Changing Rooms was a 90s DIY show like no other. After this year’s Australian Changing Rooms reboot crashed due to low ratings, Tara Ward relives the glory days of the UK original.
This year’s Australian reboot of Changing Rooms came and went from our screens quicker than you could turn a piece of MDF into a hanging shelf covered in vintage teapots. You could blame MAFS AU for the reboot’s low ratings, but anyone who’s ever admired a rag-rolled feature wall with a hand stencilled Roman frieze knows there can only be one Changing Rooms.
You should never mess with perfection. We had it in the 90s, and it looked a lot like this.
The original Changing Rooms was a tight and tense journey into the world of budget DIY, a whirlwind of creativity and design that was over in 30 minutes. Each episode saw two British teams of friends swap houses to makeover a room, aided by £500 and a professional designer with lofty ambitions and questionable taste.
Lives were about to be transformed. Friendships were at risk. What if it all turned to crap? “Eight years they’ve been living across the street, but next week, will they be borrowing a cup of sugar? Hmmmph!” asked host Carole Smillie.
Oh, Carol. Sugar was the least of their problems.
The budget was small, but the dreams were big. Often the designers got it right, but it was better when they didn’t. Carol kept popping in to say “what have you DONE?” and designer Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen was a law unto himself, but every episode stands as a magnificient, bewildering example of 90s creativity and ingenuity.
Changing Rooms leaned hard into the decade: from feature walls made of squares of sandpaper, to canopy beds draped in 14 layers of orange polyester, to inflatable furniture and CD racks screwed to lavender coloured walls. It gave us drama, it gave us chaos, it gave us dining tables covered in garden bark.
“Bring in the sequin chandelier! Get the church candles! I need more Granny Smith apples to decorate the top of the radiator cover!” the designers cried, while us regular viewers suddenly felt a lot better about our own bland, listless living rooms.
Walls of sandpaper, tables of garden mulch. What more do you need in a TV show? NOTHING.
The love for Changing Rooms was contagious, and the show rag-rolled its way to New Zealand in 1998. Our version featured designers like Sally Ridge and Donald Grant Sunderland, and we got so carried away we even did a UK-NZ version, with teams actually swapping hemispheres to destroy another person’s house.
Tragically, no evidence of Mitre 10 Dream Home exists online, which is a greater crime than the time Anna Ryder-Richardson sprayed some inflatable rubber rings silver and called them a design feature.
Let’s launch ourselves into the canopy bed of Changing Rooms memories, and relive why it was the best show to ever be made in the history of television.
The briefs were irrelevant
Homeowner brief: “I want 70s retro minimalist, but not really minimalist”.
Designer’s brief: “an interior that looks like the background of a Matisse, the early work where he did those very sexy, sweaty women lying on chaise loungers with shutters”.
The colours were incredible
Forget how well you could paint a cushion with a stamp whittled out of potato, the colour reveal was the defining moment for the makeover being a symphony or a shitfest.
“You wanted a restful bedroom, so I’m going with neon green,” the designer would say, jamming a screwdriver under a paint tin lid to reveal a colour palette that made teams either gasp in delight or recoil in horror. “With a bit more green,” revealing a second tin in a charming shade of bile, “and another shade of green” as they unveiled a third tone, probably called ‘This Will Burn Your Retina’. “And finally, for some lovely contrast, this wall will be covered in tangerine”.
In hindsight, the colours were always a bit shit. “It looks like what comes out of a newborn baby’s nappy,” said one team. Seems fair!
The DIY was extreme
“My best buy? This table cost £44! It’s made of reclaimed wood and then I glued garden mulch down the middle as a feature.”
“I thought it was going to look like a washing line, but it doesn’t,” one designer said of his piece of string art. A washing line on the wall! Never change, 1998.
The makeover reveal
In truth, this is what we came for. The reactions of the exhausted teams, cursing the day Jenny From Next Door got them involved in this batshit show which just turned their perfectly normal bedroom into a fugly den of smut filled with MDF cutouts of naked ladies screwed to the end of their four-poster bed.
“I wanted a Manhattan loft warehouse, and I’ve got Dame Edna Everage’s worst nightmare,” spat Jo, as she surveyed her Australian lounge room.“We said ‘not minimalist,’” wailed Caroline, as she stared at her minimalist living room that gave off a distinct operating theatre vibe and included a water feature which made you constantly want to take a piss.
Changing Rooms was our first, our last, our everything.
In the words of Lord Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, it showed “taste comes in a thousand different shades”. It changed the rooms, it changed the world, and let’s hope its glorious legacy outlasts even the most plumpest piece of inflatable furniture.
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