'Trading Spaces' Brings High Stakes Back To Home Improvement TV

In the premiere episode of the revived “Trading Spaces,” homeowner Michele and her husband, clad in matching red button-down shirts, stare blankly at designer Hildi Santo-Tomas as she explains the art concept for the guest room of Michele’s sister and next-door neighbor, Melissa.

The design will be penguin-inspired, Santo-Tomas declares, so she wants her team to hand paint a “deconstructed penguin” mural on the room’s walls and ceiling. One wall, however, will be covered in mirrors, creating a kaleidoscope effect ― abstract penguin parts everywhere.

Michele’s eyes light up, unfortunately out of fear and not excitement.

If you’re a former fan of TLC’s “Trading Spaces,” this scenario is tantalizingly familiar. Santo-Tomas was one of the more ornery designers featured on the original home improvement reality series, which returns this weekend after a decade off the air. In an era of television dominated by reboots, TLC decided to resurrect the beloved “Trading Spaces.” Its simple premise remains intact: a pair of neighbors fix up one room in each other’s homes with the help of a designer, carpenter and returning host Paige Davis. They have two days and $2,000 (twice the budget of the original show) to pull it off without tears.

Or in the case of Santo-Tomas, who once glued straw onto the walls of someone’s living room, with many, many tears.

Drama tends to weave its way into “Trading Spaces,” separating the series from other, tamer home improvement reality shows. Take, for example, “Fixer Upper,” a show that pretty much guaranteed each happy new homeowner would walk away from the show with a Joanna Gaines-certified farmhouse design.

“We promise a happy ending,” general manager of HGTV programming Allison Page told HuffPost. “You know if you’re coming to HGTV they’re going to find a house, make it beautiful.”

TLC’s “Trading Spaces” gives its participants no guarantee. Although the channel is owned by the same network as HGTV (Discovery), the show departs in several ways from the usual renovation fare. Instead of providing a top-to-bottom rework like most other shows, “Trading Spaces” stakes claim to only one room, often of utmost importance to its owners. And instead of allowing the actual homeowners to wince and “wow!” at pre-approved designs, the various designers go forth and renovate on theme without their explicit permission. (Sure, neighbors can advocate against truly heinous decisions, but does that ever really stop Hildi Santo-Tomas?) The show simply hopes everyone will be satisfied with their respective finished products. It hopes that the interventions won’t amount to a breakdown of next-door relations.