Here’s What Paige Davis Is Thinking When a Trading Spaces Reveal Isn’t Going Well


(Image credit: Courtesy of TLC)

When the Trading Spaces revival popped up on my TiVo last weekend, it was comfortingly familiar (seriously, what eye cream is that cast using and where can I find it?). All of the originals were back, from Hildi and Doug to Ty Pennington, with a mix of more old favorites and new designers to come this season. But perhaps the best part of all was seeing the OG design show host Paige Davis (all due respect to Alex McLeod, perhaps we’ll see you when Joe Millionaire reboots). The only wink to the 10 years that had passed since the last time we’d seen Davis on TV? She wore a shirt printed with: “This Ain’t My First Rodeo.” And I mean, same—when I started watching Trading Spaces, I never could have imagined that a couple of decades later I’d end up being the editor of Apartment Therapy.

So when Purina offered me the chance to meet Davis at an event this week, my early-2000s self nearly died. She and the company spent some time designing an apartment from the pet’s perspective: “If I traded spaces with my little Maltese, Georgie, and she got to design this apartment, this is probably what it would look like,” she told me. We sat down afterward on a human couch behind the scenes to talk Trading Spaces.

Apartment Therapy: What’s the biggest difference between the reboot and the original?

Paige Davis: I think the best news about the reboot is that there’s very little to no difference. The budget is the biggest one. It is reflective of the inflation that has transpired over 20 years when we first began. In fact, even before it came to America it was in Britain as Changing Rooms. So that budget was set a long, long time ago. But now instead of $1,000, it’s a whopping $2,000. I loved that TLC remained true to a relatable and obtainable budget—one that forces creativity. One that most of our viewing public can wrap their minds around if they decided to actually make a big change in one room in their home. A change that doesn’t require going out and buying all new stuff. A change where you can do something pretty radical by reusing, repurposing, recycling, re-imagining, and doing a lot of DIY.

AT: We love budget and DIY tips at Apartment Therapy. Do you have a favorite tip—one you’ve tried recently in your own home or one that’s particularly approachable?

PD: I would say any time you can look at something and use it in a different way. One of my favorite projects that was ever done on Trading Spaces was when Genevieve took planters—they were built out almost like little boxes—and she tipped them on their sides so that the bottom of the planter was facing outward. She put photographs on the bottom. It was like a three-dimensional picture frame, jutting out from the wall. I just think it’s so cool. Any time you can use something in an unexpected way is always a good idea.

The biggest tip I have in terms of redoing or decorating your home would be very ironic given that our show is specifically focused on budget and time restraint. My biggest advice would be to take your time. To me there’s nothing more sterile than the matchy-matchy set. You want to buy the things that you need. But let the furniture pieces find you and definitely let the decor items find you. You don’t have to go searching for them. You don’t have to buy ready-made art. You can wait until you’re on an excursion somewhere. It doesn’t even have to be a fancy vacation. Maybe your kids have an out-of-town soccer game that takes you overnight and you end up walking on some main street to get brunch or whatever it is. There might be something you see that’s a great memory. Your home should represent your memories and should represent your journey and your life. You can’t have your home represent that if you’ve done it in two weeks. It should take time.

AT: We have to ask: What’s going through your head when a reveal is not going so well?

PD: Well luckily for me, I don’t have to worry about that very often. I think the reason that people love the “they hated it” reveals is because they’re so rare. They’re very few and far between. I’ve revealed over 500 rooms and I don’t even need my fingers and toes to count how many times they’ve actually hated it. In many instances, even when home owners open their eyes and you’ve got the “meh” reveal, more often than not, 30 minutes later they love it. Sometimes it tips the other way, not on camera. We find out, “Oh no they actually, they don’t like it.” But most of the time, they’ve got this sort of “meh” reaction because they’re just trying to take it in.

But once the camera television lights are off, you’re back to just the regular lighting, it’s all a little calmer, and they’ve had a chance to take in whatever whackadoo color they could have never imagined, they start realizing, “this is actually fun.” This is good design and this is neat. So I actually don’t have to deal with it very often. The thing that I keep in mind is the same thing I would keep in mind with any friend who is disappointed. You just have to listen and sometimes the very best thing I can do as a host is not say anything at all. Just let them get it out.

(Image credit: Bob Riha Jr/Getty Images)

AT: What do you think makes Trading Spaces so timeless? When it premiered there was much less competition than now.

PD: Trading Spaces was definitely the first of its kind in this country. We’re an offshoot of Changing Rooms from Britain, but we were the first here. We were the first to make home improvement and design really fun. We were used to seeing Bob Vila. We knew a little bit about Martha Stewart already, but we made it fun and full of camp. And also, we were the first to put tools in the homeowner’s hands. We’re used to seeing Bob Vila with a drill or a hammer or whatever it is, but you’re not used to seeing Ken and Susie Smith down the street with a power saw. We made people believe they could actually do it and I think that is what helped the whole DIY boon. Not only did Trading Spaces become a catalyst for an entire new genre of television, it also really spurred on and was the springboard to stores like Lowe’s popping up all over the place and entire networks being devoted to this.

AT: What’s the last thing you bought for your own home?

PD: I haven’t bought anything for my house in so long. Oh! The last thing that I bought for my home was milk glass salt and pepper shakers. And a milk glass syrup whatever-you-would-call-that. I got those in an antique store in Atlanta when we were Trading Spaces. I’ll never put syrup in it and I’ll never use it but it’s a really pretty green and it’s adorable. It makes me happy.

AT: Last question: If you could only pick one Trading Spaces designer to design your home who would you pick?

PD: I can’t choose between my children. I will not choose between my children. I will tell you this though, if I did have to choose—well, you know I chose Doug….

AT: Oh yeah?

PD: Yes, I chose Doug… probably because he lives in New York. But then I had the very once in a lifetime opportunity to have my apartment done by Nate Berkus for the Oprah Winfrey show. Doug was actually the most supportive one of everybody. I was like, “I can’t do this. I already hired you. I don’t want to do it.” He was like, “What? Are you nuts, girl? Do it. I love you. I’ll design your country home.” I was like, “Well thank you for thinking I’ll have a country home one day.”

But what I will say is I would definitely choose one of the contemporary designers. I do love Doug. I love Hildi’s designs, even as crazy as they are in terms of color and balance and actual design, they’re truly beautiful and sophisticated. I love Genevieve’s tastes, and Laurie is about as classy as you get. I would definitely choose one of the more contemporary designers. I would lean that direction over say choosing Frank.

AT: No chickens?

PD: He like drew one chicken in one house, once and he became like the chicken man. But I definitely would prefer a cleaner line and more contemporary look. The thing I love about Genevieve is she does all of that and adds this like worldly organic and soulful feel to everything too, so it would be very hard to choose. It would be neat to have each designer do a different room. It could be kind of cool. Hey, I expect people to live with one crazy room in their house. I should be able to go from one room to another, right?

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

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