In the 1990s, if one was asked about humorous repair shows on television, the press-the-buzzer answer for most Americans would have been Home Improvement, the ABC sitcom that starred Tim Allen as President of the Binford Tool Company and the host of the DIY home improvement show “Tool Time.”
But, for a small population of Philadelphians, humorous repair was synonymous with Joe L’Erario and Ed Feldman, stars of The Learning Channel series Furniture to Go, which aired from 1993 to 1997. The two furniture repairmen from the City of Brotherly Love somehow carved out a niche and developed a loyal following in the crowded how-to television genre by intertwining their bonhomie and bad humor with cinematic references and an easygoing approach to their craft.
Over the course of four years, the pair channeled their restorative powers toward a panoply of furniture, from French Deco cocktail tables and walnut pews to poplar armoires, mahogany throne chairs, and Old World roll-top desks. And, in 1996, for their 49th episode “Pool Table,” they tackled – you guessed it – the refurbishing of an old pool table. The full episode is available to watch here.
Like most Furniture to Go episodes, “Pool Table” begins with a cinematic interstitial. Mr. Feldman plays Minnesota Fats, and Mr. L’Erario plays Bert Gordon, in a black-and-white parody of The Hustler, which also randomly weaves in a reference to “my friend Harvey” from The Honeymooners billiards episode “The Bensonhurst Bomber.” (Other episodes have lampooned films, such as Arsenic and Old Lace, A Clockwork Orange, and On the Waterfront.)
After the clip, Mr. Feldman and Mr. L’Erario take the viewer to Monarch Billiards in Crum Lynne, Pennsylvania, where they have been contracted by the owner to repair an ash pool table (as opposed to the nearby $56,000 table with the Carpathian Elm aprons and legs with hand-carved mahogany lions).
With table in hand, they return to their studio to begin the restoration, which includes three stages: (1) refinishing the wood; (2) repairing the leather pockets; and (3) refelting the table. Though each stage is intended to be straight-forward, there are a sufficient number of steps involved to make one admire the difficulty of the artistry from afar.
For example, in the first phase, when Mr. L’Erario seeks to replace the “ugliest color finish he’s ever seen,” he takes the viewer through the following steps: sanding, cleaning, tack ragging, masking off, mixing (clear lacquer, burnt sienna japan color, and red mahogany stain), straining the mix, adding fisheye destroyer, spraying, adding a second layer of color (pure golden oak), spraying again, and finally, spraying a semi-gloss lacquer.
All the while, the duo engage in a series of terrible jokes, many with a nod to movies and celebrities. Describing the legs of the pool table, Mr. Feldman says, “These legs aren’t that attractive either…They’re kind of like my aunt’s leg.” To which Mr. L’Erario replies, “They’re kind of like Ernest Borgnine’s legs.” Referring to the flattening agent in the semi-gloss lacquer, Mr. Feldman asks, “Flattening agent? Is that what Kate Moss uses?”
By the end of “Pool Table,” after the pockets have been treated with mink oil and the rails have been refelted using a rawhide hammer to secure the fabric beneath the splines, the table is reassembled using just a ratchet wrench (“Use the Ratchet. Miss Ratchet. Nurse Ratchet.”), and becomes the setting for a friendly game of billiards.
Though Furniture to Go only lasted a few years, the repair pair have channeled their skills and zany charm through a variety of off-camera activities, including authoring The Furniture Guys Book in 1999 and teaching classes at the Art Institute of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania, as well as have appeared on numerous talk shows, such as Good Morning America, Regis and Cathy Lee, Maury Povich and The View.
However, for true zealots of the show, the great news may be the team’s return to television. In March 2017, a pre-production announcement for their new show The Old Furniture Guys lit up YouTube. For everyone who can’t wait to watch and once again wish to see these guys “lay down some gorgeous Charlie Sheens,” your prayers may have been finally answered.