Everyday Drama Enlivens `This Old House' Whenever the Crew Takes on a Home-Renovation Project, Neighbors and Viewers Tune in to See How the Experts Do It

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WHEN "This Old House" comes to a neighborhood, there's more than the usual curiosity about a new construction project next door. Even joggers stop and stare; people who've never met before drop by to discuss how things are going.

Everyone on site, and just off, is caught up in what the show's host, Steve Thomas, calls the "romantic dream" of fixing up an old place like the shingle-style Victorian on Lawndale Street in this close-in suburb of Boston.

The dream is most intense, of course, for the owners, Dean and Lauren Gallant. They had figured on 10 years to refurbish the 86-year-old house, Dean says.

But when their home was chosen from about 200 proposals for this fall's project on the popular PBS show, the time frame shrank to six months. The 18-week series of shows on this project began Oct. 2 on PBS (check local listings for day and time). Planning stage

As work on the stately Victorian structure progresses, surprises are common. Three trees were removed one recent morning, literally throwing new light on the project.

"I hadn't realized how much light would come through once they were down," Mr. Gallant says, shielding his eyes in the bright sun. The absence of foliage reveals unseen details, such as a double pitch to the roof of the side turret.

Tree removal was one of many decisions the Gallants talked over with Russell Morash, who has directed "This Old House" for WGBH, Boston's PBS affiliate, since he created the show in 1979. This is the show's 26th project.

Mrs. Gallant recounts discussions with "Russ and Steve" about the kitchen, which requires a thorough overhaul. With a smile, she recalls the producer's and host's reaction to their original design: "That's a nice amateurish plan."

Messrs. Morash and Thomas, both of whom have restored old homes of their own, recommended the Gallants consult a kitchen designer.

One of their best friends is in that field, so they went to him. "The design we finally came up with," says Mrs. Gallant, "is so different, and in some ways more in keeping with the house - a big working kitchen with lots of space and light."

Viewers of "This Old House," now in its 15th season, will become familiar with the Gallants' kitchen as bare wall studs and beat-up linoleum give way to glass-fronted cabinets and restored hardwood floors.

The room will be the setting for many a chat among Thomas, master carpenter Norm Abram, and builders like Sal Bertolami of J.B. Sash & Door in Chelsea, Mass.

Mr. Bertolami was on hand that sunny morning to discuss his updated double-hung windows. The half-hour or so spent capturing that two-or-three-minute scene shows how Morash achieves the natural, conversational style typical of "This Old House."

First, a few minutes are spent talking over the window, deciding which features to touch on. Next comes a series of run-throughs, during which the order of the conversation takes shape.

From the sidelines, director Morash grimaces as he reminds Thomas not to ask a question about the window's energy performance, since Bertolami has already admitted he doesn't have the figures. …