Episode Descriptions

los angeles house project

Saturdays at 1:30pm ET (check local listings)

Also in prime time exclusively on PBS Thursdays in the first half of The This Old House Hour at 8pm ET (check local listings)



Program #3017
Los Angeles Project, Part 1 of 10
Saturday, January 29, 2010 at 1:30pm ET (check local listings)


For the second project of the season This Old House goes Hollywood with the first ever renovation project in the Los Angeles area. After seeing some of the local sights, master carpenter Norm Abram and host Kevin O'Connor arrive at the 1933 Spanish Colonial Revival project house in the hillside neighborhood of Silver Lake. Homeowners Kurt Albrecht and Mary Blee plan to expand and renovate the 1,500-sq.-ft. house, while keeping and extending the character of the existing house into the small addition. Changes include a major kitchen renovation, a second floor addition and reconfiguration of the back half of the first floor. Norm ventures up into the Hollywood Hills to meet general contractor Steve Pallrand at a job he's been working on that showcases the unique challenges of building in Los Angeles. Back at the house, site supervisor Angel Leon gets to work salvaging finish materials for later reuse. Project manager Joe Luttrell begins preparations to replicate the plaster "cake decorating" details on the walls, and takes some time to show Norm their salvage yard. Angel and Kevin review the plans and outline the scope of work for adding a second floor on the back of the house to gain a full master suite. In order to do that, they need to remove the roof, so roofing contractor John Dybas arrives to harvest the valuable antique clay roof tiles for future use.

Program #3018
Los Angeles Project, Part 2 of 10
Saturday, February 5, 2011 at 1:30pm ET (check local listings)


Master carpenter Norm Abram and host Kevin O'Connor stop by one of LA's major movie studios to find homeowner Kurt Albrecht at work in the animation division where it can take his team up to five years to make a feature film. Back in Silver Lake, things are moving a bit quicker, as Kevin finds the front of the house intact, but the back of the house is opened up wide from demolition—no walls or roof remain. Site supervisor Angel Leon shows Kevin the result of three weeks of work—a massive foundation form for the new addition that will meet LA's strict seismic code and "hillside ordinance" regulations. Two of the biggest challenges are getting five loads of concrete delivered up the narrow winding streets, and the 3000 psi mix that tends to set up quickly in the California sun. Up in Stockton, California, Norm visits a facility where they replicate real earthquakes with the help of a "shake table" to assist them in developing ways to protect buildings—and therefore people—from damage. After a few weeks of framing, structural engineer Jeff Ellis shows Norm how the building science has been applied to the house through shear walls, hold-downs and tying off at every level. In the basement, plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey reviews the rough plumbing progress while the new heating and cooling systems are being installed in the basement.

Program #3019
Los Angeles Project, Part 3 of 10
Saturday, February 12, 2011 at 1:30pm ET (check local listings)


Back in Los Angeles, host Kevin O'Connor arrives to find the new clay roof tiles on site as well as the custom windows and doors, which are made of wood and single-glazed to keep a historic look. They meet the strict California energy codes with a combination of tempered glass and Low-E coatings. Roofing contractor John Dybas returns to show Kevin the plan they've come up with for the new roof: using the roof tiles from the old house for the perimeter of the new roof only where they can be seen from the street. The rest of the field will be new, manufactured two-pan tile to cut down on costs. Down in Corona, California, Kevin sees how piles of clay and sand are mixed with water and fire to produce our roof tiles. Back in Silver Lake, John shows Kevin the polypropylene underlayment he's using, the flashing details, and how his expert crew sets the tiles along the ridges using nails, mortar, and hand tools. Out on the reservoir, the director of operations for the LADWP, Marty Adams, shows plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey how the neighborhood landmark has been providing LA with drinking water, and why it is being taken offline. Up in Griffith Park, they go thirty-five feet below ground to see the new infrastructure going in that will supply the city with water in the future. Back at the house, stucco specialist Alfonso Garcia evaluates the condition of our stucco, which he'll be working on next time.

Program #3020
Los Angeles Project, Part 4 of 10
Saturday, February 19, 2011 at 1:30pm ET (check local listings)


Master carpenter Norm Abram arrives to find site supervisor Angel Leon wrestling with the latest challenge of the project: replicating the arch details from the front living room in various openings in the house. Outside, stucco specialist Alfonso Garcia shows Norm how the stucco system starts on the new addition with the scratch coat, and then the brown coat. The top two layers will be placed once the base is dry. On the other side of the lake, host Kevin O'Connor meets resident director Sarah Lorenzen to see architect Richard Neutra's VDL Studio and learn why the house and the architect are so important to the neighborhood and to California modern architecture. Back at the house, insulation contractor Pat McKinley shows Norm the batt insulation he's using in the basement—it's a dusty-colored fiberglass batt made with 30% post-consumer recycled bottle glass and formaldehyde-free binders. Project designer Shelby Roberts takes Kevin to a South Pasadena tile showroom to meet tile specialist Tisa Adamson and see the reproduction tile that's being selected for the project. To cut down on costs, they choose a combination of hand-made and factory-made tile. Back at the house, wallboard goes up around the main arch leading from the kitchen to the new family room.

Program #3021
Los Angeles Project, Part 5 of 10
Saturday, February 26, 2011 at 1:30pm ET (check local listings)


At the project house, exterior work has been delayed due to four weeks of record setting rains in Southern California. Inside, Host Kevin O'Connor finds plaster expert Alfonso Garcia installing custom foam forms to create a tray ceiling that replicates the existing detail in the house. Once the forms are in place, they are covered with plaster. Master carpenter Norm Abram visits cabinetmaker Larry Bucklan at his shop in the nearby neighborhood of Frogtown to see how work is progressing on the kitchen cabinets. The boxes and drawers are made off site in Orange County, but Larry's crew carefully makes the doors and the custom end panel for the refrigerator. Back at the house, Larry builds a toe kick to receive the base cabinets. Upstairs, Alfonso shows Kevin the "cat face" plaster technique he is using on the walls to replicate the original plaster style. This technique provides a combination of open and closed finishes—after the finish coat is applied but before it sets up, he goes back over it with his trowel leaving closed and open patches. Some areas of the finished coat are smooth and others are rough which are known as "cat faces." In the original part of the house Kevin finds a new stain on the ceiling of the dining room and a large hole in the ceiling of the front entry. Due to leaks and damage from the rains, site supervisor Angel Leon explains that although the homeowners had been hoping to be able

Program #3022
Los Angeles Project, Part 6 of 10
Saturday, March 5, 2011 at 1:30pm ET (check local listings)


Host Kevin O'Connor checks in with homeowner Mary Blee, whose pregnancy has kept her away from the construction dust for most of the project, but she's keeping tabs on the progress thanks to the webcams and her husband Kurt Albrecht's photographs. Stucco specialist Alfonso Garcia shows Kevin the last two steps of the stucco system going up, which includes an embedded mesh for strength and crack protection, and also a top layer which has integrated color and a "sand" texture finish. Kevin goes to Orange County to see some new period-appropriate ornamental ironwork created for the house and the restoration of some existing work. Then, master carpenter Norm Abram visits a small shop in Covina, CA, to see how the reproduction tile for our project is being hand glazed piece by piece. Back in Silver Lake, Kevin meets tile contractor Carlos Sandoval to see the black and yellow tile going up in the powder room.

Program #3023
Los Angeles Project, Part 7 of 10
Saturday, March 12, 2011 at 1:30pm ET (check local listings)


Host Kevin O'Connor gets a rare, up-close look at the Hollywood Sign with the man in charge of preserving it, Chris Baumgart. Then, in Silver Lake, flooring contractor Luke Hiller shows Kevin how he's matching the 1930s look of the old floors using new red oak with a walnut feature strip. Out back, the new terrace is constructed and the crew is adding some prefabricated decorative corbels made from foam that are covered with the same stucco product as the rest of the house. Landscape designer Melanie Williams evaluates the existing yard, and then takes Kevin to a recent job in Windsor Square to show him that low water plants can also be attractive. At the end of the day, tile contractor Carlos Sandoval installs the California-made terra cotta tile on the back terrace.

Program #3024
Los Angeles Project, Part 8 of 10
Saturday, March 19, 2011 at 1:30pm ET (check local listings)


Plaster specialist Alfonso Garcia shows host Kevin O'Connor how he is wrapping the kitchen cabinets in plaster for a look that is reminiscent of those found in Mexico. He fashions an archway over the sink, a cove at the ceiling, and a freehand bullnose detail at the corners. Then, plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey meets up with local plumbing contractor Noe Lopez to lend a hand as he installs the pedestal sink in the first floor powder room. In the kitchen, master carpenter Norm Abram meets countertop contractor Tim Farr to see the soapstone countertops going in, and learns how to care for them going forward. Custom woodworker Larry Bucklan shows Norm how he is replicating the original ceiling star from the dining room for use in other parts of the house. With the profile matched and run and the miters cut, the pieces are joined with biscuits and glue and dried with an RF glue drier. Back at the house, carpenter Josheulo Mondragon installs the star with glue and a few finish nails. Outside, ornamental iron contractor Jeff Bradley and his crew install the 400-pound Juliette balcony, while inside, his wife and designer Robin Bradley show Norm the new decorative iron balustrade that is accented with circles of amber-colored glass.

Program #3025
Los Angeles Project, Part 9 of 10
Saturday, March 26, 2011 at 1:30pm ET (check local listings)


Landscape designer Melanie Williams shows host Kevin O'Connor the progress in the front yard and how landscape contractor Jose Martinez uses broken concrete for the walkways at a fraction of the cost of flagstone. Then, they head to the local home center to see options for edging material for the planting beds. Inside, hardware specialist Dan Hakes shows Kevin the work he's been doing to restore the old hardware and light fixtures for the job. Dan mixes in reproductions to extend the look into the addition. Up in Malibu, Kevin visits one of the most spectacular Spanish Style houses in Southern California – the Adamson House – which is known for its extraordinary use of decorative tile. Back at our house, the Spanish theme continues with a new custom garage door that blends seamlessly with the period of the house: wood construction and iron window grates studded with dozens of "clavos" or rustic nail heads. Ornamental iron designer Robin Bradley returns as her team installs the front gates, which were fashioned to match an original found on site.

Program #3026
Los Angeles Project, Part 10 of 10
Saturday, April 2, 2011 at 1:30pm ET (check local listings)


Work on the Los Angeles project wraps up with the finishing touches both outside and in. Plaster specialist Alfonso Garcia replicates the original "cake frosting" plaster detail on the walls, while plumbing and heating contractor Eric Downs shows host Kevin O'Connor the new bathroom fan system that not only takes stale air out, but also brings fresh air in through a damper in the basement. Homeowner Kurt Albrecht gets a look at the new HVAC system that will also clean the air, while landscape designer Melanie Williams shows off the finished landscape, and the irrigation system that will keep the plants healthy year round. Inside, interior designer Rachel Horn and her team from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, show master carpenter Norm Abram how they've used a mix of antiques, reproductions, and upholstery to create inviting spaces that are appropriate for a Spanish Colonial Revival. Homeowner Mary Blee introduces Kevin to her new son, who's arrived just in time to enjoy the renovated house. After a look at the master suite and the new kitchen, the family gathers on the back terrace to congratulate general contractor Steve Pallrand and site supervisor Angel Leon on a job well done.