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UT Architecture Alumnus Designs "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" House

November 21, 2012

ABC’s "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," the heart-warming series that provides home improvements to families in need, returns to television on Monday, Nov. 26 at 9:00 p.m. with its first of four holiday-themed episodes. Set in Knoxville, the two-hour Thanksgiving special will feature the work of UT School of Architecture alumnus Daryl Johnson.

Johnson (’84), who collaborated with fellow alumni Scott Harrop (’98) and Kristin Grove (’97) of his firm Johnson Architecture, Inc., designed the episode’s home for Daniel and Mandy Watson. With three adopted children, the couple runs Restoration House, a non-profit organization that helps low-income single mothers with housing and tools to get back on their feet.

“We were flattered to be asked, but more so - getting to know the Watson family - they are just great people,” said Johnson. “They are so deserving of this.”

Johnson and his team conceived the 4,000-square-foot home in secret through six-weeks of work that began with a design charrette with personnel from ABC and Lock and Key Productions.

“It was a top secret kind of thing,” said Johnson. “In a room downtown, we received a brief about the family, program, and an overview of the concept and the theme – ‘it takes a village.’

“The design concept called to create a space that allows for all to support each another. So, within one day, we designed the house, two bungalows, and the site.”

The architects were charged with the feat of finishing the home’s construction documents in just several weeks. They also faced the challenge of envisioning a house intended for television.

“As the show’s production continued to evolve, the design work evolved. We were constantly making changes. The three weeks [for the construction documents] grew to six. It was an interesting thing working with the design production people, putting things in different places for the show - camera angles, placement of the bus. The production dictated some of the design. We’ve designed hundreds of homes, but never had to think about things like that.”

The end result is a five bedroom house with a large external courtyard that leads to bungalows intended for the mothers of Restoration House. “The idea was to create a town square, a heart of the ‘village,’” said Johnson.

The new home is a big change from the Watsons’ previous house which warped floors, falling ceilings, cracked walls, and sinking foundation threatened to close the family’s non-profit.

“Although it pulls at your heartstrings on TV, it is never as intense as being with the family and watching this happen,” notes Johnson. “Looking at the children, who get to come into this wonderful, new home, was really an overwhelming experience for us. The exposure is great, but, at the end of the day, seeing that - how rewarding.”

The construction process, which was completed in just 106 hours through the work of thousands of volunteers, was also gratifying for Johnson.  

“The construction was one of the most interesting things I have ever seen,” said Johnson. “I give a lot of credit to Grace Construction,” the lead contractor who coordinated the building of the Watsons’ home, and also chose Johnson for the project.

“Seeing about 4,000 volunteers, most with no construction experience, and the constant movement of equipment was a sight to see. At one moment, I stepped back and just watched. It looked like an army of ants. There were so many people moving. Yet it all seemed to work together.”

Johnson looks forward to watching the episode live at the Tennessee Theatre, 604 South Gay Street, Knoxville, at a special viewing party that is free and open to the public. Event activities will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 26.

He anticipates that one of the “cool things” people will enjoy seeing is the set design’s “theme park mentality.” While he cannot expand more, hushed before the show airs, he notes one thing to look forward to is that “each of the Watsons’ three children have a spectacular bedroom.”

Johnson, who is also a board of advisor for the UT College of Architecture and Design, founded Johnson Architecture, Inc. in 1993. With licensed professionals in more than twenty states, his firm specializes in both commercial and residential architecture and interior design.

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C O N T A C T:
Kiki Roeder (865-974-6713,
Images provided by Daryl Johnson


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