Top Design

TV review by
Sierra Filucci, Common Sense Media
Top Design TV Poster Image
Project Runway meets interior design.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Both good and poor sportsmanship are on display, with the latter getting more airtime. Competition brings out the worst in some players, with insults and backbiting popping up occasionally.


Some mild expletives: "ass," "damn," etc.


Design, like fashion and fine food, is an elite business, and the focus is on luxury goods for wealthy clients. Lots of product tie-ins: GMC cars, LendingTree, Elle Décor magazine, Sleep Number beds, and Todd Oldham's designs.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some brief shots of social drinking in the contestants' dorms.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that, like most reality shows, this one makes the most of personal conflict and nasty competitiveness. The designers' personalities range from sweet and ambitious to grumpy and backstabbing. Because the design business is focused on wealthy clients and expensive materials, the show inhabits an elite world. Parents may want to remind kids that most people can't afford the furniture or decorating expenses featured on the show.

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Kid, 12 years old April 9, 2008

What's the story?

Following the formula that worked so well on Project Runway (and not so well on Top Chef), is Bravo's TOP DESIGN. Here, instead of clothing or dinner, the 12 contestants create carefully decorated rooms. Hosted by famed interior designer Todd Oldham, the show features three other successful design professionals -- including the editor-in-chief of Elle Décor magazine -- as judges. The players -- who are competing for cash, a spot in a big designer showcase, and a spread in Elle Décor -- range in age and experience and identify with a variety of styles, from "ethnic modern" to "architectural ultra modern" and "historical and progressive."

Is it any good?

As in so many other competitive reality shows, the contestants all live together for the duration of the show, so that not only are viewers privy to their design talents but also to their abilities to create and withstand conflict. Top Design can be thoroughly addicting. Watching the contestants compete in challenges (like designing a room for an unknown celebrity client) is captivating. Viewers watch as the players sketch their ideas, choose furnishings, assemble the pieces, and present their final products to the judges for critique, all within a set time limit. It's all interesting material that offers a peek into a creative and challenging world.

What makes the show less than ideal for younger viewers is the emphasis it places on personal conflict -- and the nastiness that emerges as the competition progresses. While contestants do build camaraderie and show examples of good teamwork, some make disparaging comments about each other, and lots of camera time is spent on personalities that just don't mesh. Older tweens and teens interested in interior design, decorating, and fashion will find a lot to like. But parents may want to preview shows to determine whether the focus on competition and interpersonal drama seems appropriate for their kids.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about design and the business that surrounds it. What do family members think is "good design"? Do you have anything in your home that you think is well designed? Poorly designed? Can a well-designed room have an effect on how someone feels? If you had a lot of money, would you spend it by hiring designers to create your living space? When you hear how much money it costs to design a room on this show, does it make you think about how that money might be better spent? What's the fascination with this kind of reality show? Does it matter what the subject of the show is, or is it all about the personalities?

TV details

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