I Almost Had To Call My Therapist After Seeing My Loft

Margaret Russell was not impressed with her loft.

It's terrific to be back on Top Design and this season's designers are a truly talented and diverse group: a real-estate developer, a Yale-trained architect, a TV set designer, a former fashion designer, an artist, a style editor from a magazine, and several decorators who already run their own firms.

They're lucky they're experienced because they were faced with wildly opinionated clients this week: judges Jonathan Adler, Kelly Wearstler, and me, along with our fearless leader India Hicks. The projects? Four identical loft apartments featuring white walls, concrete floors, and an overscale sculptural staircase that dominated each living room area. This first challenge was great because it was nearly impossible (one would be insane to attempt to design and furnish a bare loft in two days with a budget of $2,000) and it provided the contestants with a clear opportunity to sink or swim really fast. And they certainly did. I've learned that some spaces seem better on film (and on your TV screen) than in reality and vice versa, but Kelly's loft was amazing any way you looked at it. Her designers, Nathan, Ondine, Teresa, and Wisit, were the clear winners this week; their finished work could have been shot for an editorial spread.

The place felt planned, the space was functional, wall covering and fabric were used with a deft hand, and the designers shopped remarkably well at the humble junkyard and thrift store the producers sent them to. The loft reflected Kelly's aesthetic and demonstrated the team's willingness to work together against seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

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Jonathan's apartment was also successful, and Eddie, Jennifer, and Natalie correctly channeled his Happy Chic design mantra as best they could using gallons of paint and thrift-shop furnishings (with a dollop of good-natured sniping on the side). We didn't know until we saw the show that Todd suggested a monogram for Liberace (because "he's a fancy dog") but we did find the dog bed charming. Despite a vaguely Golden Girls vibe that Jonathan found slightly unnerving--and garish colors in the bedroom--his loft was surprisingly polished and downright "Chic & Dreamy."

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I almost had to call my therapist after seeing my loft. Seriously, it was that bad in person. That being said, I would have hated to have me as a client. Not only is the personal style of the other judges legendary--their interior-design work been well-documented--but their own homes have been widely published as well.

Unfortunately for Kerry, Preston, and Robert, as the editor in chief of ELLE DECOR my focus is on editing and celebrating the design work of others, never my own. Plus, I like to showcase a wide range of international styles, from classic to contemporary and everything in between. I'm intensely private, I rarely write about my own home, and for all my team of decorators knew, I might collect porcelain figurines and Norman Rockwell paintings. (I don't.) So beyond my clipped "I have really specific ideas about design" speech and a few points--"I'm a book person ... I like hot-pink ... and cobalt blue"--I wasn't enormously helpful, or at least not as clear as my cohorts were. My guys were pretty much flying blind, although I'm not sure more details would have mattered because they disagreed over what I'd actually asked for. (By the way, I said I was fine with white walls and liked splashes of hot-pink or cobalt blue but never said "TOGETHER IN THE SAME ROOM.")

Let's see, the antique gates in the dining area were cool, and Preston's paintings--we simply loved those. But the dusty-rose sofas were straight out of Barbie's Dream House and no one provided me with a cocktail table or rug (I got a bar instead?).

My bedroom was no better, featuring a cruciform-shaped headboard sheathed in a-tad-too-cheerful wallpaper (did they run out of money to buy enough for the entire wall?), an Addams Family black puckered bedspread, a pair of nervous-looking nightstands, and not a lamp or chandelier in sight. I'm an editor; all I do is read. Jonny, Kelly, and India agreed I couldn't live with the design, but shockingly they still thought India's place was worse.

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It's true; India's home away from home was anything but "Caribbean Classical." Despite trying to overcome a series of bad decisions, Andrea, Serge, and Shazia produced a space that was disjointed and unfinished. India's bedroom (Andrea's brilliant handiwork) was the most pulled-together part of the scheme and the bed actually looked styled (though I would have ditched those patchwork pillows).

However, downstairs was a disaster. In the show, Shazia and Serge appear equally hapless, but we were able to ascertain that Serge--when not installing the hardwood floor in the bedroom, which was never--was the creative genius behind the mirror that looked like it had been dislodged in an earthquake and the putti trapped behind glass (A small statue placed behind a fragment of a window in the corner of the dining area. No idea why.). Sadly, we didn't get a chance to get to know more about Serge or to see him shine. But don't fret: He (and the other local contestants) received terrific coverage this past weekend in a major New York newspaper. Even though we couldn't live with his design, he still ended up on top. So stay tuned.