Never say designer Genevieve Gorder isn't up for a challenge.
Overhauling rooms on the popular show "Trading Spaces" wasn't enough for her; now she's upgrading an entire town on another unscripted series on The Learning Channel.
Premiering Saturday, Jan. 22, "Town Haul" takes Gorder to Jeffersonville, N.Y. - approximately 130 miles northeast of Manhattan - where she involves the populace in beautifying and re-energizing their locale.
The effervescent Gorder brings in other experts such as landscape architect William Moss and carpenter Jimmy Little, but it's largely left to the citizens to make what they will of their homes and businesses while Gorder is around to advise and help. She admits the show has made her more a part of the given community than she anticipated, both practically and emotionally.
Q: What was the inspiration for the show?
A: I'm so tired of designers arriving and telling people, "This is what I'm going to do for you." That was always my frustration with so many of these shows, because design is not an ambush … it's a relationship. You have to know how people move and live and work to be able to design for them.
Q: Is it different to show that over the course of multiple episodes set in the same place?
A: The whole idea is that the audience becomes a part of the relationship. They get to know these "characters" and love this town. I think people come to visit these towns not to see the design, but to see the people who live there, so this has a definite real-world aspect.
Q: How has production gone so far?
A: We worked out a lot of bugs and figured out who was working and who wasn't and how this beast functions. It was a lot bigger than we actually thought, and now we have a well-run ship where it feels I can actually have time to imagine and not just stress out about everything.
Q: How involved are you in the "Town Haul" process before taping begins in each of the chosen sites?
A: I come in when the final three or five towns have been narrowed down. I give a designer's-eye view and say what's possible and what is not. If the idea is to restore a theater that's 200 years old and do it correctly in a month, I'll say, "No." I will not do work that isn't done well or right. Stuff happens - things break, contractors don't come through - but I don't want to be responsible for not doing something correctly.
Q: Have you felt pressure as your celebrity has grown and other opportunities have come your way?
A: TV producers and networks can be like, "Let's just get as much done as fast as we can," and I understand that's the business side of it … but it's also my integrity and my passion, and this is what I do whether I'm on TV or not. I'm a designer, I love it, and I haven't worked this hard to do bad work.
Q: Does your fame help what you try to accomplish in "Town Haul," or does it get in the way?
A: I haven't been on "Trading Spaces" regularly for a while, since I was planning this show, so I didn't realize just how large it was. I'm lucky enough to have a really positive following, and I'm so grateful for that. It's a fantastic platform to launch a new show from.
You forget how many people watch TV until you come into a town like this. Everybody knows you, and I'm always humbled, especially when there are 500 little kids who all have their hair done like yours and want to be designers.
Q: How do the adults respond to you?
A: I tell them, "You're going to get sick of me in a week," but they just don't. They keep inviting me to parties and dinners, and I even got invited to a sleepover. This is what I love, and it's what I was missing. I like the emotional aspect of it all, and I think that's more interesting to everybody.
Q: Once the job is done and it's time for you to leave a town, is it difficult?
A: Especially for the children, who grab onto your leg. Everyone's crying because you've been welcomed into a small community, and communities like this don't have big TV productions come in all the time. They know you're probably not coming back, so it's really sad. It's not like an "ooh" cry, it's a "boo-hoo" from-the-belly cry. It's bittersweet because you know you won't see a lot of those people again, but my plan is to do follow-up shows.
Q: You recently finished shooting the second set of "Town Haul" episodes in Laurens, S.C. How does that compare to the first?
A: The Deep South has a completely different history, both good and bad, that is fascinating for everybody. It makes people work together who usually don't, and that sounds like a cliche in so many ways, but it actually happened … and it happened because of a beautiful idea. To me, that's so much bigger than design in and of itself.
Q: What is your ultimate aim with "Town Haul"?
A: It's not about doing over the living room of someone who has bad taste in color. This is about restoring historic buildings and instilling pride in a community, which can be done through designing new public spaces and social gathering spots. It makes people feel better about where they live, and that makes the people who work on this show feel amazing.