When friends ask me if I’m enjoying the latest popular interior design or renovation TV programme, I usually have to take a deep breath before answering. They’ve asked an innocent question, but it’s one that taps into my frustration at how my chosen career is perceived and represented. Shows like Interior Design Masters can be lots of fun, but they don’t represent what most interior designers actually do.
That’s probably how it should be, as the reality wouldn’t make particularly gripping TV, but it can make for an emotionally complicated viewing experience.
The show vs reality
- It’s cheap and it’s quick!
What the contestants achieve with 48 hours and £1,500 is often visually astonishing (sometimes astonishingly bad…) but it would be unusual for an interior designer to undertake a project with such a tight timeline and budget as it is extremely difficult to achieve a quality, durable finish without spending enough time, money or both.
For us, the design process starts with considering the positioning of walls, joinery and furnishings – which sometimes results in structural or significant work that requires careful planning, consideration of the regulations, and engagement with specialists. A significant renovation takes months to plan and months to execute – but even when a job is ‘just redecorating’ we work with contractors who will spend weeks sanding and finessing to achieve a good decorating finish.
- It’s mostly paint and scatter cushions!
There is an idea that interior design is mostly about painting walls and arranging scatter cushions (and perhaps by implication that it’s not a proper job…). While we do a bit of that, those finishes are only a small part of creating a space that meets the practical and emotional needs of our clients.
Those details get a lot of focus in shows like this;
- The brief is usually more ‘staging’ than renovation – with limited opportunity or budget to move walls or change furniture, the contestants are inevitably reliant on paint and soft furnishings.
- Those details are visually striking, so get the most TV time.
- The contestants themselves run around painting and upholstering on site… we leave that to the professionals – you’ll only find us wielding a paintbrush to do ‘test swatches’ (or in our own homes…)
I do enjoy seeing the contestants do clever things with colour, pattern and mouldings, but while an inspired decorating idea can be very impactful, it is rarely the only thing that is needed to make a space really work.
- Drama and conflict!
The format (individual competition, but working in teams) is of course designed to create dramatic interest as the designers tussle over resources and the design direction.
Our job is not without drama but the source is usually something like a leaking pipe or a frustrated neighbour.
We do work in teams on projects – and make sure we’re all working to a cohesive design vision by appointing a lead designer who sets the brief for the team to work to. We allow time to collaborate on design reviews in which the wider team review the design and ask questions so we can make sure we are delivering solutions to our clients that are well considered and meet their brief.
- A glimpse of reality
All that said, there are glimpses of reality; The feedback and wisdom offered by Head Judge Michelle Ogundehin gives a taste of the complexity of doing Interior Design well;
- Giving proper consideration to the practical needs of the space as well as the aesthetic
- Taking a big picture view of how the layout and all the finishes work together rather than focussing on one feature.
- Paying attention to all the small details that contribute to that big picture.
- Looking beyond bright ideas or Interior Design trends to consider the impact that colour and texture have on how it feels to be in the space.
How the design shows stack up
So do I enjoy any Design Programmes? Of course!
My favourite of the crop is the stalwart Grand Designs. The story arc is usually comfortingly repetitive (naïve couple want to build enormous complicated house, underestimate time and budget, Kevin looks doubtful, couple get pregnant by surprise part way through, house gets finished with lots of compromises, the windows are all massive and don’t have curtains* Kevin loves the end result despite himself).
There is some representation of the difficulty of managing a project (including tricky permissions, supply shortages, and navigating the emotional impact on everyone involved). While I usually hate the interiors (too much glass, chrome and tile, huge ugly sofas and not enough storage), the projects are occasionally inspiring – for every 10 over-large vanity projects there is usually 1 modest, thoughtful design with an inspiring back-story and sustainable credentials.
I have tried watching Your House Made Perfect and I just can’t do it. The show does a good job of illustrating the impact of a new interior layout can make on a house but the budgets are often insanely small for the work proposed. Of course, we don’t get the detail of what is and isn’t included in the figure… and I sit there fuming while I imagine prospective clients watching it and then coming to us expecting to complete a significant renovation to a high standard on a tiny budget. That said, I’d love to see the technology involved become more accessible, as anything that helps clients to visualise how their new home will look is helpful in the design process.
I have fond memories of soon to be re-launched Changing Rooms – less an Interior Design show and more fancy dress for rooms with neighbourly conflict thrown in. Perhaps I have rose-tinted goggles, but it always seemed fairly realistic to me, in that the results of a few hundred quid and 48 hours with a few sheets of MDF and a glue gun were almost always as terrible as you’d expect. Pure guilty pleasure.
If you are considering renovating your home, and aren’t looking for the mdf headboard look, get in touch.
*This is a significant pet peeve of mine. Enormous full height south facing windows with no space above them for a blind or curtain. Ridiculous.