The untold truth of Trading Spaces

Two days. $1,000. The ultimate trust in your neighbors. What do those three things create? One of our favorite shows from the early 2000s. Trading Spaces first aired in October 2000. The show followed two sets of neighbors who get to have a room in their homes fully renovated at no cost to them. What’s the catch? They can’t see the changes until they are done. Oh, and they aren’t just sitting and waiting for it to be complete. The homeowners assist with their neighbor’s renovations while those neighbors are helping with theirs. The show continued for eight years until TLC made the decision to cancel, with the final episode airing in December 2008. Those eight years were full of not just renovations, but plenty of behind-the-scenes fun facts and a few conflicts, too. Let’s take a look behind the curtain of one of our favorite original reality shows.

Trading Spaces wasn’t an original idea

We all have fond memories of watching Trading Spaces, and many have thought this was the first show to focus on home design and renovation, but this is not the case. The plot is actually based on a British show called Changing Rooms, which aired on BBC from 1996 to 2004. The show had the same premise of two sets of neighbors renovating a room in each others’ homes with the help of a designer. There is a big difference between the two, though. According to the Chicago Tribune, the designers of Changing Rooms tended to keep a smaller budget, sometimes making over a room for just $800. The article also mentioned fan-favorite carpenter Handy Andy, whose reactions helped keep viewers entertained. Could Andy be better than Trading Spaces‘ lovable Ty Pennington? The jury is still out on this one.

Homeowners did have a small say over design

One of the best parts of Trading Spaces was the homeowners’ reactions to their newly renovated rooms. Will they love the changes? Will there be tears (happy or sad)? It was always assumed, based on the show’s plot, that the homeowners had to have blind faith and completely give over their rooms, accepting any changes that came their way. But according to Trading Spaces executive producer Denise Cramsey, this isn’t entirely true. She told SFGate that each couple on the show signed a liability release form, and that form included an area where homeowners could list what’s “protected.” This essentially meant that designers would not be able to mess with any element in the room that was included on the protected list. Speaking about a specific couple who later complained about the changes to their room, Cramsey said, “April and Leslie wrote nothing on the form.”

You could be disqualified from the show

Once a couple sent in their hope to be one of the lucky few to have their room renovated by the popular Trading Spaces crew and got accepted, they were definitely in, right? Wrong. According to Good Housekeeping‘s decorating editor, Susan Leaderman, who actually had the chance to be part of one of those coveted couples, the show required a few more must-haves from the homeowners. Leaderman said that the show’s tractor trailer required enough space to pull up near the house. The trailer included all of the carpentry tools that helped create new looks for the rooms. And as for that list of “protected” things homeowners were allowed to make — well, they couldn’t include too many items. Trading Spaces‘ executive producer told Leaderman that a couple could be disqualified if they refused to let the show alter many items in the room. Another deal breaker for the show? Location. If the neighbors’ homes were more than a two-minute walk from each other, they may have been disqualified. Leaderman said the reasoning behind this was that the designers and film crew needed to be able to go back and forth from one home to another quickly.

Homeowners’ shocked reactions were no act

There was no acting when it comes to homeowners’ reactions to their newly renovated rooms. These were real people with brand new rooms they had very little say in. Leaderman told Good Housekeeping that the show took special care to ensure she couldn’t see what was happening in her home. “They hung sheets on the windows and other shielding mechanisms around our homes. In fact, when the producer from my home makeover went to my neighbors’, even the paint splotches on her clothing were covered with duct tape so I couldn’t see the colors being used.” She compared the two-day experience to being under “house arrest.” Couples didn’t even know who the designer working on their home was until the first morning of filming.

And what if your neighbor knew your tastes and wanted to help give advice and lessen the chance of a terrified reaction? There’s a slim chance that advice would have been taken. According to a previous contestant who was on the infamous episode where designer Hilda “Hildi” Santo-Tomas included a hay-straw look on the wall, she couldn’t do anything to make a change. “The homeowners have no control,” Rhea Wisherop said. “They want us to say what we like or not, but it’s all their concept. I guess they want the shock factor. I did not say, I think my neighbor would like hay and straw on the wall.According to SFGate, all concepts were created and materials were purchased in advance, so any chance of changes wasn’t likely.

Makeovers may have had some TV magic

While the couples’ reactions may have been very real, the sophisticated look of the renovated rooms wasn’t necessary as accurate. Kim Riggles, who was on the show, later started writing follow-up interviews with fellow couples for the Trading Spaces website. She told the Chicago Tribune that she heard a lot about the materials used. “The designers are working with cheaper products, cheaper fabrics to stay within budgets… I hear the word cheap a lot; I’ve heard cheesy. A lot of people are fussing about paint jobs that are not finished and about inferior carpentry.” With just 48 hours to complete, it was hard to create perfection. And according to Good Housekeeping, normally designers and the couple didn’t even have a full two days. As Leaderman said, “Actually, it’s more like a day and a half. The filming must get done in time so that the ‘designer chat’ and the ‘beauty shots’ are completed for the final segment.”

Some homeowners scrapped the new design within days

It was always a challenge for the designers to create the perfectly renovated room for each couple, and sometimes they fell short of the couple’s expectations. Because of this, not every new room stayed intact. According to the Chicago Tribune, it took some couples less than 48 hours to completely undo the work that was done in their homes. For April Kilstrom, a contestant who appeared on the show, the removal of the renovations was a bit more difficult. The show had taken out her fireplace mantel, which the couple had hoped to keep. She told SFGate that the early estimate she got for adding the new mantel was $3,000. And it wasn’t just adding, but removing, that proved to be a challenge. Kilstrom was the homeowner with the well-known hay-straw wall. Kilstrom’s neighbor Rhea Wisherop told SFGate that the problems started right after the show left. “The baby the next day was gagging on the hay. We loaded [the bookshelf] up with books, and the next day it was pulling out of the wall. What if that fell on the kids?” Kistrom said it took 17 hours and five people to remove the glue from the wall.

The show and host had a complicated relationship

Some of the biggest news that came out of Trading Spaces had to be when Paige Davis was let go as host of the show back in 2005. According to The Washington Post, the network addressed the change by saying, “TLC is taking Trading Spaces in a new creative direction, transitioning to a ‘host-less’ format this spring.” They continued to describe the change, saying it “will enable the show to be more spontaneous, focus more on the homeowners and designers… Paige helped make Trading Spaces a great success for the network and we wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors.”

But after that change, ratings went down quickly. The new format wasn’t working with the audience. So, in 2008, Davis was back. However, she only agreed with a few conditions. “To not use a host was one of the more visible, destructive mistakes they made in terms of the fans,” Davis said to TV Guide. “I know what the fans love. And what they don’t like. They wanted the old show back. They wanted the theme music and the fast-motion overhead camera and the goofy antics. And they wanted the family back.” And that is exactly what Davis included within her conditions. First, she wanted the original designers to return. And next, she asked for the plot of the program to go back to the way it originally was. Two couples, two days, $1,000. Simple. The network agreed and Davis was back as the bubbly host.

From Trading Spaces to Broadway

Those years that Davis was not the host of Trading Spaces gave her the opportunity to get back to musical theater. In 2004, Davis joined the cast of Chicago on Broadway, showing off her singing and dancing skills. She also performed stints in a variety of other shows, including Sweet Charity and Beauty and the Beast, among other productions. And as recent as early 2016, we could still see our favorite host-with-the-most, as Davis was back in the Chicago production, performing the lead role of Roxie Hart.

The cast still hangs out

Each episode of Trading Spaces showed the designers, carpenters, and host goofing off and having a fun time, but was that just acting? Designer Genevieve Gorder put our minds at ease in an interview with TooFab, saying that their friendly banter was not just for the show. Even in 2016, the designers still kept in touch. Gorder said social media has made that a lot easier: “I still chat and hang with Ty and the entire production crew. I bump into Paige now and then in New York, too.” And then came Gorder’s most important statement: “I wish TLC would throw a reunion.” Yes, please!

And there’s more to come

The best news of all? Trading Spaces is coming back! TLC recently had its upfront presentation and, as reported by Deadline, the network spoke of the programming plans for the 2017-2018 season, and the beloved, old show is making a new appearance with brand new content. As TLC President and General Manager Nancy Daniels said, “We are thrilled to expand in this space, and what better way to do that than to bring back Trading Spaces, the series that put property on the map.” No news yet on dates or if past hosts and designers will return, but this news is plenty to get everyone excited for what’s to come.