ESSEX, Massachusetts – When he was 22 years old and flushed from success as a member of the boy band New Kids on the Block, Jonathan Knight bought a Georgian house on the north coast from 1900 with a slate roof and Palladian windows, patios, and 12,000 square feet to paddle around .
It was 1990, two years after the New Kids released their second studio album, Hangin ‘Tough, which topped the Billboard charts, produced several hit singles and sold more than 14 million copies worldwide. Suddenly, the five members – Jonathan, younger brother Jordan Knight, Joey McIntyre, Donnie Wahlberg, and Danny Wood – went from scruffy Boston kids to fantasy friends for suburban teen girls everywhere.
Mr. Knight invited his extended family to leave town and live with him in the new place. “And then we went on tour, so it was up to my siblings and my mother to do the shopping,” said Mr. Knight, referring to furniture. His mother’s tastes ranged from frilly curtains, floral couches, bustling patterned carpets, all of which were appropriate for the house but not a young pop star.
“I came home and said, ‘What is it?'” Said Mr. Knight. “Looking back, I think what a dummy for buying a house like this at such a young age. It was ridiculous. Waste of money. Just stupid. The best day was when I sold the house. “
Mr. Knight, now 52 years old and back in front of our eyes, this time with a house renovation show on HGTV, “Farmhouse Fixer”, is still living a version of his life at 22. In a way, it’s more humble. In others, great. Because now, instead of having their whole family in this house, everyone gets their own in the 10 acre rural Shangri-La that they created just down the road.
There are gardens, a fenced horse pasture, antique barns, wildflowers climbing stone walls, and several historic houses all owned by Mr. Knight. His mother, Marlene, lives in the apartment from around 1890 when you enter the property. his nephew stays in the farmhouse with Italian details on the other side of the field. Mr. Knight and his partner Harley Rodriguez are building a new colonial-style house on a gentle hill in the middle of the action, while they are temporarily in a pretty farmhouse from around 1760 with a white-painted clapboard facade and a pond for their six ducks and a small barn for her three goats.
The couple bought the farmhouse when it was up for sale last year and sold the 19th-century house in the nearby town of Ipswich, where they had only lived for a year. “I thought, ‘I have to buy it, I have to,'” said Mr. Knight, who had stretched out on a sofa in the high living room of the farmhouse one morning. “I didn’t want anyone to cross the street. It just adds to the whole family complex. “
It’s also 260 years old, and as viewers of Farmhouse Fixer have noticed, Mr. Knight is passionate about historic homes. He grew up in a Victorian neighborhood in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, which his hippie parents bought for about $ 25,000 in the 1970s. He affectionately referred to it as “a big, old, cold, draughty house with holes in the wall”.
Renovating houses that have seen better years is not a pop star’s hobby for him. This was how he made a living, especially in the lean years after the New Kids fell from the heavens of pop culture in the grunge ’90s.
In the six-part series, which debuted in March and has just been extended for a second season, Mr. Knight and his interior designer Kristina Crestin roam New England, the land of old farmhouses in slow decline. They add open kitchens and central air while maintaining the old charm of the house so their current owners don’t call the bulldozers. When they strike the right balance between historic preservation and modern conveniences, Ms. Crestin said, Mr. Knight has been known to cry on camera.
“When he walks in, I say, ‘Wait, wait, watch.’ I want him to lose it with happiness, ”said Ms. Crestin. “For me, he responds to what was done well back then. He looks at the original masonry. He seems to look back on the people who did it and the pride they took in their work. “
From hits to flips
Clad in flannel and jeans and out and about with a pickup truck, the still boyish handsome Mr. Knight looks like a Yankee Chip Gaines on the show – a picture that wasn’t made for television. He actually comes home from a tour or a recording session and hops on his tractor. He’s one who stops to admire an original Newel post or a carpenter’s miter work from 200 years ago. His heart aches a little when faced with vinyl siding and plastic decks.
Mr. Knight sighed as he thought of these and other modern horrors. “I hate it when people put trendy things in a house and it goes out of style so quickly,” he said. “As if everyone is using this sample tile now. They’ll look back and say, ‘This is 2020.’ “
As he went to the 18th century post and beam barn, Mr. Knight explained that he had hired a company to dismantle it, refurbish the wooden beams one at a time, and reassemble them with a new roof and siding probably 10 times the cost of building a new barn to build.
“Everyone said ‘why?'” Said Mr. Knight, looking up at the old joists. “It just has a meaning. You know it’s just my love for old things It has stood since the 18th century. I wouldn’t tear it off. Now this thing will be around for another two or three hundred years. “
Mr. Knight was 16 when he joined the New Kids and 26 when their cute pop went out of style, they stopped selling out concerts and the carnival ride stalled. With the rest of his life, he had no idea what to do. While other young adults were in college or having their first jobs to develop life skills, he had lived in the pop star bubble. He didn’t know how to order for himself in a restaurant.
“It was probably the scariest time of my life,” he said. “I just remember being home for a couple of days, opening the door to my bedroom in the morning and looking around and no one was there. The new kids weren’t there. There were no coaches. Everything was just done. “
Mr. Knight spent a year staying up all night, sleeping until 4:00 PM and falling into a deep depression. Then one day he received a call from a Boston police officer who had worked for the group as a security officer. He turned the page and invited Mr. Knight to work with him. “When he said ‘Flip Houses’ I thought, is this a mafia thing? We’re going in there and rob these people? ”Said Mr. Knight. “That was a term I’d never heard of.”
But Mr. Knight’s father was a carpenter and he’d grown up with him on construction sites on weekends. “And my mom is an old house nerd,” he said. “Me and my mother drove through the neighborhoods and looked at old houses. To this day, I still love driving slow roads, like ‘Look at this place.’ ”
Soon Mr. Knight found himself pulling rubbish out of a shabby yard in West Roxbury and painting a railing at 3am before the next day’s open house. He estimates that he bought, renovated, and remodeled hundreds or more homes during the 1990s and 2000s, first with his cop partner and, as the business grew, with hired subcontractors.
When the two started making new constructions – “cookie cutter boxes,” Mr. Knight called them – it was less attractive to him. And then came the 2008 real estate crash. “We had just completed a nine-unit condominium complex in Boston,” recalled Mr. Knight. “In 2008 a lot of money was lost. That was when New Kids actually started again. The timing was just perfect. “
“A stress-free life”
The band met again on the show “Today” in 2008, released a new album and went on a 150-day world tour. When it came to boy bands, Mr. Knight was the “shy” guy in the group and his personal life remained largely a mystery to fans. It wasn’t locked, but it never said, “I’m gay!” On the cover of People. Rather, he was accidentally outed by Tiffany, another ’80s pop star, when she appeared on an episode of “See What Happens With Andy Cohen” in 2011, telling the host that they had a date and that “he later became gay I didn’t do it! But he’s fabulous. “She publicly apologized to Mr. Knight. He thought the whole episode was funny.
Until the HGTV series, only a few knew its history with a hammer. “I made new kids, I came home, renovates houses,” he said. “So many fans on tour asked: What are you doing? Even the new kids never really knew what I was doing. “
In recent years, Mr. Knight’s life has gotten into a happy rhythm, in which he goes on tour with the reformed New Kids every two years for three months, takes on three to four renovations per year for customers and the rest of the time as caretaker of his miniature spends Old Sturbridge Village.
Mr. Knight is constantly embarking on improvement projects that require his scattered attention (“I’ve never been diagnosed with ADHD,” he said, “but everyone says ‘You have ADHD'”) and that remain in various stages of completion. He is currently having the stable for his mother’s three horses prepared. He learns to take care of the goats he got from a goat rental company that he featured on the show. He maintains vegetable and flower gardens.
And then there is the farmhouse from 1760, which was renovated by its previous owners in 2004, “and it already feels dated,” he said with a sigh, adding, “It needs paint and furniture and a new kitchen and new bathrooms. That’s a lot. “He’s not sure who will live in the house when he’s finished. He and Mr. Rodriguez will cross the street as soon as their new old home is ready.
While he was puffing on a cigarette under the hot sun, Mr. Knight surveyed his expanse and said very seriously: “It’s such a stress-free life, the country life.”