October 15, 1969 • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
When Paige Davis signed on in 2001 as the host of Trading Spaces, a home-improvement show on cable television's The Learning Channel (TLC), she thought of it as a way to learn about performing on television without actually being in the spotlight. She explained to Charlie Huisking of the Sarasota Herald Tribune, "When I auditioned, I had no idea what it would become. I figured it would be a chance to spread my wings and cut my chops on TV, hidden away on cable on a show no one would see. Boy, was I wrong." After Davis joined the show, the number of viewers steadily increased, with millions tuning in to each episode. Soon Trading Spaces became one of the most popular shows on regular cable, the network increased the number of shows each season from forty-five to sixty, and Davis had become a star. She has appeared on such national television programs as the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and the Today Show, and her image has appeared twice on the cover of TV Guide. She also earned high-profile roles in stage productions, including the part of Roxie Hart in the Broadway production of Chicago.
"Even if we got canceled right now, I really believe that Trading Spaces completely affected a genre of television, and it made its mark. Everybody's copying us because they want their own show that people adore and are committed to. Our fans are so loyal."
A natural performer
Born in 1969 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Mindy Paige Davis spent many of her childhood years in Prairie Sun, Wisconsin. When she was thirteen years old, she came across her mother's copy of the West Side Story cast recording. Listening to the music from this celebrated Broadway show, Davis fell in love with the songs and with the idea of becoming a performer. She memorized the words to every song and spent hours acting out the show, playing various parts. She knew she wanted to dance and sing, not just in her own living room but on stage in front of an audience. In an interview with Kate Coyne in Good Housekeeping, Davis related, "Dancing is my life.... I didn't start dancing until I was fourteen, but I knew immediately that it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life." Davis's family moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where she attended high school at the Youth Performing Arts School. After high school graduation Davis attended the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. She honed her performing skills working in summer stock and regional theater, and soon after graduating from college, Davis moved to Los Angeles to look for work as a performer.
Home Improvement Around the Clock
The hugely popular Trading Spaces is just one among many home renovation programs populating the cable landscape, each with its own twist. Some, like the long-running This Old House (PBS), focus exclusively on home renovation, demonstrating techniques and giving practical advice for viewers. Others combine elements of traditional home improvement shows with fly-on-the-wall reality television, throwing in a race against time or a high-stakes competition among friends.
Trading Spaces itself has generated two spinoffs: Trading Spaces: Family and Trading Spaces: Home Free. In the family edition, kids participate in the neighborly redesign efforts. Home Free is a home redesign tournament with multiple neighbors competing against one another to win the ultimate homeowner prize: a paid-off mortgage.
On While You Were Out (TLC), one member of a household is lured away for two days while a designer and crew of workers redesign a room or revamp the yard. Intensity builds as the crew races to complete the project before the absent person returns home for the big surprise. Weekend Warriors (HGTV) features homeowners spending a weekend on a home-improvement project. This show lacks the element of surprise so crucial to Trading Spaces and While You Were Out, but it allows viewers to see the emotional and physical strain placed on the homeowners who have to complete their own project without the help of designers or professional carpenters.
Monster House (Discovery) is a home-renovation show on steroids. While the homeowners camp out in an RV in front of their home, a work crew spends five days drastically redesigning several rooms in their house. The projects usually conform to a theme, including Old West House, Race Car House, and Amusement Park House. Not only do the residents receive a brand-new look for their home, the workers also earn a deluxe tool package if they finish the project on time. On a smaller scale, In a Fix (TLC) rescues do-it-yourself homeowners who begin a project only to find themselves in the midst of a disastrous project. Called in by a member of the family, the show's crew arrives to fix the problem and toss in a redesign of the room while they're at it.
In Los Angeles Davis won roles in commercials and videos and even toured with the Beach Boys as a dancer. While she found steady work in the entertainment industry for several years, she was unable to secure a breakthrough role that would make her a top-tier performer. In 1997 she finally got a major role, playing Babette the feather duster in the national touring company of the stage show Beauty and the Beast. She spent two and one-half years touring as Babette, gaining experience that could launch her career on the stage. Lumière, the character in the show who pursues Babette, was played by actor Patrick Page, who became Davis's real-life love interest and, eventually, her husband. (Many observers have noted that, had Davis not kept her maiden name after getting married, she would be known as Paige Page.) Davis's experience in the cast of Beauty and the Beast led to her next role, dancing in the Broadway musical Chicago. In the Las Vegas production of the show Davis served as the understudy to Chita Rivera for the lead role of Roxie Hart.
Trading up to TV
In 2001 Davis put her promising musical theater career on hold to pursue an entirely different path. A friend of hers who was a fan of the reality cable show Trading Spaces —based on the British show Changing Rooms —learned that the show's host had quit after one season, and urged Davis to audition for the position. In spite of the fact that the bulk of her experience was in theater and not television, the producers of Trading Spaces were impressed by Davis's enthusiasm and sparkling personality, and they hired her on as host beginning with the 2001 season.
In each episode of Trading Spaces, neighbors swap house keys for two days to redesign one room in each others' homes. The show provides a budget of $1,000 for each family as well as assistance from professional designers and carpenters. The homeowners do much of the physical work themselves, painting walls, wallpapering, and staining woodwork. As the show's host, Davis introduces the participants to viewers at the beginning of each episode, explaining their relationship to each other and pointing out the design challenges for the rooms that will undergo transformation. She then takes viewers through the highlights of the renovation, focusing not only on the physical changes to the room but also on the emotional discomfort the participants feel as they wonder how their neighbors will react to their work and what the redesigned room in their own house will look like. When needed, Davis even pitches in with the manual labor. She told Huisking, "I'm 100 percent invested in what the designers want and what the homeowners are feeling. When I'm not on camera, I'm having lunch with the homeowners, hearing about their children, helping them paint, trying to make them as relaxed as possible."
The high point of each episode is what's known as the "reveal," when the homeowners are guided, eyes shut, to the newly redesigned room in their home to see what their neighbors have done. Reactions range from joy to puzzlement to downright horror, with some homeowners breaking down in tears when they see the changes made to their room. While she knows some television viewers especially enjoy the homeowners' negative reactions, Davis is too personally involved in each renovation experience to derive pleasure from these occasions. "It does make good television," she acknowledged to Thomas Nord of the Louisville, Kentucky, Courier-Journal. "I have friends who tell me they love it when that happens. I hate it. It's terribly awkward and sad."
In her spare time
In 2003 Davis published Paige by Paige: A Year of Trading Spaces, a behind-the-scenes account of one season of the show. In the book Davis describes the mishaps and blunders that sometimes occur off-camera. She recounts the adventures she has had with the cast and crew during their travels, and inserts tidbits about the personalities of the designers and others who work on the show. Her recollections include some of the more memorable homeowner reactions of the season, including the Las Vegas resident who refused to speak to her neighbors after seeing the color they had chosen to paint her room. After participating in the redesign of more than two hundred rooms, Davis told Stephanie Schorow of the Boston Herald that she wanted to renovate her own apartment in Manhattan. "It's very predictable," she said of her current design scheme. "I want to be more brave."
Davis has alternated her Trading Spaces duties with occasional returns to her first love: the theater. She spent a week in May of 2003 performing in the traveling production of Eve Ensler's provocative work The Vagina Monologues, and during the summer of 2004 she headlined the Broadway production of Chicago, starring in the role she had previously understudied: that of Roxie Hart. While she may never have envisioned herself as the host of a reality home improvement program, Davis has expressed unflagging enthusiasm for her work. She told Sandra Kallio of the Wisconsin State Journal, "It's remarkable what happens every single time. It blows my mind."
For More Information
Huisking, Charlie. "Paige Davis Finds Space for Theater." Sarasota (FL) Herald Tribune (May 13, 2003): p. E1.
Kallio, Sandra. "She Wouldn't Trade Places." Wisconsin State Journal (August 20, 2003): p. D1.
Nord, Thomas. Louisville (KY) Courier-Journal (August 6, 2002): p. 1C.
Schorow, Stephanie. "Diary Opens Window into World of Home Makeover Host." Boston Herald (August 17, 2003): p. 49.
"Trading Spaces." TLC.com. http://tlc.discovery.com/fansites/tradingspaces/tradingspaces.html (accessed May 12, 2004).
Paige Davis Official Web site. http://www.paigedavis.com (accessed May 12, 2004).