TV show producer Bruce Irving says the key to finding the experts who appear on This Old House is really quite simple.
Over the years, scores of talented tradespeople, artisans, and historical experts have contributed to This Old House renovations, and it's been a privilege to feature them on our show. Whether they're there to sweat some copper pipe or comment on the Federal style, they add to the show's growing library of information. Tracking down just the right craftspeople for these segments can involve talking to dozens of sources. But it's the part of my role as producer that I like best, because I know that it's the people who make This Old House really great.
If we've done our jobs right, we've shown off their talents and dedication in ways that stay with viewers long after the project is finished. Think of the wallpaper hanger in Watertown who used a new razor blade for every cut he made so as not to rip the paper, or the Nantucket roofer who hand-cut and nailed cedar shingles to form an elaborate diamond pattern. Then, in Billerica, there were the electricians who labeled every wire to the breaker box and the plumbers who tagged every shutoff valve so that homeowner Dick Silva could make repairs without wondering what leads where. This year it's the painters in Manchester who sand, vacuum, and wipe between every coat on the way to a luminous finish.
So where do they come from, these geniuses of the home front? Admittedly, we're lucky at TOH because we are often approached by specialists eager to share their expertise. We met John Dee, who is now our painting and finishes pro, when he called one day in 1995 to ask if we wanted to see a historic entryway he'd just restored. We did, and here he is seven years and five projects later meticulously stripping and repairing the McCues' portico in Manchester.
More often, though, we rely on the tendency of good people to travel in the same circles. Finding the best general contractor — like Tom Silva — means also finding the best subcontractors, a rule that we've benefited from countless times (and something homeowners can take advantage of). In addition, quality products attract quality installers. After we discovered Bruce Bradbury's period-style wallpaper during our Belmont project in 1993, we used it in renovations from Massachusetts to California, and at every local supplier we encountered another gifted hanger. The correlation is simple: The places that distribute the best materials attract the best subs — or at least make a point to know their names so that they can ensure that their merchandise is installed to the highest standards.
At the end of the day, the most reliable tool I have is positive word of mouth; it's how fine work has always been rewarded. The people who show up on This Old House rarely advertise. They don't have to. Because excellent craftsmanship speaks for itself — and good news travels fast.