I was on HGTV and I Won…

Three new friends, an experience of a lifetime and bragging rights. HGTV’s White Room Challenge, hosted by David Bromstad, was most definitely a whirl-wind experience. Although the room of another designer took the cake, I literally made one. We filmed in LA almost a year ago this May, but the memories and partnership with the network, producers and casting directors – not to mention my fellow designers – will last a lifetime. And now that the show has aired, I am allowed to tell you all about it!

Every contestant had a reason for hoping to win; some to help their businesses, some to help loved ones. Something important to me was not shown on TV – it was “left on the cutting room floor” as they say: I was playing to benefit The Trevor Project, a national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth. My proceeds, if I had won, would have gone to this amazing organization.

Although thousands of people apply to be on the show, few have the privilege to participate. In every episode, four designers compete to each transform a plain, white room into something amazing; the room comes furnished with a simple sofa, two wooden chairs, a basic dining table, and a coffee table (all white). The room must end up decorated in a specific theme, on-budget, in just two days. The prize? Ten thousand dollars.

My episode’s theme: create a celebratory space for a Sweet 16 Party. The catch? Using items purchased from a local Army/Navy Surplus Store.

I was honored to be competing against three very talented designers, so I knew I had to be focused; my mind was racing with ideas. Nothing said celebration to me more than a big birthday cake. My “Colossal Dream Cake” design was not a literal interpretation of a party space (I thought that might be too easy and straightforward), but was a more creative approach: a giant birthday cake, dripping with icing, inside a gigantic gift box, surrounded by presents–the fantasy of a 16-year-old birthday girl, dreaming about her big day. I wanted to use my 10x10ft space as an outlet to infuse with creativity, repurposing lots of camouflage netting, hundreds of bandanas, t-shirts, bullets, colored roping, sailor hats and light sticks. I was going to show I could think outside the box by creating my design inside a literal box!

That said, I worked to find ways to reuse and repurpose all my existing items. The sofa’s inner foam became fluffy white icing; the chairs and tables were cut down, upholstered and turned into presents – in the fantasy of the dream they were filled with shoes and handbags, of course. The Army/Navy Surplus Store items were manipulated to become almost unrecognizable as what they really were; they became my bunting, frosting, piped icing, rosettes, sprinkles, and more.

Truth be told, I finished early, and stayed under budget – even lent money to my fellow designers – and advised those who asked. The producers told us we were the most talented group of designers they have seen yet.

In the end, my fellow designer Arica Peterson won the ten thousand dollars – and used the money to take her critically ill mom on a trip – but we all won each others’ hearts. You see, after spending time with such creative people, being whisked from place to place with cameras and producers, on early morning and late night shoots, well somehow it glued us together. We made friends with each other from the moment we met. And although it never appears this way in the final episode – drama is more fun to watch, after all! – Ursalie Smith, Jeremy Grubb, Arica and I all found excitement and fun from being together, sharing this experience, and getting to know each other.

With the White Room Challenge behind us, we all look ahead to reuniting again – with no video cameras. Some of us are looking to the future, too; perhaps the next logical step could be Design Star? Well, I can keep a secret – you’ll just have to wait and see.