Season 25: Concord, Massachusetts
This project premieres on PBS
October 11, 2003
Norm Abram welcomes new host Kevin O'Connor aboard with a visit to one of the most ambitious TOH jobs to date, the Manchester-by-the-Sea project. Wanting to tackle a big job like this one his first time out, Kevin instead ends up in historic Concord, Massachusetts, with a small (but sweet) 20- by 26-foot garden shed that homeowners Jeff and Janet Bernard want to convert into an in-law cottage for Janet's retired parents. Protected by local zoning laws, the shed can't be torn down and rebuilt, so Tom Silva will reframe the c. 1894 building from the inside out, and Richard Trethewey will face the challenges of bringing water, sewer, and gas lines into the building for the first time ever. The cottage is the smallest project in This Old House history, but everyone agrees that, although there's not a lot to work with, there's still a lot to do. Janet takes Kevin to see the inspiration for her project, a small garage apartment that's part of an estate currently on the market in Concord for $7.2 million.
Work can't begin at the jobsite until permits are issued, so Kevin takes homeowner Janet Bernard to meet the Concord building commissioner, John Minty, to see what potential roadblocks she's facing in trying to turn an accessory building into a full-time residence. Then Kevin meets local architect Holly Cratsley to see a new home she designed to look like an old home, and an accompanying timber frame barn. Meanwhile, with flashlights, ladders, and archival photographs, Norm and preservation architect Leonard Baum reconstruct the architectural history of the project house, learning that the building started out as a one-story chicken coop with a hip roof, and that it is indeed older than the zoning law itself — a finding that's essential to moving forward with the town.
Kevin arrives to find the newly issued building permit affixed to the building and work finally getting underway. Architect Holly Cratsley is officially on board, and Kevin pays a visit to her office to see the first pass at floor plans, elevations, and a scale model of the cottage. Zoning laws only allow for a modest increase in overall volume, so the new one-bedroom cottage will be less than 1,000 square feet when it's done. Norm and Tom prepare to brace a bowed wall, but find a badly rotted sill that needs replacing before they can proceed. Putting Kevin to work, they build two temporary walls; once they're in place, they take the weight off the compromised outside wall. The rotted sill comes out and a new, pressure-treated sill goes in. Then Kevin visits a converted carriage house in Winchester, Massachusetts, that's full of great ideas for the project. Unexpected rain postpones the excavation for the foundation of the new addition.
Tom shows Kevin the progress on the new utility trench — a time-consuming and expensive undertaking that (with several thousand dollars in permit fees) has already eaten up $30,000 of the budget. Concrete cutting contractor Peter Dami is on site to make way for the final connections, using a diamond-plated coring drill to bore holes through the 10-inch foundation wall. Kevin finally meets the most important person on the job: Janet's mom Jaqueline Buckley, who will actually live in the cottage with her husband, Len. Richard takes Kevin to visit Norm at the New Yankee Workshop to see how the shop is heated and cooled — he's thinking of using some of the same solutions (radiant heat, baseboard, split system A/C) at the Concord cottage. Looking for an interior designer who knows how to work with small spaces, Kevin meets Tricia McDonagh in Boston's South End to see how her design firm made a 600-square-foot apartment feel more spacious and inviting. Inside the cottage, all four walls have been reinforced, old sheathing has come down, new plywood has gone up, and the new windows have been framed in.
Master electrician Allen Gallant installs PVC conduit two feet below the surface of the driveway to allow the 200-amp service to reach the cottage. Using a "mouse," a string, a pull rope, and a vacuum (known to the trade as a "fishing system") his crew hauls the heavy electrical lines underground from the street to the cottage, a span of more than 200 feet. Architect Sarah Susanka shows Kevin a 3,000-square-foot house that illustrates the fundamental design principles outlined in "The Not So Big House," her best-selling book. On the second floor of the cottage, carpenter Jason Wood sisters new 2x8s to the existing 2x4 rafters and cuts a hole in the roof to accommodate the new dormer. Norm and Tom push the old roof section out and let the light in upstairs for the first time in almost 100 years.
Host Kevin O'Connor arrives at the project house fresh from a jog around the track at Emerson Field — several acres of playgrounds, tennis courts, and ball fields — right in the Bernards' backyard. Homeowner Janet Bernard asks general contractor Tom Silva to relocate the porch stairs on the main house, which now seem too close to the future parking court, and too imposing. Tom suggests some options, but advises Janet to consult her architect, Holly Cratsley, before they proceed. Landscape contractor Roger Cook shows Kevin a 100-year-old Concord grape vine that's growing right in the middle of the work zone. Chances of the vine surviving a transplant are slim, so Roger opts to leave the vine as is, protect it, and propagate it in place. Out back by the future sunroom, master carpenter Norm Abram shows Kevin how to set two-by-six pressure-treated sills squarely on the new foundation using sill seal foam insulation and fasteners. In nearby Lincoln, Massachusetts, Kevin meets park ranger Lou Sideris for a look at Minuteman National Historical Park and the Hartwell Tavern, a 1733 building that was the typical country inn of the Revolutionary War period. With an approved plan from the architect and an excavator on site, Tom digs the footings for the new porch stairs.
Host Kevin O'Connor visits the Concord Museum, which houses one of the oldest collections of Americana in the country, including one of the lanterns that hung in the church on the night of Paul Revere's ride and several items relating to the life of local Concord resident Sam Staples, the man who built our project house. General contractor Tom Silva and master plumber Ron Coldwell show Kevin the progress on the rough plumbing and how adding a shower at the last minute affected the layout of the first floor powder room. In search of other elegant small spaces, Kevin travels to Nantucket, Massachusetts, to meet homeowner Harvey Jones for a look at his charming North Wharf boathouse as well as two recently renovated guest cottages near the center of town. Back at the cottage, master carpenter Norm Abram discovers that the stairs to the second floor are too steep for older residents to navigate and that headroom is tight on the landing. Tom suggests eliminating a step to reduce the rise, allowing him to both shorten and lower the landing platform to free up the necessary headroom. Then Kevin lends Norm and Tom a hand building the new staircase.
Master carpenter Norm Abram finds general contractor Tom Silva installing exterior trim that looks like wood but is actually cellular PVC and therefore resistant to rot. Inside, host Kevin O'Connor finds homeowner Jeff Bernard finalizing the lighting plan with master electrician Allen Gallant. In the future sunroom, Kevin lends Norm and Tom a hand installing the new clad windows that look just like homeowner Janet Bernard's traditional wood windows on the main house. At a Menomonie, Wisconsin, facility that produces more than 550 tons of glass per day, float glass expert Al Slavich shows Kevin how residential window glass is manufactured using state-of-the-art technology. With the rough plumbing complete and inspected, it's time to infill the slab. To cut costs, Tom shows Kevin how to make concrete from scratch — 3 parts gravel, 2 parts sand, 1 part cement — mixing it on site with a portable concrete mixer.
General Contractor Tom Silva shows host Kevin O'Connor how the red cedar sidewall shingles are installed in decorative courses, designed by architect Holly Cratsley in a classic turn-of-the-century pattern. Tom shows Kevin the most complicated part of the job — braiding the shingles to cover both the outside and inside corners. Master carpenter Norm Abram uses a template and router to cut holes in the old barn door for the new windows. Kevin lends him a hand reinforcing the back of the door and then setting the first window, which gets inserted from the back in order to maintain a low front profile. Plumbing and heating contractor Richard Trethewey shows Kevin the compact wall-mounted condensing boiler that will save space and energy and virtually eliminates boiler noise — it's quieter than most refrigerators. In Spring Green, Wisconsin, insulating glass expert Tom Kaiser shows Kevin how residential window glass is coated with silver for energy efficiency, then sandwiched together and injected with argon to form insulating glass panels. Back in Concord, homeowner Jeff Bernard meets with landscape contractor Roger Cook and landscape architect Stephanie Hubbard to see the first pass at the landscape plan, and to discuss the practical aspects of executing it.
On one of the first cool days of autumn, host Kevin O'Connor arrives to find landscape contractor Roger Cook excavating the jobsite in preparation for the hardscape install. Roofing contractor Alex Alpert shows Kevin how his crew is installing a standing seam copper roof on the new addition. General contractor Tom Silva gives Kevin a progress tour of the interior spaces, showing how the first floor can be transformed to accommodate one-floor living should it become necessary for the homeowners Jackie and Len Buckley. On the second floor, plumbing and heating contractor Richard Trethewey shows Kevin the new 5-foot cast iron whirlpool tub, a European towel warmer that will also serve as the room's main source of heat, and a split-type air conditioner that will keep the entire second floor cool during the summer. With the new window already set in the center of the old hayloft door, master carpenter Norm Abram shows Kevin how he's making a false exterior door out of medium density overlay. On the island of Martha's Vineyard, Kevin visits another small cottage, designed by architect Jeremiah Eck, for an active couple in their 70s.
Host Kevin O'Connor finds landscape contractor Roger Cook inspecting a new shipment of select bluestone from Pennsylvania and cobblestones imported from India. Out back, Roger shows Kevin the right way to lay a bluestone patio using stone dust and cement over three feet of pack for drainage. Inside the cottage, Tom shows Kevin how wallboard contractor Paul Landry is hanging wallboard — it's a new product that's non-combustible, moisture resistant, and mold resistant ? an important innovation as mold problems continue to plague the building industry. Plumbing and hearing contractor Richard Trethewey shows Kevin the air-to-air heat exchanger (which will bring fresh air into the building) and a new radiant heat system that's installed in the outside walls going up the stairs. Kevin meets up with homeowner Janet Bernard and interior designer Tricia McDonagh for a preview of her design choices for the cottage. Architect Holly Cratsley takes Kevin to Acton, Massachusetts, to see the in-law suite that she created for homeowner Sylvia Arrom's 90-year old parents. In the kitchen of the main house, family friends Joanne and Jordan Lovejoy show Kevin and Janet how turn her ripe Concord grapes into jelly.
Host Kevin O'Connor and master carpenter Norm Abram arrive at the jobsite to find the base coat of the driveway down, and the new fancy cut shingles finally up on the gable end of the cottage. Landscape contractor Roger Cook shows Kevin how he's laid out the new brick walkway and raised the grade by the front door to allow for a comfortable 6-inch stair rise. The homeowners have already secured permission to add a ramp for added accessibility should it become necessary in the future. In the kitchen, Kevin's surprised to find there's no outside cabinet company on this job — the kitchen's so small that general contractor Tom Silva's crew is building everything on site. Tom and Norm build the base cabinet for the pantry out of veneer plywood, while Roger takes Kevin to see a recently renovated garden center that's currently growing plants on more than 650 acres. They meet owner Wayne Mezitt to select, tag, and dig some of the plants for the Concord project, including Japanese tree lilacs, stewardia, and several spectacular pink diamond hydrangea. In the first floor bathroom, tile contractor Joe Ferrante shows Norm and Kevin the challenge he's facing in pitching the whole bathroom floor to a corner drain, while incorporating radiant tubing into the mud job. With just over eight weeks to go on the project, Kevin and Norm check in with Janet and her mom on the status of the job.
Master carpenter Norm Abram arrives at the Concord Cottage during the first snow of the season and finds the bad weather slowing down both the landscaping and the exterior painting. In the future dining room, Norm and general contractor Tom Silva show host Kevin O'Connor how they're creating decorative wall panels by applying chair rail, baseboard, and surface applied moldings directly to the plaster. In Walpole, Massachusetts, fencing specialist Mark Bushway helps homeowner Janet Bernard pick the right size shed in a style that will complement the cottage; back in Concord, Kevin helps Mark put the shed together on site. With the base cabinets complete in the kitchen, Norm and Tom show Kevin a simple way to fabricate the face frames using a pocket hole cutter. In the parking court, landscape contractor Roger Cook shows Kevin how to lay out and set regulation size cobblestones in a setting bed of stone dust and cement to achieve a flush finish and minimize cuts.
Host Kevin O'Connor arrives just in time to see the installation of the new fence, trellis, and gate. Then, landscape architect Stephanie Hubbard gives Kevin an update on the site plan, explaining how new plantings will help conceal the utility shed in the back corner of the Cottage. Kevin surveys the progress on the first floor and finds a new custom front door in place, as well as a built-in hutch in the dining room made off-site by local cabinetmaker Jon Sammis. General contractor Tom Silva shows Kevin coping techniques — traditional and new-fangled — as he works to build and fit a cap for the crown molding in the dining room. Kevin stops off at the historic Noah Brooks Tavern in Lincoln, Massachusetts, to see the Junior League of Boston's Show House — an annual event that brings in more than 30,000 visitors to see the work of some of the best interior designers in Boston. Then, Kevin makes a trip to The New Yankee Workshop to see master carpenter Norm Abram's progress on the frame for the interior sliding window unit.
It is wall-to-wall subs today! Everyone from the tile guy to the fireplace guy to the painter to the granite-pillar guy — that would be landscape contractor Roger Cook — are at the Concord Cottage. Host Kevin O'Connor checks out Roger's latest project: installing granite bollards in front of the barn door to prevent vehicles from accidentally backing into the barn, while also adding lots of old-time character. In the front hall, tile contractor Joe Ferrante is prepping the radiant deck for tile, first with thinset, then with cement board. In the living room, chimney specialist Mark Schaub shows Kevin the new remote-controlled gas fireplace that can be vented up or straight out, via an exterior wall, and installs in about an hour. At Boston's Design Center, Kevin meets interior designers Tricia McDonagh and Charles Spada to see the antiques they've selected, and are still considering, for the cottage. Back at the site, Kevin lends master carpenter Norm Abram a hand installing the sliding windows over the kitchen sink.
Despite a cold winter chill, today's the day for sod — 12,000 square feet of it, to be exact. Landscape contractor Roger Cook shows host Kevin O'Connor the unloading and installation of the 48 62-foot-long rolls of sod. Then Kevin meets landscape architect Stephanie Hubbard and homeowner Janet Bernard to learn how the new plants will grow in over the years to create a lush cottage garden. Inside, Kevin finds tile contractor Joe Ferrante laying out and laying down 16x24-inch distressed Irish limestone tiles, and finds that general contractor Tom Silva is relying on a team from a local home center to install the engineered maple floor. Meanwhile, master carpenter Norm Abram meets plant manager John Tappan at a factory in Danville, Virginia, to see how engineered flooring is manufactured. Upstairs in the master suite, screen fabricator and installer Steve Primack shows Kevin how he can create a custom retractable screen for the balcony door on site in about one hour. In the living room, Kevin gets an "Interior Painting 101" lesson from painting contractor Jim Clark.
Host Kevin O'Connor meets architect Holly Cratsley for a look at the exterior details of the cottage, including a pressure-treated southern yellow pine roof shingle that carries a 30-year warranty. In the kitchen, Kevin meets countertop installer Dimitri Kampouris to see the new honed 'Black Zimbabwe' granite countertops going in. Upstairs, Kevin finds a crew from a local home center installing a stain-resistant carpet that is both durable and soft — a combination that's tough to create. Downstairs in the living room, lead carpenter Jason Wood shows Kevin a few tricks to installing hardware on a rail-and-stile closet door. Then Kevin meets stained glass artist Jim Anderson to see the custom windows he's created for the cottage, including one small design that bears an important date — that of the original barn — 1894. Upstairs, Kevin meets John Jawarski, owner of an online custom closet company that lets homeowners design and install their own closet systems. As the day winds down, general contractor Tom Silva clears the decks and puts Kevin to work sealing the stair treads with polyurethane, while master carpenter Norm Abram meets finishing expert Bruce Johnson at a plant in Flora, Illinois, to see how polyurethane and stain are manufactured.
It's the big day, and host Kevin O'Connor arrives at the completed cottage in style (circa 1894) on a horse named "Daisy." Landscape contractor Roger Cook and master carpenter Norm Abram help him tie up at the new hitching post. Then Kevin catches up with homeowner Janet Bernard for a brief reflection on why the end of the project is bittersweet for her family, and is now more important than ever. Upstairs in the laundry area, home economist Lucinda Ottusch shows Kevin the latest in laundry technology: a washer that can sense how dirty the clothes are while handling 16 pair of jeans at once. Kevin meets lighting designer Susan Arnold to see her interior and exterior lighting choices and to get a demo of a new high-tech radio frequency lighting control system. Plumbing and heating contractor Richard Trethewey shows Norm the finished bathrooms and mechanical room, including a central vacuum system that will help keep the air clean inside the house. Window treatment specialist Kara Roberts shows Kevin the simple white linen panels selected for the cottage windows, and an alternative way to dress them up. Next door in Janet's basement, Kevin meets furniture specialist Debbie McKirihan for a look at the semi-custom furniture her company created for the cottage. Architect Holly Cratsley shows Kevin and homeowner Jackie Buckley the finished kitchen and explains the universal design elements that will make the kitchen easy for people of all ages and abilities to use. Moments before the wrap party begins, interior designer Tricia McDonagh shows Kevin how her design elements work together to evoke the comfortable, classic feeling of an old carriage house. At the wrap party, the crew congratulates general contractor Tom Silva on a job well done — and one that proves that small houses can be big on charm, especially when delivered on time and on budget.