The first time I saw Genevieve Gorder on television, I knew I was seeing something special. It was 2000 and I was home on break from my freshman year of college. My mom and I tuned in to a new show called Trading Spaces, which paired designers and a carpenter with neighbors who would make over each other’s rooms for $1,000. I’d grown up in a home with parents that were interested about decorating and architecture, but I’d never seen a younger person approach interiors the way Genevieve did.
She walked into people’s homes — usually barefoot — and would proceed to use random objects or pieces of inspiration as the jumping-off point for totally creative, exciting, and one-of-a-kind room designs. I watched her turn colanders into light fixtures, choose paint colors inspired by artichokes, create walls covered in moss and rust, and, my favorite, turn simple sheets of plywood into celestial wall light installations.
I spent most of my college years recreating (okay, just completely copying) all of Genevieve’s design ideas for friends across our college campus. Those projects made me feel accomplished, unafraid of power tools and, most importantly, confident. Seeing someone like Genevieve (who was young and came from a background that mixed design with MTV) so proudly hold her own space in a world where design was so often determined by what wealthy older people thought completely changed the way I viewed my future. It was Genevieve, and Trading Spaces, that showed me that design was the place I wanted to be.
So you can imagine my delight when I heard that this Saturday, Trading Spaces will be back on the air with the original cast (Genevieve, Doug, Vern, Hildi, Laurie, Frank, Paige and Ty!) as well as new team designers, John Gidding, Kahi Lee and Sabrina Soto.
In the 10 years that Trading Spaces has been off the air, a lot has changed. Home shows have ballooned in terms of scope, budget, and speed. We’re used to seeing entire homes gutted and redone over the course of a few weeks with budgets that are higher than most people’s annual salaries. So I’m really excited to see a show with a lower budget (they now have $2,000 to spend), a smaller scope of change (one room only) and with more connection between the homeowners and the people coming up with the design. I’ve missed those connections, those DIY elements, and the way that the projects bring a community of people together (unless, of course, you’re talking about the infamous brown fireplace and hay walls).
So in honor of the new season starting this weekend, I’m sharing the most important lessons I learned from the show. And I’d love to hear what you learned from the original season, what was most memorable (Anyone else remember the basement room Doug did inspired by this Eames pattern?) for you and what you’re hoping to see in this new season. I’m just so excited to see the scale brought down to a single room — I hope more shows will see this as an option so we can make more room for projects that embrace DIY, smaller budgets, and makeovers that feel a bit more attainable and relatable. xo, Grace
- Make it yourself: I never really understood that I could make things in my house (from furniture to lighting) on my own if I wanted to, until I saw this show. I didn’t grow up in a home where we made a lot of things by hand, so watching Genevieve saw and nail things on her own was really powerful. It’s what inspired me to make most of the furniture I had in my college and post-college life and it gave me such a strong sense of confidence at a tough time in life.
- To each their own: It’s not a secret that designers had their own fan clubs on Trading Spaces and certain designers would get a lot of flak from other designers’ fans. At the height of the show’s popularity I was definitely on Team Genevieve and Team Vern, but looking back, I realize how great it was that they had designers with so many different styles and backgrounds. My 19-year-old self didn’t appreciate “country chicken” motif kitchens, but I recognize now that it was so important that the show embraced and supported a lot of different design styles and didn’t elevate one above the other.
- Inspiration is everywhere: I grew up thinking that design came from a big ol’ rule book. You opened up books from fancy older designers and that’s where you knew what was “good” and what was “out.” But watching designers like Genevieve find inspiration in everything from a shade of wood on an old trunk to the fuchsia interior of an artichoke really informed my way of viewing the design world. It taught me that I could design an entire room around my favorite movie poster or a colorful pattern on an old plate — anything that meant something to me was valid.
- Design doesn’t have to cost a lot: This one is something I’m constantly missing from current design TV because today’s design shows are all about huge budgets and shiny new things. While I recognize that spending $1,000 – $2,000 on a room is still a lot, it’s far less than what we’ve become accustomed to on TV. I miss the older era of shows like Clean House with Niecy Nash, where homeowners would have a yard sale to raise funds for a more modest makeover. Those were the days when design felt more accessible, DIY and relatable to me. I think I’ve lost touch with that some, and I’m excited to see what Trading Spaces can remind me about getting creative and crafty at home.
- Just be yourself: The designers on Trading Spaces were all from very different style backgrounds: country chic with Frank, traditional/preppy with Laurie, avant-garde with Hildi, architectural clean lines with Vern, classic city chic with Doug, and creative/DIY with Genevieve. Each of them fully embraced their style and never really tried to be anyone other than themselves. They all attempted to give homeowners something they actually wanted (with varying degrees of success and some with greater effort than others), but they stayed true to their points of view and I love that. I love that Genevieve never wavered from wanting to use nature as a point of inspiration and seeing up-cycled objects as valid pieces of art and design.