Changing Rooms review – design so dreadful you’ll be scarred for life
I remember the time Linda Barker put up shelves to house a woman’s beloved teapot collection and they collapsed overnight, shattering every piece of china and the woman’s heart into a thousand pieces. I remember Anna Ryder Richardson framing unmistakeably French underwear to decorate the walls of a revamped room and the owner shouting, “Why would I want this shit in my room! I’ve got children!”
However. Those few minutes represent the full yield of genuine entertainment provided by 17 series of the makeover show Changing Rooms, which dominated the airwaves (a concept I’ll have to explain later, O infant roamers of the fragmented contemporary TV landscape) from 1996 to 2004. It was presented by Carol Smillie, who was tall and beautiful and owned all of Scotland’s teeth. Two sets of friends are allowed to redecorate a room in the other’s house with the help of designers such as the aforementioned Barker, Ryder Richardson and – above all – Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, along with “Handy Andy”, who led the carpenters, painters etc who did the actual work required to transfer the pure stupidity in their heads into three-dimensional stupidity that could be spray-painted and used to sit/sleep/cry on.
Now it is back. On Channel 4 rather than BBC Two, but in all other respects Changing Rooms is unchanged. Two rooms, no budget, the new presenter is even called Anna Richardson, and Laurence L-B is back to give us the full nostalgia rush. Or it may be the glue-gun fumes. Who’s to say?
The other designers are Jordan Cluroe and Russell Whitehead, dull foils to LL-B’s wit and charisma (which has become more genuine with age), and 2021’s Handy Andy is Tibby Singh. The makeovers – I have looked ahead – remain uniformly dreadful. In some ways, this is comforting. LL-B’s efforts in a Swansea sitting room result in what looks like a flamingo’s fever dream (not in a good way) and the bedroom a few doors down, done by Jordan and Russell, contains the most viscerally horrible piece of homemade “art” I have ever seen. It’s a – no, I can’t even type it. You will, I’m afraid, have to watch. And see it again every time you close your eyes thereafter. No more peace for you.
By the end of episode two, your Changing Rooms bingo card will be full to overflowing. There are room dividers, MDF panelling and feature walls. There is “colour!” being used to create “zones!” There is pink used in a room whose owner hates pink. There is spray-painting, “customising” (making plain, acceptable things into ornate, crappy things), gold leaf, and sticking flooring to walls in the name of innovation. I could go on, but I care about you.
For those not old enough for nostalgia, or who simply long to see things done competently by competent people instead of shows tossed together by and using people whose greatest talent is making a small piece of luck fill a hogshead of career, it’s hard to see the appeal of an unchanged Changing Rooms. Not only has design moved on but the bar has been raised. We have Etsy, Pinterest, Instagram and a thousand other displays of “ordinary” people’s creations – filled with beauty, idiosyncracy, style, innovation and far better ideas than stacking dado rails up a wall and calling it a feature. It just won’t do any more – will it?
On the other hand, Changing Rooms does rather fit in with our post-fact world. It is, after all, nothing but fictions that people choose to accept partly because the alternative (rudeness! To celebrities! In public!) is worse and because they come too thick and fast to bat away. No, MDF panels painted grey do not look like concrete. No, a mid-ceiling mural does not make the room look bigger by “drawing your eye away from the edges”. There is no such thing as “customised coach screws” and the swing seat they are holding is neither use nor ornament in the middle of a tiny sitting room. I can say this because the cameras aren’t in my face. And because all my internal dams were broken by the sight of A HAIR WALL. IT WAS A HAIR WALL. JORDAN AND RUSSELL’S THING WAS A WALL OF HAIR AND IT MADE ME WANT TO DIE. BE CAREFUL OUT THERE.