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Miami alumna featured on Ellen DeGeneres’ ‘Design Challenge’

By Madeleine LePlante-Dube, For The Miami Student

Miami alumna and blacksmith Carley Eisenberg ('10) was featured on Ellen DeGeneres' "Design Challenge," an HGTV show in which six hand picked furniture designers compete for $100,000 and a feature in HGTV magazine over the course of January and February.

"I thought it was a scam," Eisenberg said of the call she received from a casting agency in February 2014. "But, it turns out it wasn't."

The young entrepreneur, owner and blacksmith of North Carolina-based Iron Mountain Forge, already holds a unique place within furniture design.

"I was pretty confident I was gonna get on just because of the whole young female blacksmith thing," Eisenberg said.

After going through the audition process, Eisenberg did in fact make it on the show. Not only that, but the Miami alumna and Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) graduate competed on four of the six episodes in the "Design Challenge" series, though her elimination still seems dubious.

"It was kind of weird how I got eliminated - I'm not really confident in the decision. I had the best piece there, but they said they could not declare a winner and they could not declare a loser from that [specific] challenge," Eisenberg said.

Instead, the judges took into account points accumulated in all of the previous challenges, an unprecedented approach that resulted in Eisenberg's elimination.

"And they never used that rule again," Eisenberg said.

Winner or not, Eisenberg still received the exposure the show seemed to promise - within the first two weeks of the "Design Challenge" premiere, her monthly sales rose from $4,000 to $7,000 and custom orders began to flow in.

"[Plus], I made some fantastic contacts," Eisenberg said. "One of the other designers who got eliminated after me [Jose Gaspar de Jesus], he and I talk almost every single day still. And my carpenter on the show, Jeff - if I don't talk to him every other day I'm kind of afraid he's like, stuck in a ditch somewhere."

The six designers on the show were each paired with one of three carpenters. Eisenberg was fit with Jeff Devlin, handyman, host and carpenter on six seasons of HGTV's "Spice Up My Kitchen," and current builder and personality of multiple DIY Network programs.

"I was scared out of my gourd when they said, 'We're gonna fit you with a designer,'" Devlin said, referring to when he was asked to help out on Design Challenge. "Then when I found out I was gonna go with a blacksmith, I was like, 'Oh crap, I don't know anything about steel or metal. Absolutely nothing.'"

Primary apprehension faded away, however, when Eisenberg and Devlin went to work.

"It was a good yin and yang moment - we just gelled from the moment we met," Devlin said. "We have very similar personalities. We can be serious when we need to, but look, we wanted to have fun and we wanted to enjoy the experience. It really showed."

"The experience" was filmed from late July to late August of 2014, and turned out to be less glamorous and more intense than Eisenberg originally anticipated.

"We had two days to build these crazy pieces," Eisenberg, who typically takes four weeks to make a finished product in the real world, said. "As soon as they gave us the challenge our heads went down."

"More than others, [Carley] fit the pressure very well. Or hid it very well, I don't know," Devlin said. "I could never paint the picture to anybody when you stand there and there's five cameras staring at you."

Eisenberg's nerves subsided once she did what she knows best: build.

"I was nervous for probably the first couple hours," Eisenberg said of her first day. "And then I was like, 'Oh I get to build stuff, okay I'm better.'"

Throughout the show, Devlin, in addition to her carpenter, served as Eisenberg's support system.

"I give her credit that she didn't freak the hell out, I really do," Devlin said. "Because I was freaking out, and I wasn't winning $100,000. I was there to support her, but I really wanted her to win. She's a sweet, talented girl."

Design has simply always been an integral part of Eisenberg's personality, regardless of her time at Miami. Originally studying glassblowing at RISD, she transferred to Miami's Interior Design program on a whim after her freshman year.

"I've always viewed things differently from other people," Eisenberg said. "I needed to make pieces of furniture that brought positive attention to the space and made people notice things like I did when they walked in."

Eisenberg remembers most fondly her involvement in Miami's Outdoor Adventure Club, an organization that she credits with keeping her out of Alumni Hall.

"It was like our own little fraternity; it was a family all on its own," she said. "Honestly, I am so happy I transferred to Miami. It's more of a college experience."

The blacksmith, who is currently collaborating post-show with Devlin on a restaurant design-and-build project in Philadelphia, plans to move Iron Mountain Forge from Asheville, North Carolina to Boston by the end of the summer.