Home improvement shows meet cute with romance novels


Capture it: two people with great chemistry look at three houses. They do not choose the easiest to renovate, but their choice Is to have character. And that’s where the real fun begins: “I can feel her gaze burning along my skin, licking my neck and caressing my forearms. I stop to look at her, wipe away the sweat and offer the mallet. She shakes her head, lips a salacious smile, well aware that the camera is rolling, “No, thanks. I’m just happy to supervise.” Shelby winks too corny, the camera eats away at her.”

No, it’s not a spicy new direction from HGTV — although maybe they should consider it. It’s a scene from Built to lastan upcoming romance novel.

At first glance, a home renovation may not be the most conducive setting for love. It’s dirty, there’s dangerous material lying around everywhere and anger can flare up over the smallest things. But home reno has become a popular romance novel setting in recent years, obviously influenced by the enormous cultural dominance of HGTV, which is currently a form of entertainment on par with the great sitcoms of the 1990s. be spotted two in particular on the shelves of your local bookstore or Target. Tessa Bailey’s “Hot and Hammered” series, released in 2019, follows the members of a turnaround family business; Bailey started with fix it, which featured the offspring’s little sister and the baseball player she’s always loved — he has a broken knee and could use a distraction from the mess of his life by swinging a hammer. Sally Thorne, another writer whose work has been part of the recent romance boom, addressed the trope with Mine at 99%in which a home renovation finally offers a woman a chance with her brother’s best friend.

But New Romances take it even further, refining the premise even further and putting it all on TV, imagining their protagonists not only working together on a flip project, but co-stars as well. It turns out that the home improvement show and the romance novel work really well together, and they have a lot more in common than you might think.

For Erin Hahn, choosing to write about a couple who find love working together on a home improvement show was partly a response to the pandemic. After writing in YA for years, Built to last is her first adult romance, due out in October, and as she says, “I was like, if I’m going to write this adult romance, I want it to be just my favorite things, just this joyful, heartwarming read which is the opposite of what is happening in the world.” The result imagines two former child stars getting a second chance together years later, as older, wiser, and healthier adults when they do a pilot for an HGTV-like show.

Ashley Herring Blake, on the other hand, supported the concept. She was preparing the sequel to her queer romantic comedy Delilah Green doesn’t care, and she needed a high-stakes situation where her heroine Astrid—already established on the show as an interior designer—could have significant accomplishments on her own. For Astrid Parker does not fail, in the fall, she landed on a frenemies-to-lovers setup where Astrid goes one-on-one with a stubborn carpenter named Jordan to transform an inn, with the two locking horns on the right look for the property. . It’s all featured in a show called INNside Americahosted by a woman resembling a chipless Joanna Gaines who travels the country overseeing renovations to historic inns.

You see, there’s basically one rule in romance novels: you know before you even open the book that the couple is going to reunite. The question is how. It’s a lot like the home renovation genre, really – you know there’s going to be a finished house at the end, and the suspense is what it will look like. The home improvement show producer needs an eye-catching concept or a particularly charismatic star; the challenge for the novelist is to find a new premise where they can trap their protagonists in close proximity, but separating them just enough, just long enough, to maintain the tension that makes the whole book work. A home renovation provides, in many ways, the perfect setup: your characters are glued to each other, with all sorts of things to fight and, at the same time, the overriding need to work together.

“We love seeing how something that could be breathless has turned into something almost magical.”

Of course, the struggle is making sure the home renovation doesn’t entirely take over the book. Blake and Hahn admit that they had to go back to design details from time to time.

“I don’t know if it was because of the pandemic and we were all renovating things during this time and we were all stuck at home, but there was definitely a lot of me that was like, ‘d Okay, so how do I make this perfect house?’” Hahn said, adding that she had to remember that there wasn’t a lot they could fit into the shows, too.

Blake, meanwhile, digs deeper into the research: “My Pinterest page for this story is covered with all these pieces I found that inspired it, pieces I would explain and put into detail and this tub in copper and blah blah blah,” she says — though her editor has gone through and cut out all sorts of details.

For Blake, however, the design provided another venue to play out the differences between his characters, as they fought over the look of the inn, which has been in Jordan’s family for generations. “Jordan hates everything Astrid does,” Blake explains. She describes Astrid’s style as “very clean and modern and a bit textured here and there” – think Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel – while Jordan thinks an inn known to be haunted needs a look that reflects this fact.

“It was really fun to dig into Jordan’s style,” Blake says, “his darker, creepier taste. Because I feel like it’s kind of the opposite of everything we see on HGTV right now. I love it! My own house looks a lot like that too. That’s kind of what Astrid is. But then it was interesting to go for something a little different, like dark blue walls and what that would look like. In short, even without a background in interior design, she discovered and exploited the existing tensions in the business for her own ends.

Hahn, for her part, has become obsessed with a corner that her protagonist Shelby essentially renovates around an entire house. “This imaginary corner that I’ve always wanted in real life, with windows, a bench and shelves, a reading nook – it’s perfectly done in my head – I said to myself, this has to stay.”

But what she really appreciates is the opportunity to find other fans of home improvement shows and to gush together: “There’s just a huge subculture of people who have been loving these shows for a few years. , and it does not come up in the conversation almost enough,” Hahn says. “I want all the HGTV-adjacent romances, please. Hometown‘s Erin Napier, or any other specific host. “It’s a compilation of all my favorite people, including me.”)

Romance has long had intertwined fascinations with everything in popular culture and related fantasy careers for women. In the 1980s you saw a lot of corporate looters and an impossible number of men who looked like Magnum: IP. Now you see a lot of local reality TV riffs on The Bachelor franchise – see Julie Murphy’s If the shoe fits and Kate Stayman-London One to watch—and many cooking contests show sets—Love and other disasters; Rosaline Palmer takes the cake. It’s a bit of a reflection of what’s working in the market and what readers are responding to, and a bit of a reflection of what the authors themselves are doing at any given time. Once the genre was heavy with still-vulnerable glamazon models and businesswomen in power suits; now there’s more to imagining what your version of a Joanna Gaines character would look like. It’s yet another testament to the enormous cultural prominence of interior design shows: you know something really matters with American women when you start to see it pop up in romance novels.

But it’s not just a convenient setting, or a big phenomenon in pop culture right now, or even just the fact that capable people with well-developed muscles in dusty work boots are, let’s face it, rather hot. There is a deep resonance between the two genres. Both operate on tropes, for example, and those tropes are awfully similar: Hahn’s book is a classic second-chance romance – and what’s a home improvement show if not a second-chance romance? chance ? Blake’s book is enemies to lovers, and that’s the dynamic that a show like Like it or list it always flirt with.

They also have similar plot beats: “Three quarters into the episode, there’s still a hiccup, isn’t there?” Hahn notes that something is not happening in time or there is mold somewhere and the hosts have to work together to fix it. “Like a romance novel, right? You always have that hiccup three-quarters of the way through that they have to find a way through to get to your happy ending.” For Blake, who describes himself as “all the emotions when I write – I’m like, okay, they’re feeling this, and here’s the internal struggle,” the renovation beats “actually provided some really good bones for the whole glue.”

More importantly, they are both fundamentally about transformation. “Everyone loves a makeover,” Blake says, citing the endless appeal of makeover shows. “We love seeing how something that could be breathless has turned into something almost magical.”

“It’s the same with the characters,” she adds. “If they don’t change, you don’t really have a book.” Sure, in real life you can do a lot with a fresh coat of paint and a new set of drawer pulls, but that doesn’t create much drama on TV. And two well-matched people coming together quietly, maturely, with minimal drama, is wonderful to see, but it doesn’t give you much of a story arc in a romance novel. You need a little mess at the start; an even bigger mess in the middle; and in the end, the big payoff in the form of a rock-solid structure for the long haul. In other words, bliss forever.

Best images courtesy of William Morrow, St. Martin’s Griffin and Pikatus.

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