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“People are obsessed with their living spaces,” says Kevin O’Connor, host of PBS’s This Old House for the past 12 years. “I have seen that go from an interest to an obsession over those years. It’s really moved front and center for a lot of people.”
Whether it’s because of greater affluence or expanded range and choice of living options — or both — this obsession has spawned a host of television shows focused on the topic of home improvement and remodeling — but This Old House is the granddaddy of them all. The show is touted as the most watched in the home improvement genre, and it’s also the longest-running, celebrating 35 years on the air. “Some people who are in this business are fun to watch, but what these guys have that’s unique to them: they’re incredibly trustworthy,” O’Connor says of his colleagues on the show. “On some level people who are looking for less entertainment and more high-quality information. They end up coming to us.”
O’Connor is set to talk about This Old House‘s anniversary this weekend at the Home + Remodeling Show at the Dulles Expo Center. “I’ve pulled some archival footage and lots of photos from my personal collection. We’re talking about some of the funniest moments, some of the highlights of those 35 years.” That includes amusing photos with original host Bob Vila, back when he had “big hair.”
But the highlight of O’Connor’s appearance at the show will come after his official presentation, when he’ll take questions from the audience — first from the stage and then one-on-one off to the side. “I’ll be spending hours answering people’s questions, either publicly or individually,” he says.
O’Connor is happy to entertain general questions about the show’s content and specific questions about personal remodeling problems or concerns. In fact, taking such questions has become critical to his work, which also includes hosting the companion show Ask This Old House. “Television is by nature very isolating,” he explains. “Consumer home shows [offer a rare] chance to interact with the people who watch our show…. And the questions kind of drive our editorial content.” Based on what people are asking or saying, O’Connor can report back to his editorial staff to enhance their coverage of, say, intelligent thermostats and the smart home. “All I’m hearing are questions from people who can’t figure out this stuff,” he says. “Maybe these things aren’t as intuitive as we’re making them seem.”
The Home + Remodeling Show offers additional chances for attendees to solicit advice and services from experts in the field. Most notable is the free, first-come, first-serve component called “Ask a Remodeler.” “We encourage homeowners to bring their remodeling challenges, their questions, their issues,” says Liz Benkovich, the show’s manager and a vice president with Marketplace Events, the Buffalo-based company that presents it and other shows like it around the country. “Remodeling exhibitors man that space an hour or two at a time, and consumers get free, private consultations…and expert advice.”
Also appearing at the show this year are John and Whitney Spinks from HGTV’s Flipping the Block. The married couple won on the show by beating out three other teams, garnering the biggest resale value after renovating a run-down Los Angeles-area condo on a limited budget. The Spinks will share some of the behind-the-scenes secrets from the show, as well as some of their favorite do-it-yourself tips and products.
“Homeowners come to the show because there are experts under one roof all weekend long,” Benkovich says. “The exhibitors are all kinds of companies that have to do with remodeling, decorating and home improvement. They range from windows and doors to flooring to siding to roofing, and contractors for closet organization, or if you have an insect issue. For consumers, it’s a timesaver. And a really good opportunity to see what’s new, to get new ideas.” And, of course, maybe find a new contractor to work with as the vast majority are local to the area, says Benkovich.
The January Home + Remodeling Show was spun off three years ago from the 20-year-old Capital Remodel + Garden Show, which takes place at the Dulles Expo Center in late February and has more of an outdoor component, with “dream gardens and landscapers.” But even spreading it out over two shows hasn’t been enough. Both shows are set to grow even larger. “The Dulles Expo Center is expanding,” Benkovich says. “In 2016, it will be 30-percent larger…. That’s good because we are filled to the brim.”
Kevin O’Connor appears Friday, Jan. 23, at 7 p.m., and Saturday, Jan. 24, at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., at the Home + Remodeling Show, which runs Friday, Jan. 23, and Saturday, Jan. 24, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday, Jan. 25, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Dulles Expo Center, 4320 Chantilly Shopping Center, Chantilly, Va. Tickets are $10, or use promo code “Metro” for a $4 discount online. Call 800-274-6948 or visit homeandremodelingshow.com.
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