HGTV Is Driving Same-ness and Boredom in Interiors

Washington, DC, July 11, 2023-"If you’ve ever watched a home makeover show on HGTV, you know the key ‘before’ sequence. It’s when the camera critically pans over the house and the host points out everything that needs to be fixed. The decor? Cluttered. The paint? Cringe. The overall takeaway is that the home is an utter embarrassment and needs a total overhaul before anyone of taste would consider putting a doormat out front,” reports the Washington Post.

“But what happens when people consider how their own homes might fare under this kind of scrutiny? It can lead to an overwhelming sameness in aesthetics, according to Annetta Grant, an assistant professor of markets, innovation and design at Bucknell University, who researched how home renovation media such as HGTV and magazines such as Better Homes and Gardens influenced homeowners.

“Grant calls the idea that anyone could be scrutinizing or judging your decorating choices the ‘market-reflected gaze’ in a research paper with Jay M. Handelman, an associate professor of marketing at Smith School of Business at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. Their findings came in large part from interviews with 17 homeowners doing renovations.

“‘They’re seeing everything that’s wrong with their home and imagining when people come into their home [that] they’re also criticizing and scrutinizing and judging their home,’ says Grant. ‘It really makes people feel quite uneasy about the decisions that they make in their home, and so they’re always kind of fearful about getting it wrong.’ (HGTV did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Washington Post.)

“Wrong, in this case, has become defined as a decision that will make your home less appealing to buyers, even if you have no plans to put it on the market.

“Homeowners are ‘torn between two ideas of what the home should be,’ says Grant. The common wisdom is that buying a home ideally has two main benefits: You can build wealth and modify your space to your unique tastes. Grant’s framework shows these two benefits in conflict with one another.

“The gaze is creating a ‘shift towards standardization,’ she says. And it’s not just happening in rooms of the house where people expect guests to come, she found. That gaze extends to bedrooms and primary bathrooms, too.

“Among the 17 people who participated in the research, most expressed the desire to be ‘that smart homeowner who has invested in my home and now, on paper, my home is worth so much more,’ Grant says. So in order to be savvy, they might skip out on bolder choices in renovation and decor.

“Instead, neutrals reign supreme, and the goal is to create a place that is inoffensive and could appeal to many. One interviewee for the study, Gabrielle, told the researchers about feedback she received on her renovated bathroom: ‘I think people really are complimentary on the bathroom because it’s a bit more like a hotel room kind of cleanliness, looking very streamlined, and everything coordinates.’

“You can’t blame homeowners for trying to protect what is probably their largest asset. And they’re constantly bombarded with data that attributes a dollar amount to relatively minor decisions. Zillow, for example, does an analysis of paint colors. Its latest analysis said that a white kitchen, long de rigueur, could now hurt a house’s home price to the tune of $612, whereas a charcoal-gray kitchen allegedly increases the cost by an average of $2,512. (To get these very specific numbers, Zillow showed study participants homes and asked how much they’d offer for each. Then, the company’s behavioral scientists used statistical modeling to figure out how the relationship between list and offer price changed depending on the room color.)”