When it comes to British daytime TV, there are certain genres that are simply taken for granted; stable, fundamental features of our television heritage without which we would be left with significant and lengthy gaps in the listings. Home Improvement shows are perhaps the very epitome of this, so ingrained in our consciousness that they have become, somewhat appropriately, a part of the furniture of our daytime viewing routines. From endless streams of repeated classics on channels both obscure and familiar to new transmissions of slightly tweaked but reliable formats, as one ends you can be sure that somewhere another is beginning. Whether the motivation for watching these shows is the hours of mindless viewing they provide, the comic relief in the occasional but inevitable innuendo (see “Phil Spencer: Secret Agent”…) or their economic relevance in today’s austere times, one thing is absolutely certain – there is never a shortage of tips on both how to improve your home or how to move house altogether.
But which show amongst this varied and abundant genre is the best home improvement show? Which show has stood the test of time or successfully reconfigured the reliable old format? Below is a collection of contenders, both old and new, to help answer this all-important question.
First up is Channel 4’s “Grand Designs”, a show which sees often rich property enthusiasts envisage and bring to life their dream homes in a process that is usually riddled with hiccoughs, stalls and temporary financial destitution. The designs (as well as the designers) are nearly always eccentric, outlandish and seemingly unfeasible, at least for most of each episode until it all slots together at just the right time. Hosted by Kevin McCloud, whose often abstract and rather philosophical observations rarely give much away, “Grand Designs” is not so much about home improvement as it is building an astronomically expensive home afresh. Nevertheless, the innovation it showcases could still inspire novel ideas for DIY within its many viewers – if not a burning sense of resentment towards rich and affluent architects.
Homes Under the Hammer
The BBC’s “Homes Under the Hammer” positions itself rather differently and is definitely a strong contender for best home improvement show. One of the longest running shows of its type, its recognisable theme tune has come to stand as something of a ubiquitous anthem for daytime TV. Its premise is centred on the concept of buying property at auction, with the aim being to buy a derelict but cheap “fixer-upper”, renovate it and sell or rent it for an eventual profit. The show features first-time home buyers as well as more seasoned property developers, and tracks the various home improvements they implement to increase the property’s value, alongside the inevitable hitches they encounter along the way. Though not quite as aggressive as its title may appear to suggest, “Homes Under the Hammer” has nevertheless hammered home the positive correlation between home improvement and property value for years, and as such continues to showcase useful tips and suggestions for those potentially looking to sell their home in today’s economic climate.
Sarah Beeny’s Selling Houses
A relatively new show on Channel 4, “Sarah Beeny’s Selling Houses” continues in a similar but somewhat more accessible vain than some of the other shows on the list. Renowned property developer Sarah Beeny offers three people attempting to sell their home the opportunity to look around each other’s property, and effectively suss out the competition. Each person is then given a £1000 budget to make improvements, and a week in which to do so. Sarah then presents the three properties to someone looking to buy, in the hope they will choose one of the three newly improved homes. The aim of the show is to widen the perspective of both those looking to sell and viewers’ alike, and encourage them to see their home as a prospective buyer would. Sarah’s often deadpan and ruthless critique of homes characterised by sentimentality and familial nostalgia is rarely well-received, but it nonetheless highlights the benefits of objectivity in improving one’s house for the purposes of selling it. Although those looking to buy rarely end up choosing any of the three properties they are shown, the programme still offers an insight into the overtly competitive nature of selling property and continues to substantiate the definite and useful link between home improvement and property value for those looking to negotiate the property ladder.
Although home improvement shows have become rather commonplace today and rarely inspire excitement, they still have their uses, and in that respect they still remain popular. Whilst they encompass the more extreme end of the spectrum with Kevin McCloud’s wealthy and innovative architects, they also retain a permanent sense of relevance that viewers can always relate to in one way or another. If taken on their most sincere level, they continue to instruct and advise viewers in what remains a tricky and difficult field to tackle. Yet they also continue to offer a source of entertainment that is easy to digest and engage with. Ultimately, when the genre is so broad and timeless, the position of ‘best’ home improvement show boils down to what a particular viewer is interested in. And despite their ubiquity, if we recall its revered ancestor, “Changing Rooms”, the godfather of all DIY programmes, the thought of them no longer gracing our screens surely seems too hard to bear.