Today’s cuppa: Irish breakfast tea, with scones bought at the Malibu Farmers Market (where my companion claimed to have seen Daryl Hannah, but I didn’t), made by The Wilde Thistle, run by a woman whose family hails from the same county in Ireland as mine. Oh, and the scones are awesome!
Ever since I was knee high to a channel knob, I watched PBS’ home-renovation show “This Old House” (I go back to the Bob Vila years, so that’ll give you an idea). Click here for a history of the show.
(Above: The “This Old House” crew — Roger Cook, Rich Trethewey, Tommy Silva, Kevin O’Connor, Norm Abram)
Several years ago, I got the chance to head to the show’s home city of Boston and see a project in progress. The visit also included the actual garden from “The Victory Garden” and the actual “New Yankee Workshop,” both of which were located at that time in the backyard of Russell Morash, executive producer of all three shows.
Of all my set visits over the years, that’s definitely in the top five.
Now, I don’t hammer or nail or saw or build anything. I come from a handy family, but my dad — probably wisely — kept me away from the power tools. But, thanks to “This Old House,” I can now identify a 3/4-inch rounding over bit for a router on sight. I’d rather be able to play the guitar, but there you go.
Now that I’m grown up, I still am a mad fan of “TOH” and especially its master carpenter Norm Abram, but I’ve branched out to other home-improvement shows (TV itself has also branched out in this area), and among my favorites is “Holmes on Homes,” airing in the U.S. now on HGTV.
It stars Canadian contractor Mike Holmes (below, left), whose mission in each episode is to undo damage and redo work done by unscrupulous or incompetent handymen and contractors.
These are not the only shows I watch — I get a huge kick out of “Blog Cabin” on DIY; and, on HGTV, I enjoy watching former “Trading Spaces” carpenter Carter Oosterhouse rescue hapless homeowners in “Carter Can,” and Steve Watson (right) shake up a remodel project on “Don’t Sweat It” — but you might ask, since I don’t nail, why?
Here are the top 10 reasons I watch home-improvement (and used to watch house-flipping) shows, and why you should, too.
1. It’s about transformation. The moment you think something terrible can’t be made better, watch these handy individuals take a pile of crap and turn it into something beautiful.
2: Transformation is not easy. The moment you think that you can just turn something around on a dime, watch these handy individuals shed blood, sweat and tears to make it happen. Nothing good is achieved without hard work.
3: Demolition is the fun part. The final reveal is the other fun part. Very little in between is lots of fun — but you do get the fun parts at either end, giving you something to remember and something to anticipate.
4: Measure twice, cut once, the motto of “This Old House.” Seriously. I used to have pencils and a mug that said this. There’s no end to the amount of misery that a little forethought can avoid. MEASURE TWICE, CUT ONCE.
5: Problems can be solved, but not by sitting in the middle of the floor and crying about them. They have to be analyzed and broken down into their component parts before a solution can be crafted. Sudden bursts of imagination may work in the arts, but building requires logic and planning, skills that can be applied to many aspects of life.
6: Everything costs money. In a project, you have to budget for all the materials, from little nails to giant panels of sheetrock to tons of wood and steel girders. It all has to be chosen, purchased and fit into a finite amount of money (because all amounts of money, however large, are finite). There’s nothing like watching a budget balloon out of control to learn that four of the most dangerous words in the English language are, “While we’re at it …”
7: Adding or redoing a bathroom has probably wrecked more marriages than infidelity. To survive a building project or remodel, you need extraordinary communications skills, a deep well of good will and practically inexhaustible patience. If you don’t hate each other by the time you take that first bubble bath, much else in life will seem like a cakewalk.
8: Few things are as sexy as competence. Bumbling may look cute on TV, but it’s murder on the job site. Watching a contractor show up, analyze, prioritize, delegate and supervise to a successful conclusion is better than being serenaded below your bedroom window (especially if that window could use a new sash and a couple of panes of glass).
9: Waste not, want not. Russ Morash once told me he hired Norm Abram to do a carpentry job at his house because a former customer remarked what a tiny scrap pile he left behind — and the rest is history. Old timbers can be reused; careful cutting and building techniques can stretch expensive materials further; and a minimum of waste is the hallmark of someone who plans well and executes better.
10: Hope vs. reality. Watching house-flipping shows quashed any thought I had of buying a house at the height of the real-estate craze. While following the transformation and hearing about the potential profits was exciting, I noticed after a while that there wasn’t much follow-up — like, how much did the house sell for, or did it sell at all? When some of of the shows began including this information, for the most part, it wasn’t pretty.
Once again, TV has much to teach us, if we’re willing to learn. On a personal note, I’m pretty excited because “This Old House” is coming back to Los Angeles to shoot a project to air in early 2011. Can’t wait to smell the sawdust again!