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Interview: Todd Oldham on Top Design

As you may know, Bravo’s series Top Design will be back for its second season on Wednesday, Sept. 3, with a new look, new producers, and a new host. Lucky me, I recently had the chance to participate in a conference call with the new host, celebrated fashion model and design aficionado India Hicks, as well as world-renowned designer Todd Oldham, who has moved over to a new role as the contestant's mentor. It was really a blast to hear from both of them, and I can't wait for the season to begin.

Here are some of the highlights:

On designing on a budget:

It’s an old-fashioned notion to think that style has anything to do with money. Top Design, this season especially, has a great evidence of that because many of the challenges had . . . don’t have anything to do with money but have to do with ingenuity. I’ve seen very, very rich affairs that look pretty awful. So I’ve never been too confused what money gets you.

On common design mistakes that people fall into:

I always find that one of the worst disasters I see is just people having someone else decide what they need around themselves. No matter how beautiful [something] is, if it doesn’t really suit the person I think that’s a much bigger disconnect than maybe having some tastes that everyone might not like.

To hear more of what Todd had to say during the call,


On his new role as mentor:

I’ve been sort of crazy blessed with opportunity right now. My schedule is very tight. When I first joined Top Design, I was able to do both roles, but the amount of time that that requires is off the charts. So I was able to just really kind of clear the schedule for the mentor, which I was happy [about] because that’s my favorite part.

This was the no homework job. It was really fun just to get to show up and be very present. It was really fun and organic. I love being in the moment and reacting, and sort of responding to the energy from the contestants because, you know, they’re — I wouldn’t say they’re in panic mode, but they’re about as revved up as they can get.

On the judges (Kelly Wearstler, Jonathan Adler, and Margaret Russell):

I think all of — what I was impressed about all the judges is that they’re fans of design. There’s no, you know, no one’s a brutal nightmare. All the information is constructive. I think that the contestants are really lucky to have such fair sort of, you know, good-hearted judges.

On what each contestant brings to the show:

It’s very nice to mix it up. I actually always prefer some idea influenced by more of an outsider point of view. LA and New York are terrific but, you know, the influences here are very broad and sophisticated. Sometimes being sort of less exposed or exposed to more hybrid ideas leads you down more interesting paths.

That’s what’s great about this show. There’s like, there’s every kind of person and thought process you could find. There was all kinds of ages, points of view, ethnicities. It’s really — it’s an interesting microcosm of design and also the world. It’s a really good mixed point of view.

On his preference for design styles (mid-century v. traditional):

Most of my friends are a little more eccentric and [have] kind of gone more the individual route. I think ultimately it’s a hybrid of anything that leads us to more interesting ways. So I think the Frank Lloyd Wright house with the big mushy cushions might be a better way to go about it.

On his own home's style:

Mine’s very cozy. I think I have a different philosophy about home and design than others because I find a lot of people, clients, like the design to end. I think of it more as a garden where it’s just constantly going and adding to, and painting on top of, and layering in. I have a lot more fun with that. So then I don’t get so attached, and it makes it more interesting.

Stay tuned to hear what India Hicks had to say!

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