10 Revealing Facts About Trading Spaces
In 2017, TLC announced that it was reviving the show that put the network on the map: Trading Spaces. The home improvement show was a ratings juggernaut for the network from 2000 to 2008, netting 9 million viewers per episode at its peak.
It succeeded with a simple premise: Two couples would trade houses, each helping an interior designer redecorate a room in the swapped home. They had just 48 hours and a $1000 budget. Then, the new room would be revealed to the homeowners. Some jumped with joy, others cried loudly offscreen. Now, all that drama is set to return this weekend. But before Ty Pennington dusts off his toolbelt, here are 10 fast facts about the original series.
1. IT WAS BASED ON A BBC SHOW.
Trading Spaces shook up both TLC and reality television when it premiered on October 13, 2000. But its concept wasn’t all that revolutionary. It was actually borrowed from the BBC show Changing Rooms, which ran from 1996 through 2004. On Changing Rooms, two couples also swapped homes to complete a quick interior redesign. There was even a breakout carpenter. Ty Pennington’s UK equivalent was “Handy” Andy Kane, who went on to record a super cheesy cover of “If I Had a Hammer.”
2. PAIGE DAVIS WAS NOT THE FIRST HOST.
Although she’s probably the person most associated with Trading Spaces, Paige Davis was not the show’s original host. Alex McLeod hosted the first 40 episodes and earned a Daytime Emmy for her work. But she quit the DIY series to pursue other projects, including Joe Millionaire.
3. THERE WAS A SECRET CARPENTER.
Besides Davis and its stable of designers, Trading Spaces boasted two other personalities: the carpenters. The originals were Pennington and Amy Wynn Pastor, but the pair weren’t churning out all that woodwork themselves. There was actually a third unseen carpenter, Eddie Barnard. According to Salon, he handled some of the more intensive projects but was billed only as “prop master” in the credits. Pastor felt super guilty about taking credit for his work when she first joined the show. “Every single day at the end of the shoot, I’d say, ‘I’m sorry,’” she recalled.
4. THEY WERE SERIOUS ABOUT KEEPING THE DESIGNS SECRET.
Since Trading Spaces relied on genuine reactions (be they positive or otherwise), the crew took great pains to hide any clues that might tip off the contestants. Good Housekeeping reported that sheets were hung from the windows so no one could sneak a peek inside, and any paint splotches on clothing were covered with duct tape before a producer or crew member went over to the other house.
5. COUPLES WERE ALLOWED TO DESIGNATE “PROTECTED” AREAS.
Although countless angry couples would probably dispute this, executive producer Denise Cramsey told San Francisco Gate that their liability release forms included space to list “protected” areas. That obviously didn’t mean the entire room, but if you specified a door or piece of furniture, the designers allegedly wouldn’t touch it. If the form was blank, all your stuff was fair game.
6. THERE WERE THREE WAYS TO GET DISQUALIFIED.
At the height of its popularity, Trading Spaces got an average of 100 to 200 submissions daily. That meant the producers could afford to be a little choosy, but according to a former contestant, there were only three grounds for disqualification. The first was if the show’s tractor-trailer couldn’t pull up to the house or there wasn’t sufficient space outside for the carpentry. The second was if the owners refused to let the designers alter “many household items like the curtains, cabinets, flooring, or furniture.” The third was if it was more than a two-minute walk between the houses. The crew was constantly doing quick runs between the locations, so if your best friends lived the next neighborhood over, you weren’t getting onto the show.
7. FANS DISCUSSED THE SHOW ON MESSAGE BOARDS AND MADE A DRINKING GAME.
Trading Spaces was popular fodder on the emerging message boards of the early internet. Fans would post about their favorite episodes or defend their preferred designers. They also created a drinking game that included rules to take a drink every time “Ty climbs into cabinetry” or “someone mentions Genevieve’s bare feet.”
8. UNHAPPY COUPLES REDID THEIR ROOMS ALMOST IMMEDIATELY.
There’s a whole YouTube category of Trading Spaces “fails” or “hate it reveals” and, unsurprisingly, the homeowners in those clips did not keep their new rooms. Some couldn’t even wait 24 hours. In 2003, The Washington Post reported that Elaine and Bernie Burke ripped the burlap curtain in their redesigned bedroom off the next morning, throwing it in their yard to protect flowers from frost. April Kilstrom and Leslie Hoover had a much harder time: They were the miserable recipients of Hildi Santo-Tomas’s infamous hay room. The designer completely covered the walls of their living room, a space they shared with a toddler and baby, with strands of straw. According to San Francisco Gate, it took the partners and three other adults 17 hours just to strip all the glue.
9. SOME OF THE DESIGNERS STAYED ON TV.
After Trading Spaces ended in 2008, some designers (like Santo-Tomas) faded into relative obscurity. But a few stayed onscreen through new home decorating shows. Vern Yip appeared on HGTV’s Deserving Design and also served as a judge on the same network’s Design Star. Doug Wilson stayed on TLC as the host of Moving Up. Genevieve Gorder became a regular HGTV all-star, with credits including Dear Genevieve, Design Star, and Genevieve’s Renovation under her belt. She’s now a frequent contributor to The Rachael Ray Show.