[Editor's Note: Bob Tedeschi has a deep, diverse and celebrated journalistic background, having covered everything from political issues to motorcycle rallies. He has taught journalism, writing and literature at the community college level as well as creative writing for children (at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, founded by Paul Newman). Bob contributes on a regular basis to The New York Times "Gadgetwise," but you likely know him as the author of the "The Pragmatist" column—an honest, light-hearted, and truly informative body of writing about the DIY experience.]
Bob Vila: You certainly have a multi-directional career, but the whole area of do-it-yourself and home improvement seems like something you really love. Is that right?
Bob Tedeschi: I do. It’s a lot of fun actually. I generally approach projects with a sense of dread and excitement, which is an odd mix. But usually once I’m done with them, I’m thrilled.
Bob Vila: I always say it’s that personal satisfaction of knowing you did the job yourself that is the best payoff of any DIY endeavor. When did you start writing about home improvement for The New York Times?
Bob Tedeschi: It started a couple years ago. The editors had taken a look at the Home section and they wanted to run more stories that would be of service to readers. We had a lot of high-design elements and real estate-related pieces, but we were looking to help homeowners who were trying their best to tackle projects on a budget, particularly since the column launched during the recession. I had some experience with more service-oriented columns and they thought I fit the profile; someone who could squeeze a lot of practical guidance out of each project. And the column was born.
Bob Vila: ”The Pragmatist” is such a terrific title. Was that your idea?
Bob Tedeschi: I cannot claim credit for that one. There were a few titles that were floated around, but as soon as I heard that one—like you—I thought, yeah, that’s it.
Bob Vila: Did you grow up in New York City?
Bob Tedeschi: I grew up in an old house in Connecticut. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up. My dad was always either under the car yelling at various things that were going wrong, or under the sink trying to figure out how to fix a leak. So I was always looking over my dad’s shoulder trying to figure out what he was doing in between curses.
Bob Vila: What was the period of the house?
Bob Tedeschi: It was probably turn of the century; there are markings on it that suggested it was the 1890s. It may have been a little newer than that, but not by much.
Bob Vila: I know that Connecticut has such an incredible wealth of 19th- and 18th-century homes. I also know that people can become slaves to their antique houses.
Bob Tedeschi: It felt a lot like that. Every project required us to peel through layers and layers and layers of history to get down to what was original. It was a big task.
Bob Vila: What is your own house like?
Bob Tedeschi: It’s about as average as you can get. It’s a circa-1970 Colonial, about 2,000 square feet on around an acre of land in the Connecticut suburbs. And we have four kids who put the house through the ringer. My wife and I do the best to keep up with everything that breaks. As you can imagine, we do a lot of improvising. I think I used a pair of vice grips as a shower handle for the better part of a year, because we had no time to replace it. Or, more accurately, I didn’t devote the time to figuring out how to do it (at least before the column came around).
Bob Vila: No, it’s true—even if you’re in the business. We spent probably a dozen years living in a huge Victorian in the Boston area. And one of my kids actually pointed out that he had used the bathroom at a friend’s house where they had this thing on the wall that held the roll of toilet paper. You didn’t have to pick it up off the floor. It really drove home the fact that I had never gotten around to putting toilet paper holders in all the different bathrooms in the house. And there were a lot of bathrooms.
Have you had any really horrible do-it-yourself experiences? Problems that you just couldn’t resolve by yourself?