The ongoing war against the remnants of our historic built environment continues unabated. Our previous examination of this topic (Part 1) dealt with elementary school textbooks which propagandized children and instilled a bias against historic buildings in the mid-twentieth century.

Today we’ll take look at the same insidious indoctrination process as it manifests itself today — through television. There are several things about many of the most popular home renovation shows that really disturb me — the primary issue being that many houses are needlessly altered just for the sake of altering them — presented to us as “updating”. In the process, many still-useful and increasingly rare architectural features are forever lost… while more mediocrity is gained. Another disturbing aspect is how many TV personalities are referred to as “experts”. Experts at what, exactly? Timeless design? Architectural integrity? Sage financial decisions? Certainly not historic preservation or “going green”! No; they’re experts at convincing viewers to emulate currently marketed design trends via infotainment — often to the permanent detriment of the architectural integrity of previously intact houses and typically resulting in the blatant waste of material resources.

Television is like any other tool: it can be used for good or less-than-good. It is a common mistake for many people to assume that wildly popular television programs devoted to remodeling or decorating are designed to impart the wisdom of absolutely the most competent and skilled design experts for our collective education and societal benefit.

Sadly, these assumptions are far from the truth. And what is the truth?

The truth is that such programs are designed to encourage waste and consumerism because both practices help to fuel the economy. Let’s face it; Big Box home “improvement” stores are going to sell fewer products if people are content to live with their houses essentially as they were built. It’s much more profitable if TV encourages homeowners to take a sledgehammer to their property, throw the debris into a dumpster and then replace everything with newly made products imported from around the globe. They’ll likely hire carpenters, plumbers and electricians in the process. Change stimulates the economy.

The truth is that these television shows are not educational; they’re pure indoctrination into the “keeping-up-with-the-Joneses” mentality. The truth is that most older houses, particularly those built prior to roughly 1965, were built to last with regular maintenance.

Conversely, much new construction contains built-in obsolescence. Old wood windows, for example, can be repaired when they begin to age while new vinyl windows can only be replaced when they begin to fall apart; they’re not designed to be repaired. Same for your refrigerator and other appliances. You get the idea.

To make things even more dismal, the concept of DIY maintenance is becoming a thing of the past as increasingly fewer fathers own a ladder or even a basic set of tools.

OK — I’ll stop ranting now and we’ll take a look at some before and after images that will make the same point. For the sake of brevity, we’ll just look at exteriors today. I may take a look at interior makeovers in the future. While looking for images, I was pleasantly surprised to see that not all of the makeovers were horrific… there seems to be a growing awareness of the value of retaining more originality than in the past. At the end of this post, I’ll show some of HGTV’s more admirable before and afters – the kind which our existing housing stock will benefit from in the long-term!

This modest Tudor-style house, while not a fantastic example of the genre, is not without its charms. Brick exteriors are always nice as they don’t require as much maintenance as painted exteriors, and almost everyone loves a bay window. I’d choose earthy tones other than brown when selecting complementary trim and roof colors. Let’s see what HGTV found to be an improvement…

Photo by: Jesse Loftis. Image source:

Oh, my. Not only is the brick drowned in white paint, but we’ve lost the bay window and gained a top-heavy and tower-like addition (which protrudes considerably from the former bay location) . Try to imagine what the side of this must look like from the next-door neighbor’s house… there is definitely an issue with scale going on here! The starkly contrasting windows suggest a burned-out shell… just dark holes. Amazingly, the front door has been retained, but it has been poorly refinished… it looks like the dog has already clawed it up. The porch is huge and feels more like a spotlighted stage than a place of quiet relaxation.

Photo by: Jean Stoffer. Image source:

Ah, the quintessential mid-nineteenth century New England farmhouse! Lovely, isn’t it? This extended house, with its symmetrical core, features a centered pair of doors beneath a bracketed hood which have remained unmolested for at least 150 years. Researching and making use of period-appropriate colors — as well as some old-fashioned landscaping — could boost curb appeal and enhance the already-strong authenticity of the house. But nooooooooooooooo……

Photo by: Jackson Riley Parker. Image source:

Now the house is simply a cluster of various design “inspirations’ and has lost a chunk of its architectural integrity and authenticity. The entry has been moved to the side and reduced to a single door while leaving a suspicious blank spot in the center of the façade (I wonder what’s become of the center hall?). A trendy pergola-like thing (supported by Craftsman-style brackets) has been grafted onto the wing at left — perilously close to the relocated hood over the door. Windows have been altered to create 6-over-1 units — a fad of the Colonial Revival in the first half of the twentieth century. Shades of olive suggest a late Victorian or Craftsman mood. Landscaping reflects current suburban trends. Why is it so hard for “experts” to respect history, learn from it, take cues from it and work with it rather than trying to impose their own garbled aesthetic preferences? WHY??? Perhaps because it takes more effort, time, knowledge or skill to do so. It is possible to be creative without erasing history and the efforts of those who came before you!

Photo by: Frank Murray. Image source:

A classic “Ozark Giraffe“! Increasingly rare, these memorable houses are surviving examples of a vernacular building tradition found primarily in the Ozark region of Missouri and Arkansas. The technique was also popular in parts of Oklahoma and Texas. This one, a modest c. 1930 example of the Tudor Revival style, is much more interesting than it would be if it had been built with brick. Who wouldn’t sufficiently value — and take pride in — an aspect of their regional architectural heritage enough to want to preserve it as built? I know… silly question!

Photo by: Jennifer Boomer/Verbatim Photo A. Image source:

Chip and Joanna Gaines, that’s who! I can’t help but wonder if the interior hasn’t been shiplapped to death. According to HGTV, “Flagstone is typically a very desirable addition to any home’s exterior but this cottage proves that too much (of) a good thing is, well, too much.”

Really? Would they say the same thing about a house clad almost entirely in brick? Or in wood? How about stucco? Methinks not. I wonder if one can have too much shiplap? Is that even possible? Hmmmm…

The distinctive Ozark Giraffe look is perhaps too nonconformist for an infotainment venue which stresses conformity and clichés.

This apparent indifference to architectural integrity can only result in lost opportunities to truly educate and inform their viewers. Here, the most culturally and architecturally significant aspect of the house has been largely obscured by stucco — reducing it to contrived banality. An oddly attenuated dormer window further erodes the former authenticity of the house, and looks like something salvaged from a suburban McMansion.

What’s with those odd and curvy muntins? Was it really necessary to replace the original windows elsewhere with Neo-Craftsman units? Or to paint the surrounding brick? Just look at the chaotic glazing on this house… nine panes in the front door, three-over-one and two-over-one windows on the first floor and curvy diamond panes on the second floor dormer. This is the result of expert input?

It might make for a lucrative television episode, but does little to encourage understanding of good design and nothing to increase awareness of an interesting and vanishing regional building tradition (the most visible and intriguing aspect of this house). Aside from the much-improved roof color, I can’t find much to admire here. Another one bites the dust…

Photo by: Jennifer Boomer/Verbatim Photo A. Image source:

This house has clearly been poorly remuddled prior to its recent makeover, so just about anything would be an improvement. The form suggests a mid- to late-Victorian era construction date, but stylistic details are absent and windows are recent replacements (offering no clue as to possible original stylistic intent). Therefore, it is more of a blank slate than the previous houses. It could definitely use some curb appeal… but is HGTV the most competent savior?

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Ta-da! Another cluster which does nothing to educate anyone about good design or stylistic integrity. Instead, we have disparate components crammed together on one wall. It does, however, create a dollhouse façade worthy of Barbie’s future Retirement Dream House.

Though described as “Folk Victorian”, the makeover includes later Craftsman-style brackets below the eaves. Their alternate description of having a “fairytale look” is more appropriate because it is certainly not based in coherent design reality… is is simply an awkward and cartoon-like caricature of a Folk Victorian.

The porch has been reimagined with Queen Anne imagery while maintaining the oddly-scaled,Colonial-style, 6-over-6 windows.

The Neo-Mediterranean door — likely from the 1970’s or early 80’s — has also been retained but painted a dusty turquoise. A good Queen Anne “cottage door” could have really helped to better pull this off… the tiny glass area in the door is neither believably Victorian nor inviting.

An ostensibly Queen Anne-inspired sunburst (curiously bisected) crowds the eaves and squats without transition above the new window hood. A flower box of indeterminate inspiration adds a horizontal note. The diminutive picket fence adds just enough sugar-coated cuteness to make me want to retch.

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Here, at Barbie’s current Dream House located in Berlin, Germany, a woman protests the opening of the tourist attraction in 2013. The message written on her, “Life in plastic is NOT fantastic” acknowledges the Stepford-like conditioning of girls which is inherent to the Barbie mystique. The general plastic cheesiness of the façade alone is enough to get riled about… can’t blame her a bit!

Photo by: DPA. Image source: Spiegel Online

OK; I promised I’d include some before and afters which are actually admirable… and here they are:

No doubt about it… this house needs some help.

Photo by: Rustic White Photography. Image source:

Wow! Look at what can be achieved with simply the judicious distribution of thoughtfully-chosen paint colors (and better landscaping). Bravo, HGTV… this is the way to do it… no need to rearrange and replace everything!

Photo by: Rustic White Photography. Image source:

This c. 1920 house is wrongly described by the “experts” as having “all the hallmarks of Victorian Italianate style: tall, arched windows, a low pitched roof, a rambling, asymmetrical facade and ornamental brackets”. Um, no. This is NOT a Victorian-era house, and it’s NOT Italianate.

It is an example of the Italian Renaissance Revival style… not at all the same thing as Italianate. That’s one of the many problems with TV “experts”… their fast-paced production schedules don’t allow for scholarly research. But, since they’re “experts”, they really shouldn’t have to research this kind of stuff, right?

Some will say I’m being picky. The point is, when people who are highly influential are given the mantle of being “experts” they should be held to a higher standard… their fans eat up this stuff and think they are learning when often they are being misinformed. But many of us know that these shows aren’t here to educate you… they are here to encourage you to become discontent with what you already have so that you will spend money on “updates”!

Regardless, the house could use a little more creativity regarding paint color for the trim, and they did an excellent job of making this place look great without butchering the facade… all they did was change the trim color and landscape the yard.

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Much better… the relentless white trim was not doing the house any favors. The dark paint, while not historically accurate, looks good here with the varied brick colors. Best of all, it’s only color and can be changed at any time… no windows were sacrificed and no alterations were made to the exterior which were of a permanent nature. Architectural integrity has been preserved!

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