Anatomy of Preservation Guilt: HGTV

I have two confessions.

(1) I get sucked into HGTV. It’s terrible. Usually it’s “House Hunters” or “Property Virgins” or some remodeling show such as “Love It or List It” or “Property Brothers.” This particular selection of shows is probably more related to when I watch HGTV than choosing specific shows.

(2) Normally, every show that I watch on HGTV drives me crazy. Yet, I still watch. My mom and I enjoy yelling at the TV, just as my father enjoys yelling at the NY Jets on Sundays.

Now, what annoys me about these shows? A short rant, if you will. Consider yourself spared from the long rant.

(1) Buyers are always looking for “charm” and “character.” So they start by saying that they want a “historic house” but then buyers shudder at any sign of needed maintenance. More often than not, buyers shy away from old windows and only look to beautiful wood floors. What they want is a Pottery Barn house that evokes the cleanest sense of history, with none of the quirks and small bathrooms and closets of older homes.

(2) The shows’ hosts & contractors knock down plaster walls and add double doors in place of windows, completely changing the facade. Windows are so often replaced.

(3) Buyers are constantly buying houses that are way too big for them (a single person does not need even close to 2000 sq ft).

(4) The shows seldom say where they located! (At least the renovation shows do not).

So, why do I watch?

(1) I can’t help it.

(2) I like to see the transformations of houses, even if I do not agree with changes. But not all renovations are bad.

(3) Once in a while, I’ll pick up a useful home improvement tip.

(4) I like houses and neighborhoods and hearing another point of view.

A solution? Can someone please make a TV show about rehabilitation projects according to the Secretary of Interior’s Standards? What about people who want a historic home and appreciate a home that is listed on the National Register? If viewers want drama and controversy, we can find some.

What do you think?


34 thoughts on “Anatomy of Preservation Guilt: HGTV

  1. Sarah Nucci says:

    TLC did a couple of specials a few years ago – who truly did it according to SI standards. It was pretty awesome, but I think, rather sadly, people don’t want to do that – they just want to make it pretty. As someone who lives in a 1912 house, let’s just say that sometimes it isnt’ pretty.

  2. Terri says:

    I’m with you on yelling at the TV for those shows. They could really help the historic preservation cause, but the new windows and other preservation faux pas hurt more than help. They could even introduce the preservation aspect in the guise of sustainability and greenness if they don’t like the word “preservation”.

    The other night we saw one of those shows (I think Property Brothers) where the homeowner didn’t like the oak flooring in the house because it was “too narrow” and the color was ugly. Convince the homeowner they’re wrong and refinish the beautiful hard wood floor? No, they pulled it up and replaced it with a wider laminate that won’t last as long and didn’t look like it could ever be refinished.

    • Kaitlin says:

      Terri, I think I saw that one! Or at least a similar episode. “Too narrow?” Yikes. My 1928 house has narrow, original floor boards. Geez, people!

  3. Mark J says:

    “This Old House Hour” – that’s pretty good as far as restorations go. Look at the project they are doing right now.

  4. Mark says:

    “I get sucked into HGTV. It’s terrible” ….LOL !! My girlfriend watches these shows too and I’m always saying to her: how can you watch that formulaic drivel ?? And then I find myself grabbing a coffee and watching too. Its terrrible !! Why does Hillary always have an unforeseen problem that ruins her original promise ? Or why does real estate dude always find the right house at the very end of searching ? Stupid shows !!

    The reno shows are Canadian (Toronto). I recognize the actual locations all the time. As for the lack of historical conciousness, its maddening. But then, Toronto isn’t exactly known as a mecca for historic preservation. I guess they don’t do real historic reno shows because they often take months or years to do. Edit that !

    • Kaitlin says:

      Thanks for the tidbit; I thought I’d heard somewhere that the renovation shows are filmed in Toronto.

      Oh, they are so formulaic, indeed. The comments from people on the show are always hilarious, too, especially if they spend most of their time stating the obvious.

      The only way I can avoid these shows is to not put on the HGTV channel!

  5. Laura says:

    I can’t even watch those Flip this House shows anymore. Gutting is not my idea of preserving any level of heritage character. Wonder if Canadian heritage professionals should pitch an idea for a restoration show? Concept: Bust in on renovation projects wielding Standards & Guidelines and shouting “stop replacing those perfectly good wood windows with vinyl” It would be delightfully nerdy.

    I did watch that show based in Viriginia (can’t recall the name) on restoration. The show was amazing but the host was a little annoying.

  6. bellegroveatportconway says:

    My husband has told me I am not allowed to watch them any more because as soon as its over I hand him a “To Do” list.

  7. Janet Penwell says:

    Why don’t you watch THIS OLD HOUSE on public television? I think it’s just what you are looking for. These guys are the real thing….not just showmen. You can actually learn some very valuable knowledge about houses with real character and how to make them work in today’s world.

    • Kaitlin says:

      I know, I should. I used to with my mom, but I guess I got sucked into pop culture. I don’t watch HGTV all the time – but my time probably would be better spent on This Old House. I’ll let you know!

  8. michellekimball says:

    People say that they want an old house, but they want an open floor plan, big kitchen, lots of closet space, and a bathroom with double sinks. It drives me crazy, too. It also enrages me that while “green” renovations are emphasized, perfectly good cabinets, old floors, sinks, bathtubs, etc. are smashed into pieces and thrown in the dumpster. the hypocrisy! Ugggggg!!!! I’ve got it on HDTV right now, so guess I’m a glutton for punishment.

    • Kaitlin says:

      Ah, it drives me crazy too! I was watching “Holmes on Homes” today for a bit and all he talked about was spray foam! AAAAAHHHH. I didn’t turn it off, but I took a nap. Good avoidance measure. Ha.

  9. Jane Griswold Radocchia says:

    I am an architect who works with old houses. I watch HGTV for fun, and so I can roll my eyes – I like the ones set outside the US and Canada – I get to tour buildings I’ll never see in person.
    This Old House annoys me because they overdo everything – more expensive equipment, appliances, etc. and spend more money, build bigger spaces than necessary to solve the problems. At one point I was building new solar houses and retrofitting others for half of what they said was the minimum.
    At least the HGTV programs about buying houses are about people who have budgets.

    • Kaitlin says:

      Hmm, I hadn’t thought about it that way; though maybe that was initially swayed me away from This Old House. It did always seem expensive. Good points.

    • Teresa says:

      Was going to mention Rehab Addict here. What I love about Nicole’s show is that 1) she’s trying to get houses back to their original character…while not always consistent with what would have been offered then, they’re at least in keeping with the character of the house, and 2) she never takes a sledgehammer to anything, but instead gives away or sells whatever comes out of a house. Take a look. She’s doing what you’re hoping to watch!

    • Ellen Skonberg says:

      After watching a couple of episodes I am not sure if he qualifies as a preservationist. Here’s my question. Pinchot works on homes that appear to have been previously gutted, He does not restore the house to its original state but rather uses reclaimed/restored/ salvaged goods to rebuild the house. Does this make him a preservationist?

      • Kaitlin says:

        Good question, Ellen. I’d say no, that doesn’t make him a preservationist, but more of someone who follows recycling and sustainability practice. Hmmm. I’ll think about a better explanation and get back to you. Thanks!

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