Monday, December 10, 2007

What I Learned from HGTV

I have a confession to make, a confession that probably tells you more about my age and social status than I care to admit. I don't get the chance to watch much television these days, but when I do watch, there's a good chance that the show I'm watching is one of the many home improvement shows on HGTV or The Learning Channel.

I'm not sure why I end up watching so many of these shows. I tell myself, of course, that I am picking up ideas for future projects around my own house, but after years of passive viewing I have yet to transfer one project from the TV screen to the inside of my home. Maybe I watch because, as television shows go, the do-it-yourself programs on HGTV and TLC are relatively family friendly, and I can watch one with my daughters sitting nearby and not worry that the host will begin cursing or initiate a discussion of home design for deviant sexual practictioners featuring a lot of whips and torture equipment hanging from the walls.

Even though I don't seem to be practicing what they're preaching at me, my many hours of home improvement TV watching over the years has built up an impressive trove of remodeling wisdom in my brain. The tips and tactics given out by the hosts of these shows tend to revolve around the same dos and don'ts. As a public service for those of you who don't want to devote the same amount of time to watching home improvement shows as I have, I offer these lessons I have learned.


1. The most exciting and satisfying part of remodeling a home is not dreaming about possible changes, or buying new furnishings and fixtures, or watching new things being built and installed, or surveying the completed remodel with the satisfaction of a job well done. The most exciting and satisfying part, by far, is being able to take a sledgehammer and viciously pound all of that old, tacky wood and plaster and tile and laminates and sheetrock to a dusty pulp as part of the initial demolition progress (the “demo,” in HGTV-speak). It never fails – when mild-mannered homeowners are handed a sledgehammer and told to go to town, their eyes begin to glow and their resulting cheek-to-cheek Joker grins make them look as if they were being given the keys to Fort Knox. Their utter delight in completely demolishing everything in their path is palpable.

2. Textured ceilings, known derisively on home improvement shows as “popcorn” or “cottage cheese” ceilings, are considered the spawn of the devil, and must be removed immediately by any homeowner with a mite of good taste. If Joan Crawford was still alive, her maniacal admonition to her terrified children would no longer be “No wire hangers!,” but instead, “No popcorn ceilings!” If you are unlucky enough to still have popcorn ceilings in your home (as I am), you might as well also have red shag carpeting, inflatable furniture and a disco ball hanging in the living room, since nothing apparently identifies you as a taste-deficient 1970s holdout loser as those little pebbles on your ceilings.

3. Wallpaper is so 70s and 80s. The textured and mirrored kind is the tackiest, but even the more benign stuff is now patterned poison. You must rip it off the walls wherever it exists or risk social ruin.

4. Once looked upon as the flooring of poor people who couldn’t afford wall-to-wall carpeting, hardwood floors are now tres chic. If you don’t already have hardwood floors or can’t afford to install them, you must at least install cheaper modern laminates that mimic hardwood flooring. Carpet, while not totally out of style, must be used very sparingly, in back rooms only if possible, and must never be in any color brighter than beige or tan. Carpet in any colors used by an NFL team on their jerseys or by the Wiggles are definitely out.

5. Countertops must either be made of rock, or be cleverly designed to resemble rock. Granite or marble is preferred, quartz or even concrete is okay, but formica and wood are definitely out. Your kitchen and bathroom counters should be as hard and cold as those slabs in the morgue you put dead bodies on, as a general rule.

6. If you are to have any chance to sell your current house in this tough housing market (it’s always a tough housing market, no matter where or in what price range you are), you must “stage” your house first to make it attractive to potential buyers. In a nutshell, staging a house involves removing enough of the stuff inside as possible to make it look as if no one actually lives there. Any hints of personality (dismissed as “clutter” by house stagers) must be removed and either thrown away or stored temporarily somewhere off-site. What items must go? Any personal photos or mementoes, books and magazines, souvenirs, collectibles, DVD or CD collections, toys and games, excess or out-of-season clothing, pet feeders, pet beds and chew toys, wall hangings and anything else that looks as if someone might actually pick it up and use it. This will leave furniture (which will be weeded out as well) and possibly a potted fern or two. The goal should be to make the public rooms of your house look like the lobby of a nice hotel that isn’t visited very much.

7. When it comes to fixtures, shiny polished brass and aluminum are out. The preferred finishes are pewter or nickel, with bronze or antique brass running a distant second.

8. Wall-to-wall paneling is great, if your goal is to emulate the lifestyle of Archie Bunker. Otherwise, it is the second generation to popcorn ceilings as spawn of the devil. You must either remove it (preferable), or, if that is impractical, you must paint over it to hide its wood-panel-ness. The only type of paneling ever allowed is that very expensive stuff found in the libraries of big castles in Europe. If you can’t afford that, then don’t even consider buying or keeping paneling.

9. It might force you to sell one of your children to slave traders, but if you haven't already you must switch out all of your current kitchen appliances for stainless steel ones. Kitchens and bathrooms sell a house, we are told over and over again, and nothing will make a potential buyer begin drooling (or make your friends begin drooling in envy) than to spy a kitchen that looks somewhat like an industrial meat locker. If you can’t afford stainless steel, then your appliances must be either black (the preferred second choice) or white (just barely an acceptable wild card). Appliances must never, ever, ever be any other color, or you might as well move to Hooterville.

There's one final thing these TV shows have taught me, and it concerns either selling your house or buying another one. If you live in many parts of the Midwest or the South, you can still buy a fairly nice home with a reasonable amount of room for a reasonable price, say, under $200,000. If you live in New England, a big city on the East Coast or anywhere on the West Coast, even a two-bedroom, one-bath shack with termites, a bad foundation and a backyard that looks like a trash heap will cost at least half a million dollars – or more, if the popcorn ceilings have already been removed.

No comments: