Sunday, October 31, 2010

My Enlightening HGTV Experience: Unplugged

While recently returning from a trip to Thailand, I had a layover in LA, and while taking the afternoon to explore the sights of Los Angeles, I realized that it had been exactly one year since I filmed my episode of HGTV’s “First Time Design.” So, I thought it might be an appropriate time to talk about the experience and maybe answer a lot of the questions that people always ask.

First, let me say, as I said in the show, that it truly was like winning the lottery for me. I felt so honored and ecstatic to be a part of the show and to be able to show my passion for interior design. Was I scared? Of course, but I thrive on the adrenaline rush of living outside of my comfort zone. I have always, however, truly felt that I would somehow have the opportunity to be a part of designing on HGTV, so in a way, it was destiny fulfilled. (Hopefully there is more fulfillment down the pike) : )

It all happened relatively quickly, and within 3 weeks of sending in my audition video, I was scheduled to fly to LA and start the design. If you haven’t seen the show, the premise is that a “rookie” designer meets with, and designs a room for, a client, just like a “real” designer. I have always designed for friends, family, and myself, so this was my chance to see if my ideal career path was right for me. Now, a lot of designers that I know frown upon HGTV, saying that it’s “not real designing, just decorating,” “it’s more about personality of the host rather than the design,” and that the network “misleads” viewers into thinking that interior design can be done on a strict budget and time frame.

I say phooey on them. HGTV has inspired me and countless others to follow their hearts and turn a hobby into a fulfilling career. More importantly, thousands of homeowners have taken on home improvements with the helpful tips from the HGTV shows.
Now, back to my experience:

I did receive the DVD of the homeowners and spent a week preparing. I shopped in stores, shopped online, sketched, priced, reviewed that DVD so many times that I had the words memorized, and finally put a plan together based on what the homeowner’s told me that they wanted and within the budget allocated ($7500). The tricky part was that I had to shop in stores that were available in LA as well, because I wasn’t allowed to purchase anything before I arrived. Oh, and did I mention that this was my first trip to LA?
The other tricky part was honing in on exactly what style the homeowner’s wanted, as they were all over the board in describing their style on the DVD: Moroccan, Indian, modern, traditional, Hollywood Regency and of course…… “milky.” I decided to go with a mix of traditional/modern/Moroccan and design the bedroom in what I referred to as “global glamour.” I was determined to break them out of their fear of color and bring on the vivid, yet sophisticated room of a modern Moroccan home. Perfect solution, right?!?

They said no. Nope. Nada, and no way.
As you might have seen, I had to change my entire plan in one evening (with jet lag!) and redesign the room without seeing the homeowner’s again for input until the reveal. I truly was terrified as I knew thousands of people would be watching me on national TV and that any future that I might have in interior design was somewhat hinged on this 30 minute show (I know it’s overdramatic, but that’s how I operate). I did have another room option to pitch to them, but we didn’t have time to show it with filming various shots over and over again.

-Follow your heart, work hard, and in the words of HGTV: “Start at Home.”

Day 1:

So Monday morning, I was up bright and early and decided that I would go to the gym and relieve some stress. I also decided to buy a week’s membership because, hey, this would be a piece of cake and I would have so much free time that I would get to workout as long as I wanted.

I never saw that gym again.
By noon, the crew arrived at my hotel and I was instantly thrown right in. Cameras starting rolling and didn’t stop until the following Friday afternoon. “What are you thinking?” “Where are you going?” “Why?” “Who?” “Ok, say that again.” Whew! It was a lot to think about. The task of doing a design in four days was a lot, but to do it with cameras following you everywhere, and I mean EVERYWHERE, was a feat in itself.
(shhhhhh….don’t say anything, but I actually liked it ;) I just can’t convince anyone back at home to constantly be interested in what I am doing or thinking, lol.
Now, being new to LA, I had no clue how to get around, so thankfully, they had someone cart me around town all day…of course with cameras rolling…

On what seems to be a never ending drive to the homeowner’s house, I am full of nerves and butterflies. The car stops at the end of the driveway of the homeowners’, I get a quick make up job and we pull up the long drive to this beautiful house. Cameras rolling as I open the car door.

Oh hi Vern Yip! Nice to meet you. (I sort of expected it to be David Bromstad because I had overheard a production assistant that morning saying that David was so nice on another shoot, still Vern was very nice and helpful as well and in the end, I was so happy to have worked with him).

The first day was strictly filming the homeowners, Vern and me interacting about the room and the design. Close up of our faces, hands, and then just shots of us nodding at each other. Seemed strange at the time, but they know what they are talking about in Hollywood.

Lots of one-on-one interviews and lots of surprises. Scared more? Definitely.
Never let them see you sweat.
Too late: pit stains.

My first night back at the hotel was total panic. Redesigning, checking prices, reading sweet emails and facebook messages from family and friends, telling my mother that I was working with Vern Yip.

But, I did it.

I totally changed everything about that room in one evening, including adding new hardwood floors, while using strictly LA stores. I was impressed with myself, possibly because I was deliriously tired and it was 2 am.

-The task of doing a design in four days was a lot, but to do it with cameras following you everywhere, and I mean EVERYWHERE, was a feat in itself.

Day 2:

Picking out no VOC paint, per the homeowner (took 2 stores to find it), furniture, hardwood, and talking about it all at the same time. I found a lot of inexpensive (but expensive looking) things at one stop that I happen to see while they were driving me home the first night. I got to shop here with no cameras on me, so that was a nice break to be able to think silently and not aloud. I finally made it back to the house after long periods of shopping and a lunch with the crew (so many nice people).

Check out the paint, looks good for a neutral! Now, I can do some work in the room. I started with “cutting in” the paint around the top and bottoms of every wall, by the time I was finished, it was time to go back to the hotel. I was driven each day by a sweet girl who had just moved to LA to start her career in film production. Poor thing, I was her “job.” Dinner: Fast food while researching more stores online.

Day 3:

More shopping! Vern seems to “accidentally” pop up at most stores too, lol. Shouldn’t I do some work in the room and not shop? Thank God for Ed and Jimmy, my carpenters, for working their booties off to help me pull it off. I also discovered that this room was adapting right before my eyes each day and that I seemed to be tweaking things as I went along. The tweaks were a result of a lot of things: changing my mind, stores sold out of what I needed, not having time to get to other stores, etc.
But, I persevered and was even more determined to make this work. That’s what I’m feeling. :)

I started working on my projects back at the house. I had made some crude deals with the owner of a salvage yard and after buying the folding screen that was to be the headboard, I pushed him to sell me a horrible looking mirror for $5. He did.  The mirror had to be completely made over, but I knew that it would work with the look of the room, so I added putty, glaze, paint, stencils, and voila: a $5 mirror looked like a million bucks (again I was sleep deprived). I also added gold stencils and highlights to the inexpensive side tables to give them a more luxurious feel (too bad they didn’t show the details on camera).

Work some more and time to take me back to the hotel again. Do I smell Taco Bell for dinner? Yes, that’s right. I had the saddest dinners anywhere that week. Luckily, I was across the street from Taco Bell and down the street from a mall food court. I was so busy preparing for the next day & meals weren’t my priority. Where to go and where to go if that place didn’t have what I needed were much more important thoughts. I never went to sleep before 1 am the entire trip, but I still loved it all.

Day 4:

This was actually just my third day of working on the house. By this time, I was totally comfortable with the crew and the cameras. I would just jump in the car each morning when they picked me up and start yapping and didn’t stop talking until I got back to my hotel that night. This day, I expected to be my final day of work. I would get my last minute accessories, finish up, and be all rested for the big reveal tomorrow. Well, for anyone who saw the show, we know this didn’t happen. I was still shopping, the room was a wreck, the shelving wasn’t even finished being built, no curtain rods, no stencils on the wall. Inside I was a total mess, but I kept up a positive attitude and didn’t let it get me down on the surface. Now, I was one of the first episodes out of 13 to be filmed, so let me say that not only was I learning the process, some of the crew were as well. For instance, they were not really allowed to help me assemble anything, shop for me, etc. Basically, I was to do it all on my own. They eased this rule a little, thank God, and I was able to delegate a couple of shopping pick-ups that saved so much time for me.

There were also no ordinary things on set for me to use, things like: scissors, tape, and cleaning supplies, dust rags, etc. I had to make sure that I bought those things in order to actually be able to clean and present the room. “Clean the room?!” I could barely even think about how I was going to FINISH the room!

-I felt the weight of the week’s work slip away and I was immersed in the moment


I have to say that the night before the reveal day was a blur. I had so many last minute things to pick up that morning and I was set to reveal the room at noon! I was planning and making lists until midnight and then woke up at least twice to add things to it in the middle of the night. The crew arrived at my hotel and filmed me “packing” and chatting about the day ahead; I was a nervous wreck. Vern had given me a great tip the day before: don’t forget to add some fruits and wines when staging a room. He also helped the budget out by recommending that I take some fruit from the hotel’s continental breakfast! What a fabulous idea! I had pockets full of apples and oranges as did my producer! We finally left the hotel and headed out. I made several stops along the 45 minute commute to the house, including waiting outside a Target store to open for some last minute accessories and a rug and a cheap bottle of wine from the liquor store (hey don’t judge, I had a budget to stick to!)

Pulling up to the house, I expected to walk in and see the completed shelving. Oh boy, the sprayer broke and they were hand painting the shelves. For some reason, I still didn’t panic yet, as I knew that I worked better under pressure. I just assumed it would all work out in the end or that maybe the carpenter’s had been told to slow down to add drama to the storyline. Sadly, that was not the case and this was all real. I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off: cutting, hanging, cleaning, and falling apart a little inside. It didn’t make it any easier that I had to stop and chat with Mr. Vern every so often for updates because I was so focused on finishing this room. Vern was so nice. He offered to help me with the room and honestly, I wouldn’t have finished it on time if it weren’t for him. He was a true worker, and I have to say, he does not mind getting his hands dirty and actually doing the work; I admire that in him.

Down to the last minute, I finish, and to answer all of the questions that people ask me: no, no one came in at the last minute and finished the room while I ate bon-bons and drank champagne. I was there touching up and cleaning until the very end, I was not about to let this room go unfinished.

The wait for the homeowner’s seemed to take forever and I did some interviews while waiting. I was exhausted in all ways possible at this point and it was hard to think about what had happened that week and the fact that I felt I had accomplished what I set out to do. As they started asking me questions about how I felt, my loved ones, and my accomplishments, I allowed myself to actually “feel” what I was experiencing. At this point, the room was done and I could do nothing else but reflect on what had happened.

The emotions and exhaustion took over and I felt tears welling up. I was truly proud of what I had done and was anxious to hear what the perceivably picky homeowners would say.

Thankfully, the Turpins loved the room and were surprised by so many things. They had heard the banging and hammering, but didn’t know we had put down hardwood. (I forgot to mention that Brooke actually works in the home and had to be secluded to a room for the entire week during filming and actually had someone “stand guard” outside her door to make sure that I didn’t run into her. So as you can imagine, hauling out old carpet and bringing in a room full of hardwood without her seeing it was a challenge. At night, the crew would tape off the bedroom so that they could tell if someone peeked at the progress too, lol) As soon as they seemed happy with the results, I felt the weight of the week’s work slip away and I was immersed in the moment. I was happy that they were happy, they were happy that I didn’t wreck their multi-million dollar home, and the crew was probably happy to be done with it all. Did I mention that I came in UNDER budget?! Go me!
After a few more shots and interviews, Brooke and Tom gave me a lovely parting gift (a coffee table book on design-hope that wasn’t a hint) and I was finally finished. Yes, there were many things I would have done differently, but there were many things that I was joyful about as well. I knew deep down that this experience would change a lot of things for me-and it has. After the episodes started to air, I would also start to get phone calls from people (friends and strangers) asking advice and asking if I had my own design firm and could I do some work for them?…so now I do have my own company and my own clients. I also gave in to the inner urge to go back to school and get another degree-this time, in something that I love-interior design. It’s a true joy to wake up and look forward to what you do for a living and I am so blessed to have that, and I can thank this show, particularly Loren Ruch and Michele Bolen from HGTV, for the catalyst.

So in closing this loooooonnng (sorry about that)story of my episode, I want to ensure you all that your dreams can really come true and to never give up on what you inherently know will make you happy and complete. I am daily thankful for this experience and know that it has and will open so many doors of opportunity for me. My advice:  follow your heart, work hard, and in the words of HGTV: “Start at Home.”