Recently I had the pleasure of working with actor Bronson Pinchot to get our lights across the country and into his kitchen—fast! The fixtures were for a soon-to-be-aired episode of his new show on the DIY Network called The Bronson Pinchot Project:
Hollywood’s favorite character actor, Bronson Pinchot (Perfect Strangers, Beverly Hills Cop), has a secret life. He’s been quietly buying neglected old homes and buildings, and restoring them into eye-catching masterpieces. Each episode of The Bronson Pinchot Project finds Bronson and his crew of local contractors renovating another room at one of his properties in Harford, PA. Bronson Pinchot is a hands-on renovator with the skills of a contractor and the eye of a top designer. Rural Harford becomes the backdrop for a unique mix of reality TV and home improvement.
Having been a huge fan of Perfect Strangers as a kid, I was extra excited about the project! Bronson was kind enough to indulge me in a little Q & A:
You have done so many things beyond your acting career, from key-chain making to graduating magna cum laude from Yale. When did you get the home restoration/remodeling bug?
When I was eight. There was a chicken coop with a little caretaker’s space in the backyard of the house where I grew up. I took lots of old stuff from the house and the Salvation Army, and made a cool little house where I sat in a rocking chair and read books, with the garden all around me.
You’ve mentioned your love of our antique lights. Is there any era you are particularly fond of?
Early twentieth-century industrial takes the cake. I don’t think it has ever been equaled for beauty of conception and execution.
When did you first fall in love with “old stuff”?
It was all around me as I was growing up. My parents taught me that old things were full of soul. That was good on a number of levels, because we had very little money and no new things.
Is there a particular antique item that you collect or covet?
Well, I can certainly never get enough of the early Benjamin socket clusters, especially when there are more than four. I have lights with six and seven clusters. I could happily close up shop and do nothing but collect early lighting. I collect 19th-century plaster casts of Greek and Hellenistic architectural sculpture from the 5th, 4th, 3rd, and 2nd centuries B.C. I love pre-1800 carpets from any part of the globe. Whieldon plates with splatter decoration. Early textiles, very faded. Early seating, 1840 and before. And I have to say, I covet early houses and seem to collect them.
You have a new show that focuses on your home restoration projects. Can you tell us a little about that?
The show basically just covers my life in a documentary fashion. I own several pre-Civil War properties in a tiny town in Northeastern Pennsylvania and I have a large collection of architectural salvage from the period 1750 to 1840. I do a different room or a different project on each episode, with my local and loyal work force. And we have a heckuva lot of fun
How did you end up in Harford, PA? What was your inspiration for the restoration work you are doing there now?
I did a computer search for a Greek Revival and the house came up. The owner said that though he was out of state, the door was open. I knew I had to have it just from that. The inspiration? Necessity is the mother of invention. The house needed lots and lots of TLC. Addressing each issue was an education for me. And I segued from just fixing to enhancing and adapting….and learned to build in a 200-year-old style along the way! Obviously there was no interior lighting in 1840 to speak of, beyond candles and firelight. So by sheer trial and error, I found that early industrial lighting worked for me. Fantastic piece of luck on that, because it is usually the greatest stumbling block when working on pre-Civil War interiors.
Can you describe your design and brainstorming process when it comes to beginning a new room remodel?
I live in the room as is until I know exactly what the room wants to be. I mean, I really LIVE in it, and I let it whisper its secrets to me. I pay attention to the views and what the light does, and try to figure out how to maximize what’s great about it and minimize what’s wrong. Then, with a very general game plan in my head, I strip it of everything that is not meaningful—all the later band-aid jobs and improvements and so on. Then I sketch and sketch and sketch, partly on paper, and partly on the walls with blue tape: “window here,” etc. And I let it evolve. One little thing that works leads to other things that work, and finally it’s singing, and then it’s done.
Do you think holistically about the entire home or do you tackle things room by room?
Each room is like an episode or chapter in a story. The house is the whole novel. So the bedroom is the intimate, wonderful, secret subplot, and the living room is a big, jovial ballroom scene, and the kitchen always has to be like visiting with your grandma. My grandma would have loved both of the kitchens I’ve done on the show. I know she’s watching. I know she’s particularly tickled that Rejuvenation stepped in to bail me out with all my nice ceiling pendant lights for the kitchen at Decker Court. There was no way in heck I was going to find eight matching antique ones with milk-glass shades and zero drop, which you were gracious enough not only to design but to ship to me overnight!
Do you find one source of inspiration or theme that drives your creative process?
Well, where a real estate agent would say, “Location, location, location,” I substitute, “Emotion, emotion, emotion.” How does the room make you feel? How does the exterior make you feel when you walk out to get the paper, or return home after a long trip? If it’s like being in love, and you can’t bear to tear yourself away, you’ve done it.
Would you mind sharing your most memorable DIY project that just didn’t work?
There have been so many…! I always say that the show would not be possible if I were not drawing on ten prior years of mistakes. I put quite a bit of effort into my “keeping room,” which is where the cooking was once done and where guests were entertained. I made it a precise replica of an 1840 keeping room and when it was done, I thought, This is a crashing bore. All you need is a velvet rope and a dummy in a powdered wig. You idiot—you’ve made a museum! It was “admirable” but it didn’t make me feel happy. So I took it all apart and did it again. And again. And yes, again. I may be able to get the hang of it when we get to that room in the next sequence of shows.
After such a great conversation, we’re even more excited to see the episode that features our lighting, airing Saturday, March 17th on the DIY Network! We hope you’ll check it out too and tell us what you think.