Picture an interior designer and chances are you’re not envisioning a bearded, burly, tattooed ex–punk musician from New York City—unless, of course, you tuned in to season four of Home & Garden Television’s reality show competition Design Star. Devoted watchers are already well familiar with season winner Antonio Ballatore, the man the judges deemed their “bad boy of design.”
“I’m definitely shocking to the traditional HGTV crowd,” says Ballatore. “I build houses and 1920s-themed sets, create live special-effect explosions, design over-the-top kids’ rooms, and modify old hot rods. There’s no limitation to where I can take my creativity.”
It’s exactly this brazen enthusiasm that helped Ballatore advance past the 10 other finalists throughout the show’s weekly interior design challenges. In one episode, his unorthodox decision to ornament a wall with fluorescent-pink geese was a surprising hit with the judges.
Ballatore’s path to design fame hasn’t been a predictable one. After spending years playing in New York hardcore bands, including Murphy’s Law, and bartending and building sets to pay the bills, Ballatore landed the coveted spot of set builder for famed photographer David LaChapelle. It was during his years with LaChapelle that Ballatore honed his chops, eventually rising to the rank of set designer. “I quickly became known as the guy doing all these over-the-top sets,” says Ballatore. “Crazy shit like 20-foot rocket ships with Pee-wee Herman jumping outta them.”
Ballatore’s next challenge will be his new show, The Antonio Project (the prize he was awarded for his Design Star win), which begins airing in January on HGTV. For the special inaugural episode, Ballatore redid his own house in five days and gave viewers a taste of the unconventional collaborations to come. To add a distinct personal flair to the headboard in the bedroom, Ballatore brought in the low-rider airbrush artist Buckwild, who painted a 9-foot metal-flaked sombrero girl.
“That’s also a tattoo I’ve wanted for years,” Ballatore says of the lovely señorita. “Buck’s switching over to tattooing, so he’ll be doing that one on my back.” While most of Ballatore’s early tattoos—traditional, thick-line Americana—were obtained in New York City during the mid-’90s, the designer says he’s become enamored of “all that black and gray gangster stuff” since moving to Los Angeles. It’s a style that now decorates his chest, courtesy of Spotlight Tattoo’s Baby Ray.
Whether building surreal sets, punishing a bass guitar, chopping hot rods, or wowing design fanatics, Ballatore’s nothing-to-prove, punk rock attitude has been at the root of his many undertakings. Fittingly, that sentiment is the source of his next ink: “Next week, my friend Toby [Morse] from [hardcore band] H20 and I are going to get ‘NTP’—nothing to prove—tattoos from LA Ink’s Dan Smith. Dan is amazing, and I’m so stoked.”