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Room to Improve review: ‘Oh my god,’ exclaims Dermot Bannon. ‘They are doing everything back to front’

Television: Dermot Bannon’s show celebrates successful makeovers – but it is the near-disasters that live in the memory

Dermot Bannon

Centuries from now, historians trying to get a sense of life in early 21st-century Ireland will inevitably rely on Room to Improve (RTÉ One, Sunday, 9.30pm) as a key text. They will marvel at our obsession with vast kitchens and “scenic” views of murky fields and smudgy horizons. And they will be astonished at the bottomless optimism of house-whisperer Dermot Bannon, an architect whose love for enormous windows is eclipsed only by his perpetual supply of chipper-ness. Why didn’t we hook him into the national grid and use his jet-propelled jauntiness to fuel our peat-burning power stations?

Bannon’s bountiful buoyancy is crucial as the show’s 14th season begins. For his first outing, he is in rural Kilkenny, where Gráinne Murphy and Ivan Williams are renovating an 18th-century farmhouse. The building has been in farmer Ivan’s family for generations.

Yet, while he loves the creaking pile, he and his wife, Gráinne, are short on cash. They have a budget of “just” €200,000 to cover a new roof, a complete renovation of the interior, and a spanking new kitchen extension.

The old farmhouse near Urlingford in Co Kilkenny

What they lack in funds, they make up for in enthusiasm – to the point where they start the job before Bannon has even turned up. “Oh my god,” he exclaims on arrival. “This is a full building site. They are doing everything back to front.”


Room to Improve is a home makeover series but also a peek into the Irish psyche. It celebrates the constant tension within us all to be seen living our best lives – especially by the neighbours – while wanting to keep snoopy outsiders at arm’s length.

In the case of Gráinne and Ivan, the biggest challenge is taking advantage of the multiple grants available for restoring derelict buildings. There’s lots of potential financial support, but you have to know how and when to apply.

Luckily, Bannon is on hand. Not only does he help with the paperwork. He also makes space in his plans – and budget – for Gráinne’s dream of genuine wood flooring.

Seasoned Room To Improve watchers will have seen it all before. If anything, this is a slightly ho-hum helping of home improvement TV. Ivan and Gráinne are dreamers with their heads screwed on – and realistic about what they can and cannot achieve, and they take Bannon’s advice to heart.

That’s a positive in terms of getting the project over the line. However, it makes for underwhelming television. Oh, for those classic Room To Improve stand-offs where the householders ignore Bannon – or straight up disagree with him – and he, torn between panic and frustration, removes his hard hat and wipes away a gallon of sweat. The show celebrates successful makeovers – but it is the near-disasters that live in the memory. Fingers crossed for some genuine drama in the weeks ahead.