‘American Dream Builders’ Episode 5 Recap: Modular Homes

Each week, Zillow Blog will provide a recap of NBC’s new home renovation show, American Dream Builders, hosted by celebrity designer Nate Berkus. Zillow is proud to be partnered with the show in its debut season. The show airs Sunday nights at 7 p.m. ET (6 p.m. CT).

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This week on the NBC reality design show, “American Dream Builders,” the eight remaining contestants are divided into teams of two and given only three days — instead of seven — to design a modular home.

The small spaces present a challenge for the professionals, and they also mark the first time teams start with identical, factory-built spaces, making their finished products completely comparable.

The winners of the challenge are offered a photo spread of their work in Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, and everyone else will be at risk for elimination.

Dann and Vanessa are paired together, which Dann says he is worried about because he thinks the judges question her “taste level.” They want to appeal to the magazine editors and make two goals:

  • Design a playful sitting area on the porch
  • Appeal to the neighborhood council with a do-it-yourself design

Jay and Nina decide on the theme, “Park Avenue,” and Jay wants to put in moldings to give the home a high-end feel. Nina is not sure.

“Jay is not a designer,” she says.

They decide to:

  • Add molding to make it classy and modern
  • Use dark flooring

Lukas and Erinn envision the space like a loft, and team up to design a modern cottage. Their goals:

  • Create open shelving in the kitchen and bathroom
  • Build a daybed to make a lounge area

The final team, Darren and Elaine, seems poised for conflict. The two have been at each other’s throats for the last several challenges. Right away, they clash over a theme.

Elaine muses: “It’s kind of like, Malibu beach shack goes to the Upper Eastside …”
“… and feels really uncomfortable and out of place …” Darren finishes.

In the end, they decide to:

  • Downsize the kitchen to make the living room bigger
  • Add a screen to the bedroom entryway, for privacy
Each team was given the same blank canvas to showcase their creativity.

Each team was given the same blank canvas to showcase their creativity.

As the teams get ready to head to Lowe’s for some shopping, Nina is starting to panic. “Everything is so fast-paced and we don’t have time to think about anything,” she says as workers bustle around her, placing cabinets. “Where am I going to put my couch?”

While the teams are shopping, Elaine makes an uncharacteristic move and lets Darren take charge of selecting some window treatments, even though she could have found the right blinds faster.

“This week with Darren, I don’t want one single argument,” she says of the effort. “If I could have done this in my marriage, I would still be with my husband right now.”

Meanwhile, Jay gets frustrated with Nina, who seems to hem and haw and every decision.

“Working with Nina feels like a chore,” he says. “She really deliberates about a lot of things. She really, she just chews and chews and chews and chews. It’s almost like an analysis paralysis.”

Judges check progress

Monica is not sure about Lukas and Erinn’s plan to put a daybed into a small space between the living room and the kitchen. And Nate is not sure about their plans to cover up some windows to make way for more art and a TV.

“I think Erinn and Lukas have a great chance of soaring ahead of this competition,” show host Nate says. “I think on the flip side, if they push it too far. It may just seem weird.”

Elaine and Darren’s plans to shrink the kitchen by moving the refrigerator is going to go over well, Monica predicts. “They have now created a functional living space,” she says. “Neighborhood council or anyone else is going to walk in and think it’s bigger. How smart was that?”

At Jay and Nina’s house, the judges like Jay’s molding, but they find Nina uncertain about where to put her furniture. Nate gives her a pep talk.

“I’m giving you a special assignment,” he says. “I want you to walk out the door in the middle of this furniture install, and I want you to clear your mind of everything preconceived, and I want you to think about what works best. Period, the end.”

Finally, Nate worries Dann and Vanessa are trying to pander to the judges, when Better Homes and Gardens editors will be looking for something they’ve never seen before.

As the clock ticks down toward the reveal, Vanessa tries to spice up their design by building a table. Dann is not completely supportive. “What I’ve seen her make in the past was rather flimsy looking,” he says.

He also doesn’t like the chandelier she put on the porch, calling it “completely inappropriate.”

Nina asks Jay to sew pillows. He has to consult an video online to figure out the basics, but soon he is pumping out shams. “He did a phenomenal job,” Nina says.

Darren and Elaine have a tense moment when she returns from the store and he learns she didn’t get any of the landscaping supplies he texted her about. But Elaine snuffs out the conflict with a pep talk: “I would not worry about the landscaping, because honey, you’re so talented. Your worst day is 10 times better than anyone else’s better day,” she says.

The plant arrangement turns out so well, Darren hugs Elaine.

“Did Darren just hug me?” she asks.

Reveal

Finally, the judges and neighborhood council, including the editors from Better Homes and Gardens, arrive to check out the finished homes.

“Four homes, exactly the same,” Nate says. “There is nowhere you can hide.”

Right away at Jay and Nina’s house, the judges are disappointed in the furniture placement. The couch is oddly positioned so it faces a wall.

The furniture layout was a "major misstep," Nate says.

The furniture layout was a “major misstep,” Nate says.

“Who wants to sit here and have their whole life revolve around this wall?” asks Monica.

Nate agrees: “This was a major misstep.”

Despite that bad start, they love the bedroom and Jay’s molding gives the home elegance.

“You literally feel like you’re in a penthouse in Manhattan,” says Nate.

In Darren and Elaine’s home, Monica immediately declares the design “delicious.”

“These two are a match made in heaven,” she says. “Instead of fighting, they put their energy into design.”

The judges complimented Elaine and Darren's choices to create an open living room.

The judges complimented Elaine and Darren’s choices to create an open living room.

Darren constructed a shoji door to lend privacy to the bedroom and the judges love the privacy it creates. The bedroom is also quite elegant. But Nate doesn’t like the finishes in the kitchen.

The judges don’t like Dann and Vanessa’s house, starting with the chandelier on the porch, which Nate calls “the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen.”

Inside, the living room has way too much going on. Nate grabs a turquoise pillow. “The pop of color bubble has burst,” he says.

The judges critiqued Dann and Vanessa's colors in the living room.

The judges critiqued Dann and Vanessa’s colors in the living room.

“That hurts my eyes,” judge Eddie says about the colors and patterns.

They like the team’s space planning and use of grasscloth wallpaper, which they had cut into squares to add dimension and a subtle grid.

“We have two very distinct styles in this house. One’s bad and one’s great,” Nate says.

He says that the team did well with the landscaping, which might be his favorite exterior of all the homes.

At Erinn and Lukas’ home, the judges critique the landscaping. Nate says the arrangement of plants outside of the home is so cluttered he feels like he is in the nursery. But the judges love the inside of the house.

“This is so good,” Nate says when he walks in.

Erinn and Lukas' furniture selection in the living room wowed the judges.

Erinn and Lukas’ furniture selection in the living room wowed the judges.

The design gives the modular home the feel of a loft or an older home, with planked walls and exposed shelving. Farmhouse and antique touches are mixed with a modern feel.

The judges end up loving the daybed that Lukas built, which is long and narrow and creates a second living area by the windows. They also added a small dining table in the kitchen.

“This is such a brilliant use of space,” Nate gushes. “So creative.”

In the kitchen and the bathroom, they used open shelving instead.

“I’m dying right now,” Monica says.

The neighborhood council likes the molding in Nina and Jay’s living room, the walls in Dann and Vanessa’s bedroom, the open shelving in Lukas and Erinn’s space, as well as the colors in Elaine and Dann’s living room — calling the space “very livable.”

At the elimination, Nate says the teams accomplished some of the most stunning transformations.
The neighborhood council went “insane” for Jay and Nina’s molding, but didn’t like the sofa placement.

The council loved the inviting colors in Darren and Elaine’s living room and the custom screen. The biggest issue was the floors because they didn’t match the rest of the home.

In Dann and Vanessa’s home, the council liked the office area and the grasscloth in the bedroom. Their major issue was the styling. They did not like the chandelier.

“You could see that thing from miles away. It looked like a UFO,” Eddie says. “It didn’t look like it belonged there.”

The landscaping for Lukas and Erinn was a disaster. “It was a pretty major eyesore,” Nate says.

Covering two windows was not an issue in the home. “I didn’t miss the windows one bit,” Nate says. The council loved the bathroom details and the daybed area.

Eddie calls them the “dynamic duo.” Eddie raves about their work, calling the home “exquisite.”

The winning team — by a landslide — is Elaine and Darren.

Nate says the other team that’s safe is Lukas and Erinn.

No one on the council felt they could live in the space the way Nina left it. But the judges and the neighborhood council were disappointed in Vanessa’s styling. Vanessa is eliminated.

“We decided to play it safe and maybe we shouldn’t have played it safe,” Vanessa says.

What did you think about episode 5? Leave your thoughts in the comments section!

If you missed the episode, you can watch the show online on nbc.com or Hulu Plus.

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Emily Heffter, a reporter and writer for Zillow Blog, covers celebrity real estate, unusual properties, and other real estate topics. Read more of her work here.