This Old House TV: Milton house project
In August 1997, the folks from This Old House called our Vermont shop to see if we were interested in working on the Milton project. We were thrilled—as long-time viewers and supporters, we had come to enjoy and admire the show.

We soon received preliminary floor plans from kitchen designer Phil Mossgraberand a tentative schedule from the producer.

Soapstone comes from two major sources—Vermont and Brazil. Working with our quarry in Brazil, we procured the required materials for the kitchen, barbecue area, and fireplace surround.

By mid-September, we were making final dimension checks with the general contractor. Often, when speaking with on-site personnel, I am not quite sure that all the details are being covered. I can't tell you the pleasure of talking with someone who had a perfect three-dimensional concept of the areas we were working on. I asked if there was anything special I needed to be aware of. The voice of experience responded: Plan on the job taking twice as long as usual. In the end, it look four times.

One morning in mid-October, the day before our scheduled appearance on the show, we washed and waxed our truck (half the battle is looking good), loaded it up with slabs and tools, and headed down to Milton.

That afternoon, we went to the jobsite to have a look around and plan our work for the next day. Broadcast schedules lagging reality as they do, we'd only seen the first couple of Milton shows on television. New to our eyes were a) the kitchen moved to the south side of the house and b) the many results—room configuration, cabinetry choices, appliance layout—of the show's kitchen design collaboration.

Like most jobs, at Milton the most difficult part was figuring out where to start. Our natural spot would have been at the sink area, working away from there. The only trouble was the sinks were not on site yet. We had to find a "Plan B."

Plan B had us out in the backyard working on the barbecue area. The mason, Lenny Belliveau, had prepared a brick "cabinet" where we could set our tops. This job specified 2 1/2 inch thick stone at 50 pounds per square foot, and just moving it around the site was a big challenge. We'd received the measurements before our arrival and pre-cut the stone for this area. It all slid together perfectly. When we were finished, Lenny made a brick backsplash with a soapstone cap.

Next it was time to face the kitchen, sinks or no sinks. Next to the driveway and close to the kitchen door, we set up a tent fly to make a protected work area for the dusty business of cutting and finishing the counters. All set up for our big TV debut, we headed off to the hotel for our beauty rest.

I had thought there were a lot of people on site the day before, but when we returned early the next morning, things were really in full swing. With half a dozen show segments to be filmed that day, it seemed everyone one and his sister—well, at least my wife and daughter—were there. It soon became obvious that we would get started on camera but that we'd better plan on returning the next day to really work.

The film crew arrived mid-morning. We were scheduled for after lunch, so we worked as we could around dust and noise to get a little bit done but still have enough to show when the camera came. Early in the afternoon, we got the call that we would be up next. It took the director only a few minutes to decide what to show, and then before we knew it the tape was rolling. No written script, no real rehearsal, just a couple of run-throughs with different questions that covered what we thought was important. In half an hour it was all over.

The next day, we got down to real work, and even got to try out the dream workshop to rip down a backsplash. In a few days, we returned to film the drainboard fabrication. In a few weeks, we returned to fit the sinks. In a few more weeks, we delivered the fireplace surround.

It was both a real-life job and show biz all wrapped into one fun package. And like a circus, we set up a tent, put on a show, and left behind a trampled lawn and a little dust.

Glenn Bowman works at the Vermont Soapstone Company in Perkinsville, Vermont.
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