TV shows about renovations are seductive. We feel anxiety when seeing that home remodeled in an unimaginable way, providing a family reconnection with the new space. The tears at the end, the host-architect-contractor satisfied with the result, intact wooden floors, shiny appliances, and bathtubs ready to be used. It is no wonder that these programs are reaching an ever-increasing audience and, consequently, inspiring many transformations in other people's homes.
But if, on the one hand, they encourage viewers to change by showing the infinite possibilities of transforming and improving a space, on the other hand, they can reproduce misconceptions about architecture, especially concerning the conception and execution process.
Renovation shows portray design and construction as a linear, fast, and objective process. However, the reality is not quite like that. Those in the field know that each project portrayed in 40 minutes in real life takes an average of 6 months to complete. In other words, a lot has already happened before the first sledgehammer hit the wall. There were several meetings between the architect and the client to define the project, research on legislation, legal criteria for project approval, search for qualified labor, analysis of available materials, etc. These steps can result in other conditions that affect project design, leading to revisions and design changes.
Far from ready-made scripts and rehearsed speeches, real-life architects don’t always have all the answers and solutions at their fingertips. Often, projects must be stopped and reviewed calmly so that decisions can be made. Another issue is that the architect, contractor, interior designer and decorator are unlikely to be the same person. They are distinct disciplines and their responsibilities are different. This confusion leads to the concealment of an important task, which is team management and alignment, which takes time and requires a lot of work and organization.
Based on renovation shows, many clients search for architects with a distorted idea regarding work time due to a lack of knowledge of these and other aspects. Many imagine that the work will be done in the blink of an eye, calculating response times as fast as reality shows. Furthermore, they are impressed when they realize that – with rare exceptions – there will not be that moment of revelation in which the client says “wow” and cries. That is because the architect will keep them involved and updated throughout the design and construction process, always aligning expectations and new demands that may arise. After all, the customer is paying for it.
Another issue with renovation shows that contrasts with real life are construction costs. First, it is important to consider when (year) and where (country) the project was built. However, that is not all that is at stake. Even in the United States, where most of the most popular shows are filmed, many architects have reported the discrepancy from real life, as television producers often shy away from the most expensive houses, targeting a relatively cheap market, which also affects all other costs. In addition, of the three factors that most influence the budget – preparation, material and labor – the first, which concerns technical and structural inspections, licenses from public bodies, etc., are rarely included in the final presentation. In the case of materials and labor, one of the advantages of partnering with a broadcaster also includes good business with material suppliers - products made by sponsoring brands are used, or even generic brands that allow quick and cheap installation. Likewise, labor costs are drastically reduced by special television rates in exchange for national advertising. In short, the prices seen on the shows have little or no relation to reality.
And finally, in addition to the issue of time and budget, they become aesthetic and conceptual references when imported to other countries. The language, materials, and techniques used are often not compatible with the reality of these new places. At this moment, the flexibility and creativity that the architect needs to have to consider the client's aesthetic preferences while respecting the context come into play.
Like any other TV show, makeover reality shows are part of the entertainment industry and should be seen as such. Translating them into the professional realm needs to be done carefully. Although they can be a great source of inspiration and motivation, often helping to value the work of architects by emphasizing improvement in spaces, they also tend to spread distorted information about the reality of a renovation, making it an eye-opening experience for clients. Not always in a good way.