90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
'This Old House' at 30
Newton Centre Project 2009, as shown on the Old House My House blog (click image above).

The "This Old House" Newton Centre Project 2009, in Newton, Mass., as shown on the Old House My House blog (click the image above).

Americans love homes and fixing them up. In 1979, there was a lone public television show devoted to the task, the art. “This Old House” set out to make the magic of renovation and repair accessible — and became a huge national hit.

This year, “This Old House” turns thirty. The landscape outside has changed. An epic housing bust. A raft of commercial shows from “Extreme Makeover” to “Flipping Out” grabbing at the tool belt.

This hour, On Point: Norm Abram, Kevin O’Connor, and more, on “This Old House” at thirty.

You can join the conversation. Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

Guests:

Kevin O’Connor is now in his sixth season as host of “This Old House” and “Ask This Old House.” He is also on the editorial board of This Old House magazine.

Norm Abram, master carpenter of “This Old House” since the show’s premiere in 1979. He was also host of “The Yankee Workshop,” which ran for 21 seasons. He serves on the editorial board of This Old House magazine and has his own column, Norm’s Notebook.

Deborah Hood, senior series producer at “This Old House,” where she started in 2002 as an associate producer.

More links:

On Point got a tour of the current project site in Newton, Mass. In this video Tom Ashbrook talks with Tom Silva, general contractor for “This Old House”:

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Oh boy, this’ll be good. I’m a long time fan from the early days.

    Every time I ask someone who’s skillful in a particular area if I could do what they’re skillful at they ask me if I’m “handy.” Well, “handy” isn’t a single state of skill, it’s relative. I can change the oil in my truck but that doesn’t mean I can hang a door well.

    With that in mind, here’s a suggestion for This Old House: Postscript each perfect demo with some descriptions of what it might look like when we do it. In other words, warn us explicitly of the various problems that normally arise when less than skilled and rehearsed craftspeople show how to do a job.

    I say this realizing that you’re not advocating that we do all the things you show but in fact, some of us attempt the simpler things and you might want to give us some tips on how to avoid ruining a door trying to make it fit better, which I’ve done at least once.

    I used to say I was handy but my wife laughs each time I say it now just because of one ruined door. It is true that the cat could get under the door after I took a smidge off the bottom.

  • Dave

    You always knew when TOH was on by the great opening theme song. It wasn’t until years later that I learned the name of the song was “Louisiana Fairy Tale” lyrics by Haven Gillespie and Fred Coots. Haven was born in Covington, KY, as was I, and he also wrote, among many other great songs, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” “Lucky Old Sun” and “Right or Wrong”. It’s a shame they don’t revive that original theme song – maybe with Fats Waller singing his rendidtion. By the way the show is always great too.

  • Rob Smyser

    I’ve found that TOH evolved into performance art rather than knowledge tramsfer — talented tradespeople opening boxes of expensive accessories and screwing them in to the framing. Almost a magazine format in how it existed only to sell stuff to the well off.
    now, PBS realized how they had left the core of the show behind and created Ask This Old House. There’s where the learning still is.

  • A not-too-handy man

    I preferred the show when they actually made home repairs that the normal home owner could attempt. Now it is all about how much rich people can spend to hire experts to create luxury for themselves.

  • John Benham

    I used to watch TOH religously until the mid 90s.

    I think they then began to loose touch with their audience – people who can afford to renoved $1,000,000 houses in Weston can usually afford an army of contractors and architects to advise them on how to do it.

    I hope the program will now get back to its roots.

  • BHA

    I preferred the older shows where you could get ideas and confidence to do some work on your own home rather than the mega makeovers with mega bucks kitchens, etc.

    I haven’t watched for some time.

  • Tiffany Campbell

    I grew up on the show I started watching in ’79 at the ripe age of 4. My dad and I would watch it together Saturday mornings. I asked a question on the website in 2005 and I got to be on Ask This Old House. It was great. I learned so much from Roger Cook.I have never seen my dad so proud. To this day I get stopped in the street whenever the show is on in re-runs in which strangers ask me how I got on the show.Now I am hoping they will come back and help me with my retro ’63 brown and yellow bathroom:-)

  • Taylor Barnhill

    I watched the program enthusiastically in the early years, but the projects steadily moved into the high end price bracket. I could no longer relate to it, and I resented the unsustainability of the projects, i.e. too much consumption encouraging even more consumption. Its what put us in the crisis we’re in. I’m all for recycling the exisiting house stock, but it has to be sustainable. If its not sustainable, its not sustainable. How the “dream” for the average American?
    Is this related to seeking a higher end PBS donor base?

  • Jessica Hill

    Growing up I remember watching This Old House and New Yankee Workshop every Sunday morning with my Dad. Even now, married and living 600 miles away, the TOH theme song brings me right back to that little 8 year old girl sitting on the couch with Dad. Congratulations on the first 30 years and I hope to share the next 30 with my son just as I did with my Dad.

  • Phil Astwood

    My wife and I have enjoyed TOH for years and learned a great deal. However, it would a lot more useful to us if you would let us know how much the parts of your projects cost.

  • Garrett

    I love TOH and ATOH and watch it whenever I can. Does anyone know where one can find past episodes of ATOH? I have a project I need to do that I know was covered, but only saw the episode once. I could find this episode I know I could tackle this project with ease. Please help!

  • http://VermontPublicRadio GSF

    I agree with previous comments about TOH losing it’s way and hopefully this season will be the start of realistic renovations.
    I wish the show would go back and check in with the owners from previous shows.

  • Shawna

    We love this old house! My husband and I bought and fixed up 2 old multi-families in Rhode Island … all the while watching the show for hints, tips, and guidance. We’re on our 3rd now and feel confident to tackle anything, “This Old House” inspires us to take on any project! We’re both only 30 years old and looking forward to many, many years of “This Old House” fantastic projects!

  • Tony

    I’m 30 and have been a big fan of TOH and the New Yankee workshop for over 12 of my years. It is exciting and inspirational to see the skill and craftsmanship that goes into all of their projects. These shows have been encouraging to young and old home owners and give us a sense of accomplishment when completing our own projects.

  • Lelia Harrell

    TOH [and Hometime, etc.] did inspire me to “just do it.” I’m a 47 year old female who has been painting, pulling up carpet, replacing fixtures and just recently refloored my bathroom. I really appreciate “Ask TOH” because it answers so many day-to-day questions. I figure I’ll try anything safely and call an expert if it gets too deep. Thanks guys.

  • Patty

    My sister always said if she had to choose one person to have with her on a deserted island, it would be Norm Abram because they could live forever in a shelter he built!

  • Robin Fan

    Why, when you have a design question, do you rarely involve an architect. By your omission, you seem to imply that architects are often irrelevant.

  • Ink

    How did Roger Cook cultivate such a thick Boston accent?

  • kate

    Through the 90′s, My family would gather to watch TOH every Saturday evening before dinner- often after my parents had spent the day working on their own old house. I went to school undergrad to study architecture and did not continue partly because I was disgusted with my professors’ and classmates disrespect for old buildings and traditions. Thank you TOH for teaching us to apreciate historic buildings, reuse, and skilled handcraft.

  • http://www.moosehilljournal.blogspot.com/ Al Mollitor

    Your 25th anniversary project was a 7000 square foot monster. Yesterday in the Boston Globe was a great story about a 750 square foot house in Roxbury, MA. It is super-insulated and has no dedicated heating system. America now needs less of the former and more of the latter.

  • Michelle Payne

    Would you consider doing a book of all the 56 shows you have done? Just a date and a few photos would be wonderful for all of us who have watched all the shows from year one.

  • Taylor barnhill

    OK, what’s wrong with this picture? You guys at OP are not looking at the real questions here, only the glowing accolades. Is this how it works on your program? Your credibility is suffering. As Kevin just said “I want to challenge these guys..” How about it?

  • Jeanne

    So much I love about TOH… the pace, the expertise, the humor, the relationship between the guys and the homeowners. But above all, I love the Boston-centric “Yankee” vibe that the show projects through the attitudes and Boston accents of Norm, Tom and the others. Whatever you do in the future TOH – keep some of the Boston accents!

  • Patricia Hunt

    I have been watching the show since I was a little girl. It showed me that I could do just about anything that I wanted. I am currently renovating a 1934 house all by myself. It takes longer working alone, but I am getting it done!

    The difference between the show on HGTV and This Old House is the amount of detail and explanation that TOH provides. I have learned more on that show that I have on any other shows combines. I don’t miss a single show. Thanks to my DVR it gets recorded every weekend.

  • Steph T.

    As the owner of a 1930s craftsman home, I love TOH (as well as the mag), however I’ve often wished that we could see more integration with more local craftspeople as the houses are redone. Especially since the North Bennet Street School is in the TOH backyard! Here is one of my favorite N. Bennet Street grads: http://www.bruceeatonfurniture.com/home.html

  • Bernadine Schwartzentruber

    I’ve been watching the show almost from the beginning. I tape the show and watch it when I won’t be interrupted and So I fast forward through the technical stuff I don’t understand. I especially like the landscaping segments with Roger Cook.

  • http://www.onpointradio.org/2009/10/this-old-house-at-30 Karen

    In my old house we are considering cork flooring. There are so many opinions out there at both extremes … it’s either all bad or all good. Do you have an experience with it? What can you recommend?

  • http://www.farmhillfurniture.vpweb.com colleen

    I just moved back to NE from 20 plus in SF bay area. I continued, there, to be proud to be from a place that recycled, refurbished and SAVED old houses like “This Old House” was doing. Way before DIY was huge.

    The bay area was forward thinking with salvage yards etc. Flea Markets were FULL of old, saved furniture and “built-ins”. I’ve been painting vintage furniture ever since and love to decorate with architectural pieces. You let people know to appreciate this stuff-no to dump it!!! All this jumped off from a place where This Old House was way, way, way before!

    I love you guys! Thank you for being on the fore front of rescuing and salvage. PLEASE keep up the good work!

    Cheers!

    Colleen

  • BHA

    I notice they aren’t reading (on the air) the comments regarding a preference for the older shows that were more something the ‘average’ person could afford.

    On the size of houses, I think it should be related to the number of people living their and their special circumstances (for instance, larger for people in wheelchairs who will need wider hallways, etc).

    Our 1,600 sq ft, 3 bedroom house with a full, 3/4 and half bath is fine for four people and 2 cats. In 2 years, we will be down to 3 people, and in 4 years, just my wife and me. The bigger the house, the more it costs to heat/cool. Just because you can AFFORD to use more fuel to heat/cool doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

  • Kevin

    Is there a residual effect in a neighborhood once a house is renovated? What has the experience of TOH been?

    Great show Tom.

  • PCB through-hole drill

    Use a level to straighten your picture, Taylor. Any more challenging questions?

  • BHA

    To Karen,
    I am by no means a professional, but my in-laws had a cork floor in their finished basement for 45 years. I don’t think they ever had any problems with it. They ran a dehumidifier in the summer. I don’t know if that was for generic humidity or related to the cork floor.

    Actually the cork floor is still there, they are not. They moved to a retirement community 2 years ago.

  • Nancy

    This Old House should have a regular series on home energy efficiency. We know that fossil fuels will get very expensive in the coming decades, so why not help the average homeowner learn how to retrofit their homes?

    My husband and I are retrofitting a 200+ year old home with super-insulation and will add solar PV and thermal to make it energy independent (we hope!). The general public needs this information more than watching the fancy additions on TOH.

  • Margaret

    I’m not a DIYer but watching This Old House over the years (and its sister shows) enabled me to set the bar on who to hire to help renovate our 1600 house. When interviewing contractors and even in the midst of the relationship – the guys from the program were my standard.

    Thanks TOH!

  • http://www.johnnyfrazee.com John F

    What did not get mentioned is Deb Hood won an Emmy this year!!!!!

  • http://www.cambridgecohousing.org Peg Blum

    Just listening to the part of the conversation about energy efficiency and how it’s difficult to heat inexpensively single family homes, the majority of homes in this country. Please take a look at cohousing (www.cohousing.org) where communities are built with clusters of houses, usually resident-planned, developed and managed with much attention paid to sustainability. In Boston area we have about 6 completed communities with smaller than usual units with lots of common space including lots of green space, even in the cities (Cambridge and Jamaica Plain). There are over 100 completed communties in the US, about 14 in MA. More in CA, WA, CO and Mid-Atlantic area. Wonder if TOH would consider working with a cohousing community on new builds or renovation of older buildings into cohousing communities?

  • Ken Simpson

    Please let Norm know that among my friends, his name quickly became a verb. “Norming” is shorthand to describe a particularly skillful repair or example of finish carpentry. As in “Nice work dude, you Normed it!”

    To me, that is the ultimate testament to Norm’s skill as a carpenter and ability to teach these skills to others.

  • Judy

    TOH is my favorite show! If we have to miss it, my husband and I tape the show to watch later. Each one is facinating. I don’t care if you do a large house or a small budget remodel, just keep on doing what you do! I’m originally from Massachusetts, and love hearing the great New England accents.

  • Colleen

    Like so many others, TOH was how I bonded with my dad as a kid. We didn’t have cable (my parents still don’t) and our Saturdays were spent watching TOH, then Yankee Workshop and these days Ask TOH when I’m home visiting. While my dad watched for the how-to tips, I watched to be with my dad. I asked him questions about what you guys were doing and we learned together. Thanks!

  • Patrick

    The funniest thing about This Old House now and Bob Vila’s This Old House ah the accents.

    regahds,
    Patrick

  • Mark

    Kevin said that he didn’t know much about Passivhaus but then stated that it is not relevant to the USA. If he took the time to study Passivhaus buildings he would see that it is a building standard that applies to single family homes, multifamily homes, schools, offices and factories.

    Passivhaus is critical to the future of US buildings and the sooner people educate themselves about it the quicker this country will reduce it’s energy consumption madness.

    This Old House has glorified the mega-mansion that is the architectural equivalent to the Hummer. TOH needs to show some projects that include deep energy retrofits and new houses without heating systems. They exist and will be the only type of home allowed in a few years.

  • Wade Collier

    I missed the live broadcast of the This Old House show on Monday, but look forward to listening online later. I have read most of the comments posted on this site, and agree with those folks who say that the show has gone too far from its more humble beginnings. I don’t watch too many of the “handyman” shows, or much TV at all, but I found Bob Vila’s show of his “after” TOH period more useful. “Ask This Old House” I do watch occasionally, as it does have some practical advice.

    I am a carpenter of some 30 years standing myself, and while I would enjoy the chance to work on some of the projects in Concord, Weston and so forth, I would like to see the occasional series on fixing up an old ranch house, or re-doing a 3-decker in Dorchester. I believe the latter was one of the first shows, and something of that sort would be far more useful to the average person.

    I think Taylor Barnhill’s comments, above, are on the money when he asks, “Is this [trend to higher end projects] related to seeking a higher end PBS donor base?”

  • Paul Ryan

    I applaud the This Old House team for its 30 year on the show. I try to catch the TOH hour every week. I got inspired by the show to renovate my former house in Annapolis in the mid-90s, and to do repairs on my other homes. As for being there for DIYers, that is the format of Ask This Old House. I think it is an excellent companion to TOH. If you watch ATOH, and sometimes TOH, the homeowner jumps right in (with a shovel, saw, or caulking gun) along with one of the hosts to do the job.

  • Migo Thomas

    How come I cannot buy a TOH series on DVD or download from netflicks and watch a entire project? Seems like everything can be bought on line now adays.

ONPOINT
TODAY
Jul 24, 2014
Youths seen playing basketball through bars on a window at the Wisconsin Department of Corrections Ethan Allen School in Wales, Wis. (AP file)

The cold hard facts about juvenile prisons. And the case for shutting them all down.

Jul 24, 2014
Nickel Creek

After a 7-year hiatus, progressive folk trio Nickel Creek is back together. We’ll hear from them and their latest album, “A Dotted Line.”

RECENT
SHOWS
Jul 23, 2014
Actor Wallace Shawn attends special screening of "Turks and Caicos" hosted by Vogue and The Cinema Society at the Crosby Street Hotel on Monday, April 7, 2014 in New York.  (AP)

From “The Princess Bride” to “My Dinner with Andre “and “A Master Builder,” actor and writer Wallace Shawn joins us.

 
Jul 23, 2014
In this Saturday, July 12, 2014, photo, migrants walk along train tracks and boxcars after getting off a train during their journey toward the US-Mexico border, in Ixtepec, southern Mexico. (AP)

Crisis at the US border. What do Latinos on this side of the border have to say? We’ll ask our special roundtable.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Our Week In The Web: July 11, 2014
Friday, Jul 11, 2014

As we prepare for a week of rebroadcasts, we reflect on Facebook posts, misplaced comments and the magic of @ mentions. Internet, ASSEMBLE!

More »
Comment
 
Two Former Senators, One Fix For US Democracy?
Thursday, Jul 10, 2014

Former US Senators Tom Daschle and Olympia Snowe joined us today with a few fixes for American political inaction.

More »
Comment
 
Future Radio Interns Of America: On Point Wants YOU!
Thursday, Jul 10, 2014

On Point needs interns for the fall. Could YOU be one of them?

More »
2 Comments