HGTV Design Star Recap: Box Tops

HGTV Design Star brought back its iconic white-box challenge for Monday night’s episode, and while a few contestants filled their blank-canvases with dazzling colors, funky textures, and outrageous furnishings, others collapsed under the hefty freedom of being able to work with no boundaries.

Okay, maybe “no boundaries” isn’t the right term. For one thing, it conjures up memories of the lamest American Idol victory anthem in the show’s 10-season history. And secondly, the designers did, in fact, have to work with a few ground rules: They were allowed to use as much — or as little — of the basic white furniture originally placed in their “white box” rooms, and the remainder of their furnishings had to be purchased on a $1,200 budget from a food and restaurant supply warehouse.

I was immediately worried when Tyler announced plans to discard 90 percent of his room’s existing furniture and buy 400 water bottles, and I was doubly convinced he was headed for trouble when he chose to paint a literal theme (“in the hot seat with nothing to drink”) on his floor, but it turned out last week’s mid-pack finisher has a real flare for the avant-garde. His moodily lit day bed and ink-blot walls (pictured above) were absolutely dazzling — as guest judge Thom Filicia noted, it was “truly an installation” — and the end result had me imagining a comic-book hybrid of Moby Dick and the Green Lantern, if that makes any sense. I rolled my eyes a little when the judges gave Tyler a hard time about his 60-second instructional spot focusing on the same tip as Mark (creating a lamp from a silver bowl), especially since there weren’t necessarily going to be any practical take-home tips in their nonfunctional rooms, but I guess in Week 2, you’ve got to expect negative feedback of some variety.

Mark, meanwhile, took home the week’s top spot with the judges for a Captain America-ish mural and a flying fighter futon that paid homage to his grandfather’s Air Force career. I appreciated the bearded dude’s personal inspiration — and loved his anecdote about drawing from the spirit and color palette of the hat he’d inherited from dear old gramps — but I didn’t think his finished product showed quite the same design mastery as Tyler, with the final proportions of the room looking just the slightest bit cramped and clunky. I’d have rated Mark third or fourth this week (behind Tyler, Kevin, and perhaps even Karl), but he definitely scored points with a smooth camera presentation. (Speaking of Karl, his room was a wee bit conventional, but I adore the way the guy uses color.)

On the flip side, the promo video shot by the ridiculously named “j” — hasn’t this woman ever thought about the difficulty of finding herself and her business in a Google search — probably tipped the balance toward her eventual elimination. “It’s kind of a fire pit,” the young conestant giggled, calling into question whether or not she knew what exactly she was creating as her room’s central design element. And Tom was right that said fire box was so small and underwhelming, it practically disappeared in the midst of j’s vast blue spacescape. At the very least, “j” was willing to admit she was the right person to go home this week: “I walked out of my space totally disappointed with it,” said the congenial designer.

Not that she didn’t have stiff competition for the week’s worst look. The judges placed her in the “safe” group, but I loathed Kellie’s messy hodgepodge of a room, especially those groan-inducing footprints she tracked across the floor. Still, I have to admit that the 12-year-old in me giggled along with my husband and mother at Kellie’s unfortunate word choice during the challenge: “I want when someone looks at my box to know without a doubt that it’s Kellie’s box.” I also thought that perhaps Doug should’ve been reprimanded a little more harshly for confusing inspiration with outright theft in his bedroom from the Keith Haring collection.

Still, it was Meg who was luckiest to dodge the elimination bullet this week with a room that seemed to lack any kind of inspiration or excitement — and destroyed some perfectly tasty cheeseballs with a bucket of green paint. The problem was that while mentor David Bromstad helped Meg realize her initial concept was far too conventional, she was never able to lay that early blueprint to rest, and those shackles bound her to weak ideas like using coffee grinds to create shadow effects behind her sad little chairs. That said, I did let out an audible “oh NO!” after Meg accidentally knocked over her precariously perched coffee table only seconds before host Tanika Ray called “time.” The woman looked so crestfallen to see her one successful piece of furniture wind up as a heap of overturned vases and wood that I was hoping Tanika would give her an extra five minutes to put it back together again. I also let out an “oh NO!” over Meg’s tip about turning an old mop into some kind of misguided trim for a dresser. All I could think as she went through her demonstration is that, really, few things smell worse than a nasty old mop. Why would you want to introduce its desiccated entrails into your bedroom? Anyone else have that same response?

On that note, I turn things over to you. What did you think of the results of the “white box” challenge? Which designer did you think was most successful? And did the right person go home? Sound off in the comments, and for all my reality recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!