When Antonio Ballatore won the fourth season of "Design Star" last fall, it was a controversial choice. For starters, the scruffy, tattoo-covered New York native looked more like a biker or a rock-'n'-roll roadie than a professionally trained interior designer (which Ballatore is the first to admit he isn't). And viewers tended to love or hate his unconventional style statements, which included scattering hot-pink ducks across a living-room wall and creating a boldly green master bedroom that was "just shy of being offensive," according to judge Genevieve Gorder. Now Ballatore gets his own design show, "The Antonio Treatment," which premieres Monday at 9 p.m. on HGTV.
Q When you were on "Design Star," Candice Olson called you "the bad boy of design." Do you feel pressure to live up to that?
A "The Tony Soprano of design" -- the whole thing is a trip. I guess I'm just the first guy on HGTV who's a little different. I don't feel pressure. ... I'm not trained to be a designer. I'm just doing what feels right, feels cool.
Q How does your background in set design influence your interior designs?
A As a set designer, you're always under the gun. You're doing major rebuilds in two or three days. I'm used to working under that pressure. I've had to think outside the box, and there are a lot of those tricks I'm bringing in, along with a lot of my guys.
Q You like taking design risks, but risks, by definition, sometimes fail. What's a risk you took that didn't work?
A They all work in one way or another. In each job, I'm growing as a designer.
Q Those pink ducks you put on a white wall on "Design Star" became your signature. What inspired them?
A The pink ducks happened by accident. I originally wanted to do a pink steerhead, but the girls came back with ducks. It got made fun of, but that's an example of turning a mistake into something good.
Q When you redid your own place in five days for "The Antonio Project" special, one blogger wrote that it looked like the network was doing you a favor, saying: "The place looks like a crime scene or abandoned strip mall." What was it originally? And what made you want to live there and make it over?
A The story behind that was, it was going to be a flip for me. It was condemned, and squatters were living in it. My girlfriend and I were living together, then we split up and I wound up winning "Design Star." The network saw it as an opportunity. There's still a lot we didn't shoot. It's always a work in progress.
Q Now that you've been in that place for a while, what's your favorite space in it?
A I love the kitchen, the way it opens to that big dining room. I love my den; it's dark and cozy. Every room is cool in its own way. I just changed the bedroom wall. It's still red, but I added black stripes coming out from "Sombrero Girl" [the custom-painted headboard inspired by one of his tattoos]. It darkened the room. It was too bright.
Q What's the most un-Antonio thing in your house?
A My master bath. It has a clawfoot tub and white wainscoting. It's real traditional but still cool.
Q What design trend do you wish would go away?
A I don't really follow design trends. I try to just do my own thing. I love checking out new products, but I don't pay attention to trends. ... Maybe shabby chic. That makes me a little bananas.
Q You're famous for your tattoos. What was your first one?
A I got it when I turned 18. It's a Medusa head on my shoulder.
Q How about your most recent?
A A lightning bolt I got at LA Ink. And Dan [Smith from LA Ink] did a pink duck on my arm.
Q Any tattoos you regret?
A Every tattoo I have is a point in my life and brings me back to that time. They all mean something to me. I do have this kind of goofy squid on my ankle that I don't like. I was at a tattoo convention with this girl, and she said, "I like that one." So I got it.
Q You originally wanted to be a rock star. If you could trade places with any rock star, who would it be?
A Growing up I was really into Kiss. Visually, that's a big part of me. I remember looking at album covers and posters. Kiss, Van Halen, then punk rock.
Q If you could pick your dream design client, who would you choose?
A It's hard for me to come up with one. Mickey Rourke would be cool. He's kind of outcast crazy. ... Anybody with a crazy imagination who wants to do something over the top, I'm down for.
Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784