Todd Oldham, <EM>Top Design</EM> Todd Oldham, Top Design
Todd Oldham is one of those Renaissance men you want to hate out of envy, but can't help but adore the second he opens his mouth. The fashion/interior/product designer, photographer, writer and TV personality is now the host of Bravo's

Top Design (premiering tonight at 11 pm/ET), an interior-design spin-off of the Project Runway/Top Chef family. (How ironic is it that he has his own La-Z-Boy furniture line?) Oldham is so excited about the show and his role as mentor and referee to its eclectic cast of characters that he stepped out of the ticket line at the Sundance Film Festival last week just to tell all about it. Hi, Todd! What are you seeing at Sundance?
Todd Oldham: This one's Joshua. It's a horror film that sounds kind of interesting. I'm jealous. So, how did you get involved with Top Design?
Oldham: Andy Cohen at Bravo gave me a ring, and I was really excited when he asked me. I like the creativity that's shown on [this type of show]. You get to see people solve problems and come up with ideas, and that part really excites me. The part that I didn't think I'd be really good at was the judging. Bravo was so kind to move it around a little bit, so I can do the mentor and host thing and don't have to be involved in the judging. Jonathan Adler, Kelly Wearstler and Margaret Russell are just terrific at it, so this worked out nicely. How much have you seen of Project Runway and Top Chef?
Oldham: I've seen a little bit of Runway, but I love Top Chef. I like to cook, and it's a lot about the problem-solving. It's such a tease, though, that you can't taste anything!
Oldham: Which might be good. Have you seen some of the s--t they make? But you've seen enough of Runway to know that you're in the Tim Gunn role for Top Design....
I certainly recognize that. And many, many people have re-reminded me about it. I like Tim Gunn a lot, and I like that he's honest and kind and does a good job. If people compare us, I would be honored. You'll have to get your own bobblehead doll soon!
Oldham: I don't think I want a bobblehead. My head is wobbly enough. Do the challenges on Top Design approximate what it's like to be a real-world interior designer?
Oldham: It's a microcosm multiplied by 10. All of the tenets of design and the obstacles of a designer are there, with one extra added horror on top: no time. When you remove time, that is the biggest obstacle you could make for an interior designer. In the first challenge, the budget is huge: $50,000-plus. Does it continue like that?
Oldham: That's what's cool and sets our show apart. Sometimes the [challenges] are so extravagant, and sometimes they are beyond modest. As a designer, you're going to get all those kinds of jobs. I'm at Sundance right now because I designed the opening and closing parties for them, and clearly the budget of this is very different from the hotels I'm used to working on. Are you going to make anything out of recycled material? I love the "Hot Toddy" projects you do in Readymade magazine.
Oldham: I would have preferred a little more of that stuff. But it's terrific. It's 12 contestants who all believe they have the top design. That confidence is so admirable, I think. Occasionally, a little bit of a--holeism peeps out, but that's going to happen under those kinds of conditions. These 12 people were called from hundreds and hundreds of people from all over America who were trying out to join us. By the time we got to these 12, they were really top-drawer. Do the people who have more training or experience have an advantage over the self-taught or younger designers?
Oldham: Everybody came with a lot of skill sets, and they weren't all the same. Depending on the challenge, maybe the guy who was really skilled in painting would have the leg up, or the really seasoned architect would have the leg up. I wouldn't say that anyone had a particular advantage. When we were shooting, we'd go backstage and go, I think I know who's going to win, and we started realizing you don't know anything. You can't tell. As the host/mentor, what are the parameters of how much you can guide the designers? Can you outright tell them they're going to lose if they keep going with something horrible?
Oldham: I'm free to say whatever I wish. But it's a subjective call, and I may dislike something and someone else may like it. Instead of saying, "That sucks," I ask questions to see if the designer has really considered what they've done. If they've considered it well, I just honor what they're doing. I'm most helpful with technical things, like helping a table stand up better, or how to press something. But as far as taste level goes, I try to stay out of that, because I honor that there's a lot of taste levels in the world, not just mine. In most of the TV shows you've done, you're the one creating things. Is it frustrating to be standing there while others are doing the work?
Oldham: When we were shooting, the directors were constantly telling me that when we got down to an hour before they had to be finished, I would get very hyper and all my lines would come out, "Aaaah!" because I was so empathetic and feeling all of their frustrations. They were like, "No, no, no, you're not doing it!" But I have to tell you, these challenges were so monumental, I am quite pleased I'm not doing them. You always have 10 million projects going on at once....
Oldham: I've finished up a couple, so it's 999,999. The very newest is Top Design. I have new hotels on the horizon, a new book coming out in June. It's a book I've been working on about the art of Charley Harper. I've been working on cataloging his 65-year-plus career. It's been one of my life's greatest pleasures. If someone told you that you had to choose one career, what would it be? Would you be able to do it?
Oldham: No! I would just say, "No, thank you," because I never want a career. I don't even want a job. The fact that I can do this and can still eat is great. Are you still based in New York?
Oldham: Yes. I went out to L.A. to shoot [Top Design]. That was really good because this schedule was so hairy that I think I would have expired if I'd had to do the day job simultaneously. Did your dog, Ann, go with you?
Oldham: She didn't, unfortunately. The sets are a little dangerous for her, and I'm a seriously protective dog owner. It was heartbreaking. Where would your — sorry to use this word — career be without television?
Oldham: Gosh! Probably the same as it is now. I have no idea why I've done so much TV. It's one of those things that's just come naturally to me. I've had a lot of fun doing it.

Check out the Top Designers' makeover of a NYC subway platform!

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