Dec 20

All-Star Gingerbread Build.

In high school we had this competition called “Spirit Hall” where a bunch of kids from each grade would pick a theme, rally as many students as possible in their grade, and decorate a long hallway to fit that theme. My junior year was the inaugural year of the competition and we chose an “Under the Sea” theme — we lit the hall with blue lights, wrote all the juniors’ names on hand-cut paper fish, and made jellyfish out of iridescent cellophane strips. My senior year, we called our hall “Zoom In,” and we made everything gigantic as if you were walking through the set of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids — giant grass, giant ants, giant sneaker laying in the giant yard, etc. My class won both years.

What did I learn from this experience? I learned that a) I love crafting b) I am competitive at team crafting and c) I especially love larger-than-life competitive team crafting.

gingerbread0pin it!Fast forward 12 years and I’m sitting at my desk at the Halloween Baking Championship and my boss comes to me and says that he is putting together a team for a fun holiday show — 2 guys from HGTV partner up with 2 guys from Food Network, and they will compete in building/decorating life-sized gingerbread houses!!! !!! !!! As most of you know, I’ve worked on quite a few Food Network shows, and I also happen to be obsessed with HGTV, so this was pretty much my dream job. I know I say that about a lot of jobs, but for real this time. Giant miniature houses…yay!

They recruited Ron Ben-Israel and Jonathan Scott to go head-to-head against Duff Goldman and Drew Scott. I art directed Ron Ben-Israel’s show Sweet Genius, and that guy’s cakes are B-A-N-A-N-A-S. They are so incredibly delicate and detailed in person. He’s basically cake decorating royalty. Duff is the host of Kids Baking Championship, which I also art direct, and he has an entire dessert empire and an army of talented young bakers that help him bring his crazy cakes to life. And I’m sure you all know and love the Property Brothers – Drew and Jonathan Scott.

Oh, and did I mentioned that these houses had to be completed in a mere 36 hours?!

gingerbread2pin it!We built the entire set at the Westside Pavilion mall in Los Angeles. The idea was to build the gingerbread houses inside this huge empty retail space so we could eventually invite mall patrons inside to vote for their favorite house.

gingerbread3pin it!Only problem was that the retail space looked like this on the inside. It was completely raw — no doors, no walls, no lights. We only have a few days to make the space TV-ready so I called up my best and brightest and we started designing and building a winter wonderland.

gingerbread4pin it!We built windows and doors, glittered countless snowflakes, and brought in 12 ovens and an entire workshop full of tools sponsored by Sears.

gingerbread5pin it!Our amazing carpenter (affectionately known as Magic Michael) took my design for the entrance and brought it to life. He built those doors from scratch!

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gingerbread6pin it!After the set was clean, colorful, and ready for camera, the 2 teams came in and started designing their dream gingerbread houses. The Red Team (Jonathan and Ron), wanted to make a chalet-style lodge, and the Green Team (Drew and Duff), opted for a curvy, Dutch cottage.

gingerbread7pin it!Both teams were given 3 “elves” to help them build and decorate. Shoutout to my art team — Michael, Emmett, Amber and Elizabeth. You guys look adorable in your mini-aprons :)

gingerbread8pin it!The first walls of the Red Team house go up.

gingerbread9pin it!Chaos at 3am.

gingerbread10pin it!Jonathan works on planters for the chalet while Drew assembles a picket fence for the cottage.

gingerbread11pin it!After the houses were framed and skinned with wood, we began “gluing” our gingerbread tiles on with royal icing. We ordered over 10,000 bricks of gingerbread, but even that wasn’t enough! Thankfully we had 12 ovens to bake even more.

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It may not look like that much candy from here, but trust me, we had hundreds of lbs of candy for the guys to choose from. By the time we were done with the houses, I vowed never to eat candy again. That only lasted about a day.

gingerbread13pin it!Candy brainstorming for the Dutch door on the cottage.

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It looks like fun and games, but  these houses were a TON of work and we were all actually sleep-deprived and delirious by the end of it.

gingerbread16pin it!Duff had his team make this insanely perfect reindeer out of fondant as an final touch to his cottage.

gingerbread crowdpin it!By the time we completed both houses, mall patrons started lining up to meet the cast and to see the finished houses.

gingerbread17pin it!Behold! The Green Team’s cottage complete with a marshmallow chimney, chocolate chip covered Dutch door, and a fondant covered reindeer.

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gingerbread23pin it!The Red Team’s chalet!

gingerbread24pin it!The stained glass window was made out of colored sugar that we melted and poured into the frame!

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gingerbread26pin it!We let the mall patrons in, and each person grabbed a gingerbread man to cast their vote for their favorite house.

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gingerbread30pin it!In the end, the Green Team cottage with the reindeer head won. The losers had to don Santa and Elf costumes and walk around the mall.

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gingerbread32pin it!Even though this was one of the hardest projects I’ve ever worked on, we had a blast and I can’t wait till next year so we can do it again!

Massive thanks to Erin, Michael, Emmett, Rick, George, Aubrey, Nick, Giles, Amber, Elizabeth, Renata, and Lynsey. A thousand hugs for Morgan, Beryl, Dave, Alex, Amy, and co. And high 5’s to Hillary, Whitt, Steve, Larry, and Dustin. XXOO

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Posted by Jen at 3:31 pm — 1 comment
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Oct 31

The Halloween Baking Championship.

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I can get down with Halloween. I love the idea of it, but I usually procrastinate or don’t really have anywhere cool to go, so I opt out more often than not. What did you do for Halloween? I hope you wore a sparkling polyester unitard and stuffed your face with candy because I sat at Houston International Airport for 4 hours waiting for my connecting flight to Jackson, Mississippi.  (High five to this airport for providing FREE unlimited internet!!) The good news is that it gave me ample time to archive photos. I think this is the first time I’ve ever posted pics from a show RIGHT after it aired as opposed to 1-3 years later. Hooray!

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I art directed my first cooking show, Sweet Genius 2, about 5 years ago. I remember loving it and telling my colleagues that I wanted to work on more cooking shows.  I love custom making anything and everything, so there is something about the hand-crafted nature of cooking and baking that complements my design/build/arts-and-crafts approach to art direction. I worked on a lil’ Food Network special called the Holiday Baking Championship last year, and I had no idea that it would blow up into an entire franchise of baking shows including the Kids, Halloween, and Spring Baking Championships.

The shell of this set was designed by Shaffner & Stewart and my amazing art department KILLED it this year with the set dressing and custom builds. We had so much fun making all things smoky, slimy, and spooky.

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My set decorator Andrea and I spent an absurd amount of time scooting things around on these shelves.

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My favorite vampire.

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For the most part, I design and hand-draw the signage on all of our shows. I’ve gone back to using pen and paper when designing and I find that it’s so much more fun and freeing than designing everything on the computer.

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My awesome assistant Ryanne outlining letters in white paint pen.

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This “fire” is actually 3 light bulbs, and a mini fan blowing around small triangular pieces of white lining. TV magic!

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My carpenter Michael is basically like a human 3D printer. He can literally make anything. I drew this sketch of a gothic table, and 1 day later, he texts me this picture below. Like… no big deal… just banged out a custom judges desk in 8 hours. Ugh. Show off. ;)

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A big part of my job is figuring out how to visually convey ideas that the producers have for challenges. For this challenge, we needed a tree with 2 kinds of apples, the red ones would have secret ingredients written inside. The green ones would have creepy adjectives — and the bakers had to combine the two words and make something delicious and scary out of it. As you can see, not every display  is an instant success. It takes A LOT of collaborative brainstorming to get a galvanized bucket and a tree branch to a point where it’s TV ready.

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A dollhouse that we “hauntified.”

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Again, Michael being crazy and amazing. I asked him to build a fireplace surround. Whatever he wanted…surprise me! And he took a pile of MDF and made it into this in a couple days.

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That’s it for now, but the passing of Halloween means that everyone is going to be playing Christmas music by tomorrow. It also means that the Holiday Baking Championship is returning and my art department dressed the hell out of that set too, so come back soon for more pics!

Posted by Jen at 11:29 pm — 1 comment
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Oct 8

I Brake for Yard Sales.

I am obsessed with HGTV. I could literally watch it all day.  It’s a good thing I don’t have a TV anymore, because if I did, I would not be blogging, I would be watching HGTV. I love it more than Breaking Bad. I love it more than the first season of CSI. I love it more than animal documentaries. I don’t watch Orange is the New Black, but if I did, I’m sure I’d flip the channel in a heartbeat if I knew Design on a Dime was on.

Don’t judge my lifestyle.

Sometime in April, I received a call that basically fulfilled one of my life-long dreams. My dear friend Sue was producing an HGTV show about home makeovers using only furniture from yard sales and flea markets and she wanted to know if I was interested.  I asked myself, “Jen, do you really want to spend the entire summer in a warehouse sorting through filthy used furniture, drowning in fabric swatches, and inhaling noxious paint fumes?” Uh…YEAH!

00pin it!The show is new, the brainchild of Good Morning America co-host Lara Spencer. She is a design aficionado and a yard sale-ing guru. Her passion for furniture hunting is unwavering and unsurpassed. She wakes up at 3:45am for Good Morning America, hosts Flea Market Flip, writes books, decorates homes, has 2 kids, 3 dogs, and still manages to go to yard sales ALL THE TIME.  She even wrote a book about it.

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Back in April, we found the perfect workshop to base our operations. It was large enough to house the set of both Flea Market Flip and I Brake for Yard Sales. There was a paint booth, a loading dock, plenty of storage, and proximity to excellent pizza. Only problem was that it looked like this:

01pin it!Since Lara is ridiculously busy with her 5 jobs, I came on board to help spruce up the place.  I couldn’t have done it without my main squeeze, Aaron Montgomery who happens to be a designer/builder of awesome furniture.

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03pin it!He built the metal table, shelves, and desk from scratch. All of the furniture turned out mucho sexy, and I hope to have everything in this office replicated in my future warehouse/design studio. It’s gonna be glorious. Everything black and grey and greige and white and wood because I’m allergic to color.

Book-Review-I-Brake-For-Yard-Sales-Kathy-Griffin-Living-Roompin it!You know who’s NOT allergic to color? Lara Spencer. Even though we had functional, industrial furniture that fit the warehouse environment, we wanted the room to feel chic, fun, and bright, which would reflect Lara’s style. (She designed the room above.)

05pin it!We painted the grimy walls bright white and the door citron yellow.

06pin it!The furniture was designed to fit the space exactly.

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A wall of flats separates the I Brake for Yard Sales studio from the Flea Market Flip workshop.

08pin it!We brought in piles of fabric books, antique frames, design magazines, added a sprinkle of Jonathan Adler accessories and voila! A preppy/industrial design office was born. The crazy orange credenza was a team effort. It’s actually made of 3 IKEA kitchen wall cabinets and we added chunky wall moulding around each door. I used brass doorknockers as handles.

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10pin it!The top of the desk is actually an IKEA kitchen countertop.  I’ve always liked the taupe color of this laminate top and the faux wood edge is modern and interesting.  It never seemed like a material that I would want in a kitchen, but I think it works perfectly as a work surface.  The slab came exactly that length and it happened to fit perfectly against that wall. Destiny? I think so. Also, can we take a moment to admire the white lacquered chairs? SWOON. I got these at Build it Green (which is basically a donation-based junk yard) for $15 each!!!  They didn’t have seats at the time, but who cares! Nothing that a little plywood, foam, and fabric couldn’t fix.

11pin it!Alex built the Greek key screen which is actually covering a massive gaggle of electrical cords and a giant circuit breaker.

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It just so happens that the annual Jonathan Adler warehouse sale was the week of our warehouse makeover. Christine and I waited for 90 minutes in the pouring rain to snag this golden turtle dove.

13pin it!Left to right: Alex Gurrero, Sam Knapp of Tiger Lily’s, Lara Spencer, me, Cija Johnson.

Millions of thanks to Christine L., David D., Jay A., and James D. for helping pull the studio together in record time. Lara, thanks for including me on your furniture-saving adventure.  Can’t wait to do it again!

And Sue, you are my hero!

We designed and decorated 8 rooms, so more blog posts to come….

Watch I Brake for Yard Sales Friday evenings at 9pm on HGTV.

Posted by Jen at 1:02 am — 3 comments
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Oct 30

Real Life: The Musical.

Last fall I worked on Real Life: The Musical,  a show on the OWN network about surprising loved ones in song and dance. Sort of like flash mobs meets Glee. I was super excited when I got the call because I LOVE shows about singing and dancing. When i was a kid, I was kind of obsessed with Star Search and Jem and the Holograms. Nowadays, when I have access to TV,  I flip back and fourth between The Voice and X Factor, though I find both of them sub-par to their respective British equivalents. What is it about British vocalists? They’re SO GOOD. Anyway I digress…

The show was shot at a wonderful, new dance studio in LA. It had a private entrance, tons of space, great bones, and brand new floors, so all it really just needed some furniture, decor and wall art.

I had a fantastic time working on this gig. The crew was one of the nicest, most efficient groups I’ve ever worked with, led by my brilliant exec producer friends, Annie Price & Greg Moscot. Big thanks to the art crew Aaron, Andrea, and Carl for working super hard and being awesome.

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pin it!Rendering of the vocal studio. Sometimes I start sketching out some ideas and I get really into it and before you know it, the whole set is drawn out (in photoshop), and the final product ends up looking very much like the initial rendering. This project was a good example of that. So was the facade of my parents house.

pin it!Tony and Aleece came on board for a bit!

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pin it!Andrea, Aaron, & Carl building wood slats for the courtyard.

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pin it!The exterior was was SO big and so white. We used vinyl sticky “stone” tiles to break it up. Working in TV has made me appreciate all things vinyl. Vinyl siding, vinyl tiles, vinyl wood flooring, vinyl decals… they’re cheap, easy to install, and virtually indestructible.

pin it!Aaron set dressing the vocal studio.

pin it!I really loved this entrance. You know me, I’m a sucker for typography and signage. I have FastSigns on speed dial.

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pin it!Some screen grabs and promo photos from the actual show! I did not take these pics.

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Posted by Jen at 1:26 pm — 1 comment
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