The Fenton Group scores USAToday placement for MobileFab
TV speeds up the home-renovation process ; Makeover shows get customers revved up
Joyce Cohen. USA TODAY. McLean, Va.: Mar 19, 2004. pg. D.06
Destinations & Diversions; At home
If real life were a TV show, you could decorate a bedroom -- even renovate a whole house -- in an hour or less.
But it isn't. And as anyone who has ever embarked on a home- improvement project knows, the work makes for weeks of unpleasantness.
But some businesses these days are catering to the desire for instant gratification -- and finding ways to streamline processes that typically drag on. Tony and Karen Castagno of North Stonington, Conn., disliked their 15-year-old laminate kitchen countertop, which was marred by visible seams.
With measuring, ordering and installing, "we were put off by how long it was going to take to replace it" -- up to six weeks, Tony Castagno says. They heard about MobileFab, a Warren, R.I.-based workshop-on- wheels that installs high-end solid-surface countertops in a day. The family was intrigued by "the impressive claim they could do the whole thing in a few hours," Castagno says.
The Castagnos, who had been shopping around, knew what they wanted: a Corian countertop in a blushy beige called Rosetta. On the day of installation, two workmen arrived early to measure the counters as the couple's daughter, Katie, was heading for the school bus. They were gone by midafternoon. "There was no mess at all in the house," Castagno says, just a new countertop that "looks great."
Interest in home renovation is at a peak: Americans spent $214 billion last year on it, according to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. And in this TiVo age, so is interest in fast-forwarding through the job.
But that isn't necessarily realistic. "This is an entertainment show, not a how-to," says David Goldberg, president of Endemol USA, which produces ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. "We are working against the clock. Time is the enemy."
On a real renovation, several workers would put in eight-hour days, but "we have over 100 people working 24/7 to get this job done," he says. "This would be pretty cost-prohibitive."
Goldberg is often asked whether the renovations depicted on the show are authentic. "The homes are not as meticulously done as the Sistine Chapel, but these are legitimate renovations that are up to local building codes," he says.
Still, he knows that home-improvement shows make contractors look sluggish by comparison. "We watch those shows and shake our heads," says Joan Stephens of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, who owns Stronghold Remodeling in Boise. In real life, "all these weird things pop up that take time to solve" -- uneven floors, unexpected vents, electrical outlets needing relocation.
On one show, "they wanted the look of hardwood floors and they brought in plywood and painted it," she says. "If you did that in your house, you would get splinters and it would be a maintenance nightmare."
The fake river on one Extreme Makeover episode looked great, but "to run that water day in and day out would mean an enormous electricity bill," says SuYoung Kim of Landsystems Landscapes in Redwood City, Calif.
When do people want an instant fix? When they are planning to sell, he says. But for another decorating challenge -- high-quality curtains -- the urgency hits before weddings and Thanksgiving.
"The mother-in-law is coming, and you need the house to look at least as nice as hers," says Melinda Faranetta of The Curtain Exchange, a retail chain based in New Orleans, where high-ceilinged homes have historically required extra-long curtains.
Ready-made curtains often look "temporary and skimpy," says Faranetta, who owns franchises in Dallas and Plano, Texas.
But nice curtains require measuring, ordering, shipping and sewing. "I know people who have waited a year," Faranetta says. "You could have a baby faster than you could have your custom curtains."
The Curtain Exchange keeps a vast inventory in enormous warehouses. Seamstresses are at the ready to hem and customize sizes. Customers take several panels home to try out, then return to buy the set they choose.
One customer, Shelby Banister, hired a decorator to create living- room curtains for the family's new house in Amarillo, Texas. Days later, she stumbled across The Curtain Exchange. She tested panels for other rooms, checking out embroidered silks and linen-cotton toiles.
Meanwhile, the living room remains unfinished. "I want to kick myself," she says. "We ordered the curtains from the decorator before Christmas and now we're in March."
Another reason customers like speed: It limits the time a contractor spends inside the house, says Davis Glassberg, president of Luxury Bath Systems in Glendale Heights, Ill. His company touts its one-day bathtub makeover as an alternative to replacing or reglazing a worn-out tub.
After measuring, it takes several weeks to get the acrylic shell that fits over the old tub. But sealing it on takes just hours.
People have seen workers "drinking a six-pack," Glassberg says. "They have a fear of the plumber ripping the bathroom apart -- and what is his motivation to finish the job?"
A quick installation quells their concerns. "They figure: 'How much damage can somebody do in one day?' "