Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Trading Spaces is back, hideous design aesthetic and all

Paige Davis
Paige Davis
Photo: TLC
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Long, long ago, before Property Brothers, shiplap, and 10 million iterations of House Hunters ruled the home improvement marketplace, there was Trading Spaces. A dorky little show that put TLC on the cable map, Trading Spaces launched in 2000 and asked “what if you gave your neighbors $1,000 and free rein to re-do a room in your home?” The show is widely credited with inspiring the home-renovation craze in television, and birthed not only the “Move! That! Bus!” career of Ty Pennington, but also a number of spin-offs, including Trading Spaces: Family and the Saturday-morning staple Trading Spaces: Boys Vs. Girls. It also birthed a number of hideous, “let’s just hot glue fake flowers to the wall”-style rooms that have hopefully long since been redone.

When TLC announced about a year ago that it was bringing Spaces back, fans and gawkers alike wondered how it would adapt. Host Paige Davis (once known professionally as Paige Page thanks to a marriage to actor Patrick Page) was back, but what about the rest of the both beloved-and-maligned designer gang? And would the money go up? The short answer is that, yes, they’re back, and yes, the money went up—marginally.


Designers Doug Wilson, Frank Bielec, Genevieve Gorder, Hildi Santo-Tomas, Laurie Smith, and Vern Yip, have returned, as well as carpenters Ty Pennington and Carter Oosterhouse. They’ll be joined by designers and carpenters Brett Tutor, Joanie Dodd, John Gidding, Kahi Lee, and Sabrina Soto. Each episode features two different designers and carpenters paired with a couple, who’s then tasked with keeping their wackadoodle, TV-friendly designer under their $2,000 budget. (Fortunately, the homeowner also gets to pick one item the designer “must use” out of the Wayfair.com pop-up store, which can come in handy—especially if the designer can’t afford to buy a rug, or didn’t make plans for lighting.)

This time around, however, the couples are supposed to have at least a little more say as to what goes on in their neighbors’ and friends’ rooms. At least, that’s what designer Doug Wilson tells his family in the new season premiere. He pretends to intently listen to the conservative—some might say boring—Melissa and Keith as they describe the “island resort” they’d like to create for Melissa’s sister and brother-in-law. Then, true to Doug form, he comes back seemingly minutes later with some dark brown paint (for the ceiling, of course) and a huge roll of dirt-cheap burlap, which they’ll be stapling to the walls. You know, so it looks like Hawaii. Melissa and Keith, to their credit, are not happy, telling the camera that their family members are “going to be so disappointed.” Paige worries that they’re being bullied into doing something they don’t want to do, but also cautions them that they should “remain open-minded,” because burlap walls aren’t really that wacky.

Speaking of wacky: Hildi Santo-Tomas. Over in the other house, the woman everyone loved to hate the first time around has decided to turn Melissa and Keith’s guest room into “a deconstructed penguin,” thanks to a convoluted story about both Melissa’s love for penguins and some swanky silk Hildi found somewhere. Armed with her trusty overhead projector, Hildi enlists her homeowners, Ryan and Michelle, to paint a tedious kaleidoscope of blue, peach, yellow, black, and white all over three of the room’s walls—plus the ceiling. She makes some “art” by riding a mountain bike over some paint pans and some canvas (as Paige’s voiceover notes, actually buying art can “easily put our designers over budget”) The remaining wall is entirely covered in mirrors, because it’s Hildi. TyPennington is also charged with executing some sort of Murphy Bed, except he doesn’t have the money for the “expensive hardware” a Murphy Bed requires, and thus just builds some ungodly-heavy-looking bed-on-a-pole built from pressed wood and requiring door locks to keep it shut. Hey, Traders can’t be choosers, right? Ryan and Michelle try to rebel by working slowly and failing to finish their homework of painting the ceiling, but Hildi charges forward, refusing to compromise on her unyielding Hildi-ness, despite the wishes of the family.

In the end, Doug’s room actually doesn’t turn out all that bad—provided you love brown and don’t mind that your master bedroom walls will collect dust for eternity—while Hildi’s room is something Keith clearly abhors, though Melissa congenially says she“appreciates how much work they put into it,” admiring the utility of theMurphy Bed. (Called a Pennington Bed by Hildi, probably because she legally can’t call it a Murphy Bed.) The sister homeowners hug as Paige cheerily wraps things up over some jaunty music, and Hildi and Doug are no doubt whisked off to some alternate location, unconcerned as to whether what they made is actually appreciated or enjoyed, since all they were really aiming to do was to make good, entertaining television.


As long as that’s all you want Trading Spaces to be—entertaining television—then the reboot succeeds. With so much aspirational home programming in the marketplace now, you’re better off going anywhere else for design ideas, advice on how to pick backsplashes, and sound financial decisions that may increase a house’s market value. Trading Spaces, for better or worse, is and has always been about using as little money as possible to create as myopic a room as possible. Some good ideas may sneak through, but even now—10 years after it went off the air—the show still lives and dies on its well-meaning absurdity.

Marah Eakin is the Executive Producer of all A.V. Club Video And Podcasts. She is also a Cleveland native and heiress to the country's largest collection of antique and unique bedpans and urinals.

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