Thursday, June 22, 2006

I am shocked, yes, SHOCKED!

My faith in HGTV has been shaken to its core by this first-hand account of what it's really like to go on the inaptly named FreeStyle:

The show's premise is that you can redecorate a room and solve all of your design problems absolutely free . By simply rearranging existing furniture, bringing in overlooked treasures from other rooms and getting rid of whatever is deemed unnecessary (and unattractive), anyone can create a photo-worthy habitat. The idea was even cheaper than yet another HGTV hit, "Design on a Dime." In my case, according to the HGTV Web site, designers would pull off "a dramatic new look without spending a dime!"

Well, okay, so maybe a dime. During the audition phase, the producer allowed as how the reality show really does budget $200 or so to spend on each apartment. I promised not to mention this during my fleeting appearances on camera.

One other thing: Prior to giving me the green light, the same producer confirmed with me several times that I would be willing to spend my own money on an additional piece of furniture of the designer's choosing. It seemed that absolutely free would be an abstract notion from the get-go.

I learned a few design tricks as the day progressed. For instance, books are primarily visual props, not meant for reference or reading. They should be placed in random horizontal, vertical and diagonal patterns in a bookcase for maximum visual stimulation. Forget genre; books should be arranged strictly by size. Every table should have two or three books of bright colors "carelessly" lying on it, along with an empty knickknack box and a mini bouquet of fresh roses.

In the end, I hated it. The room was double-stuffed with furniture, leaving almost no floor space left to walk on. Every other room of the apartment was nearly empty. Apparently, the designer had something against fireplaces and bay windows, the very features that led me to rent the place, because she hid one behind the daybed and the other behind a sofa. But she was pleased with the result: more seating for Washington-style entertaining.

After the cameras stopped rolling at 10:30 p.m., my sense of self and voice returned. I asked the burly guys to move half the furniture out of the living room and back to where I actually needed it. While the decorator pouted, adorable cameraman Andy helped me move everything around and came up with a final design that I liked. Alas, the real interior design will never be on the air.

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