These Shows Turned Our TV Critic Into a 'Property Porn' Addict

Middle age officially arrives when you can’t stop watching TV series about interior design and beautiful homes – and even enjoy it

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Hostess Melanie Rose talking to a client in Netflix's "How To Build a Sex  Room."
Hostess Melanie Rose talking to a client in Netflix's "How To Build a Sex Room."Credit: NETFLIX
Adrian Hennigan
Adrian Hennigan
Adrian Hennigan
Adrian Hennigan

When does “middle age” begin? Is it when you buy an electric sports car in order to have a carbon-friendly midlife meltdown? When you go to see Coldplay live? When you start complaining about how hard it is to understand TV dialogue and wonder why every scene has to be so dark?

Merriam-Webster defines middle age as the period from “about 45 to about 64,” but that feels wrong. Maybe I’ve heard “may you live to 120” at too many birthday parties, but I’ll be seriously pissed if my generation doesn’t outlive Moses – which by my reckoning means that middle age now kind of begins at 55.

I can live with that. In fact, this year I’ve accepted these new terms and have reconciled myself to being middle-aged. And it’s all due to a totally unforeseen development: I have become addicted to property porn. That’s right, shows about homes. Not "Sherlock," homes.

Yes, if I have a spare hour, my favored form of relaxation nowadays is any TV series that shows people either building, rebuilding, buying or selling a home.

The classiest are the series spotlighting amazing architecture and interior design. Netflix has “Amazing Interiors” and “Dream House Makeover,” but the absolute pinnacle is Apple TV+’s “Home,” whose second season dropped last month along with my jaw after seeing 10 stunning buildings that are not so much pushing the envelope as totally rethinking it – all invariably driven by the concept of sustainability.

“The possibilities are endless,” a Mexican architect says in one episode about his love for volcanic rock, but he could equally be talking about the designs here. This is architecture that will make you go “wow,” even if design is not your skill set. (Internal voice: Hang on, you have a skill set?)

The eco-friendly "longhouse" in Australia, featured in season 2 of "Home" on Apple TV+.Credit: Apple TV+

Whether it’s a bioclimatic house in Indonesia, sustainable oasis in Australia or renovated ruin in southern France – the most striking thing here is the architects’ courage to experiment, to literally think outside the box. It’s an inspirational experience, something to truly savor.

Indeed, “inspirational” is one of the words that keep recurring when describing many shows in this genre. “Aspirational” is another – and a third, perhaps unspoken, is “schadenfreude.” Building or renovating a home is an adventure in which things can, and frequently do, go wrong. And I’d be lying if there aren’t times when I’m a little too pleased when an unforeseen obstacle means an infinity pool at some multimillion-dollar mansion is taking forever to build. (Officer, I have an alibi for that particular night in the Hamptons.)

This house, featured in "Home," aims to capture biodiversity in the South African bush.Credit: Apple TV+

Little house on the prairie? No thanks

The thing that has shocked me most about this genre is how it too is middle-aged, yet has largely passed me by until now. The U.S. institution that is “House Hunters,” for instance, is currently airing season 218 since debuting on the Home and Garden Television channel back in 1999.

But I’ll be honest, those U.S. shows don’t do it for me as much as the U.K. ones. Maybe it’s regional bias, but I’d prefer to see a crumbling British farmhouse over a little house on the prairie any day. And while there’s a strong financial element to all of these shows – no participant could ever get away with saying “I’d rather not discuss the construction budget if you don’t mind,” even on British TV – I find the American ones totally obsessed with the money angle.

Clearly, that’s the basic appeal of a show called “Zombie House Flipping” – I swear I didn’t make that title up – where a group of developers buys a rundown property, renovates it in the shortest amount of time possible and sells it for (they hope) a profit. But homes should be about pleasure, not just profit.

Of course, most of us live in unspectacular, unremarkable homes. Maybe we own them, maybe we rent them. (Full disclosure: I own apartments in Tel Aviv and England – which definitely makes me very middle-aged and very lucky – though neither will ever merit TV time.)

But we love looking at sensational properties and dream that, one day, we’ll have something unique of our own. That aspirational element to these shows means they appeal to anyone who ever walked into someone else’s house and said, “Oh, I like this…” Tip based on personal experience: Make sure you’ve actually been invited into said home before entering.

Until middle age arrived, I only watched one TV show about homes: the British series “Grand Designs,” in which couples (it’s invariably couples) with big dreams and even bigger budgets set out to create their unique home – and the wackier the better (that goes for the participants and the designs).

Now, though, I’ve been insatiable for property porn. Much like Blanche DuBois, I have mainly depended on the kindness of strangers to see these series (on YouTube, via – cough – torrents and, if this obsession refuses to abate, probably the Dark Web too; “Home and Garden TV shows” is just after “Hire Assassin,” I presume).

In the space of six months, I’ve gone from not knowing a screw from a saw (it played havoc with my dating life) to spending far too much time thinking about bifold doors, Shaker kitchen units, the charms of terrazzo … this obsession reached a peak recently when I strolled past a certain supermodel’s mansion while walking the dog and found myself thinking: This place really lacks curb appeal.

Home and garden shows come in all shapes and sizes, but surely none feature more neon or leather than “How to Build a Sex Room” (Netflix).

I like to think there’s some stereotypical Frenchman who sees this title and thinks: Isn’t every room a sex room? Well, this eight-parter starring Melanie Rose – a suspiciously posh-sounding English lady who is dubbed the “Mary Poppins of sex rooms” – will show them what they have been missing. Dick van Dyke, perhaps.

She pays house calls to a series of American couples looking to spice up their love lives with a room painted in 50 shades of gray. This is definitely the only property show that features lines like “I love the exposed brick” (well, I think that’s what she said) and “That’s the prettiest butt plug I’ve ever seen.”

Melanie Rose, left, Taylor, and Ayjay in a scene from "How To Build a Sex Room."Credit: NETFLIX

I found Rose an annoying presence, but the couples really bring the show to life. My favorites were Raj and Ryan, whose unloved, decidedly vanilla master bedroom was “a bit of a metaphor” for their relationship. Kudos to Ryan, who recognized the chance to get a sex room/chill-out zone complete with wide-screen TV and fireplace. I’m only surprised he didn’t ask for a billiards table too.

Of course, “How to Build a Sex Room” turns out to be about far more than just sex as the couples open up to their partners (I blame those butt plugs). I look forward to a sequel where real estate agents have to sell suburban houses with sex dungeons situated beneath the utility room (“Could be a sex room. Could be a home gym. Could be a kids’ playroom with a few minor tweaks…”). It certainly gives a whole new meaning to the term “stud wall.”

Finally, I couldn’t write about the home and garden genre – although the garden thing isn’t working for me just yet; maybe that will come when I enter the next stage of life – without mentioning the person whose shows take up such a large part of my free time: British architect George Clarke.

I have no idea how I’d never heard of Clarke prior to this year, because it turns out he’s been on television pretty much constantly since about 2009. Honestly, this guy has got his name on more things than Donald Trump: “George Clarke’s Flipping Fast.” “George Clarke’s Remarkable Renovations.” “George Clarke’s Old House, New Home.” “George Clarke’s National Trust Unlocked.” And, radically, “Ugly House to Lovely House with George Clarke.”

My favorite, though, is “George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces,” which bucks the genre trend: While many property shows concentrate on the high end of the market (another recent show, “Extraordinary Extensions,” featured a London house whose additions alone cost $33.5 million – and it didn’t even have a sex room), “Amazing Spaces” focuses on budget renovations and quirky but ingenious ways of making the best use of limited spaces.

This being Britain, quite a lot of this involves transforming humble garden sheds into things of beauty like pubs, home cinemas or even a shrine to the SS Titanic.

Clarke is an amiable, down-to-earth presence as he imparts a little knowledge about the secrets of good renovation and buying techniques (my new mantra is “Always buy the worst place in the best area”). This show has been running since 2012, and each season sees him covering amazing spaces overseas as well.

The most recent season saw him in Chile and, apparently, he has been filming in Israel for the upcoming season 11. Now, I’m a shamefully apolitical person – ask me what I think about Masafer Yatta and I’ll tell you I preferred their earlier stuff – but even I am already feeling uneasy about this.

It’s great that the world will get to see some amazing Israeli architecture – it may also be the first time many of us Israelis get to see it, assuming it’s in private homes.

But it would also be hugely remiss of the series if it doesn’t showcase some not-so-amazing spaces as well – like the checkpoints between Israel and the West Bank, the West Bank security barrier and all of those settlements on Palestinian land. Yes, let’s celebrate genius Israeli architects, but let’s not forget the really ugly stuff either.

The settlement of Efrat in the West Bank. Will the ugly side of Israel feature in "George Clarke's Amazing Spaces"?Credit: Maya Alleruzzo/AP

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