Northwest Arkansas-based HGTV show Fixer to Fabulousjust finished its first season. The show’s stars Dave and Jenny Marrs talk about what it was like to film the show and share some advice on the market.
Is it the right time to launch a career in home construction and remodeling? Arkansas’ very own HGTV stars Dave and Jenny Marrs say: “yes!” The stars of Fixer to Fabulous just wrapped their first season with a final episode that aired in December. With ten episodes to their credit, the duo has fixed up an old Victorian, a century-old farmhouse, a historic colonial and other old homes that are rich in history but were run down or impractical to live in. The result was a season that showcased the beauty of the Marrs’ hometown of Bentonville and surrounding Northwest Arkansas area.
AMP spoke with the couple to find out how they got started, what they think about the current market and what it’s like behind the scenes.
AMP: Dave and Jenny, how did the two of you land this type of work? Did you study in this field or do you just have a natural-born talent?
Dave: I’ve worked in Arkansas as general contractor since 2004, but I grew up in Colorado where my dad was a builder and I’ve been around the business my whole life.
Jenny: I studied advertising and PR in college and I’ve done marketing and sales. I’ve been creative all my life. Dave started this building business when moved here and I started helping him along the way. I was also working in the vendor world. We were broke, and I had a real job. He was just starting so I was the sugar mama. After 8 years, I left my job and joined him full time in 2012.
AMP: How would you describe your design style?
Jenny: We love having projects on our own where we have our own style, but when we work with clients, it’s so important to make sure it’s their style. I want it to be for them and reflect who they are. It’s so important that your home reflects who you are. With our own, it evolves. For now, with more kids and being older, our style has become more minimalist. I’m constantly feeling this need for simplicity. I really love natural light when possible, natural elements like natural stone and wood. Trying to make things feel very calming is important, and that our home – any home we design – is comfortable and cozy.
AMP: Why historic downtown homes?
Dave: The style and designs of these older homes have always appealed to us. We kinda started downtown after everything slowed down in 2008. I like working on the exterior the most. Jen really loves the interior. So, I’m a huge front porch person. In our area, downtown Bentonville, it’s a very inviting open community. I think the best way you can enjoy that is with a big front porch and so that just fit for the downtown area. We’re just fortunate we hit it at the right time, remodeling these downtown homes. We’ve just got an itch for it.
Jenny: And, I think the downtown homes also have so much character and quirkiness that you don’t find as often in new homes. When we build new homes, we try to incorporate old things because they’re important to us. The older homes are fun to work on.
Dave: We are so fortunate in this community. We have a lot of people moving to our downtown from places like San Francisco or New York, you know – areas where they could sell a condo or townhouse and then they can actually spend the money in Bentonville or around this area to be creative and do some really fun things that maybe can’t be done in other communities. We’re so fortunate to have people coming here all the time from such great areas.
AMP: Here’s a question for the network. Why did HGTV want to feature Northwest Arkansas on its network?
Betsy Ayala, SVP of Programming and Development at HGTV: Northwest Arkansas is an untapped destination for HGTV and we wanted to celebrate the homes and the people who live there.
AMP: What made you choose Jenny and Dave?
Betsy:Jenny and Dave are incredibly talented home renovators who care deeply about their clients. The skill and scope of their projects is immense and the results are breathtaking. They also live an incredible and aspirational life raising their kids and living on their beautiful farm – for many Americans they are living the dream.
AMP: On the business side – apart from the show – do you flip houses also?
Dave: Yeah we’ve been working in this area for 15 years. So, we’ll do a mixer where we do some custom new homes. We do remodel and we also flip some houses. The show was just focusing on one part of the business. I guess building a new house is not exciting TV so that part of the business we do separately.
AMP: In your opinion is home flipping and remodeling a good market to be in right now. Is it good for people to come into who are thinking about it?
Dave: I think so. Typically, new construction follows market trends where remodels will get better as the economy flows. I’m a real big believer in any kind of trade. I think more and more of our kids are not looking at wanting to be a plumber or wanting to be an electrician. Those needs are never going to go away! So, I think that there will be peaks and valleys just like any business, but the reason we’ve always done spec houses, custom houses and remodels is because we can adjust really quickly with any changes in our economy. It gives you an appreciation for what other trades do. Because remodel – it’s its own beast. It’s totally different from new construction. It gives me an appreciation for people who are out there remodeling all the time.
AMP: I would think that with the popularity of so many of these HGTV shows about flipping and remodeling houses, there are a lot of people who want to get into this type of business. Do you have any tips for anyone looking into getting into the business?
Dave: I would encourage people who really want to do it. I think the best thing I would recommend is how Jenny and I started. Our tax laws really favor moving into a house for a couple of years, fixing it up and then selling it. A house is really one of the only things that you can use, sell and make a profit tax-free. If you have a wife that’s like mine or a husband that’s willing to move, gosh, what a great way to save up money and learn a trade! I think that’s why you see it a lot. I think with houses, it goes in cycles. Now we’re getting where people want functional and they don’t need all the space that they once did. That’s why you’re seeing a lot of the rehab, revitalization. People are realizing they want to be in a smaller community. They don’t need to live paycheck to paycheck just to be in the biggest house. I love that. I love doing that. I always encourage people if this is a trade that you’re interested in then go for it. Jenny and I, we turn away 15 jobs for every one that we take. There’s just a big need for it around here.
AMP: Is that because you’re more established, you think? Or, is the market that good all around? Maybe it’s just you.
Dave: I’d like to think it’s a culmination of both. I think Jenny has done a great job getting our brand out there and getting us known. That definitely helps. People, if they’re moving up from Little Rock and they’re going to get online and search, they might see us first; that helps. But gosh our area – there’s a need for everything: subcontractors, general contractors, workers – and what a great problem to have!
AMP: Jenny and Dave, there’s this episode I watched where Dave nailed the shutter to the table, the kids jumped in the dumpster and you two just kinda laughed it off. There’s another episode where you found out the subflooring was rotting and then, another one where it starts to rain and you haven’t finished the roof. In all of those cases, I would have been stressed out or at least frustrated, but you weren’t visibly upset. Are you intentionally trying to have a good attitude or does it come natural to you? Or, are you just editing out the anger issues?
Dave: (Laughing) We have no say in how they edit it. With the shutter, I love that they put it in there. I’ll be the first one to tell you, I make a lot of mistakes and if you can’t have fun doing that, that would just… I couldn’t believe I did that, I still can’t believe I did that! That’s funny that HGTV put that in. We’ve gotten more comments on stuff we’ve messed up on than the stuff that was perfect. I think people really appreciate that it’s just like real life.
Jenny: I think also, we’ve been doing it for a really long time so the roof thing – we know we have everything covered that needs to be covered. There’s always stuff that comes up, always! Especially working with old homes, there’s always stuff that goes wrong that you have to learn how to handle. The kids in the dumpster – our kids have been doing that forever. They love to just go on job sites and find random crap and bring it home. I can’t believe they put it in, but yeah they do that.
AMP: So, It sounds like you roll with it naturally, but do you also mindfully try to be flexible and not get upset?
Dave: In our personal life, we have 5 kids. Our life is pretty much always a mess. I think at the end of the day, were so fortunate that I’m not in a hospital performing surgery. At the end of the day, it’s sticks and bricks so if something happens, we’ll fix it. Especially with these old homes, you always come across something you didn’t count on. For example: the rotting flooring. I’m not going to lie to you. I was not real happy that happened because we give these owners a price up front and when there’s a surprise, as a business, we just eat that and move on and it’s definitely not ideal, but it’s expected with these houses.
AMP: Along the lines of attitude, I know you’re very different. On one episode, Jenny said “Dave likes to make decisions and get things done because we’re on a schedule, but I need the time to think about it. I have to think about it before getting there.” So, you’re very different in your personalities, right? What’s that like to work together?
Jenny: Yes. Dave is very “Let’s just make a decision, let’s move forward, let’s just do it.” He’s thinking of it more on a numbers business perspective a lot of times, and I’m thinking from the design creative perspective. We just think differently, but then also we work really well together because we know we think differently. We’ve been doing it for so long that we can play off each other’s strengths.
Dave: You really picked up on our personalities. It is very true. It’s probably similar for a lot of guys. If I’m going to go buy a pair of jeans, I’m going to walk in and walk out 3 minutes later and I’m done. Jenny goes and spends all day. But, that is one hard thing with HGTV. They’ve got a job to do, too. They need to have enough footage and they’ve got to have us slow down a lot of times. If they missed the shot or they need to move cameras around before we change rooms, or whatever it may be it could be frustrating because I’m trying to please everyone and then be on a schedule. Fortunately for us, these episodes aren’t airing in the order they were filmed so they caught me on my much nicer days. We were finally relaxed by then.
AMP: Did it take a while to get used to the cameras being there?
Dave: it does. Basically, we would film these projects in five to seven weeks. What they do is a week on, week off, week on… that’s kind of how they would bring in the crews. When they would come back –always on that first day, whenever they would interview us, we’d have to do it two to three times. By day three or four, you almost forget that they’re there. Sound is the same way. You catch yourself hollering at your kids to just be good for once and then you’re like, Oh, did you guys hear that? And yeah, they hear everything! So, I think you just get used to it after a while. We love our production company and HGTV we know they’re going to edit it where it looks good.
AMP: You filmed 10 shows in season one. Do you know yet if you’re coming back for season two?
Jenny: No we don’t know yet. It all depends on how the ratings go. I don’t know when we’ll know.
AMP: What was your biggest challenge while filming the show?
Jenny: I think the biggest challenge was the time frame that we were working in. It was really tight just because of the production schedule. The home owners moved out of their houses the entire time while we filmed and renovated so the reveal was a genuine surprise and a genuine reaction on their part. We had a few weeks for the most part from start to finish, and if something did go wrong – for example one thing that comes to mind is our farmhouse item that came in and it was cracked. We were in trouble because we didn’t have enough time to get another one. And that happens often, whether its lights or tile or if we find something in the house that we have to completely redo. We’re in such a tight time crunch. That was very consistent throughout every episode. We had to get very creative to come up with a very quick solution.
AMP: That’s interesting because when I watch any remodeling show on HGTV, there’s always this time crunch element where everybody is running around stressed and saying “I don’t know if we’re going to make it!” I thought that was just for dramatic effect, but you’re telling me it’s real?
Jenny: Yeah! Production schedules are probably different for all the shows, but I’m sure it’s tight for everyone, and that is very real!
Dave: There were multiple times that the production company was helping us lay sod before the homeowners got there. It really is all-hands- on-deck.
Jenny: It was very much – three in the morning, putting up all the finishing touches because they were going to be there at seven a.m. It was crazy.
From their old friends in Bentonville to new fans of the show, the Marrs family has garnered much support across the country. Stay tuned for news of a second season to see if the show is renewed. See https://www.hgtv.com/shows/fixer-to-fabulous for a list of episodes and show information.