Inside American Dream Builders with Nate Berkus, Eddie George and Monica Pedersen

American Dream Builders Judge Interview
Eddie George, Nate Berkus, and Monica Pedersen in NBC's 'American Dream Builders' (Photo by: Tyler Golden/NBC)
NBC’s premiering the new reality competition series American Dream Builders on March 23, 2014, pitting designers and home builders against each other as they tackle renovating homes. Nate Berkus is the show’s host and also judges the 12 contestants’ work along with ex-NFL all-star/landscape architect Eddie George and interior designer Monica Pedersen.
The 12 contestants are divided into two teams and given the task of renovating and redesigning two homes. After a special ‘Neighborhood Council’ examines and weighs in on their work, the judges select one unfortunate person from the losing team to be sent home. That continues until the finale when the last two designers standing face-off, with a $250,000 grand prize awarded to the winner.
What was it that got these designers a spot in the competition? Was it their talent or was it a lot of their personality?
Nate Berkus: “The designers and home builders that comprise the 12 contestants were absolutely, unequivocally booked on their design talent alone. The fact that we got very lucky and have some really varied, extremely competitive people competing on this show was really a by-product. But first they had to be able to design within an inch of their life because we wanted week after week the audience to be able to see absolute cover-of-a-magazine worthy makeovers and the highest possible level of inspiration. So you can’t cast for character if you really have to be focused on the results and what the design will be week after week when we complete these two full renovations.”
Do we get to know much about the contestants, outside of their designing abilities?
Nate Berkus: “There really isn’t a tremendous amount of time to dive into their personal lives. Obviously when you take 12 people who are consummate professionals, who are very established in their fields, and you put them in a competition setting with not a lot of time, and they’re divided into teams which are not necessarily their choosing, you get a lot of the interpersonal dynamic between the designers and competitors on the show. But in terms of personal life, each hour of this show is so packed. It’s the most ambitious design show that’s ever been done, with two full-scaled renovations per hour. So you do definitely get to know the characters and we certainly want people to know them and be rooting for them and connect with them if they have something in common or they just connect with their taste. But this show is really not about delving into their personal lives.”
How do you put aside your personal feelings about specific designs? How do you not judge the contestants based on what you would have done and and instead on the work that they do?
Nate Berkus: “We don’t. We fought the three of us the whole time too.”
ShowbizJunkies: “Really?”
Nate Berkus: “Yeah, of course. I mean, design is very subjective. There’s not one way to do anything, but I think all three of us brought a different perspective to the show. And there are many times that Eddie and I didn’t agree, many times that Monica and I went sort of head-to-head. But I think it’s about our authentic opinion and wanting them to succeed, wanting all of them to succeed, because they were picked to be a part of this competition because they’re all fantastic designers. I wasn’t looking to be mean or to be demeaning or negative, but to be a judge you’re inherently judgmental. And that’s fair, right, Monica? We were laughing sometimes, like, ‘How do you like that?’ And Monica’s like, ‘How do you not? What’s wrong with you?”” We really, I think, were very just straightforward about how we truly felt about everything that they did.
Monica Pedersen: “I think the critiques that we give to these contestants – we wanted everybody to do their best. And as designers, we know that they were working outside of their comfort zone. It’s not the way they normally work in the real world of design, and they’re compromised. But you know, they’re really good and they’re able to deliver. So I think we were very fair. I mean, I walked away feeling really [good] about, and if I was in their shoes, I would have been appreciative of the constructive criticism.”
Nate Berkus: “Me too, me too.”
American Dream Builders Interview
Monica Pederson, Nate Berkus, and Eddie George from 'American Dream Builders' (Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC)
And as a follow-up to that, how do you know when you’re being too harsh? And how do you hold yourself back from going over that line?
Nate Berkus: “You know, it’s not personal.”
Monica Pedersen: “Yes.”
Nate Berkus: “You’re judging what they were able to do and what they were able to accomplish. You know I think Eddie, you for instance were very focused on how they were functioning as a team in the beginning of the competition. You know, I was very focused on what design ideas I had seen before anywhere. And from the very first week of the show, my advice to them was if I’ve seen it before – if I’ve heard of it – if it’s some trick or thing or tip that the audience [knows] – if I’ve seen it, that means the audience has seen it. So what I’m looking for is diehard creativity. And if you cop out and do something just because it’s the easy way out and it’s something that everyone is familiar with, you’re not going to win, from my perspective. You have come in every week and show me stuff that I’ve never seen before.”
Eddie George: “Yeah, and I think I’ll echo what Nate says. You have to understand that the people on the show are professionals, and they have thick skin. And it wasn’t mean-spirited. I think it was genuinely what moved us or what didn’t move us and was very constructive in that regard. So it wasn’t to the point where we were demeaning their projects and their design work where they were crying every week. But they were invested, we were all invested. We were very honest with our assessments of their designs.”
Monica Pedersen: “And sometimes – and Eddie and Nate, you’re going to agree – I mean, design is subjective. There are things that I personally may love because it’s my taste or Nate or Eddie may love, but there also are some just really good design principles. And we looked at that: furniture layout, function, where are your draperies mounted, what’s the color scale. These are all basic things that when you hire a designer, you know that they’re going to deliver. And these are some of the big challenges that do-it-yourselfers have. So we also looked at it really from, ‘Okay, are they bringing those high-end design principles to the table?’ And if they’re not, then that’s a problem.”
Eddie George: “And basically if it was ugly, they knew it was bad.”
Nate Berkus: “Some of them tried to fight, but we didn’t let them get through.”
Monica Pedersen: “And it’s not a food show. It’s not a food show, so it’s not like Nate, Eddie, and I can sit there and go, ‘This is delicious, America.’ They’re going to see it.”
Eddie George: “Right, and it’s not a singing competition. The audience is going to hear it.”
Monica Pedersen: “Right.”
Eddie George: “The proof was when that huge crane lifted in front of both homes week after week and we opened that door and it brought the audience inside these homes room by room, detail by detail, week after week. The audience is seeing exactly what we’re seeing. And so when you’ve got, like in episode one, a vanity that doesn’t function, as three judges we’re left without a choice, you know?”
Nate, you’re judging, hosting, and executive producing. How you do all of that for one show? It’s got to be crazy.
Nate Berkus: “Well, what you do is you make sure that you’re working with people you think are the best in the business because no one can possibly do all of those things. So for me, as the executive producer I was involved in the concept of this show long before any cameras were turned on. And that involved the casting and the location scouting and reviewing people’s portfolios and talking about the different design challenges and the architectural styles that we moved through, and also using my relationships to make sure that the designers had fantastic vendors that would give them access to vintage and antiques and salvaged and fine contemporary art and all the things that they need they they’re used to working with.
As host, a host is a host, and I hope I did okay. And as judge I got to work with Eddie and Monica. And like I said, all three of us have very different sort of perspectives and opinions. I think that that was something that became very interesting through the course of the show.
We also had this vehicle built into the show called the Neighborhood Council where each week they got to pick which of the two homes they preferred. And Eddie, Monica, and I had to send someone home from the losing team. So that actually made judging…sometimes it made it more difficult. Sometimes it made it easier. We didn’t always agree with what the Neighborhood Council had to say, but it was a balancing act for me but one that I was really happy to be involved with because it’s design. It’s what I love. It wasn’t my talk show. I wasn’t trying to make a chicken.”

-Posted by Rebecca Murray

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