“So I understand you want a sex room,” Melanie Rose, the star of Netflix’s new home-renovation show, says within a minute or two of meeting Taylor and Ajay, the young couple enlisting the British interior designer’s services. “Or maybe just a room where sex happens,” replies Raj, a jazz singer we later meet who’s into something more demure for the bedroom she shares with her husband, a creative entrepreneur. On How to Build a Sex Room, the rooms may look different, but they all help the people who use them experience more pleasure. With her red-framed glasses, close-cropped gray hair, statement necklaces, and sensible sneakers, Rose looks like your cool aunt. But in her bag, she carries anal plugs, dildos, and other adult toys along with her tape measure and clipboard. (She says she has picked up the nickname “the Mary Poppins of Sex Rooms.”) In the first episode, she hands Taylor and Ajay a black-leather flogger. The couple hired her because they want to turn their unfinished basement (accessed by a ladder down a trap door in their laundry room’s floor) into a “sexy rock-and-roll dungeon.” Rose assures Taylor and Ajay that “we’re going to have so much fun” as they exchange playful swats. Before long, they’re getting lessons in its use.
How to Build a Sex Room is technically a home-makeover reality show like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Flip or Flop, and Fixer Upper — complete with sledgehammering walls, ripping out unsightly wallpaper, and introducing spendy sofas. And after watching, you might want to buy your own inversion table or flogger, per Rose’s recommendations. But the show offers more than consumption inspiration; it’s also sex-positive sex ed. Rose’s method includes open discussions about intimacy and consent, a crash course in toys and furniture, and lessons with experts in dirty talk, BDSM, and boudoir photography. Very sexy sex isn’t aspirational enough anymore; people demand a dream home to have it in. And How to Build a Sex Room shows you how to get both.
Rose says she has been designing sex rooms (which she’ll sometimes refer to as “pleasure” or “sacred” rooms to avoid a knee-jerk cringe) for the past decade. “People ask me, ‘Is it just one type of person that wants a sex room?’ And the answer is no” — on the show, she mentions “bankers, teachers, cops, and maybe your next-door neighbor.” The show mixes it up, featuring queer couples, married couples with teenagers and toddlers, a recently engaged couple, a polycule, and a recent divorcee in her 50s.
All home-renovation planning is intimate, but Rose’s conversations really go into another realm. “The first question is, ‘Okay, you asked me to come in — tell me about your sex life,” Rose says. “Tell me about your intimacies. What do you think is missing?” She asks about her clients’ favorite positions, their kinks, what they’re curious to explore. “We’re clam chowder with a dab of Tabasco,” Wesley, a law-enforcement officer, says about his sex life with his wife, Hannah, a real-estate agent. (They have a 3-year-old who’s taken over their home.) They segue to visualizing the room. “A lot of the time, they don’t actually see it as anything,” Rose says. But when her clients do have an idea, sometimes they conflict with each other’s, or they don’t want to talk about their fetishes and desires in front of the other. “That’s where I become the mediator or the arbitrator,” Rose says. “I’ll give them a piece of paper each and just say, ‘Go away and write it down.’”
The spaces in Sex Room are filled with saturated colors, a wide range of textures, erotic art, and toys — lots and lots of toys: vibrators, dildos, handcuffs, blindfolds, and ElectroWands. For Matthew and Orlando, a long-distance couple we meet in episode three, Rose creates what she describes as a “stylish, masculine” space and an “upscale BDSM den.” All of the surfaces are black: the satin-finish ceiling, the sisal wall, the slate floor. Rose installs penis-shaped hooks on which they can hang their harnesses, and she put up Tom of Finland posters. Because Matthew and Orlando like to make videos for each other, Rose gives them a webcam and studio lighting. Ouima and Jesse, first-time homeowners who say they’re looking to rekindle the playful spark from when they met, ask for a “Moulin Rouge!–type” room. They get what their Baz Luhrmann–loving hearts desire: red-velvet damask wallpaper, a tin ceiling, a baroque gold floor mirror, and a lampshade made of dozens of fluffy white ostrich feathers. Since Ouima was once an exotic dancer, Rose places a pole in the center of the room and a gold cage-shaped chair nearby for Jesse. “Subtle is not in my vocabulary, darling,” Rose says.
When it comes to conceiving of a pleasure-room design, Rose has a few rules: no carpet — not even a stainproof one. She recommends tile (and installing a drain “if there’s going to be that much bodily fluid”). Safety is another big one: Know your room’s structural hard points if you are installing anything that’s weight bearing. “If you’re installing a sex swing, do it on a ceiling joist,” she says. And see everything in person before putting it in. “I’m very much a touchy-feely person,” Rose says, explaining why she physically handles everything that goes into a room. “I like to smell the leathers, pick up the vibrators and the dildos.” Most of the toys on the show are from the Stockroom in Los Angeles, and all of the furniture — the St. Andrew’s crosses, the tantric chairs, the bondage beds — is custom made.
You, the viewer, may not be planning a sex room of your own, but the takeaway of the series is aspirational nonetheless: In any relationship, fantasies — whether they involve décor, communication, or bodily fluids — should be pleasurable to explore. “We don’t want to turn people off on the show, darling; we want to turn them on,” Rose says.