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The Women of This Old House

This just in: Women fix things! The media is all over it; websites are sprouting up—but here at This Old House, it's never been news that women are involved in home improvement. Just ask our staff.

Photo by Kolin Smith

So, wow, it's big news lately: women can actually fix stuff! We buy tools! We plan renovations! We hang drywall, by golly! As the media has been reporting, women are fast gaining footing as a major force in home improvement. Single women are the quickest-growing group of home buyers, purchasing 21% of U.S. homes to single men's 9%. While Lowes' annual survey found that 69% of female homeowners or prospective homeowners consider themselves seasoned DIYers, the reality is even more solid than the self-perception: 82% of women surveyed handle basic repairs, 88% take on home improvement projects themselves, and a whopping 91% are responsible for the home-improvement decisionmaking in their households.

Of course, none of this is news to us. What with three-quarters of our editorial staff and both the producer and the production coordinator of the TOH television show represented by the gender, the connection between women and home improvement is That Old Story at This Old House.

As online editor, I have to admit that most of my fixes are broken web links. Though I am pretty proud of our web-exclusive galleries, including Home Inspection Nightmares, Bed Bugs!, and Rebuilding New Orleans, and I do believe our Interiors feature packages are mighty useful, mainly I'm just in awe of my fellow staffers, who know the difference between coping and mitering, or crown molding and picture molding, or shingles and shakes; who not only select the tile or the toilet, but also install it, and fix it when it breaks—regardless of whether they're male, female, or whatever. When senior editor Alexandra Bandon goes back and forth with technical editor Mark Powers about whether to use a lead anchor or a toggle bit, that's an argument about hardware, not gender. In other words, if you ask the staffers here who happen to be female why we work at This Old House, we'll tell you: it's not because we're women; it's just because we're handy.

We thought, however, in the midst of the media hubbub, we'd take this opportunity to introduce ourselves. We're hoping that, afterward, other women do-it-yourselfers will use the scribble board at the bottom of the page to introduce themselves, too. We figure if we get the introductions out of the way and establish the fact definitively here and now—that DIY knows no gender—it can only help women when dealing with contractors, designers, and, for that matter, male friends and family members when renovations are in full swing...

<p>Editorial operations director Carolyn Blackmar puts her (considerable) muscle into creating a new plant bed at TOH's 2006 Americares project house.</p>

Editorial operations director Carolyn Blackmar puts her (considerable) muscle into creating a new plant bed at TOH's 2006 Americares project house.

Photo by Alexandra Bandon

Kathryn Keller, Executive Editor

Ever since my first post-college job at Rhode Island School of Design, where I produced an internal publication, I have been fascinated with design. My dad was a trained as an engineer, but was always drawing up or tweaking floor plans for additions or houses that my parents either built, or thought about building. So I guess I feel I have a bit of him in me.

For eight years I've been living in and working on a worse-for-wear 1925 stucco Colonial Revival in Westchester, NY, with my husband. So I bring a real-world, Everywoman point of view to our magazine: I have two young sons (3 and 5); I don't have a ton of space or an unlimited budget or lots of free time; my older home needs a lot of updating and repairs. We're building a small raised deck off the kitchen, and we're hoping to finish the basement to create a "green" playroom and a real laundry room soon. So I'm often immersed in floor plans, researching materials, and comparing construction methods off the job, as well as on the job. As By Design editor, I learn something every day that I can put to work at home.

The other category I handle at the magazine is landscaping and gardening. (See Backyard From Scratch from the April 2006 issue, and Build a Better Backyard from the April 2005 issue). Like a lot of people, I find digging in the dirt relaxing. Plus, it's something my kids can tag along on. So I often get them to "help" me—though, naturally, they're always trying to throw over their rakes or shovels for some pruning shears, each hoping to renovate the other's haircut, no doubt.

Laura Goldstein, Executive Editor,

Having grown up in NYC, I didn't think much about houses until I came to TOH in 1995. Since then, I've become well-versed in all things home-related. Off the job, I've renovated two apartments and am about to start on a real house. On the job, I got an advanced course in construction producing our From the Ground Up series, which covers the essentials, from pouring the foundations to putting on the last coat of finish. I'll never be as skilled with a hammer as I am with a pencil, but I've learned that a house isn't something to be intimidated by, that there's a clever fix for most every problem, and that few things are more satisfying than tackling a home improvement project yourself.

At This Old House, I also deal in disaster. Kitchen renovation nightmares?" That's my story. Out-of-control budgets? Me again. Right now, for our January issue, I'm working on a look back at the most extreme DIY disasters of 2006. I'm starting to think my boss, Scott Omelianuk, is trying to send me a message. But there's an upside to spending my days immersed in all of these worst-case scenarios. Learning what can go wrong on a remodeling project puts my own house headaches into perspective, and most importantly, helps me inform readers so that they don't end up with any disaster stories of their own to tell.

Carolyn Blackmar, Editorial Operations Director

My neighbors in Connecticut frequently comment that I haven't stopped working on my house, a 1927 Colonial, since I moved there. I tell them it's an occupational hazard of nine years with This Old House magazine. My job has given me enough knowledge to be costly! One of my larger projects was updating a small addition built by the previous owner because it didn't suit the period of the house. I swapped out a '60s-style bay window for a box bay inspired by This Old House's Timeless Home in Atlanta. The box bay is beautifully trimmed with simple, flat-panel wainscoting and built-in cabinets. Modern fixtures have been replaced with period lighting; a pumpkin-shaped melon jar overhangs the entranceway and web-backed, candle-bulb sconces add an elegance to the room. Gone are the ugly baseboard heaters. An old radiator salvaged from the local, metal scrap yard now heats the space. It all feels—and looks—right.

Colette Scanlon Ortiz, Design Editor

I am originally from Ireland and grew up surrounded by all things old, so I have a passion for old houses. However, after visiting and falling in love with the U.S., I gained an appreciation for the newer designs and styles that this country has to offer. As Design Editor, I get to scour the country for kitchens, baths, and whole-house stories, which encompass renovations, restorations, and new construction. My past and present experience affords me the opportunity to showcase a wide variety of styles and designs and to bring these ideas to our readers. Two stories that I am particularly proud of are:

Rowhouse Revival (November '06)

Originally built in 1878 this Victorian-era townhouse was restored to it former glory with some of the original details intact. The passion that went into restoring this house is amazing and the end result is even more spectacular.

Shingle Minded (March '05)

Newly built in 19th-century Shingle style, this house represents everything new, but what I particularly like about the house is the fact that the architect and owners made use of all available space in the house; every nook and cranny has a purpose.

Alexandra Bandon, Senior Editor

I may be an apartment dweller in New York City (in a small rental apartment, even), but I do love to build things. Which, I suppose, is why I produce and edit the Homeowner's Handbook step-by-step column. And it's not a case of "those who can't do teach"—I built myself the same bookcases we showed in the column. In fact, I talk about all my various "projects" (good and bad) on my TOH blog, The Shelter Life.

I'm also a huge fan of the television show, so I get to fulfill my dreams by working with on the magazine's coverage of the TV show project houses and working as a liason to the show crew. I've covered many projects as a writer (most recently Washington, DC and Bermuda), and I edit the coverage that I don't write. I also have a passion for history, which is how I became the resident expert on house styles and tracing the history of a house.

Amy R. Hughes, Senior Editor

It was the dozen different old homes I grew up in that gave me the interest and skills I draw upon at TOH, where, among other things, I created the Salvage column. Now, my life and work are so intertwined that I'm often pleading with my husband, Jon, for help bringing junk (as he calls it) from the street into our tiny apartment. "We already have a sink," Jon will say. "Yes, but someday we'll need another," I will reply. Unable to pick up this particular period pedestal, and Jon refusing to budge, I will leave it behind. That's going to change. We recently moved to a bigger apartment with

a second bath in need of just such an old sink, and I've been lifting weights so the next time I spot one I won't have to ask for help.

Links to more of my writing for This Old House include Recycling Katrina's Ruins, TOH Picks the Best Tools for Mom, Tough...but just a little bit girlie, and Take It Off, Baby!

Kelly Beamon, Senior Editor

For seven years, I owned and conducted minor restorations on my own 100-year-old-and-then-some house in Trenton, New Jersey. For much longer, I've collected and sold American Arts and Crafts period furniture. So, I was glad that to find that hunting down stories for Secret Sources on the web and Around the House in the regular magazine would let me revisit a little of these experiences each day. Oh, yeah, and then there were the bed bugs...

Leslie Monthan, Copy Chief

Most of what I do is fix grammar, repair mangled syntax, and make sure we don't say "lathe" when we mean "lath," or vice versa. But I've also been a hands-on homeowner ever since the first place I bought, a 1960s condo, 20 years ago. Alas, that was before Homeowner's Handbook existed, or it would have been so much easier to change out those dated toilets and worn-out faucets. But I did it, and I was hooked. One 1907 townhouse, a 1790 tenant farmhouse, a 1950s Cape Cod, and an Art Deco apartment later, I'm a remodeling veteran and a confirmed architecture and design junkie. In my seven-plus years at TOH, I've worked on virtually every article we've published. I feel lucky to have the benefit of learning from the show guys, my fellow editors, and the many other experts who contribute to each issue. One downside: house envy. I think I left my ex-California-girl heart in that San Francisco rowhouse featured in the November 2006 issue.

Natalie Rodriguez, Editorial Assistant

Being a born-and-bred New York apartment dweller, I was a little worried about how I would fit in when I came here as an intern last year. My DIY expertise consisted of putting together furniture and tracking down my super when a bathroom pipe burst (an incredible feat, actually). Thankfully, my lackluster first-hand experience wasn't held against me and now I get to feed my inner nerd some house- and tool-related morsels on a regular basis. That's right, I'm a Grade-A nerd who loves researching and web-surfing almost any topic, but particularly ones that can affect homeowners' finances, community, or well-being. (See Save-Up by Saving Water, Big-House Backlash and How to Spot a Crooked Contractor). Google is still my tool of choice, but I have been picking up some renovation know-how along the way. I used an electric drill for the first time just a few weeks ago (it's true, by the way, power tools can be addictive) and I'm pretty sure I could now put down a new floor if I really wanted to ? at least a modular one.

Kristen Mucci, Associate Online Editor

I'm a newcomer to This Old House, so I know I have a lot to learn about home improvement. I admit I'm not too handy with a drill, but I do know my way around the kitchen and bathroom. I come from a background in these areas, with six years of industry experience, and lots of that time spent working trade-show floors, learning about every new product, technology, and trend out there. Now, in addition to writing the biweekly kitchen-and-bath newsletter, I mine the pages of This Old House magazine to produce online galleries like Sensational Space-Saving Kitchens, or venture to the world beyond, so to speak, for pieces like Homes of the Dead.

<p>Copy chief Leslie Monthan checks the fit on one of the dozens of shingles she replaced during siding duty at TOH's 2006 Americares project.</p>

Copy chief Leslie Monthan checks the fit on one of the dozens of shingles she replaced during siding duty at TOH's 2006 Americares project.

Photo by Alexandra Bandon

Amy Rosenfeld, Design Director

When I am not working at This Old House magazine, I am busy designing and helping to build modern homes in the Hudson Valley with my partner, Ed. I'm not the handiest gal, but I have a good eye for home design. We are also busy renovating the 1930s apartment that we just bought in NYC. There's a long way to go, but we started by ripping off two layers of painted paneling that was placed over all the plaster walls. When I'm not at work, I also love to be in my garden, taking photographs and traveling. On the website you can see my garden and my photography in the image i shot for our tiki torch story.

A great thing about my job is I get to travel to photo shoots, so I get to see inspiring spaces like the Northern Californian outdoor kitchen that I picked as my favorite kitchen for our online gallery, Editors' Picks: Our Favorite Kitchens Ever. I also got to go to Boston for the shoot of the Cambridge show house, which was my favorite bathroom for Editors' Picks: Our Favorite Bathrooms Ever.

Hylah Hill, Art Director

I design the magazine's features and work with our photographers and illustrators to make sure that images we use are the most useful to the reader (See 25 Secret Renovation Sources and Making Something Out of Nothing). I am also a first-time homeowner by association—my boyfriend recently bought a lake house. When I'm not working on the magazine, I am scouring past issues for my next weekend project. My boyfriend loves this.

The doghouse story, which won a Society of Publication Designers 2005 magazine redesign award, was shot down near my parents' house. My mom actually scouted the locations for us and the dog on the opener is their late, beloved pup, Alfie. Our vintage stoves feature, A Warming Trend, won the Society of Publication Designers' 2005 feature design award.

Denise Sfraga, Photo Editor

I attend many photo shoots. I always enjoy meeting homeowners and visiting a variety of houses that are photographed

for a story, but my favorite houses were occupied by four legged

creatures. The photo shoot of doghouses took

place in various parts of Virginia, and most of the dogs were not even

professional actors, but they all did a terrific job! It was both challenging and fun,

and at times, exhausting trying to wrangle the dogs and have them

sit for a picture. Photographer Alison Rosa did a fantasic job of capturing the process of

building the doghouse and the finished products. It's so informative

for anyone who wants to pamper their pooch with a custom-built house of

their own. (Check out our readers' attempt at their own

creations.) Being a proud mother of an 11-year-old beagle, Boone, made these

stories close to my heart. Boone has a custom doghouse built by my

husband, Len, that is inspired by architecture of mission churches in the


Yoshiko Taniguchi-Canada, Editorial Production Manager

I'm in charge of circulation in the editorial department and shipping the

final files to the pre-press.

I gut rehabbed a brownstone a few years ago, and that was the

worst experience in my whole life. Even though we went through the "manual"

of how to pick the contractor, we failed. The one we picked abandoned the

property, and my husband had to take it over. We ended up spending close to

double the amount of our budget. That was before I started working at TOH. I wish

we had known then about the renovation consultants we featured in our September 2006 issue.

Leah Vinluan, Photo Assistant

A couple years ago I moved into a cozy (tiny) apartment in a prewar apartment building in Midwood, Brooklyn. I left behind two roommates who owned every kind of tool imaginable. For a while I tried to get by with a tool collection consisting of a hammer and a butter knife. I was successful at completing a couple minor fix-ups in my new apartment, like updating the outlets and changing the door locks, but I soon started thinking that my Survivor-like style of home renovation was silly, what with three hardware stores just down the street and a Home Depot 10 minutes away. I've since built up my tool collection to include all the basics.

Working here as the photo assistant I've seen my muscle mass double through handling tools and materials! I've moved 200-pound stone garden containers, steel barbeques, metal chimney caps, ceramic roofing tiles, and—yes—tools, packed them up, and shipped them out to photographers. I've come to appreciate tools for their aesthetic beauty and craftsmanship, and for photographers who have a knack for bringing out the beauty in a , chainsaw or random orbit sander, not to mention those who know how to make the lovely houses we feature in our magazine even more lovely. I think we can all agree that it's so nice to have some eye candy to go along with all those informative articles, right?! I even get pretty excited when I'm asked to get pictures of beneficial bugs.

<p>Denise Sfraga's dog, Boone, in front of his Southwestern-style doghouse</p>

Denise Sfraga's dog, Boone, in front of his Southwestern-style doghouse

Photo by Denise Sfraga

Deborah Hood, Producer, This Old House television show

I plan the making of a television show out of the building of a house. My job skills—communication, organization, and problem solving—serve me while working around my own homes—an 1880 Victorian and a 1950s beach cottage—. I strip paint and repair woodwork, while my husband (an elevator constructor) handles plastering, plumbing, and electrical. We both garden. I've worked on nine TOH house projects to date, and while some are more memorable than others, all have taught me valuable lessons about life and home improvement.

The Concord Cottage was a "girl power" project. We had two generations of female homeowners, and most of the key players—from the architect to designer to the structural engineer—were women. In the end, our favorite man, Tom Silva, built the project, but all of that amazing female talent helped to create one of TOH's most charming and detailed houses.

Another favorite project was Bermuda. This one was all about the guys—guys in SHORTS. We learned that, with the right team, we could meet any challenge—like that of renovating a captain's house 600 miles out at sea, in a historic district in three months when it really should take nine. Selecting a builder with wide influence and vast resources made all of the difference on this job.

I've attended a few TOH volunteer days over the years. One of them is an annual project when our entire staff gets fixes up a house for a low-income family. Under Tom's direction, Kevin and I built this outdoor handrail to make one homeowners' front steps more manageable. These volunteer days remind you how important it is to give back—and how much fun it can be while working with friends doing something you love.

Right now, we're working on a brand new green building project in Austin, Texas that will air Feburary 2007. It's been a fun challenge to work with locals to cut through the hype to find the best strategies and materials for this bungalow remodel. Green building is teaching me that it's hard to be a purist, that compromise is necessary, and that—when it comes to the environment—doing something is better than doing nothing. All of those lessons apply easily to life as well.

Isa Markevitz, Production Coordinator, This Old House television show

Having worked on both Ask This Old House and The New Yankee Workshop, I find myself at home on the Emmy award-winning This Old House. For the past four years, I have coordinated and managed various facets of the show's production, from procuring props to arranging on-camera personalities, as well as overseeing product orders and travel itineraries for the cast and crew. Working alongside producer Deborah Hood, I serve as a liaison between the homeowners whose houses are featured on the show, the building contractors and the production crew to ensure everyone's needs are met, within deadlines and budgets. Not quite a homeowner just yet, I will have plenty of furniture to outfit my future home, as I continue to be inspired by master carpenter Norm Abram. My most recent projects include refinishing an antique walnut writing desk and building an Adirondack deck chair made of solid mahogany.