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Monday, July 22, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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All eyes are on TLC's home show

The Associated Press

BEDFORD, N.Y. — She's not a movie star or a musician. Yet Genevieve Gorder stands surrounded by six teenage girls, each thrusting bits of paper toward her to sign.

A designer, Gorder is taking a break from splashing "coffee-toned" paints on the walls and ceiling of a suburban bedroom for The Learning Channel program "Trading Spaces."

"It's the only thing I watch obsessively," said Jess Netro, 17, who hung out with her friends across the street from a home being invaded by the cable show's cameras.

Netro's not alone in her devotion to a program about interior design. "Trading Spaces" has become a sensation that has set ratings records for TLC, developed its own heartthrob (hunky carpenter Ty Pennington) and spawned a spinoff bound to create marital discord.

"Trading Spaces" got an Emmy nomination Thursday, and even has its own lingo: The "reveal" is the moment when participants discover — to their delight or horror — what their neighbors hath wrought on their home.

A mix of a reality and game show, "Trading Spaces" takes neighbors who agree to make over a room in the other's home, with a professional designer's help. They have two days to work and a $1,000 spending limit.

"We're the ultimate neighborhood-gossip show," said Denise Cramsey, executive producer of "Trading Spaces" for Banyan Productions. "Everyone wonders what's going on in their neighbors' house. Now we're in the neighbors' house and we're creating what's going on."

TLC didn't expect much when it got the rights to a British show, "Changing Rooms," to remake for an American audience. But it caught on quickly after its premiere in September 2000, and the network moved it from a weekday afternoon time slot to Saturday nights.

As is customary for many cable networks when a hit blossoms, the show is rerun relentlessly throughout the week. Three episodes that ran during TLC's Memorial Day "Trading Spaces" marathon rank among the highest-rated prime-time shows in the channel's history.

TLC also drew strong numbers this month when it premiered a new series, "While You Were Out," about one-half of a couple that remakes a room while their spouse is out of town.

Cramsey sees success in more than the ratings. She gets 300 applications each day from neighbors who want to trade spaces; it used to be 50.

The Bedford neighbors, Amy Suffredini and Amy Minasian, coaxed their husbands to participate. They're both friends and relatives — Amy Suffredini and Phil Minasian are cousins — who bought homes on the same street in the past few years.

Of the two couples, Amy Minasian is the show's biggest fan.

"I like the before and after," she said. "I like the idea of doing it for only $1,000 and seeing how much of a dramatic change can be made."

She, her husband and Gorder were tearing up the wall-to-wall carpeting in the Suffredini's bedroom, in an old farmhouse built in 1790, to expose the wood floor. They were building a new headboard with a built-in desk to fit a computer. For art, they were blowing up to poster size a picture Amy Suffredini had taken during a trip to Ireland.

Aside from the fact that it's made her a mini-celebrity, Gorder said she likes the show because it lets her quickly realize a vision for a room with little burden from second-guessing clients.

"Ninety-nine percent of the time, people say, 'I want my house to look like Pottery Barn,' " Gorder said. "And that can be pretty boring."

A few houses away, designer Doug Wilson has cleared out the Minasians' bedroom and outlined a checkerboard design for sage and taupe paint. He's ordering two new nightstands, aiming at a modern look that uses a lot of wood.

In the driveway, carpenter Amy Wynn Pastor — disappointing the teenage girls and their mothers who had hoped for a glimpse of Pennington — was building a new headboard.

It was all a buildup to the moment when the couples would see their new bedrooms. (There has been no date set yet for the episode to air.) Usually, couples are pleased; out of about 100 shows, there have only been five cases where a participant absolutely hated what was done.

Both couples said they liked the excitement of the game and the mystery. Of course, that didn't stop the Minasians from leaving more than a dozen explicit instructions about what they didn't want done. And it made Cramsey a bit nervous that both Suffredinis are lawyers.

"There's always a chance of something a little freaky," Amy Suffredini said. "But I know how to fix things."

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