Huge thanks to all who sent me photos of your cat rooms, but a few wildly passionate (and downright mean!) viewers need to take a deep breath and calm down! I happen to love cats and I'm devoted to dogs, although I'm not very fond of hamsters or snakes. And of course you can design a room around a cat - or a parakeet for that matter - but that really wasn't the point of last week's challenge. Ryan was asked to design for a client that he assumed to be a 50-year-old woman with a cat. It seems that he changed his scheme only slightly when he learned that Madison was a 10-year-old girl, and the judges agreed that he focused too much on the cat instead of the client. So please feel free to design a room around a cat, just don't expect to win a fancy SUV, a four-page feature in a national magazine, and $100,000 for doing it. Got that?
Now then, the best thing about getting an advance DVD of the show is finding out what went on behind the scenes. (The worst is seeing how nearly every positive, constructive comment I make in the White Room never sees the light of day.) This week was juicy - who knew that Ryan and Carissa would get so ornery? Or that Michael would totally redeem himself with some serious manual labor? And I was surprised to see that Elizabeth, Matt, and Erik didn't heed Todd's color-palette advice the judges weren't aware that he'd specifically warned them. (In truth, we didn't even know that he shared our dismay.) One of our biggest surprises was the amazing fact that some of the contestants had no idea what a cabana was and a few were totally unfamiliar with their designated travel destination. Dictionaries and travel guides were verboten, so all the designers could go on was a postcard and their imagination.
Judgment day at the beach dawned sunny and beastly hot. Sun-savvy Kelly carried a parasol over her head every moment we weren't taping, and we had to beg the producers to let us wear sunglasses. Apparently Carissa was miserable at the shore, but fellow New Yorkers Jonathan and I were thrilled to be outside for the afternoon and it was clearly going to be the closest we got to a real surfboard. Jet-set designer/guest judge Kathryn Ireland was calling out to people she knew on the boardwalk (she lives nearby) and we kept reminding her, "SSSHHH, this is a reality competition! No one can know what we're doing here!" All of the cabanas were extraordinary; it's hard to believe what the contestants achieved and that they had been created in only 16 hours. The three concepts were varied, and though the huts had been constructed in the studio and rebuilt on site, they were structurally sound.
Each had a few standout design flaws, but the judges agreed that Team Tahiti was the most successful at this challenge. (The producers and crew, however, were shocked. Most of them were sure we'd nix Tahiti because the hut looked so spare and unfinished.) The space was sexy, the furnishings sophisticated, and those ethereal curtains were simply magical. We all thought it needed a roof or at least a scrim to shield the deck - they had the materials, why they didn't just finish it? Andrea said that it was a conscious decision, but a cabana should provide refuge and shade. Team Tahiti might have won the challenge, nevertheless their hut needed a hat.
The architecture of the Team St. Tropez cabana was brilliant and it showcased Goil's ingenuity (a terrific detail that's difficult to see is how the supports were dug down into the sand). Unfortunately, St.-Tropez it was not. The trouble started when Carissa was thinking "elegant-sexy-chic-yachts" while Ryan conjured "topless women and motorboats." Goil was a team player and created the super framework, and Ryan threw himself into its assembly, but Carissa and Ryan bickered constantly. The result? Unimaginative furnishings and heavy colors - especially the muddy blue and brick-red hues that Carissa took straight from the boats pictured on their postcard. Ryan's furniture choices might have been generic because he was limited to one store, but the stacks of pillows he purchased showed seriously questionable taste, and Carissa wisely slipcovered all those that they used. We thought that it was terrific the team created something truly original, but the small fabric overhang wasn't substantial enough to shield the sun - it looked more like a beach towel flapping overhead (or as you might have heard at least 1,000 times, like a burger shack at the country club).
We expected more from Team Miami, as Erik and Elizabeth were previous winners, and Matt's projects so far show enormous promise. The basic idea of the hut was well-conceived - except that more space could have been allocated to the interior and less to the deck - and this was the only group to provide a proper respite from the sun. Sadly, we weren't enthralled by the car-wash flaps of their curtains (if they were a bit wider they would have made less noise snapping in the breeze), and the interior felt claustrophobic. And the acid green-and-eggplant color scheme was truly an enigma.
Elizabeth wanted to avoid a cliched color palette and show a new level of sophistication, and it's clear that the team was creating a space that wasn't "typically Miami," but that wasn't what the challenge called for, as Todd had reiterated. The goal was for us to be able to walk up without any clues and think, Wow, that's so Miami! On team challenges it's difficult to determine who did what - or not - and there was lengthy questioning of everyone in the White Room. We were loath to send Elizabeth packing, but it was made clear that she was responsible for the color decisions and overall theme of the Miami space. Elizabeth is an intelligent and talented designer, and even though she went home earlier than she'd hoped, she won the first challenge and truly showcased her creativity. At the end of the day, she didn't create the Top Design. Stay tuned to find out who will...