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TV Remodeling Host To Appear at Home Show

By Rick Nathanson
Journal Staff Writer
    She wears a tool belt with the confidence of somebody who knows her way around a construction site, but JoAnne "JoJo" Liebeler admits, "I sure wasn't born with a hammer in my hand."
    Liebeler, one of the first women to host a home improvement and remodeling show, and the current host of the Travel Channel's "Passport to Design," freely admits that at one time she was intimidated by power tools and thought an eight-penny nail was "a nail that costs eight cents." (The term actually refers to the size of the nail.)
    Liebeler will be a featured guest at the 10th annual spring Albuquerque Home Remodeling & Furnishings Show, which will be held Feb. 21-22 in the Manuel Lujan Exhibit Complex at Expo New Mexico. She will meet with fans and answer questions, share her home improvement experiences, and show a video tape of a newscast parody, a la "Saturday Night Live," containing humorous program outtakes of "flubbed up projects."
    Her appearances are scheduled for noon-1 p.m. and 2-3 p.m. Feb. 21, and noon-1 p.m. Feb. 22.
    The Albuquerque Home Remodeling & Furnishings Show is one of the largest of the annual home shows in New Mexico, said John Pravato, whose InterAct Productions puts on the yearly event. More than 160 companies will display products and services in 300 booths and exhibition areas.
    Visitors, who numbered more than 18,000 at last February's show, "will be able to see more by walking around for three hours than it would take them in three weeks of driving around and going to individual stores," Pravato said. "It's pretty much one-stop shopping. Everything is there."
    And while do-it-yourself types will come away from the home show with plenty of ideas, "the show is really geared for people who want professionals in their respective fields to do the work," Pravato said.
    Among those products and services on display will be sunrooms, spas, saunas, artificial turf, outdoor playground equipment, sprinkler and irrigation systems, heating and cooling systems, garage and closet organization and storage systems, water conditioners, wall paint and paint treatments, security alarm services, flooring, roofing, cabinetry, furniture, window treatments, kitchen appliances, cookware, bathroom and kitchen remodels, stained glass, landscaping, decorative concrete services, and more.
    Liebeler navigates through a home show like a kid walking through a candy store. "I just love to visit all the booths and see if the vendors have anything new and exciting to present, which helps me stay in touch with the trends, too," she said during a phone conversation from Florida, where she was taping an episode of "Passport to Design."
    The home shows also give her an opportunity to travel. "In visiting different parts of the country, I get to see what people do with their homes and how they design and construct them," she said. "I like to check out the architecture and talk to people about home improvement projects and the problems and benefits that are particular to that style of architecture."
National trends
    So, what are the trends in home improvement around the country? One concept, bandied about for more than 20 years but now seeing a resurgence in popularity, is moving indoor spaces outdoors, she said. "I'm talking about going beyond a deck or patio, and installing outdoor kitchens, and putting in gas fireplaces with dual glass so it can be seen from inside the home and outside on the patio."
    Another trend catching on nationwide is the installation of high-tech home entertainment and home theater systems. "The trend is toward flat screen TVs, and furniture designed to hide the equipment, although guys love the gadgets and want everybody to see them, the women want everything hidden away," she said.
    Kitchens and bathrooms have always been at or near the top of home remodeling projects. What's new is size. People want bigger. "Not long ago, most bathrooms were 8 feet by 5 feet. You don't see that anymore," Liebeler said. "People are finding ways to make bathrooms bigger, even if it means making adjacent rooms smaller."
    A coat of paint on the cabinets won't cut it anymore in the kitchen. People want modern appliances and equipment. Formica and laminate counter tops are being replaced with natural materials like granite, marble and cement, and manmade solid surface materials like Corian, Avonite and Silestone.
    In colder northern climates, people have also been installing radiant floor heat in their kitchens and bathrooms to augment whatever heat system is used for the rest of the home, Liebeler said.
    "As a rule I tell people without experience to stay away from repairs that involve water or electricity. You can really mess up your home and get hurt. I would not advise someone to put in their own furnace, or add a new breaker to an electrical service panel, and they shouldn't be playing with plumbing pipes unless they know what they're doing."
News background
    Take it from someone with firsthand experience on and off television. Liebeler lives in a rambling 1970s fixer-upper in Minnesota with her husband, who designs software for the medical industry "and collects tools like Imelda Marcos collects shoes."
    Liebeler grew up in Indiana and Minnesota and earned a degree in journalism from the University of North Dakota. While in school, she worked for local newspapers and acted in community theater. The first six years after graduating were spent as the assignment editor at Minneapolis television stations. She was also part of the improvisational comedy troupe, TheatreSportz.
    She later moved to Los Angeles and became the lone female sketch writer on the syndicated comedy series, "The Newz," wrote material with the comedy troupe, The Girl Group, and did some acting in broadcast television sitcoms and feature films.
    Her first foray into the home improvement field came with an audition for the TV show, "Hometime," which was produced in Minnesota for the PBS network.
    "They hired me, but I don't know why," Liebeler said. "The world of home improvement was foreign to me. I didn't understand the language or the tools. They thought it would be an asset to have somebody who had no idea about these things, which could be an inspiration to others who had no idea about these things."
    Liebeler was partnered with the show's host, Dean Johnson, who lost the original female co-host after the first season. For four seasons, Johnson and Liebeler showed viewers "the kind of home improvements people can do on their own," she said.
    The partnership was so convincing that viewers assumed that she and Johnson were married, that is until 1992, when Liebeler left the show and Johnson "got a new fake wife," confusing viewers even more, she said.
    Liebeler subsequently hosted "Room For Change" on HGTV. "We would do room redesigns using time-lapse photography, starting with a bare room and just kept adding things until it was done."
    She moved on to "Home Savvy" on TLC, where the "Queen of Residential Rehab," as she was billed, hosted a home improvement program from 1997 until 2002. The program is still in reruns on TLC and on the digital sister station, the Home & Leisure Channel.
    Her current show, "Passport to Design" (see local listings for air dates and times), is "one of those room remodeling shows with the 'before' and 'after' comparison," Liebeler said. "What gives it a twist is that each room is based on a homeowner's travel memories or photos. One room might be done as a Swedish country bedroom, and another might be a Greek terrace, or a Mexican patio or a Tuscan kitchen. Then we talk about the culture behind the designs."
    An upcoming episode scheduled to air on St. Patrick's Day, focuses on Irish pubs. "We're going to do two projects. We're going to remodel somebody's basement bar, and then we're going to take a regular tavern and redesign it into an Irish pub," Liebeler said.
    After 15 years of hosting home improvement, remodeling and redecorating programs, Liebeler is no longer intimidated by power tools. "I learned all this stuff on the job," she said. In the process, she became something of tool belt-wearing, hammer-wielding sex symbol. In 1999, Men's Health magazine named her one of the "Top Ten Most Strangely Sexy Women."
    "I don't even know what that means," she said. "Do I have green horns growing from my armpits?"
    Also on the same list were then-first lady Hillary Clinton, former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and Amazonian butt-kicker Lucy Lawless, star of "Xena: Warrior Princess."
    "Don't ask me," Liebeler said. "Nobody from the magazine called me or interviewed me or anything. I honestly have no idea."
It's showtime
    The Albuquerque Home Remodeling and Furnishings Spring Show will be held Feb. 21 (10-a.m.-7 p.m.) and Feb. 22 (10 a.m.-5 p.m.), in the Manuel Lujan Exhibit Complex at Expo New Mexico. Cost: $6 for adults, $5 for seniors age 55 and older, and free for kids age 12 and younger. Look for $2 discount coupons in the Albuquerque Journal. Contact John Pravato, 242-0594.
    Other home shows slated for the Lujan Complex later this year include:
  • Homebuilders and Remodelers Showcase, March 26 (1-7 p.m.), 27 (10 a.m.-7 p.m.) and 28 (10 a.m.-5 p.m.). Features all home products and services needed for remodeling or building a home. Cost: $5 adults, $4 seniors, free for kids age 12 and younger. Contact Lana John, 344-3294.
  • Albuquerque Home and Garden Show, April 24 (10 a.m.-7 p.m.) and 25 (10 a.m.-6 p.m.). Highlighting everything for the home and garden, with a heavy emphasis on landscaping. Will feature the Interior Design Showcase and seminars on gardening and interior design. Cost: $6 adults, $3 seniors, free for kids age 12 and younger. Contact Lili Metzer, (800) 333-2122.
  • Albuquerque Home Remodeling and Furnishings Fall Show, Sept. 25 (10 a.m.-7 p.m.) and 26 (10 a.m.-5 p.m.). With displays on all products for the interior and exterior of a new or remodeled home and related services. Guest speaker will be Glenn Haege, America's master handyman and nationally syndicated radio host. Cost: $6 for adults, $5 for seniors age 55 and older, and free for kids age 12 and younger. Look for $2 discount coupons in the Albuquerque Journal. Contact John Pravato, 242-0594.