The dish on the ''Trading Spaces'' spin-off -- ''While You Were Out'' gives homeowners a makeover whether they like it or not

By Liane Bonin
Updated July 03, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT
While You Were Out: Loren Santow

With most of the country already hooked on TLC’s top-rated ”Trading Spaces,” it was only a matter of time before the network designed a spin-off. ”While You Were Out,” (which debuts July 6 at 12 p.m.) borrows its sister show’s winning elements — sassy designers, sexy carpenters, and eye-popping room makeovers — and puts a fresh coat of paint on the rest. Here are answers to your burning questions about the new show’s design twists and gimmicks.

What’s the idea behind ”While You Were Out”?
Instead of swapping homes à la ”Trading Spaces,” one homeowner gets a chance to surprise someone who lives under the same roof by making over one room. (Warning: Don’t try to sign up your buddy across the street — for legal reasons, you must have your name on the deed to pull this prank.) The unsuspecting victim must be lured away from home for two days so the ”While You Were Out” crew can take over, with help from the scheming homeowner, of course. Although repainting walls and sewing pillows for a loved one is no cakewalk, the real challenge is keeping the big secret. ”We’ll tell the homeowner, if you say a word about this to the other person, the deal is off,” says executive producer Stephen Schwartz.

Do we get to follow the room’s occupant while the room is being redone?
Absolutely. The producers have come up with clever excuses to explain why a TV camera crew wants to follow someone around for two days (”I can’t give away our ruses, but they’re very logical,” says Schwartz). If all else fails, they’ll recruit other family members or friends to shoot home video. The footage will be used later to create three or more quiz questions geared to show how well the homeowner knows the person who is being surprised. For every right answer, the homeowner wins a snazzy prize that will be part of the room’s decor.

And if the homeowner gets an answer wrong?
There’s a booby prize that has to be worked into the room as punishment. To the producers, this part of the show is less about prizes and more about building tension. ”If the wife guesses wrong two or three times, you start to wonder if her appraisal of what her husband wants for a room is correct,” explains Schwartz. ”And then you run the risk of the guy coming home and saying, ‘Where’s my easy chair?”’

What if someone comes home unexpectedly to find the TV team ripping out the carpet?
The show creates numerous obstacles to keep the surprisee away from home — someone who’s in on the plot goes on the two-day sojourn. But there’s always the possibility of a premature revelation. ”It adds tension to the show,” says Schwartz. ”There are even tense moments when these people call home and we’re working in the next room. We have to stop everything the minute the phone’s picked up.”

Will there be guest appearances by ”Trading Spaces”’ designers?
The new show has its own stable of six designers. Two of them will be landscape architects (think koi ponds and treehouses). As for a crossover, don’t wait for Doug and Vern to drop by. ”There was an opportunity to raid ‘Trading Spaces,’ but why kill a good thing?” says Schwartz.