American Dream Disaster

Just watched the final episode of American Dream Builders and I am now very satisfied that I have retired. If design trends are to be lead by the likes of Nate Berkus’ posturing and ego maniacal ramblings, I’m glad to be out of it! He clearly ran the show and made me wonder why they even had the other judges who seemed there just to back up his opinions. I was disappointed in Monica Pederson and  frankly confounded by the very presence of Eddie George as a design judge at all. I’m not a football fan, so up until this show never heard of him before.  His lack of design knowledge and expertise was obvious as he acquiesced time and time again to Nate’s and Monica’s comments and opinions.American Dream Builders - Season 1 Design competition shows (like any other reality TV competition shows) are fraught with tension and drama. If they were just about design, the only people who would likely watch them would be other designers which is certainly not the direction a major network wants to go and it would probably only air at 6 a.m. on PBS. So, following the pattern as expected, this show was definitely high drama.. but not original by any means. The only thing different besides this show and HGTV’s Design Star was the lack of the “White Room Competition” and the network. I guess I should not overlook the infusion of  character borrowed from the Extreme Makeover Home Edition Show with the “Neighborhood Counsels” Blah, blah, blah… (Kept wondering when they were gonna yell at somebody to move a bus!)


Like many design shows that are on HGTV that I watch, I find myself watching the opening set up for the episode (first five or so minutes) and then fast forwarding to the end to see the results. However, the final episode for this show was the exception. I did skip through a lot of the process stuff in the middle which I found just obnoxious. I felt the approaches to the projects of the two very different finalists, Jay and Lukas, were worth taking in because they were so different. Jay is a builder and his approach was clearly ‘team’ based as would be expected by a home builder working with a team of talented people on a large, high-end project. It made sense to me that he would take advantage of the individual talents of his team and direct them.  I imagined it must have been a bit like herding cats at worst and conducting a orchestra at best. These are the attributes that one would expect of a design-build contractor. In the end, I felt the project reflected a culmination of many talented creative minds orchestrated in a single direction, but you could see the individual efforts on the team shine through. I felt this was intended, not by accident. This is what I would expect of a Dream Builder. American Dream Builders Based on the comments of Nate and Monica, Lukas should be considered a phenom in the world of design. His approach was to maintain total control of the project in a dictatorial fashion so that he could maintain a strict sense of continuity and project a single design aesthetic throughout the entirety of his project from the smallest detail to the ‘big picture’ idea. His design aesthetic appealed most to Nate and that is what won the competition for him… (Never mind that Eddie just kept his trap shut and Monica nearly collapsed when she saw the black painted box.) Not that it reflected anything to do with the family that owned the place or what they would want nor even the building vernacular of the location. This building would fit right in Chicago, Copenhagen or Milan. Not Ventura, CA, or in any other tropical or subtropical beach location in the US. A beach house it was not. Forward thinking? Not so much.  Wow factor? Certainly.  There were elements of the project I liked, but overall, I’m glad I didn’t own it, have to pay taxes on it and perhaps have to try to sell it in today’s marketplace in that location. American Dream Builders Ultimately, Nate Berkus lead the show in a direction that betrayed it’s title: American Dream Builder. It had little to do with building and everything to do with decorating and design. They are not one in the same. Just because you work on a whole bunch of building projects as a designer, that does not make you a builder. The three judges were not builders and one of them was a football player (HUH?????).   Nate commented that he didn’t think Jay should win because he didn’t think he was capable of doing the entire design of his project as it was on his own. To me that was the beauty of his project, that as a builder he was able to orchestrate the talents of a group of highly diverse designers which resulted in a project that superseded the abilities of any single team member.


As a trained and experienced designer myself, I have to look seriously at Lukas as a professional designer because he was (as he stated) self-taught. It shows that he does not understand nor respect the processes that professional designers go through to solve design problems.  He is clearly an artist, and when it comes to residential design I would call him a stylist or a decorator –a professional designer is a stretch. One of the key things a designer does is develop a program that includes the desires of the client. The format of the show did not allow for much of this. I would have loved to have been a mouse in the corner when the ‘black box’ beach house was revealed to the family. I’ll bet their jaws hit the ground in unison! Not in awe but in “Oh Hell, what have we got ourselves into!” I wonder how long after the taping of that episode will it be before they have a really big repainting party (if they haven’t already)?   While I can respect that a great deal of design has to do with art and creativity. there is much more involved. Marrying artistic expression and design problem solving is not an easy thing to do. But that is what is at the essence of good design. If the problems don’t get solved then the design is lacking.


Next I want to see a show called American Dream Decorator and the judges should be two builders and a tennis player.

6 responses to “American Dream Disaster

  1. Well said! I agree with everything you said – but I have to admit like you, I only watched the beginning and end, skipping the process. You could tell how the hosts would play out their roles – maybe the footballer was there simply because he WOULDN’T argue with Mr. Berkus…

    • Thanks for chiming in! Exactly what I thought –Eddie George was there as the yes man. Sad that Berkus thinks so low of his audience that they would not perceive this ruse. Man what an ego!

  2. Some fifteen years or so ago HGTV was a wonderful network, and Christine and I watched several of their programs on a regular basis. The shows we watched (one was “Modern Masters”) are long since gone and gone, too, is all sense of reality and utility. Back in the day you could watch some of those shows and learn a new process. Now all you’re doing is watching tripe that does little more than space out the commercials. We haven’t watched anything on HGTV for many years now. And ALL of those “reality contests” they have on TV these days in a truly appalling number of venues are orchestrated, contrived, and mostly ridiculous. I would much rather read my books—and I do!

  3. Hi Joseph!
    I have to admit I let myself get sucked into watching this show even though I could tell by the previews it was going to be a lot like HGTV’s Design Star. I’ve been a long-time FB & Twitter friend of one of the contestants (Elaine Griffin) and it was fun to see her in action as she is a wonderful designer. Though as it turned out she provided most of the fuel for the drama on the show -the aspect I like the least. I was disappointed in find just how much the show was like shows that had already been done -same ol’ same ol’. I felt the network was banking on their choices of judges would be so popular that the audience would overlook the lack of ingenuity in the format. WRONG! I find such network manipulation insulting… yet here I sit watching it once again!

    Now it seems I may have yet another FB & Twitter friend who may be on a future season of American Dream Builder. He is Jordan Iverson who has a design-build practice in Eugene, OR, where I went to college and lived for over 20 years. I’ve seen his fabulous work firsthand that he has exhibited at the annual home show in Eugene for many years, have met him and his family… so you know, I wouldn’t miss seeing him on the show regardless how crappy the rest of it is!

    I agree that much of the programming on HGTV is terrible nowadays. At least most of the shows are still connected to the world of design in some way, unlike many other cable networks that have strayed from their original genre. I’m thinking of The Travel Channel that is mostly about weird food adventures and little about travel.

  4. Very well said. HGTV is for sheer entertainment for the basic DIYer. I don’t agree with most of what they say or design on that channel but look at it as inspirational footage for my blog writing.

  5. Hi Donna! I have to say that the main reason I watch HGTV is because it’s probably the only network that has shows that my husband and I will watch together. House Hunters and Flip or Flop mostly. Anything else I watch (like drama or cop shows like CSI) will not hold his attention long because English is not his first language. There is one new HGTV show that I love called Fixer Upper. Probably because I like their style, the hosting family is adorable and I used to live north of Waco, TX, where it takes place.