Now in its eighth series Home of the Year has become a ratings hit for RTÉ with last year's finale claiming a 29 per cent audience share and a consolidated average of 423,000 viewers.
The reason is simple. It appeals to our nosy nature for the series takes us beyond the front parlours of the nation’s most house proud to give us a goo into almost every corner of their immaculately turned-out residences. Since its inception viewers have peered into 167 abodes.
Despite some filming restrictions as a result of Covid the homes shown in season eight have served up plenty of well-executed ideas to steal.
The media unit in the modernist upside down home of Aoife and Gareth Tolerton in Co Down was a big hit with judges Amanda Bone and Hugh Wallace, featuring a pair of tall ribbed timber sliding screens that glide on a track to shutter the television from sight. The pair have had great fun pushing the doors together to show the effect in motion.
The winning property has been in Shane's family for at least 80 years, and they keep chickens, grow their own vegetables and breed pedigree Angus on their 30 acres
Bone loves it and indeed everything else this slick-looking property had to offer. She is less effusive about another finalist, Martin and Saoirse O’Dwyer’s Co Sligo cottage with new-build double-height extension. It was just “too cluttered” she says, almost visibly shuddering. “I didn’t feel comfortable in this home.”
Of the Kerry house owned by Tony and Imogen McManus, new adjudicator Sara Cosgrove, the ninth panellist to join the show, says it is "like stepping into a magazine".
Wallace is quick to ask the interior architect what she means. “That their aesthetic is perfectly put together,” she explains.
Impeccable throughout, the property has black timber walls that contrast with its pale oak oiled floors and golden-coloured timber ceilings.
For viewers at home, possibly with their feet up on their coffee tables, enjoying a drink or, god forbid, a TV dinner, the compliment feels a bit preachy, a sense reinforced by the fact that all three judges pass these remarks while standing behind big white lecterns – as if saying Mass on an Easter Sunday morning.
The formal setting of Palmerston House for the grand finale is at odds with the playful banter and the easy way that the judges riff off each other when they are on site.
Of the three presenters, architect Hugh Wallace comes across very much as top dog. He’s been on board since the show’s inception, and has really relaxed into his new role as TV presenter. He’s had plenty of practice, mind, for in the last six months he has fronted three of the broadcaster’s property shows, including My Bungalow Bliss and The Great House Revival, which overlaps on air with Home of the Year.
Wallace wants the minimalist Dublin house owned by Sarah Duggan to go.
“Over my dead body” is Bone’s riposte as she gestures theatrically. “You cannot deny the quality of design and detailing in this house. This home will never leave this competition if I have anything to do with it.” Fighting words.
“I’m not denying that. That’s why it got through to the final,” Wallace remarked rather coolly. The house didn’t make the final cut.
The trio's on-screen chemistry is good even if their effusiveness sometimes errs on the superlative – something satirist Oliver Callan has lampooned brilliantly on Callan's Kicks.
But in terms of creating a cliff-hanger the final falls short. All of the seven finalists stand in a room and wait to hear who will make it into the top three. There are no dirty looks and few snide sideways glances.
In the end the Wicklow farmhouse owned by Kate and Shane Byrne wins the gong. Their charming property has been very thoughtfully upgraded. The property has been in Shane’s family for at least 80 years, and they keep chickens, grow their own vegetables and breed pedigree Angus on their 30 acres.
What swung it for Wallace? Rather than swanky furniture or impressive colour combinations it was its intangible qualities that won him over, he explains. “It was the feeling of the family, the fun, the history and the memories, that’s what makes a home for me.”
Cosgrove agrees. “It deserves the title,” she says.
Bone remains unconvinced. “It wouldn’t be my choice but I’m going to defer to my fellow judges.”