For much of his acting career, Bronson Pinchot has had accents and attitudes to hide behind. From the lovably daffy Balki on Perfect Strangers to the scene-stealing art dealer Serge in the Beverly Hills Cop movies, Pinchot often completely disappears into his characters. In his latest project, however, he’s letting the DIY Network audience see his true personality.
“I’ve spent a lifetime trying to be something, and that gets tiring,” Pinchot says as he walks through one of the homes he’s renovating in Harford, Pa., site of The Bronson Pinchot Project. “The producers came to me and said, ‘We think this is interesting,’ and I said, ‘I’m not changing anything. I’m not even going to shave. I’ll do it exactly as I do it’ … and they said, ‘You’re perfectly interesting just the way you are,’ and those are the magic words.”
What he does is buy up old homes in Harford — a place where, he says with affection, “there’s nothing to do except drive a four-wheeler down Main Street and get arrested” — and restore them to their former glory using only salvaged material. That means relying on cotton from the 18th century to make curtains, or taking a turn-of-the-century gas chandelier and making it run on electricity, and even allowing warped floorboards to keep their shape.
“When you walk into one of these rooms, even though they are entirely new, you would swear they’ve been there for 200 years, because that’s what I want you to think,” he says. “All the rooms look exactly like you would expect them to look if they had been locked in 1840 and just unlocked on the show. We do show how we get there, and it’s largely trial and error.”
Pinchot has carved out a method and style that operates mainly on feeling as opposed to traditional techniques.
“The difference between this and any other remodeling show that I’m aware of is that I have absolutely no game plan,” he says, “except I know how I want the room to feel and I don’t care what I have to do to achieve it. I start out in one direction, and if it’s working well I keep going, and if it doesn’t work I stop and do it again. I have a budget for every show, and I have to turn in a certain number of episodes every certain number of weeks, but other than that there’s no blueprint.”
Cynics might be tempted to classify the show as a desperate attempt from a former Surreal Life cast member to re-energize his career, but Pinchot insists that he never got into renovating for anything other than the pleasure it gives him. The houses are not for sale or rent, he says, adding that he restores them the way other people might restore cars that they drive only on occasion.
“People said for years that there’s a great TV show in this,” he says. “And I would say, ‘Well that’s just my life. Thank you very much for reducing it to its entertainment quotient.’ (laughs) But they meant there’s kind of a sitcom in it like the old Bob Newhart show. I said no. … This show is actually about what I do with old houses, and of course, I don’t stop being me. Neither do the guys, but that simple moving of the focus just from, ‘Oh, look, I have a library full of Shakespeare and Shaw, and they all drink strawberries impregnated with moonshine, isn’t that interesting?’ [made the difference]. We just get on with building a house, and once in a while they do dare me to come drink moonshine and once in a while I do.”
The thrill for Pinchot comes in seeing new life breathed into old material, and contemplating all the history contained in each item he restores. It’s a joy that, for him, approaches the spiritual.
“The materials are imbued with the soul of everything that’s ever gone into them,” he says. “It’s almost like each is piece a photographic plate upon which all the experiences of all the people who have lived there have been imprinted. … To transpose a forgotten old place that’s been left to the demolisher, and to collect all those pieces and put them back together the way they’re supposed to be, and then they look beautiful and everybody loves them and feels happy around them, [it's as though] the people are reunited with the pieces, and it’s the way it’s supposed to be. It’s very, very moving, and it gets to me.”
The Bronson Pinchot Project premieres 10:30pm Saturday on DIY Network.
Photos: Courtesy of DIY Network