By Angela Forsyth
The Bentonville-based HGTV show “Fixer to Fabulous” just finished its first season. Jenny and Dave Marrs share what it was like to film the show.
That’s a wrap for Arkansas’ very own HGTV stars Jenny and Dave Marrs. This month, the stars of “Fixer to Fabulous” appear in their final episode of the season. With ten episodes to their credit, the remodeling 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 Marss family’s hometown of Bentonville and surrounding Northwest Arkansas area.
AY About You spoke with the couple to find out how they got started, why the network chose them and what it’s like behind the scenes.
AY: 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 [public relations] in college, and I’ve done marketing and sales. I’ve been creative all my life. Dave started this building business when we 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 eight years, I left my job and joined him full-time in 2012.
AY: 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 [style], 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.
AY: Why historic downtown homes?
Dave: The style and designs of these older homes have always appealed to us. We kind of 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.
AY: 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.
AY: What made you choose the Marrs couple?
Ayala: 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.
AY: 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 kind of laughed it off. There’s another episode where you found out the subflooring was rotting, and then another 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… 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.
AY: 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 five kids. Our life is pretty much always a mess. I think at the end of the day, we’re so fortunate that I’m not in a hospital performing surgery… 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.
AY: Along the lines of attitude, I know you’re very different. On one episode, Jenny says “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.
AY: 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.
AY: 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.
AY: 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 homeowners 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 it’s 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.
AY: 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: Three in the morning, putting up all the finishing touches because they were going to be there at 7 a.m. It was crazy.
AY: I want to make sure to ask you about the adoption of your daughter. I think others who have adopted will relate. Can you share about that story?
Jenny: Sure. She is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We always knew we wanted to grow our family from adoption. Our twin boys were about a year-and-a-half when we started the processes. We felt drawn to international adoption, Africa especially. We signed up for a program and then we saw our daughter’s photo on one of the waiting child sites. I got an email about her. I just knew. There’s no other way to describe it. We just knew it was her. It took about two years to get her home. She came home in July of 2014, and she was 2-and-a-half when she came home.
AY: Does it normally take that long?
Jenny: I think in a lot of international adoptions it takes that long because there’s a lot of different things that can go wrong. We thought she’d be home in the fall of 2013 but the Republic of Congo suspended exit letters for adopted kids, and they wouldn’t allow them to leave the country. So, she got a special exit letter that next summer to come home. It was a long and grueling process.
AY: Did you always want to have a big family?
Jenny: No. What do you think, babe?
Jenny: So we had the twins; that was very exciting. And then, we were adopting Sylvie and that was our plan — we’d be three. But now we have five. Charlotte and Luke were our surprise babies, and it’s been so fun and sweet.
AY: Oh! I thought I had counted four in a picture.
Jenny: No, Luke wasn’t around when we filmed. He’s only 5 months old. We both come from big families, and now that we have so many kids, we know it’s actually awesome because we’ll always have big Thanksgivings; that’s what we always say. When we’re older and the kids have their own kids, it will be chaos, and we thrive in chaos.
Dave: I agree with that.
AY: Well, it’s a good thing you have all that land. I think I read you have a berry farm. Is that right?
Dave: Yes, we have a U-pick farm that funds a farming program in Zimbabwe — just some friends in Africa that it funds. And, we fund The Call — that’s a program in Arkansas that supports foster families. We have a day that they can come and enjoy the farm with the kids. It’s a great thing that our kids are now involved in and one of those things that I’m sure 100 percent benefits our family more than we could ever do for anyone else. It’s great. We enjoy it.
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 www.hgtv.com/shows/fixer-to-fabulous for a list of episodes and show information.