|Norm And Rich Trethewey On "MyFixitUpLife" Radio Show|
David: Mark: We are joined today by the top tier of our industry and I don’t want to waste any time getting to how much I respect these guys — Norm Abram and Rich Trethewey from ‘This Old House’ and ‘Ask This Old House’ and do you have an hour to be here? Because I have a really long list of questions.
Norm: We’ll do our best.
Theresa: Go really fast Mark.
Mark: As it turns out, no, I don’t have an hour. But one of the reasons I have my computer out here is because Rich didn’t believe that I wrote a philosophical introduction to our show, and I wanted to prove it to him right now.
Theresa: Why don’t you show it to him on your computer?
Mark: Yeah why don’t you just read.
Rich: You read it.
Mark: And while counters are the cover that deliver the passion to kitchen, bath, and home, the essence of civilization lies deep in the plumbing that provides us water and heat. So who better to talk copper, cast iron and old house can do than ‘Ask This Old House’ master plumber, Richard Trethewey. And then it’s back to finishes. The things we touch and see and the carpenters whose sharp blades and beautiful boards bring more life to ‘This Old House’ and all our homes, the inimitable, Norm Abram.
Norm: The inimitable?
Mark: Yeah, I had to look that up.
Norm: So on that plumbing and heating thing we’re only noticed if we do poorly. If we do really good, nobody ever notices us at all. People are comfortable, they have the right amount of hot water and cold water…we’re only noticed if we screw up.
Mark: It’s incredible though, for such a hard and difficult job…
Theresa: And such an important job too.
Mark: It is literally, in my mind, the difference between the haves and have not’s, civilized and not civilized society from the Carthaginians to today. And I admire that times ten.
Rich: The Romans would still be around if they didn’t use that lead in their pipes. They just got a little stupid and they died.
Theresa: Well that’s a heart-warming story.
Mark: Good times, good times. Remember the Roman Empire?
Theresa: You should write children’s books.
Mark: Ha Ha. You should write children’s books…and then everyone died.
Theresa: There should be an animated cartoon that features you and all of your stories.
Rich: Thank you. I’ll be here all the week. Two shows nightly.
Norm: Late night with Rich Trethewey.
Theresa: Really late night.
Mark: Well, that’s a great segue to Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, that you were on with Tom, not Norm, Roger Cook, and Kevin. Let’s not talk about Kevin.
Rich: Why you want his job? We’ve done Jimmy a couple of times, and the most amazing thing to admit, and to all of us, was he walked into back stage straight faced and said ‘I just can’t believe that we were able to get you guys…I am your biggest fan.’ Now that is completely upside-down and backwards for Jimmy Fallon, a real celebrity, to be saying. He was a true fan he said he’s watched all the shows forever with my dad — it blew us away. So upside-down. It makes you realize that everybody has a house — everybody has a house that needs to be fixed up.
Theresa: Well it’s not upside-down to us because we’re huge fans. I mean when I was a little girl, I watched you guys on TV. That’s what I watched.
Rich: That reminds us just how long we’ve been on ha ha
Theresa: But I mean seriously, I’m a huge fan, Mark’s a huge fan.
Mark: Giant fan.
Rich: Speaking of fans, Norm has been on Letterman and all other kinds of shows. What else have you been on?
Norm: Been on Letterman a couple of times way back. He was a big fan as well. It was great, really fun to work with him. You know ‘Good Morning America’ a couple of times for the workshop show when I was doing that. It’s amazing the people that watch the shows and young people excite us because they are the future home owners and we walked in today and a couple of young ladies said to us ‘Can we get a picture with you guys we love the show.’ So we just want to keep helping those people and its hard to believe we just finished our 32nd season and we’re already looking at houses for the next one. So on we go.
Mark: That’s great.
Theresa: That is so incredible. I mean 32 seasons is just, for any television program or for any business, it’s just incredible. When you get started on that journey and seeing it all the way through three plus decades — I mean nobody stays in a job that long anymore.
Rich: When you think about it, when we started it was right at the beginning of this home renovation revolution.
Norm: Do it yourself.
Rich: Home Depot started right about the same time. And it was before we came a long, as a homeowner, you were obligated to only buy, from a plumber you were only going to get CWC — cheap, white, and chrome. There were no choices and we started showing choices to the consumer, which then made them smarter to go the other way. And it really coincided with this whole what we’re part of here.
Norm: Right and also made them understand what it takes to do good craftsmanship and how to talk to your contractor and get knowledge and design ideas. The whole package sort of came together over the years. I remember when we shot that first house in Dorchester in 1979 — Russell Morash who created the show — after we shot the series and auctioned off the house, there was only 13 episodes and only ran in Boston, he said ‘Eh maybe we’ll do this again.’ Maybe we’ll do this again? We’re still doing it.
Rich: That’s right.
Norm: And even he decided to take a break.
Mark: And that brings up something that you were talking about before we got started. Thirty years ago, ‘This Old House’ is ‘This Old House’ again. Do you think about going back?
Norm: Well I’ve been thinking about that more recently because we are over 30 years old now and you know the rehabbing cycle of a lot of homes is right around that 25-30 year period people are saying ‘I need to redo my kitchen, the bathroom fixtures are out of date, we could use a new furnace’ you know things like that. Upgrades without totally tearing the house apart, all basically interior details that could be upgraded. I think we could teach people a lot about that, and who knows maybe we’ll go back to one of the projects that we actually did. Some of the projects are still owned by the people that we worked with.
Rich: Including that first one that we did. Which we are remembering had this incredibly gaudy orange countertop, which was so happening, so hot back in 1978-79, or so we thought.
Theresa: And it’s hot now too…orange is.
Rich: See it always cycles around.
Theresa: And there’s a stylish woman that literally just walked by that had a bright orange sweater on.
Rich: I noticed that.
Theresa: Yes, was that the color of the countertop?
Rich: I don’t know. Ha Ha.
Mark: He was under the counter hooking up the kitchen sink.
Rich: I didn’t see the color; sorry I’m colorblind sometimes.
Mark: Did you put a shag carpet in there that you had to rake out at night?
Norm: Well we had to take the shag carpet out, but in that particular kitchen I remember we put those one-inch square parquet floors that come in the twelve by twelve sheets and you glue it down. And that was like forever putting those tiles down, and I’m sure it’s probably still there.
Norm: And we’ve been back to the house a couple of times, never on the inside.
Rich: They wouldn’t let us back in.
Norm: Ha they wouldn’t let us back in.
Theresa: You’re just hanging outside.
Mark: The only thing we’ve upgraded is the locks.
Norm: But the outside of the house, it’s really nice to see a homeowner that keeps their house up, and the outside of the house is as good, 25 years after we did it, as the day we walked away from it. So that feels good for us that we know that our homeowners take care of it.
Rich: That also represented one of the things that we’ve seen time and again in a neighborhood, where this was the house that was in decay among many others in the neighborhood, and when we coordinated to have that house done, the entire neighborhood just came back. So when we come back and see that neighborhood now it’s a happening Boston neighborhood.
Mark: No kidding?
Norm: People feel a little shame when they see their next door neighbor getting a new paint job and fixing the house up, and they’ve got the ladders out and they are starting to hire contractors — it’s like a disease, but it’s a good disease.
Theresa: That is a good disease. And you know one thing that you guys sort of joke about is that you’re like an old rock band.
Rich: Without the drugs and rehab.
Theresa: Ha ha yeah. But what I would really love to see is like some kind of bus tour or something. Like ‘This Old House’ on the road and go to a bunch of different projects around the country and visit with the homeowners who actually still own the houses.
Norm: Do we have to cry too like Extreme Makeover?
Theresa: Nooo. But you know what I mean? How fun would that be? And to show footage of when you were working on the house, and when it was finished, what it looks like now. Because we just love watching you all together you know what I mean?
Norm: Want to do 6 or 8 weeks on a bus with us?
Theresa: I would go. I’ll go.
Rich: We have crazed fans that actually do that. I did a thing recently and this lady came up to me and she was from California and she said ‘I’m from California’ and I said ‘Oh really? What are you doing here?’ ‘Well you know I just want to see all of ‘This Old House’s’ projects can you tell me where they are?’ And I was like I don’t think I should do that. But she was diligent. I’m sure she found quite a few.
Theresa: That scares me.
Mark: One of the things, and trying desperately to take it away from the stalking conversation we’re on, is I would be fascinated to see the differences in the tools between the original footage and what you had set up and what it would look like today.
Norm: Some things wouldn’t change I think but the thing that always comes to my mind, and I remember on the Arlington house I think — 3 or 4th project we did — and we got the first cordless drill.
Rich: Yup, that’s the big change.
Norm: Cordless driver…it wasn’t really a drill it was a screwdriver. Well, it didn’t have a detachable battery, you had to plug it in and wait 12 hours for the thing to recover, and then it would be dead again in a half hour. Now we’ve got 12volt lithium batteries that you drive lag screws with. I mean the changes in the tool industry are just so dramatic.
Rich: And that was good for us because we kept on cutting our cords.
Norm: Rich still has to solder pipes with the same torch and soldering…that hasn’t changed.
Rich: That’s right but now it comes on automatic so I don’t have to do the match.
Norm: And you’ve got those compression fittings, you’ve got all this stuff now. There’s a lot of things.
Mark: Yeah that’s incredible. I remember the first cordless drill I had was like the stick — the 12volt stick which they still make — and now it’s these little micro impact drivers that you can drive lags or get under a sink.
Norm: I still have an old cordless drill that I can’t get the battery out unless I have somebody else push the button from the other side…the brand shall remain nameless. But I will throw it out — eventually.
Mark: Ha ha. So what projects are you working on specifically right now? Are you making anything?
Norm: We’re in between ‘This Old House’ projects. We rapped up our Barrington, Rhode Island project the second week of January and it’s actually running now on PBS. The Bedford project has run its course; we’re on the Barrington project, which was a lot of fun. We had a great contractor, we were right on the ocean, we hadn’t done one that was in a zone that was exposed to that kind of weather — we’ve been close to the water but not like this. And that project turned out really well. The producers are out already looking. I saw a pile of projected projects or proposed projects on the table the other day, so we’re in between. We’ll be back at it probably in April and you’ll start seeing new shows probably in the fall, but the old shows are still running.
Rich: And no, we’re not coming to Philadelphia.
Mark: Evidently that’s personal. What he didn’t say was ‘And Mark because of you we will not visit.’
Theresa: So go to thisoldhouse.com, follow them on Twitter, and follow us into a break.
Mark: We’ll be back with more MyFixitUpLife.
Click here to listen to the radio show from the 2012 International Builders’ Show.