Opinion: DIY-phobia


Brush off the gloss and go behind the scenes to see the “real” reality of DIY TV – Designer Vanessa Couzens has the inside scoop

Alas — it has become impossible for me to turn on the TV. No, I don’t have RSI. Nor have I lost my limbs in a tragic accident. My sadly neglected remote gathers dust due to a growing malaise, which I recently discovered has an actual name — technophobia! An abnormal fear of, or effect of, technology. In my case, the abnormal fear relates to the proliferation of DIY renovation programs.

Turn on a TV, be it free to air or pay, and it’s a sure bet you can find a renovation show of some description on offer. The more sensational are populated with a cast of carefully selected character types whose renovation journey is deliberately imbued with as much manufactured drama as possible.

Could DIY TV of the 21st century be the brand new replacement for conventional religion? I certainly know people who watch these shows religiously. If the Christian God could create the world in six days, then surely a renovation can be miraculously completed within the same period? But wait! Why not in just a day? Somehow, I think this is not very likely.

The more likely story is this: Somewhere behind that sparkly, shiny new “aspirational lifestyle” remodel or new build (all of which was completed in “record” time) lurked an actual qualified consulting designer. Shocking, I know, but the TV editors conveniently left that part out in the background story. That architect or interior designer most likely spent years in higher education and up to decades in professional practice honing their skills and knowledge — all for the pleasure of no acknowledgement or a flattering reference in the fine print flashed on screen for a nanosecond.

Mind you, these designers didn’t work alone. They had other experts on board such as surveyors, engineers, planning and certification professionals and licensed, experienced builders.

Knocking a few holes through the walls to that new alfresco space was actually carefully documented and approved through local authorities. The fab lighting scheme and its associated wiring, spectacular lifestyle bathroom and its plumbing, feature staircase and its refined classy balustrade were just some of the details that were carefully designed and checked to comply with the National Construction Code and associated Australian Standards. Yes, there are actual laws that have to be obeyed when you build something.

Sorry, but now it’s reality check time. This whole behind-the-scenes process actually took months. Oops, do I hear jeering from the back row filled with TV executives? I apologise for the nasty designer standing up for her profession and brutally crushing your fragile constructs. It must be obvious by now — DIY TV truly irks me. I can feel my blood pressure rising just writing about it.

I can’t help worrying that reality TV validates a belief that anyone can design and build with limited time and limited effort. Why do so many programs gloss over the simple fact that building or renovating a home is actually a complicated process? I use the word “process” quite deliberately, as designing and building requires the completion of a whole series of actions or steps to achieve the desired outcome — a space that is a pleasure to inhabit and one that is safe and without risk.

The amateur renovator won’t have comprehensive knowledge about the pitfalls of building and renovating and the steps that need to be followed for it to be a success. And it is not an urban myth when you hear stories about how the local council made the neighbours down the road demolish or rip out non-compliant building work.

Wonder why your insurance premiums have suddenly gone through the roof? It could be that little incident of being sued by a visitor who slipped and broke a bone on your lovely new slippery bathroom floor tiles that were never tested for compliance with Australian slip ratings. That saving of a few bucks by skimping on getting professional advice could become one of the most costly of your life.

You could be a cynic and interpret my rant as simply sour grapes that as a designer, I’m being passed over for jobs. However, the truth is if you ask just about any designer, we genuinely care about how people experience the spaces around them.

We are wired this way because this is the message we learn from day one of our design studies. When we say we’re passionate about good sustainable design, we mean it. Even better, we actually know how to implement it. So watch your DIY TV and dream about the possibilities available to you. Just be realistic and invest in your dream by employing a professional to help you achieve it. In the long run, their input will not only fulfil your aspirations, they will also ultimately save
you money.


Written by Vanessa Couzens

Originally from Home Design magazine, Volume 18 Issue 4