The (main) problem with HGTV.

19 min read HGTV is a primary source of our beliefs about remodeling and what making good choices for a home looks like. And most of that advice is just dead wrong for mid-century homeowners.

This season, I’m pushing back on the default remodeling advice that we all encounter on HGTV and in online magazines, see manifested in big box home improvement stores and hear echoed in the mouths of run-of-the-mill general contractors. 

But you know I’m not about negativity! 

Instead, you are going to get all the positive, encouraging, actionable advice to help you make timeless choices tailored to your home. 

In short, this season’s theme is “The remodel advice you will never get from HGTV.” 

In Today’s Episode You’ll Hear:

  • Why HGTV’s universal advice isn’t for us (mid-century homeowners). 
  • The motivations behind many HGTV design recommendations. 
  • How to forgive ourselves for past HGTV influenced design choices.

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Read the Full Episode Transcript

Most people get their most deeply ingrained beliefs of what it means to remodel a home and what making good choices for a home will look like from mass media, HGTV and its print media siblings. And most of that HGTV advice is just dead wrong for mid-century homeowners like you and like me today, and for the next dozen or so episodes. Yeah, I have that much to say on the topic. 

I’m going to be pushing back on the default remodeling advice that you’ll find on HGTV and in online in magazines, and see manifested in big box home improvement stores and hear echoed in the mouths of run-of-the-mill general contractors, but we’re not here to be negative. Instead, I’m going to use this theme as a way to give you positive encouraging actionable advice to make timeless tailored choices for your home. In short, this season’s theme is the remodel advice you will never get from HGTV. 

Hey there. Welcome back to mid mod remodel. This is the show about updating an MCM home helping you match a mid-century home to your modern life. I’m your host della Hansmann architect and mid-century ranch enthusiast, you’re listening to Episode 1601. 

Does the calendar rolling over to 2024 stir up some questions about your house that you kind of feel like you need answered right now. Or maybe you’ve got some pressing design questions that’s been weighing on your mind for way too long. Well, my dear mid mod remodeler, I’m telling you this first, I’m about to give away 10 Free 30-minute consult appointments next week. Do you need a January jumpstart call? I would love to chat with you about your home. 

So go grab a free 30-minute call slot while they’re hot. I did this last summer, by the way. And I had such a great time digging in with some mid mod homeowners and needed design guidance, we had major breakthroughs on every single call. And so I knew I was going to need to do it again after a little breather. 

Here’s the thing. I hear from a lot of people that they feel stuck in their remodel plans. And maybe you can relate. People get hung up at a couple of key spots along their home improvement journey. But here’s what I’ve been hearing the most lately. You’re too busy in your life to pull together all the details of a remodel, just thinking about it hurts your brain. Or you can’t even get a contractor to call you back about your plans, even though it’s January. Or you’re worried that your dream plan doesn’t match this economy or the state of your budget. What could you do? Or you haven’t even broken the ice, you’re scared to just do anything to your house without doing everything wrong. 

Do some of those sound like your fears? Well, I can’t fix the economy or train new contractors to fill our gap. But I can offer you some very helpful advice to get you past your sticking point. How do I know because those are problems that I’ve helped clients work around in recent calls. So I want to get you on stuck to let’s schedule a 30-minute free January jumpstart call to get you to your next step. Whatever that is, I’ve blocked out the next week in my calendar, including all of MLK day if you happen to have that off work. And I will be chatting with the first 10 folks who are locked down a time and fill in their questionnaire. 

So this is your head start listener fill in the form, you can pop over to the link in my show notes and find it and basically just tell me who you are and what your current sticking point is and get your January jumpstart call locked in. Before I send an email to my 2500 closest friends and then shouted out to 20k buddies on Instagram. This is your chance to get in ahead of all of them. So are we going to chat next week?

As always, you’ll find the show notes with that link and a transcript of the episode plus anything else I reference on my website at midmod-midwest.com/1601. 

So during this episode, and this whole season, really we’re going to spend a lot of time talking about the dangers of monoculture design. And of course, that’s not new to HGTV, Better Homes and Gardens Popular Mechanics there have been magazine versions of giving everyone that same advice about their home for decades. And it would be ridiculous of me as a student and advocate of mid-century ranch style homes to say that uniformity and construction is a bad thing. 

Mid-Century homes are incredibly consistent in their philosophy of how they’re organized, and their structural techniques and how they’re built. One of the reasons I can run the design business that I do giving people universal advice about their homes and giving people remote design work for houses from the mid-century era across the US and beyond that I’ve never been to and will never be to is how consistent they are. Although we also use a carefully developed system of discovery to get the structural advice, the photographic documentation, the plan information we need. 

Because of the consistency of technology and building types for mid-century homes, I am able to make assumptions about how a mid-century house is built inside of the two walls that I couldn’t for a house built in the 1930s or one built in the 70s or 80s. Because those construction techniques are not as broadly consistent as the houses built from 1945 to 1965. I don’t know what’s going to happen behind the wall the same way that I know what’s up inside a mid-century house. 

But we also want to think about how universal can mean different things. When I give advice about mid-century homes that is pretty broadly applicable. But I would never give advice to everyone in every era of home in every part of the world. That’s nonsense. And yet, a lot of the advice you’re gonna see in a magazine online on TV is written or spoken as if it is meant to be universally applicable to every house in America. Regardless of what the lifestyle of the people who live inside it is, what their budget is, or when their home was built and designed. 

So in this episode, we’re going to touch on a bunch of topics that we’ll dive more deeply into later this season. But in general, I want to give you your permission slip right now, in case you hadn’t already gotten it from listening to the Monroe model. This is how you have the ability to push back on that monoculture idea of if everybody’s doing farmhouse, you have to make farmhouse choices for your kitchen remodel done in 2024. 

You do not. We want to think about why. What are the not secret reasons, I don’t want to treat this like a conspiracy. But if you think about it, ask yourself this question. Who was telling me this? And why do they want me to believe it? This is one of the driving forces between behind my mother’s ethos. She is a print journalist. And she’s always wanting to know, what’s the motivation behind this interviewee? What’s their perspective? And how does that inform the advice, the opinions, the words that they say? 

And this is absolutely important when you’re talking to people about your home, you want to think about how to get advice from different experts. You certainly don’t need to have the skills of a master plumber, in order to hire some plumbing work done on your home. You can take the words the advice of plumbers to heart. 

But you also want to think about what are the various different motivations of the different people you speak to. And that you listen to. When we think about who we’re getting advice from when it’s coming from online when it’s coming from television media, in particular, who is telling me this? And why do they want me to believe it is so often being driven by paid advertisers who recommend certain things. There are also motivations to keep eyeballs on the screen. 

Television based remodeling shows are always going to be based on a shock headline reveal. So they want to make as big as possible change from what was there at the beginning to what’s there at the end, no matter if what was there before was pretty good. They also want to stir up drama – conflict between spouses or between the contractor and the owner, the owner, and the designer, or the designer, and the contractor. 

These all make for good TV, but they’re not what you want in your life, nor are they even realistically necessary. You don’t need to have conflict on a building site. And my goal as a designer, is always to find a compromise solution that will please everyone quite a bit. It’s no secret that many residential architects feel that we ought to have a little bit of marriage therapy training as part of our design experience. But the reality is that a lot of problems can actually be solved by finding the design commonalities. And that’s true between spouses and also between the warring conflicts of what’s the budget going to be and also how is it going to look. 

But for television, the contrast is always going to be the most important thing. This has a negative effect for you. It might end up making a remodel way more expensive than it needs to be because they’re never going to take the if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it philosophy. That is a wonderful way for us who live in mid-century homes that have any of their original mid-century qualities intact. Sometimes a little bit of maintenance or repair can keep something that may have gone out of style and come back into style right in the house. It doesn’t need to be torn out and replaced. 

I think it’s interesting to think about the fact that this idea of monoculture of standard designs, the standardization of what is a good idea for a house doesn’t actually help people. It doesn’t make people feel good. In fact, there have been a number of articles recently, I’ll link to them in the show notes page about how standardization how everything should look the same the way we see it on sort of influencer, social media culture makes people feel unempowered in their home. 

I find the idea of people not feeling empowered to make their own personal choices for their home very sad. But also completely understandable. Many of the homeowners I speak to as my clients and my students who reach out to me or who listen to the mid mod remodel podcast, are really worried about making a wrong choice for their home. And the message coming out of HGTV and other similar monoculture type media sources is that there is only one right way to do your house. 

And that is probably whatever Joanna Gaines is doing right now. But I have to tell you that whatever Joanna Gaines is doing right now, is not motivated by the best interest of the person that’s going to live in that house. It’s what she thinks is cool, sure, but it’s also what she thinks is easy to do cheap for her system to put together and a dramatic change from what was there before and it will also have some time of clickbait-ey elements. 

Now, I don’t think she’s setting out to make homes for people worse or make design choices that people will hate or will age poorly. But at the end of the day, she’s not really giving advice that you or I can use. Now, it’s not really possible for a person speaking to a television audience in the United States to give specific advice in the way that I can give specific advice to my audience. I know you’re all living in mid-century homes or love them. 

But HGTV does not know what area your house was built in. They don’t know how much you like or dislike it. And they do not know what its state of maintenance, or how it fits the lifestyle of your family living there. They have none of that information. And therefore they can’t really give personalized advice about what to do in a home. So they don’t bother. They just give universal advice. 

And at the same time, that so called universal advice is in a way all very specific to a type of home that you and I don’t actually have or love. In my opinion, most of the advice you’ll find on HGTV. And in these kinds of home decor magazines, shelter magazines, is actually about how to add design features to a house that has none. Now that can be appropriate if you’re living in a house that’s so worn out that everything needed needs to be repaired. If you’re living in a house that must be fully gutted due to a mold or an asbestos issue. Or if you’re living in a house that was built in the 1990s or later, it may have no innate decorative qualities, or it might have a completely fake pasted on decorative quality. A real house made of ticky tacky. Let’s leave Daly City out of this for that purpose. 

But a house like that a house that has no innate quality is a potential candidate for just applying a new style over it. You’re not hurting anything by taking off faux tutor or foe Renaissance or faux colonial or faux plantation style gross exterior, and then making it more farmhouse. They didn’t really have any innate design to begin with, because they were just drywall boxes with ridiculous spoke crown molding, stapled on in those houses. There’s nothing to start from and you can go ahead and add whatever in the Joanna Gaines farmhouse shiplap siding you want. 

But that’s not what our houses are like. Our houses do have an innate style, a light one. Sure. A minimalist one, yes. And one that hasn’t really been visible. In the 80s, it seemed like nothing to people who had grown up with this as the default for their generation. They thought they were adding style to a house that had none. But I think that to us, looking back at the mid-century era, we can see the innate but subtle choices in clamshell molding, in simple slab unpainted plywood doors, and simple bits of brick that create a little bit of a language of what is happening inside and outside the house. Those things don’t need to have another layer of style applied over them, they simply need to be enhanced or expanded on. 

Now the other thing that’s different about what you want, and what the people who are creating content for social media and for HGTV is, is that they are always focused on a speedy and dramatic transformation. Now, you might want a speedy remodel, I’m not going to tell you you don’t. But the nature of television is a literal speed run. And we will spend an entire episode maybe more about the unrealistic ideas of how quickly remodeling can happen that are given by Home Improvement shows. And they always fudge their timelines. But they’re also just making choices that help them go as quickly as possible. 

Their purpose in making a design decision is sometimes how quickly that transformation could be effected. Whereas for you, your ultimate goal might be yes, it’d be nice to get this done quickly. But you also want it to last for the next several decades. So waiting an extra month for delivery time have the exact right material, that’s a good choice for you that Home Improvement show would never make. 

They also have a goal to maximize the difference between the way the house looks on the day they show it first to the final reveal on television, I would find it fascinating by the way to watch a show about how previous HGTV remodels have held up both in terms of how those materials have aged and in terms of how the people living in those houses like what was done well enough to keep it or have they made their own adjustments or completely changed it over again since the time of the show. It would be fascinating to see all those things, but we don’t know them. This is the reason that I always encourage people to come back to their own timeline to come back to their own why the dream stage of what’s the purpose of these changes is more important, really than how long it takes to make them. 

And the drama of the transition is not actually a great idea. A bigger contrast means you’re moving perhaps further away from the mid-century era that your house was built in. And those big refreshes often lead to tacky or dated looks just a few years later, let alone decades after the fact. So that was a category, we may do an entire episode on why you do not need to paint everything house in your house white, and why you shouldn’t. But the reason they’re doing this in Home Improvement shows is that rooms painted white film well, they look bright and cheerful, and they show up cleanly on television. 

But in reality, a room painted entirely white can feel harsh or sterile. And that’s not really what you want done in your home, it’s fine. To get the occasional bit of advice from HGTV, it’s certainly fine to watch it like a game show or to take amusement from it. But remember, when you look at it as a place to go for remodeling advice, the motivations of the people making those shows are totally different from what I assume to be your design goals for your home. 

I’m just going to go out on a limb and say, you’re probably hoping for some or all of the following. You want to make choices that will feel timeless, so you don’t have to do them again in 10 or 15 years. You want to make sure that your house fits your family both right now, and really suits the way you want to live, and has the flexibility to grow and adapt to your changing life stages. As you grow up with your family or start a family you don’t have right now as your kids grow up and leave the home and you age in place. Or as I had a conversation with another client recently, you slip and break your foot and need some reasonable disability accommodations in the house right now. You also probably want to make sure you’re spending your money in the most effective possible ways. Now, that might not mean spending the least. But it certainly means that you want to spend your money on the things that really matter to you the things that please you that feel worthwhile, not necessarily the most dramatic things. But the things that will deeply affect the way you live in and feel about your house. 

A short way to summarize this is that all of your goals are planning for the long term. That’s true, even if you’re not necessarily planning to stay in your house forever. If you know you’re going to need to move or it has some quality, that means you’re going to have to move at some point, you’re still planning for a longer term than an HGTV show, because you’re planning for how the house will appeal to the next person and the person after that. And I would argue that’s not about standardizing it and making it some sort of universally bland average of choices. It’s about making sure it feels timeless and well built and flexible. 

All of the choices you’ve been making for your own family have done right should add up to the good choices for the potential for resale either at the end of your life or whenever you need to move from one place in America to another. 

One last thing to let you know about this season’s topic. Let me be clear, I am punching up here. I’m talking about HGTV as a concept and also a specific shows. But really, I’m not even trying to pick holes in a particular episode or a particular type of remodeling show. I am punching back at the way I have seen the effect of HGTV perpetrated on the world around us. And I’m going to be saying some kind of mean things, discussing my dislike of my disdain for my disapproval of some of these choices that we see coming out of HGTV into the big box stores into what things are being recommended by contractors into things that have been done to mid-century homes that exist. 

But none of this is aimed at you, or anyone you know who may have made choices in the past influenced us to buy this advice. If you’ve made choices for your home, that you don’t feel great about now, that’s not your fault. It’s tough out there to find mid-century appropriate advice for a mid-century home. And you’re doing the right thing right now by getting interested in how to make better, longer lasting more appropriate choices for your house going forward. 

What I want to do with the season is guard against more people making regrettable choices for mid-century homes based on what they’re hearing from the HGTV show playing in their dentist’s office, not at all to shame anyone who’s ever made a choice in the past, influenced by the very confident loud, strident voices telling you what is the quote-unquote right thing to do. So let’s all gather together and push back on the monoculture of trendy, dramatic, fast fashion Home Improvement media. 

I don’t want to turn you off. So if this makes you feel like you’re going in the wrong direction, just pause, give yourself a little grace. And we’ll start to talk about how to make better tweaks and small transformations, tailored choices for your house going forward so that in the end, you’ll feel that you’ve really done well by your mid-century home and it can live well for you.

Before we wrap up the episode, I want to leave you with a little encouragement, you might be thinking about 2024 as the year you’re going to make big changes to your house. Make a master plan either on your own using the ready to remodel program or hire Mid Mod Midwest to take on the process of planning a master plan for you. You might be thinking about the general contractor level work that’s going to happen or setting up dreams for a big DIY project that’s going to set your life into chaos for months to come, but be so satisfying when it’s done. 

But you don’t have to wait for the future to make changes to your house. I want to encourage you to think about what small but significant, I like to call these level one changes, you can make right now, possibly this very week. A level one change a level one remodel is something you can buy and install or DIY in a few hours, that still transforms the way you feel about your house. 

I’m going to be suggesting some small but significant ideas each week. And I want to see which ones land for you. But the importance of a level one move is both that it makes a change in the way you feel about your house right now. And that it sets the stage for a bigger project gives you a sense of satisfaction that can counteract the overwhelm that is natural with a long period of inertia as you plan for a big daunting, expensive, contractor led project to come. 

I encourage you to think about the possibilities of little changes you can make in your house right now in January with your new year new 2024 energy. And I would love for you to reach out and let me know what you’ve got in your mind. If you’re feeling particularly excited to dive in, I’ll point you back to a long-ago episode all the way back from season two episode 203 gives the formula for a room upgrade recipe and lets you know how you can make some level-one changes to any room in your house. And beyond that I’ll be sharing some level one upgrade ideas at the end of each episode throughout the season. So keep your ears perked for what’s going to work best for you. And I encourage you to take some action on making your house a little more your own right now this month, you’ve got this friend. 

Okay, a topic shift. I often talk about how a level one change is something that you can buy and install or DIY in a few hours that can transform your home. I’m going to be suggesting small specific ideas for you to tackle in your own free time each week. Over the next season of the podcast. Let’s see what lands for you. So today, I’m going to tell you why right now is the perfect time to order and install a new mid-century style mailbox for your home. Now this might not seem like the most obvious season for curb appeal updates, particularly in some parts of the country. But you can install a house mounted mailbox in any weather that’s not actively sleeping with a little planning. It’s just a few minutes with a drill outside. And it’s a nice trade to make for the festive cheer of the holiday decorations going away. You might be taking those down right about now. So put something else back into place to make you smile when you pull up to your house every day. 

This has the advantage to of setting your planning wheels in motion. So once you have a new favorite color mailbox, you can start planning purchases and paint jobs and the other adjustments you can make around the exterior of your house to match up to the new theme as the season gets more DIY outdoor project friendly. One of my favorite moves is to paint your front door the same color as your new mailbox. It’s simple, it takes the guesswork out of it, you can take the mailbox down to the paint store and have them use their scanning device to match the color exactly. Or you can get swatches and have the fun of bringing them home to test to match or compliment the color. 

You can also find yourself setting a trend. One of the most fun things about exterior updates to your mid-century house is that you could watch your neighbors pick up on your good ideas in real time. One of the first things I did to my house after painting it was to install a new mailbox mailbox. And it tickled me so much to see over the next 18 months or so half a dozen of the same type of mailbox popped up on my neighbor’s houses along my dog walk route. So give yourself the New Year’s gift of feeling like you’ve got good taste, and do your neighbors a favor by setting a good example. One of the best qualities of a small update a level one update is that it’s most inexpensive, easy to take on and it’s something you’re going to touch on a regular basis. You’ll admire your new mailbox every time you return home from a trip away. And you’ll touch it every day when you check the mail. 

So if you this has got you feeling excited about it, you might want to grab a broader free resource on front door curb appeal updates. So you can find that and some more advice on making great changes to the outside of your home at bid mod dash midwest.com/ 1110 When I talked about front door updates in general, and it’ll have some recommendations for specifically mid mod style mailboxes, let me know if you decide to make this change. And if you do, send me a picture of what you choose and how it looks we install it. 

Let’s recap. We’ve talked a lot today about how you’re getting a lot of advice from HGTV Yes, but also from print media, from magazines from other television programs from Netflix from the checkout aisle at the grocery store, certainly from big box stores and from most general contractors out there, that there’s one right way to remodel your house. And you need to do with this current trendy way to avoid making a mistake. And I will argue the opposite is true. Following the current trend is a mistake for a mid-century house. You’re looking to make choices that are sure tailored to your preferences. Yes, perhaps different from what’s there right now. out, but are going to have more timeless staying power than what’s currently trendy right now. 

We’ve all seen it, you walk into a house that was remodeled 10 years ago or 15 years ago or in the 1980s. And the date of the remodel is instantly apparent. That’s not what you want to spend your remodeling dollars or time, or energy or drywall dust on right now, something that someone 10 years from now will know exactly when it was done, and kind of judge it for its build date. So I want you to think about who was telling me this and why did they want me to believe it, push back on the TV-based culture of generated conflict drama, compress timelines, decisions based on timing, and decisions based on how dramatic the before after look is rather than how perfectly tailored the house update is to the people who are going to live there. 

This is your permission slip if you needed it, to make choices for your house that match your life and your preferences. And I hope you’ll continue to listen as we go through the season and dig a little deeper into spawn con culture and the pressure to make dramatic transformations. The idea of refreshing as opposed to tweaking the whole idea that we need to transform our home in a remodel rather than make it evermore right ever more what we really wanted it to be and to play into the things that drew us to our mid-century homes in the first place. 

That’s pretty much it for today. But we’ll be back next week to talk about ads and sponsored content in our HDTV and other monoculture presenting information. Why we all feel we need stainless steel, why everyone is quote unquote, cooking with gas now and more. So stay tuned through the rest of the season as we talk about how to make personalized choices for homes. 

And I can’t wait to hear what you’ve tried and what you will try in our new segments on suggesting how to make quick changes right now and how to feel confident as you go through your remodeling process. As always, you can find links to everything we’ve mentioned in the show and also the transcript of the episode at our show notes page at midmod-midwest.com/1601. That’s all for now mid mod remodelers. Catch you next week.