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Space inspirations

Home decorating shows such as ‘Trading Spaces’ help demystify design
Tuesday, November 11, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:38 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

They have invaded family space all over the United Kingdom and now the United States. They will rip your carpet up, cut the legs off your tables and paint your beautiful mahogany armoire blue to match a $5 lamp. They are the cast of “Trading Spaces,” the quirky interior design show on The Learning Channel.

Stephen Rust, owner of Rust & Martin Design Studio, describes the show as “marvelously entertaining” but said it is very different from his business. He said that “Trading Spaces” shows the mechanics of making a room look good but does not show the behind-the-scenes planning of design on television.

“It would be the world’s most boring show if they showed real interior design,” Rust said. “They must bring in the shock factor.”

'Shock factor' spices up cable show

The “shock factor” is the idea that anything can happen when you let your neighbors, a lively designer and a cameraman into your home. Moss can be put on the walls, aluminum on the ceiling and your table could look like a tortoise shell. Throw in 48 hours and a $1,000 budget and you have the hit show “Trading Spaces.” With perky host Paige Davis and “hunky carpenter” Ty Pennington, the show has a host of fans across the United States, Canada and even as far as Singapore.

What exactly might viewers expect to see?

If designer Frank Bielec is chosen, you might witness a recreation room turned into a Tiki bar complete with a karaoke stage. If it’s Hilda Santo Tomas, tissue paper could be used in place of wallpaper to liven up a dull kitchen.

Subtract the budget, the time constraints and the neighbors, and you’ve got “The Christopher Lowell Show” on the Discovery Channel. Lowell, an animated, dramatic character who builds things himself, focuses on furniture placings and color. Or, let Home and Garden Television introduce you to “Date with Design,” which lets single people choose a potential mate based purely on their taste in interior design. “Design on a Dime” and “Decorating Cents” show how to use lots of style but little cash. “Public Places, Private Spaces” provides viewers with insight into how various designers focus on the differences between creating a stylish public place and a trendy private space.

Shows can help designers

Some interior designers say the shows have definite influences and can even help them build stronger relationships with clients by introducing them to the design industry.

Pat Carl, owner of The Home Store, said the decorating shows provide more than entertainment to some of her clients. The shows help clients think outside the box, she said, and show them what it takes to have a nice home.

Donna McMinn, owner of Creative Interiors, said reality decorating shows like those on Home and Garden Television — “Trading Spaces” and “The Christopher Lowell Show” — create bridges between designer and client, helping to explain what designers do and why they do it.

Kathy Walther, owner of Cherry Street Design, agreed, saying that it shows clients what goes into the design process and decorating a room.

“It shows the before, the perplexed client, the design boards, and then they always have fun personalities,” Walther said.

Some shows go too far

Although local designers appreciate shows like “Trading Spaces,” they said that some of the designs on the show are outrageous, if not disastrous.

Carl remembered one episode that ended with unfortunate results. The show participants were redoing a basement that had low ceilings and the designers wanted the room to look more spatial, so the dining room table and chairs were cut to make them look smaller and the room look bigger.

“It was so ridiculous,” Carl said. “The couple didn’t seem to like it.”

Reality design shows often bring in some odd requests. Carl received a call from a woman who wanted to have her sofa painted after she saw it on “Trading Spaces.”

The episode, filmed in Seattle, shows Tomas working on a basement family room when she decided to spray paint their blue-and white-striped sofa fuchsia to go with the “circus-tent theme” she was creating. The couch, left outside in the rain and snow, ended up a soggy disaster, which Tomas later replaced with two new fuchsia sofas.

The disaster might have discouraged Tomas from ever painting another sofa, but Carl’s client was adamant.

“Just because you see it on there doesn’t mean you should do it,” Carl said.

McMinn said “Trading Spaces” is great for giving viewers an inside look into the “befores” and “afters” of a room, the reasons for going with certain looks and styles, but it does not have a realistic turnaround time.

McMinn said redecorating often takes time because designers must schedule painters, electricians and carpenters, and orders on furniture can often take awhile.

“In the real world, we don’t have trailers that come with everybody there,” McMinn said. “You have to wait in line for painters, you’ve got to let the furniture come in.”

Because the “Trading Spaces” rooms are built so fast, some designers said the shortcuts taken by the designers often lack stability and longevity.

“There is no structural integrity,” Rust said. “It (the room) will last a few years, but not many.”

Some designers said the show can portray interior designers as pushy, demanding, do-it-my-way individuals.

“It could scare people because it may make them feel like they don’t have a voice,” said Julie Taggart, an interior designer at Simon Oswald Associates in Columbia. “People that don’t understand may think of it as a design diva taking over their home or rooms without consulting them.”

Carl said she works with her clients to get the desired look, to make sure the client is comfortable with any changes.

“The way I really achieve a great look is working with the client and us bouncing things off of each other,” Carl said. “Then putting it together.”

The Learning Channel spokesman Don Halcombe said that “Trading Spaces” was created purely for the enjoyment of viewers and is not necessarily meant to be taken literally.

“The goal of the show is to be entertaining and inspirational,” Halcombe said. “Hopefully that’s what people take from it.”

Halcombe said that most viewers understand this and do not expect to do everything they see on television.

Regardless of shortcomings or misconceptions, many local designers enjoy the show for its entertainment value.

Walther is a self-proclaimed “HGTV junkie” who also watches “Trading Spaces” on the weekends. She said one time she watched two episodes two times while cleaning out her closets.

“These shows show people getting dirty, having fights, lusting after the carpenter,” Walther said. “Those are a lot more fun for me.”


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