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Inside 'Trading'

What really happens when two couples redo each other's places for a TV show


Sonja Teri and Caroline Krabach were your typical "Trading Spaces" fanatics: Caroline would tape the show daily and watch it when she got home. They'd dish about Vern's cool minimalist bedroom makeover or Frank's funky country kitchen redo. They even got their respective boyfriends, Paul Hogan and Chris Wylde, hooked.

Then, one day, they crossed the line. They applied to appear on the show.

Teri: "We were all sitting around and I said, 'Oh, wouldn't it be funny ...?' And Paul and Chris wrote this really clever application."

Hogan: "What did we write?"

Teri: "Something sarcastic."

Hogan: "Yeah, like 'We're the greatest people in the world.' "

Teri: " 'Cause we're young and we're fun.' "

Wylde: "We totally lied about the dimensions. The room has to be at least 14 by 14, but our living rooms are rectangular, and, you know, we didn't understand if it was supposed to be meters or inches. It was 14 something. Cubits, I think."

Every day some 300 to 500 people apply to be on "Trading Spaces," the Learning Channel show in which two couples agree to trade homes for 48 hours and redo one room in the other's house on a $1,000 budget (paid for by the show). Each couple works with an interior designer who plans the makeover, and an on-site carpenter builds whatever is necessary, from kitchen counter tops to a coffee table. The contestants, designers and carpenter paint, hammer, grout and sand while the clock ticks down to the much-anticipated "reveal"--when the couples, eyes squeezed closed, are led into their new rooms and the audience gets to see them gasp with delight or stare in open-mouthed horror.

Now in its third year, "Spaces" has become a certified hit, winning its Saturday night time slot against other cable shows and spawning two knockoffs: "While You Were Out" on TLC and "Surprise by Design" on sister-station Discovery Channel. It's also turned rather anonymous designers and carpenters into superstars--Genevieve Gorder, Vern Yip, Frank Bielec, Laurie Hickson-Smith Douglas Wilson, Ty Pennington--and inspired effusive posts to the official fan-site chat room, such as: "So far the best rooms of the new season were the two kitchens and Doug's sage/squares bedroom. The rest of them were absolutely horrible," and "What was up with the vertical blinds? I just can't get past the vertical blinds!"

As it happened, the ultramodern makeover of Teri and Hogan's living room would become one of the show's more talked about episodes.

Although the four friends, all in their 20s, have many things in common, "Trading Spaces" may have been in the top five when they applied in December. They met in Washington, D.C.--Krabach, Wylde and Hogan as students at American University, and Teri and Hogan while working at Crate & Barrel. Krabach and Wylde moved to L.A. a couple of years ago when Krabach transferred to USC; she now works on "The Wayne Brady Show" as assistant to the executive producer and director, and he's an actor who hosted Comedy Central's now-defunct "The Chris Wylde Show." Teri, who works for an Italian clothing company, and Hogan, a TV production assistant, moved here a year ago and took the apartment downstairs from their friends.

Within a few weeks of submitting their online application, the couples were told a location scout would check out their apartments and interview them. They got the official OK in January, and the show was shot in February.

Hogan: "First they let you know they're interested, and they talk to you on the phone to make sure you have a personality and aren't like Sheetrock."

Teri: "We were kind of nervous."

Wylde: "The worst part was showing people the way we lived before."

Krabach and Wylde's "before" apartment shouldn't have shocked anyone who was ever young and struggling and living in a utilitarian one-bedroom. Their living room contained a much-hated futon sofa, a shabby slipcovered armchair, a Roy Lichtenstein poster and a bookcase. The otherwise presentable hardwood floor was spotted with stains left by a previous tenant's dog.

Teri and Hogan's place had a red-shag area rug, a white slipcovered sofa, a wall-mounted CD rack and a TV stand. Their fondness for modern design was evident in their retro-patterned curtains and kidney-shaped side tables.

Although couples on the show are asked to interpret their friends' taste, the make-overs are almost entirely guided by the designers.

Wylde: "They wanted Vern, and we wanted Laurie. Or Genevieve."

Teri: "I cannot stand Laurie! Why do you like her?"

Wylde: "Because I like what she does!"

Teri: "You don't find her annoying?"

Hogan: "Sonja wanted Vern because Vern does a lot of clean, modern stuff."

Wylde: "She had the whole thing figured out. It was definitely going to be Vern."

Teri: "I had seen the show the week before, and this woman cried because she said she didn't want her fireplace touched and Doug built a facade around it. So when the crew got here I was told we got Doug, and I was crying. But Doug was so cool."

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