The house in Mitford Street, Elwood.

The house in Mitford Street, Elwood.

When The Block returns to TV tonight, much will be familiar to regular viewer of Nine's renovation reality contest, including the whittling of eight contestant couples to four in the first week of challenges. But what's new is the venue for those battles: not fake rooms constructed in a warehouse, but real rooms in a big Edwardian house in the inner city.

The block in this year's competition is a terrace of four period houses in South Melbourne, and the producers wanted the first stage of eliminations to take place in a setting that anticipated what was to come.

''But then we had the problem: where were we going to find a heritage house with four pairs of identical rooms,'' producer Julian Cress says.

Amazingly, they found it on Mitford Street in Elwood, in a rundown house that couple Sam and Sarah had just bought and moved into.

''It had been split up as three pretty basic apartments, it still had the original carpet and wallpaper, and it was pretty rough,'' says Sarah.

''We were painting and plastering and were just about to do the floorboards when they asked us to hold on,'' says Sam.

The production took over the house for the best part of a month. The couple's furniture went into the attic. Eight rooms were painted all white. The exterior was painted bright red, with astroturf put down in the front yard, and a yellow path laid to the front steps.

''It was a homage to Tim Burton,'' says Cress. ''The inspiration was Edward Scissorhands, without the Hollywood budget.''

And without the rave reviews. A few days into the makeover, ''we had five calls from different departments at the council, because they'd been inundated with complaints from neighbours'' says Cress (he insists they did in fact get council permission beforehand). He says one neighbour fumed, asking ''How dare you open a brothel in our beautiful neighbourhood?''

Neither party will reveal how much the production paid for use of the house, but it's unlikely it came cheap. ''Suffice it to say it was exactly what we were looking for and we were on a pretty tight schedule,'' says Cress. ''It certainly would have helped them finish off their renovations.''

twitter Karl Quinn is on Twitter: @karlkwin