"Ask This Old House" is about to shine a national spotlight on Chattanooga's Women Repair Zone.
A film crew from the long-running PBS series visited in April, filming segments with owner/founder Bea Lurie and instructor Belinda Harford as she made an upholstered footstool, one of several do-it-yourself workshops the business offers.
Chattanooga PBS station WTCI-TV plans to air the episode, part of the series' 18th season, at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, following a 30-minute episode of its sister show, "This Old House," now in its 39th season.
Lurie says producers were looking for projects in smaller Southern cities they'd not featured and reached out to PBS officials in Chattanooga and Birmingham, Alabama. Phil Trammell, then vice president of development for WTCI-TV, had previously worked for Lurie when she was president and CEO of Girls Inc. He told them about the 1900s-era house Lurie lives in and rehabs, then offhandedly mentioned the business venture she had launched in June 2018. Producers jumped at this new angle: women teaching women basic home repair and automotive skills.
"In all their 20 years of being a show on TV, they had always focused on houses," Lurie says. "This was a whole different perspective for them. They were just really interested in the fact that we had all women instructors teaching women."
While "This Old House" follows a whole-house renovation over several episodes, "Ask This Old House" zeroes in on smaller projects, two or three an episode, solving what producers call "the steady stream of home-improvement problems faced by our viewers."
Film crews travel for these "house call" episodes, which feature host Kevin O'Connor, general contractor Tom Silva, plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey and landscape contractor Roger Cook. The Chattanooga assignment went to Silva, a co-owner of Silva Brothers Construction in Lexington, Massachusetts, and a fixture on the show since 1986.
Lurie says Silva's good-natured disposition on camera is the same in person.
"Tom Silva is the nicest guy, such a joy," she says.
The behind-the-scenes talent is also top-notch. Days after wrapping their shoot in Chattanooga, cast and crew won an Emmy for Outstanding Lifestyle Program at the 46th annual Daytime Emmy Awards. This was the first win for "Ask This Old House," but together the two home-improvement shows have picked up 19 Emmys out of 85 nominations to date.
Harford says the crew put her at ease as they began the daylong shoot, which had her showing Silva how to construct an upholstered footstool using fabric, wood and automotive-grade foam. The project includes upholstery work as well as the use of a band saw.
Harford is something of a DIY "wonder woman" who has taught multiple classes at Women Repair Zone, says Lurie. An internationally known embroidery expert, Harford acquired her skills through many years of helping her mother decorate the homes built by her contractor father in Australia and her native South Africa. She immigrated to the United States in 2015.
Workshops range from $35 to $85. Check website, womenrepairzone.com, for early-bird pricing.
› Sunday, Nov. 10: Remodeling Your Bathroom on a Budget
› Thursday, Nov. 14: Stripping & Refinishing Wood
› Saturday, Nov. 16: Using a Chainsaw (Safely)
› Tuesday, Nov. 19: Carpentry Basics: Wooden Serving Trays
› Thursday, Nov. 21: Carpentry Basics: Wall-Mounted Coat Rack
› Saturday, Nov. 23: Carpentry Basics: Wooden Hexagon Shelves
› Sunday, Nov. 24: Remodeling Your Kitchen on a Budget
› Monday, Nov. 25: Carpentry Basics: Building Your Own Shutters
› Saturday, Dec. 7: Pruning & Planting Trees
› Saturday, Dec. 14: Carpentry Basics: Making Wooden Boxes
Filming the footstool process was new to her, but her the crew's professionalism and her skill set quickly put her at ease.
"I've never done anything like this before, but I just believe in being real," says Harford.
The crew arrived around 8 a.m. to ready the lights and cameras and run volume checks for Harford's and Silva's microphones.
"They just walked us through the whole process," Harford says. "They were absolutely amazing."
But with only one camera in use, the scenes had to be filmed multiple times from different angles.
"We were filming each scene over and over again," Harford says. "We were replacing each thing to get it like it was when we started." There was also the occasional reshoot, she explains, laughing, because "my accent sometimes gets in the way."
Producers also asked Lurie for "an iconic place to film," which found them on the Walnut Street Bridge for intros and B-roll.
To watch it
“Ask This Old House,” featuring the Women Repair Zone, will air at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, on WTCI-TV (its sister show, “This Old House,” precedes it at 3 p.m.). Women Repair Zone owner Bea Lurie says she’s trying to find a venue for a crowd-viewing, but details had not been finalized by press time.
Lurie says she expects the daylong shoot will be edited into a 10-minute segment. "And because it's PBS, they can't mention the name of my business on air, but at the end, in the credits, they thank us."
Lurie says Women Repair Zone is "adding new classes all the time," and several customers have participated in multiple classes, including one woman who has attended 14. Most are from the Chattanooga area, but she's had participants come in from Franklin, Tennessee, Stone Mountain, Georgia, and Carrollton, Alabama, almost five hours away.
"It's kind of amazing how the internet does this [gets the word out]," she says. The response "really shows the demand that's out there for something like this."
Contact Lisa Denton at email@example.com or 423-757-6281.