Episode 3

Last night’s Design Star was interesting, to say the least.  friends were over. wine spritzers were being made.  let the designing begin.

Where to start. oh yeah, hello, where it always starts:  Jazz.  I chose the Tuba because I thought visually the tuba is big, bold, metallic, and its sound is very distinctive – super low, slow,  and fat.  yes it sounds fat.  and phat.  wha, what? If i had to do it all over again, i would still have picked the tuba.  So what did I do, you ask? (at least that’s what my friends asked last night, ‘Emily, what exactly did you do?’)  Good questions, fans (they love it when I call them that), I shall tell you.

I wanted the terrace to be super relaxing, with furniture that is fall-in-able and hard-to-get-out-of-able, (what? those are real terms.  wikipedia that, yo).  So when we found these pieces of furniture that were all low to the ground and super comfortable, not to mention big round and fat, I was like,  ‘hello, tuba!!’ a phrase that was not underused the next two days.  Next we went to Zarin’s fabric where I had ‘claimed’ fabric (that’s what we all started to do, ‘claiming’ things so we made sure that we had something that couldn’t be taken from us) to make pillows.  I’m a bit of a whiz (in time, not necessarily in skill) at making throw pillows, so i bought enough to make  A TON, like 15, that we could throw on the furniture, on the floor, etc.  I wanted it to be a hangout where people would just read romance novels, maybe an US weekly,  for hours and hours while listening to well, yes Miles or Enya or Kenny G. yes, how did I not make any Kenny G references already, crap.


Back to the pillows. We wanted to stick to metallics, because while this isn’t a literal challenge, clearly most of the instruments are metallic and metallics are on-trend, look high end and are neutral at the same time (we already got our color taken care of with the barney walls and green plants).  So i bought a metallic silver linen, (always a favorite) a gold large scale damask (made modern by sitting next to the metallic linen) an eggplant linen, a gold morrocon-y print and white linen.  I was given 10 minutes to pick out fabric, which is like fabric sacrelige, one needs at least 1/2 hour to make the best combinations, but nope, literally 10 minutes.  I liked what I got, but wasn’t in love.

Then we went to Plantworks where we got three really big fig trees (my go-to for graphic, big modern plants that make a statement and are easy to care for) and a bunch of succulents to style the tabletop with (which doesn’t work necessarily that well with the fig trees, but we weren’t at a huge nursery with a trillion different plants, so they seemed like good choices). Stacey got some ivy for her engaging wall, there too.

Unfortunately we had missed the window to go uptown to the other outdoor furniture store, and traffic wasn’t helping.  We had planned a big dining table situation (for me and Kenny to eat creme brulee at) but now we were out of options.  This is where being on a reality competition is frustrating because you just want to ring your assistant (am I british now?), send them to IKEA and grab a teak dining set.  So instead, I get the not-so-brilliant idea that we can just make them with supplies from the hardware store.  I think I had the ‘I-can-do-anything-because-I-have-to’ fever.  It was a 24 hour thing, contagious for sure, and yes it made me a bit delusional.  At the hardware store I found these pretty tapered table legs in two different heights, so i thought – perfect, benches and table.  uh, what?  a mistake for sure, but I don’t know what else we could’ve done.  oops.

We got some plywood for the tops and some foam to upholster the tops of the benches.  Nina was totally right, they were architecturally insane.  They looked like piano benches up against a quite large table.  And they certainly didn’t belong outside, and not with the other half of the terrce – maybe the bench at the end of your bed, but not near your ‘fall-in-able’ furniture….yes, there is no stopping me from saying it, they were more ‘fall-off-able’.  BUT, heres the deal. They are actually kinda pretty.  I upholstered the top in the silver linen then trimmed them out with nailheads.  I made a white linen tablecloth and styled the top with the succulents, some wine glasses and a stack of plates. and it was pretty.  it was a ‘do-not-touch-under-any-circumstances’ a-la-house-of-cards-in-a-museum, but it was pretty and tasteful.  (for an indoor dining room in say, my apartment)  I’m not a carpenter and I don’t pretend to be one, so you have to judge everything in theory.  Theoretically if I had had the tools, supplies and skills I needed to make them properly, they could have been beautiful.  Dan helped me, but I almost don’t want to bring him into it because he actually is super talented and skilled when it comes to building and I don’t want my idiocy and lack of planning to taint his reputation.


Working with Dan.  I can’t say enough good things about this guy.  When I first met him, I was like ‘southerner?’ or ‘Williamsburger’? and lo and behold he’s a bit of both.  He’s the friendliest man on the planet and could probably beat out Obama in 2012 if he tried.  And he’s not friendly in the dorky sense, he’s still super cool and funny, just has manners like you wouldn’t believe.  If you’ve been wondering where all the chivalry went? he took it, he has it all.  His lady, Dasha, is a lucky woman. We were lucky to have him on our team.   And because Nina was humbled by being in the bottom last challenge she was much better to work with and really just stuck to her own thing.

About her thing.  I pretty much said it all last night.  I was pretty terrified about another Nina artwork, not being the biggest fan of the first one.  But when she said that  it was going to be architectural and modern, wood and brass on the wall, I thought, ‘ok, that could be tasteful’.  I think we just have very different styles. and yes, I was shocked when she won.  The reason I said something (which enflamed the only slightly dormant tension) was because I really didn’t want to go to elimination again.  its terrible up there.  and it last for hours and hours.  When Vern says that ‘its not a place  you want to be’, he’s so right you have no idea.  And her piece was so big, being the feature, that I feared it would send us to elimination.  I tried to be diplomatic and prefacing with  ‘I like what you had already up there’, but I think she saw through that and could tell that I was faking it.  I was picturing Vern saying, ‘Emily, you’re the stylist, why didn’t you stop this?’  a la basket disaster last week that I got somehow blamed for.  Do I regret saying it now?  nope.  But at the time i did, because the team fell apart for a while and Dan had to witness the DS version of ‘girls gone wild’ that probably tainted him for life.  I made a promise to myself not to stop people from making their own mistakes.  go ahead.  it’s your funeral.  only in this case, she won.  It was the biggest feature in the room and maybe it did resemble a french horn.  i dunno.  kinda speechless about the whole thing to be honest.  here it is again in case you missed it.


So here’s why working on a team for these challenges is extra tricky.  In case you are over music metaphors, i’ll switch it up for you and give you a Hollywood metaphor, as I do speak hollywood now.  It’s like taking 6 actors, putting them on a stage with blank paper and saying, ‘work together to write and perform a play’.   Here’s the catch, if your play is great then everyone is safe, but if it’s a bad play then whoever shines the least goes home.  So, everyone wants the leading role. everyone wants to be the star and nobody wants to be the character players.  But you NEED character players. You need the people to move the play forward, give comic relief, relate to the audience, help everything make sense or it WILL BE A BAD PLAY.  A play with 6 leading roles would turn out like ‘Valentines Day’, the movie, and a total narrative disaster, fragmented and un-engaging.


Same with a live-able space.  You can’t have 6 huge feature walls or big wow factors (i’m ashamed of the use of this cliche, but I fear its not gonna stop), or it will look like crazytown and no one, except maybe barney himself would live there.  Some of us aren’t the needing-to-be-the-star types. I told myself, just do pretty things that you aren’t embarrassed of and hopefully the judges will take note. And Dan certainly was a HUGE character player, he’s so great.  So was Casey, who even I forgot what she did, but i remember that she worked hard and it looked pretty.  Ultimately you do end up sacrificing attention for yourself to better the room in its entirety.  So when everyone says that no one is shining this season, I see what you mean, but hang in there.  Remember that the numbers dwindle every week, eventually there aren’t going to be very many people left and focusing the designs will be easier.  Hopefully.

About the room as a whole.  The barney purple shoulda been darker.  oops.  We did want it to be dark and urban, like jazz, but it wasn’t dark enough.  Often these colors when photographed go black really fast so I think we were scared of that.  It wasn’t the worst color ever, but it coulda been two shades darker, more of an eggplant, or aubergine if you are fancy.  which i am.



I loved the furniture, modern yet super comfy.  These were good choices that we all agreed upon immediately.  I loved the fig trees, although I wish we had more smaller plants to cluster around them.  I wish we had painted the wall navy blue and added some outdoor rugs (and lord did we try to find an outdoor rug, or any flooring solution, but we couldn’t).  I tried to make a huge bean bag, but failed. and I tried to make a huge ottomon from the stiffest foam ever, but it looked insane, so gave up on that one, too.

Ultimately a really really fun challenge. I loved working with Dan, Casey and Stacey.  I felt like I did some things that I was proud of, and finally I didn’t have to go to elimination.  finally. such a relief, you have no idea.

i’m gonna blog about the boys this week, tomorrow or wednesday, as this one already has lasted waaaay to long.  If you didn’t watch it, you can check it out here.


  1. Anonymous

    Thanks for the scoop! I'm glad you mentioned elimination going on for hours because I have wondered how long the whole process takes, from the analysis of the room, to the "discussion", and so on. Also, how long did you have between challenge #2 and #3? So curious!

  2. THANK YOU for such a detailed post! I loved the fig trees and thought it's GOTTA be you! Sounds like you contributed A LOT, too bad that Nina's "snail trail" won and nobody can remember/point to what Staty did. whah?

  3. If I have to watch another group challenge my head is gonna explode. Loved your play analogy. AT LEAST if they are gonna do a group challenge, get everyone in the group working on the same thing (i.e. you ALL need to design a room around a tuba). Not: design a room around a tuba, a kazoo, a recorder and a pan flute and make it all cohesive, but MAKE SURE your individual instruments come shining through.


  4. I knew that tablescape was yours! So pretty. Her murals are crazy.. sorry but the judges have awful taste too if they even like that stuff.

    P.S. That Dan is adorable!!!

  5. uhhhh. i hate that Nina's snail thing won. i hope that she is not as terrible in person as she is on TV. And, not that I need to tell you, but love the furniture!

    Can't wait until next week,

  6. Anonymous

    Love the details, love you and Dan, love that your team won this week! Hate that Meana won–can't believe the judges liked that awful purple wall with squiggles! We're going to keep watching and rooting for you! :-)

  7. Emily,
    Please tell us the challenges get more interesting!!! Argh…I almost changed the channel last night. Glad you were a bit more vocal last night and hope next week we get to see you shine on your own!!! I'd love to invite you to check out my commentary…which you and your lovely blog are mentioned in a couple of times…concerning last night's episode. I'd still love to send you a few interview questions via email and feature you on my blog. Please do let me know if you're interested. :)

    Have a wonderful night!

  8. Emily,
    These challenges are just getting ridiculous. You poor girl! Glad you were a bit more vocal this week. Good job! Here's to hoping next week they allow you to shine on your own! I've given my commentary last night's episode on my design blog that you so kindly commented on last week and would love to hear what others have to say. I'm still very interested in interviewing you via email and featuring you on my blog. Please do let me know if that might be something you're interested in…I'd be honored.

    Have a wonderful night all!

  9. Hi Emily, I found your blog through another and love your insight to the show so maybe you can tell me this. Why is it Vern does all the talking and Candace and Gen sit there like stumps? Don't get me wrong, I love them both, but this show is making them look dumb.


    p.s. more power to you having to work next to Nina.

  10. Based on what the Design Star big wigs showed us, Casey added votive candles (silly editing). I also hope Nina doesn't paint/draw something for every challenge. I'm really hoping there's a team switch-up coming soon; It seems like those fellas might not know how good they have it.

  11. is nina trying to look skinny or was it that cold up there to prompt that position (last picture)

  12. mm

    I didn't get to watch, but I'm so glad to hear that you designed something and tried hard to execute. And I think it's great that Nina tried to design something and even though neither one of them turned out great, I'm happy to hear that there was designing going on. That doesn't necessarily come across on the show. HGTV needs to pull something great out of it's ass. House Hunters on hour-after-hour is fucked up.

  13. kassandra, judging by Trent's exit attire (heavy jacket and scarf) it was filmed sometime early spring (or even fall?), hence poor Meana is shivering.

  14. I didn't like Nina's wall decor either and was kinda shocked when the judges complimented it. I still can't believe she won. Overall though I like the whole outdoor space, I need some sort of intervention for my deck, it's completely bare except for the grill lol

  15. Anonymous

    The judges looked like they were all dressed by Sears. I can't take their taste seriously.

    It's tacky that they didn't bring in real decorators to serve as judges. Vern Yip is to decorating what Thomas Kincade is to painting.

  16. Em… you never cease to amaze me!.. ..Point-on description, I think I'll just copy and paste it into my blog! haha (thanks for leaving my table contribution out of the mix… YOU KNOW HOW EMBARRASSED I WAS.. well, i think we all were)

    Anywho, you give me far too much credit… but I'll take it! I'm actually honored to receive such a compliment from you…. and our mutual respect for each other goes without saying! YOU my friend are the published stylist with all the credentials, remember?

    Talk soon!

  17. love reading the "behind the scenes with emily" post…feeling like a fly on the wall. Please tell us that eventually you all will do individual challenges that can show us how YOU really shine.

  18. Dude, seriously? Another mural? I think a small part of me died when I saw Nina getting all kinds of crazy with the paint brush. And again, when she won the challenge. I respect the fact that she must possess some modicum of talent (she wouldn't be on the show otherwise, right, right??), but dear GOD…Please. Stop. The. Murals. They make me sad. The end.

  19. Anonymous

    the show is just so unwatchable at times. the judges, the editing, a lot of the designers.. but i'm glad you are finally speaking up a bit and not being trammeled over. i'm rooting for you!

  20. Emily, Your blogs are so much more entertaining than the show. I am sorry to say but the show is painful to watch. I hope it gets better….and the only reason I am watching is because of you and Tom. You both seem so real! I think you emit of vibe of just being "good" people. I hope you survive the ridiculous judging. I look forward to your next blog post. It would be great if you had a Facebook page and linked your post into Facebook.

  21. LOVED the recap – I think your contributions totally made the space. Can't wait to see the next episode!

  22. hi Emily- you're the philosopher of this odd bunch of folks. No one could possibly love themselves and their work as much as Nina! Real artists tend to be more like you…a bit skeptical of their abilities. That drives you to improve. I'm a pastel artist myself. I thought Dan got screwed last night. He and Alex are both nice guys and you know what they say about nice guys. Hope to see more of your work upcoming in the contest. You're a clever designer and beautiful too!

  23. Anonymous

    the trump tower show was hard to watch. Design meltdown. All artists and workers fear that day of total failure, when you perform way less than your best and when it all turns to mud…..or dark blue with dropcloth drapes, low beds and taxi cabs under glass! We even predicted they would eliminate another person, before Vern did the deed. Your team had good emotional balance, leading to a good job under the intense pressure. On to the next. You're picking up momentum!

  24. Spot

    I play the french horn for a living. If what Nina did is somehow an accurate conceptual representation of what I do every day, I need to start drinking more. A lot more.

  25. Anonymous

    you did great on the kitchen challenge. Reading this blog, it is obvious how much more time,money and effort you have to spend in your regular job to produce an awesome photo shoot. Again the rule changing game was irritating. Pick a winner,Vern! Your team's photo was clearly more attractive. This 'inspiration' item theme is becoming more and more annoying and lame and has marred the competition. Alex was right in that no one really had confidence in him as a designer and that doomed him eventually. He has many excellent qualities, though, and will gain more experience in his design career. I think your insights would be fresh and new on a HGTV show,so I'm rooting for a smart and beautiful blonde!

  26. Anonymous

    the show exploits you and the other designers purposely by creating scenarios and projects likely to produce 'drama' and failure rather than success. It's a bit of Jerry Springer meets design. Putting individualists up against each other in a 'team' competition that supposed to be about individual goals is absurd. They know that. They pick people like Nina on purpose. It's a stress test. When people employed in design like all of you fail badly, it's merely an indictment of the unfairness of the format.I hope the television experience and exposure have been worth it, Emily!You have nerves of steel to run this design gauntlet.

  27. Anonymous

    You were clearly in your element fixing that room full of old junk into something nice. Excellent! Loved the white on white chandelier and the green white and yellow scheme. You really showed your talent! Oddly a touch of Cortland's signature orange might have been really nice in that room.I don't think he ever used a cool temperature color in the whole competition! I can really see that you would bring a whole new perspective to an HGTV show and we could learn something from you. I like how you are not as absolutely certain of everything you do like David Bromstadt.That is the reality of artwork and design.

  28. Anonymous

    Your glass house blue room was serene and beautiful and clearly the best of the three. What a great result under that sort of pressure!!! We liked your concept as well. The way I dress, though, it would be an ugly house! Good luck. Make the world navy blue!

  29. paul

    looking at the HGTV website and the comments made I am amazed at how mean spirited many of the comments are. It's just a show! Every contestant is a professional designer…so a proven success! Obviously the DS format is very difficult and the show is made to make it that way to create more 'drama' Don't these folks understand that what they see on the show are just edited snippets? They know nothing about you really or any of the other people..but the picture they are spoon fed by the editors. It is all manipulation of one sort or another. They also don't seem to get the idea that hosting is something that you learn with practice. No one is a wonderful at it to start with. I hope you win next week! It's a shame the viewers all didn't read your blog to get a more accurate perspective on the show. You'll make a great host. Go Emily!

  30. paul

    Congratulations Emily!!!!!!! I'm looking forward to your show!!!

  31. great show! Loved it! THere was a 'retro' quality to it….like the fun Beatles and after era before cynicism,nihilism and then and our present techno coldness set in. The rooms were truly artistic, yet comfortable. I would want to live there!!! This is so different from the granite counters, crown molding,walk in closet, tray ceiling,stainless steel, open concept,twin sink world of HGTV. Just between you and me none of the Design Star judges can hold a candle to YOU as a designer. Sorry Vern. Your show has been cancelled!!! Sorry Genevieve, we've seen those floor to ceiling curtains too many times. Loved the casual vibe, humor, lack of jumpy, edgy camera work and the photographer did a great job of bringing out your beauty as well. Great portrait lighting!I learned a great deal I didn't know and look forward to learning a great deal more. You did a great job on your first show and you will be big hit.

  32. Nm2biZ Muchos Gracias for your article.Really thank you! Really Cool.

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