Dixie Chick Natalie Maines and mom get in on the fun
By her own admission, Dixie Chick Natalie Maines is a home decor demon.
And while on a year-long break from touring and recording with her Grammy-winning country trio, Maines, a new mom, got hooked on the Learning Channel's immensely popular redesign show Trading Spaces.
"I was a bit freakish," she says. "I watch it all the time. You'd think I'd have more of a life than this."
That's why Maines and her mother, Tina, decided to take part in the show. They're the first celebrity participants to swap rooms in an episode airing Saturday (8 p.m. ET/PT).
"The show had come to a certain level, and we wanted to do some more promotable episodes," says TLC executive producer Stephen Schwartz. "what we didn't want to do was to alter the format at all. If you have a show with a format, the format is sacred. Everyone plays by the same rules."
Well, not quite.
TLC's reality series has built a grassroots following since its premiere in September 2000. On the show, two sets of neighbors switch homes to transform a room in each other's house. Each couple works with one of six designers and two carpenters (selected at random), and they have two days and a $1,000 budget to redo the space.
They're not allowed back into their homes until the "reveal" - the dramatic, and often traumatic, unveiling of the transformation. The neighbors sign releases indicating that whatever is left in the room is fair game, and if they don't like the result - hay pasted to walls, a basement transformed into a circus tent or bedroom turned into a Pullman car - it's up to them to fix it.
But rules, as they say, are made to be broken. And unlike regular people, who must agree to work with any designer, Maines and her mother got to pick who would renovate the rooms in their Austin, Texas, homes.
"I don't think I would have done it if I didn't know who was showing up," Maines says. "It would have been too risky.
They chose Vern Yip and Hilda Santo-Tomas, two Atlanta designers. Yip redecorated Maines' bland spare room while Santo-Tomas overhauled Maines' mothers' cluttered sewing room.
"We'd never done a celebrity episode before, and there were a lot of things we needed to figure out along the way," Yip says. "But that was the only difference from any other episode. They were expected to work just as hard as anyone on the show."
And Maines dived right in, painting, hammering and stapling fabric to the ceiling.
Yip says he didn't put any extra effort into redoing a celebrity space. "I put my heart and soul into every project I do. I really scrutinize what they're saying and really think about what a good solution for them might be. I try to incorporate some of their ideas. When they don't like it, it's hard," he says.
Not so Santo-Tomas, who says that potential homeowner horror doesn't faze her. "That's relative to their opinion," she says. "I'm sorry they don't like it, but I'll move on to the next thing."
Fortunately for the Trading Spaces crew, Maines and her mother both loved their rooms. Maines says her area remains unchanged to this day, while her mother merely added pillows and lamps to accent the sewing room.
While Maines may be the first star to take part in Trading Spaces, the show's creators have been hunting for big names. Friends' Courteney Cox Arquette and Jennifer Aniston have been approached about appearing on the show.
"This was such a great experience for us. We're looking for more celebrities," says executive producer Denise Cramsey, the on-site supervisor of each episode. "Our show is full of physical hard work, and sometimes the celebrities don't want to do that. But these guys are totally in the game, total hard workers."
For its third season, scheduled to begin in mid-August, Trading Spaces will feature more gimmicks, including a key exchange between fraternity and sorority houses.
According to TLC, 5 million people watch Trading Spaces. And not all say they approve of the show's Hollywoodization.
"I think have a celebrity episode is stupid, because celebrities have so much money, and they don't need to cut costs to redo a room," says Chicago attorney Melissa Feinstein. "It's an insult to the concept of affordable, do-it-yourself redecorating."