Sometimes, once is enough.

Here’s the thing about a high school reunion, one you’re excited about, anyway: you start out all bright-eyed and optimistic to see people you haven’t set eyes on in years. Maybe a little apprehension mixes with anticipation, and a cocktail,  to fuel an initial euphoria of OMG!s and How long has it been?s. After a bit, you start to assess. Maybe you’re feeling good about how you’ve weathered the last several years. Or maybe you’re feeling like you need another cocktail and the name of somebody’s plastics guy. In any case, one thing leads to another and by the end of the night you’re remembering that you didn’t miss high school, after all.

That’s pretty much what happened for me with the Trading Spaces Reunion and Reboot when it aired April 8th.

Interior design had been around for ages before Trading Spaces hit the airwaves, but Trading Spaces was the show that sparked the explosion of DIY, home improvement and interior design programs that have become stalwarts of popular culture. With an unbeatable mix of personality, possibility and train wreck, this show truly engaged the audience.  Love it or hate it, you were invested.

I alternated between loving and hating. The loving part was the voyeur in me, the side that tells my husband to drive slowly at night, so I can look in people’s windows to see what design is, or is not, happening within. The hating part was the trained professional, the side of me that wants to create a space that addresses the client’s wants and needs – not artistic expression or network ratings.

So, yes - it was fabulous to see all of the cool kids; a hoot to relive some of the glory days. And if I were looking for a plastics guy, I would definitely call Laurie Smith.

But once the Trading Spaces Reboot started, I was remembering the bad parts about high school.

If you missed it, or need a refresher, check out this 360 Degree Tour. Wiggle your way through all of the angles.

Now can we talk design?  

I know a lot of designers and I’m fairly certain they all cringe at requests for ‘theme’ rooms. So Doug Wilson’s “Hawaii Ho!” room was off on the wrong flip-flop from the get-go. Doug’s ‘island resort’ approach was to wrap the walls in burlap. Have you ever used burlap? It smells. It can take weeks to air out under the best conditions – forget the Trading Spaces two day window. It will always retain some of that earthy odor and there will always be fibers breaking free. In this tiny room, where they will have to squeeze through to avoid bruising their shins on the bed frame, they will be brushing up against and breathing fibers in,  on the regular.

And what’s up with the lighting in the island resort? Are the solar panels on the ceiling to facilitate filming or simulate tanning on an island beach?

Next door, Hildi Santo-Tomas was unfolding her “Deconstructed Penguin” design. Her inspiration was a beautiful designer silk. Listen, I’ve seen Frozen a few dozen times – I’m hip to the frozen fractal vibe, though one might have expected splashes of red, owing to the ‘deconstructed’ part. I understand that budget and available yardage didn’t allow for use in quantity, but to recreate with paint on walls and ceiling was just looking for trouble. In fairness, in the reveal it can be interpreted as a softened watercolor effect of the fabric. If you squint. But sometimes too much of a good thing is really just too much. The small room is chaotic with pattern, leaving no place for your eye to rest. Why not just one wall? It would have been more reasonably managed in the tight time frame, with better results.

As it happens, painting on almost any design show is a major issue for me. Painting skills, or lack thereof, offend my sensibilities to a degree that renders me almost speechless. Almost.

There’s a commonly held belief that anybody can paint. There’s no barrier to entry – you buy brushes, paint, and bada bing bada boom, you’re Picasso. Sure, anybody can do it. But precious few people do it well. This episode of Trading Spaces underscores that point. I wasn’t on board with Doug’s design decision to paint the ceiling brown in the island room, but the worst part about it was the application. The bad cut-in job doesn’t suggest “designer”, it screams amateur! Time, attention to detail, and a roll of painters’ tape could have avoided that outcome.

The fractal effect in Hildi’s room was accomplished with foam brushes and little precision. You can see in the close-ups of the work, that the paint is laid on in multiple directions and thicknesses. Unless someone takes the time to thoroughly sand it all smooth, that will adversely affect every subsequent coat of paint.

And it wasn’t just walls and ceilings, but the painted finishes on built-ins, as well. The Murphy bed in the Penguin room, for instance. An ingenious idea, but how well it was constructed is anybody’s guess. Based on the quality of the paint job, it was another project with DIY written all over it. In crayon. 

DIY is awesome, unless it’s poorly executed. And then it’s beyond sad. If the design quality and execution of Trading Spaces rooms is not comparable to the rest of the house, the cost of this 15 minutes of fame extends far beyond the redesign budget. $2000 poorly allocated now, can cost thousands more in extra work or be lost in resale value.

Many of the shortcomings of the work are due to the artificial and arbitrary time lines imposed by the format. I know tight schedules are mechanisms for invoking drama and tension, but they ring false, like the scripted exchanges between designers and carpenters fighting about access and deadlines. What it means for the finished product is truly sad for the homeowners.

Ultimately, the fact that the homeowners have no voice in what happens in their own homes is a huge turn off for me. I know it fuels the tension – that possibility of a train wreck we can’t look away from – but it runs counter to how I, and every designer I know, works with clients. It’s one of homeowners’ biggest fears when considering hiring a designer: they’re afraid that they won’t be listened to. How unfortunate if the reboot of the show perpetuates that fear.

I loved the reunion. As for the reboot…sometimes, once is more than enough.

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