St. Petersburg Times

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Double the design drama

Trading Spaces gets a prime-time partner: While You Were Out, where one roommate remodels while the other is gone.

By JUDY STARK, Times Homes Editor
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 21, 2002

If you like the TV home makeover show Trading Spaces -- and 9-million viewers watch each month -- the Learning Channel is hoping you'll love While You Were Out, a companion show that makes its prime-time debut at 10 tonight, right after Trading Spaces.

Where Trading Spaces gives two couples a chance to make over each other's home,While You Were Out arranges for one member of a couple to be sent out of town (on a business or golfing trip, for example, or a visit to relatives). The partner left behind has two days, $1,500, a designer and two handypersons to "work around the clock to create a dreamed-of room or outdoor space," the show says.

The dramatic "revelation" comes when the absent partner returns to discover what has been wrought in his or her home "while you were out."

The show, hosted by actor/journalist/TV writer Teresa Strasser, repeats at 5 p.m. Mondays.

"It's another design show with a surprise at the end and regular characters you get to know and love week to week," just as on Trading Spaces, says Stephen Schwartz, executive producer of both shows. "We hope it's as big a hit."

[Photo: Loren Santow]
Carpenters Andrew Dan-Jumbo, left, and Leslie Segrete discuss plans with designer Stephen Saint Onge during an episode of the Learning Channel’s While You Were Out.

There are two key differences. On While You Were Out, the design team and the stay-at-home partner don't know when the absent partner will return. They may have some idea, but in previous episodes (the show has been airing at noon Saturdays), the "away" partner sometimes calls to announce an early return. So there's pressure to finish the work, get the debris out the door and move the crew's truck and equipment so the returning partner is really surprised.

The other difference is the "pop quiz." The absent partner is surreptitiously followed by a video crew, which will arrange to interview him or her on some pretense, for instance a promotional video for the resort or golf club where he or she is staying. The stay-at-home partner is quizzed about the away spouse's activities or preferences ("What did your husband have for an appetizer at the resort last night?"). If the answer is correct, the partner wins an attractive prize to add to the makeover room's decor. If the answer is wrong, the partner wins a booby prize that also must be incorporated into the room's decor.

Tampa Bay area viewers who like the show will have an opportunity to appear on it in January, when While You Were Out tapes several shows locally. To apply, visit the show's Web site, Participants may be married or unmarried couples, or roommates of the same sex or opposite sexes.

Trading Spaces has taken some criticism for the slapdash quality of work and the insistence of some of its designers on having their way. "I tell the designers, it's the Hippocratic Oath of design: First, do no harm," Schwartz said. "Go in there and improve what's there. Taste is the great indeterminate factor. You can't please everybody. Most people love it. There are times when people don't love it."

The show, he said, is mindful of construction codes and "as in anything, occasionally there's a mistake and we fix it. We don't leave anybody holding the bag."

The two shows appeal to essentially the same audience, he said: "People who want good design ideas and a little drama."
[Photo: Keller & Keller Photography]
From left, This Old House landscape contractor Roger Cook, host Steve Thomas, general contractor Tom Silva, master carpenter Norm Abram, and plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey review building plans in Winchester, Mass., the site of the first project in this season’s episodes. This Old House airs Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on WEDU.

Designers, collectors, inspectors

HGTV's new programming starts Sept. 30, with new series that advance the battle of the sexes, encourage or discourage collecting, and offer more behind-the-scenes peeks at the homes of the rich and famous.

Public Places, Private Spaces (premieres at 9:30 p.m. Sept. 30) visits public places created by celebrated designers -- hotels, restaurants, universities -- and private homes created by the same designers. Then it takes a look at how homeowners who liked those looks adapted them in their homes.

Here's a concept fraught with danger. On Love by Design (10:30 p.m. Sept. 30), single women select one of three eligible bachelors, sight unseen, based on the style reflected in their home decor. (We're eager to see who picks the guy who leaves his socks on the floor, has a Nerf basketball hoop over the door of his bedroom and treasures his beer can collection.) Then the women redecorate their prospective date's apartment without his input and watch his reaction.

Ultimate Collectors (premieres at 10 p.m. Oct. 2), hosted by pro athlete/standup comic/actor Kevin Flynn, interviews three collectors of everything from trash to treasures (Donald Duck artifacts, Dallas Cowboy items, Wizard of Oz memorabilia).

Collector Inspector (8:30 p.m. starting Oct. 4) sends host Harry Rinker, appraiser and writer about antiques and collectibles, into three homes to hunt for lurking collectibles that could be unlikely treasures.

HGTV will fill out its fall schedule with a number of specials: The Endless Yard Sale (9 p.m. Sunday), about the 450-mile annual sale in Tennessee and Kentucky; a visit to the National Hardware Show (9 p.m. Sept. 29); a look at extravagant suites in Las Vegas hotels (9 p.m. Oct. 6); a tour of the real homes of the stars of the James Bond movies (9 p.m. Nov. 17); and Those Toys We Grew Up With (9 p.m. Nov. 24), about the toys of the TV generation. Plus visits to historic homes, a look at American Indian crafts, Halloween haunts and more.

Advice from Steve and Norm

The new season of This Old House gets under way Oct. 19 on WEDU-Ch. 3. Steve Thomas, Norm Abram and their team of remodeling contractors offer something new this season: Ask This Old House, a half-hour show in which they answer questions from viewers. They may make phone calls to viewers to talk about their repair problems, answer questions from their barn loft or visit homes across the country to see the problems.

Viewers can visit the Web site,, to e-mail questions, or mail them to Ask This Old House at This Old House magazine, 1185 Avenue of the Americas, 27th floor, New York, NY 10036.

WEDU will carry Ask This Old House Saturdays at 11 a.m., followed at 11:30 by the 24th season of This Old House. The fall project is the restoration of a 1922 Colonial Revival in Winchester, Mass.

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