The home renovation show that produced more tears than teardowns just got a reboot. HGTV’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” premiered Feb. 16, mimicking the original 2003-12 run that was a colossal hit on ABC.
The show’s surefire story arc remains: Struggling families living in substandard housing clobbered by yet more bad luck are plucked from obscurity. The heartwarming clincher — they selflessly give back to their community despite their plight.
Toss in three high-profile designers, a winsome host — in this version, “Modern Family” star Jesse Tyler Ferguson — a thousand volunteers, ubiquitous sponsors to foot costs and, voila!, the family has a whole-house renovation or a newly built property after the old one’s been demolished.
Oh, and all that’s accomplished in five days.
Although the show’s demos and builds are done at record speeds, the emotions felt by show participants are off the charts. Even this jaded journalist teared up.
To garner further feel-good insight about the 10-part series, we took some time with the show’s designers: Carrie Locklyn, Darren Keefe and Breegan Jane.
Many of the episodes are based in Southern California: homes in Pomona, Palmdale, Hawthorne, Carson, Covina and Athens. That seems especially relevant given the region’s affordable housing crunch.
Carrie: There were homes built from the ground up, but we were also doing renovations within the Los Angeles area — taking homes that people couldn’t live in because they were in dire straits. There are so many people that are renting or they just can’t afford to upgrade their home. There’s lots of blended families and those from tough situations; to be able to give them a space to thrive in is something we took a lot of pride in.
The show is so reminiscent of barn raising — the 18th and 19th century tradition of community members banding together to build a structure for a neighbor.
Darren: We’d never be able to complete the homes without local builders and volunteers who come out, whether they are a skilled tradesman or someone passing out water. We had a great turnout in every city. I would say, though, that Bakersfield was pretty awesome. I mean, the whole block was full of people.
Which episode touched you the most?
Breegan: The Barobi family because there was such a juxtaposition in what they had gone through being so horrific, and then they were such bright lights of sunshine. I can’t think of a worse tragedy than your parents murdered in front of you at 12. It’s just an amazing example of human resilience. [The refugee family is from the Democratic Republic of Congo; rebels there killed the family’s parents along with their youngest daughter. In 2014, the U.S. relocated the remaining family to Ogden, Utah.]
In that episode, a wall of Congolese masks in the new home represents each of the family members, including those murdered. Who thought up this deeply poignant design element?
Breegan: Jesse, who is not a trained designer, definitely left his mark on every one of these houses — he helped generate that idea. He really understood that they only had one photograph [the family’s sole possession when leaving the Congo].
Everyone cries on this show — even the camera crew. But who’s the real softy?
Darren: I’m the resident crier on the show. I mean, we all cry but it definitely doesn’t take much to send me over.
In the original ABC run, cash-strapped families given homes sometimes couldn’t keep up with their new property’s higher taxes and utility costs. Have you addressed this?
Carrie: We were very aware and took precaution in creating homes that they could stay in and grow in. And ones specific to their needs, so they didn’t have that kind of shock value going into the house. And we did a lot of giving back to the families, whether that was college scholarships or creating net zero homes with solar power and all different types of technology.
In Covina, you renovated the Holtzclaw family’s run-down home, making it ADA-compliant after the father’s leg had been amputated following an accident.
Darren: There was a moment I got to witness — Jeff and Emily Holtzclaw were sitting on the front porch looking into each other’s eyes. And it wasn’t part of the television show, just these little moments that kind of sneak up on you. They didn’t have to say anything. It was such a beautiful moment, this recognition that everything was going to be OK.