James Bender Says That on HGTV’s "Barbie Dreamhouse Challenge" Everyone Was a Winner

By Behind the Scenes in Hollywood Archives
Cover image for  article: James Bender Says That on HGTV’s "Barbie Dreamhouse Challenge" Everyone Was a Winner

As the dynamic design team known for their work on Christina on the Coast (and Christina in the Country) it’s no surprise that James Bender (pictured above right) and his "work-wife" Christina Hall (left) have been offered numerous opportunities to participate in HGTV challenge shows. Due to their busy schedules, the answer is generally a firm "no" -- but when Barbie came knocking with an invitation to Barbie Dreamhouse Challenge, they couldn’t refuse. "When this came up, we both looked at each other," Bender recalled during an exclusive interview with MediaVillage. "She said, 'Oh, I'll do it if you'll do it!' I said, 'Well, I'll do it if you'll do it!' She said, 'Let's do it!' So, we did.

"I mean, how could we not?" he continued. "We have such a good time [working] together, and this worked perfectly into our schedules. It didn't interrupt anything we were already doing, which is always an issue with doing the challenge shows. They really took into consideration what we needed to do outside of it, so we were both very happy. I think I had the advantage though having Christina with me, as it was kind of like having a living Barbie who wanted to go bigger with everything! I had to keep pulling her down by the ankles as she kept floating away. I think we work so well together because we have similar visions. It just adds so much more to what we were [both] thinking of in the first place."

For the final room challenges, Bender and Hall were teamed against Michel Smith Boyd and Anthony Elle (of Luxe for Less) and assigned Barbie’s Dream Closet and Dream Office spaces, respectively. Both teams dazzled with color schemes and bold design statements. The office included an aquarium-outfitted desk and drop-down hidden television, while the closet housed a motorized hat display and working fashion ATM that dispensed shoes and bags at the press of a button. As with every space in the Dream Home, the judges had a hard choice deciding the winner -- but the closet creators emerged victorious.

"We felt really good about that win and what we did," Bender said of their win. "I felt bad for [those contestants] that didn’t have a win at all [during the series] but having that one win was everything to Christina and me, as we had so much fun doing it. The great thing about this experience was the set felt electric, and every descriptive word you can think of. Every time we came to shoot [the house] had changed and it kept on going towards that end result."

When they first walked in and looked around the house, the duo thought, "'How is this ever going to be transformed?' When the bright paint colors came up randomly in different places, and it was all out of order, we then thought, 'Oh my gosh, how do you make this look like a toy and not tacky, or cheesy?' We didn't know how this was all going to be executed. By the end, you walked in and felt as if you’d been shrunken down and were now in this amazing plastic toy that completely worked. The colors were vibrant, and some carried throughout the entire house giving it a common thread. It stimulated your brain and eyes like nobody's business and together it all looked incredible."

Like so many other competitors in the series, getting to think outside their usual designs proved a learning experience and one that Bender and Hall hope to continue to explore. "Usually working for clients, we’re taking their needs into consideration when we create anything," Bender explained. "Here, we were creating something we also loved. We do love a neutral background with pops of color, and now we’re looking at incorporating saturated color and bold colors into our design moving forward. Season 5 of Christina on the Coast is coming up and we want to change it up. That’s all because of Barbie Dreamhouse Challenge.

"I hope people take inspiration and experiment with paint choices," he continued. "It's only paint, so live with it, and if it's not speaking to you paint it. Paint is the easiest, most inexpensive way to make a statement. I also hope a takeaway from our [closet] space is people thinking of more inventive ways to hang clothes, not just on a hanger. Display them! Think about rotating things like handbags and hats -- let’s see what you have! Every home in America should have a fabulous closet, and of course, both Christina and I want the ATM dispenser for our homes as we’re so proud of that."

Following a pink-carpet special event, last night’s Barbie Dreamhouse Challenge revealed the series’ ultimate design winner. While Bender and Hall had high hopes of two wins in one episode, after an impartial vote by a host of Barbie’s guest fans, Margo Robbie (Barbie herself, via a video message) announced that the honor would be awarded to Mika and Brian Kleinschmidt for their totally fun backyard space.

Bender has no hard feelings. "From the front yard [to the] backyard, it all worked so well together," he said. "I wouldn’t have changed anything about anybody's room. Honestly, I would have loved if at the end they’d said, 'Everyone's a winner -- the house won!' Everyone really was a winner."

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