Bravo shows us just how challenging gracing your space can be with Top Design, its latest reality show competition to fill the magic Wednesday night time slot. Not only must the contestants exhibit creativity and an aesthetic sensibility, but they also must meet the needs and persnickety desires of their clients and deliver a finished design within an set of limitations including time, materials and space.
And of course there’s the drama.
Bravo has a good eye for casting colorful reality show personalities such as Project Runway‘s Santino Rice and Top Chef‘s Marcel Vigneron. While there are a couple sleeper divas for Top Design, contestants Michael Adams and John Gray steal the show in the first episode for possibly the worst team effort ever (even including the collaboration that Runway contestant Vincent describes as the "nightmare of my life").
The competitors are randomly paired up and told to design a room around a mystery guest’s favorite five items. Each team gets the same size space and budget and luckily, the services of a carpenter and seamstress. For the actual furnishings, the gang gets the run of Los Angeles’ Pacific Design Center. So far so good until Michael and John realize they’re partners.
Let’s just say that both men are "feisty" (as our mystery guest judge puts it) after being forced to mesh their design approaches, which basically boils down to John being aggressive and doing the bulk of the physical work while Michael avoids getting his hands dirty and offers comments like "I think [John] has the mannerisms of an ogre," "After much evaluation, I realized it’s not me; it’s him" and simply, "I hate him."
My favorite moment, however, is Michael’s expression of horror when John suggests using a "rag technique" to create a fresco effect on the walls.
The beginning of the two-day challenge is full of arguing, planning and setup so that once you get to the second day, everything feels rushed. There are necessarily major gaps in the creative process in order to keep the design reveal a surprise, which makes the final product seem all the more magical.
Initially, all the finished designs look similar, especially since for this challenge most teams chose green as the unifying color (hey, it worked for The CW). But by the end, viewers will begin to discern differences and figure out their own preferences.
It’s too early to tell, but so far neither the judges (Jonathan Adler, Margaret Russell, Kelly Wearstler) nor host Todd Oldham have the standout personalities or catchphrases that we now lovingly associate with Runway. But neither does Top Chef and that’s still entertaining.
Naturally, an interior design show has to have a kick-ass judging room, and Top Design opts for a kind of cheesy, minimal yet powerful look. The so-called White Room simply has a towering, silky white upholstered wall interrupted at regular intervals by white "buttons." The three judges chairs are set off to the side and sit on a shiny black floor. Think The Dating Game, but trying really hard to look cooler and definitely not as welcoming.
Which contestant did you like the best? Who could use a dose of feng shui?