Patrick Freyne: Today’s children won’t be able to afford a house unless it’s actively on fire

Do the tots of today dream of attic conversions while chewing the heads off action figures?

If I ever make a home-improvement show, and God willing someday I shall, it will be called Ireland’s Search for Meaning. There isn’t an existential question that Irish homeowners can’t address by planning an extension. In every household, eventually there’s a lull in conversation and if that lull lasts long enough, someone will suggest knocking a wall in. It’s just how we process stuff.

Think to yourself: “Is this it? Are we but motes of dust in an endless void?” Now think, “I could make this space more open-plan and have a big feature window here.” The second thought answers the first. You can work on your house or you can work on your cosmology, and the latter is a mug’s game because the self is not an appreciable asset. And eventually someone (probably Dermot Bannon) is going to build the perfect extension, one that has more than the normal number of dimensions and breaks through the fabric of reality, and that will be that.

This is why there’s an inexhaustible supply of home makeover shows. This week I’ve been watching episode after episode of Dream Home Makeover, largely because when I first clicked on it, my closest friend, the Netflix algorithm, told me that it was the sixth most popular show on Children’s Netflix. Seriously. Children aka Babykind, Adam and Eve’s pudgy consequences, li’l folks, the yoof.

Are our nippers in thrall to Big Kitchen? Has property mania extended its tendrils so far into the gene pool that gummy infants are now making investment plans? Do toddlers have portfolios? Do tots dream of attic conversions while chewing the heads off action figures? Do tykes speak solemnly of south-facing gardens o’er their sippy cups? Possibly. I’ve met children. They’re complete rubes.


The main makeover person on Dream Home Makeover is Shea McGee, a steely-eyed American (and not, as the name suggests, an Irish ould lad) who wears flowing dresses like a wood nymph

That said, given how unlikely it is for the children of today to ever be able to afford a house that isn’t actively on fire, it’s also possible they’re watching Dream Home Makeover as a far-fetched fantasy adventure. Maybe for the young folks the notion of doing up a house is like riding a dragon who can grant wishes. Perhaps it’s all just an exercise in escapist whimsy.

The main makeover person on Dream Home Makeover is Shea McGee, a steely-eyed American (and not, as the name suggests, an Irish ould lad) who wears flowing dresses like a wood nymph and has the kind of perfect, voluminous hair that is usually tended to by cartoon bluebirds and talking teapots. Shea’s companion in makeover-craft is Syd, an elderly skater boy who looks confused. It’s unclear what Syd brings to the table other than being some sort of emotional support animal for Shea. And rereading that last sentence, I think I’ve just described “being a spouse”.

Anyway, in each episode, Shea and her clownish consort address us from a living room in their own home. This room is made up of white and off-white shades and yet is suspiciously devoid of the jam stains, handprints and piles of newspaper we might find in your house. This is the first clue that the show is about the homes of rich people and not the likes of us. Only people with servants have loads of white stuff. Indeed, as though rubbing it in, in the third episode they go to a home with a swimming pool, an oaky wine room for manly men, a kitchen island panopticon from which you can “see everywhere”, five bedrooms and seven bathrooms. Seven bathrooms. That there is the very essence of wealth and luxury. I mean, every resident and two guests can go to the toilet at the same time, possibly shouting encouragement to each other across the hall as is the traditional Irish homeowner’s dream (There’s a whole section in the Proclamation of the Republic that’s just about en suites, it goes on for pages and pages).

She doesn’t lift a paintbrush or carry furniture. No, she lacks physicality and tends to waft

It takes me a while to figure out what it is Shea actually does. She’s not an architect, so she doesn’t engage with the actual house design. She doesn’t lift a paintbrush or carry furniture. No, she lacks physicality and tends to waft. Her thing seems to be that she arranges the circulation of vases, gewgaws and throw pillows around other people’s houses like some sort of tasteful poltergeist. At the end of each episode we look at a before picture, in which the house is a half-ruined building site, and an after picture, in which completely unrelated craftsfolk have built a functional home to which Shea has added cushions. If she had a medieval job title it would be “cushioner” and if she had an Irish job title it might be “chancer”.

Fiercely impressed

Nonetheless, everyone is fierce impressed by Shea’s cushion and vase placement service. In one show, they present us with a before picture of a home that was literally razed by fire and then they show us a completely rebuilt home with some cushions in it. The owner is emotional and we are led to believe that it’s having new cushions that has evoked this happiness as opposed to having walls. The scene is so strangely set up that I wonder if it was Shea who burned the place down and that’s why they’re displaying the pictures so proudly.

All in all, there’s not a lot for Shea to do on Dream Home Makeover, so chunks of each show are taken up with Shae and Syd hanging out with their children in their own cushion-and-vase-strewn home or at the beach or water park for no good reason. Or maybe they do have a good reason: their children are better than your stupid children.

Wherever they go, this trio of tiny youngsters are clean and bright-eyed, despite their impractical, pastel-shaded clothes. They don’t look remotely as sticky as the children I know. They also seem like they would respect their uncle and seek out his wise counsel and not ridicule him for his interesting clothing decisions. These are no-nonsense infants. The baby even has a bow on its baldy head in case anyone mistakes it for a boy and puts it in charge of a Fortune 500 company or lets it join a golf club.

Maybe this programme is popular with children because it features children. Between episode two and episode three, Shea seems to have become visibly pregnant. This means there was either a gap in the production schedule or it’s not shot chronologically and she’s pregnant with the baby from before or Shea simply has the power to will life into existence at great speed. I’m not ruling that out.

Maybe it was a casting decision. Maybe they’re going to replace the bow-headed baby with a more dynamic younger cast member who doesn’t just sit around loafing. Maybe a baby with a catchphrase. Who knows how many children there will be by the final episode? Perhaps we will look from these placid, unsticky children to the stainless cushions and be unable to tell them apart, much like at the end of that other delightful children’s entertainment, Animal Farm.

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