Just five designers remain in the competition: Jay Riordan, Nina Magon, Elaine Griffin, Darren Moore and Lukas Machnik. The challenges to date have strengthened and strained each of them. With just three episodes remaining, the contestants know there's zero room for error.
The designers travel to downtown Los Angeles and a pair of post-industrial lofts. The sprawling, open floor plans and exposed beams and pipes present a blank canvas. Nate Berkus, Eddie George and Monica Pedersen explain that that in addition to each team being charged with creating thematic living spaces, each designer will need to include a signature project. They announce the teams: Jay and Nina (site manager) versus Lukas (site manager), Darren and Elaine. They have five days to transform their spaces.
The teams fall back to their respective lofts and begin an arduous task: determining the optimal layout for living, cooking, eating and sleeping. Lukas, Darren and Elaine decide they must imagine the client who would live in their space. Their archetype: a male, gay, fashion executive. Their space will combine high style, modern function and masculine tones. Lukas assigns Darren the bedroom and bathroom, Elaine the den and takes the kitchen, living and dining rooms for himself. They'll add a dramatic entryway that will establish a minimalist approach.
Lukas lays out his plan for the kitchen: a European pantry wall and cooking island for the kitchen and an elongated table that integrates the kitchen and dining room spaces. Darren describes his signature project: a massive, moveable wall that will house a large TV. The wall will be on rollers, allowing it to be positioned around the loft, creating instant variation on the floor plan. Elaine and Lukas quickly find a partner groove, but they have their doubts about Darren's room divider/TV stand on wheels.
Jay and Nina are inspired by their loft - but they're hardly in sync. At least they agree to make the space as masculine as possible. Jay wants to park a Harley Davison motorcycle right beside the industrial elevator. Nina's not so sure. They also can't quite agree on where to locate the bedroom, dining and living rooms. The judges have told Nina before that space planning has been a vulnerability for her; she has to get it right. Nonetheless, Nina and Jay have to start making some critical decisions, compromising as needed. In particular, Nina pushes for a freestanding wall behind the bed to serve as a closet; Jays wants a conventional, large closed space. Jay is nothing if not persuasive but as the as site manager, Nina sticks to her guns. They agree on a massive barn door as an entry to the bedroom, a slatted wall and a bed that hangs from the ceiling by four ropes. Nina will handle the dining room herself, while Jay tackles the kitchen. It's a truly collaborative effort, with each helping out the other on ideas, placement and tone.
Nate, Eddie and Monica arrive for their work-in-progress visits. Lukas takes them through the Red Team's loft, explaining that his signature piece will be a pair of handmade chairs. Darren describes his wall, while Elaine announces she'll be building a pair of iconic table lamps. In an interview, Nate is dubious about table lamps being ambitious enough to really stand out from the crowd.
At Nina and Jay's loft, all three judges question Nina's closet placement behind the bed - it's too narrow. Monica tells her to fix it; when they leave Nina agrees she should have listened to Jay in the first place. But after she thinks about it awhile, Nina decides her instincts are right: she just needs to widen the closet to make it work. If she's going to be eliminated, she wants to do it her way.
Lukas is creating a large format original painting to grace the walls of his den. He's built his own white canvas stretcher, poured a large volume of thick black paint onto it and then tilted it in various directions to create a unique abstract shape.
The teams head to an antique showroom to find just the right pieces to decorate the rooms. Nina and Jay are now fully in sync and carefully pick the pieces that will make or break their loft. They head back and dive in on their remaining projects; Jay even shows Nina how to work a table saw! They hang the bed from the rafters.
Lukas' giant dining table arrives. Elaine is upset, it's at least a foot longer than they agreed to and she fears it's going to crowd the dining area. She tells Lukas he lied to her. Lukas just smiles; he got the table he wanted. They've got bigger problems anyway: Darren's TV wall on wheels is a behemoth. Elaine can't even budge it; Lukas makes an executive decision that the wall will have to live in the bedroom; he won’t risk having it in a more central location. Perhaps worse, Lukas' custom oil painting refuses to dry. The oil paint just sits as a liquid in the center. Frustrated, Lukas punches a hole in the canvas from underneath so the excess paint can drain out and the piece can dry before being hung.
The reveal is imminent. The designers push themselves in a flurry of hanging, painting, arranging, tweaking, touching up their spaces and parking the motorcycle just so. And then it's hammers down. The judges have arrived and they've got a twist: tonight, they will serve as the neighborhood council.
They tour Nina and Jay's loft first. Hits include the entryway, the furniture layout and the motorcycle. Not so impressive: the kitchen island's two levels, shelving that's less than ergonomic and most egregiously, the bedroom. The special projects (the barn doors and the hanging bed) fall short. The coaches find Jay's barn doors flimsy and the hanging bed doesn't feel masculine enough. They do, however, give Nina high marks for her expanded closet behind the bed. "A plus," declares Eddie.
At the other loft, the judges are again wowed by the overall feel as evinced by the dramatic entryway. The dining table is a solid hit, as is the den. Nate thinks Lukas' den is the best room in the competition so far. It's an elegant yet minimal mix, at once grounded and poetic. On the minus side, the painting is a bit sloppy. And Nate disagrees with Monica and Eddie about the custom-made chairs; Nate loves them, while the other coaches find them uncomfortable.
Elaine's space underwhelms the judges. She seems to have made a tactical error in putting a cramped couch opposite the TV and her table lamps are nothing special - certainly not reflective of the style she's done so well with to date. Darren's bedroom is a lovely mixture of textures and materials. The TV wall is, as feared, an albatross. Monica can't budge it and Nate observes that it's unnecessary, which is the antithesis of Darren's reputation as being anti-waste.
The judges head out and consider their new dilemma: not having the benefit of a neighborhood council's pick as to which project is better. They discuss amongst themselves and then call the five designers back in with a confession: they couldn't decide which loft was actually better. They've chosen to judge them all individually - meaning they're all subject to elimination.
The judges run down the pros and cons of each designer's work. After describing what they liked, Nate, Monica and Eddie take Elaine to task for her sitting room, Nina is called on the unimaginative hanging bed, Jay called out on his flimsy doors, Lukas his uncomfortable chairs and Darren for his massive and unnecessary TV wall. They do mention, however, how much they liked his bedroom otherwise. It looks like anyone could go.
Before the judges announce their decision, Elaine asks to speak. She explains that Darren's successful bedroom was a result of her and Lukas' influence. She declares Darren's work clunky and claims she and Lukas are carrying him. "You're just a terrible person," Darren tells her. Pressed on the facts, Lukas essentially corroborates Elaine's notes on who did what.
The designers are sent to wait outside while the judges deliberate. They're disappointed in Elaine, but they also feel Darren's signature project, his time management and lack of pitching in have taken him as far as he can go. He's eliminated. Darren bids a gracious adieu, thanking everyone for the growth and opportunity.
The four remaining designers are exhausted, as are the judges. There are two more weeks to go and the stakes will only get higher.
A pair of downtown lofts presents a striking set of challenges for the remaining five designers.