A Behind the Scenes Look at the Reality of a Reality TV Home Show

HGTV’s hit show Designers’ Challenge was planning to film in my hometown. This is the show were three sets of designers present their design concepts to homeowners and a designer is selected to complete the project. Fortunately, my design partner and I were asked to appear on the show.

Pages of paperwork and a very detailed scheduled later, we were given the project specifics and budget to transform a family room. We were allowed to meet with the homeowner once and only once prior to making our presentation. From that point, we had two weeks to design the space and create all on camera presentation material.

The first day of taping was nerve wracking and no, the show’s host Chris Harrison was not present and no, I did not meet him. We were told Chris does all his taping in a Los Angeles studio. The crew that arrived that included the segment director, two camera men, a lighting technician, a sound technician and two production assistants.

The first segment taped was the introduction so viewers get an opportunity to know the designers. Since there were two of us, we were sitting together. We were placed together on a sofa practically in each other’s lap, but we were told that on the camera this looks normal. Cheek to cheek we sat and answered a string of pre-arrange questions about interior design and the local area. We were told how to answer the questions so the answers sounded like talking rather than answering questions. This proved to be harder than it sounds.

The next day was the project presentation; the set up for the presentation took hours, literally. I had always heard about the “hot lights” on a set, and now understand exactly what that means. Numerous sound checks were also conducted; everyone had to be absolutely silent during this process. A neighborhood dog was barking and a bird kept chirping, so a production assistant was sent to deal with both issues. I don’t know what he did but 10 minutes later the neighborhood was silent.

During this set up / waiting period, the director asked to view the presentation boards. He called our boards “eye candy” for the camera and I knew we were in good shape. Finally, we presented our ideas multiple times, pausing for an occasional airplane flying overhead and of course, the occasional innocent blooper. Nothing was shot in just one take. Immediately after finishing, we were hurried out of the house by a production assistant as the next designer had arrived and competing designers were never to meet.

Now, the homeowners needed to make their designer selection. The waiting began and lasted two weeks, although on the show the homeowners say that they made the decision in one week. Finally, the call came and the homeowners selected us to complete project. I remember jumping up and down with my then two year old saying, “Mommy is going to be on TV like Elmo from Sesame Street”. He is now 4 and has yet to show any interest in the segment.

The “real” work began and I got down to the familiar business of an interior design project. There are many details involved never shown on camera such as changes from the homeowner, supervision of subcontractors, product availability issues (since the project had to be completed on a production schedule and not a real world design schedule this was a major obstacle). Regular calls were received from the production company making sure that we were on schedule as the segment was already sold to the network even though filming was not complete.

When the design work was complete, and the production crew came back to town. We shot scenes that showed the outcome of the room as well as wrap up interviews on the overall process. In the midst of my final interview, a bumble bee flew under the strap of my sandal and stung my toes. I fell into my associate which was inevitable since we were standing so close together. In true reality television style, the cameras continued to tape the entire blooper. I signed a form at the beginning of the process stating that all footage the crew obtains can be used in whatever manner they choose, and was teased for the remainder of the day that this out-take would be used in the upcoming blooper program they were creating. I think this was a joke but sometime still wonder.

Over nine months later, the showed aired primetime on HGTV. Emails clogged my inbox 3 hours before the showed aired in my state. The questions were numerous but the overwhelming design question was a request for the brand and name of the paint color we used. Even now, years later, I always know when the show has been rerun because again the emails appear in my inbox, again with the same question. Just in case you are wondering, the color is Roasted Sesame Seed from Benjamin Moore or if a blooper show is ever created, the name is “Roasted Sesame Street”. My profession is interior design but my “real” job is being a mom.