With its keen eye for fine tuning their eclectic and successful programming, Bravo's "Top Design" returns for a second season tonight with a new look, host, producers and crop of designers vying for the title of Top Design. After hosting last year, renowned designer Todd Oldham steps into the mentor role this season while celebrated fashion model and design aficionado (and bridesmaid in the wedding of Charles and Diana) India Hicks joins the series as host. Oldham and Hicks shared their enthusiasm for the new season with our Jim Halterman.
Oldham first talked about his feelings about becoming a mentor this season. "I was really excited that we were able to work this out because I've been sort of crazy blessed with opportunity right now. My schedule is very tight. And when I first joined 'Top Design' and was able to do both roles, but the amount of time that that requires is off the charts." Confessing that the mentor role is his favorite over the hosting duties, Oldham added that, "It was really fun and organic. I love being in the moment and reacting and... responding to the energy from the contestants because they're � I wouldn't say they're in panic mode, but they're about as revved up as they can get. And it's very exciting time to watch creativity bloom like that."
As for Hicks' involvement in the show, she recounted that a friend, "came through with the call [and asked] are you interested in doing a TV show? I took rather a deep breath and thought Gosh, that is a new departure for me. I've been on shows but I've never hosted a show. And they said [I'd] have to go to LA for a screen test and it sounds incredibly romantic going to LA for a screen test. But it wasn't romantic at all." Having the experience of hosting this season, though, Hicks admits, "I've made a lot of friends and it was really something I felt very natural doing and I enjoyed immensely."
As for the changes in store for this season, Hicks gushed about the competition venturing to different places this season. "The main different is going to be that we are really designing outside of the box. I mean, quite literally this time. On Season 1 they were designing inside these white boxes and this time we've taken our kids out in to real places and real settings." Hicks added that, "you have real professionals designing in real places and I think that's going to make it much more exciting."
And the contestants? When asked if he thought there was a difference with this crop of designers, who probably were more familiar with the show in a way that the inaugural designers were not, Oldham said, "they were different but I think any time you have more information you become a more powerful contestant. So the first season, none of us really knew exactly what was going on." Oldham added that the second season contestants were, "very telegenic and [were] very TV savvy folks. They're also just as talented but they're just at another level of it. It was fun to watch, too."
In terms of design and money, Hicks and Oldham were in sync with their opinions. "It's an old-fashioned notion to think that style has anything to do with money. And 'Top Design,' this season especially, has a great evidence of that because many of the challenge don't have anything to do with money but have to do with ingenuity. And I've seen very, very rich affairs that look pretty awful. So I've never been too confused what money gets you."
Hicks agreed, citing her father (David Nightingale Hicks), "who was a very great designer in the 60s and 70s [and] had a famous quote that he said which was good taste and design are by no means dependent on money." She also gave credit to the producers of the show for maintaining that philosophy. "I think the producers were very canny about keeping the budgets down low because that really does show who has the good eye and the good talent. If you can make something wonderful from a very small budget, you really do have talent."
Hicks also talked about 'common traps' that many people fall prey to when they decorate, including a prominent piece that is used to view "Top Design." "Now there is a huge trend to have your plasma screen TV right out there in the room. Of course, I was very much brought up hiding the television. The television was an obscure, terrible object that needed to be hidden under a table or inside a cupboard. And, indeed, I still live like that. We have televisions hidden in different places throughout the house. Trends change and obviously as times change, we adapt. Of course, my children have a plasma screen TV that they want out and they want to show off that they have this plasma screen TV. I find it's the height of vulgarity."
Speaking again of finances, Hicks spoke of how the current economy is going to be important in influencing design. She mentioned, "I think with the economic downturn that we're going to be seeing, people are going to be spending much more time in their homes. They're going to be cutting back on the restaurants, holidays and nights out, and I think we want [their homes] to be stylish, warm and inviting. And they've got to be a reflection of who we are as an individual."
Oldham also spoke of the variety of contestants being a positive thing for the competition. "It's very nice to mix it up. And I actually always prefer some idea influenced by more of an outsider point of view. And LA and New York are terrific but, you know, the influences here are very broad and sophisticated. And sometimes being sort of less exposed or exposed to more hybrid ideas leads you down more interesting paths. So that's what's great about this show. There's every kind of person and thought process you could find. There was all kind of ages, points of views, ethnicities. It's really an interesting microcosm of design and also the world. It's a really good mixed point of view."
And, of course, this wouldn't be a competition show if there wasn't that fateful moment when the losing contestant has to be dismissed. "Sitting in that big chair pointing your finger and actually telling someone they've got to go home made my heart beat so fast," Hicks revealed. "It is not a � I'm sure Todd is relieved to be away from that part because it is � I find it miserable because I have such respect for those contestants because they do work very hard. But when you do tell someone that actually their time has come and they do have to leave, most of the comments I heard coming back from the contestants was thank you, we have learned such a lot from doing this show. I found that really gratifying that I'm on a show where people really are taking something more away with them than what they came onto the show with."
To see firsthand the new changes with the second season of "Top Design," tune in to Bravo tonight at 10:00/9:00c.