What ‘Changing Rooms’ star Linda Barker did next
Since the heady days of 1990s TV, Barker has learned about future-proofing property
Linda Barker: Throughout the 17 series of ‘Changing Rooms”, the wow factor was paramount.
In its 1990s hey day, the BBC home makeover show Changing Rooms commanded an audience of 10 million and spawned dozens of imitators. And no wonder. With the flamboyant Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and the affable Linda Barker at the helm of projects, it was a prime slice of sheer, occasionally marabou-trimmed, escapism.
Throughout its 17 series, the wow factor was paramount. Each home was given the most vogeuish makeover possible, landing on a spectrum somewhere between the sublime and the jaw-dropping.
And while Changing Rooms wound down in 2004, the series has enjoyed something of a second wind recently thanks to social media.
One of Barker’s most ignominious on-camera moments recently went viral online. In one fateful episode, she designed a floating shelf, to hang suspended in the middle of an apartment sitting room. Neighbours reluctantly used their priceless collection of antique teapots to demonstrate the unit’s ability to become a statement feature. The whole thing collapsed minutes later because too many books had been placed on the freestanding shelf. Not one teapot survived.
Barker took full responsibility on-camera, comforting the clearly bereft teapot owners. Undoubtedly awful for all involved, but a stand-out moment from the 17 series all the same.
“I still look at that with shock and horror, like I did at the time,” she recalls. “I mean, it was really awful. The fact that people are still talking about it is bewildering. You’re under stress in a television situation, and often accidents do happen, and that was case in point. I still look at it with horror. I have to hide behind the sofa with a pillow in front of my face.”
Elsewhere on the web, a listicle paid “tribute” to the sheer inventiveness of the Changing Rooms designers.
“I think there was a bit of a Twitter thing going on last year, when some people were shocked at how dated it was,” notes Barker.
Sure enough, Buzzfeed compiled a rundown of the most outlandish room makeovers: the height of style and sophistication at the time of broadcast, but many had failed to age well. The website’s summaries of each room – a Bedouin-style boudoir here, a coffee table made of slabs there – were less than kind.
Barker is good-natured down to her very bones, and she took the “revival” in her stride.
“It was funny, really,” she says. “It kind of forced everyone to look back and see what viewers enjoyed so much at the time. Like everyone else, I was quite shocked to see them. We’ve definitely moved on in design. Changing Rooms was definitely of its time, so seeing those pictures was a great leveller, but also a fun bit of nostalgia.”
In the years since, Barker has learned a thing or two about future-proofing a property.
“If you spend money well and everything is considered, [it will age better],” advises Barker. “Do the best you can afford and don’t just settle for the quick fix. If you get this beautiful balance of old and new stuff, it can help lend gravitas. I still paint furniture – I buy brown, antique stuff from junk shops and might paint it black rather than French Grey or a pastely white.
“You can still do great things with a small budget, but choose your pieces really well, and don’t stuff the place with stuff,” she adds. “It’s important to make it feel like it’s yours, so when you shut the world out at the end of the day you can enjoy it.”
As of last month, Linda’s stylish Yorkshire cottage went on the market, and the designer admits to having given the cottage a fresh look to prepare it for sale.
“You do all the obvious ‘kerb appeal’ stuff, making sure everything is spick and span and the shutters and drapes are clean,” she advises. “A coat of paint does wonders. If you’re trying to sell a place, new [furniture] pieces can shift the room around and bring new energy to the place. That’s kind of the way to approach it – bring some vibrancy and energy.”
She has one failsafe rule for house viewings: “I call it the ‘sweet point’. Wherever you sit or rest in a room, make sure there’s something interesting to look at.”
Wherever you sit or rest in a room, make sure there’s something interesting to look at
These days, Barker is still a regular on screen, but also works in collaboration with interiors giants like DFS, Crown Paint and, more recently, Multi Panel (a company offering digital-print, waterproof wall panels as an alternative to bathroom tiles). It’s clear she holds the home makeover show format in high regard, and is heartened to learn that in Ireland, one of Changing Rooms’ successors – Room To Improve – has become one of Sunday night’s televisual juggernauts.
“I’m so glad to hear that,” she notes. “Lifestyle shows like this are so fabulous. It gives people escapism. It genuinely is a place where people can gather ideas for their own home. These programmes show viewers that they can do all these things in their own homes.
“It’s great to be entertained by them, and obviously it’s funny for the viewer when things go wrong, or someone has a crisis or a meltdown,” she adds. “But it’s not that people laugh at you. Rather, you have empathy for someone when this happens. It reminds us that nobody is perfect.”
Linda Barker appears at the Permanent TSB Ideal Homes Show at the RDS, Dublin, which runs from April 20th-22nd. See idealhome.ie for details