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Designer Roundtable: Make-Over Show Pet Peeves

What are designers’ biggest reality-TV home-makeover-show pet peeves?
By Ellen Sturm Niz
May 28, 2010

Find out what professional designers wish these home-makeover reality-TV programs would really show and tell.

“I love when my clients come in with vision, enthusiasm and great ideas, some of which come from these shows. The problem is the expectations the shows set for real-life projects. Many people have expectations that their project will be very inexpensive, be completed without any hitches, no messes will be made and it will all be tied up with a bow ready for the first party within a day or two. As we all know, you get what you pay for, remodeling is messy, problems always crop up and everything takes time.

“I’d like to see realistic prices tied to education about what you get for different price points. I’d love to see a homeowner have a meltdown when things don’t go as planned and then portray a designer doing her best to respond to the situation. The happy ending for each different crisis —this could be a series called ‘Real Life Makovers’ —would be the homeowners flexibly and patiently appreciating that things don’t always turn out as planned, but if you are respectful and patient you can be thrilled with the final results.”

Erika Couture, AKBD, kitchen and bath designer, Upon This Rock, Williston, VT


“My pet peeve is in the information omitted. There is a cost of doing business, and it isn’t necessarily reflected accurately. Depending on the show, the focus can vary from product exposition to design elements to job pricing. Occasionally we will see a combination of them all. But generally the true cost a viewer might see for a comparable project in their market isn’t conveyed correctly, if at all. I feel this adversely affects those of us who provide expert design and construction services and humbly expect to recoup our expenses and make a profit. The unspoken is, by design, not for consumption.”

Carl A. Smith III, CKD, senior project designer, Boyer Building Corporation, Minnetonka, MN


“The short version of my pet peeve? That these shows exist at all. They are first, foremost and at best, unenlightened. The people who write them are unenlightened, the people who make them are unenlightened and the people who watch them are unenlightened. The content is ridiculous, and the design —if you can even call it that —is uniformly horrible. Oh, and the clumsily contrived drama? The worst soap-opera actor would quit before demeaning herself. Add to that the fact that they utterly misrepresent the renovation process, leave out details that are critical to the understanding of what actually occurred, give no worthwhile advice, are the most venal form of commercial prostitution imaginable... wait, there’s more, except I haven’t got enough interest to bother continuing the list.”

Pete Walker, owner, principal, Walker Design Group, Los Angeles, CA


“My biggest pet peeve is when these shows quote a cost that is not realistic. Yes, costs vary when you live in California vs. Montana, but the cost on appliances, cabinetry and counters averages the same no matter what your geographic location is. Labor is the only area where you see a major difference. I feel like these shows do a disservice to us as professionals when they make a client feel like they can remodel their kitchen with high-end materials for $25, 000 to $35,000. I wish they would quote ‘real’ numbers that include all the costs—don’t leave out the ‘free’ labor, materials or design work.”

Susan Lund, AKBD, Spacial Design, San Anselmo, CA


“My biggest reality-TV home-makeover-show pet peeve would have to be shows that feature designers leading clients through do-it-yourself projects and offering up how cost effective and easy these projects are, especially when the project cost includes only the cost of materials. These shows can be very inspiring but also tend to devalue the work of the designer when there is no dollar value placed on it. This gives viewers a skewed sense of reality. I wish these programs would place more of a value on a designer’s time and work and make mention of the fact that there is typically cost associated with this part of a project.”

Susan J. Klimala, CKD, The Kitchen Studio of Glen Ellyn, Glen Ellyn, IL, susan@kitchenstudio-ge.com


“Although I do not watch reality-TV home makeovers often—only about three times per year —my biggest pet peeve is that they make interior projects seem to cost the client close to nothing and [portray] the design services as ‘free.’ This, therefore, suggests that the interior designer has no real value and all of their hard work preparing preliminary studies, cost estimates, planning, designing, specifying and so on should not or will not cost them anything. When they do show some of the general costs, they seem to eliminate the time and costs of the designers and laborers. “I would like to see a reality-TV home makeover show that shows the entire design process from initial consultation to letters-of-agreement to concepts to specifications to real costs to completion. I wish they would show the actual amount of time each phase of the design process takes, how designers actually charge and get paid for their time and the problems or situations that come up in the ‘business’ of interior design.”

Rhonda Chen, CID, Interior Design Details, Yorba Linda, CA


“I have had both the pleasure and the curse of working with reality TV home-makeover shows, and I have had the chance to see both sides in action. First, there is very little reality in a reality-TV show. Most, if not all, is pretty scripted and pre-set. The TV audience is given the idea that the planning and makeover can be done in a matter of days with little forethought or planning. The audience is not aware that the design team, tradesmen and materials are all scheduled and on-site prior to shooting the show. Even the homeowners are bowled over and bullied and, in most cases, asked to leave the premises until the shooting is complete.

“On one show I was working on, one of the crew said, ‘We need to finish, pack and be out before the paint dries and things start falling off the walls.’ I know that this is true as in one of my kitchens, the film crew could not wait for us to hang the appliance panels on the dishwasher and refrigerator, so they stuck them on with double-sided tape while we were at lunch.

“I wish that they would take the time and educate the consumer on how to work with a professional designer, as well as what is truly involved when designing the space, selecting materials, scheduling tear-out and installation—and what happens when things go wrong. At the end of the day, it is all about the details and planning—and the details. Did I mention the details? I think that they should do a reality show about what goes on behind the cameras on a home-makeover show. Now that would be entertaining!”

Kevin M Henry, president and creative director, Group42, executive VP, Bazzeo Ec-Centric Kitchens and Home Interiors, Los Angeles, CA


“My biggest pet peeve is that they make the projects look so easy and inexpensive. For the shows, [designers] provide such unrealistic design ideas that go together in just a few short hours for a tiny investment. My experience is that quality design costs reasonable amounts, as do the products included. No one wants ‘solutions’ that look homemade, fall apart quickly, are completed in a jiffy and possible only with poor workmanship. Even $1,000 is a fortune to those just starting out, and it’s a shame to misinform them as to design talent required and the time and investment realities.”

Duval Acker, ASID, CMKBD, VP and co-owner Kitchens by Design, Charleston, SC


“A family intervention has reduced the amount of HGTV I’m allowed, but since you asked, my pet peeve is how little respect the whole process of putting a space together gets. The real functional needs of the space are almost always secondary to the visual impact of ‘the reveal.’ It is very rare that you see anyone actually measure a space or even do a plan. [They make it seem like] choosing materials for a whole house takes minutes and can be done for $1000. But then again, the actual process probably isn’t good TV. Fortunately, most people seem able to separate between what they see on TV and their own real-life project. The good thing is that all of the shows focusing on remodeling have made more people interested in and excited about updating their homes.”

Kaye Hathaway, CKD, ASID, owner Dea Design Group, Island Lake, IL


“I really don’t watch reality shows because I can’t stand them. From the few I have seen, I can say that it’s frustrating that they never show any of the work time or hours of planning that go into any job prior to doing the work, and like to abbreviate the entire job so it appears that it’s done in a much shorter period of time than it actually is. They also only point to the cost of the materials, if that, and not the cost of labor or how much to expect to pay for a qualified, licensed and insured crew.”

Carrie Brandstrom, designer/project manager, Interiorscapes, New York, NY


“My pet peeve is the unrealistic depiction of cost of materials and the skills it takes to renovate a home. Many times people are shocked by my proposals because they saw a 30-minute episode that claimed to remodel a bathroom for less than $2000. Their hopes are high and their wish list is extensive and [my proposal] always exceeds what they expected to pay. Many shows leave out the design process or minimize it to what they find in a local home center. They never take in account what it costs to pay a truly skilled tradesman or the overhead expenses required for a safe and legal job site. There is always an underscore to save money and to get around the actual costs. The lack of understanding of these issues and the encouragement from these shows only promote low-quality results and the use of fly-by-night contractors.

“I would like to see these shows show real problems encountered when tearing apart a 30-year-old home—how materials have evolved and the adjustments needed to apply new products. The reinforcement of using a licensed contractor that seeks continual training to produce a better product is rarely heard. I know many of the shows are created primarily for entertainment, but there are too many using a ‘boy toy’ carpenter with quick wit as the expert on the job. Their lack of skills is obvious, and it would be nice to see more local firms performing the tasks. I have seen a show where the carpenter’s hammer appeared on different sides of his tool belt throughout the show—this doesn’t happen with real carpenters.

“A strong emphasis on ‘getting what you pay for’ should be conveyed on every episode. These shows are like diet commercials. As silly as it sounds, a disclaimer that ‘these results are not typical and a professional should be consulted before starting a remodeling project’ should be aired on every show. I have seen programs that I like and look foreword to watching again, but most fall short of reality.”

Chad Holgerson, owner, Keystone Building and Design, Nixa, MO
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