Friday, October 12, 2007

That's Random: In Praise of "Changing Rooms"

I saw on Anh-Minh's blog the other day that British designer (and huge crush object for my husband) Linda Barker has come out with a line of cool wallpapers for Graham & Brown:

Anyway, do you remember Ms. Barker from the late, great "Changing Rooms"? (Have you ever seen "Changing Rooms"?) It was the British home-makeover show that "Trading Spaces" was modeled after and that, sadly, went off the air for good in 2004.

Nick and I were never "Trading Spaces" fans, but oh -- how we loved "Changing Rooms." It aired on BBC America at, like, 3:30 every morning, and I think we stumbled upon it during one of those long, sleepless nights when our daughter was a newborn. We caught it as often as we could, and a few years later -- TIVO remote in hand -- we taped all nine seasons of it.

We adored the perpetually pregnant, chatty and cheerful (but in a steely kind of way -- you wouldn't even want to think about crossing her) Scottish host Carol Smillie, who always wound up stuck behind a sewing machine helping stitch together drapes or slipcovers, and being none too pleased about it.

We snickered along with dandyish designer Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, who seemed just as delighted to provoke the recipients of his room revamps as he was to please them. That man could paint an entire room and not muss a single frill on his velvet suit or lace-trimmed sleeves. And -- despite his awe-inducing sartorial splendor, saucy mouth, and apparent glee at snapping wet rags at the carpenter's bum -- he's actually straight, god love him. (Turns out, Laurence has some design collections available as well.)

We rolled our eyes at vampy Anna Ryder Richardson, who was never seen without a skin-tight, plunging-neckline shirt, who was always eager to supply the show's bawdy humor, and who made frequent -- and quite entertaining -- design faux pas, like the time she framed a young mother's naughty lingerie and hung it on the bedroom wall.

We sighed dreamily (well, at least Nick did) over the blond and babelicious Linda Barker, and affectionately mocked the way she pronounced "color" in her gentle Yorkshire brogue -- it always came out sounding like "culeur."

We oohed and aahed over the beautifully tasteful and dignified designs of dapper, softspoken Graham Wynne, who always seemed like he was going to have a quiet nervous breakdown before episode's end, but whose rooms turned out smashing nonetheless.

And we nodded our heads in agreement along with grumpy Cockney carpenter "Handy" Andy Kane, who was never shy about telling the show's designers that they were flippin' mad if they thought he was going to put together yet another of their crazy, poorly engineered contraptions -- but who, without fail, pulled it out beautifully in the end.

(We weren't quite as fond of "Changing Rooms'" later designers: stern, humorless Laura McCree and pouty club kid Oliver Heath -- but we still liked them a whole lot better than American counterparts like Hildi Santo-Tomas and Vern Yip.)

One thing about the show that we couldn't get enough of was the British way of just letting rip with the unvarnished truth. There wasn't this American tendency to gloss over the bad parts with a smile or to say something nice just so that you didn't hurt someone's feelings -- even if they'd mucked up a job horribly.

There were lots of episodes that ended with the paint-splattered and exhausted design guinea pigs in tears (and not tears of joy). And there were a few where it seemed like the cameras stopped rolling just before someone -- and that someone would usually be Llewelyn-Bowen -- ended up on the receiving end of an enraged homeowner's well-deserved beat-down.

We still remember the middle-aged woman who sobbed "I hate it!" when she was finally granted permission to open her eyes and see the designers' handiwork in her now-hideous dining room (above) -- and the mouthy young couple who were furious when they opened theirs to an all-red sitting room and who practically spit that it looked like "a cheap whorehouse." And it did.

Anyway, "Changing Rooms" just totally freakin' rocked. It was a phenomenon in the U.K., and has been widely credited with dragging the entire British population out of its longtime design stupor and almost single-handedly helping to hip up homes throughout the whole damn island nation. (I can't vouch for the Brits, but it certainly stoked my own obsession with home design.)

Plus, the show embraced modern design at a time when most of the American home shows were still happily draping lengths of fake ivy around faux-Tuscan candlesticks. It was eye-opening to see just how great "modern" could look in those 100-year-old London Victorians and even older country farmhouses.

That's not to say the designs were always successful. Some were downright atrocious, but that was all part of the fun.

And guess what? "Changing Rooms" reruns are still on BBC America at 3:30 a.m. most nights. The next time you can't sleep, do yourself a favor and check it out.

5 comments:

dana said...

handy andy and laurence were my favorites. i agree. way more fun than trading spaces.

sadly, not the gold level of cable to get bbc no more.

Karkki said...

I am so with you on this one. I LOVED Changing Rooms and was so bummed when they stopped making new shows. I would never have wanted my space redesigned by the Trading Spaces folks, but to be on Changing Rooms? Hells yeah!

Did you ever see the other BBCA home improvement show with Linda Barker and Anna Ryder Richardson where they fixed up two rooms using only what the homeowner had laying around along with what was in their design kit? I liked that one a lot too, even though some of the results were a bit cheesy.

Now I don't even receive BBCA, so I can't even get a dose of those Brit accents.

judy said...

Besides the hosts being way more fun and clever, the houses they had to work with were always kind of odd and different. And I never once saw one of those ugly poofy light brown/tan leather sofas that everyone in America seems to own. God, I hate that sofa.

Porcelain said...

I loved Changing Rooms!!! So great! One of my older brothers lives in England and when he told me Lawrence was straight, I nearly fell over! Ha!!! I remember him wearing lots of leather pants!

Fairfax said...

I became well and truly addicted to UK tv when I lived there. Their shows are just so far above the US counterparts. They're not afraid of being smart.

 

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