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So I briefly moved from Atlanta to New York City after being asked to join the production team as a design producer for season six of HGTV Design Star. Totally awesome opening sentence, right? I know! FYI, just in case this new job seems totally random, I’ve been producing home makeover TV shows for about eight years, sometimes also hosting them, while working on private homes for clients on nights and weekends. In other words, this wasn’t my first time at the TV decorating rodeo. Was it my first time taking a subway to said metaphorical rodeo? Yes. The B and the D Line to be exact.

Columbus Circle

After some time up-close-and-personal working on the challenges and location scouts of HGTV’s hit show, I can tell you first-hand that it’s one of the fastest-paced, most challenging design shows on TV. So much that sleep is pretty much a luxury for producers, crew members and contestant designers. I’m not complaining. The entire experience was awesome. Let’s talk about episode one.

Shooting the first episode was definitely the most grueling: it was freezing cold and wet outside, the penthouse was more than a dozen floors up which made carrying furniture and supplies a daunting task, and there were six designs happening simultaneously. Ever been working on a teency-weency project, run out of painters tape, zipped over to the home improvement store to restock, then realized when you got home that you can’t find your roller covers or that your tape measure has gone missing…so you head back to the store. Now times that by about a hundred, remember that there are not a lot of Home Depot and Lowe’s locations in Manhattan, and shrink the day from 24 hours to 6 hours. Lots of room for time-sucking errors, right? Right. But as taxing as it was mentally and physically, seeing a bunch of telegenic design choices from 12 fresh new faces made it all worth it. Here are some iPhone snaps from the penthouse during the shoot of the premiere and some “after” photos from the first episode. Do I have a favorite room? Perhaps. Can I say? Nope. But you can! After a look-see below, give us the rundown on which episode 1 spaces you were most impressed with.

Colorful Rowhouses

First of all, the penthouse itself is un-friggin-believable. Located in Brooklyn Heights, it’s surrounded by gorgeous brownstones and colorful row houses which are a cross between the neighborly, color-me-happy, safe feeling of the Sesame Street set and Carrie’s high-fashion apartment on Sex & the City. Heading to the shoots each morning was totally dreamy; I didn’t mind being in a cab at 4:55am.


By the way, do you know the origin of the term “brownstone”? Well, if not, here’s what a cab driver told me en route to the penthouse one morning: “They’re called brownstones because of their building material, a brown-tinted sandstone popular here in New York City, as well as parts of Chicago. Three areas of New York are packed with them: Brookyln Heights, Park Slope and Bedford-Stuyvesant.”

Brian Patrick Flynn - View

While the view leading up to the building is gorgeous, the view of Manhattan from the huge top-floor terrace is mind-blowing. With a sight this spectacular, it would have been a crime not to have mentor David Bromstad and host Tanika Ray deliver the first design challenge with this backdrop. It also would have been a crime if I had forgotten my gloves this day. The cold temps mixed with the piercing winds off the river just a few hundred feet away were brutal. Kudos to the designers for being such good sports, right? They didn’t get to wear gloves.

Penthouse Living Room (After)

Living Room: Leslie Ezelle + Cathy Hobbs

On the first shoot day of episode one, some of my co-producers asked me what colors I predicted the designers would be eager to use. I responded, “medium and dark grays, violet, plum and probably coral.” When Cathy Hobbs and Leslie Ezelle started their overall plum/lavender/gray color scheme in the living room, I was looking like a bona fide design psychic. FYI, a violet that’s close to what Cathy and Leslie used is Mysterious Mauve from Sherwin-Williams. I’ve used it several times, and it’s equally fitting for men and women. Also, if you have an iPhone, it’s wise to consider downloading the Color-Snap ap that matches an existing tone to one of Sherwin-Williams’ 1500 paint colors.

Tyler Meg Purple Room (After)

Bedroom: Meg Caswell + Tyler Wisler

My color prediction rang true once again with Meg Caswell and Tyler Wisler‘s bedroom. (Although coral was nowhere to be found in the penthouse, don’t you think it may have received praise from the judges for being a more relaxing hue than Kevin Grace’s tangerine?) Meg and Tyler’s violet/grape combo was definitely bold and incredibly telegenic. What do I mean by that? Well, designing for TV and designing for real-life are a bit different. Bold colors read better once lit by the professional lighting gear used on TV shoots; muted tones used more often in homes are pretty much washed out completely once production lights hit them. Ever see a design contestant win Design Star for a cream colored room with super subtle patterns and textures? My point exactly. (if you’re interested in more 411 on designing for TV, be it colors, textiles or actual sets, here’s an article on Decor Demon all about it. And whaddya know? It sports violet and plum!)


The penthouse wasn’t the only space packed with design project deadlines. The elimination set had to be constructed in the studio, then fully decked out for season six. Considering how gorgeous the set looked at the end of episode 1, it’s fair to say the set design team totally rocked. A mere 48 hours after I took this in-process snapshot, it was completely finished and ready for David, Candice, Vern, Genevieve and Tanika. Okay, that’s all my duct-taped producer mouth can share about episode 1.

Now, here’s the part where I get to hear from you which rooms/contestants you liked the best and why. Go.

Tell me in the comments below.

20 Responses

  1. Shelly says:

    While several of the other rooms had unfinished potential, I did agree with "The Panel's" top two rooms. I can only imagine the stress the designers felt before this first challenge.

    I'd love for you to address the budget. Were all teams given equal amounts, were they allowed to spend more/less at certain stores, etc.? This is something that many of us wonder about & would love to have some details.

    I've watched every year and am pleased with the changes made since last season. The addition of DB as a Mentor is wonderful and so far the judges/Panel are showing their more likeable sides. I'm looking forward to the White Box Challenge on Monday!!

  2. CplusE says:

    Okay, here goes… ! I agreed with the judges that Kellie and Karl's bonus room was the winner. It was well planned and executed and I loved all the little hits of unexpected colors throughout their room, as well as the rustic desk and wall mural. Leslie and Cathy's room was very nice and elegant, but not exciting, and Cathy's bench was an incongruous misstep in the space. The recycled tire coffee table really was the most interesting thing in the room. Unlike the vast majority, I actually liked the tangerine wall color in Bret and Kevin's bedroom. Hey, I'm a morning person, always up before dawn, and I like a color that's as wide-awake as I am at that time of day (and nothing keeps me awake at night)! However, the room itself seemed unfinished and not well planned at times. The other three rooms didn't do much for me, although Meg and Tyler had a few interesting ideas, like the striped benches under the windows. I can't wait to see what the contestants do for the white room challenge. And thank you, HGTV, for getting rid of last year's format — this year looks like it will be so much better!

  3. [...] over to Design Happens, our daily design blog, for Brian’s behind-the-scenes take on episode [...]

  4. Nookey Byrd says:

    I love all of HGTV SHOWS, but I know on Friday the rating go down because not everyone want to keep watching House Hunter International. I think House Hunter, My first place, for rent, etc are better shows then House Hunter International. However I hope you guys make some changes real soon.

  5. MuralMaker says:

    I agree, for the most part, with the judges. Although I wasn't as 'wowed' as everyone else with the coffee table (it's just a dang table!) and the tree 'mural'. I was more impressed w/Kellie's treatment of the nook under the stairwell. I couldn't imagine how to address it and she made it inviting and lovely. We'll see what happens with the white room challenge though.

    I can't imagine working in NY. I worked on an episode of Yard Crashers last December in moderate temperatures in Northern Calif. Absolute pandemonium. I could never do this as a 'regular' job. Congrats on the gig tho!

  6. Maureen says:

    I am a huge fan of Design Star but it isn't quite the same without Clive. Please bring Clive back!!!!!

  7. Patti says:

    Loved the wall mural! I'm so tired of seeing absolutely straight lines on walls-such imagination! Bonus room is my favorite!

  8. LynnNM says:

    I liked Cathy and Leslie's living room design best, because it was not only classically beautiful but it fit the overall space and the overall feel of this penthouse best. The orange bedroom looked like it was designed (badly) for a college dorm room, not a penthouse bedroom! The other bedrooms, I felt, were also done rather boorishly, as well . . . no refinement at all. That's not the kind of decorating I expect to see on Design Star. Show me talent! Show me brilliant ideas, not badly executed, sophomoric designs! Personally, I'd love to see more time put into planning, more talk about budget and shopping restrictions and more discussions about an individual's vision of a room . . . and then see their execution and final outcome of it.

  9. Lola says:

    Rough start, but their portfolios were all interesting. Its going to be another great season of Design Star.
    Always impressed with the judges, sets, emerging talents and creativity, while super entertaining and inspiring. Now if I can say word about Novogratz show,….yuck-o. Hard to believe these two shows are both with HGTV.

  10. P Parrish says:

    Great start to a great season. Judges seem to be acting better this year. Lots of pressure on the contestants but on the whole – VERY talented group. Loved the White Box Challenge. Wow is all I can say. How on earth did they come up with such clever, beautiful ideas!? Personalities are really coming out. Wish the women were stronger – maybe that will develop. So glad David is the mentor. He is such an open, welcoming, encouraging personality and so, so approachable.

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