Manhattan Remodel and Cape Cod Affordable

The second half of Bob Vila’s Home Again Season 15 features two very different approaches to building a home as Bob revitalizes a 1890s brownstone on New York City’s Upper West Side and constructs single-family affordable homes on Cape Cod.

Profiling New York City and Cape Cod, Bob Vila’s Home Again will show two very different housing projects in the second half of this 25th anniversary season.

The first show finds us in Manhattan, where Bob joins his son Chris Vila to rejuvenate an Upper West Side brownstone that was originally constructed as a high-end, single-family home. Bob looks at the materials and features that characterize Manhattan brownstones, then walks us through a single floor of the building, which was divided into two separate apartments in the 1940s. Bob identifies period details that remain in the building, including original wrought-iron doors, and mourns the loss of details that once existed in these homes, which featured the highest quality workmanship available.

Architect Brian O’Keefe joins Bob and Chris to review the plans to reconvert the two apartments to one single-floor apartment, bring light and open up space, and redefine the living areas to create a 21st-century urban home. The plan is to create the sleek and chic urban look so desired today. But the building catches up with them as demolition reveals the very bones and character of the place. Original cornices are discovered under drop ceilings, joist work is exposed, and the butchering of the original work is revealed through layers of deconstruction.

A decision is made to follow the context of the building, to keep the cornices and highlight them, to use wood flooring that suggests the floors that once graced the apartment, to reconnect the fireplace and search out an antique mantel, and to have an eye to the finishes that are representative of the high-quality work that characterized the building in the first place. Plasterers are brought on site instead of sheetrockers. Joists are sistered to build them back up and make them level. Throughout the project, Bob meets tradespeople who function more as craftspeople than mere installers. This is fitting for a building on the Upper West Side that sits on the doorstep of historic Central Park. Visiting the park, noting its treasures and its upkeep schedule, brings to mind the history and fabric of New York and this neighborhood.

The project in Mashpee, MA, takes a very different look at house and home, this time as a community response to a housing shortage that is pricing working families out of their own communities. Mashpee, where the average home price is $450,000, with few or no single-family homes available for under $300,000, is responding to the need for diverse housing in a number of ways. Bob visits Mashpee Commons, the ongoing development of a town-centered planned development that will feature all aspects of residential, commercial, community, civic, and religious building when complete.

Beyond the town center, Bob looks at land development and building, which have been constrained by zoning laws requiring two-acre parcels per housing unit. Bob is joined by developer Joe Valle, who seized the opportunity to bypass the ordinance and construct a mix of affordable and market housing at River Hill by invoking Massachusetts’s’ Act 40B, the state land-use law that says that 3 percent of a town’s development must be dedicated to affordable housing.

Once qualified, Valle was able to use a 4.5-acre parcel of land that was ill suited to development as two-acre lots and instead develop them as a neighborhood of 11 homes, 4 of which are affordable by definition and will be sold by lottery to qualified buyers. The homeowners will select from three designs — ranch, cape, and colonial — and will have the same building materials and finishes as the market homes located in the neighborhood. Due to increased density, River Hill will be able to function as a neighborhood with winding streets, accessible house fronts, and adjacent backyards. The homes will all be Energy Star–certified for efficiency, with a focus on materials that make for easy maintenance and upkeep. The Cape Cod story will look at all aspects of affordability, from building, to purchase, to upkeep, to sustainable communities in Massachusetts and as it pertains to the rest of the country.