Popularity Of Reality Home Makeover Shows Cultural Studies Essay

Reality television relating to self-help or home improvement is an immensely popular subcategory of television today. From the mid to late 1990s, Ireland saw an explosion of interior design home makeover shows. These programmes would take an everyday typical home and attempt to renovate it within just a few days on a variety of budgets, providing viewers with plenty of tips and tricks on how to take full advantage of their homes. This study will examine how much of an influence these shows really have over the public and how an interior designer is perceived from this exposure on television.

Two pioneering shows that focused primarily on interior design and the longest aired shows to date were BBC’s Changing Rooms and RTÉ’s Beyond the Hall Door. Both of these shows aired in 1996 and ran until 2004. Changing Rooms was classed as a do-it-yourself home improvement show with the objective for neighbours, friends or family to exchange homes for two days and to re-design one room in each other’s homes with the help of a professional interior designer and £500 pound budget. They regularly hosted designers that created outrageous designs with the outcomes of the finished rooms leading to controversial reactions from the homeowners. In its height “Changing Rooms” had an audience of millions between the UK and Ireland. Research has shown that Thursday nights viewing at 8pm brought the most viewers; an example of this would be Thursday at 8pm 2nd of Aug 1998 there was 10.59 Millions [1] . This fluctuated between six and ten million over the time it aired from 1996 to 2004.

In addition to the television series there was a number of books published and a DVD’s of the highlights from the series. Below is an extract from the back of the DVD box collection produced it sums the series up accurately.

“Trust me… I’m a designer!” Many neighbours did… and regretted it. Others had their doubts but were delighted. It’s all here: the highs, the lows, the tears and the tantrums that make up the best of Changing Rooms!

See the rooms that left us speechless… and the rooms that we can never forget. Laugh out loud at the outrageous antics of the designers, the stubborn determination of Handy Andy, and of course the neighbours with attitude. Rediscover the breath-taking designs that dropped our jaws… and let’s not forget about the DIY disasters that made us cover our eyes!

Naked women on walls and trees on ceilings… Anything you could ever imagine making out of plywood, rocks and purple paint. Crashing teapots and clashing personalities… White rooms, black rooms and the infamous “it’s crap!” room. It’s Changing Rooms at its best, hosted by Carol Smillie, with personal insights from some of your favourite designers [2] .

The infamous “it’s crap!” room [3] 

A couple of “Changing Rooms” controversial episodes led to tears and tantrums from the owners and designers. One such incident was the “it’s crap!” room documented by The Telegraph newspaper. They ran an article on the 12th Sep 2000 [4] , and it speaks of Mrs. Cairns anger at the result when her bedroom was revealed in her 17th century home. It was the responsibly of Mrs. Cairns neighbours The Ruffs and the new designer to the show Laura Mc Cree to re-design a bedroom in her period home. Mrs. Cairns and her husband helped Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, the show’s other designer, to redecorate a bedroom on classical lines in the Ruffs’ neo-Gothic mansion. Llewelyn-Bowen is planning to go ultra dramatic in the Ruffs bedroom. Starting by painting the walls a creamy orange colour, John was an artist and he was tasked with creating a large mural for the wall. Handy Andy the handyman on the show is tasked to create an extremely large romantic bed. It has four women one at each corner to give the appearance that they are holding the bed canopy up. Figure (1.1). Llewelyn-Bowen believes this could be his best room design ever.” Mrs. Cairns was in the hope that her bedroom would be kept in with the existing style of her 17th century home, but she was confronted with lime-washed floorboards, white walls with terracotta panels and breeze block seats and finally shaving from her neighbour’s chest were used to create art work in her room. Mrs Cairns went as far as to describe the work as “abysmal” and summed it up in one word “crap”. In the midst of Mrs Cairns harsh honest views on her bedroom makeover it left the interior designer Laura Mc Cree in disbelief and tears.

Mrs Cairns further when on to say: “The rooms are done for television only, they are like film sets. People may not realise the standard of the work that goes into these rooms. If you hired decorators and they left it like that you would fire them. [5] “

At the same time in Ireland there was “RTÉ’s Beyond the Hall Door” and it was classed as the ‘interior design series with attitude’. It claimed to give viewers the best practical ideas and creative inspiration for every room in their house. Each revamp took three full days to complete by the interior designers with an unlimited budget. Although one such viewer believes the designs creating were tasteless, bland and highly influenced the public.

“It is no wonder the public at large are so guilty of tasteless and bland interiors, when they are constantly being told that the products of the aforementioned ‘challenge’ are ‘interesting’ and ‘beauteous’!!!” [6] 

In 1999 viewers were invited to watch a new television series. BBC’s DIY SOS which still runs today, the show was created due to the immense audience figures from Changing Rooms, the format of the show was slightly different to Changing Rooms and Beyond the Hall Door as it does not focus on a main interior designer. The main focus was actually on the building work and trades men with a team consisting of carpenter, a plaster and electrician and occasionally an interior designer. The show is also based around families who may be struggling due to financial or medical issues, one memorable episode:

“Nick Knowles and the DIY SOS team travel to Duxford near Cambridge. They enlist the aid of local trades to help Paul and Sarah Behan, who had just started an extension to their tiny bungalow when their young son Joshua was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of liver cancer. Joshua’s cancer meant the extension had to be abandoned just when it became more necessary than ever. The effort from the trades is immense, but they have only got nine days to finish the job.” [7] 

Images to the left are before and after of the living room and kitchen from DIY SOS, Figure (1.2)

BBC news reported the following on Friday, 21 April, 2000

“DIY enthusiasts are being injured and even killed, after being led into over-ambitious projects by television make-over programmes, the UK government has said. Ministers believe that programmes like Changing Rooms are encouraging people to take on jobs which are beyond their abilities”. [8] 

This above comment leads us to the question “Are interior design television shows just breading a society of DIY enthusiast or do they lead to clients for interior designers?” This question will be answered in the following chapters.

While Changing Rooms and Beyond the Hall Door concluded in 2004 we had another home make-over show to our screens ITV’s 60 Minute Makeover a daily interior design television program that is going into its ninth year. The unaware house owner is usually nominated by a friend or relative and sent away for two days, while the 60 Minute Makeover team secretly arrives on site. The makeover team would be tasked with renovating three to four rooms in the house all with-in a 60 minutes transformation before the house owner returns home. Throughout the episode, the presenter keeps time with a stopwatch. Half-way through the task, the team take a tea break which gives the designer an opportunity to assess the progress of the makeover and for the paint to dry. The team returns to work once the host starts the stopwatch again. After two days away the home owner approaches their house only to be greeted by family and friends prior to the big reveal. They then receive a tour of their redesigned rooms by the host who invites them to react to the changes. The home owner would receive the makeover due to illness or difficult time in their lives with the cost covered by the show, this can add to the emotional reaction to the end results. This leads us to the question, regarding the standard of work being produced in such a short time frame and is it misleading the public into thinking they can do the same.

“60 Minute Makeover joined forces with Surprise Surprise to help surprise a super nan. Kayleigh and her sister Chantelle were brought up by their nan, Janet. She’s always wanted a new kitchen, so the team stepped in to work their magic and make Janet’s dream come true” [9] Figure (1.3)

In 2005 Ireland was in the height of the property market with numerous housing estates popping up all around the country. This was an excellent time for a new design show to our screens RTÉ’s Showhouse. Showhouse was presented by Neville Knott we see him introduce us to two professional interior designers who plan to take over two identical new houses from the abundance of housing estates in Ireland; these houses would be aimed at first time buyers or growing families. The designers have the task of completing a creative, captivating and ultimately winning interior with identical budget ranging from €20,000 to €52,000 [10] . Designers are allocated twelve weeks to plan their designs and six days to work on the interior. Day one of the show the designer talks through their mood boards and concept and where they discovered their inspiration. Half way through the show each designer is allowed to view one room from their competitor house and view are expressed some positive and some not so. One segment of the show the designers express their talent and assert their role as experienced interior designer and their reason for winning. Finally on the seventh day the public arrive to vote and express their opinion on each of the interiors. This segment of the episode shows the designers viewing the public reactions from behind a closed door, with some heated exchanges as the public are told not to hold back on their opinions. In 2009 alone the show reached over half a million viewers per episode [11] .

Looking at one such Showhouse episode from Ballbriggan, Co.Dublin [12] we see two designers Trevor Wilson and Jane Reddy take on the challenge with a budget of €40,000 for each house which are aimed at first time buyers. We see Jane’s concept being sleek, suffocated and tribal and Trevor’s style which is cutting edge and funky. Trevor describes his master bedroom Figure (1.4) as a Vibrant, dramatic and classy room, but later when the public view the room one woman’s opinion of the room is as follows, she “absolutely hates it and it looks like Paris Hiltons love nest and finds it quite offensive.” Following on to Jane’s living room Figure (1.5) which is designed with an African theme she describes the room to be sleek, simple and sophisticated. But behold the public opinion where one woman when she is asked by Knott “do you think you could have done this yourself? [13] She claims “she would do a better job than this actually”. [14] A couple of other opinions expressed were that the living room was too plain and the kitchen was bland and lacked in color. Figure (1.6)

In Ireland the recession has fully hit the property market and homeowners are now looking for budget friendly home makeover ideas previously we seen budgets of up to €52,000 being spent on makeovers such as Showhouse. The following series My Showhouse, Roomers and Neville’s Doorstep Challenge have a range of different budget to match every homeowner requirements.

Showhouse thrived for five years on RTÉ, it was then taken to a new level with a twist added and it became My Showhouse. My Showhouse again presented by Neville Knott it gives homeowners an opportunity to receive a professional interior designers help, to transform the interior of their home and make it as good if not better than a Showhouse. Whether they may be first-time buyers, completing a new build or just require updating their tired interiors. Each week the homeowners are presented with two interior designers that create real life walk in mood board based on the client’s needs. Figure (1.7). Once the designers have presented their designs, one is chosen to create the interior along with the clients. They have one week to transform their home in preparation for the viewing day. On the final day, the house is opened to the public with their brutal honesty they get a chance to rate the property and answer the following question, ‘Would you live in a house like this?’ Once again the public are given an opportunity to voice their opinions before voting, about the finished interior. Despite comments such as the living room being too bland and depressing and none of the furniture matches, Figure (1.7) 92% of the voters said they would live in a house like this.

2011 welcomed Roomers to our screens another interesting twist on an interior design series. Knott is joined in this series by interior designers Joseph McCann, Karl Fradgley and Anne-Marie Hamill, each designer is given an opportunity to express their specialist skills and to attempt to renovate unattractive rooms in different homes around Ireland. Each week we see Knott guide the “Roomers” expert team to tackle unattractive living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens, Figure (1.8) each with a different budget they work closely with the homeowners they are allocated. Each of the designers hopes to produce a captivating interior along with the owners of the property. The difference in this show is that the public do not get a chance to view the finished interiors is down to the other homeowners to view and ultimately it is down to them to decide who the winner will be. The series contained a wealth of interior design tips for viewers, on an assortment of budgets from €1,300 to €27,000. One episode of the series Roomers attracted an audience in excess of 585,000 [15] , which was the highest rating yet with a viewing figure of 36% share on the Irish national broadcaster RTÉ [16] .

In the previous series Knott was the host and in this new series Neville’s Doorstep Challenge he takes the position of the main interior designer to demonstrate his experience of over the last twenty-seven years as a designer. Neville’s Doorstep Challenge rounds up as our final solely based on interior design series produced on Irish television at the current time. This series has an extremely attractive budget of just €1000 euro or even less for Knott to work with. From hundreds of applicants, Knott choose six homes across the country to surprise the homeowners, he and his team would makeover one problem room per episode while the homeowner was sent away for the two days. In episode two Knott re-designs a dining room to create a bright and airy space. Figure (1.9)

Knott was asked why he decided to become the main interior designer on Neville’s Door Step Challenge

He said he “wanted to prove to all interior designers and the public that interiors could be designed on a small budget (not rely on expensive items)” [17] 

In the following chapters the viewer’s perception of these shows and what an Interior Designer Role may entail will be explored.

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