Welcome to Magnolia Month! Every week, we’ll share in depth reviews of just about every new show on the absolutely cursed Magnolia Network, from Fixer Upper demons Chip and Joanna Gaines.
This week, Matthew has just barely survived a near fatal encounter a “van life” enthusiast, immediately after he jumped from the burning wreckage of a Utah schoolhouse turned suburbanite Victorian brothel. We’re so glad he’s OK, of course… but give us the goods!
Let’s get into it.
Home Work, S1E1, ‘Old-world Kitchen’
In what is probably the quintessential and most controversial program on the brand new Magnolia Network, , Home Work chronicles the ‘inspirational’ and ambitious efforts of Utah-based designer Candis Meredith and her handyman husband Andy who–along with their seven young children–professionally remodel family homes across Salt Lake City. The twist with Home Work, is that the family will also be remodeling a 20,000 sqft abandoned middle school, each episode turning a classroom or admin office into bedrooms, living spaces, and infrastructure for their sprawling estate.
In Home Work, montages function as exposition and wholesome backstory, fleshing out the lifestyle propaganda of this Salt Lake City family and their growing remodeling empire. These moments come mostly from designer-wife Candis, and focus almost entirely on: her belief in the ‘importance of family,’ her ‘boot-strap origins,’ or the daily struggle of managing seven children. What we see in these montages are not guides or blueprints for how one successfully runs a remodeling business while working on their private but ambitious projects, but what a ‘kind’, ‘willing’, all-American family looks like while building generational wealth.
In hindsight, knowing their home-grown ‘ambition’ led to the televised clients coming forward about the supposedly exploitative working relationship with the Merediths, maybe it’s not shocking why this show purposefully left out the multiple construction delays, undisclosed budget increases, and fights that occurred between the married couple and their clients over the filming of season one.
In stark contrast to Home Work, I have watched all six seasons of Restored, an master-class restoration-remodeling show (recently acquired by Magnolia) that showcases the success of clients with limited budgets–most being in the $30-80 thousand range. In Restored, host and contractor Brett Waterman reconstructs and upgrades entire floors of neglected 100-year-old homes into gems of vintage architecture, with a touch of contemporary style. The budget rarely deviates from the estimate, except for cases with unexpected water damage or an outdated electric system in need of a 21st-century upgrade.
So when Andy and Candis spend $30,000 on a single bedroom and bathroom remodel, fail to remove (or even just replace) the decade old stained carpet, add any significant architectural details, or use quality installation methods for the horrendous harlequin bath tile, I feel for their clients. The same clients who claim to be ripped off by the duo. And what makes it all the more upsetting is Candis’ insistence on designing with an ‘old world aesthetic,’ which isn’t even used properly in the context of this episode, and illustrates Candis’ lack of education in art history and interior design.
As my snarky architect boyfriend would confirm by the end credits, the client’s new bedroom and en-suite were more in line aesthetically with ‘Homestead Eclectic’ and ‘Victorian Brothel.’ A drab attempt at something fashionable and old-school for the corner of a suburban home whose remaining interior hasn’t changed since its 1980s conception. It’s a disappointing and likely over-priced upgrade, but an upgrade none-the-less. I just hope Andy and Candis get their shit together soon, so they can stop posting 10-part apologies on their Instagram, and actually exercise contrition by giving all previous client’s their hard-earned money back.
At the least, acknowledge that bit off far more than they could chew.
Van Go, S1E1, ‘Pop-up Food Van’
There is not much to say about this twenty-two minute van-renovation show other than… it’s alright?
In typical Magnolia fashion, the show employs multiple montages of out of focus wheat grass, sunsets over the prairie, and aerial views of meandering rivers. All complete with voice-over from host and Chewy, Inc owner Brett Lewis–whose beard and can-do attitude maintain the ‘home grown American’ aesthetic present in most DIY programming. He’s a man that inspires little on Van Go, in which people bring in camper vans and spend $20-40 thousand for Brett and his small team of builders to fashion them for their personal or small-business needs.
Unlike Home Work, there isn’t any scandal plastered over the show from clients who claim mismanagement, negligence, or fraud, so we can rest assured that Brett follows the rules and is actually good at what he does. His first client needs a van remodeled for his vegan Mexican food truck, not so much as a van to cook inside of, but one he can live and travel and work in, even having the ability to deploy a set of tools and appliances from the back. At the end of the episode we see this ‘kitchen’ consist of an abysmal 1-gallon sink, a 30-something-inch wide electric grill, and a petite pull-out counter on the side for a ‘salsa bar’. The passenger side rear-door that opens up into the main interior of the van also has a carved-out window that doubles as a cashier station, seemingly with no internal infrastructure for a POS system. Cash works!
Overall, the remodel is confusing. Viewers don’t get even one shot or staged montage of the client using the van for its intended service? Maybe I fail to see how a van tricked out for portable living wouldn’t serve the man well as a replacement for a legitimate food truck, whose interior was built for a small team to operate, compared to this sprinter with only 9 square feet of outdoor cooking space. I tried to find an update on the client, but couldn’t even find out the name of the food truck from the episode or the network’ Instagram. So it shall be left a mystery, at least for now…
Inn The Work, S1E1, “A Big Risk in Big Bear”:
If it weren’t for the one-star Yelp reviews, Lindsey Kurowski would almost have me fooled with her work on the dilapidated Oak Knoll Lodge she and her family spent an entire season (and savings) renovating from the ground up. While yes, the overall reviews for the lodge average four to five-stars, and many of the best hotels in the world have one-star reviews by the hard to please, I can’t help but notice that this show (and so many others on the network) normalize giving up everything in pursuit of capital gains and notoriety in the fixer-upper world.
On the Magnolia network, it’s always about ‘the story’ behind a building, how the people put in their hard work and dedication; to turn something ugly and broken into a landmark of design, sustainability, or homely-ness. The Oak Knoll Lodge is no different, and apparently after a ‘successful’ renovation of the 12 cabins, common areas, and check-in lounge, customers still report myriad issues with the property. From unsafe and open construction sites outside family rooms, toilets and furniture with unknown smells and stains, ripped sheets, faulty heaters, lack of communication or on-site management, guests say it’s a $300/night hospitality mess.
Maybe it isn’t shocking that the cabins were left in disrepair by the time of opening the ‘new’ Lodge, as they never actually closed during renovations.
Even in the premier episode we see Lindsey, who in the middle of helping her brother install new paneling in the lobby, scramble as a couple pulls up to the property awaiting check in. Since they’re renovating the only common space for the Lodge, and Lindsey couldn’t afford to hire any extra staff to handle hotel operations, the guests are forced to wait outside in the snow as she clambers to get the paperwork and appointment details together. To add on top of it, Lindsey then has to then disclose that their room isn’t just adjacent to the space they’re actively renovating, but that the cabin’s electrical outlets are currently being used as a hub for extension cables and power tools. She (rightfully) offers them a nightly discount for the trouble, and they oblige without any hussle. This awkward moment is just another reminder that the Magnolia Network doesn’t seek to showcase professionals in the field of renovations and DIY content, but focus on the ‘up-and-coming’ personalities that can inspire future generations of semi-professional hobbyist and Instagram-reel watchers. The target audience wants to see progress, quick and familiar with low-risk challenges.
Lindsey’s family-friendly personality throughout Inn The Works is what the audience stays for, that and the contemporary Pinterest-inspired vignettes she installs throughout the property. It’s just a shame the space doesn’t seem to separate itself either aesthetically or functionally from the countless other retro-chic mid-century motel renos seen throughout the last decade. A craze that seems to finally be on the tail-end as the market continues to saturate with thrifted brown-leather couches and those ugly lucite coffee tables.