Dermot Bannon? Sure, where else would you get him?

TV: With Super Small Spaces, he’s morphing into the Louis Theroux of home conversions

Dermot Bannon: the presenter’s default setting is a shaggy awkwardness, but his enthusiasm shines through

Dermot Bannon: the presenter’s default setting is a shaggy awkwardness, but his enthusiasm shines through

 

The compulsion to fetishise anything perceived as uniquely “Irish” – leaving the immersion on, the death notices, Matt LeBlanc folding his arms – reaches its apotheosis in the cult around Dermot Bannon.

This has little to do with Bannon’s merits as a home-design guru. It’s more that we have, as a nation, concluded it’s quite hysterical that he’s so ubiquitous on the airwaves. An architect on television? Sure, where else would you get it?

Bannon deserves better than his status as Irish Twitter’s ironic mascot. And he pushes the boundaries of property-porn TV in agreeable fashion in his new two-part series, Dermot Bannon’s Super Small Spaces (RTÉ One, 9.30pm), which adds a human-interest component to the expanded Bannonverse. That comes via the story of the McCarthy siblings from Ballinadee, near Bandon in Co Cork.

Super Small Spaces perhaps closes the door slightly on Room to Improve and suggests that, along with installing windows, windows everywhere, Dermot Bannon may have a future tugging viewers’ heartstrings

The family, who are converting an old double-decker bus into a guesthouse on wheels, remember the death by suicide the previous year of their father, Patrick. With his first anniversary approaching, they are honouring his memory by turning the farm into somewhere to stay. “There’s an energy about it. A project that is driven from healing,” says Bannon. “It’s bringing you all together.”

The thesis of Super Small Spaces is that lockdown and a reorientation of work away from the office have made us reassess our attitude towards our homes. The appeal of open-plan design has diminished. What we need now is somewhere to squirrel away and finish that document review or conference call in private.

This doesn’t have much to do with the McCarthys and their hipster bus. Or with Paul Gleeson, a businessman from Kilrush, in Co Clare, who has made a holiday home out of an old pub on the main street (not the “high street”, Dermot).

But Bannon’s message that we’ve all got to use space better does link to a tiny yet elegant residence in Rathmines, in Dublin. It belongs to the architect Paul Kelly and the interior designer Deirdre Whelan (last seen as a judge on Home of the Year, although Super Small Spaces gaslights us slightly by failing to acknowledge the fact). “Open-plan living – it’s challenging,” says Whelan. “Knocking down walls makes everything feel great [but] you need another room.”

Bannon’s career has seen him transition from amiable property-do-over expert to fodder for the “down with this sort of thing” set. With Super Small Spaces there are reasons to believe he is morphing into the Louis Theroux of attic conversions.

He isn’t the most conventional broadcaster, and his default setting is a shaggy awkwardness. But Bannon’s enthusiasm shines through, especially when he’s “experiencing” a space. “Warm, cosy – almost like a hug,” he gushes of Kelly and Whelan’s living room.

He’s initially less enthusiastic about the McCarthys’ bus. (Reading between the lines, Bannon finds the colour scheme garish.) But there’s an emotive payoff as he visits the finished project and is floored by the heart and soul poured in. He has a gift, too: a light-up sign that reads Feck Off.

“It’s been a therapy for us,” says one of the siblings. For Bannon, Super Small Spaces perhaps closes the door slightly on Room to Improve and suggests that, along with installing windows, windows everywhere, he may have a future tugging viewers’ heartstrings.

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