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Vern's Design Tips: The White Room Challenge

In episode three, the Design Stars show off their talent in the white room challenge. See what Vern says they did right, did wrong and how she could have done it better.

Without question, this challenge is one that I really look forward to each season! A true Design Star can take obscure elements and mine them for their design potential, so this challenge is always revealing of a contestant's ability to creatively incorporate out-of-the-ordinary materials. This year, contestants were asked to shop in a grocery store for their materials. Most designers would agree that showcasing your design abilities utilizing only ingredients from a grocery and two cans of paint is a daunting task, but our contestants know that their work here is one of our best indicators of their true design prowess. The judges are looking for a room that is original, complete and looks spectacular on camera. Additionally, we are looking for the incorporation of grocery store materials in unexpected ways that clearly demonstrate an ability to think outside the box. On top of that, we want to see the standard furniture package supplied exploited and reworked for maximum design impact. This year’s crop of contestants, for the most part, did not disappoint!

Be Innovative
In my opinion, this is the single best solution to any design challenge put forth in the history of this series and is a near-perfect response to the issues raised. The level of creativity, innovation and skill demonstrated here is stunning. This particular shade of orange-red paired with the deep chocolate brown selected is a warm combination that organic elements will naturally look good in, so Dan has already made some bright paint choices. The solid chocolate wall with floating slices of firewood, ingeniously formed to appear almost "cloudlike," is magical and alone would be a stunning focal point. Layered within this wall concept, however, Dan integrates a controlled grid of deep-red apples that create height and a concentrated core of color. The execution of this wall shows an understanding of restraint, balance and texture – and the fact that the extent of the apples lines up with the length of the couch is no accident. Another smart move is made by painting the white sofa brown, thus maintaining clear focus on the back wall. The deconstructed bookcase helps simultaneously provide architectural interest, canvas for art, a console and surplus furniture. An organic rug in shades of orange-brown and white further demonstrates a repurposing of grocery materials while pulling in all of the subtle nuances apparent in the paint selections. It is hard to criticize this room. While some may take issue with his placement of a light element on the apple gird wall (a reworked lamp combined with a dissected salad bowl), I think it is another way Dan has shown an understanding of what this challenge is all about. Simply put, I am deeply impressed by the magnitude of talent on display in this solution.

Create a Visual Impact
Antonio’s experience with world-renowned photographers like David LaChapelle and Annie Leibovitz is a huge asset on this challenge. Like on many photo shoots, the goal of this challenge is to create visual impact quickly and innovatively. Maybe more so than any other contestant, Antonio smartly takes advantage of his two cans of paint by creating a dynamic pattern of rays that provide direction and a clear focal point. With two shades of blue and the existing white, he employs a sophisticated palette that also seems fresh. Problems begin to arise, however, in the remainder of the design. Watermelons stacked in a plastic wagon (placed at the periphery of the room) do not showcase the beauty of this produce. Furthermore, all of Antonio’s focused rays demand a payoff at the center and a sofa with flotation “noodles” with a bookcase filled with mountains of cereal behind it are a disappointing conclusion. A haphazard flower arrangement on the coffee table further distracts from the laser-like style of the beautifully painted lines. Overall, this room looks like it could have benefited from better time management. A great beginning with a strong paint statement concludes with a disappointing end with poor incorporation of grocery-store elements. It would have been fantastic to have seen the painted lines continued on to the coffee table and sofa with a single “throw pillow” at the center created out of a round slice of bright-red watermelon. Instead, Antonio’s unbelievably creative paint job is diminished with last-minute grocery accessorizing.

Use a Fresh Color Palette
So much about this room showcases why Jany is in this competition – but not enough to ensure that she stays ahead of the pack. The fresh color palette smartly takes advantage of the existing white room and floor, and the establishment of a central focal wall with window-like graphics, accented by plastic plates, is a clear idea that directs the eye as to where to look. There is a lot to begin working with here, but scale is an issue. After a very promising start, this room begins to suffer from too many elements that don’t say enough. The artwork made of produce to resemble flowers on stems is wonderful and everything that this challenge is about – it would’ve been so great to have seen this element two or three times bigger! The rug with a border of citrus slices is also promising, but why not make it more extensive and do the entire rug out of citrus slices? Little pasta sconces look like a last-minute effort, as does the other piece of artwork in the room: a craft-paper swath with the word respect made out of more pasta. This room and Jany have great promise, but it just isn’t fully showcased in this solution.

Edit Your Choices
Like the dry toast and crackers he is employing, this room is – unfortunately – a little bland and boring. Jason is an extremely accomplished designer, but the tan-and-yellow color scheme he chooses to feature here does not result in a room that is representative of his capabilities. The room begins with a very smart strategy of mostly covering the walls and ceiling with an eye-catching yellow. By extending the primary wall color onto the floor, Jason diminishes the line separating these elements, thus creating a neutral field for his elements to really pop. Unfortunately, that is where he fails to deliver. The furniture package is transformed only on the surface, and all of the accents employed are neutral, leading to a big letdown that mostly reads bland. Neutral accents on the three walls further detract from the initial strong statement of yellow, and small pops of green from plants fail to sustain over the drowning sea of tan. Jason has made the mistake that many contestants make in this competition: he has failed to decisively choose the statements that he is going to make and follow through with clear execution, editing, restraint and purpose. An entire wall of crackers installed like bricks on the side of a building could have been fantastic, but they are only minimally applied to the walls in a floating formation. An entirely yellow room – walls, floor and furniture included – could have been a bright and bold statement that would have set him up for adding fantastic and unexpected elements, but instead, the yellow is watered down by a gigantic tan stripe that doesn’t even coincide with a tan sofa. Jason is a big personality with big ideas, but he needs to begin showcasing this in challenges.

Focus the Design
Completely incohesive is the impression that this effort from Jen conveys. As in last week’s challenge, Jen has incorporated a plethora of color in relatively even amounts, leading to a final result that lacks focus. Jen is a talented color specialist but seems to be having difficulty translating her forte in design challenges. This room is an even balance of blue, tan, white and yellow – accented by newspaper print, a cacophony of red, orange and pink flowers, and an accent of sliced vegetables on the wall. Produce on the seaweed-covered bookcase (on its side to function as a coffee table) is merely displayed instead of transformed. Bottles of chocolate milk lined up like soldiers against the side wall are merely that. Very few elements are utilized innovatively in this solution and that plus the lack of focus is the ultimate downfall of this room. Newspaper can be employed smartly, and Jen definitely begins to show signs that she is exploiting what is interesting about this material. Similarly, covering the bookcase top in seaweed could have been the start of something wonderful in her space, but it never quite gets expressed. There is no question that Jen is a talented designer with a real understanding of color. Ultimately, this room fails to showcase the talent that has gotten her so much professional recognition and is the reason why she could have been a potent competitor on this show.

Follow Through
Little sparks of inspiration are showcased throughout this solution, but they ultimately aren’t enough to make a big design statement. Lonni continues to demonstrate that she is a seasoned designer with plenty of experience under her belt to pull things off in a pinch – but that won’t be enough to win this competition. The color combination of moss green, citrus yellow and bright white instantly conveys that this room is supposed to be airy and fresh. Yellow sugar packets covering the side table and artichoke leaves layered onto the lampshade are all nice textural elements that help transform these standard-issue furniture elements into something interesting to discuss. I especially like the use of green water bottles in lieu of legs for the coffee table. These ideas, however, need to be extended to the rest of the space, which unfortunately reads a little bland and empty. It would have been wonderful to have seen the entire base of the coffee table supported by these water bottles, with a light element buried in the center to illuminate the glass and water. Additionally, the layering of artichoke leaves onto a large form made from paper plates could have created an amazing pendant fixture. The organic rug is also a nice addition – but again, a little too small. Overall, there is evidence of original thoughts, but they aren’t nearly pervasive enough to make a statement. Lonni has demonstrated in past weeks that she knows design and can produce amazing results, but this effort is lacking.

Be Bold and Artistic
This is a stunning and creative room. Nathan has embodied the spirit of this challenge, showcasing why he clearly deserves to be considered a major contender in this competition. Employing a baster to drip lines of milk over black-painted walls helps immediately create a graphic pattern that manages to be both innovative and interesting. A chandelier, hung from portions of the dismantled bookcase, is made possible by incorporating elements of the supplied lamp with translucent slices of oranges strung in various lengths. This light fixture almost resembles a grocery-store version of popular capiz fixtures and delivers visual impact through its form and its contrast to the dark walls. The standard-issue white sofa has been dramatically transformed with writing that completely blankets its surface in neat, orderly rows of text. Cobalt-blue paint covers various portions of the coffee and side tables to add bright accents of color, and holes drilled on table surfaces accommodate white taper candles. This room solution is dramatic and shows influences of groundbreaking modern artists such as Jackson Pollock, Keith Haring and Yves Klein; but at the end of the day, it mostly communicates Nathan’s bold and artistic touch. A continuation of the bold thought that went into the creation of the milk-dripping, word covering and orange-slice lighting would have elevated this design even further. It would have been wonderful to have seen that light fixture extended even further, or the words jump from the sofa onto the coffee table and side table. The organic rug and the candles drilled onto the surfaces seem almost like afterthoughts in comparison with some of the wonderfully original ideas on display here. With this room, Nathan further demonstrates that he is talented and has an artistic eye that will get him far if he continues to showcase it.

Showcase Originality
"Pleasant enough" are the words that come to mind when I see this solution by Tashica. Utilizing a color palette of black, white and apple green, this room initially appears fresh and bright if not a bit bland and unoriginal. This room lacks a “big idea,” and although it is complete, it ends up feeling hollow and lackluster. Sliced Granny Smith apples nailed onto thin black stripes create single lines that terminate in a rectangle out of the same materials. Like contestants in seasons past, Tashica dismantles her bookcase to create a central dimensional element that is backlit. In general, the judges look for original ideas rather than repeats of ideas showcased in past seasons. Her sofa is transformed with an overall pattern of organic black swirls terminating in green leaves. Everything is pleasant enough in this room solution, but nothing stands out as original or thought provoking. A bolder and broader use of color, pattern or scale would have taken this room to the next level. Painting all the walls black and doing an overall mural using green apples nailed to the walls would have been magnificent. Better yet, extend this concept to the floor. The most important missing ingredient in this solution is an original and inspired voice. In the end, this is a pleasant room but a little short of what is expected of a Design Star.

Set a Definite Tone
Of all the solutions presented on this go around of the white rooms challenge, Torie’s may be the most surprising. Oftentimes this is a contestant’s opportunity to showcase what he or she can truly do left to his or her own devices as the crutches – or burdens – of having teammates to collaborate with is lifted. Up to this point, Torie has showcased a more traditional bent without necessarily demonstrating her unique take on this style. In the execution of this room, she finally communicates that she has a firm grasp on color, scale and pattern – and most of all makes clear that she possesses an original design voice that is worth listening to. By selecting a bold pink and pairing it with black elements (tape, charcoal and napkins), Torie sets a definitive tone that is both feminine and modern. A stunning zebra-print rug, ingeniously crafted from grocery store elements, extends over the entire floor and weights the space with graphic and bold pattern. Further injecting turquoise blue and a bright citron yellow is a brave choice, but one that has a huge payoff. A mural made from crumpled napkins shows ingenuity and adds needed texture to contrast with the sleekness of her walls. Although this room is largely a success, it would have been nice to have seen the same bold hand that created the rug and picked the colors handle the room’s accessories and addresses the provided furniture. I love the fact that Torie painted her coffee table turquoise blue, but her furniture largely remains intact. Small accessories on her bookcase and some abstract art on a side wall detract from the big statements that she is otherwise making and appear distracting in the overall evaluation of the space. Fewer elements, but making them bigger and more extensive, will always create a stronger impression. This is a fantastic room and indicates that Torie could be a major threat in this competition!

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