Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Best Home Show Ever

Brian and I are too cheap to pay for cable service at home, so I was pleased to discover recently that the HGTV website has episodes of several shows available to watch online. (One minor drawback: although there are only a few short commercials in each episode, it's usually the same 30-second commercial repeated several times in each episode—and it will show up again and again in different episodes. And trust me, these are not commercials that improve with repeated watching.) So I watched a few episodes of some of their more popular shows, and after a while I found I was getting frustrated. The problem I was having is that, with a few exceptions like "Designed to Sell," these shows appeared to approach the job of redesigning a space with reckless disregard for the cost. Oh, some of them had a nominal budget, but it was a budget of, say, $25,000 to $35,000 to make over a dated kitchen—and that's without any new plumbing or wiring work. Their approach to pretty much anything the homeowners didn't like was to rip it out and replace it with new, high-end materials. And the most annoying part of all was the way they would install $10,000 worth of new stonework and then brag about how they saved the homeowner $75 by refinishing the existing light fixture instead of buying a new one.

So after a while, I was starting to wonder if there were any shows out there that didn't take such a wasteful approach to home redesign. Then, while browsing on Hulu, I discovered "Wasted Spaces." This is the perfect antidote to those spendthrift HGTV shows: a show with an ecofrugal approach. The premise is, the host/builder (a delightful Aussie named Karl Champley) comes into the homes of people who need more space in a particular area and shows them how to make use of unused spaces—overhead, in the floor, in the walls, or in other rooms of the house. Then he designs and helps them build a custom storage unit, tailored to their space, out of materials you can buy at any home center—often for as little as $100. His projects have included a recessed pantry built into the wall between the kitchen and the garage (with additional shelves on the garage side for storage there); a custom desk with a hideaway laptop drawer that doesn't even need hinges; a wall-mounted rotating art display; and a set of hidden storage compartments set into the floor for stowing away valuables.

Unlike the hosts of many home shows, who tend to be annoyingly chipper and sound scripted even when they're ad-libbing, Karl Champley is down-to-earth, has a sense of humor, and really knows his stuff. His shows are full of useful tips like, "When you're buying lumber, never take the first board in a stack; it's usually warped" (something that the Troll and I had already learned through personal observation). He takes the time to show the homeowners (and the viewers) the nuts and bolts of a project—sometimes quite literally, as when he demonstrates how the hardware on a new cabinet works. He can make an exquisite corner cabinet out of plywood and ceiling tile. And, incidentally, he's really hot.

This show, to me, captures the essence of ecofrugality: avoiding waste. Rather than throw everything away and replace it for thousands of dollars, it shows you how to make the most of what you have for hundreds. Seasons 3 and 4 are available on Hulu, and well worth a look.
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