TV shows cram big-time designs into small spaces

The Orange County RegisterJuly 14, 2014 

"When good design happens, you just don't notice it," said Kathy Kuo, New York-based interior designer. Good design - sometimes deemed the je ne sais quois of interior design and architecture - is the intent behind two series premiering on television Wednesday night and now available online at fyi.tv.

"Rowhouse Showdown" and "Tiny House Nation" are renovation and design shows that are part of the summer launch of the rebranded FYI Network, formerly known as Bio. FYI, a division of A+E Networks, stands for "for your imagination, inspiration and innovation" and focuses on four categories: food, style, relationships and homes.

The two new entrants are diving into a crowded pool filled with firmly established shows from HGTV, DIY, TLC and Bravo, but Gena McCarthy, senior vice president of programming at FYI and an executive producer for both shows, contends that her network intends to capture the attention of a younger audience than that of the other networks - viewers with a median age of 40, primarily Gen X and Gen Y, who are big users of social media.

"They look for creative inspiration in Pinterest, Etsy and Houzz.com," McCarthy said.

"Some of the things that we think are relevant to this audience include how to get their first foot on the property ladder," she said. The network looked closely at the lifestyles that its target viewers were interested in such as the small-house movement, thrift style and things that are organic, recycled or authentic, she said.

Later this summer, FYI will debut "Red Hot Design," which features Shasta Smith, chief designer, welder, creator and entrepreneur of a furniture and artwork shop based in Sacramento. Smith and her crew will turn materials such as airplane wings and motorcycle hubcaps into furniture and art for clients.

FYI's foray into home renovation and design shows comes at a time when the housing market is slowly recovering.

"I don't think the recovery has hit everywhere," said Donna MacLetchie, an executive producer for Jane Entertainment, which produced "Rowhouse Showdown."

"That's kind of what we wanted to shine the light on. A lot of homes we're featuring are on the verge ... of a comeback."

Here, we take a closer look at FYI's maiden voyage into home renovation shows:

'Rowhouse Showdown'

Host: Carter Oosterhouse

Premise: Three two-person design and renovation teams compete for $50,000 and a feature on Dwell magazine's website. The teams live together while transforming dilapidated homes with similar run-down conditions in distressed neighborhoods � one or two rooms at a time. Think walls with peeling paint or graffiti, broken or worn-out floors, dust and detritus. This season, the homes are in Cincinnati, and the judges are Cincinnati home developer Jim Bronzie and New York designer Kathy Kuo.

What to expect: In the premiere, we're introduced to the three teams. Dan and Katie say they're all about modern meets traditional (moditional?). Ted and Krys call their aesthetic "lumberjack sexy," but when they try to explain exactly what it entails, let's just say the other teams were more than amused. Geoff and Josh tout their "coastal elegance" style, which makes us wonder how they would translate that into the urban vibe of Cincinnati.

The take-home: We find out just how scale and proportion are important, especially when it comes to big furniture in a modestly sized room. Tip: If you're going to buy a sofa, put painter's tape to mark the area with the footprint of the sofa and walk around it to get an idea of whether your choice is too big, too small or just right. Use medium-size mirrors carefully. One often is enough - a group of three in different styles and sizes can look strange.

'Tiny House Nation'

Hosts: John Weisbarth and Zack Giffin, renovation experts

Premise: What does it look like to live in 300 square feet or less? Maybe claustrophobic for some, but the tiny house movement is real. Across the nation, there are micro-pads. Apartment Therapy (apartmenttherapy.com) has been hosting an annual Small Cool contest focusing on these diminutive homes. In each episode, Weisbarth and Giffin help a family design and construct a petite dwelling and also showcase successful and attractive tiny spaces, including a repurposed caboose in Montana.

What to expect: Any time a family moves to a house that's a fraction of what they're used to, there's a lot of stuff to sell, throw out or give away. Living with less is definitely not for everyone, but it's interesting to watch what people think they can live without and what they want to hold on to. The psychological and sociological aspects of drastic downsizing are fascinating.

The couple in the premiere are asked to perform an experiment designed to make them think realistically about how much physical space they can put between the two of them within the confines of the house when they're not getting along. The visit to a micro-pad in New York City is like going to an exhibition in clever storage.

The take-home: It is possible to live with less stuff. In tiny homes, there's much more storage space than meets the eye. Think of the ceilings and the space underneath the bed. Big windows can make you feel exposed, but it's a compromise that you may have to make to bring in light and keep a small home from feeling too enclosed and claustrophobic.

SHOWS

'Rowhouse Showdown'

When: 9 p.m. Wednesdays

Channel: FYI Network

'Tiny House Nation'

When: 10 p.m. Wednesdays

Channel: FYI Network

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