TV Viewpoint – Home of the Year and Room to Improve

It has struck me as bemusing that the appetite for programmes about other people’s lovely homes hasn’t diminished in the midst of a housing crisis. Is it because we as a nation are curious (read; nosy) enough to set aside our worried and concerns in order to poke into others’ homes; is it that the aspirational feel of it removes our jealousy and replaces it with a sort of hope? It’s not really about separating the haves and have nots; most of the people featured are very nice and have worked long and hard for the home of their dreams and there’s no use in begrudging anyone their living situation. It can also be a very interesting insight into the psychology of the home and people’s personalities, and I, renter though I am, cannot get enough of it.

I’m just astonished that there are so many lovely homes nestled in this country of ours! Room to Improve, the nations’ favourite peek into the lives of others, returned to RTE1 on Sunday night last and with it a very special cameo. But we’ll return to that later. Also presented by our national broadcaster is Home of the Year, in its fifth season now. The format is the same; three houses a week are appraised by the three formidable judges on functionality, comfort, style and clever design and scored by each out of ten. The house with the top marks of the week goes through to the final.

The most recent episode featured a red-stone in Dublin, ‘stacked’ cottages in Kerry and a pretend period house, again in Dublin, very obviously decorated ‘tastefully’ by its interior designer owner. Lots of white and candles. Bit of diamante. That hotel feel favoured by those who have too much space on their hands. The red-stone won this round, with its good use of light and décor, and it was clear that a lot of time, effort and love went in to it. That it’s going to compete with a turret topped mansion in the final is another matter; if you’d like to catch watch the previous episodes catch them (if you can) on the RTE Player, but be warned; I tried to watch episode 2 FOUR times and all I got was three lousy adverts played on repeat. Remind me why I’m paying the TV licence again?

I remember in a previous series of Room to Improve, prior to moving in to their house a newlywed couple had shacked up in a, well, shack at the bottom of a parent’s garden, with only a kettle and hot plate to keep them company. Perhaps they too watched with awe and envy repeat episodes of Grand Designs and Changing Rooms, hunched greedily over their laptop, agitatedly pulling it this way and that to get a better view of the wonders so near and yet so far to them. Envy, the great motivator!

The couple at the centre of this week’s episode had bigger obstacles to tackle other than getting out of a one room shed, when they took on the renovation of a strangely laid out house and its literal hill for a garden in The Curragh. Dermot was quick to liken it to a prison and was thus quick to draw up the blueprints to change it from one long corridor with seven doors leading variously to the bathroom, bedrooms and the kitchen to his signature open plan, multi-functional, split level space. It paid off! It looked good! Of course it did! He brought celebrity gardener Diarmuid Gavin on board to tackle the hill, which he did by creating a zig-zag garden path flanked by areas of wildflowers, sure to attract butterflies and bees.

Room to Improve is the messy, exasperating, perfect companion to the quite pedestrian and slickly presented Home of the Year, where it could easily be a behind-the-scenes in the construction of any of the gorgeous competing homes, enticing a curmudgeon like me to delight somewhat in the downs of dream homemaking, like windows that won’t fit, Dermot putting the pressure on to add a slab of concrete in the middle of the kitchen floor or a severely inflating budget. It always works out in the end, despite clashing characters and opposing opinions, and that’s the fun of it; we’re with them on their highs and lows and ultimately, despite our better judgment, cheering them on when it’s all done and dusted. How’s that for brain-washing for ya? Housing crisis? What housing crisis?

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