Project Upstairs Runway: Secrets of Houston’s Extreme Makeover House, Revealed

Last night’s postponed airing on ABC of the first Extreme Makeover: Home Edition filmed in Houston proper made no mention of the mud-inducing and deadline-destroying downpours, the organizers’ multiple pleas for Gatorade, patio furniture, trim carpenters, siding installers, and plumbers — or the mad (and ultimately futile) rush for an on-time finish that was a major source of drama at the South Union site. But it did feature a brief pre-demolition “roast” of the Johnson family’s dilapidated original home on Goodhope St. by comedians Tommy Davidson, Ralphie May, and Paul Rodriguez, as well as a later appearance by supermodel Brooklyn Decker, (wife of tennis star Andy Roddick), flown in to design the 5 Johnson girls’ elaborate pink closet. Plus: plenty of those fawning building-product-delivery placement shots. On what looked like it could have been the limo ride back from IAH after the family’s Paris vacation, Cedric the Entertainer briefly “joked” to the girls that they wouldn’t get to see their new house right then. But viewers’ only delay was a commercial break.


If the new residence — built by HHN Homes and thousands of volunteers — wasn’t finished by the time the Johnsons returned, you wouldn’t know it from watching the big reveal on teevee. For the most part, views of the finished home and interior were spliced into footage of the family’s ecstatic reactions. Among the home’s secret-until-showtime features: The 3 girls’ bedrooms in the “Spanish-style” house were designed to evoke fashion capitals Milan, London, and Paris respectively. And to turn the home into the “fashion capital of Houston”: The huge upstairs hallway boasts a full-size runway, so the girls can put on their own fashion shows, the white catwalk lighting up at each step. Parents Eric and Elaine Johnson got a more conventional hotel-style bedroom “retreat,” and yes, a room downstairs to house marriage-counseling sessions for their non-profit venture, Optimum Lifestyle Unlimited. The home’s garden and playground next door, construction of which appeared to drag on after the deadline, didn’t show up in the episode at all. Also left on the cutting-room floor: Any explanation of the home’s green features, or help the family will be receiving to pay for its new utility bills.

But why hold back? A few not-seen-on-TV video clips now posted on the show website — including this very quick look at the construction process — provide a little more detail. And here’s a walkthrough:

Photos and video: ABC

17 Comment

  • I hope the runway is compostable ‘cuz it’ll probably get old quick.

  • I watched the very beginning and the “move that bus” ending.

    I was somewhat disappointed. Oh, there was enough oohing and aahing and screaming to satisfy even the most jaded viewer but somehow, it didn’t seem real.

    Also, the colors looked to be so very over the top. I mean, really really loud colors everywhere except in the master bedroom. I’d like to think the producers had family input into the colors.

    I hope it’s all working for the Johnson family. I guess time will tell.

  • I wonder what the new HCAD value will be when they catch wind of the rebuild. I’m guessing it’ll be more than the current 32k. The Johnsons must be proud to own the first McMansion in their neighborhood.

  • That runway is the size of my entire house. Cute for tv, but what an awful use of usable space. It looks like the girls’ bedrooms were made smaller so they would have room to build the runway. I guess you could rip it out and turn it into a playroom as they get older.

  • Did anyone else notice the video camera pointed at the kids’ beds? Those rooms are either ridiculously small, or there is so much crap crammed into them it eats up all the available space. The pink closet is larger than all of the bedrooms, which is just stupid to begin with.

    The whole place is a very poorly planned space. It’s amazing they made such a huge house so small inside. I guess the $10K commercial range they won’t be able to afford to maintain will make up for it. The Johnson Family couldn’t afford to pay a few hundred dollars in property, so what makes them think they can afford the $10,000+ in taxes they’ll get stuck with next year? At least they can sell the appliances and furnishings for some fast cash.

  • If the Wikipedia article is to be believed, not all of the families get happy endings.
    A year or two ago I read about the HGTV Dream Home giveaway. At that time, 11 out of 13 winners sold their prizes immediately and the other two held onto them for a few years and then sold them.

  • I know the idea behind Extreme Home Makeover is a good one — provide a hardworking but down-on-their-luck family with a good home. But this is saddling the family with thousands of dollars of maintenance and upkeep and taxes each year. What will it cost them to fix their restaurant-quality stove or replace the built-in TV or paint over the bright colors in a few years when it just looks tacky? This is a rich person’s house. Any money the family might have saved will go to maintenance. “College fund? Nah — we have to fix the runway instead.” My guess is they’ll sell it and buy something more suitable. Frankly, I don’t know if any family would find this house suitable.

  • Looks like crap. A runway…..really? What a waste of money.

  • Did they ever show what is in that round tower type thing on the side of the house? Minus the turret of course.

    Also, it looked as if of the 5 girls, only the oldest one got her own room. The others doubled up.

  • Probably every girl could have had her own room were it not for the useless ‘vanity’ runway. In today’s economy, it’s really sickening to see such a commercialized display of charity.

  • Finness, From the wiki article:

    The most common allegation is that most of the families have sold their houses due to their inability to pay for them, and that some have even gone into foreclosure. In fact, as of November 2009, all but three of the 150+ families helped by the show reside in the houses given to them.

    I think you read it backwards.

  • What I found interesting was the people who were harassed by their neighbors, which was an outcome that never occured to me.

  • Stop hatin’!

  • It’s less of a home and more of a television set.

  • Ridiculous waste of money and a undeserving makeover. What father would let his family live in those conditions> He is lazy and poor excuse for a father and husband. Any real man would have moved his family to an apartment or invited friends over to board and help fix the house. Mr. Johnson is not a “MAN” he is a “male.” Les’s see how long the house is kept up or even kept by the Johnson family.

  • i volunteered at the home for a week straight 12 hour days and i can tell you since i painted the 2 girls rooms also…that they are very very small..
    my facebook page has pictures of us painting and building…. the upstairs round room was nothing just heigher ceiling above the staircase.