There hasn’t been much Minnesota Nice represented on home-improvement TV in recent years.
Yes, Nicole Curtis shot the first few seasons of “Rehab Addict” in the Twin Cities, before moving the show to her native Detroit. A handful of other locally produced shows, including “Renovation Raiders” and “Five Day Flip,” also have come and gone.
But after Minneapolis-based Magnetic Productions closed shop a few years ago, Minnesota went on hiatus as a location. The drought will end Aug. 27 when “Stay or Sell,” starring Brad and Heather Fox, premieres at 8 p.m. CST (9 p.m. ET/PT) on HGTV.
The Edina couple, who own Fox Homes, shot a successful pilot last year, then filmed eight episodes of the new series featuring home renovation projects in Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Plymouth and Bloomington. In addition to homegrown talent, the series also will showcase Twin Citians who love their neighborhoods but have outgrown their homes. The Foxes come to the rescue with two options — renovate their current home or buy another nearby that the Foxes will customize for them. We caught up with the couple at their getaway home in Palm Springs, Calif., to chat about demolition surprises, the biggest misconception about home makeover shows and what it’s like to be on camera in extreme Minnesota weather:
Q: Have you seen all eight episodes of the show yet?
Heather: We’ve seen clips of a few. I’m kind of OK without watching it. Seeing yourself on TV is a strange thing. We watched the pilot for the first time at the viewing party, and one other time with our kids [two young sons], and that’s it. We lived it, we did it, the people were amazing, but watching it is a strange thing.
Q: What Twin Cities sites will we get glimpses of?
Heather: We don’t know what will make the final edit. But I was able to make so many connections with so many artists and creatives ... Mercury Mosaics, Concrete Pig ... It gets you out to their studios to see different parts of the city.
Q: What’s distinctively Minnesotan about your show?
Heather: All those local people, and the great culture. People are so proud and excited to show off our state, on a national platform.
Brad: Our design is to the modern side and the Scandinavian side. There’s a Minnesota flair to everything, a Scandinavian undertone to all of our designs.
Q: The home-makeover show is a fairly formulaic genre. What sets your show apart from the others?
Heather: That Scandinavian vibe. And the scale of our projects, which are massive total-change renovations. We did a three-story addition, a rambler that turned into a two-story. And we keep people in neighborhoods that they love. They’re super-connected to their neighborhoods. Their neighbors mow their lawns, watch their kids.
Q: You said that HGTV views Minnesota’s weather as almost a character on the show. Did the crew make a point of shooting on snowy days, to give scenes that Minnesota flavor?
Heather: As you know, you don’t have to make a point — it snows all the time. Yes, when a snowstorm was predicted, someone would say, “We have to shoot, it’s perfect!” But we’re working anyway. On the coldest, cold days, Brad and I would be dressed for the camera on top but wearing snow pants and snow boots. Then in late July, it was 95 degrees, with 97 percent humidity, sticky and gross. Everyone was soaked in sweat.
Q: Is anything scripted on your show, or are they shooting reality as it happens?
Brad: There’s no script whatsoever. Everything that happens is real. We might schedule a time for a trip to the house, but all the conversations with the client are real, along with the worst unexpected things.
Q: What was the worst unexpected thing?
Heather: There was a really, really big one that altered our plan for construction. It’s in Episode 7 — a total curveball.
Brad: During demo we found many unexpected things.
Q: What’s different about shooting a series versus a pilot?
Heather: During the pilot we were still able to manage life pretty easily — it was one episode. With a series of eight, there was a lot more work. We own our own construction and design business, but we did not do any other projects [while shooting]. A few of our own, we put on hold.
Brad: The rest of our team [24 real estate agents and four designers] would work on outside projects.
Q: Did you get more resources, like a glam squad, now that your show is officially a series?
Heather: No glam squad.
Brad: It’s nice because it forces you to be completely real. No glitz or glamour.
Q: Heather, you said that you were advised not to wear your pom-pom earrings while shooting the pilot, in case they came off as too edgy. I noticed you’re rocking the pom-poms in the series premiere. Do you feel freer to dress the way you want now?
Heather: It completely changed. No one approved a single outfit. There was never a comment.
Brad: It’s the pilot thing. Everyone’s a little bit conscious of getting it picked up. But now they want us to be as real and genuine as possible, which is a great fit for us. We definitely got real, about the struggles of raising a family and working multiple jobs.
Q: Are you looking for projects for next season?
Heather: We are looking. We don’t have a second season yet, and we don’t know when we will know. If it happens, we’re prepared. If not, we’ll have these great projects. [Homeowners who would like to be considered for the show can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Q: What criteria do homeowners have to meet?
Heather: The project has to be big enough, a massive change. Someone truly struggling with the question of whether to stay or sell. Someone with a strong connection to their neighborhood. And I really enjoy working with someone who is open to risk and having some fun.
Q: Does HGTV have to sign off on the homeowners and the projects?
Brad: Everyone goes through a casting process.
Q: Besides getting to be on TV, what’s in it for homeowners? Do they have access to any discounts or sponsorships?
Brad: That’s one of the big misconceptions. People send e-mails saying, “Fix my house for free,” but that’s definitely not the way it works. These are real people with real struggles. They do get Heather’s design eye for free, as part of the show. And some special projects we did that couldn’t be billed.
Q: Like the grandmother’s chair you reupholstered as a surprise for the client?
Heather: Exactly. A client would normally pay for that. And in normal life, when you do renovation you don’t get the full furniture installation done. We design every single corner, every shelf. When they see it, all the furniture is in place, every picture is hung on the wall. The staging is part of the project and all specific for those houses. How crazy to walk into a fully staged house!
Q: Is there a downside for homeowners, like not being able to see the work until the final reveal?
Brad: They have to move out because of the scale of the projects. Earlier on, they get to see it, but once the cabinets and the finishing items are in, we ask them to stay away. They’ve seen all the selections. We want to surprise them.
Heather: Some clients say, “I want you to surprise me. Have fun with that bathroom!” Those are fun ones!
Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784 • @Stribkimpalmer