Re-use -
A Solution
For Modern

Church Street
Lower Weedon


Issue 119 April 2000 Page 154
Reclaimed Television
TV home makeover shows create a period look in a whirl of MDF, but for restoration that will last, salvaged items are the answer, says Neville Griffiths.
O K, I'm the first one to put my hand up - I joined the TV home programme game. I was 'discovered' when the BBC called at my yard, asking for an 'expert' to advise on the making of a series following the restoration of an old cottage in Northamptonshire. Wrapped up in the excitement, the next thing I knew, someone was shouting 'action' and I came flying out of a door, tripped up cut my leg and was told I was a natural. Yeah, right!

Having been on the other side of the camera, I hope that these pieces of eye candy on our TV screens stimulate people's ideas but don't give them the wrong ones. Many of these half-hour slots confuse reproduction with restoration and create the impression that giving new life to a worn-out item involves little effort and even less time.

The reality is that restoration and renovation is hard, time-consuming work in which the smoke and mirrors of the TV studio are strikingly absent. Some may say 'why do it?', but in my view there's nothing better than to give a second life to an artefact which was created many years ago but has become, as we all do, tired and sometimes saddened with age. To restore it to its original splendour or usefulness, without destroying its originality, is immensely satisfying. My TV role has been, as someone rather cynically suggested, that of a modern day Steptoe - merely collecting and recycling tat. But, I like to think that it's also given me the unique opportunity to be an interior designer, historian, architect and restorer - to demonstrate my belief that, when dealing with property restoration, an end product of quality without fakery can be recreated.

It seemed a bit odd to some of the other presenters having me around. They couldn't believe that people made things out of reclaimed materials or spent all that time on restoration, or even that most of the time when you're restoring an old property the object is to leave it looking old, so it appears as if you've not touched it. That's when you've succeeded - not when you've replaced something of quality with MDF. This is a product that's scorned by the antique and architectural salvage trades because they can't understand why more reclaimed timber isn't used. However, in some TV programmes it's used too often in an unsuitable context and the initials might better stand for 'Makeovers Done Fast'.

On TV programmes where I've been shown doing up a cast-iron fireplace, the whole job, broadcast in clips of the various stages, adds up to no more than a couple of minutes of screen time. In reality, it could take days. So, if you're considering having your home or garden filmed - be careful. There are lots of cheap programmes being made for digital TV - if you take part be aware of what you're letting yourself in for - ask how experienced the researchers and director are. Remember, the more time you have to do a job, the better it will be. Sadly, in TV land that's often missing and if you're allowing a makeover - inside or outside - make sure there's a reasonable budget.

I was asked by a TV makeover specialist why I thought what I did had anything to do with what he did. I took a look at his watch - it was a President LED which cost 99.95 in 1975. He asked me how I knew - I explained that if you remember as much as possible about what has gone before and can recognise the shapes, colours and materials from different period, you'll have a better understanding of how to use them in the future, especially in older properties.

That's why I think it's important to have a salvage element to these programmes. It reminds us that we have a lot to learn from the past and that much of it was better than anything we can achieve today.

A more imaginative approach for the purist and the romantic