Come with us for an insider’s view as we chart one Cork family’s experience preparing for the hit TV show’s cameras and judges
One morning six months ago my phone rang with exciting news. Fellow Home of the Year fan, interior designer Sinead Cassidy, was casting a fresh eye over one of the houses being filmed for the spring 2021 series. It was perfect, she told me; the attention to detail amazing, with just a few finishing touches needed, all of which had now been expedited, but would I put my styling-for-the-camera hat on and take a look?
Arriving at a sunshine-filled, photogenic house, contemporary in design, but traditional in its atmosphere of a welcoming Irish family home, I met IT analyst Val O’Kelly and husband Karl Slyne, a quantity surveyor, who built the house four years ago at Moneygourney. Douglas, County Cork, for their blended family of eight, including six teenage boys.
Featured in last Tuesday’s episode, it was the show’s production company ShinAwil which contacted Karl and Val in July to ask if they’d be interested in applying.
“We’ve watched the programme for years,” says Karl, “so we completed the application but because of the pandemic ShinAwil had to do a walk-through on Zoom rather than in-person.
“We never thought we’d be picked, but we got the call in August to say we were in.”
With filming taking place in October, time was short to finish off the outstanding jobs every home has but the motivation of something significant happening is needed to take action.
“We planned to do up our bedroom,” says Val. “We’d already bought the wallpaper but hadn’t gotten around to it.”
Finishing off textiles and painting, having everything immaculate for the judges, and making sure it stayed that way with eight people living in the house, meant, Val says, “the house had never been so clean, so we decided to move out for the filming to keep it like that.”
It’s hard to imagine when watching an episode and seeing each home getting a mere seven minutes’ screen time that there are two days of filming involved over a weekend. “Karl and I had to be in the house at 7am on the Saturday,” says Val. “We had two hours of prepping for our interview and we had the giggles at the start.”
“And I got tongue-tied,” Karl laughs. “But it wasn’t at all invasive. It was great fun and the crew made us very comfortable. It was like the build-up to our wedding; we were buzzing with excitement.”
But there were some unexpected things, like Val being asked to take off her jingling bracelet.
“We had to turn off the ventilation system too because it makes a sound,” says Karl, “and I bought a new shirt but they asked me to change it to a different colour.”
By 11am Karl and Val had to leave before the judges arrived, and by the time the family came home at 6pm on Sunday the judges were gone.
Surprisingly, no feedback was given and like the rest of the country, they had to wait until Tuesday’s episode aired to know how they fared.
So, the question is, would they do it all again?
Karl jokes: “We only did it so Val could meet Hugh (Wallace). She loves him.”
But they both give a resounding yes.
“It was an opportunity to get the jobs done,” says Val. “2020 was a very difficult time, so this was a massive distraction and the house has never been so clean.”
And for the family as a whole, there were other benefits.
“All the children are watching the series with us,” says Karl, “and they’re not looking at their phones.”
Val adds, “We fell in love with the house all over again.
“We were taking it for granted. It’s a big house but for us, it’s about home. We’ve made it a family occasion house. If it wasn’t for the pandemic we’d have everyone over to watch the episode with us.”
For the TV viewer, the home offered what’s become rare in the programme: the element of surprise as the house is not on social media, so fans couldn’t preview it on Instagram.
But it seems there was one person who did manage to get a sneak peek of what went on, according to Val. “The week after filming I met the postman and he told me he saw Hugh walking around my kitchen.”