Kirstie's Homemade Home is one of the most vile pieces of television that Channel 4 have ever shown. In it, property doyenne Kirstie Allsopp discovers the joys of furnishing your own home, by having a large country house (nauseatingly called Meadow Gate) renovated, and then decorating and furnishing it. Rather than focus on the bricks and mortar, this show is focused on the fixtures and fittings, furnishings and decoration, with each episode focusing on a particular room. In the first show, Kirstie is fitting out her kitchen, the heart of the home.
The first, glaring problem with it is Kirstie's dubious CV. The woman's got form. Miss Allsopp has after all, spent the last ten years or more as part of a double-act with Phil Spencer, fronting shows such as 'Location, Location, Location' and 'Relocation, Relocation': househunting shows where each week Kirstie'n'Phil help upwardly mobile couples, invariably with a baby on the way, either move up the property ladder, find a house in the country with a city pied-a-terre, or buy a second home as a buy-to-let investment.
These programs formed the vanguard for a string on Channel 4 shows even more venal and grasping, such as 'Property Ladder' and 'How to be a Property Millionaire'. For over ten years, Channel 4 beamed into our homes the message that property is a failsafe investment opportunity, buy-to-let is the future, that your house is a money making machine, and that if you didn't get on the ladder you'd be left behind, or if you were on the ladder you should put it all on the line to move up to a bigger property with more money-making potential, or expand your portfolio into a property owning empire.
Of course, we know where this all ended. After a decade of growth, fuelled by Channel 4's boosterism, the inevitable slump and credit crunch has ripped many peoples lives apart, with the average burden of debt carried by people in the UK even greater than that in the US. With practically no alternatives to private house-ownership, many people have felt compelled to obtain giant mortgages and climb on the property train wherever it might be headed.
So now we have Kirstie, unbowed and unrepentant, and having ditched Phil, switching tracks with barely a blink. Now it's all about nesting, building your home, making it a warm, special place that reflects your character. Crucially, Kirstie's vision is of a home-made home, not one bought from a store. It should be a place filled with idiosyncratic artefacts that you have made yourself or had made from a local artisan, quirky second-hand furniture bought at a market, or curios you have rescued from destruction from a skip.
This is where Kirstie starts to get strident. To her, this quest for individuality is seen as an antidote to the kind of bland cookie-cutter Ikea moderne style that dominates the interiors of most magazine and style-guides. The vibe Kirstie is going for, as Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh might say, is that "rustic informal look". Buying second hand furniture, commissioning hand-made crockery and glassware from artisans and craftsmen is seen as somehow more authentic than buying mass-produced homewares. It's about downshifting, reusing, recycling, cherishing those precious objects.
It's a dubious concept at best, but let's roll with it for now. So we see Kirstie trying her hand at a number of crafts. In the first episode she vists a master potter, and has a go at making a rather dumpy pot, its function unknown and undeclared. She next pitches up at a glassmakers workshop with the intention of making her own glassware, and lustily declares it the best thing ever, "I'm giving up, I'm becoming a glass-maker", then about 5 minutes later drives off to find something else to do.
Similarly, she rediscovers sewing, and with the help of a posh family friend, makes a cushion, "Wow! ... I feel I want to sew and sew and sew!" she heartily exclaims, before heading off and leaving her friend to finish making all the others. Perhaps the fast jump-cut world of a modern TV show is not the ideal format to explore loving, painstaking workmanship.
Cut to Kirstie walking along the street to her local street market in London, haggling with the traders over the price of some pictures, buying some chairs and a bench, before loading them into/ onto her massive Land Rover Discovery which has suddenly appeared, (perhaps like Kitt out of Knight Rider). I've got 5 bedrooms to fit out, she says, forking over banknotes left right and centre, "We're going to need a lot of stuff to fill all those rooms". So much for downshifting.
Next she extols the virtues of dumpster diving for discarded treasures, by driving around the streets in the Land Rover and exploring the contents of skips. Having liberated a mirror from a ignominious end, she boldly states how she is helping to save the world's resources by not buying a new one from a department store. The irony of this statement, delivered to camera as she is driving the aforementioned massive Land Rover Discovery, a 4wd light commercial vehicle with a fuel economy little better than a Humvee, over to Meadow Gate, seems to pass her by.
Next it's onto her parents house, and it's clear the apple hasn't fallen far from the tree. The Allsopps live in a massive house, and it's full to the rafters with crap, collected over the years by her antique dealer father, and lovingly arranged by her interior designer mother . They moved house so many times as Kirstie grew up, she explains, because they kept renovating houses. Now, having followed the property ladder aspect of her parents lives, Allsopp sets out to relive their maximalist approach to interiors.
Finally it's back to Meadow Gate, where the builders have gutted the house, and renovated it, ready for Kirstie to fill it with all the crap she's been making, buying, and rescuing. There's just about time to hang some plates on the wall, for reasons that are never explained, and get someone to do some flower arranging for her. The glassblower turns up, hand-delivering Kirstie's effort along with a few of his own. The posh cushion woman brings the rest of the cushions too. I wonder if this will be a recurring theme.
Eventually comes the money shot, as the camera pans back, and the final kitchen and dining space is revealed, transformed from a spartan, light and airy space into a cluttered room full of gaudy crockery, knick-knacks, gew-gaws and beset by a jumble of furniture. With the folksy, rural charm dialled up to 11, it's the sort of space that would probably give John Pawson a heart attack.
You wouldn't want to be the poor bastard who has to clean it all, but then you also get the impression that this won't be Kirstie. There's a Marie-Antoinettish quality about the show, with the impression that Kirstie enjoys the simple life, playing the wife of a country squire in her petit hameau, and that the Barbour jacket, the Aga, and the Land Rover are all but stagey props.But then, given that you can rent Meadow Gate, it's more likely that the whole house is a prop and Kirstie won't actually be living in it either.
Honing a craft takes time and dedication, something Kirstie seems loath to do, making her rather contradict one of the shows central tenets. So she ends up paying the high price for fine hand-made glassware and furnishings, again contradicting the homely, downshifting theme of the show. But the concept that hand-made craft items are somehow more authentic, eco-friendly and worthy than mass-produced homewares is simply one that doesn't stack up. The craft ethic is a myth.
The problem is that we have confused cheap and utilitarian with disposable, ready to be treated as items of fashion, and thrown away when we have our eyes turned by the latest style magazines, or programs such as this one. But by starting with literally an empty room, a blank slate, Kirstie's Homemade Home tries to sidestep this issue, and in its movie-set stageyness, contradicts the authenticity it claims to seek.