A blank slate—be it page, canvas, or room—sucks the creativity out of even craftiest of people. Not so for Boston’s Jennifer Glickman, one of four designers battling it out for $10,000 in prize money on HGTV’s new series the White Room Challenge. A spin-off of the network’s popular Design Star, the show premiers tonight and challenges designers to transform a stark white room into a well-designed space. There are twists, of course: rooms without full walls, tiny budgets to work with, and strange venues to shop. Glickman, whose clients include Chez Henri and Restaurant Dante, dishes on her stint as a reality star and her life as a self-proclaimed professional schlepper.
You must be excited. It seems like there’s a lot going on right now for you.
I kind of had a flip-out session last night.
How did you get involved with HGTV’s White Room Challenge?
I’ll talk about design until people turn around and walk away. So last summer, I had some friends sending me this link for a casting call for Design Star. So I go, and they kept pushing me through to the next round. They finally brought me down to New York for the semi-finals. That was like design boot-camp or reality TV boot camp all rolled into one. They called me back a couple weeks later and said, “So we cast for Design Star, but we have this new show that we want to put you on.” A couple weeks after that, they flew me out to LA. For four days we filmed, we designed nonstop, we ran around—you didn’t sleep. But it was fun. It was awesome. I would totally do it again.
So when you’re not dominating reality TV, you’re here running your own business, Glickman Design Studio. I heard you just finished up some work for Restaurant Dante.
Dante has a fabulous outdoor patio right along the Charles, and they just wanted to give it a refresher. They had a pretty tired looking bar—I’m not going to lie—outside, and we totally tore it down. I designed a whole new bar. The concept is rustic and modern. The bar has a beautiful stone counter top now and wrapped planking around the sides. It’s a great new spot to go out and grab a cocktail after work. As soon as the weather’s nice, they’re going to open it up. In the next few weeks, we’re going to move into the interior and start painting it and do little things here and there.
Have you had any strange design requests at all?
My clients, I keep them in check. It’s a matter of keeping that relationship open because they’re looking to me to give design advice but to also be kind of crazy and push them outside of their comfort zone, too. So there’s always a balance of that.
Does your heritage play into your influences at all?
I’m half Korean, half Russian, Jewish, and from the South. I’m the muttiest mutt. You know, my heritage doesn’t really influence me. I know this sounds so cliched, but I knew I was born to be a designer. When I wake up every morning, I’m excited to do what I do. So for me, it’s not that I set out to get inspired. It’s always kind of in me, in my head. My friends hate this actually—I cannot go into a space without touching everything. I have to see how this metal connects to that wood, how that is built. And I have to feel it all. My napkin sketches turn into tablecloth sketches. I’ve been known to ruin a couple of tablecloths. It’s always processing in my head. That’s the way that I tick.
Is there any one thing that you really covet in design?
My style or my voice is mixing styles. I don’t want to just pick one style and install it across a house or a restaurant, because it looks like a showroom. I like to have fun with a lot of moments of surprise. I think design should be about being daring and being exciting, whether you’re exaggerating the scale of something, like a giant light, or repeating an exaggerated texture across the feature wall in a restaurant. You’re carving a space, and you’re required to make an impact. Anyone can walk into a West Elm or a Crate & Barrel and buy everything that’s in the setup. But it doesn’t make for good design. It’s not memorable.
What are some of your favorite spaces in Boston?
I love designing in Boston because there are so many challenges. Design is about resolving a problem with a beautiful solution. And that happens all the time because there’s so many historic spaces in Boston. It’s just the relationship of the old and the new that makes an exciting design.
What would be your ideal project?
I’d say that I get off on designing restaurants for sure. Because restaurants are about sensory—what you taste, what you smell, what you see—and also about theatrics. You can be more exciting with your design and more daring than you can with a residential space. So that, that gets me going. I love restaurant design in Boston, and throw in that you’re designing in an old space, like an old factory or some beautiful grand building, and there’s drool on the floor.
Is there anything else we should know about you?
Watch the show. I don’t know how it’s going to be edited, so I’m excited and nervous. I want to jump but also puke at the same time. But you know what, if you’re not going to be daring and put yourself out there—you only get one go around at this, so why not do it up?
White Room Challenge airs tonight on HGTV at 9 p.m. Tune in on Tuesday, May 15 to see how Jennifer Glickman transforms her blank space—and whether she wins the $10,000 prize.
Watch the show’s trailer here.
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