From a second-story suburban expansion to the redecoration of an urban apartment, This Old House took a whirlwind home improvement tour of the Boston area during its sixth season, rolling up their sleeves alongside homeowners to design, budget, build and decorate five different remodeling projects.
Rob and Jennifer were already home improvement veterans when This Old House stopped by to expand the master bedroom of their 50 year-old classic Cape Cod cottage. A hidden asset made the work easier: an unfinished attic provided space for a master bathroom, bigger closets and a balcony overlooking the backyard. All of the renovations were housed in a shed dormer that brought the attic roof in line with the house’s main roof. Throughout the demolition, homeowners Rob and Jennifer lent a hand, helping not only to construct the addition but also to knock down its cost. Under the tutelage of our master carpenter, they learned how to properly demolish walls, tear off roofing, frame the new addition, drywall, plaster, shingle, tile, run wires, lay pipe and install carpeting. Their hard work paid off in the form of a spacious, light filled suite in keeping with the humble character of their home.
Next the crew climbed down from the roof and into the cellar for its second project, the conversion of a basement into a family room. To make the switch from utility area to living space, the crew first had to reposition an oil storage tank that cut into the room’s useable space, and then update low-slung pipes and rewire the electrical system. Unfinished basements can be wet, cold and dark so the watchwords for this project were moisture control, heat and light. Homeowners took care to install plenty of insulation sheathed with a watertight vapor barrier. Copper baseboard heating insured that the family stayed warm while a false hearth built into the chimney gave the room a cozy feel. Large white window wells were installed to bring much-needed light into the underground room. Walls were then studded out and finished, built-in cabinets for stereo, television, books, toys and storage constructed and a drop ceiling installed to hide pipes and wires but keep them accessible for repairs. The transformed basement was dry, warm and bright—a perfect backdrop for family life.
A House of Green Leaves
For years, Meade had looked at greenhouses in catalogues and at home shows, waiting for the day that she might build her own. That day arrived along with the This Old House crew who helped her install a single-story greenhouse on her home’s southern wall, just off the living room. To create a passageway, the TOH crew converted one of the living room windows into a doorway, carefully removing and replacing the decorative mouldings that gave the room its Colonial charm. The greenhouse itself came in a kit that included the aluminum frame, insulated glass panels and quilted shades to insulate the room at night. Decorative red quarry tiles, fragrant red cedar paneling, custom-made workbenches and an abundant supply of plants and flowers completed Meade’s dream greenhouse.
The team then headed to a glorious 100-year old Victorian with a kitchen ahead of its time. While the rest of the house featured leaded glass, warm golden oak paneling and carved mouldings, the kitchen was stuck in the kitschy fifties, replete with drop ceiling, orange cabinets, hollow-core doors and faux wood paneling. To remedy the time warp, TOH called in architect Jock Gifford who reorganized the house around a central hallway, relocating the back door to the end of the hall, tucking the powder room underneath the stairs and transforming the kitchen’s look and layout so that they better reflected the period of the home. When the considerable dust settled, the new kitchen, with its bay window, wood stove, oak cabinets and beechwood floor, showed no trace of its fifties nostalgia.
An Artful Apartment
Before becoming homeowners, most people spend a few years living in an apartment where any repairs they make will eventually be left behind. But a few well-placed, economical improvements can transform a hollow shoebox into a more welcoming home. To this end, This Old House took on the redecoration of an apartment in Longwood Towers, a 1920s era apartment complex on the outskirts of Boston. The young couple renting the unit wanted to restore and update its rooms, which suffered from water damage and a bad paint job. TOH called in Metropolitan Home editor Ben Lloyd who offered inexpensive solutions like track lighting, a Murphy bed, moveable screens and modular shelving that the couple could take with them when they moved. The finished product proved that home improvement isn’t just for homeowners.