Outrageous Homes review – OTT TV that will make you very happy indeed

<span>Pure tonic… Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and Dawn on Outrageous Homes.</span><span>Photograph: Channel 4</span>
Pure tonic… Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and Dawn on Outrageous Homes.Photograph: Channel 4

Either I’ve toughened up or, like the paint on a statement wall, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen has calmed down since he was last on our screens. In the old days, when he and Linda Barker were mostly destroying the nation’s living rooms and all semblance of peace in suburbia as everyone began to fear returning home lest they find their perfectly acceptable three-bed semi suddenly covered inside and out with gold spray paint and plastic crystal chandeliers, I couldn’t find the off switch fast enough. The cuffs, the hair, the performative suffering of Handy Andy – it was hard to avoid entirely in the early years of this century, but I did my best.

LLB hasn’t exactly gone away since then, but he took small parts rather than central roles. You could, with a modicum of care, let him fade from memory and – despite a brief Changing Rooms return that involved building, oh Jesus, a hair wall that I still see when I close my eyes at night – begin to heal.

Now he’s back, presenting Outrageous Homes. The title and accompanying publicity makes it sound like more of the late 90s, early 00s thing. Crazy decor! Eccentric owners! Extreme tastes! The spirit quails until you’re about halfway through the first episode and you realise it’s actually something quite different.

This is a mellow LLB – still a great charismatic presence, but content to let his natural wit and intelligence shine through. As a result, he has become a warm and rather effective interviewer. And the homes and their owners are not (at least on the evidence of the opening episode) occasions for ridicule or figures of fun.

Some of the homes are pure self-expression, owned by exuberant people happy to be living their best life. Most emblematic of the mood is Billy, a retired IT assistant in Cheshire who inherited his childhood home when his parents died. “I woke up one morning,” he says, “and thought: ‘I want a wild west ranch.’” About £500 and a lot of hammering later, his dream was realised. It looks great. Part film-set, part Disney theme park, he plans to add a saloon, a water mill and – if funds and carpentry skills allow – a fort. He already has a line in moonshine production. He samples the illegal wares. “Not good that,” he says happily. “Not good at all.”

Then there is the modest terrace in the West Midlands almost fully lined with gorgeous mosaics by artist Caroline. “I’m never going to stop!” she says cheerily, and why should she? A similar vibe attends landlord Jack’s transformation of his own home into Atlantis. He has meticulously constructed 11 giant water tanks over the last 19 years that now dominate the house from bedroom to basement. He has filled them with the marine life that has fascinated him since he was first taken to an aquarium as a child. The engineering involved seems to make him as happy as the fish do, and that is very happy indeed.

The two main set pieces however are a trip round the house built by publisher, poet, performer and legendary bon vivant Felix Dennis. It was designed as the party pad to end all party pads, to reflect his love of pirates generally and Treasure Island specifically. It has an indoor lagoon, real palm trees preserved in resin, internal rigging, walkways, and a crow’s nest, cannon and anchors in the garden, as well as a seashell-lined toilet throne and – though I don’t think Robert Louis Stevenson covered this – roof access to a hot-air balloon launch pad. It has been bought by Dawn and Derek, who don’t like parties. This only makes everything more amazing. They do have extravagant taste in sofas, and LLB compliments them on how well their furniture goes with the new house. Dawn says a polite thank you and we all leave. I love it.

Finally LLB gets to talk real design with Estelle, the owner of a Manchester terrace house that is an immaculate recreation of the 70s put together with unmistakable confidence and style. She and LLB are kindred spirits and commune about colours, moulded furniture and an era’s energy with increasing delight.

Outrageous Homes and the modern incarnation of LLB are together an absolute tonic. And not a hair wall in sight.

• Outrageous Homes is on Channel 4 now.