“Those TV home makeovers that happened in a one-hour episode? People don’t realize, I had a crew of 100, and it took us a week to do one house.”
I am talking with Mark Brunetz, the Emmy-winning co-host of “Clean House,” a series that ran on the Style Network from 2003 to 2011.
“You mean that wasn’t reality?” I am so gullible.
“I sensed this disconnect between what was being presented and what was really happening that nobody was talking about,” he said, of the nine years he worked on the show. “The shows featured the beginning and the end, and glossed over and glamorized the middle. It shortchanged the design process, which has so much more depth.”
He often thought, “Man, if people only knew the story behind the story, that design is about so much more than putting pretty things in a room and the crying emotional reveal.”
And so last year, Brunetz launched Scandalabra, a podcast designed to uncover just that, or as the cutline reads: “The Ugly Truth Behind Beautiful Spaces.”
Now, I have known Mark for over a decade. He has interviewed me before, and I don’t know what it is, but he has this way of getting you to tell him stuff you would only tell your dog. So not surprisingly, when he asked his guests to share the real story, they spilled.
Since the first episode (titled “The Desecration of Design,”) aired last July, he has completed 24 candid and unblinking podcast interviews with design insiders. More are in the works. Curious to uncover what all he’d learned, I grilled him. What follows is a conversation about his conversations:
Marni: Share some scoop! What did you learn?
Mark: In my first episode, I talked with L.A. designer Jaime Rummerfield about our early days doing home makeovers for television. She nailed it when she said, as much good as home makeover shows have done for the world of home improvement, they have also done a disservice. The genre has cheapened design and architecture. She compared the fast design featured on these shows with fast fashion. Many stores sell cheap clothes that look really cute on the hanger, and fall apart after one wearing. It’s all about the moment. That’s happening in the world of fast design, too, pushing poorly made furniture to get that quick look. Oh, and every show has someone wielding a sledgehammer taking out a wall. That makes good television, but knocking out a wall isn’t right for many homes.
Marni: After 24 interviews with design pros, was there a theme?
Mark: Almost every guest said in one way or another that too many people are so busy copying trends that their homes don’t reflect them. People often believe they need to define themselves by picking and sticking to one style. They take design quizzes and try to pick one style to emulate, but isn’t the real goal to create a space that’s about you?
Marni: In your episode “The Dangers of Idolizing TV Designers,” your guest Angelo Surmelis warned against mimicking TV design experts’ looks or following TV trends. Why?
Mark: Following either is a sure path to an inauthentic space. Companies manufacture trends to sell products. The only expert on your life is you, and there’s only one you. Why would you copy someone else’s style? The color of the year is the color you love. You do have to take time to do the due diligence to find out who you are.
Marni: When you talked with renowned architect Dean Larkin (whose residential work includes some of the most iconic and expensive homes in Los Angeles, including the restoration of Lionsgate, a 24,000-square-foot Bel Air home valued at $65 million) he says, “Ignore the ‘isms.’” What did he mean?
Mark: Here again, when people get locked into a look, like midcentury modernism or traditionalism, they miss the opportunity to create their look. Your home is first and foremost your personal sanctuary and should echo you and your family.
And don’t rush. Certainly don’t attack a project like we did, finishing it all in a week. The most successful rooms are designed over time. As for the idea of timeless design, Larkin sees it differently: We must consider the time we live in, and move forward. Great design is a nexus of people, space, and the time they are in. That changes.
Marni: How has the pandemic changed home design?
Mark: The pandemic didn’t introduce anything new. It just put a magnifying lens on what was there. We began looking more at our environment, and saying to ourselves, I don’t like this. Why? If your home wasn’t genuinely you, that became more obvious. Now those who are thriving at home are those who connect with their homes because their homes reflect them.
Marni: How do you put the “you” in your space?
Mark: Early on I learned that people don’t feel comfortable talking about design, but they have no problem talking about themselves. So I get them to talk about what they love to do, where they like to travel, what clothes in their closet they feel most like themselves in. I ask, if you were a piece of furniture, what would you be? If they say a chair, I ask what’s it made of? Wood or metal? Is it new or old? Is it upholstered? Is the fabric patterned or solid? Everyone has a style.
Marni: So, if you were a piece of furniture, what would you be?
Mark: A massive 17th-century wooden armoire full of beautiful and interesting collectibles, surprises and reveals. And you?
Marni: I’d be a kitchen table, at the center of all the gossip.
Marni Jameson is the author of six home and lifestyle books, including “What to Do With Everything You Own to Leave the Legacy You Want,” “Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go” and “Downsizing the Blended Home – When Two Households Become One.” You may reach her at www.marnijameson.com.