urx unit loader 'This Old House': Now You Get to See the LA Project
Today’s cuppa: Barry’s Irish Breakfast tea

TOHLAProjectNormAbram1.JPGOn Thursday, KOCE — now the lead PBS station in Southern California since KCET cut ties with the Public Broadcasting System — started airing episodes covering the “This Old House” project that has been ongoing in L.A.

(For viewers of KOCE — now rebranded PBSSoCal –– the episode repeats on Saturday, from 3:30-4 p.m. PT)

As Cuppers know, HCTV has been all over this since the beginning — click here and here and here for set reports and photos — and now everyone can see what’s been happening. A lot of PBS stations started carrying the new episodes on Thursday and likely more will roll in over the weekend. Check local listings for time and date in your area.

Here’s my syndicated feature story, which came out this week … and remember what master carpenter Norm Abram (left) always says, “Measure twice, cut once!”

‘This Old House’ sets up shop in Los Angeles’ Silver

East of
Hollywood and northwest of downtown Los Angeles,
the trendy neighborhood of Silver
Lake clusters around a
reservoir, with many houses packed tightly on narrow, hilly streets.

For the
last few months, a Spanish Colonial Revival house on one of these streets has
been ground zero for PBS’ venerable home-renovation series “This Old House,”
which is tackling a Los Angeles
project for the first time in its 30-year history.

on Thursday, Jan. 27 (check local listings), TV fans can watch host Kevin
O’Connor, master carpenter Norm Abram and the rest of the Boston-based “TOH”
team, along with Los Angeles-based design-build firm Home Front, start adding
750 square feet – comprising a second floor, larger kitchen, family room, and
two bedrooms and baths – to the 1,500-square-foot 1930s home, which boasts a
water view out the back.

It belongs
to Kurt Albrecht and his wife, Mary Blee, who both work in the entertainment
industry and whose expanding family necessitated more room.

“It goes
well,” says O’Connor on the job site in October (the wrap party is set for
early February). “You’ve seen our little gem here in Silver Lake.
This is quintessential California
– red roof, clay tiles, stucco walls, earthquake prevention and hillside fire

In the
early days of the show, when renovations were more modest and technology not as
advanced, owners could be on site providing “sweat equity.” Now local
contractors do the work, with help and advice from the “TOH” experts – who also
get to learn new things themselves.

“We did a
whole scene on the first two steps of four on the exterior stucco,” says Abram
a few weeks later on the site. “They can now really fly over the next couple of
weeks. When we come back in January, hopefully, we’ll see the final two steps.

“It’s just
clean. I wish we could do more stucco in New England.”

But just
because the homeowners aren’t swinging a hammer doesn’t mean they’re not part
of the process, and that’s where on-site executive producer Deborah Hood comes

“At times,”
she says, “it seems like a psychology degree would be very useful on the job
site. In some cases, the homeowners have thought about the renovation for a
long time, planned it, but once you actually start building … .

“When they
sign up with us, they commit to a schedule. We’re not a miracle makeover show, but it does move right along. There are at least a couple of months shaved off
this timeline, and they had to commit to not a lot of change orders.”

Luckily for
the homeowners and “This Old House,” Home Front keeps a designer on staff.

Perched on
a chair between contractors’ trucks at the curb, in-house designer Nancy
Ganucheau says, “The way I work with the company is, I come in at the
beginning, and I work up a design with the client, and I work up the code

(company owner) Steve Pallrand’s dream, to have the design integrated with the
construction. It also means that all through the design process, they’re doing
pricing, so there are no surprises.”

joins the conversation, saying, “Often architects or designers come in, and
what they’ve been taught is to impose their will on the design. We try to work
with the existing house.

designed this thing did a really good job. It’s beautiful. We don’t want to
overwhelm it.”

Even when
O’Connor, Abram, Ganucheau and Pallrand aren’t on the job site, site supervisor
Angel Leon (below) is. He’s going to become a familiar face to “This Old House” viewers
over the course of the project, and he’s also figured out how to integrate with
the demands of making television.

camaraderie with everybody has been the funnest part,” he says, taking a
TOHLAProjectContractorAngelLeon1.JPG break from working. “It’s a very relaxed atmosphere. It’s not all
tense, with everybody running around, trying to make something into what it
really isn’t.

they come in, and we get to do our normal thing, on a daily basis, and they
accommodate to us.”

As to
whether he’s prepared for TV stardom, Leon says, “Um, I’m not prepared.
My family may be, but I’m not.”

He’s also
gotten a taste of the affection and respect that the show’s viewers have for
those who work on it, especially Abram.

what I’ve noticed,” Leon
says, “traveling around with ‘This Old House,’ with people coming from long
distances, just to see Norm. ‘Where’s Norm?’ It’s all about Norm, absolutely.

special. He does have a ton of knowledge. I’ve got to watch him work a little
bit, and watching him talk about stuff, is impeccable. There’s nobody who has
that knowledge, unless you’ve been doing it for 35, 40 years.”