When two-time HGTV champions Brian and Mika Kleinschmidt of 100 Day Dream Home said yes to a challenge involving the creation of a life-sized Mattel Barbie Dreamhouse, they knew they’d be going head-to-head with the biggest group of design talent ever put together by HGTV. Spoiler alert: The Kleinschmidts claimed victory — and in the end, it was actually the sizable cast that made working on the Barbie Dreamhouse Challenge incredibly special for them.
“[Our respective] shows film all over the country, so there’s not a lot of opportunity to unite and bond even though we’re all part of the same family,” says Mika. “The best thing we got out of this experience was the bond we made with our HGTV family.” Brian agrees: “This show felt like going to summer camp with our best friends. When it was over, it was really hard to say goodbye because we had so much fun together.”
Ahead, HGTV sits down with the Kleinschmidts to find out what it was like to win one of the most exciting competitions in HGTV history.
On Barbie Mania
HGTV: With the premiere of the Barbie movie, we’re living in a Barbie world right now. How exciting was it to be part of this show?
BRIAN: So exciting. Barbie is part of a universal language — everyone around the world knows who she is. The feedback we’ve received so far when it comes to this show has been amazing. So many people have told us, “I would live in that house in a heartbeat” because it takes them back to their childhood.
HGTV: Did you say yes right away when you got the call from the producers?
BRIAN: Yes! At the time, we were crazy busy filming 100 Day Dream Home and our hotel special 100 Day Dream Home: Beachfront Hotel. Plus we were judging Rock the Block, so we had to figure out how to make it work, but we were like, there’s no way we can pass on this.
MIKA: It didn’t feel like work — the whole experience was fun, like we were little kids at recess playing around with toys.
HGTV: Speaking of toys, each team member received a doll in their likeness, which was featured throughout the show. What did you think of yours? [As we speak, Mika and Brian are puppeteering their dolls in front of the screen.]
BRIAN: It was kind of surreal to have dolls made that looked like us, but I’m a bit jealous of my doll’s hair.
MIKA: We love our dolls! My hair isn’t as long as my doll’s so I initially thought maybe I should cut her hair. But then I decided, why not try and grow my hair to her length?
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On Designing for Barbie
HGTV: It’s not every day designers are allowed to let their imaginations run wild. How hard (or easy) was it to get into the mindset of “anything goes?”
BRIAN: On 100 Day Dream Home, we design houses around our clients. With this project, Barbie was our client and she told us, “Dream big and do whatever you want!” There was no right or wrong answer, we did whatever we thought would be fun and [enjoyable].
MIKA: Normally, we have parameters. In Barbie’s case, we had one: the 2000 decade. That gave us a good starting point, especially, because it was when Brian and I were in college and enjoying life, so we were like, “Let’s have fun!” Our goal in the backyard was to bring out the judges’ inner child, and I think we did that.
BRIAN: We wanted it to not only look like an endless summer, but feel like endless fun — similar to when we were in school. So, we threw in as many things as we thought Barbie and her friends would love to play with.
HGTV: You were tasked with renovating the backyard. If you could do it all over again, would you choose the same project?
MIKA: Man, honestly, I don’t think there was another space I would have felt more passionate about or have more experience in.
BRIAN: I agree. Plus, it was so beautiful outside where we were filming. It was hard to get stressed out working amongst those gorgeous views and the perfect weather.
BRIAN: Honestly, no. One of the judges actually said they wished we would have tied the back and front of the house together. But we were just so busy working on our own space we didn’t have time to think about what the other team was doing.
HGTV: It couldn’t have been easy hiding what was going on in the front of the house, right?
BRIAN: I remember sitting across the street watching that handle go up on top of the roof [using a crane, Keith and Even placed a 900-pound replica Barbie Dreamhouse handle on top of the house], and I looked at Mika and said, “We may be in trouble. We’re going to have to get really serious about this competition.”
MIKA: After we saw that handle go up, we actually added several things to our backyard space because we knew we had to step up our game. We had to get a handle on that handle!
HGTV: A little known fact: Barbie and Ken broke up for seven years from 2004 to 2011. Did that affect the way you designed her backyard?
MIKA: Wow, we didn’t know that, but, honestly, it’s in line with what we tried to accomplish, which was to add as much entertainment value as possible to the yard. We designed the space to be more of a party hangout than a romantic date setting.
BRIAN: We planned for different experiences. Barbie and her friends could hang out by the pool bar or grill at the BBQ or lounge under the yellow-and-white stripped pool umbrellas.
HGTV: Your plans of creating a deck off the back of the house, where a second slide would come off the roof, were squashed when you realized you needed support beams. How difficult was it to go to Plan B?
BRIAN: We were a bit devastated when we found out we couldn’t run the slide off the roof like originally planned, but being in this business for so long, we’ve discovered sometimes the second option is the better option. When you enter the backyard, you immediately have a view of the slide. There was a twisty-turny slide on one side of the stand and a twisty-turny staircase on the other. That slide made the backyard.
MIKA: Where we put the slide turned out to be the perfect spot. The original plan would not have allowed us to add Ken’s lifeguard tower, so in the end everything worked out even better than it was supposed to.
HGTV: All of the teams had to come up with at least one toyetic feature, a playful, dual-purpose element. What was yours?
MIKA: We had a few toyetic designs. We created a swim up bar using a surfboard as the bar top, and then we set another surfboard up vertically so the fins could double as a beach towel rack. We also put custom Barbie grates on the grill and, of course, there’s the lifeguard tower that transformed into a really cool slide.
HGTV: Let’s talk about that pink turf you referred to as “Barbiefying.” What’s the story behind it?
BRIAN: It’s not easy to find, but believe it or not, you can buy pink turf — which will probably be easier to find after this show. Let’s face it, green grass is just so yesterday. When you first walk into our space, right outside the glass sliding doors off the kitchen, the pink turf has its wow moment.
HGTV: Speaking of turf, you had someone drive a massive B-shaped turf topiary all the way from Florida to California.
BRIAN: It was the first time we worked with Matthew the Plant Guy, and it won’t be our last. We met him at a home show in Fort Lauderdale and told him we were working on a big project for a special client who needed something custom and he was game right away. Matthew made it happen: He drove that 7-foot tall “B” all the way across the country. His “B” was my favorite part of the backyard.
MIKA: If you look closely, we bedazzled the “B” with peonies, Barbie’s favorite flower. When we went to the post party after the premiere of the Barbie movie, they had their own spinning “B” which looked similar to ours. It made for a great selfie backdrop.
HGTV: Is there something you wish you had included but didn’t?
BRIAN: We actually packed so much into that backyard, but we could have done more — we just ran out of time and money. At the last minute, we added something we called “Hopscotch and Splash.” The very last number on the hopscotch was floating in the pool so you do a hop and then splash into the water. Then of course we had things like the cornhole with pink bean bags, the curtains around the gazebo, the classic white picnic table, the string lights, the airplane pool float and the plastic food on the grill. Those were the kind of little moments that went a long way with the judges.
MIKA: There was this circular space in the backyard off limits to us because production needed it for their equipment. I wanted to create a roller-skating rink or dance floor there. I would have loved to do a catwalk over the pool. I think we would have won twice if we did that catwalk!
HGTV: Did you have any difficulty sticking to your budget?
MIKA: It’s challenging because the backyard was a big space and we were working with a budget that was somewhat similar to some of the other smaller spaces. We had to spread that money over a larger area and be very careful when it came to splurging on big items.
BRIAN: If we had done the original plan of taking the roof off and doing a double-decker party deck with a slide, we would have run out of money faster and not have been able to create some of the fun, cool things we did.
On the Win and Your Winning Superfan
HGTV: Let’s talk about your superfan, Marcos. Having sideline cheerleaders with a vested interest (a staycation in the Barbie Dreamhouse) was a great addition to this show. How did Marcos affect your drive and motivation?
BRIAN: We immediately fell in love with Marcos. His passion for Barbie made us work even harder on some of those long days and nights. In the end, we made a move — thanks to Marcos — which no doubt helped us win the competition. He has a Barbie tattoo on his right inner elbow and we stenciled and spray painted in purple paint onto our pink turf in the backyard.
MIKA: Production couldn’t have done a better job pairing us up with the perfect person. It was like meeting a friend you’ve known for a long time. As a flight attendant, Marcos works with the program Wings for Autism, which helps alleviate anxiety for children with autism who are planning to fly. He reminded us Barbie was once a flight attendant — one of her 250 careers.
HGTV: As the superfan on the winning team, Marcos got to spend some time in the Dreamhouse, right?
MIKA: Yes! We actually FaceTimed Marcos throughout the process and again when he and his friends were experiencing the Barbie Dreamhouse. Seeing his excitement made all the hard work worth it.
HGTV: How did it feel when actress Margot Robbie, who played Barbie in the movie, announced, “The party guests have voted and the backyard, created by Brian and Mika and superfan Marcos, is the winner!”
MIKA: In that moment you think to yourself, “Is this really what I do for a living? How amazing is this?” As a little girl, I would have never imagined this would even be an opportunity for me.
BRIAN: I had some flashbacks to when we won Rock the Block. We worked really hard for both of those wins, and it was gratifying to know all that work paid off. But there were no losers in this competition. We walked the entire house — every space was fun and innovative. I think the real winner was Marcos and his friends who got to stay in the entire house and experience it. The friendships and memories we made with our fellow HGTV brothers and sisters was bigger than any win.
HGTV: How did the other cast members handle your triumph?
MIKA: When you think competition, you think loads of drama but with this show we just had so much fun with the cast, it was non-stop goofing around. Castmate chef Antonia Lofaso hosted the teams at her restaurant for a rap party and it was just so cool to have that moment together. Plus, the food there was the best I’ve ever eaten.
HGTV: Any final thoughts?
MIKA: Next time it will be Ken’s house — Ken’s version!