On the shelves of Netflix for more than a year now, Interior Design Masters, produced with BBC Two, is a classic British reality television competition, participated by 10 handpicked Designers in the world of interiors. Critically acclaimed for its derivativeness from other British shows, Interior Design Masters comes off as a decent reality program that rather has a touch of banality and minor flaws outlining its 8 episodes.
The show goes on for eight weeks, with contestants tackling weekly interior design/redesign projects, within a time frame of two to three days. Emceed by television presenter Fearne Cotton, the show is presided over by Michelle Ogundehin, former editor-in-chief of Elle Decoration UK, as the series judge, who is accompanied by a celebrity designer each week. Challenges presented to the contestants range across different typologies – from residences and restaurants to hair salons, although there were quite a number of home interior revamp projects. The contestants handle design problems as different teams in the first few episodes, whereas challenges are given individually only at the end of the series. The final prizewinner is given a contract to design the interiors of a bar at a famous London hotel, thus providing a launchpad for their career.
Each challenge starts with a conversation with the clients to frame the design briefs, followed by design thinking and ideation. This is where the details start to go amiss: the focus diverges from the content of the client brief, with their conversations being reduced to mere two-minute chit-chats. Following this, designers come to work, having already designed and put together colours, patterns, textures, materials, and decor for typical spaces according to their own design styles; they collaborate with teammates, mix and match colors and materials from each other to suit the client’s requirements. This seems to undermine the actual design thought process and brainstorming that is bound to happen in such projects.
Upon reaching the site, the required material and decor are ordered and brought to be used for the project, within a stipulated budget, which slightly seems to not match the scale of the design. The contestants, possessing different kinds and levels of skill sets, are aided by builders and carpenters to fabricate and realize their design, whilst we also see the designers pitching in to do a few manual jobs themselves. Each challenge requires to be completed within a limited period of time setting the contestants, and the builders, on their toes to finish the work. We see quite a bit of the design process happening on-site, in attempts to find out whether a single exposed wall would match the overall boho chic style, or if the lighting revamp would tone down the more subtle details in the corners, and so on.
At the end of the challenge each week, one designer is eliminated, after the judges provide them with comments on improving their sense of style and developing an eye for aesthetics and details. This process continues over the eight-week period until one designer has crowned the winner. The level of learning that the participants experienced in the challenges is certainly to be appreciated: that it is not just about the purity of style or personal expressions in the design, but rather being able to meet the requirements of the brief, under the given circumstances. Plus, the subjectivity that prevails in a domain as interior design is highly evident, with the judges occasionally disagreeing with each other on their views, about the works of the contestants. That said, the show remains true to the values of design, as being open to interpretation.
A bit of drama is sensible, as the designers are pitted together to work as teams – the requirements direct them to express their own personal style, whilst maintaining a cohesive aesthetic as a team. This goes to a level where contestants are apprehensive about the choices and the design decisions of their teammates and dissent over the same, whilst also occasionally passing a judgemental comment. The drama continues in what one might feel as irrelevant, when eliminating a contestant with creative potential, whilst retaining some who seem to not have as much. Again, so much for the subjectivity.
In the end, it all comes down to the prize – as to who would get a well-paying design contract: this favours competition to an extent that a few contestants choose to perfectly do each of their parts alone, whilst forgetting the team and the collective design challenge. Besides, the show could have done more to show the transformation of each project from its original state, undertaken by the contestants, but we only get to see the end result.
And that is a wrap to the finesse and the flaws the show revolves around.
From a designer’s perspective, Interior Design Masters, or as a few critics call it, The Great British Decorating Show, is quite full of works of design that are fine, accompanied by flaws that seem to undermine what the show has to offer its viewers.