Recently Emmy-nominated TV Host, Lifestyle Expert and best selling author Mar Jennings – one of the country’s top lifestyle experts – appeared on HGTV’s White Room Challenge, hosted by David Bromstad. Mar quickly became a fan favorite. With a new interior design book already in the works and set to release in September, fans and devoted followers showed their support with record-breaking pre-orders both on amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com
Jennings was quoted as saying about the show: “I wonÛ_three new friends, an experience of a lifetime and bragging rights.” Although the room of another designer took the cake, Mar literally made one. Filmed in LA almost a year ago, he says “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 he is dishing 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 Jennings was not shown on TV – it was “left on the cutting room floor”: Jennings 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. His proceeds, if he had won, would have gone to the 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 15 hours. The prize? Ten thousand dollars.
Jennings 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,” said Jennings. His mind was racing with ideas. Nothing screamed ‘celebration’ to him more than a big birthday cake. Jennings’ “Colossal Dream Cake” design was not a literal interpretation of a party space, as Jennings 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. “It was the fantasy of a 16 year old birthday girl, dreaming about her big day,” he explained. Jennings wanted to use the 10x10ft space as an outlet to infuse with creativity, and wait till you hear what he repurposed: lots of camouflage netting, hundreds of bandanas, t-shirts, bullets, colored roping, sailor hats and light sticks. “I wanted to show that I could think outside the box by creating a design inside a literal box!” he laughed.
He worked to find ways to reuse and repurpose all his 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 his bunting, frosting, piped icing, rosettes, sprinkles, and more.
Jennings finished early, and stayed under budget – even lent money to a fellow designer – and advised those who asked. In the end, designerArica Peterson won the ten thousand dollars – but he says they all won each others’ hearts.
“I know that seems unexpected,” he admitted. He went on to explain that after spending time with such creative people, being whisked from place to place with cameras and producers, on early morning and late night shoots, somehow it glued them all together.
The experience allowed them to make friends with each other from the moment they met. And although it never appears this way in the final episode – “Drama is more fun to watch, after all!” he says, smiling – he assures me that Ursalie Smith, Jeremy Grubb, the winner Arica and he all found excitement and fun from being together, sharing this experience, and getting to know each other.
Jennings says we shouldn’t be surprised that he found something beautiful amidst the stress of filming; “I’m a lifestyle expert; I love to repurpose things into something cherished.” Jennings first book continues this theme; currently available, it is the best-selling gardening reference LIFE ON MAR’S, A Four Season Garden. His next book LIFE ON MAR’S, Creating Casual Luxury, will invite the public inside his Westport, Connecticut, home to explore his six design principles for creating a casual luxury home. This deluxe oversized coffee table book will be filled with photographic essays highlighting his philosophy, plus practical applications and resourcefulness applicable for any home or space. Both books retail for $19.99
Jennings’ award-winning website www.marjennings.com is one of the best resources for home and garden design tips. In addition to the above, Jennings is currently in pre-production on several television programs and was recently asked to participate on HGTV’s Flea Market Flip, hosted by Lara Spencer this fall.
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