The show returns Saturday (with a long reunion special preceding it), essentially unchanged and contagiously giddy, full of its usual surprises and reveals. Looking at the first of eight new episodes, one is reminded of “Trading Space’s” conceptual purity: It never goaded anyone into ditching their old house for an open-floor-plan, granite-countertop McMansion beyond their means. Its core principles were to work with what you have, on a restrained budget. It preached a DIY ethic, asking couples to swap houses and redo a room, aided (some would say strong-armed) by a crafty professional designer and carpenter.
One underlying reason the show was a hit (having been adapted from a British version called “Changing Rooms”) was that it took us briefly inside the everyday strangeness of marriage and domesticity, knowing full well that homes — and how they look — are inviolably personal matters.
That same fascination remains as “Trading Spaces” reopens for business in Simi Valley, Calif., where two sisters, Michelle and Melissa live next door to each other — so already it’s a little weird. Melissa and her husband, Keith, are redoing the drab, neglected master bedroom belonging to Michelle and her husband, Ryan; Michelle and Ryan, meanwhile, will redo Melissa and Keith’s guest room.
“Trading Spaces” intends to bring some new talent aboard, but the show knows full well that fans are here to see their old favorites.
In addition to host Paige Davis (still chipper but with a slightly sassier attitude about the gig this time, having been fired and rehired by the show before; “This Ain’t My First Rodeo,” reads her T-shirt), the designers in this episode are Doug Wilson and Hildi Santo-Tomas, popping into the rooms like much-missed friends. The carpenters are Ty Pennington (probably the “Trading Spaces” alum who flew highest, as host of ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”) and Carter Oosterhouse. Yes, they’ve all aged, some more than others, but they also seem genuinely glad to give this another go.
With barely any deviation from the old format (the new spending limit has been raised from $1,000 to $2,000), the show offers a quick reminder of what made it so addictively watchable back in the day: Michelle is terrified about the vivid, Gucci-inspired print that Hildi wants to paint all over her sister’s guest room, including (no!) the ceiling. Melissa is similarly vexed by Doug’s idea to cover her sister’s bedroom walls in olive-green burlap. The designers (and Paige) have to relocate their powers of style seduction, persuading the participants to visualize the room beyond their suburban comfort zones. “You have to be a little braver,” Paige tells Melissa. “This is done a lot.”
Since “Trading Spaces” came and went, we’ve been subjected to far worse in the reality/real-estate genre: Shows about million-dollar listings preened over by the smarmiest agents imaginable. Shows about flipping houses that were mostly about greed. Shows about home renovations hosted by holier-than-thou couples with dangerously sentimental notions of design.
“Trading Spaces” returns us to a safer, saner space of amateur willingness and neighborly bonhomie. Aesthetically, though, it seems Doug and Hildi haven’t moved a stone in 10 years. When the couples open their eyes, there’s no mistaking that both rooms look very much like the rooms that were revealed all those years ago.
Trading Spaces (130 minutes) returns with a reunion special followed by a new episode, beginning Saturday at 8 p.m. on TLC.