Who Are We Kidding?

Find out who Margaret Russel thought succeeded this week.

Who are we kidding? Of course I'm going to be the cranky, detail-oriented, most demanding judge. After all, I'm the editor in chief of ELLE DECOR -- a design magazine where I review architects' and designers' work every single day of the week -- and since I've agreed to feature the winning project in our September issue, don't think I'm not going to be tough. First off, like Todd Oldham and Jonathan Adler, I live in New York, not L.A. The three of us literally moved to the West Coast for the duration of the filming. I packed my laptop and more luggage than you can imagine and settled into the Four Seasons Beverly Hills, where the staff became like family to me. And even though Jonathan and I vowed to learn to surf, in truth, when we weren't taping I was either editing, FedExing, or sleeping (some episodes didn't wrap until the wee hours of the morning).

For instance, the taping of Episode One -- which had a call time of about noon and stretched until 4:30 A.M. -- was a rough entry to reality-TV life. We arrived, met the production crew, tried to memorize the names and faces of the 12 contestants, and went straight to work. (Okay, we also had some hair and makeup help, shockingly about two hours' worth.) Now that I've watched the first show, I understand what went into the creation of each room, but that night we saw only the finished product and were clueless as to the drama behind the scenes. And what drama there was. But it's not the backstory that interests me, it's the design.

And for those who think we made a huge mistake in our first elimination, it's totally due to the magic of television. I was amazed that Lisa and Heather's Asian fantasy looked reasonably chic on film; in person it was cluttered, overly symmetrical, lifeless, and contrived. Tough, but true. They "didn't want to go too far out on a limb" and it was their downfall. Like rooms in a shelter magazine, these projects should surprise and inspire and sadly, theirs fell short. By the way, we LOVED Heather and wish we could have seen her talent expressed in future episodes. And in Lisa's exit interview, I was amused that she didn't seem particularly upset that she was being sent home; Lisa needs to amp up her ambition and enthusiasm.

I thought the most successful room was that of Felicia and Matt -- pushing out that wall for a display niche was brilliant. (And prompted the funniest line of the show when Alexis comments that "If I saw a niche wall, I'd consider renting." It was so silly, we nearly fell off our stools.) I can't imagine having to design a room for a client I hadn't met, but Felicia and Matt created a space that reflected Alexis's idiosyncratic tastes without being too literal in their interpretation. Unfortunately, Ryan and Andrea produced a room that looked as quirky and eccentric as Alexis's favorite objects, but not one that could accommodate them. A successful room always needs a strong focus, and theirs appeared interesting but sort of random.

I can't believe that it took less than 48 hours for Michael and John to develop such mutual loathing although, surprisingly, their rancor wasn't apparent in their design scheme. The room was stylish and rather sophisticated, but had nothing to do with the objects that Alexis provided for the challenge. Erik and Carissa clearly put both thought and effort into their project, but the end result -- although tasteful -- was lacking in spirit and personality, which are two words that personify Ms. Arquette. Jonathan annointed me the "pillow police" after I busted the two of them for the overabundance of cushions not only on their sofa but also propped on the chairs and floor. Design tip: Just because a new sofa comes with eight extra throw pillows doesn't mean they actually look good. No pun intended, throw those throw pillows away!

Although I was not at all keen on the room that Elizabeth and Goil created, Alexis was wild about it, which was all that mattered. Jonathan and Kelly appreciated their conceptual approach far more than I; although I loved the fact that it was inventive and different, that space looked deeply uncomfortable to me. I cringed at all of the little ditsy accessories scattered across the floor (and that yellow pepper, what was that?). And for some unknown -- clearly stupid -- reason, I naively assumed that the cameras were always on Jonathan and had no idea one would focus on me rolling my eyes as Kelly raved about the Zen garden sand pit that Elizabeth conceived. Sorry, Kelly! In truth, that eye-rolling is probably just the beginning of many you will see this season. For even though Jonathan, Kelly, and I are dear friends (as are some of our upcoming guest judges), we often disagree about what is the Top Design. So stay tuned...

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