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Checking in with ''Top Design'' host Todd Oldham

”Top Design” host Todd Oldham shares his influences and his advice for making a shoebox New York apartment cool

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F. Scott Schafer

After watching two episodes of Bravo’s latest reality competition, Top Design (Wednesdays at 10 p.m.), we want to make its groovy design-guru host, Todd Oldham, our personal armchair psychologist (”Todd, does this Eames rocker make my living room look fat?”). We caught up with the busy designer and pop culture addict to chat about his newest gig, his quirky design inspirations, and our own apartment 9-1-1.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: In the second episode of Top Design, the challenge was to create a room for kids. What was young Todd’s bedroom like when he was growing up?
TODD OLDHAM: I moved almost every year of my life until I hit 20, so it changed a lot and was always a weird, eclectic mix of things. For instance, I had an uncle who worked for a billboard company, and he had an extra one of an American Airlines airplane. So my parents cut it out and taped the airplane up in my room. It wrapped from one side of the wall all the way up over the ceiling and back down to the other, so it looked like it was flying.

Wow! Your parents won that challenge!
It started my fascination with printing dot systems because I would lie on my bed and press my face close to a chunk of the airplane, and I really understood how color breakdown is distributed among the dots. It was fascinating.

And thus, a designer was born. So, your own aesthetic is sharply influenced by pop culture. Do you have any favorite interiors from television programs?
Oh yeah, lots of them. I loved Jeannie’s home in the bottle. It was really one of the first times I thought, ”Wow!”

Wait, don’t you have one of those couches in your LAZ-Boy line?
Yes, of course I do! And no, it’s not called Jeannie. But it could be, and that was a very important design. I loved Little House on the Prairie‘s home with the loft, so you could kind of see through the cracks in the wall outside — that was really nice air conditioning. And when I saw the kind of raw, underdesigned interior in Jane Fonda’s place in Klute, I thought that was pretty amazing.

So you are someone who is truly inspired by everything around you.
Well, any one point of inspiration is slightly dullish on its own, but it’s the paradoxes you can weave from having an honest appreciation of Versailles and The Beverly Hillbillies that are interesting.

Now, there’s an idea for season 2… So, did you come up with the challenges for Top Design?
No, I didn’t come up with any of them. They were already prepared by the producers — I just had fine-tuning input as far as timing goes and those kinds of things.

On the first challenge of Top Design, the contestants had a budget of $50,000. By comparison, the Project Runway designers seem to have $5, a Hefty bag, and duct tape to make it work. Doesn’t a fifty grand budget seem not so challenging?
Well, in a way having a budget that extreme is just as big of an obstacle as having a budget that’s small because it requires restraint, and restraint for a neophyte designer is a nightmare. So even though it was an extravagance, it definitely caused a lot of agita for those folks.

Speaking of agita, one of our editorial assistants, Lindsay Soll, is in need of some apartment therapy. She’s moving into a crappy flat in the East Village and her shower is next to her bed. Do you have any interior design advice for her?
I think immediately lose the attachment to the idea that kitchens have three walls and bathrooms have four, and just embrace all the stuff. But you know, Andre Balazs, in his remarkable hotel the Standard in downtown L.A., has rooms where the bathroom and the living room share a glass wall, so you can put on your own hoochie performance in there. So I think she should turn it up a bit more and maybe add a little bit of a mylar curtain on the front. She could make excellent entrances, if only for the benefit of her cat, perhaps. And keep the lights low.