Episode 105: Modern Modulars

Season 1
Episode 105
Air Date 04/13/14

The field has been culled to just eight designers: Jay Riordan, Nina Magon, Elaine Griffin, Dann Foley, Vanessa Deleon, Lukas Machnik, Darren Moore and Erinn Valencich. The four designers who have been eliminated were each working as part of a larger team. When their homes were judged inferior by the neighborhood council, each fell victim to Monica, Eddie and Nate's assessment of their individual projects - and their potential to win it all. Tonight, the playing field will be leveled as never before. The designers are randomly placed in pairs, and each is given the exact same pre-fabricated modular home to transform. There are no homeowners expressing their special needs and sentiments, and there will be no team leaders. The duos must work in concert, from raw construction to final decoration.

Nate and the judges announce the pairings: Dann and Vanessa, Lukas and Erinn, Jay and Nina and Darren and Elaine. They'll all be working with identical building structures and floor plans, have access to the same materials and have the same amount of time to work: just three days. At stake for the teams whose home is judged the best is immunity from elimination and a photo spread in Better Homes and Gardens magazine. Every designer knows that national recognition could reap huge rewards for their design businesses; in some ways, this competition may be the most daunting ever.

Dann explains to Vanessa that the key to winning will be to impress the Better Homes and Gardens editors (who will be part of the neighborhood council determining the best house). They intend to focus on improving the core layout with simple, do-it-yourself style designs, including a cozy front porch. Relatability is the key Vanessa tells us.

Jay and Nina dive into their design phase; they agree on a sophisticated approach: Park Avenue chic, with elegant color choices and dark flooring. Jay immediately hits on the idea of giving the rooms dimensionality by using applied moldings throughout. Nina, unsure of Jay's design skills to begin with, pushes back, but "The General" knows no fear and forges ahead.

Lukas and Erinn pursue a modern cottage look. They stress open shelving in the kitchen and bathroom (eschewing a vanity) and capturing some hallway space near a window to locate a cozy built-in day bed. They imagine where art might go on the walls, going so far as to contemplate covering up a window or two to allow for more room for artwork. They're in sync from the start.

Elaine and Darren, on the other hand, are at odds from the start. Elaine posits that their home should combine a Malibu beach shack with Upper East Side New York. Darren's baffled. With their rancorous history, it'll be miraculous if they can collaborate on any aspect; they begin bickering before they can even get to a drawing board. But just like that, Elaine reveals a new side, indicating in an interview that she's committed to getting along with Darren no matter what this week; she knows she's on very thin ice after her questionable behavior the first few weeks. "I'm going to let Darren be the alpha and I'll be the beta," she tells us in interview. Darren hits on the idea of removing one of the kitchen cabinets to create more space and adding a shoji-style screen to provide some additional privacy to the bedroom. Brilliant, they agree.

The teams descend on the neighborhood Lowe's for furnishings, materials and plants. Erinn and Lukas wisely head to the garden center first, getting first pick of the greenery. Jay grows frustrated with Nina's deliberations over style. He wants to go go go. With the accelerated timetable, there's little time to waste.

Two days remain, and Nate, Monica and Eddie make the rounds. They stop in first on Lukas and Erinn. Monica balks at Lukas' daybed idea; further, Nate's unsure that covering up windows, even in the name of art, is a wise choice. Lukas and Erinn take it under advisement.

The judges stop next at Darren and Elaine's modular house and love what they see, especially the living space that's been expanded by removing a cabinet and relocating the refrigerator. Over at Nina and Jay's house, the judges all love the sophistication the moldings are already providing. But when they ask Nina about how she'll furnish the place, her answers leave the nonplussed. She envisions a sitting area facing a wall - potentially a problem in an already narrow space. Nate is so concerned that he cautions Nina to consciously walk away from the space before final installation, then re-enter the building with a clear mind before making her final placements.

Finally, Eddie, Nate and Monica stop by Dann and Vanessa's home. Dann explains how he'll use grass cloth and wallpaper to set the spaces apart, something he knows will resonate with the Better Homes and Gardens editors. But Nate cautions them not to pander to the neighborhood council, even if it will include influential editors.

The hours tick down, and the designers take on their individual assignments. Nina heads to town for furnishings, leaving Jay to wrestle with a sewing machine and fabric to craft a set of pillow shams. "Sewing can't be that hard if all these designers are doing it," he laughingly tells the camera. Vanessa has a vision for a perfect table to complete the furnishing plan for her and Dann's home; Dann really doesn't want Vanessa to get distracted as the countdown approaches, but she forges ahead to the on-site lumber yard to pick out some wood and begin crafting her own table.

With nine hours remaining, the stress levels are rising; the race to complete everything in time begins to take its toll and tempers grow short. Elaine, sent to the store to gather some critical landscape supplies, misses a flurry of test messages from Darren; he'll now have to work without some critical plants. But he is the Eco-MacGyver after all and his gift for improvising shines quickly through.

At Dann and Vanessa's, Vanessa insists on a stylized chandelier as the crown jewel in her front porch design. Dann tells us in an interview that he completely disagreed with the choice, but that he and Vanessa and agreed that the front porch would be her space. And similar dramas are playing out in every home. In the last seconds, the designers sprint to add the final few touches that could decide their fate. And like that, it's hammers down.

We see the dramatic reveals of the front facades, and then it's time for Eddie, Monica and Nate to head inside. They love the luxurious atmosphere of Jay and Nina's place, a symphony of fabrics, colors and textures that evokes metropolitan living. But they stumble over Nina's furniture placement, specifically her mini sitting area opposite the refrigerator. It's too cramped. Nate's disappointed: he specifically told Nina to think very carefully about where she planned to put her couch. On the positive side, they do love Nina's approach to the small dining area, and the bathroom and bedroom both score high marks.

Elaine and Darren's house gets raves. The removal of the kitchen cabinet really pays off; Darren's shoji screen works beautifully. In addition, the judges declare their color palate choices flawless. "Darren and Elaine are a match made in heaven," Monica declares. Well, at least for one week maybe. Some of the flooring and furnishing choices get called out, but overall the judges are blown away by what they see.

The judges move on to Vanessa and Dann's location and are immediately stopped in their tracks by Vanessa's outdoor chandelier. It's completely out of place, a disaster they agree. Inside, the sitting area is also a miss, with color, fabric and shape all clashing. On the other hand, the grass cloth-covered walls of the bedroom get high praise, as does the landscaping. Finally the judges come to Lukas and Erin's house and are disappointed before they even step inside. The front landscaping is a mishmash, feeling crowded and random. But inside, it's another story. The floating shelves in the kitchen totally work; the furnishing are elegant and functional; the home has distinct areas of focus; complementary shades and textures are everywhere, even the walls. The daybed is a beautiful use of space; the bedroom, even with its window covered over, is supremely elegant. Nate literally bows to their work.

The council comes calling, touring each home and examining every detail. Even the Better Homes and Gardens editors are impressed by how much has been done to transform four drab pre-fab homes into unique, stylish living spaces. They carefully weigh one project against the other and cast their vote for the best: Elaine and Darren's Malibu beach cottage makeover. The landslide vote means the two designers are immune from elimination.

The remaining six designers assemble before the judges for a final reckoning. Elaine and Darren have been immunized by the council and now Eddie and the judges announce that Lukas and Erinn's work also will get them immunity. Jay, Vanessa, Nina and Dann stand nervously at attention. The designers are sent outside while the judges deliberate. It's quickly apparent that it's either Vanessa or Nina who will go. They take a final vote and decide: Vanessa's done. She thanks the judges, and the remaining designers retreat, ready to rest up and prepare for another challenge.

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