Entertaining design improvements - Rob Felt

Twenty years ago the inside of an average home was quite drab and very much in need of selective splashes of hip. No one had ceiling fans or futuristic wall sconces. Helpless masses sat on faded tan couches wondering how to escape the endless landscape of design-depraved dwellings.

At least that's what current numbers for home improvement retailers and ratings for interior design television shows would lead me to believe. As a four-year-old I wasn't too savvy on trendy pads, but I can't imagine what people did before there was a Home Depot on every corner and a constant stream of design shows on the tube.

Where did you buy a gallon of paint? Who showed you that fabric, covering an entire wall, can look fantastic? Mom and Pop hardware stores, I guess, which have now been nearly replaced by the big chains. Did Mom or Pop stress that wooden furniture looks awful when painted black? (This is my own personal rule.)

According to their Web sites, Home Depot and Lowe's combine for almost 2,400 stores nationwide, and Lowe's claims to open a new location every three days. Do-it-yourself fun is around the corner for all Americans, and they do! How did they get by before these retail giants lumbered wood and nails from coast to coast?

Has this industry built Rome in a day by creating its own demand? The TLC network has no doubt helped to further the cause with the popularity of its kidnap-the-resident-and-remodel shows, which are sponsored by – that's right: Home Depot and Lowe's!

This genre of entertainment started in the U.K. with a BBC show called "Changing Rooms." It was quickly ported to America (like most of our television shows) and renamed "Trading Spaces." Same game, different accent.

Since then a pile of copies have mortared themselves into programming lineups and walled off hours of airtime. his trend originated on cable, but now that the craze is reaching its peak the networks are getting involved, surely indicating that the viewing public's attention hammer is pounding nails into this fad's coffin.

One of the more entertaining iterations is TLC's "While You Were Out," where friends and family trick a loved one away for a weekend and remake a room in their house. This show teaches you more about human interactions than design, and if the room isn't attractive the people will be.

Chief among them is the saucy Teresa Strasser, who hosted the first two seasons but has sadly left the show, freeing me from its vice grip. Strasser fires smirking witticisms at unsuspecting guests with the accuracy of a fully loaded nail gun, and she looks great up on a stepladder while painting the ceiling – I mean – ahem. She won an Emmy for her writing on the game show "Win Ben Stein's Money," and successfully carried over her Dust Bowl humor to the home improvement arena. Strasser knows dry corn better than an Indiana farm boy.

But how does all of this affect us, you ask?

A few months ago this beautification buzz convinced me to paint a few walls in my apartment. Eight hours and three fields of dark blue later, I'm much hipper and happier. After watching hours of design-improvement shows and passing countless hardware retailers I felt behind the times with white walls, and I was, but no more! What would I have ever done 20 years ago?

Rob Felt is the photographer for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or via e-mail at rfelt@henryherald.com.