By JULIE WHITEHEAD
MBJ Contributing Writer
“Two days — a thousand dollars — no peeking in each other’s houses. Are you ready? Trade spaces!”
The above patter introducing the home decorating show “Trading Spaces” was spoken by series host Paige Davis right here in Mississippi when The Learning Channel hit came to Madison and Ridgeland in early November for eight days of filming. Aired five days a week at 3 p.m. and twice on Saturday night at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. on TLC, the do-it-yourselfer’s “Survivor” is a still a hit in its third season, with eight million viewers on a regular basis.
The premise is simple — what happens when neighbors switch houses for 48 hours to redecorate a particular room, aided by a professional interior designer? Four couples in Madison County found out, while the rest of the world can see it in episodes airing Dec. 28 and Jan. 4, according to Jackson’s own Laurie Hickson Smith, a regular designer for the show.
While these episodes mark Smith’s return to the “Trading Spaces” set, the Mississippi filming was a boon to area businesses, with the impact of the show and Smith’s association with it reaching from Jackson up to Kosciusko, over to Meridian, and even down to Terry, home base of Don Warren Film and Video.
“I had a blast. It was hard work, and it was a lot of work,” said Warren, whose previous camera credits include the movie “My Dog Skip.” Chad Robertson, who often works with Warren, got the first call from TLC to round up some local camera crew members to film the action at the Ridgway and Johnson homes on the Madison County sets.
Challenges on the shoot ranged from setting up equipment to accommodate the round-the-clock schedule of the show to squeezing cameras, lighting, crew, homeowners, the designer and a carpenter into one room — even if it was a master bedroom in Dinsmor.
But Banyan doesn’t expect — or want — the camera work to be too perfect anyway, said Warren. “They don’t want it to be too polished — if you go in setting it up like Hollywood, they’ll throw you out,” said Warren, noting the need to keep the “reality” feel in the production. A ceiling-mounted camera gives the bird’s-eye perspective at the beginning and endings of the show, while the work shots are done mostly with handhelds.
Much of the work falls on the homeowners to interpret the designer’s vision for the room with cameras on, filming all the various interactions during the 48-hour construction period. But everyone gets in on the act eventually. “I became an excellent furniture mover,” Warren deadpanned.
Local support is an integral part of the experience, said Denise Cramsey, executive producer for Banyan. The plans are laid about 6 weeks in advance, with a scout coming to see what logistics will need to be ironed out, Cramsey said. About three weeks to a month of research and planning then come into play — obtaining six pages’ worth of details on permits, lodging, crew members, rental cars, home supply stores, cellular phone service, plane tickets — and food.
That’s where Pam Bass of Create Events of Jackson came in, after Banyan Production assistant Chantal Bucolo apparently located her on the Internet. Bass formed her firm to plan corporate events, weddings, fund-raisers and film shoots with one aim in mind — to showcase Mississippi. “It’s about promoting people who are good at what they do,” said Bass.
And Bass assembled plans for an impressive amount of food — two days of lunch for the 16-member crew from McAlister’s Deli, two days of breakfast, two days of lunch, one dinner, and lots of coffee from Broad Street Bakery, eight cases of soft drinks and 32 cases of water from Winn-Dixie in Madison — and gallons of McAlister’s tea. “They were capable of bringing out huge amounts of tea,” Bass said. “McAlister’s had never done film work before, but they came through so well.”
Some meals were so well liked that Bass has been bombarded with e-mail requests from the crew for certain recipes — particularly Broad Street’s red beans and rice. Bass was determined to outdo herself making the crew happy to be in Mississippi — and the potato bar she arranged from McAlister’s did the trick.
“The producer said she was really getting spoiled in Mississippi,” said Bass. “All they get is drop-off sandwiches wherever they go.”
But the heart of the show — the decorating — showcases Mississippi whenever Smith is involved. The $1,000 budget keeps plans realistic, said Smith; although the design and construction services aren’t included, the limitations force the designers to stretch their creativity.
Creativity with materials and smart shopping pays off for Smith, who does a great deal of her shopping right here at home.
“We just kind of give her the whole table,” said Georgia Myers, employee at The Linen Shop in Canton, who said Smith shops for fabrics about every two weeks. Linda Freeman at Interior Fabrics and Antiques in Jackson confessed she’s not seen any of the episodes, but she does see Smith on her weekly excursions for the show. “We’ve been doing business with her for a long time,” said Freeman. “She takes fabric and does neat things with it.”
But having the filming all in Mississippi really sparked a run on local shops — a mirror in the Dinsmor location was framed by Brown’s Fine Art of Jackson, while lighting in one episode was provided by Ye Olde Lamp Shoppe in Jackson, said Smith.
Smith recently discovered fabric wholesaler Sandra Sartin of Kosciusko, owner of Bargains, Etc., whose fabrics will debut in the Mississippi episodes. Sartin knew of the popularity of the show and decided to make an effort to provide decorator fabrics to Smith. “I did not know her. I contacted her and asked if she was interested,” Sartin said of her cold call on the designer. Sartin hopes the relationship can continue for her two-year-old business. “When my new fabrics come in, I will be letting her know and sending her some samples.”
But Smith finds even more ways to showcase the talent of her home state — she discovered the Jean Tucker Collection of jewelry locally and now wears Tucker’s handiwork on all episodes. “I made her her own collection so she would have something to wear on the show,” Tucker said from her Meridian studio. “It’s a real chunky look and something that Laurie can definitely pull off,” said Tucker, noting that Smith wore one of her necklaces at the Emmys.
Smith can continue to feature elements of her Mississippi roots, but due to Banyan’s custom against repeat visits to host cities, Smith doubts the “Trading Spaces” crew would be allowed to come back to Jackson — although not from lack of wanting to. “Everyone had a wonderful impression of Mississippi,” said Smith of the production personnel, most of whom had never been to the state. “The crew got to go to the Subway and hear some authentic blues.”
Cramsey was already on her way to Austin, Texas, for another shoot but paused to confirm Smith’s view. “Everyone was really wonderful, especially the local people — the camera crew and caterers — and also the homeowners,” said Cramsey.
Any negatives? “We could have used a little less rain,” Cramsey said.
Contact MBJ contributing writer at Julie Whitehead at firstname.lastname@example.org.