Monday, August 2, 2010

Episode 7, Kitchen Challenge

Bon giorno.
Oh hi.  Sorry about that one last night.  That sure was uncomfortable.
I've been pretty terrified of the kitchen challenge since first year of design star - its a tricky one.  So when it was announced that it was kitchen challenge and a 'photo shoot', i was nervous.  
Here is what I wish I had done:

Or this:
or this:

Or This:

or this:

It's just not how the kitchen challenge works - if you watch seasons past they have the same challenges.
I'm an open shelving girl, lots of white marble, rustic woods, and...
Wait.  Backup.

Change of Teams.  I'm with Courtland.  I hadn't worked with Court yet, and we aren't roommates (Casey is my roommate, all dorm room style)  So I really hadn't gotten to know him.  I knew that he was super handsome and liked American Apparel but there are times when he would say somethings that bordered on parmesan cheesy. I was like, who is this kid?  is he for real?

Well, yes, people he is for real.  He was super frustrated with his previous teammates and you saw that on camera, but he is truly just a really really earnest  and very sweet guy.  He became one of my favorite people on the show, and working with him was awesome.  I LOVE YOU, COURT.
I mean, look how happy we are? ridiculous.
OK.  So we chose the Italian basket, not sure why.  I actually struggle with a lot of italian design and style - it can often be garish and overworked and trying really hard to look expensive (which in turn makes it look cheap).  BUT, there are some new more modern designs coming out of Italy that I love.  I  wanted to do the kitchen that Dolce and Gabanna would have had they just designed a house in Capri.  Modern, fresh, with rustic woods and bright mediterranean blues and whites, propping with alessi and modern espresso makers, etc etc.
Maybe with tiles like these: (i'm well aware they are turkish, but its a similar idea)
or this:

in a setting like this, sorry so blurry.

When people think of Italian design they immediately go to garish crown mouldings, faux finishes, burnt colors, gold carved furniture - all these inspired form Old World Italy.  like this:
(gagging, barfing noises)
But here's the deal, we are in Modern America and the more you try to make something feel old world, the more (in my opinion) it looks cheap and tacky.  Courtland thought i was crazy for wanting to go modern, he has done a lot of Italian families kitchens and he was picturing much more traditional warm family oriented kitchen.  We have pretty opposing styles.  BUT you can do Italian in a modern way.  and make it still feel rustic and warm, like this one:

I showed Court this picture and he totally agreed - modern meets traditional.  The furniture and colors are more traditional, but there are still a lot of clean lines in the kitchen and warm, rustic, not garish at all.
A compromise, yes, but we went for it.
I almost cry with laughter at my former self, did you really think that was going to work out, Emily?  Did you think you could create a beautiful kitchen like the one above in 2 days and 2 stores?
HA!. silly little Emily.
Here is what we did instead:
I mean, its virtually the same kitchen, no?  

First we chose our three finishes from our three vendors - flooring, countertops and cabinetry - we had three different options for each one.  We realized that we chose the exact same as the other team, so we had to switch to the light wood cabinetry so they weren't identical. - HUGE MISTAKE.
But we had already chosen our paint colors - the BenMoore 'Parmesan cheese' and BenMoore 'kinda-looks-like-the-grapes-in-the-basket-purple.   So now, we can't go back and change our paint colors, we were stuck with them and we BOTH knew that we were in trouble on day one - all our colors were beige, basically. ugh.

We went to Sears and bought all our appliances.  The other store to shop at was Gracious Home which has very little furniture so we bought these two, well, japanese stools at Sears and I struggled to un-japanese them by upholstering them with Bubble Wrap.  I can't wait to do a video tutorial on how to upholster furniture with bubble wrap.

I really have my finger on the pulse of style and trends, people. Bubble wrap is the new batting.  

Court and I are getting along super well.  Having fun despite us knowing that we have already set ourselves to fail with our finishing choices and paint choices.  We are off to Gracious Home to get all of our pretty things  - which is where I found the $300 table cloth that I ruined by upholstering those god-awful stools in.  Styling sacrelige.  At least they showed me knowing that i was doing something terrible.

Then to tile.  Court and I have different opinions on tile - i wanted something hand-painted with a pattern, (like the blue above)  but he wanted something more traditional.  We bought two options - white carerra tile and the larger scale 'garlic' tile.  I think we would have chosen, the obviously MUCH MUCH better choice (carerra marble) had it not been for my garlic.  I had realized at this point that I hadn't thought about my inspriation for garlic at all yet, because frankly I was not inspired by garlic.  So I blew it with the tile.  I was trying to bring in my inspiration.  i've obstained from garlic since this challenge, angry at what it made me do on national television.  Screw you, garlic.  stink up somebody else's breath, you tiny little  white stupid piece of food. you.

At Gracious Home about an hour before the end of shopping one of our producers called us over and said 'you guys know you only have an hour before the store in queens closes.'  We literally had no idea what she was talking about.  We refered to our dosier and it doesn't say anything about a third store.  I guess that they had announced it, but Court and I were too busy trying to change our finishings and we didn't hear. We both vaguely remembered the announcement, but it definitely didn't sink it.  We didn't make it to the store, unfortunately.  
Who knows what else we could've found there.  Oh well.  

(fists in air, charlton heston voice)

We get back to the Studio and Court starts fauxing the wall.  You probably know how I feel about faux finishes - i'm not the biggest fan, but he is really good at it, it is a team challenge, and at this point we had already decided on the compromise of 'modern traditional' (???) so I was like, go for it, whatever, see you back in LA.  - i figured i was gonna be outta there tomorrow.

I paint the chalkboard paint on the wall and then, get this, I paint the brass chandelier black.  I know. it was super hard to do because it was beautiful as is, but we were desperate for contrast so it had to go black.

Now for styling.  Yes I over-styled.  And I would do it again in a heartbeat.  Why?  because with little propping in this kitchen it looked like the most depressing, tacky, dead, studio kitchen ever with very little contrast (thank god for the black paint). The 'photographer' had no lighting, no bounce boards, nothing to make it look pretty and dreamy.  

Heres' the thing:
A good photographer can make a beautiful photograph out of a white things on a white wall. 
Like so:

 It's all about the light and angle - and if you don't have natural light to make it look like this:

Then you have to create the look of natural light.  And it is very very hard.
It's why photographers get paid a TON.  We were trying to do rogue lighting with lamps and using sheets on the ground to bounce light into the room. I mean, it was pathetic.  I was upset to say the least, so i added stuff to try to bring the kitchen back from the dead.  Its like I'm the guy who puts makeup on corpses.  But it helped a bit and i would do it again.  

Court totally stepped up to the plate and dealt with some of the lighting/lens problems - he has experience taking pictures.  Its funny, you would think that I would know exactly what lens to use, etc, but as a stylist working with amazing photographers, you would never be like, 'hey, what lens ya using'.  That is there job, their domain it would be like a nurse asking the surgeon during brain surgery 'hey, doc, whatcha gonna do next'.  But for this challenge they weren't aloud to help us at all.  We had to be the photographer, too!!???

Also here's the deal, you can see all the appliances perfectly.  and that's what we are selling.  so while i liked the other kitchen more, ours was a more successful photograph in my opinion.

Calmate. Calmate.  

So yes, i overstyled, but that kitchen needed life.  and color.  

Oh the purple?  I think we bought a quart of it because Courtland wanted to do an art piece on the far wall, but we realized we wouldn't see it and desperate for color, we put it on the front of the island.  Neither of us really liked it.    But once you make your paint order you can't go back and add more or change it.  You have to work with what you have.

Looking at it now, here is what I wish we had done with the same resources:  Stuck with the white cabinetry, had the much darker flooring (which we thought we ordered, but we realized we never changed it on the form) painted the walls a bluish grey, used the same marble countertops that we got (it was the best choice) used dark/light blue alternating subway tile.

I liked the other teams kitchen much more.  I liked their white cabinets and their tile much more than ours.  we blew it.

OK, hosting videos.  I hope you are all aware that we go straight from judging into hosting - there is no time to prepare, no starting and stopping, no writing things down.  It's nerve-racking.  And if you fumble, you just have to keep going.  I ran out of time which is why i rushed the end so much.  But

waddya do?  forget 'bout it.

Tomorrow i'll discuss the outing of me being raised mormon -which i thought was a strange time for it.  it made it seem like mormons all reupholster furniture, when really i was talking more about my family and what we did growing up.  I'll explain more tomorrow.

Oh and i'll talk about the other team too, this post is long enough.


  1. I'm going to have to watch the episode again, as I lost my focus once Courtland confessed to being... straight!?!? Sorry, Courtland, but I didn't see that twist coming...


  2. Personally, I like both of the kitchens on Design Star better than the pictures you posted above. The open shelving is beautiful...but VERY unrealistic. If I put open shelving in my kitchen, it would look like a disaster all the time, and I'm a pretty tidy person (unlike my husband...). Sure, lots of little details to nitpick over, but what better place to showcase an appliance than in a kitchen that actually looks like real people live there?

    Also, isn't "bonjour" French, not Italian? :)

    I'm rooting for you Emily, I think given realistic budgets & time constraints your design abilities would really shine through a lot more than they were able to with the weird challenges on Design Star.

    -Rachel (in Texas)

  3. Emily, I agree with Room Fu.

    If the challenge was to select a winner solely on the final picture, your team was the clear winner, thanks to your styling. From moving the island to highlight the dishwasher, to infusing some much needed colors into an otherwise blank canvas, and even the angle of the chosen shot, was obviously all you, and what ended up making that kitchen work. Why Courtland was safe over you is beyond me.

  4. Emilyyyyyyy!!! Great art directing! I loved how you got the image on the screen right away. And you only needed to pull a few things out (was there no time?? you guys looked exhausted) -- you're so right, start with it all in there and then edit stuff out. Personally, I thought the eggplant color helped it a lot as a photograph, loved the chalkboard, and I agree with @Melissa, your/courtland's kitchen was much more successful as a photo. Oh, and I noticed the lighting situation... scary.

    Your host video rocked! you crack me up and put a smile on my face. While I didn't want to see you in the bottom two, I admit I was happy that I got to see your host video.

    Oh, and question; why were the shots horizontal? the big goofy AD in me kept going, "but covers are vertical? turn the camera!" so bossy....

    Can't wait until next week. xoxo.

  5. Anonymous #2 - "bonjour" is French, "buongiorno" (the one Emily said) is Italian.

    I love the kitchens up top, but I don't think they'd ever fly on HGTV. I like Candice Olson on DS, but every time I see a finished Divine Design room I get dizzy - so full of stuff.

    I'd be interested in seeing your finished kitchen with the darker floor and blue/gray paint you mentioned (and maybe a different color on the island?). Are you a Photoshop expert too??

  6. I actually like your kitchen better than the other teams. Theirs was kind of cluttered imo

  7. I like your kitchen better! It was much warmer than the white cabinets. I'm not a huge fan of white cabinets, unless there is something to warm the space up. It was too stark. Plus, I liked your bigger tile much better than their tile. Your picture was much better too. I like how you moved the island so you could see all the appliances, and I like how there wasn't a table in the way in your photo as well. That fabric you used for the stools was beautiful!

    I was really hoping you weren't the one to go home tonight! I was sad to see Alex go too, but I really like watching you and I was glad you stayed! Plus, you were totally cute in your host presentation!

  8. Hi Emily. Thanks for the post. I'm so curious that you mentioned showing Courtland that picture above (which is gorgeous!). Are you allowed to look at magazine swipe/interior images during the contest? For some reason, I didn't think you were...

    Anyway, I'm rooting for you! Can't wait to see how this ends!

  9. we kept saying "where are the open shelves?" Emily knows how to do open shelves... I suppose time/talent/resources get in the way of *design*...hate those time limits.

  10. Thanks for sharing the inside view. It must be so incredibly frustrating to be on that show. You know what you want to do but you don't have the time/tools/teamates to get it done. And then Vern goes off on a tear about how you suck. I couldn't deal.

  11. I was surprised that you didn't mention that the plates look a little like garlic cloves at that angle.

    It's one thing for the photographers not to be allowed to help, but not to bring the right equipment seems a little extreme in terms of the challenge.

    I didn't notice until roomfu pointed it out that the other team's dishwasher was completely obscured. Why didn't the judges bring that up, I wonder? That would seem a rather major omission. They should have had a catalog art director as one of the judges, if for no other reason than that I would have liked to have Alex get a chance to say, "I told you so." He may not have gotten his inspiration in--God, I hope they drop insanely hobbling thing next season--but in terms of the actual assignment, he seems to have been right a lot.

    Overstyling? I think you were right about the needed color, and I like a kitchen with a little clutter in it. Like desks, I find uncluttered kitchens sterile.

  12. That Thom Filicia kitchen in the first pic is a favorite of mine.

    I thought your picture turned out great. There were a lot of individual items in the kitchen that I didn't care for, but it all worked in the photo.

    Looking at that photo, you could tell someone that knew what they were doing set it up. Overstyled? I don't know. I thought it felt warma and lived in.

    I think you will probably say everything you do is overstyled, because all creative-types are harder on themselves than anyone else. But then again, I know nothing about prop styling, so take what my opinion with a grain of salt.

  13. Ok, you know I love to love you, but I gotta agree with your analysis above: the other team's kitchen was indeed better.

    Had you rocked it out as you suggested (dark floors, white cabs, etc) I think it could have been killer, but alas.

    And, quite frankly, the fact that you're not allowed to say "that looks totally friggin tacky" is one of the reasons I think most HGTV shows suck a dizzle...IT DOES LOOK TACKY, YO! Anyway, keep on keepin on. You rule the school.

  14. Dude. Do the judges ever hear about all of the dramz with unchangeable paint choices and cabinet colors? I feel like you guys should get extra cred for turning out a lovely kitchen with such limited options.

    Also, I know you love Michael so I'll give him a pass - but sometimes he gets a little...shrill. I suppose I'd get shrill too if I were on t.v., though.

  15. i hear you emily...but my problem with all of this "backstory" is that you didn't TELL-no really...DEMAND TO courtland that regardless of his experience doing italian kitchens that in a photograph shit looks WAAAY different than in real life. and also that faux finishes are dated and suck big fat hairy nutsacks, and egplant purple is not a wise choice for anything anywhere ever, and that you should risk someone disliking you if you know deep down that those finishes, cabinetry etc are all going to be hideous. you knew all of this emily...those inspiration pics prove it, but why didn't you fight harder for what you knew would look good? and i don't fault you on the styling...simply bc that shit was so ugly you had to make it look good somehow. it's kind of like in the movie swingers when jon favreau is on the phone to the girl he met at the bar and calls her like 50 times bc each message he leaves is more scary than the last and he is trying to make up for it all somehow? yeah, like that.

  16. Emily! You had me AND even my husband all nervous for you! There were all those posts about the scratchy letters and dun.dun.dun THE KITCHEN CHALLENGE. And then we moved last saturday and didn't have internet hooked up until this afternoon (I have to watch design star online because I'm in Canada and its not on Canadian HGTV channel). I was sure you were going to be eliminated just because of all those scary posts! Anyway we are both very relieved :)
    I definitely think you are one of the most talented on the show and should win but I also think that the show isn't just about the most talented person. The judging is very random and they did seem to pick on you alot. Also design in itself is very subjective. The reason I like you is because I love your style and taste but the judges seem to be more interested in modern, minimalist looks.
    As for your picture I think it look like it was straight from a Sears catalogue. And that's good because after all, you were selling Sears products right? I love all those mod-rustic kitchens with the aged wood panelling and hand painted tiles but those are just not Sears. So I think you did great with what you had (and considering you couldn't use white cabinets!). Although a little color contrast would have been great but the purple island actually helped alot.
    Thanks so much for the inside scoop posts! They're so fun and the only reason I watch the show (I've never watched it before this season).
    Can't wait for next week!

  17. Dear Emily,
    I am so glad I stumbled onto your blog. You are funny, and talented. I hate design star this year.I do not like the new format and the constant team challenges.Too much cheesy drama, not enough of the actual design process. I will continue to read your blog and wish you the very best.

  18. Hey Emily, I really didn't understand what the judges meant by your "lack of an editor's eye" (or something like that) on tonight's episode. Honestly, they don't have a clue what they're talking about! Since when does a kitchen have to be bare bones in order to be photogenic/well designed? I don't know a single person who has clean, bare countertops in their kitchen. Most of the kitchen's I've seen are...lived in, much like the one you and Court designed. It looked so much more humble and inviting with all the various bits on the counters.

    I don't know how much more of this show I can take. I enjoy seeing you and Courtland, but taht's about it. The "experts" seem really clueless about what the average HGTV viewer wants to see in a design show. You're really personable and fun; I could see myself (and friends) watching you on TV. Even if you don't win (but, of course, I hope you do), I'd take that kitchen you designed anyday over some boring beige basic nonsense I've seen from the other "experts" on the network!

    Best wishes from Washington, DC.

  19. Emily, you are my fav on the show! I thought I'd start with that. And I am super-psyched my coworker told me about your blog--since the design process is not at all revealed on the show this season. I agree with the above commenter who said it was more about the drama, which is not the reason I watch the show. But that's not your fault. You discuss the design elements on your blog that I want to know...Oh, and kind of random: my coworker is married to your father-in-law's cousin, Stephanie. Frank is my coworker's name, and he told me that you were on Design Star this year after the first episode, so I have been watching it online ever since then (since we are sans cable @ our house). I'm excited to follow your blog from here on out, and I am rooting for you to take the cake!

  20. Dear HGTV,
    I would watch this girl. I recommend that you hire her either through this show or by another way-if you haven't already.
    Her perspective is refreshing and she doesn't have the least bit of self-importance, but seems to come by her attractive demeanor naturally.
    I feel I'm getting the inside scoop when she writes and-by the way-she has an appealing, breezy writing manner, too: a talent to definitely consider in today's diversified media environment.
    Rock K.

  21. Isnt it crazy how the judges LOVED both kitchens? I wish that you spoke up and told them something like " Listen up YIP, I didnt incorporate GARLIC into my design because I would much rather create something good looking than something inspired by a freakin food." Like when they made you incorporate the goddamn souvenirs into the design at trump. WHY? Creating beautiful rooms and speaking to camera should be whats being tested, not establishing your signature look based on some crap.

    PLEASE GOD, say their are individual challenges coming up soon?



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