd chosen a word that's actually far more prominent on the April cover: Dazzling. Matt won this challenge, but for him to truly succeed as a designer he needs to take some risks and venture a bit from his exceedingly tasteful design schemes and color palette.
I'm so sad to see Andrea go home, as I find her work -- and her spirit -- deeply inspiring. Although architecture is clearly her strongpoint, as the weeks passed she seemed to becomemore comfortable with decorating as well.
For this challenge she chose the most sophisticated space of the three: our February 2005 cover shot of Manhattan-based event planner Antony Todd in his Greenwich Village drawing room.
She aced the floor-to-ceiling windows and the lovely pond-scum taupe of the walls, although her design scheme was a bit too literal. For instance, I don't think it was necessary to reupholster her sofa into the dark brown that can barely be seen on the left side of the cover.
Andrea made some serious missteps -- the second paint job, an odd rug that trapped any unsuspecting high heel, unwieldy club chairs facing into the room, an overabundance of random accessories (brackets, vases, objets), and poorly conceived pairings of furnishings (Lucite lamps on Gustavian side tables).
Unfortunately, the intriguing artwork she created (which we loved), and her amazing stitched baseboards (one of the most interesting, distinctive ideas of the season) weren't enough to keep her in the competition. And although her room appears relatively polished on tape, in reality it simply didn't hold together.
For me, Andrea has been the most articulate, balanced, kind, and fair of our talented group of designers. I'm not sure that we've ever heard her whine or complain, and she has approached each week's challenge with a fresh eye and more energy than I can imagine. I can't wait to see what Andrea will achieve in the future; you'll be able to follow her work at her website, berrykeller.com.