Rumble In The White Room

Rumble In The White Room

How do the judges decide who goes home? Margaret Russell explains.


Would you like a behind-the-scenes look at Top Design's fourth episode? First of all, the judging was taped on a Sunday evening at the same time as a boisterous bar mitzvah was going on one floor below at Wolfgang Puck's WP restaurant at the Pacific Design Center. The music was pounding, we couldn't hear ourselves think, and at one point production was shut down because the band's rendition of "It's Raining Men" was drowning out anything going on in the White Room. It was beastly hot, as the air-conditioning had to be turned off whenever the cameras were rolling, and our stylish-but-stiff "Dating Game" barstools seemed more unforgiving than usual. (Kelly and I had microphone packs attached inside the backs of our dresses and we had to either sit ramrod straight or we found ourselves slumping over to avoid the discomfort.)

There were eight contestants' design pods to review, and the questioning of the contestants seemed interminable; the taping ran very late into the night. Worst of all? I was outvoted. It's true. I wanted Ryan to go home, and not because he was belligerent (much more argumentative than what appears on the show and so was Michael; fortunately, most of that was cut). Ryan set the tone by wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the numbers 666, the universal sign of the devil. His attitude matched the outfit, and although we didn't know that he boasted, "I don't care what the judges think; if I lose, f***k 'em" until we saw this week's show, in truth it was irrelevant. More on this later.

Here's how we decide who goes home: Each judge takes notes as we walk through the spaces and ask questions. Then we query the designers about specific details and they explain their choices. Jonathan, Kelly, the guest judge and I confer and must come to a consensus, at which point the designers rejoin us in the White Room. Sometimes we argue, as we usually have very different opinions about what we've just seen. Jonathan and Kelly are both accomplished interior designers, and our guest judges have varied backgrounds.

My role is to be an editor, which means that I tend to put myself in the client's place. (By the way, even though my degree is from Brown and not Parsons, Pratt, or Otis, I've spent more than 20 years studying the decorative arts and working in the design world; I've seen thousands of homes all over the world.) The producers never interfered in the decision-making, and Todd doesn't take part in the deliberation. Plus, because it's reality TV, there's always a lawyer in the room.

For those who wouldn't have chosen Carisa as this week's winner, her room was far better in person than on TV. It didn't look like it was created with garage-sale castoffs (the major point of the challenge); it was inventive, smart, and youthful, and she was clearly the most selective shopper.

Erik gave his client what he asked for: The space had a mid-century feel yet was modern, and clean. Michael's design scheme was an improvement over his last project, but it wasn't suited for someone just out of school. And those ducks? margaretsblog_204_06_320x24.jpg

Matt deftly channeled Armani/Casa style. It was a strong move to sheathe the wall and floor in the same stained wood, which matched his outdoor-furniture set and made it newly chic. Jonathan and Kelly loved his double-lamp idea, which I thought was better from a distance. Goil was the most inventive, per usual. His Goil-ized gothic chairs were fascinating and quirky and he moved past his architectural bent to bring a more decorative eye to this room.

Andrea's room was the epitome of industrial chic, and for someone who'd never shopped a tag sale, she did remarkably well because she saw potential in pieces others would have passed by. The tabletop fashioned of doors, the suitcase and drawers mounted as storage on the wall, and the moody palette were all brilliant; although I thought her student was crazy to not want a real bed. I was sad to see Felicia go home. Even though I cringed when I saw that afghan (an accessory that should always remain in the family who crocheted it), her wall covering was amazing, and I think she was the only one to create a window in her pod. Unfortunately, her client hated the space, and her room looked disparate; the pieces in it never lost their garage-sale patina. She failed at this challenge, but you should check out her website (, as she shows great promise.

And then there's Ryan. Now we know why he refused to shop for fabric last week -

he's never done it before. I don't understand how someone who wants to be on Top Design could even admit this, and his fabric choice for his client's room was downright scary. In addition, the screen was dangerous, the bed was too high, and his furniture didn't work as planned. Ryan was given a reprieve because he is inventive, creative, and ambitious; Kelly admired his iconoclasm and we all thought him capable of better work.

I had trouble getting past his condescension toward the design profession and popular culture in general. He's safe this week, but if he decides on a future that doesn't include fabric accounts at his local design center, he definitely has one in the art world. For those in the New York area, I've been told that that his work is included in the Scope New York show at Damrosch Park in Lincoln Center this weekend (February 22-26); go to scope-art.comfor details. You might run into me there, but no eye-rolling allowed.

You May Also Like...
Recommended by Zergnet