Mina Hawk’s Quest For “Attainable Comfort” — And Great Reality TV
Taking a break after a couple of hours of ripping a derelict Bates-Hendricks house apart, Good Bones star Mina Hawk shares some great news with a few of her castmates: Season 7 is happening. It’s official. Sitting on a tailgate in ripped black jeans and workboots, she holds up her phone and wiggles the email at them.
The guys make some sounds of mild enthusiasm. It’s merely a formality—they expected it. They just happened to learn about the extension of their TV careers in the unceremonial setting of a sidewalk, milling around a folding table and an Igloo cooler of water bottles. This is the extent of amenities on the Good Bones set. This and the porta potty—now that gets Mina excited.
“It took us six seasons to get one,” she says, referring to the john that comes attached to a dumpster. “We would just pee on the side of the house. One time I pooped in a bag in the basement. There was a pandemic, I couldn’t go to the gas station.”
Speaking of, the 36-year-old confesses that she once pooped her pants in Castleton Square Mall. Anyone who has had their gallbladder out, as Mina had recently, might understand. They might not ever tell anyone, but that’s Mina. She doesn’t reveal these things for shock value or to grab attention. She’s just not self-conscious, and she has some compulsion to share for the greater good. “That’s what’s great about working with both of them,” says longtime showrunner and executive producer Adam Bradley, referring also to Mina’s mother and co-star, Karen E Laine. “They are an open book. There has never been anything off-limits.”
“You can ask me anything and I’ll tell you,” Mina says. It’s an FYI rather than a boast or a dare. But since she mentioned it:
Do you feel famous?
“No, because we’re in Indy, a big small town. [Attention] is not a regular part of our day. My husband notices it more than I do. He’ll say, ‘That girl is freaking out. Go say hi to her.’”
Are you contributing to gentrification by selling your renovated homes for $400,000?
“We’re definitely not doing it single-handedly. There are plenty of other investors. The biggest issue I’d like to see changed is a family that has owned the house for generations and is on a fixed income, like Social Security. That slight raise in property taxes is something they can’t handle. Can we legislate some change? Cap property taxes for them?”
Would you have had a tummy tuck last year if you weren’t on TV?
“Yeah. I had liposuction and my breasts done, too.”
Does HGTV front the money to buy houses?
“No. What they do provide is an upgrade budget for fancier finishes. Before the show, we were putting $2 subway tile in all the houses because that’s what this area called for at the time. And that’s super-boring to watch.”
Why is Good Bones so successful?
That one is harder to answer. Not for anyone involved with the show; they universally agree that fans love Mina and Karen’s personalities, their mother-daughter dynamic, and their commitment to resurrecting old homes in their neck of Indy’s woods. But if we’re being as honest as Mina is—and thoroughly subjective—we didn’t think Good Bones would last after the first season. At the time, Fixer Upper was practically an American treasure, and the comparison is hard to resist. The decorating on Good Bones isn’t as elaborate or aspirational as other HGTV hits, and HGTV’s audience has seen it all by now. But we were wrong. Good Bones attracts nearly 2 million viewers each week and is the most-watched show on the HGTV Go app. Mina has become HGTV royalty, getting the call to appear in HGTV All-Star–type shows like Rock the Block and Battle on the Beach. She has a furniture collection in the works, as well a big project in the pipeline that was a secret at press time—suffice it to say, fans will be as excited as a house flipper with a porta potty. But the question still nags: What exactly is keeping them home?
If you saw the first episode of the show in 2016, you saw the most recent one. Mina tells Karen about a dumpy house she has purchased for their renovation company, Two Chicks and a Hammer. They walk through it; one of them screams at an unseen horror to cue the first commercial break. The Cultural Trail flashes by in transition shots. Two minutes of demo seem like 20. The team talks about design choices. A minor construction problem is resolved—even when the whole house has fallen down, it seems less like a catastrophe and more like a headache to get new-construction permits. Kooky Karen handcrafts something meaningful for the house. Installation goes swell. The reveal is a lovefest. Credits roll while Mina gives an update on whether the house sold or not.
The cookie-cutter format is not a criticism. Evidently, it’s what the HGTV audience wants. A writer for Pacific Standard called these programs the new “procedural TV,” like Law & Order. They provide a hypnotic comfort that tempts the audience to watch several episodes per sitting. Not exactly binging, but “locked in,” the writer said.
In the HGTV universe, Good Bones is technically not a formatted show, but a “docu-follow,” according to HGTV senior vice president of programming and development Betsy Ayala, because the cameras shadow the Two Chicks company. It’s a real business with 15 employees flipping bombed-out homes in southside neighborhoods adjacent to downtown, and the production company, High Noon Entertainment out of Denver, is capturing its work, with just enough involvement to ensure the right material for a TV show. That might mean asking a member of the demo crew to wait for a camera before sliding a bathtub down a roof, or filming all of the drive-up scenes on the same day because those require rigging cameras to Mina’s SUV. On the show, it looks like Mina and Karen pull up to the “before” house, get out of the car, and walk through it, but the arrival and the inspection happen on different days. Wherever Two Chicks and its fearless founders go, so does the storyline. High Noon presses that reality into a mold and out comes a Good Bones episode.
It all builds to the reveal, the ta-da. If the house is sold by the time it’s finished, Mina and Karen show it to the new owners. If not, they might invite a Realtor to give his or her impression. They once brought in people with a past connection to the house for a teary, heart-tugging reaction. In a pinch, they will fudge the details of this part of the story. A couple who bought a Two Chicks house before Good Bones was once portrayed as “buyers” on an episode even though they really weren’t in the market. “That’s as far as I can stretch the truth,” Mina says.
While other HGTV hits have a component that lets viewers play along, like guessing which house or upgrade project the homeowners will choose, the closest element on Good Bones is Karen’s pet project. A practicing attorney before Two Chicks became her full-time job (she has since retired but remains on the show), she’s a free spirit who talks to the houses on occasion, so intent is she on saving their souls as well as their bones. She usually wants to preserve more elements of the house than pragmatic Mina does and fights for every built-in and dental molding. One house had a bathroom and kitchen tragically festooned with decorative glued-on river rocks—a DIY horror story, but Karen’s first thought was to save the stones for landscaping. She doesn’t win every crusade, yet no one can stop her from taking a piece of trash from the house before it’s demolished and turning it into a treasure for the final design. It might be making plaster rosette trim work to replace the ruined originals, or geodes cracked open to become sparkly lamp bases, or shutters fashioned into a headboard.
Often she will enlist the most unlikely partner in crime from the cast—bear-like, bandanna’d Austin Ayres on the demo team, who breaks type as a blue-collar grunt to prove an eager, earnest helper on every craft-hour project. (He’s actually a Cardinal Ritter and Butler University grad with the vocabulary to match.)
While the Two Chicks crew isn’t the only family act on HGTV, it’s bigger than its counterpart. Tad Starsiak, who leads the demo crew, is Mina’s half-brother, and Karen, while not his biological mom, seems to be a mother figure. He’s the “ham” in Two Chicks and a Hammer and tends to demo in tight cutoffs. Ayres goes way back with Tad, which is how he landed on the Two Chicks muscle crew. Cory Miller, the project manager, is Mina’s childhood friend. MJ Coyle, the interior designer, is a close friend of Mina’s sister-in-law’s sister. Lenny, a contractor who appeared in early seasons, is Mina’s father’s third wife’s first husband. Got it?
“Mina keeps trying to find a way for me to become related to her,” Coyle said on an Instagram Live interview recently. She has seven siblings and doesn’t bother with step- and half- designations. Growing up in a blended, crowded household on the west side shaped her open-book personality. At IU, her dorm-room door was always open and car keys sat out for friends to borrow. The crew’s drinking-buddy “vibe”—the Good Bones gospel—defines the show as much as its opening tagline or chiseled-in-stone episode format. “It maybe helps them forget the cameras are there because the things that are happening are very real to them,” showrunner Bradley says.
The charm of that chemistry sneaks up on you. Their easy, teasy repartee is playful and warm, razzing but never mean. Only after watching a handful of episodes of pretty-but-not-stunning makeovers—better than you could do but nothing you haven’t seen before—you realize that you’re sticking around to hang out with the squad. “I get that a lot [from fans],” Mina says. “‘We could drink our rosé together.’”
That’s not going to happen. But it’s the trick of the show and perhaps more important than the house porn—friend porn. Mina has turned out to be quick-witted and quippy on camera, in addition to having the guts to explore scary basements and the skills to assess a foundation. She’s a bad bitch in the good way, a boss in a male-dominated field who always keeps her cool, who’s serious and gets shit done without spoiling the fun. You can see how women would relate to her—always maintaining control in the midst of chaos while keeping everyone happy.
Viewers have seen her house, watched her get engaged and married, met her husband, Steve, and her son, Jack. They obviously know her mom. Mina lets them all the way in, and never more so than last season, when cameras followed her and Steve to a fertility doctor. She and her fans learned at the same time that she couldn’t have more children and would need a donor egg. In the car, on the way to the next filming location, she broke down—and airing that scene was important to her. “It seemed like the worst time to take a video. But I don’t want people to think I’m heartless. Because when I talk about it later, I’ll have pulled myself together, and people would be like, ‘Oh, she doesn’t seem that upset about having to get a donor egg,’” Mina says. She knows it’s important to show the whole mess—life caving in like a bad roof—and not just the beautiful reveal. “A lot of people can renovate houses. People aren’t necessarily watching the show just because of the house,” she says. “It’s because they are invested in the story, my life, my husband, my kids.” (Yes, kids. The fertility treatments worked and daughter Charlie was born last year.)
The story continues online, where Mina gets personal on the Two Chicks Instagram account for its half a million followers. (HGTV’s Good Bones account, which only features the homes, has 84,000.) Mina shows fans what she’s doing in her gorgeous, three-story Fountain Square house, which might be a home-improvement project or waxing her armpits. Recently, she talked about her decision to have plastic surgery to repair a 4-inch-plus tear in her abs, a postpartum condition called diastasis recti that affects nearly half of all mothers, according to some estimates. Mina knew she would hear from haters but that many more people would relate. She also felt like she owed her fans the truth. “I don’t want to be on the beach and have a picture posted and have people be like, ‘Oh, I’m not working hard enough because she has two kids and she has a flat stomach.’ That’s a shitty feeling. I knew I’d get all kinds of grief—and lots and lots of support—but I’d rather deal with that than make people feel like they aren’t working hard enough.”
The show isn’t making her rich, she says, but it’s providing opportunities that she values in other ways. Her in-laws have experienced homelessness, so she and Steve support Indy’s Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention. “I’ll do one post linking to their Amazon Wish List and they’ll get palettes and palettes of stuff,” Mina says. The opening of a home decor boutique, Two Chicks District Co., allowed them to further uplift Bates-Hendricks, one of the neighborhoods they invest in (of course, the better the neighborhood becomes, the more their house will sell for later). She published a children’s book this year and is partnering with a furniture company on a collection. Two Chicks will soon start awarding grants through its own 501(c)(3) to residents in the neighborhoods where they work, and the money can be used for home improvements or just life hardships.
Mina also spends significant time cheerleading for Indianapolis with Visit Indy, whose research shows that Good Bones is a powerful commercial for the city. “We have nearly weekly requests from out-of-towners for information on coming to check out the homes,” says Visit Indy senior vice president Chris Gahl. (They don’t reveal locations, but fans can easily drive around and find them. The store, at least, gives Visit Indy a place to send visitors.) He has tapped her to promote the city a lot, by surprising convention planners and filming exclusive videos for conferences. But when she puts the scripty “NDY” sculpture on Good Bones and wears Indy-pride T-shirts, that’s all her, and it’s all free. “She has a genuine interest to love on Indianapolis,” Gahl says. “It’s overwhelming at times.”
Bradley has a soft spot for Indy, too, which also helps ink those show renewals. While TV production and house construction are polar opposites—the former relying on schedules and the latter guaranteed to not run on schedule—the city doesn’t further complicate things. “It’s a right-size town,” he says. “If it was too small, we’d run out of houses. Too big, we’d be stuck in traffic going from location to location.” He likes it so much, he moved his family here a few years ago from California. They now live in a Two Chicks house near Mina and Karen in Fountain Square, further blurring the line between reality and TV.
Though fans might not get to buddy around with Mina, should they bump into her in Indianapolis, they will make a memory. Mina was walking with her infant daughter from Fountain Square to a job site in the Old Southside when a fan stopped her car, got out, and ran to give Mina a hug. The Hoosier didn’t mind. As it turns out, the woman had brought her daughter to Indy for her birthday, only to find the store closed that day. Disappointed, they drove around—and lo and behold, stumbled across Mina herself. One male fan sent her a yarn-art re-creation of her own house, an exact replica down to the porch furniture, and even that didn’t freak her out. “I’ve not had an experience where I thought it was too much,” she says. If she did, Good Bones fans would be the first to know.