If you're a fan of architecture you may recognize Bruce Irving's name. Bruce Irving produced television’s This Old House for 17 years, overseeing dozens of complex whole-house renovations, learning the value of quality design and construction, and amassing a wide-ranging set of industry contacts.
Since 2006 Bruce has been running his own successful consulting business. Bruce's business is dedicated to making sure the homeowner is happy - an approach that can be so often lacking. His popular free newsletter profiles homes, and for something quite interesting, make sure to follow the House of the Month on his blog. He's a realtor as well, working at Hammond Real Estate in Harvard Square.
Read on to see what the man Newsweek calls "The House Whisperer" has to say about his career and life in Boston.
Your book "New England Icons" arrived on bookstore shelves this past autumn. How did you decide to write this book and what can we expect when we open it up?
I’ve been writing about the built environment of New England ever since starting work at “This Old House” back in 1988. I began a column of the same name for Design New England magazine about 5 years ago--this book is a distillation of those pieces, along with spot-on images by noted architectural photographer Greg Premru.
You’ll find 23 short and punchy chapters, each covering a specific feature of the region--village greens, church steeples, old-style hardware stores, lobster boats, saltbox houses, classic ski areas, sugarhouses. All of these things we New Englanders drive by most every day have fascinating backstories, and that’s what I’ve tried to capture.
Have you always had a fascination with houses or was this something that developed later on?
I distinctly remember a 4th grade field trip to an historic saltbox house in my hometown of Darien, Connecticut. I made the most awesome diorama of the house afterwards--all the kids accused me of getting my parents’ help, but I swear I did it myself.
I really loved my art history classes at college--the architecture parts really stuck with me. After I joined “This Old House,” houses were all I breathed and it’s been that way ever since. Now I help people buy and sell them!
How has this interest in homes evolved over the years?
The psychological role houses play in people’s lives absolutely fascinates me. As a realtor and renovation consultant, my biggest challenges and most rewarding experiences come from teasing out what people really want out of their homes--and then either helping them find it or build it. Quite often it’s not what they think and say it is, but something hidden deeper inside.
In your years as a consultant, with over 40 high-profile renovation projects under your belt, you must have seen some interesting things. What was the most daunting project?
Having a stop-work order slapped on a project in London’s Notting Hill. We were renovating the top floor of a Georgian townhouse and had hired an architect named Trevor Clapp, who assured us that he knew all about working in historic districts. It was winter, so we shrouded the top floor and began cutting out the front of the mansard roof. A neighbor got suspicious and dropped a dime, or ten pence, and we were shut down for not having the proper permissions. All this while needing to deliver finished shows to PBS on a tight schedule. We ended up calling the architect Clever Trap; we had to go back the following season for the project wrap-up.
What do you find most rewarding about renovation projects?
The excellence that comes from having the right team on the job. When homeowner, architect, and craftspeople pull together for the good of the project, great things can happen.
Tell us about your experiences with “This Old House.” How did you end up as the producer and what was it like working on that show?
College summers I waited tables at a Nantucket restaurant whose head chef was the great Marian Morash, wife of the show’s creator Russ Morash. Years later, I wrote to her from Tokyo, inquiring if I might talk to Russ about a job. I got it, which in hindsight was a miracle, as there was only one full-time position on the show.
The job in itself was wonderful--in those 17 years, I learned a lot about construction, technology, and history, and got to oversee projects all over the country, living in places like Santa Fe and Honolulu for three months at a time. I put much of what I learned about houses and homeowners at TOH into my work as a realtor now.
What can we expect to see from you in the coming year?
More writing about New England icons and architecture; blogs and monthly newsletters on trends, products, and houses; and lots of house sales, once the supply increases. There are half as many residential properties on the market in Cambridge as there were this time last year. The situation is a bit better in Boston, but let’s go people! Everyone wants to move here--sell them your house!