How This Old House Was Built

Russell Morash, credited for introducing the master of cooking, Julia Child, knew that his suburban home in Boston, Massachusetts was in need of a major renovation. In the midst of remodeling his 1851 farmhouse, he conceived the idea for This Old House. "House will be more than a working model of rehab hints for homeowners and do-it yourselfers," he explained back in 1982. "This Old House will expand viewers" perceptions of what a home can be." Morash, whose forebears were carpenters and shipwrights, unknowingly had the idea that the series would launch a new genre of programming.

With 16 Emmy Awards and 79 nominations under its belt for This Old House, and five nominations ts companion series Ask This Old House, the No. 1 rated home improvement series still has audiences turning to America's favorite team of experts-host Kevin O'Connor, master carpenter Norm Abram, general contractor Tom Silva, plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey, and landscape contractor Roger Cook for a trusted and formidable source of expertise, along with wit, humor, and a great sense of camaraderie.

Twenty-nine years later, This Old House has grown into a multi-faceted lifestyle brand, inspiring and informing millions of adults every month about home improvement and renovation. It is the No. 1 multi-media home enthusiast brand, offering homeowners trusted information and expert advice through award-winning television, a highly-regarded magazine, a comprehensive line of books, and an information-driven Web site.

A Look Back at 29 Years of Quality, Craft, and Innovation

1979:

The First Episode of This Old House Was Broadcast Locally

WGBH Boston broadcasted the first episode of This Old House on Tuesday, February 20, 1979 at 8:30pm.  It featured the renovation of a run-down Victorian in Boston’s historic Dorchester section, with contractor Norm Abram, host Bob Vila, and plumbing expert Ron Trethewey (his son Richard, now the show’s plumbing and heating expert, also made his debut, in a “cameo” appearance). The first 13-week This Old House series set a new ratings record for WGBH.

Morash “discovered” his crew in unlikely places. Abram had been commissioned to build a barn on the Morash property. The quality of his work was so impressive (Norm had the smallest scrap pile Russ had ever seen) that the carpenter was invited to lend a hand with the renovation of the Dorchester house. In his search for a host, Morash came across a developer and builder specializing in old homes in the pages of The Boston Globe. Bob Vila, who had no prior television experience, was given a screen test and deemed a perfect fit.

1980:

This Old House Went National

This Old House premiered nationally on PBS on Wednesday, April 16, 1980 at 8pm and quickly became a perennial favorite. The show earned some of the highest ratings ever for WGBH and a New England Emmy Award for series creator, producer, and director Russell Morash and crew.

Ron Trethewey, who appeared on air for the Dorchester project, was in love with This Old House, but not with the pressure of filming before cameras, so he asked his son Richard to take over as the show’s plumbing and heating expert.

1981:

newton house

The Newton House*

The 1886 Bigelow Homestead, designed by the famed Victorian architect H.H. Richardson, was converted into condominiums. The historical landmark was transformed from disrepair into renewed elegance on national television. To date, its 10,000-square-feet of living space is the largest project the This Old House team has ever undertaken.**

1982:

Landscape Contractor Roger Cook Made His First Appearance

Cook first appeared on air during the Newton Bigelow house project, and then began contributing ideas and expertise to several This Old House projects. (It wasn’t until 1988 that Roger became the full-time landscape contractor on This Old House, Roger has seeded 1,000,000-square-feet of earth with grass.**

The Arlington House 1982

The Arlington House*

This Old House brought a collapsing 1850s Greek Revival-style home back to life. It received a full makeover featuring modern amenities, while maintaining its century-old integrity. The Arlington house marked the very first time This Old House worked directly with a homeowner.

woburn

The Woburn House*

This Old House redefined “old” with its renovation of an unimaginative 1950s ranch-style tract home and provided the space with some much-needed character.

1983:

This Old House won its first national Emmy Award for Outstanding Talk/Service Series.

Brookline House 1983

The Brookline House*

This Old House broke into modern territory when it began work on a brand-new contemporary style, energy-efficient solar home.

1984:

Boston House 1984

This Old House tackled a whirlwind renovation tour of Boston, when it began work on several home improvement projects: an attic makeover; a basement remodeling; a greenhouse addition; a kitchen renovation; and the redecoration of an apartment in the Longwood area of the city.

1985

newton

The Newton Cottage*

This Old House constructed a freestanding addition to a two-story Victorian shingle cottage from the 1860s.

The Newton House 1981

The Reading Ranch*

This Old House raised the roof of a modest 1950s ranch house, transforming it into a two-story garrison Colonial.

1986

Tom Silva Joined the Crew as General Contractor

Silva Brothers Construction, made up of Tom, his brother Richard, and his nephew Charlie, built the original set for the WGBH production, The Victory Garden, in the parking lot of WGBH. Russell Morash had discovered the Silva crew while they were conducting a major restoration of an 1845 Greek Revival house. Then, during the Reading project, Russ named Tom and his crew the general contractors for the show.

Russell Morash won a national Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing in a Talk/Service show for This Old House. Also, cameraman Dick Holden won for Outstanding Achievement in Technical Direction, Electronic Camera, and Video Control.

The Tampae House 1986

The Melrose House*

The This Old House crew helped the owners of a cramped Victorian carve living space from an unfinished attic.

The Tampae House 1986

The Tampa House

For the first time, This Old House traveled outside Massachusetts to focus on the renovation of a 1955 concrete-block-and-stucco tract house in Tampa, Florida.

The Reading Cape Cod House 1986

The Reading House*

This Old House realized the potential of a tiny 1946 Cape Cod-style home, by doubling the living space.

1987

Dick Holden won his second national Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Technical Direction, Electronic Camera, and Video Control.

The Brimfield House 1987

The Brimfield House*

The This Old House crew made a get-away to western Massachusetts, where they raised a post-and-beam style cottage with expansive mountain views.

The Phoenix House 1987

The Phoenix House

The crew headed to the Southwest to remodel a 1936 territorial-style home in the historic Encanto District.

1988

Roger Cook Joined the Crew as a Permanent Member of the Crew with the Lexington Bed & Breakfast Project. Bruce Irving also Joined the Production Team as an Assistant.

Russell Morash won a national Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing in a Talk/Service Show.

The Santa Barbara Bungalow

This Old House went to California to remodel a 1923 Craftsman bungalow.  The team enlarged this American classic while preserving the structure’s architectural integrity.

The Lexington B&B 1988

The Lexington Bed & Breakfast*

A 1909 two-family home in Massachusetts was converted to a bed and breakfast with a 2,400-foot addition and a handicapped-accessible in-law suite.

1989:

Bob Vila Departed as Host After Ten Years and Steve Thomas Joined the Series as Host

Thomas’s 1987 book, served as the basis for a documentary of the same name produced for the PBS Adventure series. While renovating his attic, he received a call from the Adventure series publicist, who also, it happened, worked for This Old House. Offhandedly, she suggested he talk to the show’s producers who were in the midst of a national search for a new host. Never expecting to get the job, Thomas applied, was interviewed, and then screen tested. Ten days after that lucky phone call, Thomas was offered the position.

The Concord Barn 1989

The Concord Barn*

The crew put a new spin on a good old-fashioned barn raising, reconstructing an 1835 barn in Massachusetts, using post-and-beam construction with stress-skin panels.

1990:

Executive producer and director Russell Morash won a national Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing in a Talk/Service Show.

The Santa Fe House 1990

The Santa Fe House

In the desert of the Southwest, This Old House updated a 1930 adobe home with a library and art-studio addition. A revamped kitchen featured handmade cabinets by Norm.

The Jamaica Plain House 1990

The Jamaica Plain House*

This Old House collaborated with Boston’s Public Facilities Department on the renovation of an abandoned triple-decker, creating a home and two rental apartments for a first-time homebuyer.

1991:

The New Orleans House 1991

The New Orleans House

This Old House converted a circa 1895 “shotgun double” into a one-family house.  The crew renovated the interior and restored the fa�ade and, while in town, learned how a city that’s below sea level manages to function.

The NewWayland House 1991

The Wayland House*

The historical renovation of “Kirkside,” an 1815 Colonial Revival-style home, included new septic and heating systems, a restored front porch, a new kitchen and three-season porch, a historically accurate paint scheme, and the repair of the master suite.

1992:

Executive producer and director Russell Morash won a national Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing in a Talk/Service show. Audio technician Bill Fairweather and cameraman Dick Holden won a national Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Technical Direction, Electronic Camera, and Video Control

The London Flat 1992

The London Flat

In This Old House’s first venture outside the United States, the crew headed to England to refurbish the top floor flat of an 1857 Late Georgian-style building in Notting Hill.  Historic district commissions, new words for familiar things, and the mysteries of the full English breakfast were only part of what made the crew feel like strangers in a strange land.

The Lexington Ranch 1992

The Lexington Ranch*

Noted architect Graham Gund doubled the size of this 1958 ranch with a second-story addition; it included a master suite and a music room upstairs and a timber-framed, vaulted-ceiling great room and kids’ wing downstairs. The Lexington Ranch is the youngest house ever to be featured on This Old House. **

1993:

The Miami House 1993

The Miami House

The restoration of a 1917 Mediterranean Revival-style home, damaged by Hurricane Andrew, brought the crew to Florida. The restoration of the house paralleled that of a region devastated by the storm.

The Belmont House 1993

The Belmont House*

The restoration of a 1907 Shingle-style Victorian included the removal of asbestos siding, an overhaul of the kitchen, and the installation of beautiful period wallpaper.

1994:

Brought Home Two Emmy Awards Including Best Talk/Service Series

For the second time, the show took home the Outstanding Talk/Service Show Emmy Award. Executive producer and director Russell Morash also won for Outstanding Directing in a Talk/Service Show.

The Honolulu House 1994

The Honolulu House

The renovation and expansion of a circa 1930, termite-damaged, ocean-side bungalow took the crew to Hawaii. 

The Acton House 1994

The Acton House*

This Old House rehabilitated and expanded a circa 1710 Colonial farmhouse, working to preserve the integrity of the original structure while adding 1,500 -square- feet of living space including a kitchen, laundry room, family room, and master suite.  The Acton House is the oldest project ever to be featured on This Old House.**

1995

Executive producer and director Russell Morash brought home a national Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing in a Talk/Service Show.

The Napa Valley House 1995

The Napa Valley House

Conducted during record-breaking rains, the renovation of Dennis Duffy’s 1906 Victorian farmhouse in the vineyards of northern California included the expansion and updating of the home’s dark and dated kitchen to take advantage of the spectacular views of wine country. 

The Salem House 1995

The Salem House*

A neglected 1784 Federal-style house was renovated and rejoined the ranks of other historic homes in the neighborhood. Challenges included strict historical district rules, complete restoration of the original portico, and putting modern systems in a post-and-beam structure.

This Old House Magazine Launched

Eric Thorkilsen, the launch Publisher of Martha Stewart Living and President of Martha Stewart Television, was tapped to start This Old House magazine, transforming it into a multi-media lifestyle brand around the flagship Emmy Award-winning television series.

1996:

Executive producer and director Russell Morash brought home a national Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing in a Talk/Service Show.

The Savannah House 1996

The Savannah House

This Old House helped preserve a true Georgia peach – an 1884 Italianate Victorian row house on Monterey Square. A memorable side story was a tour of the city with John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

The Nantucket House 1996

The Nantucket House*

The This Old House crew transformed a small 1887 Victorian cottage into a summer home with year-round capabilities.

1997

Executive producer and director Russell Morash brought home a national Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing in a Talk/Service Show.

The Tuscon House 1997

The Tucson House

The renovation of this 1930s Pueblo Revival stucco home included expanding the kitchen and the patio areas and building an outdoor courtyard and veranda, all against a breathtaking backdrop of mountains and desert in Arizona.

The Milton House 1997

The Milton House*

With the help of Julia Child, Marian Morash, Ethan Allen, and Laura Ashley, to name a few, This Old House turned an antique Colonial farmhouse into a dream house.

1998:

Steve Thomas won a national Emmy Award for Outstanding Service Show Host.

The San Francisco House 1998

The San Francisco House

This Old House converted a 1906 Arts and Crafts-style church in the city’s Noe Valley neighborhood into a single-family home. The crew turned the main worship area into an open living space with a 20-foot ceiling; putting in an open-plan kitchen; adding bedrooms and baths upstairs.**

The Watertown House 1998

The Watertown House*

The show kicked off its 20th anniversary with the renovation of a sprawling 1886 Queen Anne-style Victorian in the Boston suburbs. In a radical move to clear up the house’s flow, the crew reduced the number of staircases from three to two, disassembling and relocating a glorious original stair.

WGBH Boston launched the first This Old House Web site, www.thisoldhouse.org.

1999:

Executive producer and director Russell Morash won a national Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing in a Talk/Service Show.

The Keywest House 1999

The Key West House

This Old House headed to the southernmost city in the continental United States for the renovation of a circa 1886 “Conch Captain” House. A new pool figured in to the house’s integration with its tranquil backyard

The Billerica House 1999

The Billerica House*

Close to home, This Old House tackled a project close to its heart: rebuilding Tom Silva’s brother’s house from foundation to finishes after a devastating fire. Newly built, it featured many low-maintenance synthetic materials, yet managed to look as if it had been there for a hundred years.

This Old House Essential Hand Tools, This Old House Essential Power Tools, This Old House Essential Home Repair: A Seasonal Guide to Maintaining Your Home, This Old House Essential Paint Techniques,and the This Old House Sourcebook were published by This Old House Books.

2000

The Santa Barbara House

The crew headed west for the winter to raise the roof on a 1907 Craftsman-style bungalow in sunny California.  Art tiles, a period-perfect oak fireplace surround by Norm, and a stunning custom entry combined to accentuate the handmade feel of the original house.

The Charlestown House 2000

The Charlestown House*

This Old House returned to Boston for the renovation of an 1865 Second Empire-style brick row house in the city’s historic Charlestown neighborhood. At the time, the Charlestown house was the most urban project This Old House had ever undertaken.**

This Old House Essential Yard Care and Landscaping Projects and The Homeowner’s Manual were published by This Old House Books.

2001:

The West Palm Beach House 2001

The West Palm Beach House

Homeowner Rob Thompson and the This Old House team transformed this 1925 Mediterranean Revival-style bungalow into a beautiful tropical compound.

The Manchester House 2001

The Manchester House*

On Boston’s North Shore, This Old House gave grand rebirth to a once-stately, 1883 Shingle-style house by the sea that had been stripped of all its original details.

In December, Time Warner acquired the This Old House trademark, Web site, and television assets from WGBH Boston, forming This Old House Ventures, Inc.

Ask Norm and This Old House Essential Kitchens were published by This Old House Books

2002

Executive producer and director Russell Morash won a national Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing in a Talk/Service Show.

Ask This Old House Debuted on PBS in Prime Time

Created in response to viewers’ demand for even more guidance and expertise from the This Old House crew, Ask This Old House enabled audiences for the first time to receive an in-person House call, providing solutions to their everyday household challenges. In October, Ask This Old House moved to prime time, followed by Ask This Old House, to form The New This Old House Hour—one hour of back-to-back programming in prime time.

The Winchester House 2002

The Winchester House*

Healthy but tired, the 1920s Colonial Revival got an improved kitchen and master suite, an updated heating plant, and a cosmetic freshening inside and out.

launched the first-ever nationwide search for the next lucky homeowner! A week-long search kicked off on NBC’s Today show.

The Dream Kitchen Project

For the first time ever, after a thousand entries and six finalists, one family was chosen by America for the Dream Kitchen Project.  Mike and Heidi Smith, along with their triplets Kate, Belle, and Michael, in Lake Forest, Illinois were the lucky winners. When this brick Tudor was built in 1928, nobody was anticipating the needs of five-year-old triplets.

This Old House Essential Landscaping was published by This Old House Books.

In April, This Old House Ventures, Inc. officially re-launched the Web site as www.thisoldhouse.com.

2003:

Inside This Old House

In December, Inside This Old House debuted as a new weekly half-hour magazine series providing answers to age-old and the latest home-improvement questions. Inside This Old House revisits classic moments from This Old House and updates them with new ideas, information, and techniques.  They also visit with viewers� favorite homeowners and guest experts

Steve Thomas Wrapped up Fourteen Years as Host, and in April, Kevin O’Connor Became the Third Host In the History of the Series

A lifelong fan of This Old House, O�Connor was “discovered” on Ask This Old House, after he and his wife had e-mailed the show with a wallpapering problem. With Kevin’s curiosity and prankish sense of humor, the expert crew immediately embraced him as if he had always been part of the team. What started as a House call turned into a casting call, and several visits later, Kevin got the nod. The rest is history...in the making.

The Concord Cottage 2003

The Concord Cottage*

This Old House took on an adaptive reuse project to convert an 1894 Gambrel roof barn, complete with a horse stall, into a two-story jewel box of a home for the in-laws.

2004:

Host Kevin O’Connor was nominated in his first season for Outstanding Service Show Host of

The Bermuda 2004

The Bermuda House

Pink sand beaches, tourists on mopeds, and men in shorts, were all part of This Old House’s Bermuda project. The crew tackled the unique construction and renovation challenges that come with a circa 1805 Georgian-style home.

This Old House kicked off its year-long 25th anniversary celebration integrating television, publishing, Internet, and special events.

The Carisle 2004

The Carlisle House*

To celebrate its 25th anniversary, This Old House purchased, renovated, and sold an 1849 Greek Revival farmhouse in a pastoral suburb of Boston. The finished project was open to the public as a six-week designer show house, featuring 18 talented interior designers. This Old House gave it the update it desperately needed, then handed it off to new owners to take it into the rest of the twenty-first century.

Senior Design Consultant Alexa Hampton Joined Expert Crew for This Old House

With her design expertise, Hampton helped demystify home improvement, shed light on the basic principles and practices in the world of interior design, and explored the creative process itself. She joined the This Old House crew for the 25th anniversary broadcast centerpiece, the Carlisle project, including its designer show house. Hampton also joined renowned antiques experts Leigh and Leslie Keno for the second season of PBS�s critically acclaimed design and collecting television series, Find!.

“Meet This Old House” Tour

From August through November, the This Old House crew traveled to six Home Depot locations for the first-ever national hands-on tour, Meet This Old House, presented by The Home Depot. Day-long events in the metropolitan areas of Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, New York, Boston, and Atlanta provided audiences with the opportunity to engage and interact with members of America’s favorite home improvement team – Kevin, Norm, Tom, Rich, and Roger. As part of each tour stop, the crew also made a House call to be featured on the third season of the Emmy-nominated on PBS. It was time to “meet” This Old House if you hadn’t had the chance before!

This Old House Complete Landscaping and This Old House Complete Remodeling are published by This Old House books in conjunction with Sunset Books.

2005:

The Cambridge House 2005

The Cambridge Project*

This project was unlike any other This Old House had tackled in 25 seasons. The Emmy Award-winning series went modern as the crew undertook its first Contemporary-style project. Built in 1950, this modern house was tired, leaking, and the dog on its street compared to the immaculate kept houses around it in historic Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Second “Meet This Old House” Tour

The This Old House experts once again traveled across the country to meet fans in person during the second “Meet This Old House” tour.  Built by The Home Depot, the tour featured a series of day-long events in the metropolitan areas of six cities across the country, from August through October 2005. It all began with a kick-off event at a place that has undergone its own series of renovations, New York City’s Grand Central Terminal. From there, Norm joined Kevin, Tom, Rich, and Roger as they pair off in Seattle, Minneapolis, Boston, Dallas, and Atlanta. Each event stop also included House call tapings for the fourth season of Ask This Old House on PBS.

This Old House magazine won the Henry R. Luce Award for the Special Interests category.

This Old House magazine won a Photography Award from American Photographer.

2006:

The Washington DC House 2006

The Washington, DC Project

This Old House teamed up with nonprofit housing group Mi Casa Inc. to chronicle the rehabilitation of a circa 1879 Italianate brick rowhouse in the Nation�s Capital. This tough old building had survived everything, including crack-addicted squatters. Over the course of eight episodes, This Old House traced the derelict building from its boarded-up neglected state to a crisp three-bedroom, two-bath home ready for a new family and a new life.

The East Boston House 2006

The East Boston Project

A worn out 1916 two-family house was upgraded for two descendants of the original owners. It was a tale of two apartments and two generations of women with different styles and different needs. Living on the first floor, niece Liz Bagley had modern sensibilities, while aunt Christine Flynn preferred a more traditional approach for her second-floor unit.

Ask This Old House Mystery City House

In addition to their home base in Boston, Kevin, Tom, Rich, and Roger traveled to Las Vegas, San Francisco, Sacramento, and Denver making House calls to stumped homeowners nationwide. And, for the first time ever, home enthusiasts were able to choose one additional House call location for the show�s fifth season. After receiving more than 10,000 entries across from the country, the Ask This Old House experts were off to St. Louis for the final House call destination.

This Old House magazine won a Silver Ozzie Award (part of the Folio Awards) for Best Redesign (Consumer).

This Old House magazine won the Gold Award for Photography from the Society of Publication Designers.

2007:

The Austin House 2007

The Austin Project

Marked its 50th project, This Old House took on a “green” remodel. The renovation of a 1926 Craftsman bungalow followed an unprecedented eco-friendly path, while adding space for a newly married couple with kids

The Newton Shingle House 2007

The Newton Project*

A family lets go of a house they’ve liked living in for a decade to renovate one they hope they’ll love for an even longer time. For this 1897 Shingle-style project, it’s a story of moving and improving where the This Old House crew will open up the original galley-style kitchen to provide an open floor plan, create a master suite, and re-grade and level the backyard to maximize the amount of outdoor usable space.

Ask This Old House Season 6

The expert crew is back on the road making first-ever House calls in Cleveland, Portland, Raleigh, Omaha, Des Moines, and Phoenix. This season Kevin, Tom, Rich, and Roger will also tackle a few fun-filled kids’ projects for the entire family to enjoy. And, in another special episode, the expert team will demonstrate how to make your home as energy-efficient as possible.

*Signifies projects that took place in Massachusetts.
**Signifies excerpts from “In a Class By Themselves,” an article by Joe Carter taken from the October 2004 issue of This Old House magazine.