Where They Are Now

Designer, Type A

An alumna tells how she became the villain on a reality TV show.

Courtesy Elaine Griffin

Courtesy Elaine Griffin

Elaine Griffin ’86, mentor, lifestyle guru, and table-hopper, has her own firm and appears frequently on the Today show. View full image

After college, Elaine Griffin ’86 worked as a publicist in New York and Paris before attending the New York School of Interior Design. She’s now an interior designer, lifestyle guru, and author of Design Rules: The Insider’s Guide to Becoming Your Own Decorator. You may have seen her in a glossy magazine, on morning TV, or on the NBC reality show American Dream Builders. She lives in Harlem and has had her own firm since 1999.

Y: How often are you on the Today show?

G: I’m on about every month, usually with Hoda and Kathie Lee. If you are at work by nine o’clock, you don’t see me.

Y: So tell us about your prime-time appearance. What was the reality show like?

G: This Old House meets Celebrity Apprentice. We started out as two teams of six designers and builders, and each week we take a house all the way down to the studs and build it back up. Then the neighborhood council comes in to judge which house wins.

Y: And then someone gets voted off, or out, or executed, or something?

G: That someone is decided by [designer and host] Nate Berkus. And every reality show has to have a villain. We should all know that format by now. I have a strong personality to begin with, and I am a Type A by nature.

Y: So you were cast as the baddie?

G: There was this one girl in the first episode, and she wasn’t paying attention, and she kind of shushed me and I said, “Honey, in the real world, you’d be working for me.” And that just set America off.

Y: Ooh. How long did you “survive?”

G: I came in third. It’s huge.

Y: What was your room like at Yale?

G: For housing my senior year [in Saybrook College] I got the number two [pick of rooms], which was a palatial single on the ground floor. I spent my junior summer in New York, so I went to ABC Carpet and got a huge area rug. I went to the Salvation Army and got a huge overstuffed armchair, which I covered with a Laura Ashley king-size sheet—remember, it was the ’80s. And a great floor lamp. The best part is, I stayed in that room at my fifth reunion and it was still the same. Except the lamp was gone.

Y: What’s your home like today?

G: It was in Elle Decor. I live in Harlem on a floor in a brownstone, and I’d like to think my apartment looks like me. You can see it’s someone who has traveled, and that I’m a practical girl, because it’s a mix of high and low: a Pottery Barn rug and an IKEA dining room table, but my dining chairs are Louis XV. And my apartment’s filled with color. A deep olive in the living room. My bedroom is a fabulous blue. I love color.

Y: What else do you love?

G: Teaching! The women in my family were all Southern educators, so I am a fourth-generation educator. I’m part of The Links, which is a social and service organization for black professional women. We mentor a group of teens.

Y: You sound like you’re always busy.

G: I’m a social person. I loved dorm living. Dinner every night in freshman Commons was an event—I table-hopped for hours. That’s part of the reason I like living in Harlem. It is the most social part of New York. So many people are from the South, and the South is the most social part of the country. There’s no such thing as “northern hospitality.”

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