The Great Interior Design Challenge
Rococo: Travel, Pleasure, Madness
I had a low moment while I was watching The Great Interior Design Challenge (weekdays, 7pm), which is like Changing Rooms up-cycled for the Bake Off generation. The judges – Daniel Hopwood, an interior designer, and Sophie Robinson, former editor of BBC Good Homes magazine – were examining the master bedroom of an Edwardian semi in Muswell Hill, London. Hopwood, ordinarily a smooth, smiling, non-committal type, looked down at the varnished floorboards and, baring his considerable teeth, decreed them (the floorboards, I mean) to be a “nasty, hippy ginger”. They would, he said, certainly have to go. Eh? I got up and dashed into our sitting room, at which point my face fell faster than a cable car in a Bond movie. It was as I thought. My floorboards, too, are a “nasty, hippy ginger” – or, as we call it in our house, “orange”.
The Great Interior Design Challenge is presented by Tom Dyckhoff, a gorgeously warm and unaffected presenter. It’s his job to describe the architectural and social history of the town or suburb where the week’s three contestants must perform their damask-heavy magic – after which he pretty much disappears until the final reveal. This being a competition for people who long to make their living from fitted wardrobes, faded gingham and feature walls, it’s unlikely he’ll ever have to deal with a sobbing homeowner, as Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen used to. In this show, contestants must at least attempt to follow the “client’s brief”. Still, it’s a possibility and I hope he’s prepared. At the very least, he should be sure to have a freshly laundered handkerchief in his pocket – preferably one big enough to double as a tablecloth or even a dust sheet. (“Honestly, Mrs Ramsbottom! I don’t think your dining room looks at all like the interior of a sexual health clinic. But you could always dim the spotlights and throw this over the sideboard if it’s really too much.”)
Once they have met their client, our cushion plumpers have £1,000 and three days in which to make over three similar rooms. Interiors are as much a matter of taste as expertise and you can guess who’ll win simply by glancing at them. I took one look at Helen, an artist from Durham with Zandra Rhodes-style hair and a mania for “shabby chic”, and knew that paint effects would be her downfall. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before she was attempting to create a trompe l’oeil headboard for her client’s double bed. It was, I’m afraid, straight out of an amateur production of Sleeping Beauty.
James, an asset manager whose style might accurately be described as “nan chic”, struck me as someone who would go big – we’re talking massive – on lime and pink florals. Again, I wasn’t wrong. But Sarah, a crafty type from Suffolk, knew how to use an upholsterer’s needle and arrived in Muswell Hill with a pile of exquisite vintage fabrics in her bag – and naturally she went through to round two, which means that her dandelion stencil effects live to fight another wall.
I hope that the programme makers book Waldemar Januszczak when they get round to making the celebrity version of The Great Interior Design Challenge. He’d be brilliant. Stick him in a tired Edwardian bedroom and – wannabe mischief maker that he is – he’d doubtless attempt to revive that prissy staple of the marital couch, the valance. After all, weren’t valances – or something very like them – all the rage in 18th-century Bavaria, the intermittently pink and frilly land where much of his new series, Rococo: Travel, Pleasure, Madness (Tuesdays, 9pm), was filmed?
I have two complaints about Rococo. The first is that its jaunty soundtrack from hell leaves you feeling tired and irritable even before you’ve had to contemplate the ghastly porcelain collection of Augustus the Strong. The second is that Januszczak delivers every sentence, every phrase, in a weird, strained whisper. It’s as if he’s auditioning for an M&S ad. “This isn’t just any rococo,” he said at one point (OK, he didn’t say precisely this but you know what I mean). “This is the rococo of the Wieskirche.”
Crikey, I thought, as he proceeded to tell us that the Wieskirche (or “the Church of the Meadow”) looks like a “tasty apricot sorbet” (it doesn’t, at all). If he can do this with mere stucco, imagine what he could do with a frozen trifle. He’d be so much more effective shifting real cream cakes than architectural ones. When it comes to commentary, the churches of Dominikus Zimmermann and his contemporaries demand salt, not more sugar.