At 10 a.m. Saturday, the A&E network introduces a home makeover show called Hideous Houses. Hosted by Eric Stromer, a general contractor, working with his brother Kurt Stromer and the designer Megan Weaver, it features not only homes in desperate need of repair (mosaic work gone metastatic; a teenager whose bedroom is a garage with a leaking roof), but also hosts who repeatedly tell the homeowners just what a mess they are.
“Can I just say, it feels so oppressive in here,” Eric Stromer tells a homeowner in the first episode. “And there’s so much crap.” (As Stromer was once named one of People magazine’s “sexiest men alive,” it is doubtful he has been at the receiving end of the human equivalent of such a critique.) Hosts also frequently shout, “The house is hideous!”
You might think it would be tough to get homeowners to subject themselves to such abuse, even if it involves a $20,000 makeover, but the show’s creator and executive producer, Ellen Rakieten, who worked for Oprah for 23 years, assured us this was not the case. A certain amount of tact when dealing with homeowners is, however, required, Rakieten explained, speaking from Chicago, where she lives. Q. So isn’t it tough to get people to submit homes for a show called Hideous Houses?
No, actually. We did multiple outreach in three cities, and for Los Angeles alone we had 64 viable homes. The total number of homes submitted was 207. Q. What were your criteria?
It could never be too hideous, like structural damage where the house literally needed to be torn down. And for me, a lot of the submissions were more hoarder-esque than hideous homes.
We wanted to focus on people who had bad taste. Everybody knows that home that is the eyesore in the neighborhood, the one with the washing machine in the front yard. In many cases, it was the neighbors who submitted the houses because they felt they were hurting their property values. Q. That must have made for a really awkward opening call to the homeowner.
There were also many cases where the kids were embarrassed by their parents’ houses and submitted them. But listen, I have a great production team and they know how to do this. The head of our casting department worked at Extreme Makeover: Home Edition for two seasons, so he was very skilled. Q. What exactly do you say to the homeowner?
“We’re doing this really exciting new show, and you have the opportunity to create a beautiful home.” “How do you feel about your home?” “Well, you have heard before that some people on the block aren’t thrilled with your home?”
I’ve done many makeover shows where you have to call a person and basically say, “Everybody wants to do an intervention.” On Oprah we’d say, “We hear you’re beautiful but for whatever reason in your life, maybe you need a little sprucing up, a little helping hand.” We approach them in a respectful way. Q. Still, your hosts don’t sugarcoat it. In the first episode, I think the one with the son living in the carport, one of them says in the owner’s presence that the house smells like dead animals.
Well, it did. Q. And nobody ever slugged a host or got mad?
No. I wouldn’t be surprised if you are living like that, there is an acceptance that comes along with it. In the first episode, there was that woman who was freaking out. Carport mom, she was having a breakdown.
It’s a very, very, very dramatic example of what people go through when they have to clean out their closets. You know it was bad, it’s from the 1970s, but you’re having a hard time of it, though people were well aware that these were hideous houses that needed an intervention. Q. Has anyone been so insulted they turned you down?
No. Q. What do you think this says about the American public?
If I called you and I said I have this team of world-class people and they are going to clean out your closet and organize your life and do your spring cleaning, in a lot of cases it is a big relief. Q. I’d be afraid.
If your son was living in a carport and you had a sheet hung up in place of a door and your front yard looked as if a plane had just dropped a bunch of junk on it and you might have a sense that your house is a hideous color and everybody else had a lovely tasteful normal color on the outside? You haven’t seen the Chickenpox House: It looked like it had the chickenpox; it looked like spotted brick.
I think there is a point that you have to face reality. And in all these shows, there are already people within the family or within the neighborhood that had expressed opposition to the way they were living.
So yes, “Knock, knock, you have the ugliest house in town; can somebody come in and take it over?” It’s hard for you to hear, but if the house is really ugly and disgusting, are you going to slam the door in their face?