Authors: Barbara Delinsky
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for sweet blueprints
and love always
The rain let up just in time. The final day of taping for the spring season of
was about to begin, and though the sun hadn’t yet appeared, Caroline MacAfee’s hopes were high. Well behind the stream of work vehicles pulling up on the road, the western sky was giving way to scattered patches of blue, as the June breeze pushed gunmetal clouds east, toward Boston and the sea.
How to describe what she felt as she stood at the head of an all-new cobblestone drive looking at the rebuilt facade of what once been a weary old Cape? There was relief that the hard work was done, and surprise—always surprise—that everything had come together so well. There was also a sense of ownership. Caroline hadn’t asked to be the mouthpiece of the show, but after nearly ten years as host, it was her baby as much as anyone’s.
was a local public television production, a home renovation series headlined by women—specifically, the women of MacAfee Homes. It touted neither high drama nor celebrity antics, just real work by real people with whom an audience of real women identified. The taping was done by a single cameraman, who was male but good, and directed by an executive producer, who was female and smart. If said producer was also prickly at times, the success of the show forgave it. Over the course of twenty projects,
had built a cult following that Caroline believed would only grow with this one.
Glancing skyward, she rubbed her hands together and grinned at the camera. “I wore yellow today to inspire the weather gods.” She hitched her head at the approaching blue. “But how perfect is this? Welcome back to Longmeadow, Massachusetts, where we’re putting the finishing touches on the latest
redo. As you can see”—she stepped aside for a worker shouldering a large roll of sod—“things are pretty busy right now.” She skipped back again, this time with an excited “Hey,” for a pair of furniture movers carrying a sofa toward the house. “Great fabric,” she called after them and told the camera, “Our homeowners are planning to sleep here for the first time tonight, so we’re hustling today. Lots to do.”
Inviting viewers along with her chin, she started to walk. Talk came easily. She hadn’t expected that, when she stumbled into this role, but she and the camera had become friends. “It’s been six months since we began work on the small Cape that Rob and Diana LaValle put in our care. They needed more space, but since the house was originally built by Diana’s grandparents and held the emotions of four generations, a teardown was out of the question. Our challenge was to preserve the heart of the house while we doubled its size, updated its features, and made its systems state-of-the-art efficient and green. Today is the day of reckoning. Let’s see how we did.”
Feeling a visceral delight, she guided the camera to her daughter, who was consulting with the general contractor as they watched the last of the exterior shutters being hung. That contractor, Dean Brannick, was the only male who appeared in every episode, but he had become such a fan favorite that no one minded. As he loped off, Caroline called, “Catch you in a bit, Dean,” and slipped an arm around Jamie’s waist. It was the kind of spontaneous gesture she had hesitated to show at first. Turned out, viewers loved it. Second to the female angle in appeal came the mother-daughter connection.
The resemblance between them was strong—same wide mouth, fern-green eyes, and auburn hair—but their differences were nearly as marked. Caroline let her hair wave, while Jamie blew hers straight; Caroline was five-seven to Jamie’s five-three; Jamie wore the sophisticated neutrals of a young architect, but master carpenter Caroline, when not behind goggles and a chop saw, was known for color. Her yellow jeans were paired today with a matching tank under a slim-fitting turquoise sweater, all in contrast to Jamie’s gray slacks and jacket.
“Talk to us, Jamie,” Caroline invited. “As the architect of record for this project, you’ve been involved since Day One.” She gestured toward the house. “Whaddaya think?”
” Jamie replied as they walked on. “The best part of an architect’s job is seeing a house go from modest to amazing, and this one did.” Her pride showed; the camera hung on that. Cutaways of detail work would be inserted later, as would second or third takes, but for now it was all about feeling and flow. “The original structure had one and a half stories and a steeply pitched roof. By raising that roof, we were able to create three generous bedrooms and a loft on the second floor, with an expanded kitchen and a whole new great room underneath.”
“Totally, from insulated floor joists to double-thick insulation and dual-pane windows.”
“And that’s just the inside.” Caroline raised admiring eyes. “This exterior is something.”
“I agree. The homeowners wanted to dress things up without losing the flavor of the original Cape,” Jamie reminded viewers, “so we bumped out the front foyer and added fieldstone to the facade. And new gables over the second-floor windows? Wow.” Her eyes touched the brackets under each gable. “Gotta love those corbels.”
“Amen,” smiled Caroline, who had carved them herself.
” broke in the producer with a hand on the cameraman’s shoulder to signal a cut. “This isn’t about religion. Jamie, sweetheart, repeat that last line.”
Jamie did. This time, Caroline managed a whole other kind of smile and said, “Absolutely,” before moving on to the colors Dean had picked. The man was multifaceted. In addition to ordering supplies and hiring subs, he could handle any aspect of construction, including the egos of men who did grunt work in a world of women, and homeowners who had no clue about exterior paint. Here, cedar shingles picked up a deep gray from the stonework, while the trim was a startlingly pure white.
“Crisp and fresh,” Jamie breathed. “And it all blends with the architectural shingles he chose for the roof.”
“What we don’t see from here, of course…”
“… are the triple-junction solar cell panels. They’re another aspect of the energy-efficient reconstruction of this house.”
“All of which we’ll get to later. For now, I’m just stunned at how elegant a Cape can look.”
Jamie laughed her agreement. “This house used to be old. Now it has a reinvigorated sense of tradition. Take these cobblestones. Dean found them in a mill warehouse in New Hampshire. They date back to the turn of the twentieth century.” She glanced at Caroline. “Remember the detached one-car garage that was here?”
“It was an eyesore.”
“And inadequate. The LaValles have four kids who’ll be driving soon, hence a new three-car attached garage at the back of the house. By leveling the old one, we not only removed a visual distraction but gained valuable land abutting the kitchen.” A cutaway would show the new patio, replete with trelliswork and a raised fire pit.
After a discussion of the challenges posed by the topography of the lot, Caroline drew the camera’s eye back to the front porch. “The stone columns add an arts-and-crafts element, which enhances the curb appeal tenfold. And just look at the front door. It’s taller and wider than it was, and the sidelights make it grand. Jamie, you always envisioned an imposing entrance—”
“Wait,” the producer cut in. “Caroline, you’re talking too much. Let Jamie speak.”
Caroline felt an inkling of annoyance. She wasn’t doing any more than she ever did, but the point was too petty to argue. Thinking that she was ready to be free of Claire Howe for a few months, she said, “Okay. That’s fine.” She glanced at Jamie, who nodded.
“Let’s start fresh with the front porch,” Claire instructed, at which point Jamie re-created her mother’s narration. Since there was no formal script, the words were slightly different, and Jamie’s manner of speech reflected her age. She tripped once, but started again and went smoothly on.
They were heading inside when Caroline was distracted by the women in the shrubbery beds. Stopping Jamie with a hand on her arm, she called,
Annie Ahl was the show’s landscape designer. Wearing mud-crusted boots, gloves, and a satisfied expression, she stepped out from between a pair of newly planted junipers. The pixie cut of her pure silver hair suited her diminutive size.
Caroline was looking beyond the junipers. “Do I recognize those?”
“Good eye,” Annie said in the high voice that had nearly nixed her place in the show. Like the cameraman and his feel for light, though, her instinct for design was too good to pass up. She was the senior landscape architect at MacAfee Homes, and Caroline’s close friend. “We removed those azaleas last fall to protect them from the mess of construction. They wintered over in my nursery, and now here they are, back home. They actually bloomed two weeks ago. See the last of the flowers?” There would be a cutaway of those. For now, the camera stayed on the talent. “Naturally, we’ll have to wait to see how they do here next spring, but I’m confident they’ll make it. They’re hardy.”
“And they have company now.” Caroline took in the new plantings.
“Uh-huh. One row—”
” Claire cut in. “I’ve asked you not to say that, Anne.”
Annie said a particularly high-pitched, “I’m sorry. It’s just natural.”
“I like natural, but not
And watch the voice. It’s too high.”
Caroline had never once read a complaint about that on their Facebook page, which she personally monitored. But Claire was the boss. In a voice that wouldn’t reach the woman, she told Annie both of those things. Once Annie gathered herself, they resumed.
“When I first saw this house,” she said perfectly, “the shrub beds were long and narrow, which was typical of beds at the time the house was built. I wanted greater depth to complement Jamie’s new designs, so we widened and reshaped them. The taller shrubs in back are Andromeda, holly, and yew. I’ve planted juniper in and around the azaleas, and we’re just now putting in perennials.”
“Good job, guys,” Caroline called to the two still planting, and let Annie go.
As she and Jamie climbed the stairs to enter the house, Caroline pointed out the solid walnut front door with its raised panels and bronze hardware. In the foyer, they saw Dean coming down the hall from the kitchen. “We’re just tweaking the security system,” he said. “Want to see the control room?”