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Emmys 2017
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Home Invasion

TLC’s popular Trading Spaces turns interior design into occasionally ugly drama.

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Pam Herrick tried not to worry. She and husband John — contestants on TLC’s immensely popular interior-design reality show Trading Spaces, which gives two teams $1,000 apiece and two days to remodel a room in each other’s homes — were painting their neighbors’ den when they heard a chorus of buzz saws coming from their house nearby. Certainly their friends Laureen and Charles Jobe weren’t fussing with her precious red brick fireplace (something the Herricks had declared off-limits before agreeing to appear on Spaces). Nah, reasoned the Seattle mom: Maybe they were just building her a nice bench.

Fat chance. When Herrick discovered that the show had transformed her pastel, country-cute family room into a contempo-chic enclave — complete with dark-brown-and-cream walls and a white wooden facade covering the fireplace — she didn’t have much to say. She preferred to weep. ”I realized I just spent two days doing what the show told me to do and they couldn’t do the one thing I asked them,” Herrick complains. ”I felt violated.”

Well, that’s what happens when you let Hollywood remodel your home. Still, that hasn’t deterred the 100-plus homeowners who apply each day to appear on Spaces. Quietly introduced to American audiences in September 2000 (the British version, Changing Rooms, is a three-year-old hit overseas), Spaces has become a veritable game changer for TLC — catapulting the cabler to No. 1 at 8 p.m. Saturdays (when originals debut) and at 4 p.m. weekdays (when repeats air). An added bonus: Hotties like host Paige Davis and carpenter Ty Pennington have boosted the channel’s youth demos considerably.

”Trading Spaces has firmly established us as a broad-ranging network,” says Jana Bennett, TLC’s general manager. ”This is a great factual entertainment show. It’s all about human relationships and people’s very personal taste.” Make that the very personal taste of the show’s interior designers, who ”assist” the contestants’ decision-making with an our-way-or-the-highway approach. Which is precisely how Spaces’ Hilda Santo-Tomas and Genevieve Gorder have gotten away with such dubious design moves as spray-painting a couch pink and tacking moss and chicken wire on some poor sap’s wall in the name of ”art.”

Still, no act of creative chutzpah compares to that of designer Douglas Wilson, whose fireplace shenanigans drove Herrick to tears. But he makes no apologies for it, or for persuading the Jobes to cover their pals’ floral couch in brown denim. ”You have to be open to change,” says Wilson. ”If you’re not, then you should leave your room as it existed and not apply to be on the show.” Explains Laureen Jobe, ”We thought Pam and John wouldn’t like it, but we knew it would come down easily.”

Did it ever. The show had barely packed up before the Herricks started redoing the brown walls with red paint and ripping down the offending fireplace facade — especially because the redesign violated city code by obstructing the gas-shutoff valve (thanks to an airtight contract, Trading Spaces is not required to pay for changes if the homeowner’s unhappy). The denim’s gone too. ”Of course we’ll still be friends,” Herrick says of the Jobes. ”But it now makes me sick to my stomach sometimes to watch the show.”