Trading Spaces was one of the most popular reality TV shows during its time on air. The show brought together two homeowning couples who would literally trade spaces with each other to redesign a room in the other couple’s house on a budget of $1,000 (that budget later got raised to $2,000). Sometimes those redesigns were absolutely perfect, and other times, couples ended up in tears. But the series always proved itself both emotional and entertaining. Who knew interior design was so interesting?
Trading Spaces set the bar for many series that followed and sparked an interest with American audiences with other shows about home remodeling and improvement. It also launched the career of Ty Pennington, who went on to become the host of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
There is still so much interest in the series that TLC plans on bringing it back, along with many of its original cast members, including host Paige Davis.
But all was not fairy sawdust and happiness on a series that seemed so innocuous. In fact, Trading Spaces had its share of scandals and secrets that not many people know about.
Here are 15 Dark Secrets Behind Trading Spaces You Had No Idea About.
15. Why original host Paige Davis was fired
Even a show as seemingly innocuous as Trading Spaces had its share of controversy. Host Paige Davis, apparently, had a scandalous history that many believe got her fired from the series in 2005. After her firing, TLC announced that the show would not have a host.
It all started in 2004, when there was a report of Davis stripping for charity. Then there were rumors of a “adult” tape later that year. Although TLC never offered a reason for Davis’ firing, the timing of it, in January the following year, meant that these two incidents may be the reason for her losing her job. Interestingly enough, the rumoredtape never appeared anywhere, and may have not actually ever existed. But rumors have a way of becoming belief, and Davis’ reputation suffered for it. The show just wasn’t the same without her.
14. Some rooms had bad designs deliberately for ratings
When considering some of the room designs that ended up on the show, fans had to wonder if those horrible rooms weren’t intentionally done to make the couples cry so that the series would feature a lot of drama. Consider the blood red room or any room done by Hildi Santo-Tomas, for example. In fact, the bad rooms are the ones that viewers are still the most likely to remember.
Homeowner Susie Molnar was one of those who ended up with a room that made no sense. Candles all around in a home with an 18-month-old baby? “They kept telling me ‘controversy makes good TV,'” she said.
13. Ty Pennington sued
Everyone’s favorite carpenter with the winning smile and charming attitude, Ty Pennington, got hit by a lawsuit in 2003 from a builders group in Oklahoma when he failed to appear for an event that he had signed on for. The suit claimed that Pennington signed a $15,000 contract to make an appearance at the Oklahoma House Beautiful Event at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City.
What was Pennington’s excuse? He had a conflicting agreement with ABC (probably due to his filming schedule with Extreme Makeover: Home Edition). The Central Oklahoma Home Builders Association asked for more than $22,000 in damages.
12. Copied a British TV show
Although the concept behind Trading Spaces seemed novel when it aired its first episode in 2000, the truth is that the series was not actually an original idea. In fact, the show got its plot concept from across the pond.
The BBC had a series called Changing Rooms, which was a reality show with a host that had the same premise: two couples switch houses for a few days to renovate a room in each home with the help of a designer. That show aired from 1996 to 2004 in the UK. There was one major difference between the two shows, though: the budget for Changing Rooms was considerably smaller, making it even more of a challenge for the homeowners and designers. Or maybe the cost of living was just higher in the U.S. at the time.
11. Vern Yip didn’t want to do the show
Trading Spaces fans couldn’t imagine an episode without designer Vern Yip, but the truth is that Yip almost didn’t do the show. That’s surprising considering that Yip is easily the designer fans loved the most – he always delivered a perfect room, even on a tight budget.
Yip got the offer to appear on the series right after winning the Southeast Designer of the Year award, so he didn’t think that doing a reality show was for him. He also didn’t need the money. But producers eventually wore him down.
“I finally decided to do it, because I really loved that it was the first show to say great design shouldn’t just be relegated to the top of the socio-economic ladder — it should be available at all price points,” Yip told House Beautiful.
10. Designers ignored what the couples wanted
Once couples got chosen for the series, they wrote down a list of ideas for their room renovation, as well as detailed out things like favorite colors and styles in a questionnaire. This went into an informational packet that also included a videotape with footage of the room for the designers to look over. Except that some designers completely ignored this information and never looked at the packets because they didn’t really care what the homeowners wanted.
“They felt the video tape and questionnaire were too constricting and thought if these people wanted to hire designers, then they should do that,” Yip said. “But since they signed up for this show, these designers weren’t going to be creatively constrained.”
9. Many unhappy couples that redid their rooms after the show
As previously mentioned, many couples were not happy with the final renovations of their rooms. Some hated the redesigns so much that they turned around and undid all that work almost immediately, redoing it in the way that they originally wanted (or reverting it back to its original design). One only needs to go on YouTube and search for “Trading Spaces fails” to find extensive video footage of couples who hated what they ended up with.
In 2003, one couple announced that they loved their room on air, but on the day after the renovation, they started ripping curtains off windows and throwing things out. Then there’s the infamous “hay room” incident: those owners spent 17 hours ripping glue and straw off of their walls.
8. There was a third secret carpenter
Considering how little time that the couples, designers and two carpenters had to completely renovate a room, Trading Spaces made home renovation look like a miracle. The truth is that a lot of what viewers saw was just television magic: there were other people working behind the scenes, including a third carpenter.
Yes, Ty Pennington and Amy Wynn Pastor had another helper than fans never got to see. This was Eddie Barnard, who only ever appeared in the show’s credits as a “Props Master.”
The truth is that both Pennington and Pastor took credit for much of the work that Barnard did. At first, Pastor once admitted that she felt guilty when Barnard did some of the more intensive work, even apologizing to him at the end of each work day.
7. Designers had to pay when they went over budget
It’s really hard to completely renovate part of a house for a measly $1,000 (later $2,000), but the Trading Spaces team made it look possible. The truth is that projects often went over budget, and, originally, producers made designers pay whatever extra amount they went over.
Later on in the series, though, this rule changed: anything that went over budget had to get tossed out of a room. This kept designers on their toes, although the always prepared Yip had a back-up plan. “I spent a lot of time at the Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware and Crate and Barrel outlets,” he said. “I would end up buying anything I thought had good bones and would keep it in the room with a receipt taped to it.”
6. Low-quality supplies
Renovating an entire room on such a low budget has its downside: it meant that many of the products that the Trading Spaces team used were cheap and didn’t hold up well. It also didn’t help that the designers and carpenters had such a limited amount of time to convert a space into something else.
One homeowner, Kim Riggles, loved her new kitchen, but later complained that the seat cushions used in the room “pretty much disintegrated” quickly. Riggles went on to interview other couples that appeared on the show. “The designers are working with cheaper products, cheaper fabrics to stay within budgets,” she wrote, as reported by Fame 10. “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.”
5. One couple was so upset at the changes that the designer had to hide in the closet
Part of the fun of watching Trading Spaces was the drama created when couples didn’t like what happened to their home renovations. Watching couples cry over their ruined rooms is part of what made the series so watchable (and why it was so highly successful, because having nothing but happy couples doesn’t get the ratings).
There was one particular couple, though, that were so upset that they continued to rant even after production turned off the cameras. “I remember one time the people were so upset by what they saw that production had to hide the designer in the coat closet in the foyer and sneak her out of the house,” Yip said.
4. How to get disqualified from the show
Although it seemed unlikely, there were actually some very specific rules about appearing on Trading Spaces. That meant that couples could get themselves disqualified from the show in one of three ways.
One of those ways is if the show’s tractor-trailer could not get close enough to the house or if the house didn’t have enough space to set up for the construction work. The second way was if a couple refused to let the team change things like curtains, furniture, cabinets and flooring. The third rule for disqualification is if the two couples lived far apart: the production team needed the ability to only spend around two minutes walking from house to house.
3. Carter Oosterhouse sued a company over the use of his face
Carter Oosterhouse does have a handsome face, and it seems that he is very well aware of that. He is also very protective of the use of his face by other entities.
In 2012, the carpenter sued a company called World of Floors for using his image without his permission. He claimed that his contract with the company was for only using his mug in ads airing in Michigan, but that the company ran ads with his face in other states, too. He also described himself in the suit as a” handsome and wildly popular TV personality.”
2. The show was not an instant success
Although Trading Spaces eventually went on to become a huge hit, it wasn’t originally much of a success. TLC was still a new network and struggling to find its place on cable television. So when it came to airing Trading Spaces, the network didn’t really seem to know what to do with it.
The series aired in the late afternoon on weekdays and in the mornings on weekends, which are hardly good programming slots. It only brought in about half a million viewers for each episode.
After a few years, though, the show moved to an 8 p.m. time slot and found its footing. By then, it reached about nine million viewers per episode. The New York Times began hailing it as “TLC’s prime-time jewel.”
1. Trading Spaces brought Paige Davis back right before it was quietly canceled
One of the things that really hurt Trading Spaces was the firing of Paige Davis, after which the series went through a strange period of trying to reimagine itself. The problem is that viewers really didn’t want that reimagining.
TLC threw everything it had into the show, and brought in some crazy concepts, such as the “Hipster edition” episode, which pretty much sent the series off the rails.
TLC also had problems defining itself as a network, spending years trying to rebrand itself. The network got desperate and asked Davis to come back as the show’s host, but her returned time on the series was short-lived. Trading Spaces was already on its last legs, so she came back only to see the series get quietly axed by TLC.
Does a particular bad Trading Spaces makeover stand out in your mind? Sound off in the comments!
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