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First Coast Connect
Fri September 6, 2013
HGTV Smart Home Winner: "I Was Totally Blown Away"
At about 5 p.m. on July 2, Peggy and Paul Walker drove about 25 miles from their Wisconsin dairy farm to Fabulous Fern's Bar & Grill in Saint Paul, Minnesota, for what they thought was a dinner date with a group of friends they dine with regularly.
Little did they know they were walking into what Peggy now describes as a "major life experience."
"It was an amazing, amazing experience," she said via telephone on Friday, describing what it was like to win HGTV's Smart Home 2013 giveaway, which included a state-of-the-art, 2,400 square-foot home in Jacksonville Beach.
"I was just totally blown away," she said. The smart home contest was a first for the channel.
The June announcement wasn't a surprise for everyone who arrived at Fabulous Fern's that afternoon; Walker's two daughters, her son, and a long-time friend had been secretly working with HGTV producers for weeks to ensure it went off without a hitch.
In June, Walker said, HGTV sent a private investigator and a cameraman to surveil her and her family, looking for an opportunity to begin planning the big moment.
Driving around the farm in a van labeled as a phony mapping company, producers approached her husband for directions, hoping they could get a candid snapshot of the winner.
They had little luck — Peggy was at work in the garden with her back turned away from a camera hidden in a pair of eyeglasses.
'That was the most shocking thing," she said, of the idea that she could have been photographed in her gardening/painting outfit.
Her children had often told her to get rid of the old, ratty, paint stained work clothes. She admitted that she hasn't worn them since.
At the restaurant she received a new car, and a ceremonial check for $100,000, but she wouldn't spend more than a few days on the First Coast.
Peggy took the cash option in lieu of the smart home, a decision she attributes to a desire to remain close to her roots and her growing family.
The dairy farm she lives on has been in her husband's family since 1895, and their 26-year-old son is interested in continuing the family business into a fifth generation.
The biggest reason though, she said, is her three grandsons, two 1-year-olds and a 4-year-old.
"This is the time you get to spend with them, before school," she said of her grandsons.
The Walkers did come to Jacksonville for a short vacation, spending five days on the beach and seeing the sites. Their trip included a dinner with HGTV and contest sponsors at Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens. They also toured the home as part of the filmed special.
"There's nothing, still, like an ocean," she said, recalling early morning walks along Jacksonville Beach with her family.
The smart home is now on the market, fully furnished and decorated by HGTV interior designer Linda Woodrum, planned by HGTV celebrity house planner Jack Thomasson, and built by Glenn Layton Homes. The complete grand prize package was valued at more than $900,000.