For a good dozen series, Dermot Bannon’s Room to Improve has been an unstoppable televisual behemoth, second only to Glenroe as a quintessential Sunday night experience in Ireland.
Yet with series 13 wrapping up tonight, you might be forgiven for thinking that the jewel in RTÉ’s property show crown is losing its sparkle a little.
Pared back to six episodes (series 12 had eight, if you include the two-parter on Bannon’s own house renovation), the current season failed to snare the glorious ratings of old.
Episode one saw a respectable average audience of 536,200 watched across RTÉ One and RTÉ One+1, beating both The Late Late Show and The Tommy Tiernan Show.
A week later, that figure had dipped to 427,400 watching on the same channels – some way off the 722,000-odd viewers that tuned in to see Daniel O’Donnell’s home renovation episode back in 2018.
Viewers have taken to social media to voice their opprobrium more than once during the broadcast of the current series. The figures, it would seem, no longer add up.
Last weekend, Thurles couple Jim and Mary Moloney were told by a flabbergasted Dermot that their €150,000 renovation budget was on the tiny side ("It's very ignorant and condescending for Dermot to say 'tiny budget'. They probably worked extremely hard for years to save that money,” one Twitter user remarked).
A week before that, Hilary and Paul fared especially well with their modernising of a five-bedroom home by Blessington Lakes. Their budget was an eye-watering €525,000 – a budget that many viewers could only aspire to accessing to buy a home, never mind renovate one.
By now, Room to Improve has fallen into a careworn pattern. Bannon offers advice and suggestions to homeowners that can soon turn into full-blown flights of fancy. The people who actually have to live with his ideas day in day out (and pay through the nose for them) entertain his architectural peccadilloes with wry smiles – a zinc roof here, a green kitchen there – until the ‘tension’ is swiftly smoothed over and the project is completed.
The clients are also taken to a property that’s an eye-popping exemplar of what they hope to achieve. If architect and client are on the same page style-wise the only drama left to be manufactured is around whether the budget spirals out of control. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t.
Whatever the complications of the journey, the end results are always pleasingly glossy. The picture windows and glass rooms – a Bannonism if ever there was one – are almost always present and correct. Ditto the sleek dark-panelled kitchen, the marble countertops, the huge kitchen island, the mid-century furniture, the low-hanging lamps. Yes, if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all – and we’ve seen 13 series’ worth by now.
Property porn is practically a national pastime, yet twitching the curtains to see into other homes and being left green with envy is a very different prospect now than it was in 2018.
In a moment where Generation Rent can only despair at the impossibility of buying a property, and most other people are feeling the current cost of living giving their bank accounts a good strangle, Room to Improve isn’t quite the lovely escapist experience it once was.
Granted, there are other property shows that cater to the more modest home project, among them Ireland’s Cheapest Homes and Home Rescue.
Room to Improve has always been on the more extravagant side of the scale, but we have somehow arrived at a point where it’s becoming a visual reminder of what most of us can never hope to achieve.
Though every client on the show is certainly likeable, normal, relatable, it’s still a sobering prompt of the great chasm between the haves and have-nots. And if you’re in the latter camp – a faction growing by the day – Room to Improve’s stunning properties can feel like an exercise in self-flagellation.
Their “if it ain’t broke” approach has evidently stood the Room to Improve team for years. But let’s be fair, “if it ain’t broke” should be approached with caution amid a change of winds, especially when it comes to the housing market.
A word in your shell-like, Dermot – Room To Improve is some way off going entirely off the boil, but next time, let’s see the magic you can achieve with a five-figure renovation budget, one that feels at least vaguely accessible to the majority of your viewers. That, truly, would be showstopping stuff.