This Old House TV: Milton house project
Imagine being a basketball player who has just been recruited to play for the Dream Team. With the goal of creating a dream house, This Old House producers in the spring of 1997 invited some of the best designers and builders in the Boston area to contribute their work. This was to me like being called up for the Kitchen Design Olympics, a chance to play with the best in the business. The clincher, of course, was the opportunity to work with Victory Garden chef Marian Morash and the grand dame of the kitchen herself, Julia Child.

Our design collaboration began on my first visit to the job site. Although the crew had given us a fabulous south-facing room to work with, some real challenges confronted us. We quickly agreed that the three south-facing windows, already framed in and each separated by about 3 feet, should be ganged together to allow more space for cabinetry and appliances. We also agreed that none of the major appliances should be located on the far side of the strong circulation path that cut through the room. This meant putting the refrigerator at the far end of a long run of counter, but the alternative of placing it on the other side of the traffic pattern was simply asking for trouble.

Other voices joined in—those of the director, producer, host , master carpenter, general contractor—and together we developed a vision of a perfect kitchen for today's active lifestyles. A message center to act as the house's nerve center. A sit-down table for both eating and food preparation. A working fireplace that brought the charm of the Colonial house into the new kitchen. Large rollout drawers for pots and pans. A cooking suite of microwave, double wall ovens, and professional-grade range, facing a generous island for food prep. An undercounter wine cooler. Extra-deep double sinks for easy pot cleaning. An instant hot water tap. Two trash cabinets, one for garbage, one for recycleables.

The special event of the series for me and many others was, of course, the opportunity to work with Julia Child. She shared with us some of her vast experience with kitchen design and various surface materials, such as maple butcher block countertops (for chopping and easy maintenance), the need for a back-saving resilient floor, and the necessity for heat-resistant counter material in the cooking area. All of these elements were incorporated into the final design: our island was topped with butcher block, the floor was a "floating" type with wide pine boards over a thin foam sheet, and the countertops were of heat- and water-resistant soapstone.

After this star-studded interlude was over, however, reality set in. Due to the tight construction and shooting schedule, the design process proceeded via fax machine, with copies flying back and forth between the architect, producer, cabinet manufacturer and various subcontractors. The pace was so hectic that we never even made it to precise working drawings—the drawings used to order the cabinets were, in fact, simply marked-up versions of the original layout sketches.

Having worked on the This Old House Belmont project back in 1993, I knew the price of admission: a lot of hard work, killer deadlines, inevitable frustrations. In that respect, This Old House jobs are much like any other. The thing that sticks in my mind about them—and especially about the Milton project—is the incredible spirit of teamwork. Everyone associated with the process had a can-do attitude, all pulling together for the sake of the job, the show, and the house.

Of course, every job needs a troublemaker. My first request to the general contractor regarding the placement of the cooktop exhaust run caused his eyes to roll back as his head moved from side to side. "What, are you joking?" he laughed. Ah, this was the guy I remembered from Belmont. Although there was no question that he would help me accomplish my goal, oh, the stick I'd get on the way there. . . . I knew I was going to like being on the Dream Team.
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