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A guide to The Great Interior Design Challenge

Last week saw the return of the Great Interior Design Challenge ("GIDC") on our screens and if you missed it, fear not as it is also available on BBC iplayer (scroll down for the link). Now in its Series 4, the show has provided many a pleasurable moment for its audience, including panicked amateur designers running out of time, chalk painted cabinets, spray painted side tables, yellow wallpaper in bedrooms as well as many happy clients, the insights of the two judges and historic information from the show's presenter Tom Dyckhoff.

If you have never before seen the GIDC and want to know what it's all about, and even apply to appear on the show, keep reading!

What's it all about?

This program searches for Britain's best amateur interior designers. Or 'decorators' (with Keith Lemon accent) as they say in the States. Simply put, if you have any professional experience, you don't get on the program. If however you are crafty and creative (and relatively unknown) then chances are you could be on (more about the shortlisting process further below).

It is very similar to the US HGTV's Design Star that has given us the one and only Emily Henderson. The show offers an insight to what you might need to do when you start off as an interior designer/decorator/ stylist. It might also permanently put you off such plans as it can be traumatic from time to time. Who could cause such trauma?

The judges of course

Without them, there's no show. Their role is to shatter dreams and crown a winner. This year sees the return of Daniel Hopwood of acclaimed Studio Hopwood. Daniel is the current President of the British Institute of Interior Design and an amazing interior architect himself. Just look at any of his recent projects to be convinced. He holds the highest accreditations and is on a mission to ensure that if you want to enter his industry, you need to have the right qualifications offered by, of course, the BIID. He's the good cop.

Together with fabulous Sophie Robinson, he also runs design courses, which you can read about here.

"We have new challenges for the designers", says Daniel, "that really will push them to their limits". I expect that the audience will also be pushed as much.

Daniel Hopwood is now presenting with Kelly Hoppen. Original Image Credit: Studio Lambert/BBC2

Those who expected to see Hopwood's other (on-screen) half Sophie Robinson: sorry guys, Sophie has moved on to spend more time on her own projects. Why not catch with her projects over on her YouTube channel?

Her space was filled by last year's guest judge, Kelly Hoppen. Known for her sophisticated and super-high end style with a bit of East meets West every now and then, Kelly Hoppen has done it all. She's designed houses, holiday homes, yachts, has her own interiors line, written books and has appeared for many series on Dragon's Den. And she can run a marathon too. And she's an MBE. The list goes on!

Image Credit: Studio Lambert/BBC2

"I expect perfection", says Kelly at the intro to the series. But these are amateurs we are talking about. Sometimes, not even amateurs but pure day-dreamers with a penchant for sewing cushions. Will Kelly find perfection at the end of Series 4? Remains to be seen. I love her straight-talking, won't-sugar-coat-it-for-you style. She's the bad cop.

How do you get on the show?

You email Studio Lambert when they announce that they are opening up for a new series. They email back when they are ready, with a long form. You complete said form and email it back to with a photo of you. Include examples of your own work (at home).

You cannot apply if you are a professional or someone who has already worked as an interior designer. If you are shortlisted, there's a telephone interview first. You then get shortlisted further for a video interview where the TV crew comes to your home and shoots video with you showing off your interiors style.

Important: you need to be prepared to give up work for a few weeks in the summer when shooting goes on. Like, forget the entire month of August pretty much. If you are full time employed, you're possibly doomed. Sacrifices to be made. Ask for a sabbatical.

Oliver Thomas, Series 4, during the home interview. Image Credit: Studio Lambert/BBC2

What do you have to do?

You have to complete mini makeover projects (challenges). In this series there are 9 designers. The show is on Tue-Wed-Thu. On each day, three amateur designers complete a challenge. The challenge is to update a room (bedroom, kitchen, living room) in accordance with a client brief.

The best two in each challenge go forward to the next round. Then they are mixed in pairs and battle it out.

Contestant board, Series 4, ep. 1, Image Credit: Studio Lambert/BBC2

What's 'the brief'?

This is an important part of the design process and in the real world, you get to meet the client at the home in question, see the room(s), talk to the client and get a feel of their style, their likes and dislikes.

They also give you direction (purpose of room, colours they like or loathe, elements to incorporate as a must or avoid like the plague). It can be literally anything. It can be one sentence like: "I want this room to reflect Parisian Chic". Or it can be a long list of what they want and need.

But in the GIDC you don't get to meet the homeowner before preparing your board. Ex-contestant Talie Mole (Series 3) tells me:

"We got a short clip of the room. A photo of the homeowner and shots of the room. There were measurements sent, but quite often these were slightly out, so it was important for me to be mindful when ordering things like bespoke blinds that these could be altered on the day. We got a brief of the homeowner's likes and dislikes but again some important information could be missing. Like the homeowner's dislike for blue on my first project!"

Yikes. That's not a lot to go on.

Lucy Tiffany, contestant in Series 3, presenting her board to her clients. Image Credit: Studio Lambert/BBC2

What do the rooms look like before?

Blunt, mostly. You could be given a lofty room in a Victorian house or a boxy kids room in a brutalist building. Again, the state of the room you are given could be a bit unpredictable. There have been rooms where the moment you remove a carpet you see awful rotten wood underneath which can seriously delay your project. From a bit of dilapidated state like this...

Photo from a GIDC video, Series 4, Image Credit: Studio Lambert/BBC2

To something more up to date like this:

Photo from a GIDC video, Series 4, ep.1 Image Credit: Studio Lambert/BBC2

The mood board

When the program starts, you see the contestants presenting their board to the home owner; the board is a concoction between mood board and a hand drawing of the room's layout. It includes rough cut outs of furniture from magazines, and samples of fabrics or paint to be used in the project. Remember, these are amateur designers. Don't be critical. Let's have a look at a few past examples.

Farmer's Kitchen by Talie Mole at the end of Series 3. Hand drawn with samples of material and paint. Not sure about the rose (?) but love the kitchen units drawn. This board helps the owner visualise the room.

A Palm Springs board by Daniela, Series 4, ep.1 Image Credit: Studio Lambert/BBC2

Bringing the outdoors in for Oliver Thomas, Series 4, ep.1 Image Credit: Studio Lambert/BBC2

Mood board for a weatherboard cottage, Series 3, Image Credit: Studio Lambert/BBC2

Is there a budget or can homeowners and designers go crazy?

This is the BBC. Of course there is a budget. A tiny budget which was and continues to be £1,000 for the initial projects and going up to £1,000 per room in the final (where you have to do 3 rooms I am told).

With that money you need to buy all your products (e.g. fabric, furniture, paint etc) and pay for an electrician, if one is needed.

You do however get a decorator (not of the american version obis, just a painter/ wallpaper guy/gal) and a builder. The builders that have worked on the show are super-good and reliable. No time wasters there, everyone works flat out on each project.

The upcycling challenge

As if having to handle the likes and dislikes of each homeowner, their last minute change of hearts and the skeletons under the carpets (like damaged flooring, dump, and what have you), the wonderful judges of the show also ask that you up-cycle something completely odd and incorporate it in your design.

Why? They want to push contestants and see who's creative and original versus those who cannot think outside the box. Expect to work your magic on hangers, baskets, bicycle wheels, lamps, cans, you name it, it's likely to be an up cycling challenge. Prepare yourself by tuning in on #upcyclehour.


It's a bad idea altogether to try and copy a look you have seen on Pinterest in your project. You will be found out and although not called on it, you'll probably won't go far into the competition. Be original.

Jamie Reed (Series 3) tried this classic "Farmer's Market" from Pinterest. Jamie DID NOT make it through. I mean, even the way carrots are hanging is a dead giveaway.

I loved Lucy Tiffney's box bed challenge but again... the scallop, distressing, the 3 rectangles below the bed, the initials and even placing items over the bed are. just. Pinterest.

How can you win this?

  • There's an equal element of design and styling/ staging a room.

  • You need to be on budget.

  • You need to follow the brief.

  • You need to complete your project on time.

  • You need to be able to push the homeowners a little out of their comfort zone.

  • You need to show consideration for the building's character.

  • You need to make good board and give a great presentation. Leave your nerves at home.

  • Your designs need to have originality.

  • When something goes wrong during the project you need to be able to think on your feet and have a plan B.

So tune in on BBC2 Tue - Thu at 8pm or catch up on BBC iplayer.

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