Recently, our cable company sent us a simple message: Convert or die. Up until now, we only had a basic analog signal and that gave us about 50 or so channels of basic cable. We believed them when they said that we didn't have to do anything during that whole changeover that happened in February. Now we were being told that if we didn't get some digital converter boxes, we would lose everything. Now my first inclination was just to drop the cable altogether. Neither my wife nor myself watch very much TV and I certainly not up to speed on my Lost, Mad Men, Survivor, or whatever reality show passes for Prime Time TV nowadays. After weighing all of the pros and cons of keeping the service, we could come up with only one major thing in the plus category: HGTV.
Now for those of you who may not be familiar with Home and Garden Television (aka HGTV) it is one of those channels that you have likely skipped by on your way to Comedy Central or the E! Network. Most of the content features people walking around some unfortunate looking house with the intention of either buying it or fixing it up. The shows have titles such as "House Hunters", "My First Place", "Divine Design", "Spice Up My Kitchen", and my personal favorite "Designed to Sell." On 'Designed to Sell' all of the magic happens in the beginning of the show when they bring in the 'real estate expert' to tell the homeowners why their house has not sold yet. Perhaps it has something to do with those four uncleaned litter boxes on the kitchen floor. Trust me, you don't have to be a real estate expert to figure this one out, but it's entertaining at the very least.
After you've seen enough shows on HGTV, you can pretty much divide each show into one of two categories (or at least I do). The first category is the Design Documentary. These shows follow a project from beginning to end, over a realistic timeline and give you a sense of how to complete a normal home improvement project. They follow reasonable time lines and often show real Architects and Designers working with the Homeowners to achieve their goals. I love these shows. I love it when every project goes over budget. I love it when it takes twice as long as it's supposed to. I love these shows because they offer a glimpse into the real life challenges of being a Design Professional. The editors cram months of hard work into a neat little half hour package that I can digest in little bites and feel totally satisfied. I could watch these tiny morsels for hours.
Now the other category is all together different. I call these 'Time's Up' shows. These shows are typically taped over a very short period (usually two or three days) where the entire project from start to finish happens right before your eyes. The crew always has to meet some fictitious self imposed deadline ("the open house is in one day!') and you see people racing to throw together some half baked Willy Wonka color parade. In two days, paint goes a long way. On a show like "Design to Sell" most of the dramatic improvements are made just by taking all of the Homeowner's crap out of the space so that you can see the floor. On other shows, they try to sell you on homemade art pieces and MDF furniture that is both cost effective and attractive. It is these shows that are like Poison to those of us in the Design profession. It is these shows that exemplify the disposable society in which we live. I can assure you that going down to Home Depot and buying a $50 Chandelier is not going to make your dining room more valuable. But if you hot glue some fringe to that fixture, now you've got a custom touch that screams chic. Give me a break.
I want to share with you a quick story that gives you some perspective on my experience with these shows. I had gotten a call from a prospective client who owned a very nice house with alot of potential. The house was in an area where homes commonly sold for over $1M and the buyers had purchased a fixer upper for around $700K. I was referred to them by a previous client and I went to meet with the Homeowners on a Saturday afternoon. During the meeting, they asked me questions like, "How many people do you have in your crew" and "Do you think you could do the work while we are on vacation?". I tried to explain to them that I live in a world with liability insurance and permit drawings, not the TV world of weekend transformations and artwork made on their front lawn. They looked at me as though I did not understand what they wanted and that I must not be very good at my job if it would take months to do what can be done on TV in three days.
And so continues my love/hate relationship with HGTV. When people watch movies, they can pretty much tell what is real and what is movie magic. I await the day when the same is true for Home Improvement Television, but I won't hold my breath.