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‘This Old House’ host visits Raleigh to talk about historic home renovations

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After 16 years as host of “This Old House,” you would think Kevin O’Connor would no longer be thought of as “the new guy.” But on a television show with a 40-year history that still features its original master carpenter Norm Abram along with longtime general contractor Tom Silva (there since 1988), it can’t be avoided.

O’Connor, who visits Raleigh this weekend (Feb. 15-17) for the Downtown Raleigh Home Show, is happy to be the new guy on the show, which airs on PBS (locally on UNC-TV). Heck, he’s just happy to be there. His route to television was not a typical one.

O’Connor worked in the world of corporate lending — “doing suit and wingtip type work” — when he and his wife bought a fixer-upper outside Boston.

“I was into the show and figured I could work on the house on the side,” O’Connor said in a phone interview. “We quickly ran into issues.”

O’Connor said “This Old House” had recently launched a spinoff show called “Ask This Old House,” which filmed episodes based on questions from homeowners. He had written to the “This Old House” magazine with a question about his renovation and his question was selected for the show.

“They came out and filmed a segment and Tom Silva came,” O’Connor said. “Three weeks later they called and asked if I wanted to host both shows.”

Even though it would mean filling the massive shoes of previous hosts Bob Vila and Steve Thomas, O’Connor said there was no hesitation in saying yes.

“I grew up a huge fan of the show, but no interest in being on television,” he said. “With any other show, no. But to get to hang out with Tom Silva and Norm and the boys? Yes. I figured I could always go back to banking if it didn’t work out.”

O’Connor wears a tool belt on the show and does a little work as needed, but his main job is to act as a stand-in for the homeowner, or viewer.

“I throw in to help sometimes, but I’m there as a proxy for the homeowner,” he said. “If you have Tom in your house and you want to ask him questions about what he’s doing, that’s my job. Even when I’m wearing a tool belt, my job is to extract information from the professional.”

When O’Connor visits Raleigh this weekend, his Home Show program will include discussion of two projects “This Old House” is working on this season: a 100-year-old cottage in Jamestown, Rhode Island, that they’re making a “net-zero” energy efficient home; and “modernizing” a 1957 mid-century modern home in Brookline, Mass.

O’Connor has advice for those considering buying an old house: “Go into it with your eyes open.”

“Renovation is difficult and there are a lot of unknowns. The work always takes longer and costs more than you anticipate. There are a lot of pitfalls. You can’t see behind walls, so there are things you or your contractor can’t know until you open things up.”

But there are definite pluses to buying older homes, he said.

“One of the benefits of older homes is that they are the survivors,” he said. “The ones still standing 100, 150 years later, those were built better or in are in a premiere location ... They’re the ones where you get a good bang for your buck.”

Visit the Downtown Raleigh Home Show

Where: Raleigh Convention Center, 500 S. Salisbury St., Raleigh

When: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday

Cost: $10 for adults and free for kids 12 and under. $8 when purchased in advance at raleighspringshow.com

See Kevin O’Connor: Fresh Ideas Stage at 3 p.m. Friday and noon and 3 p.m. Saturday

Brooke Cain is a North Carolina native who has worked at The News & Observer for more than 20 years. She writes about TV and local media for the Happiness is a Warm TV blog, and also covers local retail.


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