Good Vibes Are in Abundance on HGTV's 'Good Bones'

A few observations about why viewers are falling head-over-heels for HGTV's new home renovation series Good Bones, now shooting its second season.

Sure, it's a show with a natural and timely hook: a pair of industrious ladies take on ambitious home renovations in their beloved hometown of Indianapolis — with a stated goal of revitalizing their city's historic neighborhoods, "one property at a time." 

Helping to set the hook: the two ladies happen to be mother and daughter. Interesting premise? You bet. But, in large part, it's the genuineness and the distinctive personalities in the mother-daughter dynamic that keep viewers coming back.

Karen E Laine (left) and Mina Starsiak (right)

From: Good Bones

Photo by: AJ Mast/AP Images

AJ Mast/AP Images

Karen E Laine (left) and Mina Starsiak (right)

A Perfect Circle

Before HGTV began following (mom) Karen E Laine and (daughter) Mina Starsiak in the new series Good Bones, the two had already established quite an impressive resume. Starting with their first home rehab in 2007 (Mina's first home after graduating from college), the twosome soon created a home renovation business under the name Two Chicks and Hammer. By the time the pilot was shooting for their HGTV series they had already renovated and flipped around twenty homes in Fountain Square, an Indianapolis community adjacent to the city's downtown.

Two Chicks and a Hammer (HTCAH)

Two Chicks and a Hammer (HTCAH)

Behind the scenes at the Wright Street Project and the shoot for the Good Bones pilot episode

Behind the scenes at the Wright Street Project and the shoot for the Good Bones pilot episode

It's a worthy mission and one that, by design, is somewhat self-serving beyond just a profit motive. How so? Karen and Mina love their neighborhood, and they want to help it keep improving and to see it realize its fullest potential. By taking distressed and abandoned homes that would have been considered by many to be beyond hope, and transforming them into something beautiful – and in ways that respect the homes' historical integrity – they not only save individual properties but help serve as a genuine catalyst for the wider goal of community enhancement.

The Wright Street Project, BEFORE

Extensive Fire Damage

The Wright Street Project, AFTER

New, White Cabinets and Stainless Steel Dining Table in Bright, Contemporary Kitchen
The Wright Street Project, seen in the pilot episode, featured a home that had been severely fire-damaged.

Extensive Fire Damage

The original kitchen of the Wright Street house sustained extensive fire damage and had to be gutted.

New, White Cabinets and Stainless Steel Dining Table in Bright, Contemporary Kitchen

As seen on HGTV's Good Bones, Karen E. Laine and Mina Starsiak removed a wall to enlarge this kitchen and bring it forward in the floor plan. The team added new, bright cabinets for plenty of storage and stainless steel appliances and dining table to make this space clean and modern. To give the kitchen a little color, teal dining chairs and live flowers were put in place, creating a warm, inviting contemporary kitchen.

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Their thoughtful renovations, among other things, help demonstrate what's possible and, as a byproduct, may ultimately attract new residents to the community who are similarly enthused about preservation and revitalization. The hope is that quality improvements, like good deeds, are contagious.

I don't want to build crappy houses for my neighbors. I just don't.
Karen E Laine

Meanwhile, Mina and Karen can take the monetary proceeds from one profitable flip, channel it into their next purchase and renovation — and the cycle continues. So, in more than just one way, it's an ideal loop. Individual parts that add up to a greater whole. What was that buzzword again? Ah yes, "synergy."

Good Bones, 109H
Good Bones, 109H

Good Bones, 109H

Good Bones, 109H

Credentials and Chemistry

So who are these two ladies who are so committed to saving old homes from the wrecking ball? Karen is a practicing attorney who, for now, has put her litigating career on hold and brings legal expertise and experience to the duo's efforts. Mina, an Indiana University grad, brings real-estate know-how and a powerful drive to help design beautiful homes and revive neighborhoods. They've formed alliances with talented contractors and experts to help make their ideas reality, but neither is afraid of grabbing some power tools and personally diving headlong into demo and construction. Those are qualifications that, alone, could set the stage for a solid home-improvement show. But regular viewers know that real fun is the interplay between Mina and Karen who seem to be genuinely having a great time together.

In a bit of a mother-daughter role reversal, daughter Mina sometimes plays the pragmatist and voice of reason, occasionally having to rein in Karen, the '60s-spirited idealist and dreamer who's not afraid to rush in and is likely to get caught up in "the vision." The two don't always see eye-to-eye on every design detail, but a bit of amicable tension just adds to the fun. Karen may lean towards the whimsical and gets drawn into the historical details of the homes; Mina tends to stay focused on moving forward and getting the job done. Okay, admittedly that's a bit of an oversimplifiaction, and it doesn't always play out just that way, but you get the gist. And overall, the two have a laid-back appeal and the ability to not take themselves too seriously that makes the show pretty irresistible.

The Aerial View

Mina Starsiak and Karen Jensen, hosts of HGTV's show Two Chicks and a Hammer
Good Bones, 109H
AJ Mast/AP Images

Mina Starsiak and Karen Jensen, hosts of HGTV's show Two Chicks and a Hammer

Mother and daughter team Mina Starsiak and Karen Jensen, hosts of HGTV's show Two Chicks and a Hammer plan out their next renovation project.

Good Bones, 109H

As seen on Good Bones, Mina Starsiak (R) and Karen E Laine stage the renovated home on Woodlawn. (action)

Photo By: AJ Mast/AP Images

And as their mission grows, the geographical boundaries of Mina and Karen's endeavors are already expanding. In one of their boldest renovations, the Terrace Avenue project, they purchased an abandoned house in Indy's historic Bates-Hendricks district for just $4,500 (!) then turned it around with a thorough transformation, inside and out. The renovations were costly but ultimately resulted in a resale price of $226,000 and clear profit of more than $31,000.

In the Woodlawn Project, they took on an ambitious duplex conversion in a transitioning neighborhood near State Avenue. "East of State" is an area adjacent to the historic Fountain Square neighborhood. "I feel like if Fountain Square is the frontier," says Karen, "East of State is the territory beyond the frontier."

The Terrace Avenue Project, BEFORE

Good Bones 108H

The Terrace Avenue Project, AFTER

Good Bones 108H

Good Bones 108H

Good Bones 108H

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The two purchased the boarded up home for $15,000, revamped the floor plan and added some contemporary and glamorous elements. But because this area in southeast Indianapolis is in early transition, easy resale was by no means guaranteed, so this venture was most definitely a risk. Karen and Mina kept repair costs as low as they reasonably could but were confident they could still make the house super-attractive to buyers — and perhaps even help jumpstart more quality home renovations in the area.  "Because we're starting in this new area," said Karen "we really need to set the tone. This is our flagship."

The Woodlawn Project, BEFORE

Good Bones, 109H

The Woodlawn Project, AFTER

Renovated Home's Open House Doubles as Gallery Showing for Local Artists
AJ Mast/AP Images

Good Bones, 109H

Renovated Home's Open House Doubles as Gallery Showing for Local Artists

This home used to be a duplex before Good Bones' Mina and Karen reconfigures the entire first floor, removing walls to create an open floor plan and reworking the home's front entrance. When they put the home on the market, they not only staged the home with stylish, modern furniture, they had local artists display their work for the open house. The setup for the open house is featured in this photo.

The Woodlawn duplex is actually the second house that Mina and Karen purchased in the East of State neighborhood. "The nice thing [is that] we have one renovation two doors down," says Mina, "and that one's kind of standalone on the block. It's the only house that's renovated. So doing this second house, I think, is not only going to help the first house sell, but help people kind of buy into East of State."

Those are just a couple of examples from the show's first season that not only showcase some amazing home rehabs but, in a larger sense, hopefully will help ignite the spark in a movement to save valuable homes, revive neighborhoods and keep historic preservation happening.

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Want a healthy helping of Good Bones? Check out HGTV's marathon of back-to-back episodes on Sunday, July 9 starting at 7a.m.|6c.

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