My Made-for-TV Kitchen

I’m not a construction worker. I just played one on TV.

  • Photo by Katherine Harris
  • Photo by Katherine Harris
    Cabinets were painted rather than replaced—a major transformation for less.
  • Photo by Katherine Harris
    A colorful appliance can be a focal point in a neutral kitchen.
  • Photo by Katherine Harris
    Contemporary nobs found on and drawer handles from IKEA. It’s OK to mix!
  • Photo by Katherine Harris
  • Photo by Katherine Harris
    Mother of pearl tile by Shellshock Designs,
  • Photo by Katherine Harris
  • Photo by Katherine Harris
    Stonehenge Walnut five inch floor by Mannington,
  • Photo by Katherine Harris
    Benjamin Moore’s Stonington Gray paint
  • Photo by Katherine Harris
    Sometimes you can score a deal at Restoration Hardware! These chairs were on sale for $39.

The day we tore down the wall between our kitchen and dining room was hectic: I had to get a professional blow dry, and I changed outfits twice before settling on an orange cardigan over a navy blouse with dark denim and ballet flats.

I’m not a construction worker. I just played one on TV.

My husband and I recently updated the kitchen of our Golden Valley rambler on the DIY Network show I Hate My Kitchen. We went from 1980s bummer to sleek and contemporary in the course of 22 minutes, which actually took about five weeks. Six, if you count the extra week we waited for a service professional to get the gas firing on our new stovetop. The camera crew didn’t need it to actually work for the big “reveal.”

Yes, the TV makeover is a different experience than the typical room remodel. For us, the results were well worth the glare of the cameras, and the process turned out to be a lot of fun. To make it work, you have to be flexible and enthusiastic. And you do need a budget.

Everyone assumes having your kitchen remodeled on TV makes it free. Not true. Every show is a little different. On I Hate My Kitchen, the homeowners pay varied amounts depending on the project— sometimes they cover labor, and usually, appliances. The show provides design services and some materials. In our case, that included a spectacular mother of pearl backsplash, stainless steel counters, and a red Bertazzoni oven. We weren’t required to take the oven, or anything else. But if we wanted a free oven, it was going to be red. Bertazzoni doesn’t need to sell people on stainless steel—the appeal of the show is getting consumers excited about something new or different, like a red appliance.

We had innocently mentioned in our initial interview with the production company (which was videotaped on an iPhone) that we weren’t afraid of color, and I later learned that helped push our project to the top of the stack. “It meant we could probably have a little fun,” says Mary Kay Reistad, co-executive producer for Magnetic Productions, the Minneapolis-based company that produces I Hate My Kitchen and several other shows for HGTV and DIY Network. Kiss of death for getting on a kitchen show: Being set on white subway tile. Everybody, says Reistad, wants white subway tile.

A few weeks before filming began, we met with the production company’s designer, who asked questions, took measurements, and created a blueprint. We nixed her built-in table idea. Instead, she designed a freestanding table. She tried to talk us out of a microwave, which she thought would ruin the visual appeal of our painted white cabinets. While I appreciate aesthetics, I am a working mother who appreciates a microwave even more than an oven. So we compromised: the new microwave shelf held cookbooks until the cameras were out of the house. The designer and I also spent many an evening e-mailing back and forth until we zeroed in on the perfect light fixtures and cabinet hardware. The executive producer helped us price refrigerators, and even did a little painting the last day of production. I felt like everyone on the team had our best interest, and best kitchen, at heart. Of course, it helps to be your own advocate: When the show needed one more “project” to feature (even something as major as new floors boils down to about a minute and a half of TV time), I was quick to steer them to an underutilized closet. And that’s how we ended up with a new pantry from California Closets—by far, one of my favorite upgrades.

The unsung hero of this remodel was general contractor Dan St. Claire, who, along with his team, spent nearly every minute of those six weeks in our house, but never made it on camera. The host of I Hate My Kitchen, James Young, came by with a camera crew once or twice a week to film the progress. On TV, it looked as though Young, my husband, and I were the only ones in the house, when in reality, there were probably a dozen people in the background—holding lights, checking sound, doling out snacks (yes, craft services—in my living room!), and waiting in the wings to do the actual work.

That sheet of tile they showed me adhering to the wall? The contractor jumped in to straighten it out the minute the cameras stopped rolling. He cut the floorboards they showed us installing. And he stuck around long after the producer called it a wrap, making sure every last knob was properly secured.

I really meant it on the last day of filming when I declared, with extreme enthusiasm, “I LOVE my kitchen!” My husband Rustin does, too, but we learned during this project that he is not wired to pander to cameras.

“Cut!” The producer yelled, after Rustin delivered that essential last line with such a lack of emotion, I feared my shiny red oven would be repossessed.

“We need Rustin to love it more,” the producer directed.

Had they asked him to cry, we’d probably still be taping.

How to Get Your Home Makeover on TV

Both HGTV and DIY Network have “Be on TV” sections on their websites ( and that list which shows are casting and where. Our chances here in Minnesota are better than average, because we’re home to Magnetic Productions, which films the I Hate My . . . shows as well as Going Yard and Rehab Addict. You can also check for upcoming casting calls.

Here are some helpful hints:

• Have a story. What distinguishes your project? “Viewers want to relate to the story and need to know we understand their needs,” says Steven Lerner, DIY Network/HGTV vice president of programming.
• Be flexible. Producers look for homeowners who are open to color and new materials. “White cabinets, granite counters, and subway tile are the most frequent requests . . . we’re interested in doing something out of the ordinary,” says Mary Kay Reistad, co-executive producer of I Hate My Kitchen.
• Show personality. This is TV, people. How you present yourself matters. In addition to sending pictures of your room, producers will likely want to see pictures of you. When they come over to scout the room, you are being camera tested, too, so smile!
• Be available. I Hate My Kitchen requires homeowners to be present for five half days of shooting.
• Have a budget. Remodel shows are not necessarily a free ride. Know how much you could spend, and have it available when you apply—often the opportunities come up quickly.