Just how venerable is PBS’ “This Old House”? The home improvement show was born in 1979 — just months after Drew and Jonathan Scott, hosts of HGTV’s “Property Brothers.”
Unlike many renovation shows that ply audiences with high-octane personalities and OMG reveals, “This Old House” banks on the staid advice of four tradesmen. Hosted by Kevin O’Connor, the show tackles two or three older homes each season.
The old-school approach has won the show 18 Emmys. We reached O’Connor, who has hosted since 2003, in his 1950s saltbox home outside of Boston.
Show host Kevin O’Connor, fourth from left, with his team of tradesmen and apprentices at a project in Newton, Mass.(Carl Tremblay / PBS)
General contractor Tom Silva, left, and O’Connor install cabinets at a home in Detroit.(Sarah Chasse / PBS)
The series is just “real contractors doing their thing,” O’Connor says.(Carl Tremblay / PBS)
Why do viewers keep tuning in?
Trusted advice. House renovation shows can be entertainment and, in our case, it’s educational. It’s just real contractors doing their thing.
America’s housing stock continues to age. Is this a problem or an opportunity?
It’s a big opportunity for manufacturers trying to solve that retrofit problem. The people who can deliver modern-day convenience and comfort in older homes tend to be the ones I see that do the best in putting their products in houses.
What’s one of the overlooked benefits in owning an older home?
Older homes have great locations. They’ve been building houses where we want to live for a couple hundred years: along main street, just outside of downtown, overlooking the lake, and up on the bluff. They tend to be the first spots that were built on.
What’s the biggest challenge in historic districts where you sometimes renovate homes?
The preservation of old windows. Quite honestly, we can build a window with the same techniques and material that people built them with 150 years ago. Solid wood, single pane, historic glass. And many times we can’t touch windows that were put in, even in the 1970s, with these historic designations. The rule says, “Ye shall not touch,” and I feel like we could improve it.
The show includes apprentices from the building trades, a part of your “Generation Next” campaign. Why are youths avoiding these vocations?
There was a massive shakeout in this profession in 2008. It went dark overnight. I think the statistics show that we lost hundreds of thousands of people who have never come back. It’s almost a generation lost. I would tell a young person who’s thinking about the trades how in demand they will be, how regular their employment will probably be, and how it’s possibly one of the fastest ways to running your own business.
You’ve plumbed the heart and soul of America: the family home. What have you learned?
We like things big. And, quite honestly, I don’t think there’s inherently anything wrong with that. We can build a big house that’s more efficient than a little house, if you build it right. The American home continues to become a marvel … we seem to be spending more time at our homes than ever before.
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