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Fascinating And Terrifying People

Who intimidates Margaret Russell? Find out!



As editor-in-chief of Elle Decor, I've had the pleasure of meeting an incredibly disparate group of fascinating people -- fashion designers, architects, artists, athletes, politicians, actors, and chefs.

I'm not easily intimidated, but our guest judge, Tom Colicchio, scared the heck out of me. He has piercing blue eyes, a strong voice, and a focus that is gripping. If you think he's intense on "Top Chef," he's even more so in person. And if he affected me in this way, I can only imagine how the contestants felt.

This week's challenge was to create a private dining room keeping in mind Chef Colicchio's personal tastes. He requested a space that is eclectic yet modern and clean, he likes Arts and Crafts style and mid-century design, and he asked for nature motifs and a mix of materials -- especially stone and wood. Most importantly, the room must be luxurious.


Andrea's project won because she achieved the client's goals to the best degree.

Her room was a seamless presentation of tasteful furniture and accessories, subtle lighting, abundant storage/serving space, and good acoustics. Her work illustrated an understanding of the logistics of a chef's dining room -- in fact she teaches a course on restaurant design -- but also a deft use of materials, and a strong sense of architecture. Her room went beyond Restaurants 101; she really built-out the space and every surface showed thought and attention to detail. Inspired by the earthy style of the Napa Valley, Andrea created a seductive room where we all wanted to linger. She was clearly excited by the challenge, and she aced it.

If there were another vote for Mayor of Excuses Village, Carisa would win the title yet again. She had numerous issues this week, including running out of time to unpack her tableware, although she gets kudos for her attempt to reference Arts & Crafts style (by the way, this was a late-nineteenth-century design movement noted for its mix of materials -- wood, glass, and metal -- and use of nature imagery; check out The Arts and Crafts Movement, published by Phaidon, 2006).



I love a great banquette for seating, but hers was overpowering and dwarfed the extraordinary Chris Lehrecke dining table she'd chosen. Carisa mentioned that there was endless room for guests with table extensions, but that table is cut from free-form slabs of wood and certainly doesn't come with additional leaves. Her shoji-screen idea was smart, as was her decision to slipcover the suite of dining chairs (fabric? not so smart), however her striped teal wall colors were drab and down-market. Best line? "It's not 'Top Carl,' it's 'Top Design,' and I'm the designer. So listen to me." Brilliant.

Sometimes Goil thinks too much -- he's so cerebral -- and he really needs to do go out to dinner more often. Expand those horizons, Goil! When he charmingly says, "I'm a bowl-of-noodle kind of guy," he means it, and his limited experience with restaurants truly affected his ability to meet the client's needs. He gets into trouble when he dissects the particulars of a challenge and obsesses over their interpretation instead of creating a workable design scheme.


This time, he focused on an open-work screen that hides the mechanics of meal preparation but enables guests to smell the food, and on a gravel walkway that triggers your sense of hearing as a waiter approaches (actually, it nearly destroyed Kelly's and my heels, but we still didn't send him home).

Unfortunately, Goil's furniture choices were mundane -- he's already admitted that he's not a stylist -- and his tableware was boring. The striped walls were inventive but childish, and although I wasn't a fan of his dried-flower chandelier at the time, in retrospect both of these elements made the room truly memorable. Goil never ceases to surprise, and he's definitely expanded my horizons.

Matt didn't even need the extra hour to finesse his room, as he seems to manage his time exceedingly wellâ€â€even though he installed an amazing, handmade leather floor for this challenge. His choice of furnishings was stylish, his color palette was pleasing, and his tableware was both practical and chic; the olive branch tucked into the top of the sideboard was a poetic touch. But although his room was polished and ready for guests, it was cautious and quiet. Matt played it too safe this week, and although he made it to the final four, his room wasn't the chef's choice.


Michael is 23 years old. When I was 23 I was answering phones at Glamour magazine and learning how to produce photo shoots; I wasn't a self-proclaimed expert, and I knew that I had a great deal to learn. Michael is very talented and shows enormous promise, but he needs to reign in the attitude that was evident on this show if he wishes to succeed.

This week he failed to address the client's needs, and the theories he spouted to justify his decisions were far-fetched (the hand-knotted Tibetan carpet being a nod to the philosophy of handmade Arts & Crafts design?). And Michael's proclamation that, "I disagree with having napkin storage in my chef's dining room" is downright silly. He gave little thought to functionality, and although the idea of mixing the chairs was good, it was poorly executed and they seemed random and mismatched (not to mention unwieldy, the wood chair weighs more than I do). The window cut into the wall was the one surprise in an otherwise disappointing project. Michael kept describing his work as clever this week, but sadly it just wasn't clever enough.

Still, he's added some spice to our lives these past few weeks, and I'm sure he'll continue to make his distinctive mark on the design world. So stay tuned.

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