Taking The Leap
Corine Maggio does not own a television. She is unfamiliar with most current TV shows, actors and actresses. So you might be surprised to learn that this Design Institute of San Diego graduate, former DISD Communications Director and interior designer would someday love to host her own design show. After an opportunity to show off her chops as a contestant on HGTV's design show White Room Challenge, she may not be far from stardom.
Corine always loved interior design but didn't consider it as a possible career until she had tried out a few other majors, including Marketing and Psychology. "I didn't really know how technical interior design could be. I thought it was just like what a lot of people think it is; just sort of a fluffy profession," she admits. "But it's not." It was DISD's focus on sustainability that ultimately sealed the deal for this Chicago native to pack up and head to the West Coast to finish her degree.
While a student at DISD, Corine's proactive nature in seeking out contests and events she could participate in eventually landed her spot a on a design show: HGTV contacted DISD to find contestants for the show Design Star and Corine was on the list of recommended students. Unfortunately, that opportunity didn't pan out. "I tried out for Design Star. I did the video and all that and got pretty far in the process, and they didn't end up choosing me." A year later, she caught wind of an HGTV casting call in L.A. and tried out again. Like the first time, she got far into the process but ultimately did not make the cut.
Imagine her surprise when a year later, while working as the DISD Communications Director, she received a phone call out of the blue from a casting director. They were interested in casting her for the show White Room Challenge. After two unsuccessful attempts, Corine wasn't interested at first: "I was really happy with the trajectory of my life and I didn't want to go through that process again. I'd already been through it twice. If they wanted me, they would have chosen me." So she politely declined, explaining that she didn't want to go through the audition process for a third time, but the casting director informed her there was no audition necessary. They had sent Corine's previous audition tapes to HGTV and the producers loved her. The spot was hers if she wanted it. Naturally, she reconsidered in a heartbeat!
The White Room Challenge is a spin-off: it had become such a popular challenge on Design Star that they decided to make it its own show. "You're basically given three white walls, a white floor, white sofa, white shelf, white table, two white chairs and a white coffee table," Corine explains. "There are four new competitors brought in every episode. And they're not necessarily all designers. Sometimes they're artists or other things related to the design field."
For each episode, the designers are given a surprise theme and two days to design the room based on that theme. The designer that wins the challenge at the end of each episode goes home $10,000 richer. In this particular episode, the contestants had to create a room for American ex-patriots who were homesick. "Where the challenge therein lies is that we had to use items from Little Tokyo in LA," she explains. Corine didn't want her room to be too literal. While the other contestants immediately honed in on the patriotic red, white and blue theme, she wanted to be more symbolic with her concept and searched for interesting textures and shapes while shopping to help create her vision.
The two days spent on the show were a complete whirlwind. Although she was confident and focused from the get-go, her first day on set was a bit rough. When it came time for the show's host, designer David Bromstad, to critique the contestants' work so far, he was brutally honest about her progress: "He just looked at me with an open mouth and basically told me, 'You are all over the place. You need to focus and you're not really doing any one thing well.'" With three quarters of the first day gone, this was disheartening. But she powered through and decided that the best thing to do at the end of the day was paint. "I did a design on the walls that was really bold so that I could at least have something up when I left for that day," she reflected. "I wanted to look at the room and feel like, 'something major got accomplished.'"
Although Corine came in second, she feels validated rather than let down: "As much as winning would have been really fantastic because of the prize money, in terms of a marketing sense and potential clients, I think I accomplished everything that I wanted to," she explains. "It was something that I was proud of and that the type of clientele that I want would recognize." Corine, however, had to keep the outcome to herself until the episode finally (and unexpectedly) aired in early April 2013, eleven months after taping. She had even begun to wonder whether it would air at all. "I think that I mostly felt relieved that it finally aired so that I could at least put it on my website and talk about it because I couldn't even talk about a lot of the details."
Since the taping of the show, so much else has changed in Corine's life. She has moved on from her position as the DISD Communications Director (a position she was offered shortly after she graduated) so that she could focus on growing her interior design business, Corine Maggio Natural Designs. Initially she was able to balance the two: working an administrative job was easy when she had only one interior design job to focus on, on the side. But as the referrals started coming in, and one job rapidly became two and then several, tough decisions had to be made. "My time was just too tight and so I had to make the very difficult decision to cut back my hours at Design Institute. I realized that it was hard to emotionally give 100% to both career paths at the same time," she admits. Corine's ties to DISD aren't completely dissolved, however. She continues to contribute to the DI Details newsletter, which she appreciates. "I still get to stay connected with everybody at the school which is really important to me."
With the television experience under her belt along with the goal of eventually developing her own lifestyle brand while running an interior design business, it would be easy to assume that this tenacious designer is setting her sights on making it big as a celebrity. However, Corine explains it isn't about the glitz and glamour for her: "I'm not holding [The White Room Challenge] as this high point in my life, you know? It's just one more step to doing something even greater," she shares honestly. She also admits that she is still adjusting to the unpredictability of being a small business owner at the moment, but at the same time, she feels no regrets. "Transitioning into having your own business is super exciting and scary but it's one of those things that I've always wanted, and it's just a matter of taking the leap and growing my wings on the way down."