Growing up, we didn’t have cable. Up until about the tenth grade, I got by on a steady diet of Friends, Jeopardy and Survivor. So it was always very exciting when my aunt would bring over episodes of TLC’s Trading Spaces, recorded on VHS tapes, that my mom and I could then binge-watch (early-2000s-style), three or four episodes at a time.
That was my first exposure to home improvement TV, and I just loved it. Over the next decade and a half, I’d go through many more phases—Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Flip Or Flop, Fixer Upper and, most recently, the Netflix series that’s sweeping the nation: Tidying Up With Marie Kondo. Of course, I’m not alone in my desire to watch Fixer Upper’s Chip Gaines tear apart walls with his bare hands, or a tiny Japanese woman help people organize their houses in Tidying Up; the former is grossing, on average, 2.8 million viewers per episode in its final season, and the latter’s star, Marie Kondo, gained a whopping 350,000 Instagram followers in the week after her show’s airing.
Some fans of these shows happen to be home designers themselves. “They’re entertaining,” says Michael Tuck of Saratoga Springs-based Balzer & Tuck Architecture. “I watch them with my daughter—she loves them.” (Tuck says Fixer Upper is his personal favorite.) In addition to the new construction of both residential and commercial buildings, Tuck and his business partner, Brett Balzer, do a lot of work on “adaptive reuse projects”—that is, ones where additions and alterations are made to existing spaces. Despite being a fan, Tuck also sees home improvement shows for what they are: entertaining but unrealistic. “There’s always been a disconnect between the reality of time and money spent on projects and clients’ expectations, and those shows have really made things worse,” Tuck says. He cites Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, which during its nine-season run, flipped entire houses for families in just seven days. “There was one done locally, and people who worked on it just had to slap it together to get it to be done on time. That’s a bad expectation to set. I’d rather see people put more thought into the planning side of it, take the appropriate amount of time to do it and then allow the various workers to get through their stuff.”
The moral of this story? Just because Ty Pennington can make over a house in a week, doesn’t mean he should. And just because Marie Kondo can change the lives of her clients by tidying up their homes in a 40-minute episode, doesn’t mean that’s how long it really takes. Reinventing your home takes time.
Still, in between all that planning, tidying and renovating, it can’t hurt to take a break for some quality HGTV.