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Late in 2013, I was offered the opportunity to fulfill a fantasy of mine and experience what it might be like to be one of those incredible DIY designers on TV. The chaos, the budget constraints, the extremely tight time limit… all of it seemed both completely nuts and like something no one would ever be dumb enough to allow me of all people to do. So when SheKnowsTV came calling and offered me a chance to be a designer on an online season of Homestretch, I eagerly said yes… assuming that at any minute, they’d figure out their mistake and send me on the first plane back home.
During the experience, I also met a really great couple with a simple need for finding extra space in their teeny, tiny laundry room. It took a lot of hard work, but it became what is still one of my proudest projects to date, and I was very anxious to share all of their laundry room makeover pictures once I got back home.
The thing is, I had to wait to share pictures of all of the final makeover photos until the episodes were cut, so the recap post about it got pushed to the back burner. And once I started moving on to other projects at home again (plus holidays), it just never seemed to fit into my schedule to talk about it anymore… even after doing a second season on a different room with another couple!
- Here’s my original short post about the first season (the laundry room) I did.
- Here’s the second short post about the living room makeover.
Recently, there’s been a new opportunity to look back at this project (and the second season project) and do a proper recap since I don’t want to bore you with my kitchen makeover details until the walls are finished and painted. So for today, I thought I’d start with some highlights and behind-the-scenes details about what it was like to be behind the camera. This post will get WAY too long to cover it all in a single overview once I go over the nitty gritty of all the design decisions, so I’m breaking this apart so that you can first know the details leading up to the design, and I’ll cover some tips about how to cram a lot of organization into a tiny room in another post coming later this week. Enjoy!
As it turns out, I was totally right about the nuts part of what it is like to be in front of a camera for two straight days, with nonstop filming, with lots of interruptions thrown in because of things like re-shots, on-camera interviews, and having to stop working with loud power tools because microphones and saws are apparently mortal enemies (#themoreyouknow). It was easily one of the most intimidating things I’ve ever done, and I felt like I was on the verge of tears at least half the time (I may not have made this obvious, but I have a LOT of anxiety about being in front of a camera, which is why I’ve been Periscoping recently to get more comfortable with it). So before I get into the makeover, I just wanted to add that the SheKnowsTV crew was amazing… and despite the growing lump in my throat over embarrassing myself in front of an entire crew of my complete ineptitude, they gave me exactly the kind of help I needed to get through it and keep saying yes to everything they threw at me.
Two days? Sure! Even though I’ve never once completed a project in two days, let alone understanding the start-stop-start chaos of filming the process. And let’s do all of that learning in front of a camera.
Just $2,000? Sure! Even though I have never really ever budgeted for a total room makeover from top to bottom, let’s see what happens.
Point is, as a DIYer, I usually kind of wing it. I do tons of research to feel prepared-ish for whatever it is I’m about to take on, but most of the projects I do on this blog are things I have never tackled before. That’s part of where the fun comes in, but it’s also what takes more time and makes me 100%, without a doubt, completely not an expert. And if you’re going to be in front of a camera and expected to teach other people your DIY skills, the fact that you know you’re not going to fill these “expert” shoes is… well… wholly terrifying. Especially when they are pitting you against another DIYer who, despite being an amazing blogging friend I’ve known for years (which did help to make me feel more comfortable agreeing to it), is a freaking badass builder to boot. And someone I’m sure you’ll recognize.
So, that’s the situation I found myself in. And less than a week later of signing the contract, I was sent off to Scottsdale, Arizona for filming. I was greeted at the airport by a private driver (which I’ve never done before that point, so I thought was pretty neat).
I was sent to an amazing resort hotel (that I got about an hour each night in to enjoy before passing out because of the long filming days).
I sat in a makeup chair like a person who gets their hair and makeup done (what?!).
I wore a mic pack in my shorts and wires had to be snaked up through my bra (and before you go thinking that the mic guy has a cool job getting to stick his hand down women’s shirts, remember that he’s also the guy having to insert, position, and remove the boiling hot battery pack in your shorts/underwear just so in the Arizona heat). I had to do some really bad acting and pretend like everything I said was for the first time because the camera crew needed multiple takes. And, hardest of all… I had to look sane.
Do I seem like the type who can pull that off? Nope.
The Design Process: Setup
It was a long learning process in terms of filming, but they prepared me for the design part as best they could. While it often seems in these shows like the designer doesn’t get a chance to see the space before they jump into the design, that’s only partially true (at least in this case… other shows probably do it differently). Before my flight, I got to do a Skype call with one of the homeowners, Heidi, and get a feel for what her challenges were with the space and what her style is like so that I could start getting some ideas. What I didn’t fully get though was the true size and dimensions of the room… just pictures, really:
Basically, this “room” wasn’t a room at all. It was more like a passthrough closet that served to house the washer and dryer in between the garage and their enormous kitchen (I later found out that they gave Sandra first pick of which room she wanted to take on, and this one became mine after she chose the other house). Which meant that a majority of the things that a laundry room is usually reserved for spilled over into other spaces.
All in all… not an ideal design plan.
As much as moving walls to give them more ample folding and hanging room would have been nice, it would not have been finished in two days, so anything I did was going to have to be contained in a space where I could literally touch my fingertips from one wall to another (and in the show clips, I actually used my body as a measuring tape to demonstrate how small of a space we’d be working in!).
Before flying out, I did a sketch of what I thought the room could ideally look like—you know, without actually seeing the house and knowing my space limitations and being completely unfamiliar with what I could do in the span of two days with filming interruptions (so, not super realistic). I still have the sketch, and I might even frame it as a fun little keepsake:
Timing was tight. On the day I would fly in town, I was expected to swing by the homeowners and check out the space for a few minutes before shopping for every supply I’d need for the entire project. The next day (Day 1) would begin filming at 7AM with hair and makeup, and the following day (Day 2) would end with final room shots before the crew packed up at 7PM.
Let me repeat the most important part of that: for this project, I was expected to buy every piece of wood, every can of paint, every screw, every tube of caulk, every piece of tile, and every finishing item of decor in a single day. As a DIYer, I’ve never done such a thing, nor could I actually imagine such a concept in my mind without getting a migraine. I was promised that one of the PAs on set would likely be in charge of making repeated trips to the nearby home improvement store if I needed an extra item of this or that, so I didn’t feel nearly as much like vomiting as when I first read those words, but still.
Prior to flying out, they arranged to have the tools I thought I’d need rented and delivered to the home (the homeowners had a handful of smaller supplies as well, but most of it needed to be rented or purchased). It worked out great, but there were hiccups with learning how each one of them worked compared to the brand I was used to using back at home. There were a lot of “D’oh!” moments caught on camera as I tried to unpack everything and figure out where all of the buttons and pulls were (I’m actually still curious as to why the bumbling DIYer film reel didn’t make it to the final cut… I’m sure it was entertaining).
I was also told by the producers that I would have a few interns on hand to delegate smaller projects to (I guess they assumed I had some crafty ideas in the works, which I didn’t), and that the homeowners would jump in for painting and prep (no reveal stuff of course). There really wouldn’t be any people on set with a lot of DIY or building experience (there were a few people in the crew who had done a couple of projects on their own homes, but not to the level that I did, and their job was to actually film stuff), and the rest would be up to me. Gulp.
Upon arriving into town, I dropped off my bags at the hotel and then met with the SheKnowsTV folks. After a short meet and greet, they gave me the keys to a shopping van and a production assistant, Vanessa, who would basically serve as my second-in-command throughout the shopping and filming. The theory was that if I wasn’t around to make a decision (which happened a lot more than you would think between camera interviews and working on 6 projects at once), there would be a second person who knew exactly how the whole room was supposed to come together and give guidance (in addition to helping the crew do filmy things).
There would be more interns and PAs joining later on the next two film days, but she would be there for the entire process. When I first met Vanessa (above, left), I’ll admit that I hugely underestimated her resourcefulness mostly due to how young she was and her lack of any DIY background. And I really, really kicked myself for having done it after experiencing that same exact attitude so many times in the DIY world. But folks, she became indispensable—super creative, always on top of things, and could not say more good things about her ability to roll with whatever came our way.
And even though the producers promised that I wouldn’t have a lot of help, the rest of the filming crew turned out to be incredible, too. They were constantly joking around and laughing at inappropriate things, which put me at ease quickly. I mean, if someone starts throwing around potty humor right from the start, you are pretty much guaranteed that they are the laid back sort. As the clock counted down to the finish, nearly every person—including hands-noticeably-down-my-shirt Sound Guy—pitched in to give these homeowners a finished room.
And speaking of finished, part of the intimidation I felt was in knowing that no matter what, this was someone else’s home I was working in. A home they paid for and were proud of and needed to be functional—not something that could be tossed aside as soon as the cameras stopped rolling. So I felt a lot of pressure to make sure that the room was more than just “TV ready”—it needed to be actually done. Paint drips needed to be cleaned up; hinges needed to work. There were things that I wound up running out of time to do, such as sealing the stone backsplash, but I was overall pleased that I didn’t feel I left these homeowners (who were even nice enough to make me beer cupcakes, for shit’s sake) with something that would fall apart the second I stepped back on a plane. The crew seemed to understand this right away, and never once made me feel like I needed to compromise how I wanted to finish the project just to suit their schedule. Even though I was largely supposed to do the project solo (which would not have gotten done with all of the filming delays), they readily jumped in with a wet paper towel or pointed out a splotch. And it really, really helped.
Okay, so enough about the filming, right? This is a DIY site, if memory serves. So let’s get down to the beginnings of the actual makeover details.
My flight landed in Phoenix the morning before Day 1 of filming, so my first task of the first day was to grab the shopping van with Vanessa and visit the homeowners to take measurements. I was hoping to get a real feel for the room before shopping for supplies and decor.
Um, yeah. After taking as many measurements as I could think of, I found out from the homeowner that their laundry setup had the dryer hookup on one side of the passthrough and the washer hookup on the opposite side. The big problem here was that it meant they were forced to take up both sides of the tiniest space in their house with appliances—which left very little room for storage. So, I asked SheKnows if they could arrange for me to have a handyman during the first filming day to move the washer hookup to the dryer side, letting us stack the two together and open an entire half of the nook for storage, folding, and hanging space. They priced it out so that about $400 came out of my total $2,000 budget, and I set that amount aside to be left untouched while I went shopping for everything else. Another item I had to track down: a stacking kit for the washer to sit on top of the dryer (which will come up again in an interesting twist).
One of the first stops for ideas was Ikea. I was hoping to have at least one cabinet with a door to conceal ugly laundry detergent containers and other miscellaneous items that inevitably get shoved into laundry rooms. The other side of the tiny 3-foot-wide space would be for a couple of attached open shelves (see my sketch). But the hard part was finding a ready-to-assemble cabinet that would be deep enough to optimize the space I had (I could have done a standard shallow upper cabinet, but when every square inch is precious, you try to push the boundaries to get something that works better for the space). So, I did the thing that came naturally: I got on the floor in Ikea and started brainstorming for how I could hang a deeper base cabinet on the wall.
I was confident enough in my building abilities that I could have theoretically built a custom cabinet to the size and depth that I needed, but I also knew that the last thing I wanted was to teach myself how to build a cabinet (for the first time) with cameras in my face (and without a Kreg Jig). I had enough room in my budget to simply purchase a cabinet, so my thinking was that I could hand this project over to interns to build the next day and assemble while I did demo and other things. It turned out to be the right move; even though I had a decent plan in my head, I knew all too well how a DIY project can take more time than expected, and I wanted to give myself as much wiggle room as I could by delegating as many projects as possible (and since these even came with instructions, I wouldn’t have to supervise or teach).
As for the other side of the passthrough, the washer and dryer would be stacked (which needed a stacking kit and was thankfully in stock at a Lowe’s nearby), but there was a small 9- or 10-inch gap that would be created on the side if we pushed the dryer to the leftmost wall. I considered building this custom too, but Vanessa spotted some narrow cubbies across from the cabinet section, and I started seal-clapping over the thought that I could again turn this into a handoff project for assembly on Day 1.
The rest of the shopping day was packed with rushing from store to store until they all closed, and Sandra and I met up for a post-shopping-day powwow at one of the few restaurants that was still open to say hello (we ran into each other at Ikea earlier in the day, but we were both in a hurried rush to get our supplies and let the early panic sink in).
I never thought I could actually be exhausted from shopping. I was clearly wrong.
Stay tuned for Part 2!