On the House | This old, er, veteran, contractor

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Bob Vila in an Upper West Side brownstone in New York, where he works with his son on housing rehabs. Vila is also bringing his line of do-it-yourself kits to Ace Hardware stores. There may be something brewing TV-wise, but he "can't talk about it."

Remember Bob Vila?

I never thought I'd be asking that question, but Vila doesn't seem to be around much anymore. Perhaps the veteran contractor's boat was swamped in the tidal wave of too many home-improvement shows seemingly hosted by formerly out-of-work actors.

You could usually depend on seeing him regularly in a Sears Craftsman tool commercial, but a while back the retailer ditched him in favor of youth. Frankly, given Sears' bottom line, I wonder if the company thinks it made a mistake.

As an old guy who doesn't like being shouted at by people I don't know (first Ty Pennington, and now Eric Stromer of HGTV's Over Your Head), I stopped watching much home-improvement TV, unless I'm working on a story. There's plenty of what I need to know on the Internet, and I can look at it in my own good time.

Even the venerable This Old House, which Vila launched 30 years back, seems like one long product commercial. And, after three decades, you'd think that most of Massachusetts would have been renovated by now.

Vila is alive and well, though he had spent the last four days before our telephone interview recovering from jet lag. He and his wife were just back from a visit to Japan.

"Ever been there?" he asked. "They are so far ahead of us in contemporary architecture. Tokyo is unbelievable."

At 61 and "with a ways to go," the onetime TV personality is without a regular gig for the first time in years.

"The syndicated run [of Bob Vila's Home Again] ended this year, and the DIY cable channel is running the series' most recent episodes," Vila said. "We have nothing in production at this time, and while there may be something on the horizon, I can't talk about it."

What Vila could talk about was his new tool line, which has been available on the Internet and shopping channels, and is debuting in Ace Hardware stores in the first quarter of 2008.

"A couple of years ago, I stopped being Craftsman spokesman, and that has allowed me the freedom to create these products," Vila said.

The products are tool kits - everything you need for a small project, including a DVD with tips and step-by-step instructions.

For example, there's a picture-hanging kit for less than $20 that includes basic tools and materials for getting Aunt Euphoria's portrait on the wall without much hassle.

"Hanging pictures is the first thing someone does when they first move into a home or an apartment, and this and other kits provide the basics you need to do the job," Vila said.

He's also still a contractor, working with his son, Chris, a real estate developer, rehabbing houses in New York City. A Brooklyn project was featured on Bob Vila's Home Again; father and son recently finished another rehab and are considering others.

"We'll wait for a while because we're in a different housing market," he said, even though "New York isn't suffering like Miami" and other places.

Vila also is into "green," of course, although his connection goes back to 1983, when the cast of This Old House was involved in Boston Edison's "Impact 2000" house in Brookline, Mass., a demonstration of future trends in sustainable home design.

He acknowledged that talking about sustainability is much easier than actually being green.

"You need to change your attitudes toward life, and that's difficult," Vila said. For example, "even if you really like blueberries, you should be willing to go without them for the part of the year that they have to be imported from 7,000 miles away."

The DIY mind-set is an important component in living green, he said.

"Do-it-yourself encourages consumers to keep things under control, to set priorities for their lives."

It's hard, Vila said, because "the automakers and big oil are still telling consumers what they should be using. It will only change when we want it to."


"On the House" appears Sundays in The Inquirer. Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or aheavens@phillynews.com.

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