Although I used to have a pretty big workshop back in Cambridge, things changed once we sold the place and became snowbirds. I’m not into any major projects down here in Florida, like building a dining room table, but I still need a place to do minor fix-its.
Author Archives: Bob Vila
- Tools & Workshop >
- My Workbench Today
My Workbench Today
- Historic Homes & More >
- Remembering Vizcaya
While visitors to Miami primarily come for sun and fun, the city offers a wealth of artistic, cultural and architectural wonders, among them Vizcaya—the former winter residence of American Industrialist John Deering.
My first memories of Vizcaya date back to 1960 when I visited the grand estate with my parents and grandmother one Sunday afternoon. It may well have been the spark that ignited my love of old houses and classical architecture. The house is a perfect Italian Renaissance Palazzo. It was built in 1916 by Deering, a vice president of International Harvester, to resemble a 400-year-old Italian estate that had been occupied and renovated by several generations of family. Much of the actual building components (ceilings, doors, floors and mantlepieces) were bought from Italian antiquarians and installed here along with a ship-load of antique furniture.
- Roofing & Siding >
- Broken Roof Tiles: An Easy Fix?
Broken Roof Tiles: An Easy Fix?
It’s a complete mystery to me how this could have happened to my roof in Florida. There are no palm trees around to drop a coconut and nobody’s been up on the roof, but somehow two tiles are broken.
No use pondering the cause. The good news is that when we re-roofed the house we kept about 50 left-over tiles for just this type of eventuality. (Something I highly recommend whether you choose asphalt shingles, wood shakes, or tiles.) By code, all of these flat cement tiles are “fastened mechanically” which means they’re screwed down into the plywood roof sheathing. This is to prevent them from flying off in a hurricane.
The repair is simple enough but requires the type of ladder that few homeowners keep around. Sliding the new tile into place and securing with construction adhesive and a couple of screws is easy—the hard part is getting up there.
For more on roofing, check out these articles, slideshows and videos:
- Flooring & Stairs >
- Grouting Tile (Trouble Free)
Grouting Tile (Trouble Free)
Last week in the Just Ask Bob section of our community forums, a site user asked an interesting question: “I haven’t grouted yet, what trouble will I have when I do?” What I found most interesting about the question was the phrasing. It wasn’t “what trouble might I encounter”—this DIYer had already resigned himself/herself to the fact that grouting was going to be a problem, regardless.
Through the years, I’ve watched capable home improvement aficionados shy away from one task or another, based on either preconceived notions or bad first-time experiences. But there are tips to help you out in every project, and grouting is no exception.
- Major Systems >
- Home Generators: To Have or Have Not?
Home Generators: To Have or Have Not?
As Penelope Green reported in The New York Times on Wednesday, more and more homebuilders are outfitting new construction with gas-powered generators. Whereas they might once have been considered “a little overkill,” buyers are now starting to see these machines as desirable fail-safes, especially after Hurricane Irene (and a recent, rare October snowstorm in the Northeast) knocked out the electricity in so many areas.
- Tools & Workshop >
- Tim Allen and Bob Vila: Back to the Future
Tim Allen and Bob Vila: Back to the Future
If you haven’t checked out Tim Allen’s new ABC comedy sitcom, Last Man Standing, you should. He’s an awfully funny guy and the show is produced very much like his very successful Home Improvement was—in front of a live studio audience. In a recent Los Angeles Times interview, Tim himself referred to the new show as “comfort food for the entertainment industry.”
- Historic Homes & More >
- “Great Camp” Architecture of Today
“Great Camp” Architecture of Today
Five years ago, friends of mine finished building a gracious family retreat on a beautiful, remote site in the Adirondack Mountains. My friends’ getaway—Treetops, they call it—is a mini version of the rambling, timber-and-stone “Great Camp” compounds constructed by the Gilded Age wealthy.
The original camps—less than 40 survive—combine stylistic elements from Swiss chalet design and the English Arts and Crafts movement. On the material level, however, Great Camp architecture, with its reliance on locally sourced timber and indigenous stone, exemplifies a special, uniquely American vernacular mode.
- Historic Homes & More >
- Revitalizing the Hemingway Home in Cuba
Revitalizing the Hemingway Home in Cuba
In 1939, after selling the film rights to his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway purchased Finca Vigía, a beautiful country property in Cuba. The rambling masonry home—which the author occupied on-and-off until 1960—sits perched on 12 acres of land in the hills outside Havana.
Several years ago, Finca Vigía was in danger of destruction—from heat, humidity, pests, and the sheer passage of time. At that point, an American non-profit that I co-chair, The Finca Vigía Foundation, joined the Cuban government in a successful effort to save the home from ruin. Today, the estate is an internationally recognized museum full of Hemingway’s belongings and his numerous, fascinating collections (guns, typewriters, fishing rods, paintings and, of course, books).
- Green >
- Bracing for Irene—Hurricane Preparedness
Bracing for Irene—Hurricane Preparedness
The ending days of summer mean our outdoor lives are still in full swing so a weather event like Irene—at the time of this post, a category 2 hurricane expected to make landfall in North Carolina sometime tomorrow and chug up the coastline to New England by Sunday, affecting more than 65 million people living in its path—is truly an unwelcome visitor. It’s been a long time since we were hammered by hurricane Bob here in coastal Massachusetts, but I remember it well. If you are anywhere in the path of this powerful storm, devote today to some basic, but important, hurricane preparedness measures.
We did our shopping early yesterday, stocking up on drinking water and non-perishable foods, readying flashlights, a first-aid kit, a battery-operated radio, and making sure we were stocked up on batteries, candles and lamp oil. Growing up in Florida, one of the things I remember is that the bathtub was filled to the brim at the first signs of an impending storm. Our house had well water, and if the power went out, you had to rig up a hand pump to supply the water needed to flush the toilet.
- Lawn & Garden >
- A Kitchen Garden
A Kitchen Garden
If you have a summer home, you know that referring to it as a “retreat” or “get-away” doesn’t relinquish you of the responsibilities for seasonal care and maintenance. I’ve reported on my own deck and flag pole projects in earlier posts and have additional things to tackle, not the least of which is replacing a screen door that has seen too many dogs trying to claw their way inside the house.