Design Freak: The Christopher Barson Project - Or, why Fine Living Network is dead

I normally tend to post later in the evening as I'm kind of a nighttime guy, but I've just witnessed something so heinous it sent me running to my laptop. We changed cable companies so tonight after I changed out of my work clothes I flopped on the couch and started flipping through the TV listings to see if there was anything to watch.

Fine Living Network (soon to be Cooking Channel, and now I see why) was airing a special called Design Freak: The Christopher Barson Project.

Here's the premise: Find a smart-mouthed gay dude with a trendy haircut and a drinking problem, give him a homeowner with no unreasonable demands, a bland but perfectly serviceable room, and a small budget. Then sit back and prepare to be simultaneously horrified and underwhelmed.

Here's what the program description on the website says:

"Equipped with his non-stop snippy one-liners, Christopher takes on these projects with a droll
roll of his eyes and creates living spaces that go beyond the homeowners' wildest dreams. This
special combines the docusoap of Christopher's wild personal life and successful business with
makeover projects for homeowners who have no idea what they got themselves into."

So what did I see during my 3 minute stay? Nice young married couple, city apartment in what looked like Chicago or NYC, master bedroom reno. The room was maybe 14X16, good sized windows on one end, hall of closets at the other, painted a minty medium green. West Elm wood lattice headboard, patchwork bedspread, pair of assembly-required nightstands. Bland but neat and clean.

For the final installation (the part I caught) Christopher Barson sat on a chair, barked "COCKTAIL!" at an assistant (who produced one!), then sipped away and told some poor kid where to put the lamp and end table. He then sat a couple vases on the end table stuck in the corner, leaned a 30 inch tall (seriously, not even up to the window sills) mirror against the wall, and proclaimed it done. Art? No, none. Window coverings? Huh-uh. Candles or flowers? Oh, big Pier One bottle base on the end table got a few sprigs of something artificial. Finis!

The homeowners seemed pleased with his paint choice, a paler shade of non-descript, as well as the bedding, something gray with unironed pillow cases. Oh, and the husband liked the vases. If they enjoyed the half-ass gold leafing he did on their headboard they didn't mention it.

To conclude the segment Christopher said he felt like he made a good looking room, but had he had $15,000 he would have done something that would have ended up on the cover of Architectural Digest.


I don't know what I'm more offended by, his stereotypical sassy homo schtick, his complete lack of design skills, or his blaming the lackluster space on the size of his budget. Christopher, I just took a similar size bedroom down to the studs and built it back up, including all new electrical and floor refinishing for not much over 4K. My room is better looking completely empty than yours is "fully" furnished. Style and price are almost never related, and blaming the room's shortcomings on a lack of funds is just plain unprofessional.

I feel bad for the homeowners too. They seemed really nice. Young and cute, probably not married long, they deserve a designer that can make 3500 look like ten grand, not like 500 and change.

And finally, Fine Living Network, WTF? Find the person on your staff who thought the self-described "drama magnet" was a good idea. Fire them. If you're doing a special on design, you need someone who can actually make beautiful rooms, not some sassy homo wearing an ironic sweater who thinks that a lighter paint color fixes everything. The world is full of shelter magazines and design blogs and HGTV and people of all walks who care about their living spaces. Your audience has evolved, and we know bad when we see it.


Russ Manley said...

"Style and price are almost never related" - bravo, David.

Mrs. Blandings said...

Whoa. Kinda sorry I missed it. I am a little envious of the cocktail delivery. I might put that in my script, though Mr. Blandings never seems to learn his lines.

Raina Cox said...

Ok, now I have to Tivo or On Demand this mess.

Damn. Sounds like he set decorating back a couple of decades and Gay Rights back to Stonewall.

Russ Manley said...

PS - I think *you* ought to do a TV show David, you certainly know more than a lot of the so-called experts, and have better taste too.

David said...

Russ, next time I'm in Texas I'm tracking you down for a big kiss =)

ChrisToronto said...

You go, David!

christopher.barson said...

David, this sassy and dramatic review IS hilarious...However, please dont judge my professional abilities on a 3 minute viewing of my hour-long TV SPECIAL, "Design Freak." Please take a moment to view some of my professional work, online. Please go to and search Christopher Barson...or visit my own private and informal website:
Thank you for the review. Warm wishes, CB

jerry said...

Wow I didn't know how easy it was and little education you needed to write a blog. And I'm assuming your bashing of a gay man on your blog could only be justified by the fact that you yourself are a gay man and even then it's just poor taste, but hey I'm sure your life has meaning, only you have to bash people and try to bring them to your level to experience that meaning. At least Chris has class and his show is actually funny, and on a shoe string budget non the less. So don't judge someone until you know what your talking about David and you could say the same for me I'm sure but you've already lifted your pant skirt and shown us your true colors so have a great life being miserable.

Russ Manley said...

Anytime you're down this way David . . . come on.

Decorina said...

Well said David. I stumbled on his little drama filled show on cable and I was similarly horrified. Just ICK.

erin@designcrisis said...

A to the Men, David.

christinia watejustaminute said...

christopher barson is a good friend and a great designer.

christinia watejustaminute said...

it's television stupid,christopher is a great designer and a great talent.