At Home: The Design Podcast Pulls Back the Curtain on Home Makeover TV Shows | Way of life
“Those TV house transformations that happened in an hour-long episode? People don’t realize I had a crew of 100 and it took us a week to do a house.
I speak with Mark Brunetz, the co-host of “Clean House,” a series that aired on the Style Network from 2003 to 2011.
“You mean it wasn’t real?” I am so gullible.
“I felt this disconnect between what was being shown and what was really happening that nobody was talking about,” he said, of the nine years he worked on the show. “The shows presented the beginning and the end, and slipped and glorified the middle. It compromised the design process, which has so much more depth.
He often thought, “Dude, if people only knew the story behind the story, this design is so much more than putting pretty things in a room and the emotional revelation crying out.”
And so last year, Brunetz launched Scandalabra, a podcast designed to find out just that, or as the cutline puts it: “The ugly truth behind beautiful spaces.”
Now I have known Mark for over a decade. He’s interviewed me before, and I don’t know what it is, but he has this way of making you say things that you would only say to your dog. So, unsurprisingly, when he asked his guests to share the real story, they flinched.
Since the first episode (titled “The Desecration of Design”) aired last July, he’s done 24 candid and unblinking podcast interviews with design insiders. Others are in preparation. Curious to discover everything he had learned, I grilled him. The following is a conversation about his conversations:
Marnie: Share some scoops! What have you learned?
Mark: In my first episode, I spoke with LA designer Jaime Rummerfield about our early days doing home makeovers for television. She nailed it when she said, as much good as makeover shows have done for the home improvement world, they’ve also done a disservice. The genre has devalued design and architecture. She compared the fast design featured on these shows with fast fashion. Many stores sell cheap clothes that look really cute on the hanger and fall apart after just one wear. It all depends on the moment. It also happens in the fast design world, pushing poorly made furniture to get that fast look. Oh, and every show has someone wielding a hammer knocking down a wall. That makes for a good TV, but knocking down a wall isn’t good for many homes.
Marnie: After 24 interviews with design pros, was there a theme?
Mark: Almost every guest said in one way or another that too many people are so busy copying trends that their homes don’t reflect them. People often believe that they have to define themselves by choosing and sticking to a style. They answer design quizzes and try to choose a style to emulate, but isn’t the real goal to create a space that looks like you?
Marnie: In your episode “The Dangers of TV Designer Idolatry,” your guest Angelo Surmelis warned against imitating the look of TV design experts or TV trends. Why?
Mark: Following either is a safe path to an inauthentic space. Companies manufacture trends to sell products. The only expert in your life is you, and there is only one you. Why would you copy someone else’s style? The color of the year is the color you love. You need to take the time to do your due diligence to find out who you are.
Marnie: When you spoke with famed architect Dean Larkin (whose residential work includes some of LA’s most iconic and expensive homes, including the restoration of Lionsgate, a 24,000 square foot Bel Air home rated at 65 million dollars), he said, “Ignore the ‘isms’. What did he mean?
Mark: Then again, when people lock themselves into one look, like mid-century modernism or traditionalism, they miss the opportunity to create their look. Your home is first and foremost your personal sanctuary and should resonate with you and your family.
And don’t rush. Certainly don’t attack a project like we did, finishing it in a week. The most successful rooms are designed over time. As for the idea of timeless design, Larkin sees it differently: we need to consider the times we live in and move forward. Good design is a connection between people, the space and the time in which they find themselves. It changes.
Marnie: How has the pandemic changed home design?
Mark: The pandemic has brought nothing new. He just put a magnifying glass on what was there. We started to look more at our environment and say to ourselves, I don’t like it. Why? If your house wasn’t really you, it became more obvious. Now, those who thrive at home are those who connect with their home because their home reflects them.
Marnie: How do you put the “you” in your space?
Mark: Early on, I learned that people don’t feel comfortable talking about design, but they have no problem talking about themselves. So I get them to talk about what they like to do, where they like to travel, what clothes in their wardrobe make them feel most like themselves. I ask, if you were a piece of furniture, what would you be? If they say a chair, I ask what is it made of? Wood or metal? Is it new or old? Is it upholstered? Is the fabric patterned or plain? Everyone has a style.
Marnie: So, if you were a piece of furniture, what would you be?
Mark: A huge 17th century wooden cabinet full of beautiful and interesting collectibles surprises and reveals. And you?
Marnie: I would be a kitchen table, the center of all the gossip.
Marni Jameson is the author of six home and lifestyle books including “What to Do With Everything You Own to Leave the Legacy You Want”, “Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go” and “Downsizing the Blended Home – When Two Households Become One. You can reach her at www.marnijameson.com.