Matthew Ridge knows a lot of architects. Whether he knows anything about architecture is another question. Image: Tina TIller
Matthew Ridge knows a lot of architects. Whether he knows anything about architecture is another question. Image: Tina TIller

TelevisionNovember 17, 2021

Matthew Ridge saved his big TV comeback for this?

Matthew Ridge knows a lot of architects. Whether he knows anything about architecture is another question. Image: Tina TIller
Matthew Ridge knows a lot of architects. Whether he knows anything about architecture is another question. Image: Tina TIller

After 10 years off screen, ‘Ridgey’ is back. Can he survive without the bro-downs and lad chat? 

Matthew Ridge is standing in the downstairs lounge of a hillside house in Whanganui dubbed ‘The Dogbox’. Built in 2012 by three novice architects, the two-bedroom home with exposed concrete walls was made on a shoestring budget but includes room for a deck bath, outdoor staircases and sweeping vista views across the river.

Its cheap construction, using bits and bobs bought off Trade Me and incorporating surrounding bush, is simple yet elegant, making the home appear one with nature.

The former sports star and TV personality known as ‘Ridgey,’ who once went au naturale himself by parading alongside Tāmaki Makaurau’s defunct Boobs on Bikes parade in a G-string, is struggling to find the right way to describe the 2013 Home of the Year Awards finalist.

Finally, the answer comes to him. “It looks …” says Ridge, waiting for the correct word to tumble into his brain, “MacDaddy.”

Matthew Ridge
Matthew Ridge is in The Dogbox. (Screengrab: Neon)

In Designing Dreams, a new Prime TV and Neon series showcasing the best of Aotearoa’s architecture, Ridge struggles to find the words to describe many ‘MacDaddy’ homes. Sometimes, it just seems like he’s there to admire the view.

In Lyttelton, he’s at the ‘Cube House’, an adaptable showhome designed by famed architect Roger Walker. Here, Ridge has more insights about the building’s design themes. “A cube house is based on the shape of, well, a cube,” he says, clearing up any confusion viewers might have about this simple concept.

Thankfully, Ridge’s boring banter is the show’s only downfall. In each episode of Designing Dreams, he goes on tour with a chosen architect as they show off their favourite buildings around the country. They explore strange builds, like Wellington’s multi-levelled rabbit warren Athfield House, simple designs like Tom’s House in Queenstown, and complicated concepts, like Copper House, a multi-levelled home with a cantilevered deck and views of The Remarkables. 

Designing Dreams is such a simple idea you wonder why it hasn’t already been done. This is house porn of the highest order. Grand Designs fans and Block-heads will froth. Cool homes, enthusiastic designers. Win-win.

But the question remains, why did ‘Ridgey’ save his big TV return for this? Good question. Ridge, it turns out, is just really into buildings. “I’ve been involved in a number of residential projects and several smaller commercial builds,” he says, listing his credentials in the show’s opening credits. He also says: “I’ve come across a number of architects in my time.”

Knowing architects isn’t the same as understanding architecture, and Ridge comes across, mostly, as a tyre kicker. “That’s steel, no doubt,” he says, knocking his knuckles on a staircase in a sunny bach. In a remote lodge, he leans against a giant throne topped by the impressive stag head that is something to behold, more Game of Thrones than mid-shelf lifestyle telly. Instead of asking about it, Ridge turns his back and admires a bog standard fireplace.

Matthew Ridge
Matthew Ridge enjoys some architecture. (Screengrab: Neon)

You can’t blame him for wanting to jump onboard Aotearoa’s housing craze, and Ridge is far from the only presenter returning to TV for a show based around a bit of timber built into a box shape. Clarke Gayford, we’re looking at you. 

Yet, no matter how much time has passed, it’s hard to accept Ridge, who turned league success into telly stardom and a series of tabloid relationships with Sally Ridge, Nicky Watson, Rebecca Loos and Carly Binding, making a pivot like this. On Sports Cafe, and shows like Game of Two Halves and his Rocky Road… series, Ridge was known for extreme lad chat and hardcore bro-downs with his partner-in-crime, Marc Ellis. 

Seeing someone who once engaged in this disturbing, expletive-filled conversation about solo efforts to join the mile-high club wax lyrical about spouting and joinery is jarring. 

He certainly looks the part, clearly fancying himself as Aotearoa’s answer to Kevin McCloud. Over his time away, Ridge has curated a wardrobe full of rich man chic, his knitted tees and multi-layered outfits best compared to Adrian Brody’s well-wrapped Succession character, Josh Aaronson.

His commitment to the puffa vest, and in later episodes, the man bag, is astonishing. 

Ridgey
Matthew Ridge layers up. (Screengrab: Neon)

Everything around him is just as manicured. Designing Dreams is well researched, beautifully shot and full of compelling guests, especially episode three’s Anna-Marie Chin. But they make Ridge’s obvious architectural shortcomings stand out even more. Grand Designs NZ, with its incisive commentary from Chris Moller, an actual architect, this isn’t.

Instead, the heavy lifting is left to each episode’s guests. While they deliver colour and character, sometimes it seems as if Ridge is barely hanging on. “One-beddy,” is a term he favours. “It gives it a sense of bigness and openness and more space…” is how he describes a beachside home with big windows and inbuilt sun turrets. “I was about to say – amazing,” he declares when greeted by another panoramic vista. 

In its most compelling moments, Designing Dreams showcases homes that have a reason to exist beyond putting a roof over someone’s head. In episode two, the best of the six on offer, Ridge goes on tour with Nicholas Dalton, a Rotorua-born architect who infuses his designs with the spirit of the environment they’re going into. 

Ridgey stays out of his way, and it’s for the best. “In Aotearoa, we’re starting to get to that point of learning about ourselves and our history,” says Dalton, showing off a stunning Muriwai home in Tāmaki Makaurau that includes a deck that resembles pre-colonial palisade designs. “Good and bad – it’s just who we are.”

In architecture, the past, present and future can definitely find a way to co-exist. TV is a different story. Whether Ridge was the right choice as host depends on whether you can forgive and forget all those antics from his own past. For many, that might be a MacDaddy quip too far.

Designing Dreams screens on Prime TV on Tuesdays at 8.30pm, and the full season is streaming now on Neon.

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Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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