Monkey See
8:48 am
Mon December 30, 2013

Remodeling With Canadians

My holiday break last week took an unexpected detour when a broken bone (not mine) changed our plans for a full family get-together. Thus, I was left with a few days of unanticipated free time on my own, which led me to the obvious conclusion: if I can't be fully relaxed and immersed in holiday joy the entire time, this is the perfect time to clean out my closets.

As I documented in detail, I moved this fall, and have just about reached the point where you've been in a place for a few months and can look around and say what isn't working, where clutter builds up because it doesn't have a home, and which cabinet seemed like it needed to be filled with precisely that set of items, but in fact has rarely been opened. You also are, by then, tired of temporary furniture solutions (the folding table I was using in my little dining space) and tired of looking at the closets that never quiiiiite got organized, so it's time to Do A Bunch Of Things To Your Place That You Were Too Tired To Do Right After Painting The Whole Thing.

As it turns out, the best possible accompaniment to a ten-day stretch of working on your house is home-improvement television, gobbled on demand, forever and ever, day after day. It also turns out that many of the popular home repair and renovation shows on HGTV are Canadian. Specifically, they are Torontonian. In fact, I learned that originally, the Love It Or List It spin-off Love It Or List It Too, which kind of made no sense to me in terms of its need to exist even before I found out that the designer was former Bachelorette Jillian Harris, began in Canada as Love It Or List It Vancouver. And they can't call it that without reminding you that the regular one is secretly Love It Or List It (Toronto), so in the United States, it's really just More Of That One Show.

But that's not all.

Property Brothers, starring twins Drew (realtor) and Jonathan (remodeler) Scott, is also Canadian. So is Income Property, where the host guides people through buying and renovating a place they can rent out. (This means he operates largely in basements, and that means his show is the one that made me happiest about having left my basement apartment, since he makes it appear that all basements are deathtraps full of ants and mold and possibly monsters.)

Also Canadian: the Mike Holmes empire, which has spawned (among others) the wonderfully named show Holmes Makes It Right on HGTV's sister network DIY, which, obviously, I watched until I ran out of it. So, by the way, is Property Virgins, which I don't watch because: that's weird.

So as it turns out, the United States basic-cable television audience is learning all about decorating from watching the gradual renovation of all of Toronto.

(You should also know that almost all of these shows have obviously amped-up faux drama and are accused with varying levels of seriousness of being utterly phony, so they are best taken as stories, not necessarily documentaries.)

As we discussed regarding House Hunters a while back, home fixup shows have a way of making everyone look spoiled rotten from the inside out. Love It Or List It is a show where (allegedly) people have their houses renovated while also looking for new houses, and at the end, they decide whether to stay in their fixed-up house or find a new one. My favorite LIOLI moment was the couple who not only demanded heated floors in the bathroom (the wife discussed the idea of unheated bathroom tile the way you or I might discuss the idea of living in an outhouse), but absolutely freaked out at the idea that plumbing issues might meant they wound up with electric heated floors instead of hot water heated floors. She insisted that these two things are nothing alike, due to the wonderful "ambient" heat that water provides.

Please keep in mind: we are talking about the bathroom floor. Heating the bathroom floor. That is what we are talking about. Heating the bathroom floor. If I recall correctly, they ultimately left their renovated house and its pathetic wrongly heated bathroom floors to some other sucker.

The great thing about watching home improvement TV while working on your own apartment is that you can watch people tear up their basement floors to find serious plumbing issues, and you can think to yourself, "Oh my, what would I do if that happened to me?" And then you can think, "Oh, that's right. I would throw all my stuff out the window, jump out after it, and be gone in five minutes."

On the other hand, the problem comes when you combine different shows. Mike Holmes, for instance, presents himself as a super-competent, super-cautious, super-thorough dude who goes around fixing the problems left behind by quick-hit, low-budget contractors. And it's hard not to think, "He would probably not approve of the work that is done on Thirty Minutes To A Whole New Bathroom or whatever."

As it turns out, this is at the heart of the home-improvement television craziness: aspiration versus anxiety. "Look at that house! That's wonderful! My house, on the other hand, is terrible." Or, "Look at those people! They're jerks who complain about heating their floors! I would never do that, because I am normal."

So when you're in the process of cleaning out your own apartment, you feel empowered to create a beautiful "retreat" for yourself (this is what people say now, at least in Toronto, instead of "bedroom"). That's the aspirational part. Particularly when you live by yourself, it can put your head in a very experimental place, like, "Maybe I'll move the dresser over there! What do you think about that? There are no rules! I am all-powerful!"

But you also feel like your exposed power cords are even worse than you thought they were before, once you've seen a contractor install an entire system designed to hide every cord in the house. That's the anxiety part. That's how they get you: "This looks great! It needs more."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.