Amy Bohutinsky is Zillow’s chief marketing officer. As part of Zillow’s partnership with NBC’s new home improvement show, American Dream Builders, Amy has an inside look at the show and its designers. She also makes a few guest appearances as neighborhood council judge and mentor. Each week, Amy will give her take on that week’s episode in “Amy’s Take.”
In my final appearance on the show, I was lucky enough to witness the masterful conclusion to this fun ride of “American Dream Builders.” The series finale pitted two of the most unlikely people against one another: an avant-garde designer and self-proclaimed “Bad Boy of Design,” Lukas Machnik, with traditional-style builder and father of five boys, Jay Riordan.
The challenge in this final episode was to take two well-worn, family beach homes in Ventura, CA that have gone through decades of wear and tear, and give them each a full makeover that showcases the finalists’ best work. Lukas was given the “cube house” and Jay was assigned the homier cottage. As part of the neighborhood council, I loved being able to tour and see the culmination of their work.
Each finalist had the perk of working with the show’s eliminated contestants, and selected their teams “schoolyard style.” Chosen in order on Team Jay were Erinn, Dann, Christina, Nancy, and lastly, Darren. Team Lukas was formed from Nina, Vanessa, Andrew, Tarrick and Elaine.
Jay, aka “The General,” handled a house that had a few design challenges, including working around a big old stone fireplace, a seismic wall and a beam. He divvied up the room assignments among his team. In hindsight, perhaps this approach worked against Jay since the rooms ultimately didn’t tie together as well if one person oversaw the design and execution.
Instead of handing over rooms to his team, Lukas took full control of each room in the house, asking his team to execute his plan. And once Lukas has a vision in mind, everyone better get out of the way. Right out of the box, Lukas went for the wow (or shock?) factor by deciding to paint the exterior black. While many of his colleagues said no, he said, “This is a risk worth taking. I don’t follow trends, I set them.”
What worked for Lukas:
- Living room – Let’s face it: Lukas loves white (he also loves black). This man is a genius at taking 50 shades of white and creating a visually-appealing canvas with paint, textures and accessories. His living room was stunning – especially set off by the amazing light fixture he created himself for a mere $30 in materials.
- Dining room – Loved the huge dining room table and funky seating, which is a must for any large multi-generational family and guests, but I wonder how comfortable it actually was to sit for long spells? Again, if it’s about design, Lukas wins.
- Kids’ bedroom – Lukas added a nice nautical touch to the kids’ room with slatted headboards and lifesavers hanging from them. Fun.
- New bedroom – Lukas took a sitting area upstairs that was open and closed it in, turning it into a bedroom. While it wasn’t a huge space, having an extra private sleeping area is always good for big families – especially in a beach house where many people come to visit.
- Master bedroom – Once again, Lukas took an all-white approach and created an amazing adult oasis. Clean and beautiful.
What worked for Jay:
- Fire pit (done by Darren) – Despite Darren needing to dash off for a family emergency, he returned in the 11th hour and he and Jay pulled together an amazing and inviting outdoor living space with a fire pit surrounded by a comfy sofa and chairs. This was immensely functional and adds huge buyer cachet if the family ever sells the home.
- Kitchen (done by Christina) – Jay took down a wall in the kitchen, which opened it beautifully into the living room. It was elegantly done with white subway tile to the ceiling, beaded cabinets and glass-front cabinet doors. All in all, a really nice space and perfect for an airy beach house.
- Jay’s guest bedroom (done by Jay) – Loved the horizontal slats behind the bed.
- Kids’ bedroom (done by Nancy) – Nancy painted the slats on the wall with alternating shades of green/gray, fading to white. It was so easy, so clever. Nancy redeemed herself with this simple design element.
- Guest bathroom – By adding river rock on the bathroom floor, it gave this space a wow factor since the rest of it was pretty standard. It added a rich, warm aesthetic for a casual beach home.
Things that didn’t work for Lukas:
- Black exterior – I love that Lukas takes risks and big swings. But seeing the black exterior in person, I didn’t like it. Black is moody. Black is heavy. Black has its place, but not on the beach in laid-back Ventura, for a multi-generational beach home. That was the biggest complaint I heard from others on the neighborhood council – the color did not fit with the neighborhood. It was a shock,and it could’ve been the deal-breaker for him.
- Kitchen – Very minimalist in design, but what I really didn’t care for was the way it was oriented with the dining room. As we all know, the kitchen is the gathering spot in most people’s homes (whether you like it or not) and Lukas didn’t showcase this space, or the spectacular views. I also have an issue with open shelving – it’s beautiful, when a few dishes are minimally and artfully placed on the shelves. But 95 percent of families can’t live this way, and there was very little hidden storage space. This could have an impact on buyers in the future.
- Bathroom – While they look interesting, vessel sinks are not very forgiving, especially with kids. Water tends to collect under the bowl and they are hard to use without banging elbows. Again, nice design, but I wonder about function.
- Function throughout – Gorgeous design, no doubt. But overall, I didn’t find the home to be as family-friendly as a multi-generational beach home should be. All that beautiful white makes me cringe at the sandy feet and wet-swimsuit bottoms that will be parading through the home for years to come.
Things that didn’t work for Jay:
- Living room (done by Erinn) – I have to say, I think I liked the original living room better. It had big, comfy furnishings all around and was styled more in keeping with a beach house. Jay’s update didn’t enhance the space that much, except eliminating some awkward bookshelves near the fireplace.
- Design throughout – Overall, I thought the rooms were well done and showed progression of his skills, but nothing stood out as pushing the bounds of design.
Did the right guy win?
Am I surprised that Lukas won the overall title? No. All season long, he took risks and showed his tremendously bold talent. He thinks big, has a clear vision and goes for it. He truly is a designer and artist of epic proportions. But, did I think his design of this Ventura Beach house was on the mark? No. He designed this home for his aesthetic, not for the family who lives there or how it fits into the laid-back neighborhood vibe around it. I see this house as being more Miami Beach than Ventura Beach. I would love to dress up, attend a cocktail party and drink a martini here, but that’s not what the family asked for. However, at the end of the day, the guy is a genius, plain and simple.
Jay, on the other hand, was a huge surprise all season long. I give “The General” loads of credit for pushing his comfort level and learning from the other designers. He often showcased his building talents with major structural and façade changes, but also was not afraid to handle details (sewing pillow cases), while also coaching a team through many projects. He was tenacious and gave it his all to the bitter end. What Jay delivered in each of his designs was livability, not necessarily forward-thinking design and ultimately, the judges felt this cost him the title of American Dream Builder.
What fun this season has been! Congratulations to all of the talented designers on the show – it’s mind-blowing what they were able to do week after week, in transforming homes and lives. While the series has come to an end, you can continue to follow each designer and their work on Zillow Digs, or read their exit interviews.