Mix a gorgeous home makeover with a good cry, and you’ve got “George to the Rescue,” a show where host George Oliphant helps renovate spaces that literally change people’s lives.
Currently in its 13th season on CNBC (streaming on Peacock), “George to the Rescue” tackles projects for those in need who are facing unique challenges, from a surprise bedroom renovation for a girl battling cancer to the transformation of a warehouse into a sensory gym and reading center.
Curious to hear more from Oliphant about his fondest memories on set and his top renovation tips, we chatted with him and came away inspired. Read on if your own home (or merely your faith in humanity) could stand for a little rescuing, too.
How did this show get started?
It began with the show “Open House,” which has been on forever with Sara Gore, and I actually started as the home improvement, nuts-and-bolts guy on that show. I had a little segment called “Floor Plan” where we came and did small projects for families—just honey-do list projects like childproofing and taking the audience along for the ride.
And it snowballed, and we got bigger projects, and it came to this kitchen we did and it was such a big undertaking, as kitchens are, that we said, “You know, there are so many people contributing to help this family rebuild this kitchen. We need to do, like, a half-hour segment on it” as an “Open House to the Rescue” special.
Now we are in Season 13, 140 families and organizations later, and we’re still going—the little engine that could. It just started with basically wanting to do something that was real and wasn’t just smoke and mirrors, but leaving people in a better place than when we found them.
What has been your most heartwarming renovation so far?
They’re all amazing. There are some that touched me more in different ways. As a father myself, when we’re doing something that involves kids, anything we can do to improve their situations, especially kids who are battling some horrific disease or condition, obviously you can’t help but pour 110% into those.
Also, I think there have been times where I’ve had amazing experiences with the community and the people that help us—the designers, the contractors, the architects, the local community, just do-gooders, laborers—people who are like, “I can lend a helping hand. Let me help you.”
I’ve got to say, everything [people say] about Southern hospitality is true.
Then in California, we did one for a veteran, and the military community also comes in numbers. When you put out the Bat signal, like “Hey, we’re helping one of your own,” we got help from vets all over California. It was really moving.
Homeowners today are worried about their budgets. Have any tips on which upgrades are actually worth the money?
Anything you can do to just kind of make your home smarter and more efficient is always going to help save money, whether it’s using LED lights or lightbulbs or having smart thermostats. Until you’re a homeowner and you start to realize how many bills you’re getting, all these things definitely do help and pay for itself.
Are there any upgrades you think new homeowners should avoid because they’re too complicated or a waste of cash?
One thing I’ve said to my wife when we moved into our house—which was an old house—was that we got to do the unsexy projects first because otherwise, everything we do going forward could just be throwing good money after bad. You want to make sure your HVAC is clean and running, that your electric and plumbing is running. After that, then you can start getting into “Is your basement dry or your roof not leaking?”
Once you’ve done those fundamental, foundational things, then you can really start to have fun with the space. But otherwise, you’re asking for trouble because you’re like, “Oh, I’ll put that off,” and then what happens when you’ve got a leak in the ceiling and it’s like, “Oh, I should have tackled those things first.” It could be disastrous.
Once the fundamentals of a house are in good shape, what should homeowners tackle next?
People always get so excited with color, and they usually end up with too much color on the walls, which takes away from the colorful things that they put in a room. A great tip is let your objects—your pillows, blankets, chairs, coffee table books, things on shelves—be the star of your space. Use more muted colors to let them kind of blossom.
I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my wife, who kind of reined me in on that many years ago, when I was always like, “I want everything to be big and bright.” Now, we have a black wall in our bedroom. It makes our bed just pop. So sometimes the lack of color makes the other color around it really pop.
Since homeowners may not get as much square footage as they’d like, have any advice for making the most of the space you’ve got?
The organization is so key. Sometimes you have small kitchens, especially in apartments or small houses. But sometimes you can use your pans and your pots as decoration as well as storage, like hanging pots and pan racks. And then also that’s nice because it’s right there and easy to get, easy to grab when you need them.
Have any final words on what new homebuyers should do once they manage to close the deal and move in?
My stepdad just did the most genius thing: My mom and stepdad just moved, and the first thing they got unpacked was his work area. That way, everything they needed, any tool for moving in, was at their disposal. They weren’t digging through boxes looking for a hammer or a screwdriver or a drill. They set up HQ first, and that allowed them just a lot more ease when they went to move in. They’re like, “OK, we’re going to hang pictures.” OK, well, here’s all the pictures. I have never even thought of that until they did it.