Four Golden Rules of Interior Design TV

OK, so I’ll lay my cards on the table right at the forefront: I have not slept well in the last few weeks, and my mind is not coping well with it. The fact of the matter is that my partner gave birth to our second child, and I don’t think I’ve completed a REM cycle since. Consider this my version of Prince’s “I was dreaming when I wrote this…” concept. Except that it’s already gone astray. Do excuse me.

It turns out I enjoy paternity leave. My main role was to do everything a post-partum mother cannot. I bent over to pick things up, I did washing of clothes and cooking of food, I went out for shopping. I also joined in on the things she could do, and this involved binge-watching TV series’ on Netflix.

One of the things we watched was The Great Interior Design Challenge, something I was more than shocked to find had reached the dizzy heights of its fourth series before either of us had watched the first episode. Except it wasn’t the first episode of the first series, it was the first episode of the third series. We are still looking for the remaining episodes. The problem with watching so many weeks of TV in a couple of days, is that you spot the tropes, the cracks and the glue which holds it all together.

Angry customers are the first trope I noticed: from the halcyon days of Changing Rooms to all of the recent glut of American design imports, people are never satisfied with the freebies TV gives them. It’s almost as if the narcissistic fools who volunteer to have their homes improved are imbued with a sense of entitlement disproportionate to the budget of the TV programme they’re actually on.

In some cases this anger appears at the end of the programme – likely being teased throughout the series or the episode in an effort to retain as much of the original share of the viewing public as is humanly possible. In some cases it appears at the start of the design process and serves to stymie the efforts of the valiant interior designer, their ability to quell adversity forming a thrilling tale.

If a client comes in to a design programme expecting high end furnishings and structural changes they are clearly intellectually sub-normal. The best and most innovative design solutions come out of thrift and the will to make something out of nothing. Working hard is the main thing these people have to work with; if you want expensive spaces, get your own wallets out and bloody pay for it.

In any TV format there always needs to be a degree of drama, otherwise people won’t come back after the break. Actually, that’s bollocks, but it does seem to form the prevailing opinion amongst TV producers the world over. This is why short time limits are imposed (even though ample planning time has been given off camera) and random challenges are dropped in throughout, to push harder.

A contestant has a couple of days to fully redevelop a room, with all of the intrusions of camera, sound and presenters. They are stressed, they are under fire and this isn’t even their job. Therefore we need to inject some crisis in order to get their creative sparks truly firing. That’s good thinking.

Here is a random object:  a Victorian tennis racquet, a wooden wine box, a section of an old barrel. Do something innovative with this, which must then be incorporated in to your final design, with no additional time or resources. This is intended to test the contestants’ ability to perform under the pressure of a changing brief and a capricious client, but it just results in swear-words and half-arsery in an effort to get through the challenge. It is not only cheap to produce, but it is also cheapening.

Fake enthusiasm is the plague of much of our televisual entertainment, but it really grates on me when it comes to the world of interiors. I don’t know whether it’s the fact that the people are all giving such huge collective shits about paint colours, or the use of colour, or the ways of the colour which is being used, but it just strikes me as fake. We have a colourful house; never in the discussion of the choices of these colours has either of us ever burst in to tears at the beauty of the design.

Mostly we argued. Mostly our visitors accused us of being brave. Mostly we got precisely what we were looking for through bloody-minded trial and error, rather than screaming and / or crying.

Presenters on TV shows vary considerably, but when it comes to other peoples’ hopes, dreams and creativity they always have to lay it on quite thick, I find. Contestants on programmes where there are no real stakes seem to attract that. Whether that is to mollycoddle their new fake best friends or whether they truly are bowled over by their every decision I do not know (I do), but I don’t want to see presenters’ fake smiles any more. I’m not suggesting they should be cruel to them, just human.

Yes, I know my attempts to draw a through line between a poorly defined set of TV programmes you probably haven’t watched have been crap, but the last one is decent: Medium Density Fibreboard.

Along with nail guns and poorly applied paint, MDF is the most ubiquitous aspect of any interior design show these days. But only when there are time-strapped professionals involved. When it is members of the public being left to their own devices it tends not to come up. I suppose this is the true dividing line in my head between interior design TV and property TV: MDF versus real wood.

I recently had some furniture built, and the cabinet maker told us proudly how the wood he was using was manufactured, and that it had been baked, so as to avoid warping. It made perfect sense, and I like the finish. I just felt a tad disappointed; especially when I saw the green dust it left behind. It makes life easier, and makes for a more stable end result, I understand. It just feels like a con.

I’m going to have a nap now. I have no doubt that I will dream of home makeovers and such a lot of fake laughter, but at least I’ve got a few things off my chest. Now, go and badly paint your floor.

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