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What More Could You Ask For?

Margaret Russell on Goil's elimination.


A fun, interesting challenge and an extra day to work -- what more could a Top Design contestant possibly ever ask for? Okay, I'm kidding. margaret_108_01_320x240.jpg

The PDC pods served well as a blank canvas on which to create an idyllic, high-end suite focused on "the needs of today's travelers," and the rooms that Andrea, Carisa, Goil, and Matt designed were diverse, polished, and posh. Linda O'Keeffe, the Design + Architecture Director at Metropolitan Home magazine -- Elle Decor's sister publication -- served as our insightful guest judge, and Jonathan, Kelly, and I were truly impressed by the contestants' efforts.

Nearly everyone can relate to this challenge -- we all hold hotel rooms up to a high standard of comfort, functionality, and style. Even sweet Goil (who last week admitted that he rarely tried any restaurant more adventurous than his local noodle house) ruefully observes, "I haven't designed a hotel room but I have been in a few of them." Now, I know lots of fancy people who profess to make their hotel rooms more special by toting silver-framed photos, silk scarves to drape over lamps, and scented candles but, in truth, I'm just happy when my luggage actually makes it on my flight. By the way, I'm writing this blog from a hell-bent-on-hospitable hotel room in Greensboro, NC. For the record, my most basic traveling needs aren't even close to being met. It's a fact: Hotel rooms can be downright scary.

Happily, Top Design's aren't. You can clearly see how extra time and a generous budget affected the outcome of this challenge. Except for Goil's apparent deadline issues, the rooms were inventive and well-thought-out. And I was fascinated by how the final four related to each other. Who knew that Matt would selfishly refuse to adapt his floor plan when he had already scored the best room theme? Bad, bad Matt. (Frankly, it didn't look like Carisa or Andrea altered theirs much either.) Carisa's Air room was smart and snappy. Her palette (no orange or fuchsia!) was appealing, and her design for the sitting area wall -- like Pantone swatches of moody blues behind the black gridwork -- was lovely. The billowing curtains created the fantasy of windows without the trouble of constructing them (but those pretty blue vases on the floor would have been knocked over within minutes in a real room). To me, Carisa overthought her whole air-vent premise, and I found the black slatted screens a bit overwhelming for a room of this size (the jail-cell effect when looking from the bed to the sitting area was more than a tad discomfiting). Although her styling was simplistic -- not necessarily a bad thing in a compact hotel room -- her overall scheme was definitely a decided improvement over her chef's dining room.

Matt lucked out with the water theme (though when Ed the carpenter sliced his finger he was left without help for several hours), and he delivered a room that was truly chic, cool, and confident. The lacquered-white woodwork -- especially the low wainscoting, what a great play on scale -- was in brilliant contrast to pale, ice-blue walls, and his decision to fashion a perfect envelope and rely on mirrored and Lucite furnishings to convey the sense of water was a complete success. The drawbacks? Kelly wisely pointed out that the mirrored pieces were especially fragile for a commercial space, and Matt's area rug (much more taupey brown in reality than it appears on camera) was a misstep. On the show, I look decidedly cranky when I sit on the sofa; it's because it was extra, extra deep. I admit that I'm petite, but it needed a bolster pillow to be comfortable for anyone under 6' 5". However, Matt's flooring more than made up for that oversight, as the self-confessed floor snob laid sheets of glossy fiberboard on the diagonal to create a surface that looked exquisite and expensive. This hotel suite was pure luxury.

It was clear that Andrea wasn't at all keen on her Earth theme, and when I watched the show and saw her space slowly evolving, I could see why. She used earthy, organic surfaces last week, and it must have been difficult to conjure something with similar materials but a different vibe. (And that's why it's called a challenge.) Her floor plan made sense and I loved her four-poster; it was a dramatic flourish for a rather small space. It was terrific that she designed her bedding, and I'm impressed that she continues to use different surface treatments -- she did succeed in her goal of doing "something fairly unconventional with very conventional materials." As architects, both Goil and Andrea tend to focus on the more theoretical aspects of a project, and Andrea's teal stripe of sky, sandy walls, and groundlike rug were overly literal -- and true to form. And while Kelly and Jonathan loved those wheat grass-top tables, I'd rather the space be left open for books and a laptop. Plus, those little crates of grass always get buggy and gnats just aren't nice. Although I was impressed by what Andrea created, sadly, it wasn't luxurious, or a room I'd want to sleep in.

Goil chose the worst element -- fire -- definitely not a positive theme for a hotel room. But I'm not sure that he could have succeeded even if he had a less difficult inspiration with which to work. His great talent lies in his quirky, unexpected ideas, but he often gets into trouble with their execution. Though his room was the most designed and decorated of all of his projects to date, his patchwork wall -- with 40 different fabrics -- was far too ambitious and time-consuming, as was his magical, shimmering veil of gold pieces. The floor plan was thoughtful, and he mixed materials well -- the jewel-like curtain, the metal sculpture, the exotic orchid, the painted "sunset" stripes, but his room didn't feel luxe in the least.

The colors were too intense, the rug was poorly placed, the minimalist bed was simply sad. Fire is synonymous with passion, but Goil didn't feel passionate about this room and it was his downfall. It's funny, but his ideas would have been better suited to a sexy bar or lounge, just not a bedroom. I'm deeply sorry to see him go: Although I've been impressed by nearly all of the contestants, Goil's dynamic thought process and joie de vivre have truly inspired me the most. He -- and his 20 pairs of fabulous eyeglasses -- will be sorely missed.

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