Room to Improve, we can safely say, is now a certifiable phenomenon. A ratings-winner for eight seasons, it’s made a star of architect Dermot Bannon (and quantity surveyor Patricia Power), sends social media bananas every week, and made us all experts on the importance of natural light in any “build”.
Now that it’s finished for the year, there’s a major gap in the schedules for another home improvement show. Enter Home of the Year, which began tonight. Will this replace Room to Improve in our affections? For me, no. The programme is perfectly enjoyable, but it lacks the things that made Dermot and chums stand head-and-shoulders above the million other shows in this genre.
Actually, the most crucial problem isn’t an absence but an inclusion. What I loved about Room to Improve was that there was no competitive element. Countless lifestyle shows are ruined by producers crow-barring in an unnecessary, and often annoying, 'contest'.
What’s wrong with just showing people producing beautiful food, or designing lovely clothes, or whatever the case may be? Why do creative types constantly have to be pitted against each other, as though they were athletes, their work judged on often spurious and always totally subjective grounds by designated 'experts'? Why not simply let the viewers make up their own minds?
Home of the Year, unfortunately, has chosen to make it into a contest. Three judges – interior designer Hugh Wallace, architect Declan O’Donnell, and homeware designer Helen James – run the rule over three homes each week.
They’re analysed and discussed (which is fine), then awarded votes out of ten (which is less fine) before each week’s 'winner' goes forward to a grand final (which is where I tune out, I’m afraid). Maybe the public really loves this cod-competition aspect; for me it’s silly and pointless.
The other great thing about Room to Improve is the interaction between Dermot and, well, everyone. A softly spoken but feisty character, Dermot tends to get embroiled in disagreements with home owners, Patricia, the builders, random passers-by, possibly even you the viewer at home – and it’s all thoroughly entertaining.
Home of the Year certainly has the potential for some good rows. I get the feeling that Hugh and Helen will come to form one faction, Declan the other.
He strikes you as sensible, practical, almost cerebral in his approach. They, meanwhile, seem more intuitive, subjective, wishy-washy – even, dare I say it, a bit spoofer-ish. We had all those well-worn phrases of the game (space, light, eclectic, element, what “works” for them) thrown out like confetti at the proverbial wedding.
But as I say, it was good fun. I’m a bit of a sucker for home improvement TV anyway; if nothing else, there’s something inexorably relaxing about looking at pretty fabrics and elegant designs. It hits the same neural pleasure-zone as wandering around Avoca or visiting a museum or manor house.
And I’m glad they picked the Tipperary space – sorry, house – as this week’s winner. The Kildare bungalow was very cool but a bit modernist and brutalist for my tastes. The Dublin terrace, then, wasn’t cool at all because they were trying way too hard to be cool, which is the least cool thing there is.
A bit more of the judges losing their cool, though, and we’ll really be able to settle into this new Home.
Home of the Year, Thursdays, RTE One, 8.30pm