<EM>Top Design</EM> champ Matt Lorenz Top Design champ Matt Lorenz

Consistency paid off for Chicago-based designer Matt Lorenz, 32, who on Wednesday night won the final challenge on Bravo's Top Design. In the first-season finale, Lorenz was pitted against his pal Carisa, but eventually came out on top.

Now, he's extremely relieved to finally be able to reveal to family and friends that he's the champ, although his 4-year-old daughter did walk into her preschool after the March 28 episode announcing that Daddy had "won." "I had to explain to her and to her teachers and classmates that I won the challenge that night, not the show," Matt chuckles. "I had to be sure that was clear."

Matt points out that while Bravo's portrayal of the tense group of competitors was very accurate, "I don't think people realized how truly exhausted we were, and when you're that tired, your personality traits are exaggerated. I'm really not that sarcastic, unless I'm really tired. And I was really tired."

Matt got his start designing window displays for Victoria's Secret, and has been married for 10 years to the woman who got him the job. His wife, in fact, is also an interior designer, and Matt dubs her his biggest supporter. Though their styles are very similar, he says — "clean and minimal" — when pressed, he admits their home looks nothing like their shared design style.

Laughing, Matt says, "We don't allow anyone to come over. [Clean and minimal] is certainly not our real house, which is always a mess. It is not a pristine environment." Because they're always encouraging their daughter to do craft projects, "there's always like 50 toys on the floor. We encourage a free environment, so it's always a mess."

Returning to the topic of his Top Design run, a modest and earnest Matt shares, "As people were getting kicked off, I was thinking, 'That easily could've been me,' based on who I might have been paired with. My personality is to really go with the flow, and I might have allowed myself to be talked into something. I could've been kicked off the first episode." Instead, he says, "I felt I was very lucky and had very good karma during the show, and whoever I was partnered up with, we had a very good relationship."

As an example, Matt cites the challenge in which the participants had to garage-sale shop, and with a limited budget. Fortunately for Matt, he was paired up with Andrea, who knew Los Angeles and knew which areas to direct their driver to. "I thought Los Angeles was phenomenal, but it was so confusing to me," he recalls.

Living in an environment that seemed to replicate a college dorm — "You're working with these people, living with them, eating with them" — Matt realized he eventually had to stop "worrying about being everyone's best friend" and accept it as a competition. The experience made him stronger and he gained self-confidence he says he never had before.

Since the show wrapped, Matt has run into Erik, who lives nearby, and he talks to Mikey and Carisa. With an eye on the future, he says he initially went on Top Design to build his client base — he still works for the firm he worked with when he began the show — but he also has hopes of starting his own business.

Being a contestant and winning Bravo's Top Design was "life-changing," he says. "I view things completely differently now. Working around a group of people, having these professionals critiquing [your work]... I really consider it a condensed course for a master's degree. Having gotten through this and impressed them, I realize that I can do anything. It's a complete boost for my career and my self-image.

"Remember," he says in closing, "I'm just a farm boy from Minnesota."

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