Behind the Design: HGTV’s House Hunters Renovation-“The Super Room”

It goes without saying that the HGTV-House Hunters Renovation episode that aired on June 20th was a great moment for me both professionally and personally. From all of the effort put forth by so many to pull off that project, to the overwhelmingly positive comments…I am truly humbled. There are literally too many people to thank, however at the end of this blog I’m certainly going to try. Post airing, my thoughts now go beyond the excitement of designing a project for national television, and toward the more relevant experience of designing a real room that works for real people. So often, we are inundated with gorgeous images of interiors that have the look and feel as though no one has set foot in them…ever. So staged and so perfect are these spaces, that they can send a message that the beauty of your interior is more important than the way it actually functions.

In our homes, we all have places where everyone loves to gather. Places where the functional gravity is so strong that you question why the other rooms in the home even exist. For some, it might be your Kitchen…for others your Family Room or Front Porch. In my home, most of the time…it’s wherever the food is. But all kidding aside, the concept of “The Super Room” created in that episode, is for me something more meaningful than an appearance on HGTV or national television. As an Artist & Design Professional, it was a chance to send a message on a larger stage that STYLE SHOULD NEVER TRUMP SUBSTANCE. In other words, addressing the cosmetic needs of your interior, is never more important than making sure it’s designed to enhance and support the lifestyle of you and your family. I think of it this way, my clothes always look better when I’m fit and in shape. Inefficient, wasteful rooms are exactly the same. The concept of The Super Room is less about creating rooms that do it all, and more about designing them to do what YOU really need them to.

I abhor design trends. The very mention or conversation of trends makes me furl my brow and shake my head. On the radio, I refer to it as the “Trend Treadmill”. The ironically tireless and exhausting media/marketing push that promotes mostly unoriginal decorating thoughts, and distracts us from turning the conversation inward, to decide for ourselves, what is relevant in our homes…and in our design. Rather than trends, let’s talk about needs, moments and materials. Rather than focusing so heavily on the general concept of what’s “in-style”, let’s have the important discussion of defining YOUR personal style. And let’s also admit to ourselves that in reality, interiors are not relevant because of their beauty…they’re beautiful because of their relevance in our lives.

Case in point, Roddy and Jessica Jessup: The lovely family featured in the House Hunters Renovation: Season 6-Epsiode 7…as it appears on the HGTV website. The show is titled: A Growing LA Family Moves to the Chicago Suburbs. Needless to say, the lower level of their newly purchased split-level ranch in Barrington, IL had its issues. It was dark, dated and had existing storage that supported the lifestyle of the previous owner. To make things even more interesting, the lower level was also a mudroom of sorts, as you were able enter the room through steps down from the attached garage. Two words described my thought process as I visited the space for the first time. Thrilled & Challenged. Thrilled, as I soon realized that the intent of the show was to identify the lifestyle needs of this couple while solving REAL design challenges for this growing family. Challenged, because I needed to see what others might not, and design a room that possessed immense potential…and challenged by a room with a lot of problems and structural limitations. Important to note here, that the design exercise did not start with a conversation about color or style, but rather with an investigation and discussion focused on the moments the Jessup’s had envisioned taking place in this valuable internal real estate. A situation everyone faces in their home, regardless of the square footage.

As I formulated the design of the space, I was able to look past the liabilities in the room and focus on the opportunities it presented. All too often I see clients experience a kind of “creative paralysis” because they can only see the negative in an interior. Good design involves mostly finding opportunities within a space, and exploiting them to the functional and visual advantage of the client. And that’s exactly what we did here. However in this case, we pushed it. Asking the space to seamlessly and simultaneously perform the task of family room, media room, mudroom, dry bar, home office and play area. Not to mention the sauna in the bathroom, which I still cannot believe fit. The point is, with applied design the goal should be to build a room based on your needs and moments first. Scale the elements appropriately…and THEN ask the question too many of us ask out of order. What should it look like or what style should it be?

To dissect my design strategy for you a bit for The Super Room…here’s how that went down. I started with the media wall, as it was going to dictate the majority of the space planning options and furniture placement. Once that was decided, the identity of the room began to take shape from the inside out. Try this in your own space. Identify the main activity you would like to take place in each room, decide the orientation of that main activity…and then go hunting for opportunities to make the room more useful, efficient and even unexpected. As I attempted to fit into the design all of the expressed needs of the family, I did just that. And it became clear to me that the perimeter of the room was going to be this interior’s salvation. I cannot stress to you enough, to look at your wall space functionally first. All too often, I see the wasted space in the form of  meaningless mirrors, or other “art-esk” solutions, when the choice of an element that combines both substance and style would bring the room to its full potential. And in the end, isn’t that what we all really want? To have our families, our relationships and our homes reflect at least an attempt to reach their full potential?

Big thanks to Pie town Productions for trusting me with this special project, and to HGTV for showcasing in the House Hunters Renovation Series…real people, trying to transform real interiors with creativity and actual budgets. And thank you to the following people for helping put this opportunity in front of me and giving me…like The Super Room…the chance  to advance my mission of reaching my full potential.

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Heartfelt thanks to…

Becky Hoey, from Pie town Productions for making “The Call”, and for her guidance, direction and friendship throughout the process!

Jake Spencer, from LTJ Construction for climbing up the mountain with me. Your team rocked it for me!

Roddy & Jessica Jessup for your friendship and willingness to follow me into the decorative unknown!

Chuck Sproveiri, from Sproveiri Custom Countertops!

Anita Galatte, from Design Quartet at Ravinia & Crystal Cabinetry!

Justin Schultz, from Midwest Barn Pros!

Karin & Bruce Bennett, from the Cornerstone Shop & Gallery!

Kristy & Rob from Vintage Bliss!

Keely, Anne-Marie & Terri from my team at The Design Coach, LLC


Vincent & Nancy Sassano, for teaching me the lessons of the hammer & humility that I attempt to use every day.

Luke, Mia & Zoe Sassano, who remind me for whom I truly work…and for being the best things our studio has ever produced.

…and to…

Julie Sassano, for your love, support and belief that the best of me is always yet to come.

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