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'Trading Spaces' revealed

The Tampa homeowners featured on the TV design show can't give away any of its big secrets, but they can let you in on a few things.

By ERIC DEGGANS
Published February 28, 2004

photo
[Times photo: Ken Helle]
Bob Touton, left, surrenders to temptation and watches an advance copy of the show with his wife, Carol, and close friends David and Hayley Norman. Hayley is covering her face as they watch a scene in which she tries to teach the Trading Spaces staff the flamenco.

Bob Touton was decked out in his official, green-apple Trading Spaces work shirt, ready to dish on his longtime crush for host Paige Davis and how women in the neighborhood lined up to take photos with shirtless carpenter Ty Pennington.

But when a reporter showed up at his Carrollwood home Sunday with a videotape of his national TV debut, nearly a week before the show would be broadcast to the world, Touton had a curious reaction.

He refused to watch it.

"I want the big bang on the night of the show," said Touton, who reclined on a couch at the other side of his house while wife Carol and friends David and Hayley Norman crowded around the TV for an advance screening of their Trading Spaces episode. Before the pesky reporter showed, the families had planned to watch the episode with friends tonight at a local restaurant, and Touton was determined to preserve the surprise.

"They said at the beginning, "We go for one of two things - total enjoyment or a total train wreck,' " he said, cracking open a book by Lee County author Randy Wayne White in a futile attempt to focus his attention elsewhere. "But they took such good care of us, I don't care which way it turned out."

For three days in December, Touton's home was taken over by crews from TLC's popular home-design series. Two couples exchange homes for two days and rework a room in each with help from a professional designer.

The Toutons and the Normans labored on each other's bedrooms, clowning with Davis, Pennington and designers Christi Proctor and Edward Walker. Since TLC wouldn't allow them to see advance copies of the show - perhaps to avoid last-minute editing requests or embarrassment - this impromptu screening was the first time they had a chance to see how all the hijinks turned out.

"I just want to make sure it's not totally embarrassing," said Hayley Norman, a former Mrs. Florida who took loads of ribbing for her pageanting past. "I don't want to see it (early), but I can't wait, either."

Bob Touton tried his best to resist during the screening, playing with his children in the back yard and opening White's book by his cozy pool area before curiosity got the best of him.

And after watching the second half of the show - including the big "reveals," in which each couple, kept from their own home during the renovations, is suddenly shown the improvements in an emotional finale - Touton pronounced himself pleased with both the home improvements and the program.

It was a verdict shared by his wife and friends, who squealed at every inside joke and expressed mock disappointments over the great gags that never made the final cut.

"I was concerned, because you can edit things any way you want," said Hayley Norman, a training manager for Glaxo/Smith/Kline. "But my people at work will still consider me reputable. This turned out pretty good."

The Trading Spaces crew had lots to work with. Homes along Willow Drive in the Carrollwood Village development are spacious, mostly ranch-style houses, nestled in a comfortable suburban community with garages, in-ground pools and well-manicured lawns.

In the Normans and the Toutons, producers found a quartet who had been close for years. Hayley Norman and Carol Touton are childhood friends, and the couples' easy chemistry was immediately visible onscreen. For a show that plays directly to viewers' dreams of middle-class lifestyles and playful reinvention, this quartet of fun-loving buddies was a bulls-eye find.

Hayley Norman brought them to this point, urged to apply for the show by a manicurist who happened to know the show's host. Her pal Carol agreed to participate with little forethought. With 600 families applying for three Trading Spaces episodes in the Tampa area, what were the chances they'd get the call?

One two-hour telephone interview and a six-hour screen test later, Hayley Norman found out, when producers called her while she was aboard a plane heading for Chicago.

"I started screaming on the airplane and all of the passengers gave me high fives," she said, still breathless at the memory. "I couldn't believe it."

Turns out, producers at TLC had decided to bring a number of its Trading Spaces-related shows to Florida, scheduling three Trading Spaces episodes, three Trading Spaces Family episodes and eight episodes of Trading Spaces: Home Free in the Tampa Bay area and Orlando.

On Sunday, the first of three Trading Spaces Family episodes filmed in the Tampa Bay area will appear, highlighting work done on two homes in the Lutz neighborhood of VillaRosa.

Other Trading Spaces shows will air next month set on Horatio Steet (March 6) and Amelia Drive (March 20) in Tampa, along with the two other Trading Spaces Family episodes on Harborage Drive (March 7) and Bay Laurel Court (March 14) in St. Petersburg.

"Florida is a really diverse state . . . You've got lots of different people and lots of different cultures in one place," said Don Halcombe, a spokesman for the show. "Climate was important, obviously. We have to do a lot of work, and we want to keep the cast comfortable and happy."

And rather than prompt complaints from neighbors inconvenienced by the camera crews and commotion - about 200 people came to stand outside the production areas when filming actually got under way - Hayley Norman said the Trading Spaces visit actually drew the neighborhood together.

"The sense of community was wonderful," she said. "People sat out on the street and talked to each other. They invited us to all the Christmas parties . . . and we never got invited before. The only thing we regret, really, is that we can't do it again."

While they maintain there are some Trading Spaces secrets they can never reveal, a few truths emerged during the screening. One trip in which David Norman seems to be accompanying designer Proctor to buy fabric at an unnamed store (actually, a Wal-Mart) was staged; Proctor had selected the material earlier.

Designers assemble their plans based on the six-hour interviews during the week before production. So even though they ask each couple what they'd like to do to their friends' room, the answers don't affect the designs much.

Open the door to the armoire created for the Toutons' bedroom and you'll see that the Normans ran out of paint before they could get to the inside. And the equipment used for the production brought a hefty addition to the Toutons' water and electric bills.

Pennington, who took time to get Hayley Norman to use a power tool for the first time in her life, was a charming presence, even while using the Toutons' shower and hanging his just-washed laundry around their pool area.

Both families swear that they, the designers, Davis and Pennington did all the work, and mostly stuck to the $1,000 budget for each room (they also swear they didn't know which designer would help with their room until taping started).

Wary of displeasing TLC (and mindful of the raft of documents they have signed to participate), both families declined to allow pictures of their renovated rooms, saying that publication of the images the morning before the show airs would ruin the "reveal" for audiences.

Suffice it to say that neither couple has changed the design of their rooms much in the two months since the work was completed. And the workmanship in each room, which involved creating intricate wall designs for the Normans' bedroom and a new treatment of the bed in the Toutons' home, turned out well enough to remain in place months after filming ended.

"We couldn't have hired a designer to pinpoint what we needed like they did," said Bob Touton. "They said, basically, "You have a lot of nice things, why mess with them?' "

Carol Touton, who wept with happiness while taping the reveal and who shed more tears watching it play out again Sunday, was just relieved that it all seems to have ended well.

Hayley Norman agreed. "People said, "You guys are still talking to each other?' And I said, "Well, we haven't seen the episode yet,' " she added, laughing. "But I guess it hasn't been that humiliating after all."

AT A GLANCE

The Trading Spaces episode "Tampa: Winding Willow Drive" airs at 9 tonight on TLC. The Trading Spaces Family episode "Tampa: Sunsplash Lane" airs at 8 p.m. Sunday on TLC.

[Last modified February 27, 2004, 10:23:09]

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