Design enters TV reality show arena

Last Wednesday, Jam Design founder Jamie Anley and designer Phil Nutley watched themselves burst on to prime-time TV as frontmen for BBC Two interior design series Home for Life (News, DW 23 April).

After cramming in filming around their day job – which includes revamping London’s 100% Design show – the duo had not had time to watch the finished product. So, at 8pm last Wednesday, Anley sat down with friends and family in a hotel room in London’s Covent Garden to watch his screen debut, along with one million other viewers.

‘Phil and I were used to being in control as art directors, but in this instance we were just a couple of ingredients in a much bigger pot. We had to let go and trust the production company and the BBC,’ says Anley. This proved difficult. Prior to seeing the finished show, Anley was critical of it for ‘cutting moments of incredible human insight’ and generally ‘dumbing down’.

TV production company Maverick Television approached the Jam founders to front the home-improvement show after a lengthy search for presenters. The BBC had commissioned the programme as an antidote to property development shows, the appeal of which had palled in the light of the housing market meltdown.

Home for Life takes as its central tenet Jam’s working method of drawing out clients’ creativity by taking them on excursions and encouraging self-expression. For the show, Anley and Nutley take families to Sketch, Annex 3, Container City, Rough Luxe and other locations, inspiring them to ditch colour swatches and TV designers’ advice in favour of taking colour from their surroundings and inspiration from their personal interests and histories. In the first episode, a couple find expression in recreating a Victorian pharmacy and a mother rediscovers her passion for architectural photography.

After seeing the show, Anley changes his tune. ‘It was great – it has real pace, and I was wrong. The thing is, we had wanted it to be more of a social documentary, but when you get a brief to design a chair and you are told that it has to be wipe-clean and sit-up, that’s what you do.’

Even the show’s executive producer, Steph Harris, whom Anley calls ‘the masterplanner’, admits that the show is formulaic. ‘It is an 8pm factual feature format,’ she says. ‘But the message is very different to other home-improvement shows, and you cannot change everything at once – the viewer likes familiarity.’
‘It is “comfort food TV”,’ agrees Anley.

The show had been scheduled to air at 9-10pm, before receiving its earlier, prime-time slot. ‘If it had been at the later time, more of the process and grit would have been shown,’ says Anley.

In what starts to look like a preoccupation with turning designers into TV personalities, BBC Two is also preparing to air its Apprentice-style reality show for designers, Philippe Starck’s Design for Life.

Aside from the ‘for life’ title similarity, the two shows will be different in structure and tone, but there are concerns that design will not be centre stage in the Starck show either.

‘I don’t give a shit to know who is the best designer in the world today,’ declares Starck in the programme trailer, casting some doubt on his subsequent search for the best of British design talent.
Contestant Ana-Maria Pasescu-Stewart, who went to Starck’s Paris studio to compete in the show, complains, ‘You will hear that we had a week to do a project, but because of the complications of filming we actually only had two days. We are all nervous that this will make us look like bad designers.’ She adds, ‘I didn’t learn anything about design, but I did learn a lot about TV production. Overall, I’m glad I did it though.’

Design for Life airs on BBC Two in late September.

Design on reality tv in 2009:

  • Home for Life, BBC Two – presented by Jam Design’s Jamie Anley and designer Phil Nutley
  • Design for Life, BBC Two – Philippe Starck presents an Apprentice-style show to find British design talent
  • Project Runway, Bravo TV – Michael Kors judges a US contest to launch new fashion designers
  • 60 Minute Makeover, ITV1 – interior design group Ishoka’s managing director Derek Taylor joins a team including Big Brother series one winner Craig Phillips to revamp people’s homes in under an hour

Latest articles