The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 6, 2005


Tour guides for This New Old House

Officer Michael Burgess (left) directs traffic in front of This Old House, as tour guides Meredith and Alan Cameron head for home. (Photo by Ellen Huber)
"Hey there, where are you going?," I shouted from my car window as I met Alan and Meredith Cameron walking purposefully down School Street heading towards Russell Street. I stopped the car and they came over to tell me that they were on their way to This Old House at the corner of Concord and South Streets, where they were in training to be volunteer tour guides. "That sounds interesting," I replied. "I'll give you a call in a couple of weeks, and you can tell me about it."

On Sunday evening, sitting around the kitchen table in their home on School Street, the Camerons were eager to tell me all about it. It started with an ad in the Mosquito asking for volunteer tour guides. "We responded to the ad by e-mail and were sent forms to fill out," said Meredith. After two training sessions, one at the WGBH headquarters in Allston and the other here in Carlisle, the Camerons and approximately 350 other guides, including 50 from Carlisle, were ready to lead tours. The first two days of tours were set aside for the lucky 800 Carlisle residents who had stood in line early one April morning at Ferns to obtain free passes for the house tour. From April 15 until the end of May it is the general public, with tickets obtained through Ticketmaster, who are touring what is known as the "This Old House Designer Show House in Carlisle."

Since Alan is semi-retired, he has been assigned one four-hour touring session during the week, which falls on Tuesday afternoons. Meredith, who works during the week, takes a four-hour session on Saturday mornings from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. During each session, the guide leads three or four 45-minute tours through the house, with no more than 15 people per tour.

Why did the Camerons get involved? "I signed up to be a tour guide because I thought it would be fun, as well as interesting," explained Meredith. "During the first two days that Carlisle residents were touring the house, I got to see a lot of people I hadn't seen for a long time." Both of the Camerons reported that they had watched This Old House on Channel 2 for many years and had especially enjoyed watching the progression of the house in Carlisle as it was being rebuilt over the past year. As for Alan's experience as a tour guide, he exclaimed, "I have enjoyed every minute of it. Seeing the new building techniques that have been used is interesting, especially comparing them with how we built our house 30 years ago."

At the beginning, the Camerons explained, they went around the house on their own, from room to room, where they met many of the designers who explained their concepts of the areas that they had designed. Later, when leading a tour, they added this information to the script they were to follow.

So what were the comments of those touring This Old House? And what impressions did the Camerons have as tour leaders these past several weeks?

"Most people who go through the house are pleasantly surprised, especially in the converted barn area where the original posts and beams have been preserved," reported Alan. "It is a very livable and inviting room with that 40x50 foot space; a great place for a party. The guest bedroom on the second floor with its simple style and apple-green walls is also appealing to many on the tour."

"People on the tour are quite knowledgeable," continued Alan. "They have been watching the house come together on TV for the past year. When I haven't had an answer for a question, someone on the tour often comes up with an answer, having seen it on TV." If there are any unanswered questions, Alan directs them to Alan then mentions another of his favorite rooms, the library. "The gas fireplace and the overall design of the room makes it a place where I'd like to go and study."

"The whole experience as a tour guide has been a pleasure," said Meredith. "Every time I go through the house I see something else that is clever. The designers have pulled out all the stops. Each is trying to show their very best." Both of the Camerons agree that designers are trying to capture the spirit of Carlisle, especially with the focus on the back of the house with its newly planted trees and lawn. "There is something of nature in many of the rooms," added Meredith.

Returning to the topic of leading tours, Alan finds Tuesday afternoons not so crowded, while Meredith's Saturday morning tours are some of the busiest of the week. Both agree that the WGBH people have been a pleasure to work with.

With a sale pending, the family who buys the house will have the first option to purchase decorator items on display. Alan laughs when he thinks ahead to a family occupying the house. Neighbors on Concord Street, he is told, are wondering if their Concord Street Block Party, an annual early summer neighborhood institution, might someday be held, you guessed it, on the lawns of This Old House. But for now the Camerons are looking ahead to three more weeks of tours, and it appears they will be enjoying every minute of it.

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito