Think fixing up an old farmhouse would be an idyllic way to spend your days? Then it’s high time for a crack-of-dawn wake-up call from the stars of a new reality show, “Farmhouse Facelift.”
In this 10-part series (now available on Hulu), Billy Pearson and Carolyn Wilbrink renovate old farms in Canada, making them more modern and functional for families today. And while the results are pretty as can be, this brother-and-sister team would be the first to say that getting to this picture-perfect “after” portrait is often a grueling process.
For a behind-the-scenes peek at what it’s really like to fix up a farmhouse, check out what this up-and-coming design duo has learned—the hard way—that might make you think twice before swinging that sledgehammer.
Carolyn, you’re a designer, and Billy, you’re a contractor. How did you guys get into these industries and start working together?
Carolyn Wilbrink: I actually went to school for broadcast journalism, and then I went to design school once I had my first two children.
Our grandmother was a seamstress, and our mom can also sew. Billy builds everything, so it was always like if I couldn’t find something, I’d ask Billy to build it or somebody to sew it for me, or I would do the same thing. It came to a point where someone was just, like, “Why wouldn’t you go back to school for interior design?” So that’s what I did.
Billy Pearson: I’ve been doing construction since I was about 21, but Carolyn and I really teamed up when she bought her first farmhouse. No one else wanted to take on the challenges or the headaches of that farmhouse, and she came to me, not really begging but…
Wilbrink: Pretty much begging. No one else I knew would do the job that I knew Billy would do.
While fixing up a farmhouse sounds glamorous at first glance, what are some of the trickier problems you’ve run into that you didn’t expect?
Wilbrink: The first farmhouse Billy and I did together, my old house, everything looked as if it was regular electrical.
Pearson: It looked like it had been updated. They had a brand-new panel in the basement with new wiring. But when we opened up the ceiling in the kitchen, we found all these illegal junctions that they’d buried where they’d tied new wiring into knob-and-tube electrical, which is totally against code. So that was a huge expense for Carolyn and her husband.
Farmhouse style has been so popular in recent years. What are your favorite design moves to get the look?
Wilbrink: Billy and I both love to use antiques if we can. Like, in Episode 1, we took an antique dresser and we turned it into that vanity. But I don’t like to overdo it with antiques. I think that it gets to a point where it can be stuffy.
Pearson: Like Grandma’s house.
Wilbrink: Although there’s a new trend coming around, “grandmillennial.” Right now that’s huge, and you will see some of that in our upcoming season. I really love incorporating florals, mixing patterns. Wallpaper is huge for me. I really love using that this season, because not a lot of people will trust you with wallpapers.
DIY has been a big trend during the pandemic. What are some of the top mistakes homeowners make when renovating their own home?
Pearson: In the third episode, one client was trying his best with his dad. They would work on weekends to sort of tackle some of the renovations on their second story. But there were a few telltale signs that they didn’t have the expertise to do some of it. I don’t want to make that sound rude, because they were trying their best and they did a nice job, but just certain things, like the insulation, hadn’t been done right.
Wilbrink: Pretty much every episode, when Billy and I would demo things out, you could find DIY homeowner renovations where they would patch certain things and not do it correctly.
Pearson: Or even like one house, you could get on the toilet and it was so close to the sink that you could sit there and brush your teeth. I mean, that’s more of a matter of spatial awareness.
What are some red flags that people should look out for when they buy an older home?
Pearson: When you open a wall in an old home, you never know what you’re going to find, especially if a home is, like, 150 years old. There’s been a lot of families living there, a lot of people doing their own renovations. And sometimes they build walls in front of things and hide things. There’s always the risk of unknown discoveries. You want to change lead pipe plumbing right away—also galvanized plumbing, because you’re probably going to have poor water pressure from that, ’cause it’s full of rust.
You’re also going to have to look out for asbestos, especially if you’re going to be demolishing anything, because you have to have it removed professionally. And that can add quite a significant amount to your renovation cost if you hadn’t yet factored that in.
Wilbrink: Yeah, and there’s even other things, like water. I have a 160-year-old farmhouse, and the well is horrible. It was never dug deep enough, because back in the day, you didn’t have to dig so deep. That is going to be a massive cost for us when we do our renovations.
Pearson: When you’re falling in love with the house, you kind of have to think about all these other things that are going to cost you a lot of money. You want to make sure everything’s in good shape, structurally and whatnot, before you dive in and take that plunge.