Despite being lived in by another resident and then sitting vacant, Potter returned to find her family’s furniture, childhood keepsakes, and even her father’s work gloves were still there. Her emotional return and renovation of her family home is the focus of a new HGTV series.
Actress Monica Potter has taken on dramatic roles in series like NBC’s Parenthood and films like Patch Adams. But her most emotional journey is happening in real life. Even though she and her three sisters moved out of their childhood home back in 1987, she could never really get it out of her head. The home had been sold, and then sat vacant for several years. Now thirty years later, she finally got the house back – along with some unexpected surprises inside.
“I knew when we left in 1987 that I would buy it back someday. I just knew. But then, my dad passed away in 2004 and I would have dreams where he was standing at the top of the steps on that house saying to me, ‘Mock, (her childhood nickname) you gotta buy this back.'”
A would take some time before that opportunity would present itself. But eventually, a neighbor called her to tell her it was on the market. Not surprisingly, she lunged at the chance. Perhaps due to her experience in show business, she knew an emotional journey when she saw one, so she decided to bring the family together to tour the home again for the first time in three decades.
“I brought in a TV crew at my own expense. I knew there would be a story,” she said.
That would be an understatement. After thirty years, the family arrived to find that a lot of the items from their childhoods were still there.
“So much was still there. Our dining room table and all the chairs. Cassette tapes, even some fireworks my dad had.
One of the strangest things we found was the white chenille bedspread – My mother loved it and my father hated it because he would snag his toenails on it! I remember one day many years ago he went down to the lake and threw it into Lake Erie! Well, my mom went down with the wheelbarrow – it was soaking wet – can you imagine how heavy that was? She brought it back, and that was it. I couldn’t believe it when we found it, and I don’t know how I got all the dirt out of that thing, but I did, and it’s now on my bed.”
The combination of family memories, good bones, and a modest but classically beautiful 1924 lake home ripe for the restoration became the starting point for the HGTV series “Welcome Back Potter,” which premieres Tuesday night (Oct 11th) at 11pm, with an encore airing on Saturday October 15th at 1pm. Together, the family restores the home room by room, restoring many of those prized rediscovered possessions as part of the redesign.
The home was starting to show some wear and tear, and could easily have met the same fate as many of the other historic homes in Cleveland – demolition. But Monica’s fondness for the home – and the neighborhood, drew her to do whatever she could to save it.
“Although the neighborhood has changed a lot, the feeling has not,” says Potter. “There is a feeling of community – a lot of our neighbors growing up are still there. We all have each other’s backs. What was interesting was that our neighbors knew how much I loved it and that also played a part in my getting it back.”
HERE’S A SNEAK PEEK AT SOME OF THE BEFORE/AFTERS…
Of the items she discovered, one of the most dear to her was her father’s workbench.
“I was just surprised that we left it behind, but my dad was such a caring person that I think he thought the guy who bought it could use it.”
The workbench ended up being a passion project for Potter, who remembered watching her father pursue his passion for making life’s tasks – even those that seem mundane – a little easier.
“He was an inventor. He invented so many things… the spinning toothbrush was one. He worked for a company, so he didn’t own the patents, but he owned 38 other patents outside of that,” remembers Potter. “He was an unsung hero, because he made a company’s products better. He made those companies money but unfortunately he didn’t make a lot himself. We wanted to recognize that in him, so the workbench ended up being really important to us.”
Potter would end up keeping the nicks and scratches left behind by her father, and giving the table new life in a workshop and craft room she features on the series.
What may set Potter’s story apart from her home and garden peers is that she tackles her renovation alongside her three sisters. But if you think this is HGTV’s answer to the Kardashian’s , Potter puts this to rest immediately.
“I actually admire their sisterhood. People talk crap about them but I see a lot of our sisterhood in the way that they react and interact. But instead of wearing Cartier we wear Carter’s. Instead of Fendi we wear flannel.”
And instead of taking selfies, they’re stripping varnish, tearing down plaster, and really getting their hands dirty. The family spent eight straight weeks together tearing down and rebuilding their home with the help of a construction crew. Going back to the rooms they grew up in and shared as kids brought back some often silly memories – like the closet the elder sisters convinced a young Kerry was home to a witch. The photo of them (left) arguing about an demon of the past, Potter says, pretty much sums up their camaraderie.
“It’s like a Scooby-Doo screenshot! When all four of us are together you just never know what personalities are going to come out. I think the bottom line is we like to have fun.”
And when a family gets spends this much time together, things can occasionally get tense.
“It was the most amazing experience. But yes, we fought. You don’t see a lot of that on the screen, but you can see that we have our ups and downs. We reverted back to when we were ten and thirteen years old. We fought every day. I think it was because it was the emotional roller coater we were going on. It wasn’t just about the reno. It was about the memories we would each have. Different recollections. And it was interesting to see how each of us reacted to this place we grew up in. The memories of all the good times, and some tough times. I didn’t know it was going to happen at that level. I was with them shooting for eight straight weeks. The bond that we have now is like no other. It was a life changing experience in that respect.”
It wasn’t all tension, that’s for sure. The show was no shortage of uncontrollable laughter among the family. So much, in fact, that it could present a problem for the sisters. A literal, physical problem.
“All of us have some problems with peeing when we laugh too hard. That in of itself is a running joke. At one point we were working on the first floor living room and foyer. Jessie and Biddy (Brigette’s nickname) were ripping off the carpeting and they had the Darth Vader-style protective masks on, and it was so hot, and I’m pulling up the linoleum in the other room, and I can hear them laughing, so hard that it’s to the point where there was no laughter sound, just wheezing. Then I see Jessica run down the steps, face mask fully fogged, and there is a puddle following her! We just make each other laugh that hard!”
During the course of shooting the family spent an extrordinary amount of time together – and amount of ‘togetherness’ they hadn’t experienced since living together as children.
The result of months of work is not only a gorgeous restored and refurbished home, but also a greater connection with one another as a family.
“Had I not been there to see what goes on in their day to day life I wouldn’t understand them as much as I do now,” says Potter.
Check out Welcome Back Potter on HGTV, with two back to back episodes premiering Tuesday 10/11 at 11pm , with encore episodes on Saturday 10/15 and 1pm and 1:30pm. The show will run with back to back episodes for three weeks.