Twenty-five thousand dollars is a tight budget for any design style. But ask an expert and they’ll tell you: some looks require a bit more coin than others. Which is why this week’s ‘neoclassical’ theme may have been the series’ toughest yet. The contestants, designers and , would have to execute a style marked by extravagance and luxury, sans an extravagant or luxurious budget. Neoclassical is also defined by its supporting architecture—large columns, marble fireplaces, tray ceilings—which, again, equals big bucks.
“To pull this off for $25,000 in a regular builders home…that’s tough,” host Genevieve Gorder says. Plus, the neoclassical style can feel outdated if taken too literally, and without a modern sensibility the aesthetic can fall flat. So how does one make a small budget feel grand? How can a centuries-old style be modern? During this episode, all of our questions were answered.
This week featured two guest judges—founder of her namesake lifestyle brand , and designer and esteemed antique dealer —whose combined expertise on the judging podium would be daunting for even the most skilled designer. Shapiro was also the owner of this week’s inspiration house. The home’s elegant antiquity fuses old with new, where a thoughtful selection of sculptural accents and delicate, ornate finishes seamlessly blend with modern upholstery and a contemporary coolness. As always, Siweb Editor-in-Chief Whitney Robinson and host Genevieve Gorder will be weighing in as well. Nicole Sassaman, winner of this week's episode, attributes her background in building and interior design, her knack for DIY, to her win. “I’m the queen of DIY, so I can stretch $25,000 a very long way. But the four days? I don’t think I’m even going to sleep!” Sassaman said.
To celebrate her win, we got the chance to speak with Sassaman—Los Angeles-based builder, designer, and author—on her own creative process, and what it took to come out on top.
Siweb: How would you describe your own design style, and how did that help you craft a neoclassical space?
NICOLE SASSAMAN: My preferred style is more modern and architectural. I always try to think outside of the box, kicking things into overdrive to make each space unique. I love to weave in unexpected details.
ED: What makes the neoclassical style so special, and what is the key to crafting a neoclassical space?
NS: The neoclassical style is really special because you have to hunt to find those old-world pieces, things that infuse character into the space. It's also important to make the room transport you back in time on its own. I think my venetian plastered walls (DIY) really helped in achieving this look.
ED: The neoclassical style is traditionally very luxurious, which can be expensive to execute. How did your DIY expertise help you achieve a high-end neoclassical look for just $25,000?
NS: I was able to pull off the neoclassical look for less through rich colors and fabrics, and the venetian plastered walls. The furnishings were also very much the style of the time, but with a modern twist.
ED: Neoclassical interiors can feel outdated if not done correctly. How did you make sure your room embraced the style while still feeling fresh and contemporary?
NS: I was able to embrace a more contemporary feel by throwing in a few modern pieces, like the leather baskets, resin bowls, winking Mona Lisa art, and the green velvet chairs.
ED: Aside from the obvious budget and time constraints, what was the biggest challenge in this competition?
NS: The biggest challenge was simply that the family absolutely detested neoclassical design.
Take a look below for the before & after shots of both contestants' rooms:
DOUG WIAND (LEFT) AND NICOLE SASSAMAN (RIGHT)
DOUG WIAND (LEFT) AND NICOLE SASSAMAN (RIGHT)
“One of my favorite inspiration houses in the world; one of the hardest styles to recreate—even on a budget of $25,000!” says Whitney Robinson. “Both designers had great neoclassical moments, and some design misses (no cat art!). I fell for Nicole’s bold strokes—over-scaled furniture, and the DIY plaster-finish wall proves that high style doesn’t have to come at a huge cost.”
Sassaman’s number one goal was to change the way that her clients—Eddie and Suzanne—used the space. What was once a confused and awkward layout, with its combined living room, office, and dining room spaces, would be transformed into an area that is functional and attractive, with a smarter overall flow. By removing the wall where the “office” space once was, reorienting the furniture, and introducing smarter storage solutions, Sassaman gave the room a new structure that felt polished and intentional. India Hicks was especially impressed by Sassaman’s hands-on approach to her design, saying “I love a woman who rolls up her sleeves and gets things done.”
As for Sassaman, she attributes her failures to her success. “I think that I was able to make lemonade out of lemons every time something went wrong, which was the biggest success for me,” Sassaman says. “And trust me…plenty went wrong!”
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