Home and Garden doityourself.interiordesign.renovate.redecorate.lifestyle
cable empire is a perfect mirror for the American psyche. Enthusiastic
and naïve, presumptuous and individualistic, the channel panders
to the conceit that good design is simply a result of good ol' American
spunk. Like the mailroom boy of film mythology who leaps from pushing
envelopes to trading stocks in a single day-anyone can redecorate their
condo with a little advice and a few gallons of paint. But, as the only
"formal" education most viewers will ever receive in design,
it's as dangerous as learning about love from a sex-ed class.
even very good sex- one show blurs numbingly into another, until you
wake up in a tired bedroom next to a perky host planning a "South
Sea Island" theme makeover. Night after night, it's the same menu
of stainless steel and instant gratification.
HGTV teaches clients to want designs faster, cheaper, and more elaborate
than practical reality-or mere humans-can or should deliver. Experience
comes just after it's needed most, which is why the lessons of history
are best discovered in the classroom rather than on the battlefield.
And why it's best to learn about home renovation before taking sledge
to drywall. But what lessons are being taught on HGTV?
Apparently, good design isn't all that difficult. Quick and easy projects
conform neatly into half hour slots, forty eight times a day, seven
days a week. But the perennial struggle to harmonize cost, mission,
and aesthetics are rarely shown. Budget over-runs are seldom mentioned,
and when they are, clients gleefully absorb the expense. At least when
the camera's on. Perhaps hypnotizing clients under the glare of a camera
should be taught to every first year design student.
HGTV design has become a spectator sport complete with artificial rules
and arbitrary time constraints. We all know the pain of last minute
deadlines and late night charettes, but what message is HGTV sending
the public by asking a graduating student on Designer Finals
to redo a bedroom in 48 hours? That speed, surprise, and sloppy construction
are the ultimate goals? That all jobs can be accomplished equally well
In fact, almost no HGTV program touches on that most important of all
design skills: constructive criticism. One episode of Designer's
Challenge asks three landscape architects to resuscitate a scruffy
backyard. Five minutes later (in TV time), three foam core plans appear,
the clients are pummeled with samples and suggestions, and after a brief
message from our sponsor, the homeowners gush "each design was
beautiful and it was soo hard to decide. But we chose Frederick because
he really understood our needs". Which means the viewer learned
exactly nothing at all- not why one design was superior; not how to
check references; not how to compare cost to benefits. It's eye-candy
for the senses, rather than an education for the mind.
Design on a Dime creates a room divider from wall art assembled
out of place mats and chain, much to the admiration of the homeowner
in a set-piece of requisite "oohs and ahhs." It doesn't take
an artist to create art, and it doesn't take an architect to lay out
an apartment. Why should anyone pay hard cash for an original sculpture,
or hire a qualified architect, when Home Depot is down the street, and
a builder can stretch a roof over a floor plan? There is nothing wrong
with craft masquerading as art, except when it trains the public to
confuse hamburger with steak. And McMansions with Mies van der Rohe.
Must design always be a slave to entertainment?
networks, ER dramatically portrays the bone numbing tensions of an emergency
room doctor-no longer will Dr. Kildare benignly play god. Patients have
learned more about the practice of medicine, the value of second opinions,
and new surgical procedures from ER than they ever did in freshman biology.
CSI has glamorized microscopes and DNA to the extent that forensic science
is the hottest career of the decade, and innocent prisoners are being
freed from jail. But good design? On HGTV, it's still mired in the feel
good 50s, with fake controversies, easy answers, and small morality
plays. Somehow, the potential of design to improve society got plastered
under yet one more tumbled limestone backsplash.
the public, and teaching ourselves, is often best served through entertainment.
But how can we learn effortlessly without simultaneously creating false
intuitions and false expectations? The design community is partly responsible
for this murky state of affairs. We speak in an arcane, formal language
alienating the profession from the public. And we spend too little time
reaching out to the community-when is the last time you sat at Home
Depot offering a free "ask the designer" tutorial?
When you do, just be ready to lay out a bathroom in zero to sixty seconds.