Week 1: We’ve Outgrown Our House

Season 1
Episode 101
Air Date 03/23/14

Host Nate Berkus welcomes us to American Dream Builders, a new renovation competition show. The contest starts with 12 of America's top designers who are divided each week into teams to face projects that will challenge their design, construction, leadership and teamwork skills. Their labors will then be inspected by not just Monica, Eddie and Nate, but by a group of local homeowners who will decide which team has done the best job. The members of the losing team will then face the music as Nate, Eddie and Monica decide which member of the losing team is eliminated.

Tonight's challenge is to make over a pair of Tudor-style houses whose families have outgrown their living spaces. The designers are split into two teams and each is challenged to make the spaces feel more expansive while updating the look and feel of the homes.

Team Blue is led by Jay Riordan, a Chicago-area custom homebuilder. His teammates are Elaine Griffin, a New York-based interior designer, Andrew Flesher, an interior designer with a strong background in architecture, Nina Magon, a working mom versed in design and construction, Darren Moore, CEO of environmental design and consulting firm Ecovations and Christina Salway, a new mom with a successful background in architecture and interior design.

Team Red is led by site manager Tarrick Love, a general contractor from Nashville. He's joined by Lukas Machnik, a Polish-born design star who's been dubbed Chicago's "bad boy of design," Nancy Hadley, a California-based furniture designer, sculptor, and muralist, Erinn Valencich, a versatile interior designer based in Los Angeles, Vanessa Deleon, owner of her own design firm and Dann Foley, a renowned residential and commercial/hospitality designer.

You can learn more about all the contestants here.

Jay assembles his team to learn about the family who lives in the house and then devise a plan to improve their home. As he quickly assigns rooms and projects, it's clear Jay's a take-charge guy. But as he confidently announces whom he's assigning to each room, Jay doesn't quite realize that his team is not a squad of subcontractors on payroll - they're designers with their own ideas and work styles. The friction's evident from the start, but the team members dive into their assigned projects with alacrity; they'll have just five days to complete all projects before Nate, the judges and the neighborhood council come calling.

Tarrick, site manager of Team Blue, works with his team to spot three key opportunities in their target house: expanding the kitchen, modernizing the bathroom and turning a hallway into a nook. Tarrick seems to have a keener eye than Jay for matching designers and projects. Vanessa, for example, will tackle the kitchen and quickly unveils a plan to merge the dining room and kitchen together, adding a work island, new cabinets, and a table for the whole family. Tarrick recognizes that transforming the bathroom into something suitable for the seven people living in the home is critical, so he assigns himself the project.

The teams have fun demolishing existing walls, tile and more and begin sizing up what it will really take to get the jobs done. Jay Riordan disagrees with his team's suggestion to create an additional room by removing a walk-in closet in the master bedroom. Nicknamed "The General," Jay's used to getting his way, but Elaine, quickly emerging as an alpha, disagrees and suggests they put the project up to a vote. Jay goes along with the team's decision to lose the closet. Christina suggests they use the newfound space as a den. It's a controversial idea because while it will add a new common space, it doesn't solve a current, core problem: two kids sharing a small room.

Jay, Andrew and Darren head to the local Lowe's to get the tools and materials the team will need to complete the project. When Jay calls Christina for some specifics on paint color, it's clear that Christina and Elaine are not getting along. As Jay tries to get a straight answer about color, the two women gesture and posture at one another. Elaine boldly tells us in an interview, "Christina is a talented designer, she's just not as talented as I am. And I just need to remind her of her place sometimes." Ouch.

Team Red has some tension of its own. When Vanessa, Lukas and Erinn head to downtown Los Angeles to pick out some fabrics, it's clear that Vanessa's feeling slighted as Erinn disagrees with her design sensibilities at most every turn. "She's intentionally being condescending towards me," Vanessa complains.

Lukas is also creating a stir, suggesting brilliant but difficult design ideas for the group to execute. He wants to create the dining table out of recycled flooring and repurpose a workshop cabinet as a bathroom vanity. Both are cool projects, but the clock is ticking and each team has only six sets of hands of work on projects. Tarrick agrees to tackle the vanity project on his own. Dann senses disaster, seeing two projects that could sink the team, but Tarrick assures him he can get it done. There are just two days left before Nate, the judges and a council of neighborhood locals will arrive to see who's right.

Outdoor space will also be critical to the success of both houses. Judge Eddie George has a successful landscape architecture firm and is keen to know how the yards will be transformed. Along with Nate and Monica, he surprises Jay with a drop-in visit. Caught off-guard, Jay's unable to answer a simple question about a trench in the front yard; it gets worse when inside the home, he's questioned about the wisdom of adding a den instead of an extra bedroom. Reading the judges, Jay makes a unilateral course correction: the den will now be transformed into a small additional bedroom.

The host and judges also drop in on Tarrick and his team. They're impressed by the reclaimed table project and like where the house is headed; they point out that the vanity is key to making the bathroom work, since it will need to store toiletries for seven people. As the table is put in place, Christina notices it's considerably longer than they specified - meaning the combined room's traffic flow will be cramped. Vanessa, working on the table with Lukas, doesn't like Christina's feedback or the way in which she delivered it.

It's the final crush. With three hours left before the reveals, both houses are still unfinished - and tempers are flaring. While Nancy adds a last-minute mural to a kid's room and Darren hangs paintings, the real drama is on Tarrick's vanity project. The multitude of drawers, the broken hardware and the retrofitting of the reworked cabinet into the cramped bathroom space prove to be too much. Tarrick and Lukas scramble to cover a gaping hole where two doors should be. And just like that, the clock strikes 12 - it's hammers, brushes and everything else down.

Nate, Monica and Eddie show up along with the homeowners and a large group of neighbors. This neighborhood council will ultimately decide which team wins. And now for the dramatic reveal: both houses are breathtaking. The curb appeal of both has been boosted dramatically. Everyone heads inside to see the designers' handiwork up close.

Inside Tarrick's team's house, the judges and council love the living room with its elegant period furnishings and decor; the kitchen is also a hit (there's no mention of the oversized table) and the kids' bedrooms also impress. The new TV nook is not as well received. What's worse, the recycled vanity is clearly unfinished: the drawers don’t work, the surfaces aren't fully refinished and the giant holes in the center are covered only by fabric. Nate calls it a disaster. Heading outside, the judges love Dann's simple but elegant approach to the backyard.

Jay's team also gets high marks. The period details on the fireplace stand out, the dining room is sheer elegance and the kitchen's been given a new lease on life; the bathroom's also been transformed. But it's the kids' bedrooms where team Blue really scores. Though the rooms are small, they're cute and the decision to allocate the new room as a bedroom and not a den proves to be genius, just what the judges were looking for.

The neighborhood councils walk through the homes to make their own judgments, noting many of the same plusses and minuses as Nate and the judges. Each council member marks a ballot, indicating which home came out better. Their consensus: Jay's Team Blue best met the challenge of increasing livability and expanding the space.

All twelve contestants assemble in front of Nate, Monica and Eddie in a dramatic setting. As the contestants offer their own opinions on their projects and each other, the tension among them is still palpable. Finally, Nate announces who's being eliminated: Tarrick. As his team's leader, he was responsible for the disastrous vanity that wasn't finished in time. Tarrick thanks everyone and makes a quiet retreat.

The remaining 11 contestants now realize how precarious each week will be.

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