At some point in the past 10 years architect Dermot Bannon built an extension in the psyche of the Irish television-watching public and took up permanent residence there.
We shall leave it to future generations of historians and psychologists to deduce why, in an era of soaring house prices and general disgruntlement about the property market, Room To Improve (RTÉ One, 9.30pm) became one of Ireland's great obsessions. But whatever the reason the cheery home makeover show has thrived even as property has metastasised into a political battleground.
And now it’s back for series 13 – or 14 if you’re one of those Bannon purists who insists early 2020’s Dermot’s Home two-parter qualifies as its own separate season.
As is the Room to Improve tradition, the fun flows from the tension between Bannon's starchitect ambitions and his clients' more sensible desire to live in a nice house that doesn't resemble a Frank Gehry fever-dream. And so, in the first of four new episodes, there arrives that inevitable moment where Bannon tries to persuade Lisa and Marc Daly from Kilmacud in Dublin to outfit their new kitchen with stained wooden units that look like something out of a trendy restaurant where the drinks come in jam-jars and they serve "slaw" as a side.
Ever the visionary, Bannon strongly feels that this is what they urgently need to tie together their new build. Lisa and Marc are appalled. And, as they’re the ones signing the cheques, they win out.
There is an added human interest component as Lisa and Marc’s middle child, Liam, is autistic. Indeed one of the motives for building a new home adjacent to their existing house (the sale of which will fund the project) is that the family can design a sensory room specifically for him.
But then the pandemic hits and construction slows precipitously. The Dalys move to accommodation outside Drogheda, from where Lisa must commute to school in Dublin with her three sons. “It’s just crazy,” she says. “I don’t know if it’s sustainable. I’m exhausted. I have to hang around Dublin for four hours.”
Also at his wits’ end is builder James McGlynn who has not only had to negotiate the challenges of running a project through 18 months of rolling lockdowns – but has to deal with a huge increase in the cost of materials. McGlynn signed off on delivering the house at an agreed price - and now his overheads have gone through the roof. It’s an uncomfortable situation. Yet, with Bannon mediator, the Dalys agree to a number of budget-trimming measures, with expensive zinc roofing the first luxury to go.
Even the longest journey eventually comes to an end and so it proves with the Dalys. We visit their new house and it is indeed a minimalist marvel.
“They brought me on a journey to give me a glimpse into life with autism,” says Bannon. “It is a massive relief to come here today and see that the building is working for Liam.”
The episode is really a story of parents doing everything they can for a child.
And that is perhaps where the secret to the success of Room To Improve ultimately lies – with all due respect to Bannon and his endless reservoirs of cheeriness. Outwardly a property show, what it’s actually about is perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds. Unlike Bannon’s stained kitchen units, that is something that will never go out of fashion.