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Tuesday, December 12 Living

Mar Jennings’ makeover show banishing bad design house by house

Mar Jennings is on a one-man crusade to simplify and beautify our homes.

He believes our often larger-than-necessary dwellings encourage us to gather more stuff than we need in space that we don’t really use.

“I remember when I was growing up there were people who had living rooms that no one ever set foot in. What was that all about?,” the Westport TV host says, laughing, during an interview in his tidy living room a few days after the start of season two of his home makeover show, “Life on Mar’s.”

(The show airs every third Sunday of the month at 1 p.m. on New Haven ABC affiliate WTNH. Season one is available for streaming on Amazon Prime. Jennings has also found millions of viewers for his YouTube videos.)

“Small is beautiful” is one of the themes of the new season, during which viewers will follow Jennings as he supervises makeovers of six houses on his street (along with his suddenly water-damaged kitchen).

“We all live in a society that is about accumulation. It’s time to pare down. You don’t need 18 pillows,” Jennings says.

Although the TV series focuses on one block, the houses are very different in design and age. Jennings has the newest place on the street, which he purchased when it was built in 1996. The bungalow next door — which goes through a complete transformation inside and out — was built in 1955. A small farmhouse nearby was built in 1922.

The show illustrates step by step how Jennings modernizes and simplifies each of the modest-sized homes while maximizing the space inside. Down the street is the tiniest home on the block. It’s known as “The Dollhouse” because it started as a neighborhood playhouse in 1959 before it became a residence.

A lot of “Life on Mar’s” this season will be about what the host calls “the illusion of space,” something he achieves in a few cases by raising ceilings and adding skylights. In his own water-damaged kitchen, Jennings came up with a clever plan to make it roomier by pushing out a large window so he could add cushioned seating in the resulting nook.

In the kitchen, Jennings shows me how inspiration can come from the unlikeliest places. As he was facing his kitchen renovation, a shopping expedition produced a small ceramic fish with an enticing array of colors. “That’s my kitchen,” he said in the eureka moment when he first saw the object. Jennings pulls the fish out of a basket in the kitchen to show me how each color wound up being used in the new room.

“Where we couldn’t go out, we went up,” he says of maximizing the space in the bungalow next door, which wound up with an extra bathroom.

“It was really dreadful,” he says of the tired 1950s suburban feel of the house. Jennings took down walls, opened up sightlines and created a sophisticated and intimate new living space.

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“If Carrie Bradshaw lived in Westport this would be her house,” the designer adds of picturing the Sarah Jessica Parker character from “Sex and the City” living in his makeover (the house is for sale and listed for $912,000).

Jennings is a big believer in doing away with window treatments so light can fill a house. A few minutes in his vibrant living room were enough to convince me of the wisdom of this philosophy.

Jennings’ TV home makeover show dovetails with his job as a Realtor in Westport. This is a third career after competitive skating and then banking, which he left a little more than a decade ago.

“I felt like I was a square peg in a round hole,” Jennings says of his days in the financial services industry. “I walked away from it because I didn’t think it was tapping into my skill sets.”

Real estate showed him the importance of design and renovation, which led to two books and many guest appearances on TV shows.

“It was a leap of faith, but it has allowed me to live and breathe my brand,” Jennings says of the way his work as a Realtor and lifestyle guru fit together. The designer believes his skating days in his teens and 20s have also helped him in his work.

“That was the springboard to everything I’ve done,” he says. “You have to be disciplined, set goals and get along with others. You have to become someone who can really be counted on.”

Season two of “Life on Mar’s” is just getting started, but Jennings already has ideas for a third one.

“My mission is to take down bad design, one house at a time,” he says with a grin.

jmeyers@hearstmediact.com; Twitter: @joesview

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