Everett neighbors' risky home make-over is all for show

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In retrospect, John Tarr's previous home-improvement brush with fame seems so tame. Rupturing a gas line while planting a tree brought out only a fire truck and curious neighbors.

This time the entire nation is invited to watch good-sport Tarr, his wife, Julie, and their neighbors Nancy and Lennie Puetz become ratings fodder for one of television's wackier concept shows.

Next Saturday, the two Everett couples will star in "Trading Spaces" on The Learning Channel. The plot: two sets of neighbors trade houses for two days, each redecorating a room on a $1,000 budget supplied by the show. And no peeking to see what's happening in one's own home.

And not much design input allowed, either, the two couples were surprised to learn last month when the "Trading Spaces" crew showed up on Everett's 56th Place Southeast.

Each show gets two designers. That's one per home from a stable of pros who've toured the country for the past two years, building "Trading Spaces" into an unlikely ratings hit not just with design mavens but also high-school students and conflict junkies. Indeed, the show is a lot like pro wrestling: Everyone knows it's staged, but the possibility of real bloodshed is certainly there.

As television-crew members arranged equipment, and makeshift carpentry and sewing rooms usurped garage space, Nancy Puetz was clear on her hopes for her living room — which, pre-make-over, was teddy bears and rocking chairs amid upholstered florals and plaids, all very pastel.

"You spill a tablespoon of wine (on the furniture) and it's ruined," Nancy complained. Better would be something more practical, where their daughters Tiffany, 13, and Kristina, 10, could flop and do homework.

Airtime and show information

To see the Tarr and Puetz room make-overs, tune in to "Trading Spaces" on The Learning Channel. The show will be broadcast next Saturday at 8 and 11 p.m., and again Feb. 3 at noon.
For information on how to get on Trading Spaces, including an application, go to www.tlc.com. Applicants must live near each other, own their homes (or have their landlord's permission) and have an already furnished room they agree to allow to be redecorated.
Being on the show, in fact, was Tiffany's idea. She cajoled her mom into filling out an application, and Julie Tarr joined in.

Meanwhile dad Lennie Puetz had his fingers crossed that he wouldn't get stuck with anything too aggressively trendy. "If you look at my house, everything is white, clean and crisp. Change isn't easy for me."

'She didn't want Asian'

The Puetzes had made all this very clear to John and Julie Tarr, and now Julie is trying to make it very clear to designer Genevieve Gorder.

Sitting in the Puetzes now-empty living room, Julie is earnest. "The only thing Nancy told me she absolutely didn't want is Asian," she tells Gorder, who's had about a month to consider this make-over.

A New Yorker well-known to the show's fans for her offbeat ideas — she once glued moss to a bedroom wall — Gorder unwraps the wide silk sash around her waist. It's a Japanese obi, she tells the Tarrs, and it will be a focal point for the new living room.

One wall will become traffic-cone orange. Another metallic silver, and a third covered with squares of particle board and painted a watery blackened copper. The obi will become a window treatment. Inexpensive black fabric will be stapled over the pastel furniture. And there will be live bamboo.

"It looks like Asia to me," Julie worries.

"Relax," Gorder says soothingly. "You're seeing it through tainted eyes."

"But these are my neighbors," Julie pleads.

Friends since high school, Julie and Nancy are homemakers. Lennie owns a marine business; John is an insurance underwriter.

"The fact that you don't like it makes it really interesting," Gorder coos.

"I'm going to have to move somewhere and change my name," Julie retorts.

Crew members murmur pleasure. Several say bad reactions make good television, and as the hours pass they're buoyed by Julie's resistance.

John is only slightly more enthusiastic. The orange wall paint, he proclaims, is "pretty close to the color they give inmates in the county jail."

Across the street, the Puetzes are attacking the Tarrs' basement family room, the lair of the Tarr children: Brian, 12, Alex, 11, and Kelsey, 9.

Julie Tarr, who loves crafts and a country look (she's decorated one kitchen wall with a real picket fence replete with hand-painted birdhouse cutouts), said pre-make-over that almost anything would be better than her well-worn furniture.

Her family room is under the direction of Atlanta designer Hildi Santo Tomás. A sleek woman who wears Prada high heels even while painting, the designer describes herself as "fearless, confident." She says her biggest challenge is to continually push a design envelope that contains just a thousand bucks.

'I think she'll like this'

For this make-over she's decided on what Nancy and Lennie Puetz gleefully nickname her "circus-tent theme." The walls and ceiling will be draped in 150 yards of outlet-store fuchsia and taupe fabric panels. The existing blue-and-white-striped sofa will be painted.

"Julie was worried it was going to be turned into a pool hall with Budweiser lamps," Nancy jokes. "But I think she'll like this."

Just when it appears this home's make-over is going too well to be interesting, Tomás' plans hit a major glitch. She instructs the Puetzes to go at the Tarrs' sofa with fuchsia spray paint, then put it under the outdoor deck to dry. During a winter storm spitting both rain and snow?

Not a chance, and by the beginning of the second day the soggy furniture sits abandoned in the back yard. Tomás also has decreed that seating for the computer station (cleverly hidden, as is the television, behind one wall of fabric panels) will be large exercise balls.

Can she now leave the Tarr family with what amounts to a lot of drapes (constructed so hastily they remain unhemmed) and a couple of overgrown beach balls for chairs? Can she do otherwise and still come in on budget? The tension grows.

Meanwhile, the show's host, actress Paige Davis, bounces between the two homes, videotaping progress reports, including work on various furniture pieces constructed by the show's resident carpenter, Ty Pennington, a former model with a growing fan base.

As the two days roll to a close, the exhausted couples have painted, stained, hammered, stapled, sewn and done a lot more standing around than they ever anticipated while the crew prepares for this shot or that. Hired painters and a sewer have also been hard at work off-camera.

"The thing you're not prepared for is the amount of boredom," says John, and boredom is a bad thing. It allows all four time to stress about what's happening in their own homes.

"If I go over there and it's Chinese, I don't know if I can fake (liking) it," Nancy worries. "I have to think of that going in, and is it something I can fix?"

The show's rules say it's up to the homeowners to remedy an unacceptable transformation. So while Trading Spaces leaves behind paint to touch up the hasty roller applications, it won't furnish Nancy with a fresh gallon of white should she choose to obliterate the orange.

It's 8:10 on the last night before all is ready for "the reveal." That's the moment when the homeowners are led, eyes closed, into their remade room, cameras rolling to record their voilà!

In the Puetz house, designer Gorder is pleased with the dramatic result, which came in under budget at $987.42.

"All these homes built about this time (mid-1990s) are missing the details, so anything you can do to make it look not quite so flat is good," she reasons. Still, she's apprehensive, and watches on a TV monitor in the kitchen as the Puetzes first see their new living room. She predicts Nancy Puetz will cry.

'It looks totally different'

Nancy doesn't. But surprise, she also doesn't initially recognize the décor as Asian. She gasps, smiles, bites her lip.

"It looks totally different," Nancy finally manages.

Change-resistant Lennie, the self-admitted Mr. White Walls, is unexpectedly effusive. "I love it, I absolutely love it. The vision is so incredible."

In the kitchen Gorder whispers, "I had no idea. What's so different about this show is the men have such strong opinions separate from their wives. I'm really impressed."

Across the street, John and Julie Tarr view their tented room and together utter a steady stream of "wonderful ... terrific ... absolutely wonderful."

Indeed it's more wonderful than they ever could have imagined. Davis says the Tarrs' home is the first to go seriously over budget: $1,542.18.

That would explain the two new fuchsia sofas Tomás purchased to replace their ruined furniture.

Her vow — "I promise I will never paint sofas again in Seattle in the rain" — was free.

Postscript: More than a month after the taping, the Tarrs' room is essentially as the show left it. But after showing off her new living room to friends, family and even strangers who showed up at her door, Nancy Puetz had had enough. "I just couldn't walk by that room every day. It was just like uck!"

So off came the sofa's black slipcovers. Away went the orange throw pillows that sat upon it. And the new coffee table is gone, too, replaced by her old one.

Even so, does Nancy regret becoming a TV guinea pig? Not a chance! Or as she says, "What an experience!"

Elizabeth Rhodes can be reached at erhodes@seattletimes.com