Author: Benjamin DeLuca
Alpha Lambda Phi Alpha (Alpha) and the Occidental chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) and now boast completely renovated common rooms in both of their houses, thanks to the HGTV series Design Star. The cable television show pits interior designers against each other to decorate and renovate new spaces each week, and selected the two greek organizations to be the subject of an episode airing in July.
The process began when Alpha President Emma Chapman (senior) took the first step in connecting with Design Star producers by filling out an application she received in an email.
“Normally I wouldn’t answer those emails, but it seemed like a great opportunity and I had a good feeling, and it worked out really well,” Chapman said.
Chapman said that Alpha’s house is owned by the organization’s Alumni board. She revealed that there were difficulties getting the Alpha Alumni President to approve the house to be on Design Star. Chapman felt compelled to go to other members of the board to get support for the plan. The Alumni President later stepped down, and Chapman said that the new Alumni President Lynn Carpenter (’87) was fully supportive of bringing Design Star to Occidental.
“I was fighting really hard for this, and I had to get other alumni involved,” Chapman said.
After the producers approved Alpha’s house as a location for the show, they began looking for a fraternity to use as a second location so that the designers could compete. The producers decided on SAE as their second location.
“It really is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” SAE President David Cotton (junior) said.
The camera crews for Design Star arrived at Occidental early on Feb. 15 to film the opening scenes of the episode. Members of Alpha and SAE, along with Occidental’s cheer squad and drum line, to showcase school spirit for the cameras.
Cotton said he met the designers for the first time on camera, where they discussed ideas for the renovations of SAE’s common room. These ideas were discussed by the members of SAE in their chapter meetings preceding the filming.
“We want a look that could be described as man cave-esque,” Cotton said.
Cotton and the members of SAE also envisioned a room that would hold up well, since the room will not solely serve as a common space for SAE residents but also as a location to host recruiting and philanthropic events. Chapman expressed similar sentiments.
“The most important thing for us is that it’s a place a lot of people can fit into comfortably,” Chapman said. “It’s a home, not just a sorority house.”
Chapman said she was essentially the sole liaison between her sorority and the producers, and gave the producers few guidelines for the renovations. Creative decisions were left up to the designers competing on the show. Alpha member and psychology major Madoka Tsuji (junior) was not worried about the designers’ abilities.
“Obviously the people who run the show know what they’re doing, so we’re happy to let them do their thing,” Tsuji said.
There were some hiccups in the process of securing Design Star’s cooperation with SAE and Alpha. Zeta Tau Zeta President Caroline Bringenberg (junior) said that HGTV discussed with her the prospect of using their house while HGTV worked out agreements with SAE and Alpha. Bringenberg said she was led to believe Zeta would be featured on Design Star.
“Needless to say, it was a tumultuous experience to have such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity taken away three times, especially with our house in need of repairs,” Bringenberg said. “However, I am grateful that SAE and Alpha were able to work out the kinks they had and can’t wait to see their renovated spaces. I was given lots of support by SAE and Alpha throughout the process and any issue that I have surrounding the filming of the show is purely from the lack of communication I received from HGTV throughout.”
In the end, both SAE and Alpha were left with redecorated common rooms that they hope will benefit their programs for years to come. SAE member Kevin Zhao (sophomore) spoke of the potential benefits of appearing on television, in addition to the renovations themselves.
“Probably not that many people know about Oxy on a national level, so even fewer know about our chapter of SAE,” Zhao said. “So this will help us out, being on national television, with recognition and philanthropy in the future.”
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