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!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Bobbi says:

    I loved Mark’s, Tyler’s and Kevin’s rooms. I thought Mark was the right choice for the win. It was just more complete than the other two.

    But, I was also hoping that Meg was going to be the one sent home. J’s room wasn’t great but I thought the painting of the circles that she did was a nice effect. It showed more of a design effort to me than Meg’s did.

  2. Dee says:

    I guess I really didn’t “get” the rooms that were deemed the most successful.

    Everybody is still all over the place and frankly, none of what I saw yesterday would make me want to watch a whole half hour of it.

    These people are probably just as bland and nodescript as the Next Food Network Star people are; not a good thing.

  3. Richard says:

    Judging from last night, I think it’s going to be a guys season. With the possible exception of Leslie, I don’t see any of the other women making it that far in the competition. Maybe next week’s episode will reveal something different.

  4. whislerpotpie says:

    I’m so excited you’re recapping this – it seems we have parallel viewing habits!

    Love the white box challenges!

    Would always prefer Thom to Candice as a judge – accept he’s getting a little mullet.

    Ready for the five time Emmy winner to fall from her high horse.

  5. Elise says:

    I liked kevin, Tyler and Mark’s rooms, but my fave was Karl. I don’t know about it being too “conventional”, but not only was the color palette spectacular, did you see the 3D effect he created by painting the furniture in color blocks? Very cool.

  6. innerjuju says:

    Say what you will about the White Box Challenge but its hard for any designer to pass the mark Todd Davis set when he did the ‘Wave Room’.

  7. topsyturvy says:

    I agree that Tyler’s room was more interesting than Mark’s visually, I just didn’t “get” the meaning of Tyler’s room. And Mark was so damn appealing on camera–confident but not cocky and that amazing smile. *sigh*

    • KevyB says:

      My biggest problem with Tyler’s room was it’s complete lack of functionality. Yeah, some of the other rooms couldn’t have been used as the floors were just powdery substances, but they were at least rooms that could be categorized: that’s a bedroom, that’s a living room, that’s a dining space. What was Tyler’s? They were calling it a lounge but explain to me how anyone can “lounge” on that thing? It wasn’t long enough for lying and it was too high for sitting. Thom was right, it WAS an installation, but this isn’t Work of Art; it’s DESIGN Star.

      • DJH says:

        The rooms didn’t have to be functional in this challenge, which made it all the more interesting to me. Tyler’s room was a work of art! I loved the fact that he created this room with very little of the original furniture and his design was brillant. Mark did a wonderful job, but if I were on the judging panel, Tyler would have won with Mark coming in second place.

  8. Lana says:

    I, too liked Karl’s room and didn’t understand the judges disappointment with it. I thought it was cool, alot cooler than the water bed with the paint pouring on floor. My take on Tyler’s room. I guess I’m not chic enough to understand. I did like the scrunched brown paper wall, that was fun. I really like Leslie and her way of thinking though her room wasn’t my favorite this time I still like her design mind. I did feel J was the right one to go home even though I was not crazy about Meg’s room it had more going for it than J’s but Meg will need to step it up. Cathy cracks me up with her travels and inspirations. I lived in Spain for 5 years and her room did not inspire anything spanish I had ever seen including Mosaic which are usually more colorful than just white. This looks to be a fun season.

    • KevyB says:

      LOL, I was totally rolling my eyes at Cathy’s “Barcelona this, Barcelona that” as I was sitting in my Barcelona-inspired living room with its colorful mosaics. That said, large portions of Parc Guell are actually white mosaic (the seating portion of the bench, the railings of the main staircase), but most Barcelona mosaics ARE definitely colorful and Parc Guell’s white mosaics only exist to accentuate the colorful ones. In fact, when I saw her white mosaics, I immediately thought of Valencia’s Ciutat de les Arts i Ciencies complex and not of Barcelona at all. It does make one wonder if she has spent much time in these places she has allegedly visited.

  9. Gretchen says:

    As someone who has admired Haring’s work since the early 80s, I was also hoping Doug would be called out for his outright plagiarism of Haring’s work. That to me is a bigger flaw than being boring, it is outright intellectual theft.

    I have never understood this challenge, even though I appreciate art, this isn’t Art Star, it is Design Star. The room should have to have some level of functionality to it. I’d much rather see a functional room from all the white blandness, see how they take ordinary very plain furniture and make it interesting.

    Also, what of the waste in the foodstuffs used? We are in the middle of a deep recession, with people going hungry, and they are tossing container after container of spices on the floor? What a wasteful image to present. Project Runway had a challenge where they had to use all of what they bought…that would be a great thing for any challenge. If you buy it, use it completely.

  10. Dave in Alamitos Beach says:

    Does anyone know if there is a website where the white box rooms have been posted? I can’t really keep the midpack’s designs straight in my head on this one. But anyway, I have no problem with Mark (yum) winning this one, but I would have given the win to Tyler. I thought he really brought the “degree of difficulty” to the challenge and stripped it down to its essence. Plus I thought, what a great way to “hide” all that extra Costco food storage you have around the house! ;-) I think the people who excelled were those excited about a “non functional” experimental challenge. The ones who failed were those who can’t think beyond “pretty tchotchkes.” I thought Cathy’s was dreadful except for the flooring. I think it’s what saved her. j’s and Meg’s were truly and utterly sad and pathetic. I thought they might keep j over Meg simply because j is more telegenic. Meg seems like the dim but wacky sidekick rather than the star of her own show.

  11. Barb says:

    I’m so bummed out that I got called out to work away from home immediately after the first show of the competition this season. Plus I’m not lucky enough to be in a hotel that has HGTV…6 channels of ESPN, but no HGTV…typical. Won’t be back home until late August. I’d love it if the show would upload episodes online. Surely there are others out there who would appreciate this idea.

  12. Nancy says:

    I cannot tolerate Kathy anymore. She may be spot on when it comes to the camera challenges, but her personality is horrible. She has run over, like a tank, everybody she has been paired with and her designs are lousy. I really like Meg. Her designs are fantastic. I also like Kelly; her kitchen design was fantastic. If I was looking for a designer I think I could easily work with Meg or Kelly. I think Kathy’s personality would put me off; mostly because I don’t think she wants to listen to anyone’s ideas.