Why pay good money for new furniture when you can find free castoffs on Craigslist or in Grandma’s attic that can be refurbished to look like one-of-a-kind treasures? That’s the logic behind a new show, “Renovation Goldmine,” where married couple Joe and Meg Piercy help homeowners save money by breathing new life into old decor.
On the HGTV show, the designers help homeowners around the Chicago area finish their DIY projects that have fallen short. Curious to learn more, we had a chat with Joe and Meg to hear how they got started as well as their best advice.
The theme of your show is ‘old is gold.’ How did that become your mantra?
Meg: It started out of a need. When we were first married and having kids, we didn’t have the money to buy pieces, and so we would find things in alleys or at thrift stores for very little money and we would refinish them. What we realized is, when we had money to go buy newer things, the old stuff is made better. I think we just fell in love with old then, and as we started refinishing and selling it online, we quickly realized other people loved it, too.
Joe: We live in a very consumer society now, and a lot of the products that we furnish our homes with are very consumable, like you can replace them or they might fall apart. Vintage furniture was built to last. A lot of the pieces that come through our door, they’re 80 to 100 years old. All we do is strip away some of the history, and we repaint it to be able to tell a new story.
Why is upcycling such a popular trend right now?
Joe: There’s a lot of supply chain issues, and it’s really hard to get product right now, so I think people are starting to look within [their] own home. I really think that it’s here to stay.
Meg: Not having to wait to get your piece, the financial benefit, [and] how proud you can be at something that you created. It makes your house one of a kind. We went through this phase of grays and whites and neutrals, and what we’re seeing is people realize how much color affects their mood. I feel like color is definitely on its way back.
What are your top tips for finding pieces that are worth the renovation?
Meg: Stay away from anything that reeks of smoke [or has] major water damage. [Go for] anything that has good bones. You don’t have to like the color of it, the wood, the hardware, anything! You can very easily tweak things here and there to make them look brand-new and save yourself a lot of money.
Joe: There are some iconic furniture brands that are American brands that have transcended time—the Bakers, the Henredons, the Thomasvilles, the Bernhardts—you can find some vintage pieces that are made by those brands and they paint up incredible.
What are your best techniques for giving old furniture a fresh look?
Meg: Add 5% water to a chalk paint so you don’t see the stroke marks, or put it in your household blender and blend it on low so that the paint is really well-blended and it gives you that flawless finish. You can also use chalk paint and then use a clear coat of gloss over it so you don’t have to do sanding and priming but still get that high-gloss look without as much effort.
Joe: The finished product is determined [by] the prep that you do, so make sure if there are dents or divots or things broken off, that you repair those with wood putty.
What are some of the coolest old furnishings you’ve come across?
Meg: We’ve done lots of heirlooms that have gone down through generations, but we just got a bassinet and it has a little plaque on the inside of every baby from their family that has been brought home into this bassinet. There’s, like, 70 plaques. It goes through the whole family, and it goes all the way back to the 1920s and it’s so neat! It’s kind of falling apart, and it’s had several coats of paint through its life, so they asked us to strip it down and build it back up.
Joe: We found a library card catalog and we chopped it in half, and then we mounted them side by side. It was like an 88-inch buffet and it had, like, 100 drawers in it.
Where is the weirdest place you’ve found furniture to restore?
Meg: He has met [many people] in alleys that he now has as friends! These scrappers stack their cars up to the point where, if they take a tight turn, this thing’s going over. We’ll be driving alongside them on the highway and be like, “we want that,” and then we’ll pull over and grab it.
Is there any item you’ve seen—in real life or from pop culture—that you dream of redoing?
Meg: Definitely the dresser in “Narnia.” We actually got a dresser like [that one], and I’m putting it in a house in the French Quarter of New Orleans. We restored the outside and we painted the inside neon yellow so that when you open it, it’s a really cool bar.
Any advice for updating sentimental family heirlooms that may not be your style?
Meg: Everyone’s become more nostalgic throughout COVID, thinking about people who they love and what they want of theirs to carry on. Say someone’s extremely into midcentury modern and their grandma was super traditional, those don’t always go together. But there are so many things you can do, whether it’s change out hardware or add a metal base or change out the legs or paint it a color or a gloss that goes with the aesthetic of the home.
What do you want viewers to learn from ‘Renovation Goldmine’?
Meg: There’s so much power in being able to make something with your hands and so much pride that comes along with it. We’re really hoping to encourage people to get out there and take the bull by the horns and start doing things themselves.
Joe: Prior to doing furniture, I really wasn’t handy at all. When you start to do it and learn something, you feel a lot of value, like, “Wow, I made that. I did that. I hung that light.” It adds a lot of self-worth.