Say what you want about Ellen DeGeneres, but the woman is utterly obsessed with good design. And with her new HBO Max show, Ellen’s Next Great Designer, she has created something that even the most discerning design fans will enjoy. It is refreshingly unlike anything on HGTV (though don’t get us wrong, we still enjoy a good House Hunters binge). The contestants are tasked each week with creating a piece of furniture. For the first challenge, giant slabs of stone and raw pieces of wood are delivered to their studios for them to work with. For the second, they are each given a piece of art to use as inspiration. Most of the time, the results look like something out of the pages of AD.
No one on this show is an amateur. The seven contestants include Vidivixi founder Mark Grattan, Indo- founder Urvi Sharma, Artless founder Alejandro Artigas, Slash Objects founder Arielle Assouline-Lichten, Christina Z. Antonio, Erica Sellers, and Paul Rene Furniture founder Paul Jeffrey. Then there are the judges: DeGeneres pops up each episode, sort of watching over the competition. But each week, the contestants present to actor and (who knew?) furniture designer Scott Foley, AD100 designer Brigette Romanek, and designer Fernando Mastrangelo.
“I really want to know: Where is design heading? What are the exciting things that the most talented and creative people are thinking about that don’t exist yet?” DeGeneres tells AD over email. “No other show is asking and answering these questions, so I’ve created one that does.”
The winner will receive $100,000, and the judges are looking for someone who has it all. During critiques, they discuss scale and functionality as much as originality. “I want this show to be about not simply making nice furniture but creating pieces that are both furniture and art,” says DeGeneres.
For Mastrangelo, the fact that the show is promoting independent artists was a draw. “I’m a huge advocate of the independent artist studio, meaning artists and designers are able to create a self-sufficient business for themselves so that they can reap the benefits of their work without being gutted by the big gallery system,” he tells AD. “I’m extremely passionate about discovering and fostering talented designers.”
The first two episodes are on HBO Max now, and DeGeneres sums up the experience of watching the show pretty succinctly, saying, “I felt like I’d been on an exhilarating roller coaster ride at the end of every week. Except instead of nausea, I got to see these amazing pieces of furniture.”