Dermot Bannon says the latest season of Room to Improve nearly killed him. He certainly goes through the wringer in its final episode (RTÉ One, Sunday, 9.30pm), in which a suburban Dublin family tasks the chatty architect with transforming their house into a Tardis.
There’s no need for Bannon to get his sonic screwdriver in a twist, however. The clients don’t want him to imbue the building with the power to travel through space and time. Nor does it have to come with anti-Dalek protection. All Andy and Ann-Marie Gray want is an extension that will make their home, in Castleknock in Dublin, feel bigger on the inside than it does on the outside.
Even without the sci-fi references, this series of Room to Improve has been lost in space slightly. Episode one saw Bannon campaigning for the installation of a pergola outside a farmhouse in Co Offaly. Then came reports that the construction regulator, the National Building Control and Market Surveillance Office – trips off the tongue, doesn’t it? – had contacted Bannon. It said that Room to Improve appeared to place more emphasis on entertainment than on compliance with regulations.
There was no suggestion that Bannon had flouted guidelines. Or that his standards were anything less than professional. Still, this was a headline he could have done without.
Next, social media set aflame over the episode in which he designed a granny bungalow for a couple in Co Wicklow whose daughter and son-in-law were moving into their old house. Now, with the finish line in view, he faces one of his steepest challenges yet: bringing a little bit of Doctor Who’s Gallifrey to leafy Dublin.
The headaches start with design. The house isn’t the largest in the world. But Andy is nonetheless eager to have a multimedia screening room. He and Ann-Marie are keen, too, on a minimalist kitchen – though not quite so minimal that it is devoid of human warmth, which can sometimes feel as if it’s Bannon’s preference.
Plus, there is the understanding that Bannon will work miracles. He, though, has a different perspective. The house is overflowing with bric-a-brac: it doesn’t need more; it’s crying out for less. “They were expecting something wow,” he says. “They have a whole house full of wow.”
The wow wars are only the beginning of their woes. The real difficulty arrives when the Grays try to draw down their mortgage from the bank, only for it to get caught up in red tape. This is awkward for them – and a potential deal-breaker for their builder, who, understandably, cannot work for free.
These financial pressures bring drama to an instalment that otherwise ticks many Room to Improve boxes. There’s a face-off over colour schemes. A kitchen island stokes controversy. Bannon shrugs to the camera, noting that Andy and Ann-Marie are keen for him to take on board their tastes. The problem is that “they don’t both love the same thing”.
But one of the rules of Room to Improve is that there must be a happy ending. And so all these irritations are ultimately surmounted. Even the woes with the bank. Finally, a Tardis materialises in Castleknock.
Bannon set out to make this series of Room to Improve more “relatable”. He’s succeeded, to an extent. The show has avoided ostentatious projects with the sort of megabudgets that would stick in the craw of viewers desperate to get on the property ladder (or even to find somewhere to rent within the Dublin short-hop zone).
Still, in the end, Room to Improve is merely tweaking a formula rather than doing anything radical. Bannon’s love for avant-garde kitchens is legendary. And yet the blockbuster built in his image is starting to look a little staid and fuddy-duddy. It doesn’t need to be demolished and rebuilt from scratch. But a fresh lick of paint might not go amiss.