A favorite client of mine once referred to home-focused media, such as dwell magazine and all things HGTV as “house porn.” Every so often, something triggers the term in my memory and causes me to giggle at the provocative reference. Most recently, it was my own appearance on HGTV’s National Open House. Nearly two years ago, I received a call from a production company in Los Angeles soliciting prospects for the television show. Ask me on any given day what I think about HGTV and I will tell you it has pimped my profession by setting the ridiculous expectation that millions of homeowners can renovate their homes from top to bottom for $12. (Incidentally, they can’t.) But after a minute on the phone with Brad, the producer who wanted to put my apartment on television, I was giddy with anticipation!
A sucker for flattery, Brad had me at “hello,” but my involvement was guilt-free since no self-help design guru would be critiquing my Danish collectibles. “National Open House” is a show about money. Each 30-minute episode features three cities and 12 homes, comparing what a specific home value will get a buyer in the different markets. My episode compared our own metro area to Philadelphia and Hawaii. The show asks each homeowner what they paid for their place, how long they’ve been there and/or what improvements they’ve made, and of course, the estimated current value.
Brad flew in from L.A., but the camera and sound crew were local. They convened at my apartment in an early afternoon in the fall of 2006. After a quick pan around, picking up a number of unfamiliar angles and reflections, they sat me in a chair and asked the aforementioned questions. Because a simple interview is far from HGTV style, I was also filmed slicing and arranging a cheese plate, and welcoming “viewers” to Minneapolis with a wave from my balcony to the street-level camera in dramatic dairy-princess fashion. My segment ended with a staged “cocktail party” of three. Brad and the crew had their footage in a couple of hours, leaving us with a half-eaten cheese plate and intense anticipation of our cable debut.
I’d all but forgotten our potential 15 minutes when, a few months ago, I received a call from the production company. I didn’t try to hide my surprise and confessed my assumption we’d been shelved due to the crumbling housing market when I was instead told my episode was going to air in a week! I’d had good intentions of a red carpet kind of event, but a week left no time to appropriately plan. Instead, we were left with an impromptu cocktail party reunion. It was fun to watch. I was spared the humiliating welcome, and was instead introduced in a voiceover from a counter-level camera shot while arranging the cheese plate. My interview was cut to a few negligible sound bites, but the apartment showed well, and my guests received equal face time. The biggest surprise was the animated dialogue bubble listing an assumed resale value from over a year ago.
I’ve had a number of clients recently struggling to secure financing, seeing appraisal values fall from beginning to end of construction time, and being asked by banks to build for an impossibly low cost per square foot. In these days of soaring foreclosures and anorexic mortgage lending, portraying the housing market as entertainment is almost as appalling as treating individual celebrity crises like news. I wish I could say I was more affected by my complicity, but occasionally catching myself in reruns, I feel more guilt about watching the “Today Show” over breakfast than for my fleeting stardom.
Bryan Anderson lives in Stevens Square. He works for SALA Architects on East Hennepin.