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« HGTV Design Star Kitchen Episode 2009 | Main | House Beautiful Kitchen Of The Year 2009 »

HGTV Design Star Kitchen Episode

I will admit to only having seen HGTV's Design Star maybe once or twice before, a year or two ago. Somehow, my consciousness was raised about it this past week (good work HGTV) and I thought it would be interesting to view the kitchen episode, which aired last night. 

Of course, I'm going to look at this with a critical eye, how could I not?

Because I have not seen this season before last night, I do not know everyone's names, all their dynamics, abilities, and so on. In any case, it's the end result that matters. So, here are my impressions. Whether or not you watch the show, you can learn from this episode, so keep reading. 

When people go on game shows, I've heard that they brush up on facts, details, and so on. Is designing a kitchen something that these designers could have predicted they might have to tackle during the course of this season? If so, I'd assume that the designers would have spent an hour or two studying kitchen images to pick up creative ideas, tips, etc. Sit down, focus, observe, an hour or two, done. 

This episode goes to the crux of two important concepts:

  • What are the clients' expectations for creative solutions?
  • What is the designer's care/commitment/interest in providing creative solutions?

Did these designers fall into the trap of focusing solely on finishes? IT SURE SEEMS SO. The design of the cabinetry in both of these finished kitchens is kitchen design 101.

The cabinetry, being the largest element in the space (by far), has the fundamental opportunity (key word) to contribute to the design statement for the entire kitchen...in a significant way.

Who came up with the design for the cabinets? Was it the cabinet supplier? I don't remember seeing any plans or planning sessions on how to design the cabinetry into the space. I saw a lifestyle discussion with the clients, but not an overall kitchen design planning session. Did I miss it? 

Yes, I know they had 26 hours to get this done. BUT, taking an additional 20 minutes, at the barest minimum, after, say, the cabinet supplier presented the cabinet design (if that's what occurred) could have brought forth some creative ideas, even just one or two, from the design team(s). 

This is a competition on design ability, isn't it? Or is it just about speed, and how to throw in a BASIC kitchen with new finishes, in which case, nearly anything new will look decent, so what's the point in using designers, who may get their own show on HGTV no less? I expected more. And, not a whole lot more, given the time constraints, but more. Did you?

Here are some VERY simple ideas, one or two which would have sufficed to make it a more creative design. Again, we're talking simple ideas, given the time crunch.


  1. remove the two round cabinets on each side of the window
  2. remove the diagonal wall cabinet to the left of the window
  3. in their places, just run the wall cabinets straight to the wall and put something decorative on the wall to the left of the window to partially fill that volume of space if it needs it
  4. the island is unattractive. Push the cabinet to one side and add a stool under the countertop overhang at one end
  5. OR push the cabinet to one side of the available countertop and add an open shelf cabinet which one will see upon entering the kitchen
  6. consider having a cohesive section of the wall cabinets "floating" on the wall/unconnected to the refrigerator end panel and right wall and, likewise, the wall on the other side of the window for a less utilitarian look.











  1. Same recommendation, just run the wall cabinet on the microwave wall straight to the end of the wall and remove the one that is to the right of the window
  2. I think the cabinets should have touched the soffit or be 1/3 less the height. This height, to my eye, makes the ceiling look lower
  3. I would have considered a light cream/white color for the upper cabinets
  4. The island looks too large and with everything very simple, there was an opportunity to do SOMETHING to the island, even something little to keep the simple concept. What? How about using 2 refrigerator wall cabinets (24 deep typically) that are about 24" tall and put them on legs (straight, simple, pieces of lumber painted white, so easy) to make a more open feeling.
  5. Use a microwave drawer on the island and create a combination open shelves (seeing wall behind) and closed door wall cabinets on the refrigerator wall










Call me crazy, but a kitchen design is not all about the finishes. Again, the cabinets contribute to the largest volume in the room. A little thought goes a very long way. 

Also, I believe in both cases, the teams talked about entertaining. A few of these ideas above would make the kitchen feel, again, less utilitarian, and more like a "living" environment. If they entertain many people, and as we know, people like to hang out in the kitchen, is an island the best choice in THESE spaces? Could the peninsula end have been angled for more counter space, allowing more area to walk around in the kitchen? How many people can you really accommodate in these kitchens? I can't say, I can't see the dimensions. 

The point is, there was obviously zero time spent in the cabinet design process, except to go the easy way out...what their clients would most likely consider a "wow": either doing a simple, uninspired kitchen design billed as "modern" or embellishing the accessories/finishes as was done in the Moroccan/Italian kitchen. It sells the clients short. 

Twenty extra minutes to come up with something interesting in the cabinet plan by one of these designers OR a request to the cabinet supplier to "add a twist or two to this plan NOW!" is what a designer should have done to exhibit real creativity. 

And, please do not try to move a refrigerator yourself. Only the pros should move refrigerators into a house. 

I only made one comment on a specific finish recommendation. That's a whole other topic on these kitchens! And, rather than answer the top two conceptual questions myself, I'll leave that to others and would like your input. So, what did you think of this episode?


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Reader Comments (29)

Both islands obstruct the work triangle making time in the kitchen less efficient. I'd hate to be running round the island every time I needed something out of the fridge

July 27, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermodernemama

I totally agree.
The space planning of the kitchen looked the same. Except the team who removed some cabinets over the bar. To me it would have been smarter and more timely to just reface the cabinets. Also in reality, what designer installs their own cabinets, they contract out the install. That would have worked so much better so the designers could have focused on planning and styling the space. As well as the designers ability to communicate the design idea to the contractor.

These programs focus way to much on the time and not the design.

Oh and you are so right about the cabinets installed about 3" below the soffit, when I saw that I was...WHAT?. Poor planning. The islands seemed to crowd the kitchen.

July 27, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjenni

why do people try to jam cabinets right next to windows? did anyone take out a tape measure in that dark kitchen to determine that infact you cannot walk around that island. Oh and the "moroccon lights" seriously? blue paint above the windows on the soffit?where's the taste level?

July 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAbbeyK

I think they're both shockingly boring. They all chose to give the clients fast sizzle in finishes/accessories (even though not much was sizzling) rather than thoughtful, creative design solutions. And, yes, exciting things can happen when you're under pressure, but to give NO time to the cabinet configuration is really, really bad (to use a 10 year old's language.)

July 27, 2009 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

In a word, appalling. Both kitchens were horribly designed and even more horribly executed. Did you catch the "modern" kitchen team filling the seams in their granite counter with white painter's caulk? How on earth did the "Moroccan" team have that hood attached to the soffitt that it fell a minute before their deadline?

That episode no only showed incompetence running amok, it then praised the same incompetence (more or less) during the judging. For the good of my career and my profession, HGTV's Design Star needs to stay out of kitchens. Hopefully the have enough sense to steer clear of baths!

July 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Anater

I don't like to say anything non-constructive about others design work, but I have to say this is Very Frustrating. In both kitchens, there's the typical newbie issue of trying to add too much within the space.

The depth of the island in the Moroccan kitchen: it's off-scale at 12" deep and there shouldn't be an overhang anywhere except away from the main kitchen area as you suggest -- no one could sit at the back of it and open the refer door at the same time, never mind the dangerous head-basher of a pendant light for anyone at 6 feet.

The modern kitchen would have been better served with an L-shape and an island. Then they could have gone crazy on modern details for the island - some stainless legs or glass and sleek trim for paneling.

It's what they could have done that hurts us so. *grin*

I didn't see the show, though I have seen past Design Star episodes.

But what I thought when I saw the photos above is that they were the "before" versions, and I kept scrolling down to find the "after" shots. Then of course I realized these were the "after" shots. Awful!

July 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKathy Price-Robinson

The contestants are not put under the best environment to promote their creativity. Why should they, when the show as is makes such good television?

I think at the end of the day, we can only remember that HGTV is not looking for the best designer. They are looking for the best TV personality.


July 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNicolette

Paul, I checked a couple of other years of Design Star and they did the same thing with the kitchens. Nearly a direct replacement. That's creativity? I don't think so.

Kelly, ah yes, the "fill in every inch of storage possible" approach. Somehow I missed that that island was 12" deep. I can't believe that's supposed to be a seating area? No, I won't believe that.

Kathy, very interesting reaction!

July 27, 2009 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

I had been eagerly anticipating this show, as one of my IACC-NA colleagues, Jen, is on the show. Disappointing, for sure.

The aspect that strikes me the most is how inappropriate the contestants' responsibilities and tasks were. Demolition? Installing cabinetry? As everyone has agreed upon, designers should spend their time planning and designing! Not tearing out cabinets and installing microwaves. You wouldn't see Candice Olsen rolling up her JCrew sleeves to drag a refrigerator into the house, would you? if indeed HGTV is searching for host material, they should let them do what a host does- work with 'behind the scenes' designer's work, point, and wave! ;-)

July 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

Hi Rachel, wow, that must make even more interesting! You are 100% right. There should have been time put into seeing the kitchen design process, perhaps arguing about what goes where and why, that would have been fun! In fact, I think that's compelling and dramatic, especially having a team all over the planning process as opposed to one person. Have everyone on the team contribute what they think is their ONE fabulous idea for the kitchen and then add that to the judging process.

July 27, 2009 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

I didn't see the epi but know that the same thing happens every season on Design Star. They do a kitchen with too little time, too much to do and no really good ideas. I decided to stop covering it because it's not about good design, it's about people and things looking good on television. It's not about quality of design or execution, that's for sure.

If this was the creative best they were able to come up with, I sure wish I was on this season's Design Star. I'd have it made.

July 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCy Tott

I thought both pictures were the "before" pictures, too, especially the Moroccan kitchen. Is that actually an island, or is it a cart that rolls?

The second kitchen might look better when it is styled a little. If they call that a "warm" kitchen, I don't know what "warm" means.

I think it is stupid to try and design and install a kitchen in 26 hours. They should leave kitchens out of the show, unless they are doing a makeover of an existing kitchen.

July 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJeannie

Love your take on the actual functionality of the kitchens. I'm doing recaps of Design Star on my blog, and interviewing each of the designers as they get the boot. There are also interviews with the judges in my July archives, if anyone's interested! http://www.roomfu.com/blog/

July 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRobin


I am so glad I found your blog and able to post a comment.
It's me Jason Champion on this season of Design Star. I was on the winning team in this challenge and yes it was exactly 26 hours for demo and rebuild. You all know this is almost impossible and we are the only team in DS history to finish the kitchen.
ON design star you are given limited opportunities for shopping and selection. There are no outlets to "custom order or add any flare" We had to select cabinet designs that were pre-ordered by the show and waiting, it was just a matter of picking the color. The layout of the kitchen had to stay the same due to time restrictions and counter tops were the same with only 3 selections.
With time and budget limitations we pulled off what we could in that crazy time frame, I hope that you all stay tuned to the coming weeks it gets very interesting. You can also read my blog on behind the scenes recap every Monday at www.jasonchampiondesign.com/blog

inda, agreed!
Cy, also agreed!
Jeannie, agreed (not much to add, as all your comments are to the point)
Robin, that's interesting reading, thanks for the heads up, good work.

Jason, thank you for stopping by. It's a blast to have your take and explanation on the dreaded kitchen episode. And, good luck to you! While I have not watched before this week, and the show was so fast paced, I seem to remember a few humorous moments when the camera was focused on you and any veteran of a kitchen remodel will tell you that you need humor to get through it!

Thank you for clarifying the cabinet design issue. So, it seems that someone involved in production of the show calls a nearby cabinet supplier of stock cabinets and tells them to design the kitchens. So, then, what are you selecting when you refer to "selecting designs?" Do you mean that you simply pick up the design (which was pre-designed/ordered) and then begin selecting finishes?

I'm not sure, then, why there were lifestyle interviews with the homeowners if you had cabinet layouts that were waiting for you. What would be the point of these interviews if you had no input on the cabinet design? The logistics here are not clear, at least for me. There are pieces missing.

It appears to me that the kitchen part of this show is really only about finishes and has nothing to do with design and planning of the cabinetry. Even though appliances stayed where they were, there are still far more creative ideas that could have been done with the SAME time and effort that went into those cabinet plans, especially if these kitchen designs were done in advance, by an experienced and talented professional kitchen designer of note.

HGTV producers need to understand that if they give the kitchens to certain cabinet suppliers to plan, rather than to a professional kitchen designer, there will be an enormous difference in the quality of the design of the kitchens, even using stock cabinets as these are, I promise. And, the show, after all, is about design. OR, take 3 minutes of the show for an experienced/talented kitchen designer to work with each team ON camera, presenting, say, 2 or 3 plans to each team. (Free advice for HGTV...call me, I'll consult!) Show the designers arguing over the design/planning process. Even 2 minutes should do it.

To gain MUCH more satisfaction from the hordes of us who love kitchens and are interested in GOOD design, HGTV should rethink their cabinet "designer" (cabinet supplier) situation as it currently stands. Step it up. It takes no more time in the process.

The homeowners will be happy in the current scenario in nearly all cases. They are getting a brand new kitchen, and new is exciting. The viewers, however, know what is missing design-wise.

This show needs to put more emphasis on the design of the biggest element in the room, the cabinetry. Otherwise, it is obvious that it's all about the finishes, ignoring the elephant in the room, the cabinet design. They need to give this to a more talented kitchen design professional, IN ADVANCE, who can even come up with several designs for the contestants to choose from, having cabinets at the ready, to be delivered.

Thank you for stopping by. I'm open to more of your insight on this and best of luck to you!

July 29, 2009 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

Hey Susan! I decided to watch this season of Design Star only because I like Candice Olsen's designs so much. Then she went and disappointed me week one by praising a horrible room with shocking magenta painted wooden ducks on the wall. Something she would NEVER use in one of her rooms (hypocrite). As for Vern he only seems able to design one look over and over. And as for Genevieve - she's the idiot that actually put straw and grass on someone's walls on Trading Spaces! I have no respect for her take on designs. I'm having more fun critiquing the judges than the contestants lol.

July 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJackie Klisuric

"HGTV producers need to understand that if they give the kitchens to certain cabinet suppliers to plan, rather than to a professional kitchen designer, there will be an enormous difference in the quality of the design of the kitchens, even using stock cabinets as these are, I promise."

Agreed, but as a point to consider - these cabinet companies most likely receive promotional credit for supplying their cabinets for "free".

Sad fact is, it wouldn't take much to show them that any number of other designs would have been less costly (by at least 1/3), easier to install and far more eye-catching (ie. better PR) than what we've seen here.

But they're not going to do it; they've made the deals with the suppliers already. As Jason says, the contestants are left with little option.

Jackie, now I'd like you to take a step back and tell me how you REALLY feel! I wish I had watched from the beginning. Now I have to catch up so I can dish like you can! ;)

Kelly, all the more reason they should make their products stand out! And, you are SO right about the cost factor. Again, you'd get a WHOLE lot of people who love design (and kitchens) excited with a more exciting kitchen design, so I agree with you there. I think what is a "wow" to the homeowners now could be a "WOW"!

July 30, 2009 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

I think this is a sad and unfortunate situation. Because those who watch these episodes might think that this is the latest in kitchen design. While it is NOT.

July 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterConnie

I thought the pictures were before pictures also.
The island in the Moroccan kitchen is about worthless- why do people think they need a island. I love my galley kitchen - I do agree about the fact they seemed to shove as many cabinets into the space as possible. The Modern Kitchen- I like the idea of going to a L shape kitchen, possibly some 16" deep Tall cabinets going along the frig wall- Have some fun
do the wall cabinets one color and the Base cabinets another, Do some prep for glass on some of the doors and add a panel of galvanized diamond mesh, On the Frig wall you could possibly do 42" tall 12" cabinets with Some floating Shelves on the wall With venetian plaster done on the wall, or take some Subway tile Turn them so they run Vertically Or even a large Mirror- no worse than the glass tiles for cleaning, How About two toning the countertop, or Two materials. Have the island Darker or active, and the rest remain the bla white or off white, That brings up if the island is really needed because the penninsula should do a lot of what the island is doing- without measurements I cannot be sure- Could you also move the firg over closer to the center of the wall, take the island have it over against the side wall of the refrigerator- it would provide a landing area to the right of the frig and you could also set up that section to be at a table height. or desk height and have a chair on one side for homework or a office. I think that might be iffy because I think the kitchen is to tight. How about the ceiling, for themodern kitchen, You can still get metal ceiling panels, or use galvanized metal, some nice fun track lights with some pendants, or recessed lighting, For the Moroccan how about having recessed lighting, and have one HUGE Pot Rack that is the whole ceiling, You could have thirty pots/pans, ladels, drainers, Dried herbs,and these items would have the light drifting down through them, The height factor would be in play Instead of the strip of blue on the wall, how about the ceiling being blue put a venetian plaster finish, that is buffed, Better yet you could do two colors of venetian plaster, put on one coat Then Stencil on a Second coat , take your car buffer and polish/burnish both at the same time. (do this before you install the cabinets if possible. The windows, are just kinda uck. I like that hte are growing windows, Herbs should be all over them. For the morocco theme, you could also still have the recessed lighting and make a diffusor using thin semi transparent cloth and some grommets, and stretching it to create a tent or covered bazar type of effect, with light filtering through, and also have some fun pendant lights droping throught openings in it. You might also be able to do something similar with a bamboo shadeand some guide wires, you could have two shades coming out from the walls and not Have them not quit meet in the middle and you could have pendants drop down through that opening ok enough play time for work. enjoying the blog

August 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commentercurt

Im back, Susan you are correct the kitchen should be designed by a professional off camera and then "installed" by the cast members.
Basically we were allowed to pick color, cabinet design was what the supplier had, so selection was zip to none. It was the same with the granite.
I design rooms and outdoor spaces, I have no idea how a kitchen should work. I would always hire someone like your self to make our design successful.
This season is a little more about Drama instead of design. it was an amazing once in a life time opportunity and I would do it again.
Lets stay in touch and work together soon.
best regards

Jason, thanks for enlightening me/us! When you put it in that context, with an emphasis on entertainment (a big emphasis) I guess my expectations were set too high.

It's just something that we (good designers) battle against constantly, that I hope you can understand...the kneejerk/default/mindless approach that some take in order to design a kitchen in the very easiest, fastest way possible and present it as something special. It's not special. But, I see, special isn't the point. But it should be, just a little bit of "special"!

There may be more to come on this...I'm collaborating with a colleague on taking the kitchen plan one step further. Stay tuned!

HAD to say that! ;)

August 4, 2009 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

Na ihr

Watch house online for free. Updated weekly watch your favorite house
episodes from all seasons over and over again.



February 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterIcensonrems

The depth of the island in the Moroccan kitchen: it's off-scale at 12" deep and there shouldn't be an overhang anywhere except away from the main kitchen area as you suggest -- no one could sit at the back of it and open the refer door at the same time, never mind the dangerous head-basher of a pendant light for anyone at 6 feet.

living room furniture

September 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDan

I totally agree with your comments. I don't think the fridge on the Moroccan kitchen goes along well. The designs looks too "heavy" for me. I 'm a big HGTV fan though. :) Sam@ shed plans

November 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSam

The island does look like a bother but using refrigerator wall cabinets never would have occurred to me. That's pretty creative thinking.

February 2, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercheap kitchen cabinets

I love this reality show, my favorite of them all. The designs are pretty cool. I saw this episode.

January 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteraml

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