Saturday, June 23, 2018

Watch This

Perhaps it won't surprise you to learn that I've gone through a spate of home-show binging and I've got a type. For my money, the show's gotta be:
  • Architecturally-motivated, which is to say the presenter is an architect/engineer or there's one on stand by in each episode.
  • Either entirely focused on the finished product (which is generally rather architecturally dramatic) or the in-depth renovation / restoration process. Anything flip-oriented, cheap-and-cheerful or DIY is of no interest. If the presenter's claim to fame is painting shit and making papier-mâché gizmos that hide crappy work, I run screaming.
  • Preferably English because North American home-show presenters are the bottom of the barrel, IMO, and yes I am casting aspersions on the majority offerings of HGTV.
In case you're looking for a few options that go really well with knitting and wine, may I suggest:
  • This Old House (the restoration standard and the American in the bunch)
  • The World's Most Extraordinary Homes (absurd eye candy!)
  • Grand Designs (this one will give you heart palpitations from the stress, in a good way)
  • I Own Britain's Best Home (this is really old but it only just made its way to my Netflix, note: it's the iffiest of the bunch but there's an Australian version too!)
  • Amazing Spaces (I have an unnatural affinity for George Clarke and his sidekick, who really is the brains of the team)
I actually learned about Grand Designs from my parents, cuz it's avail on US Netflix but not in Canada. Mind you, CBC runs the full 14 seasons for free, just sign up. When I was visiting for my mother's birthday, in the spring, they bamboozled me into watching it with promises of wine and popcorn. I was not excited by the prospect but, man, they hooked me by showing me the perfect first episode called North London (Season 11, episode 2), about a couple (the woman is an actor, the guy ran his own business till he sold it to pay for the freakin' reno gone rogue) who undertake the most INSANE of projects ever. BTW, I don't like the end result but the story arc is amazing. They have to negotiate 17 party-wall agreements before beginning the project and just the land - which has no street front - cost about a million bucks CDN. There's also another episode in this season where 2 London guys move to the country and make the most beautiful home (60,000 pound window - and by that I mean pounds sterling, not the imperial version of weight) while simultaneously developing a working farm and creating a craft brew business (Newbury, Season 11, episode 9). It's mind-blowing what people can accomplish.

It took us 2 hours to get through the North London episode because I literally forced my parents (with the power of my shrillness) to stop it every 2 minutes so that I could yell at the television set. I mean, we got through at least a bottle of wine between the three us during that time frame. Most of the time my ranting was a riff on: OMG, I had that happen! That boulder thing - check. That zoning issue - check. That moronic engineering error - check. That foundation disaster - check.  That thing with the builders, oy vey - check. The main distinctions between my experience and theirs is that they were living seriously low-brow during the years of construction (one room, two babies) and their project was triple the size and scope of ours. I sense I've experienced the microcosmic version of this process, but I aim not to come out of it in a similar fashion. (As I understand it from internet stalking, they have since divorced and sold the house.)

All of the shows I've suggested have one thing in common: each of the renovators/restorers, at some point, in some way (large or small) articulates that (s)he is utterly compelled by the project. Each guest acknowledges that this presupposes some sort of insanity because, to a one, s(he) is all too aware of folly that simply cannot be repressed. Each is there on the basis of one thing over all else: sacrifice and the compulsion to restore a part of history, or to assert vision that can't slumber in the margins of one's mind. As you can imagine, Scott isn't much enjoying the reno either, but he tells me frequently about how relevant he feels.

When I watch a good home show I see imagination transformed into action. It's so joyful to watch people express themselves through their quirky decisions, even when I hate those decisions. I don't frequently relate to the creative choices of others but, no question, Scott and I are in the same crazy club. We're people who don't have the good sense to enjoy the weekends (or weeks or mornings or evenings or vacations or anything really) because we're chasing, dare I say realizing, the dream. People who renovate have one thing in common and it's not spendiness or fortitutde or talent or unified vision. It's confidence. It's the arrogance of believing that we're more than the forces with which we must conflict continuously. These shows pull you along for that amazing journey. Do tell me what you think of them!


  1. I love TOH, but I'm not normally much into home renovation shows. I will plan the hell out of a project and I'm not scared to get dirt under my nails or swing a hammer, but I'm not into watching other people do it for the most part.

    I do enjoy doing projects though. Our most recent project was an elevated deck last fall. It's about 6 feet off the ground and it cost a relative fortune (we used composite--ain't nobody got time to mess around refurbishing cedar!) and it's just gorgeous. And being able to look at it and say "I did this" is so incredibly awesome. Next up? One of the bathrooms.

    1. Ha! You know, now that I'm in the process of doing it (albeit not with the nails in the wall - but pretty well everything but!) I would MUCH rather watch it on TV :-)

      Our deck, which doesn't exist yet, will be made of composite too. When you live in our climates, you don't have time to refurbish cedar yearly, and then to discard it when it falls apart altogether.

      Giving you good bathroom reno vibes. In the scheme of things, I think bathrooms are fun. You can shut the door when you need to.

  2. We watched some of the World’s most extraordinary homes! It was fun, though I don’t think I would’ve cared to live in any of them. I’m so glad you found a bit of catharsis though!

    1. Secretly, neither would I - too much space to care for! (OK, though, I'm totally down with the one in Greece.) Also, I almost love the presenters more than what they're presenting. Particularly Caroline Quentin!

    2. Yes, the presenters were totally fun!!!

  3. Restoration Home (BBC production mostly available on YouTube) is also a good series. Listed homes being restored from rotten hulls. Much drama about dry rot and even one home with death watch beetles!

    1. Oooh thanks for this intel. I will look it up!!

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