What makes Dermot Bannon nervous? Easygoing clients

The last episode of a hugely enjoyable ‘Room to Improve’ series lacked the usual drama

‘Starchitect’ Dermot Bannon and quantity surveyor Lisa O’Brien of ‘Room to Improve’ fame

‘Starchitect’ Dermot Bannon and quantity surveyor Lisa O’Brien of ‘Room to Improve’ fame

 

As head-scratchers go, it’s up there with the Riddle of the Sphinx. Eleven series in, how did Room To Improve (RTÉ One, Sunday, 9.30pm) cross the Rubicon to become event, meme-worthy television?

Perhaps it’s all Daniel O’Donnell’s fault. Perhaps we really are obsessed with eaves, gables and a ceiling raised by 120ml. But much of it, I suspect, has to do with timing. In these socially and politically testing times, the appetite for feelgood telly is huge.

Lifestyle shows (hello, Great British Bake Off) tend to flourish and thrive, as viewers want something soothing and non-confrontational. The stakes are relatively low. It’s good clean fun, with a sliver of confected tension. In these shows, the worst that can happen is a soggy bottomed cake, or a renovation budget that threatens to careen out of control.

This series has, thus far, been packed with Fermoy couples looking for saunas and special entrances for their dog

And this week, the big clash, if you can call it that, revolves around the orientation of the front door. Mum-of-two Lorna – who proves herself as a tower of wisdom and sense as the show goes on – wants a door more centred in the door frame. It’s easier to get two young kids through the door when there’s an element of room, she reasons.

Dermot Bannon is having none of it: he squashes her desire for a “cottagey” door, clashing as it does with his visions of a Laurel Canyon party pile (on which, more later). There is a half-hearted digging in of heels on Lorna’s part, resulting in some more of that made-up tension.

“There’s nothing more I can do, bar not ordering it for them,” Bannon says, seemingly exasperated.

Herein lies the rub with Lorna, Rory and their four-bed, semi-detached 1960s home in Dublin. Theirs is one of the most typical houses in Ireland. They are affable, straight-talking and solid, prone neither to tantrums nor hyperbole.

Room To Improve Series 11 has, thus far, been packed with Fermoy couples looking for saunas and special entrances for their dog.

There has been the IT manager who fancies a meditation room and walk-in wardrobe for 100 pairs of shoes. There have been mild-mannered ladies in Portrane swinging sledgehammers and putting the collective hearts of the professionals crossways. There have been those who won’t budge on their desire for a wall of graffiti.

It all makes for great, Twitter-trending stuff, and the series finale ends on a relatively straight note.

Lorna and Rory, very simply, want a home that will suit their young family. They appear to know design, too: it transpires that Lorna is doing an interiors course.

Obsessions

In stark contrast to last week’s client Katie, the two are already fans of one of Dermot’s big obsessions: an open-plan livingroom/diner/kitchen, with floor-to-ceiling windows that help bring the outdoors in. At this stage, they’ve become so commonplace as to be visual Muzak.

Any potential skirmishes over spiralling costs are kiboshed, as they have an incredibly healthy build budget of €180,000 to work with (later, it grows to €290,000 thanks to a first-floor extension. No-one seems especially freaked out by this). According to a very relaxed Rory, Bannon has “nailed” the brief. Talk about preaching to the choir.

So what’s a “starchitect” to do when everything is going smoothly and there’s an hour of telly to be made? Well, worry about a problem where there is none.

“I give out about clients who don’t let me do what I need to do,” he muses. “They’re letting me get on with things and that makes me nervous. Maybe I want them to have ownership and a bit of an opinion.”

Later, he and Lorna discuss interiors. She likes bold blues.

All that’s left for Dermot to do is to draw some drama out of thin air.

“A Malibu bungalow, that’s the dream, and that’s what we’re trying to create here,” he tells an unmoved Lorna and Rory. The house, incidentally, is in Stillorgan.

It’s a Malibu-style house with a modern en suite tacked on to the back. The fact it’s incongruous with the rest of the house is part of the plan, Bannon asserts.

“You want it to feel alien,” he says, managing to make “alien” sound like something you need from a toilet.

“You are such a spoofer,” this from Lorna, the high priestess of understatement.

Bannon, meanwhile, is determined that the vibe remains true to its 1960s provenance.

“I like the idea of 1960s formica,” he notes.

Later, he queries whether Rory and Lorna might like some 1960s accoutrements. Shag-pile, spindly legs on furniture, white curtains draped to the floor. Hairy carpets.

Rory’s eyes cloud over; evidently he is having visions of keeping this Bond-style lair clean with two young children.

“I don’t think so,” he says evenly.

And while viewers of all 11 series of Room To Improve have likely had their fill of clean lines, white kitchens, airy open-plan living spaces and Meadows & Byrne furniture, the end result is still, all told, fairly breathtaking.

Perhaps it’s the result of watching 35 minutes of hi-vis jackets, rubble and scaffolding. Maybe it’s the Air soundtrack.

Either way, Dermot’s clients have the home of their dreams, and we, the viewer, have three minutes of ambrosial property porn. It’s almost as if our very souls have been fitted with floor-to-ceiling windows, kitchen islands, and a completely useless outdoor fire pit.

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