One morning last January I opened my email to find a message from Colleen Douglass asking whether I would be interested in making a video about building custom cabinets for Woodsmith Magazine.
Over the next few weeks we negotiated some twists and turns. For one thing, being in front of a camera is among my least-favorite positions. I speak slowly, because I try to be thorough and precise, and I really don’t like seeing or hearing myself on video. Colleen fielded those objections by saying she’d seen a couple of videos I had previously made (Popular Woodworking’s “Build a Turn of the Century Baker’s Cabinet” and Fine Homebuilding’s “Floating Vanity”).
I threw out another challenge: Colleen had said the editor at Woodsmith suggested me, specifically, for the video, a claim I found odd because my way of constructing built-ins is so far from the norm–and also because my flattery/b.s. radar is always set on HIGH. When I addressed this concern to Phil Huber, the editor in question, he said he’d done so precisely because my way of building cabinets is not the norm among commercial cabinet companies. I asked where he’d seen examples of my kitchen work; he said he’d seen them in Old-House Journal and its sister publications over the years—Old-House Interiors, Arts & Crafts Homes and the Revival. That clinched my interest, because those publications take period detail and the often-idiosyncratic character of well-loved homes seriously (unlike the media universe constructed on fantasy DIY home makeovers, house-flipping instruction, and saccharine “unique home decor ideas,” “spectacular home recipes,” and “sneak peeks” into the personal world of one particular Texas family).
All good. But one potential obstacle still remained: I had to ask Chris Schwarz whether doing the Woodsmith video would violate the terms of my contract with Lost Art Press to write a book about kitchens. Not at all, he said; in fact, given that the video series would have a somewhat different focus from that of the book, they would complement each other.
We shot the video over four days this summer in Des Moines at the studio used by Woodsmith for its PBS program. The work was intense—and thanks to the seasoned, competent crew, it was also a lot of fun. I’m proud of the video we made, especially because it’s full of safety points and detailed asides related to materials, techniques, and period nuance. (There’s even the occasional bit of humor, though you have to pay attention to catch it.) You can see a preview and buy the series here. (Use the code NANCYSAVES to get $30 off.)
The toughest part of the week came at the end, when Colleen said it was time to do the promo. “What, you mean I have to ‘sell’ the work?” I asked, feeling the blood drain from my face. I was never a cheerleader or even remotely popular in high school. I’m not an actor. I’m the person attracted to the wall at parties. I grew up with an ethos that shunned self-promotion of any kind. And now I had to smile at a camera and invite people to check out my video? I felt the same impulse to flee that led me to run out of the doctor’s office when I was 6 and terrified of injections.
Taking one for the team called for strong measures. Had there been a bottle of bourbon on the set, I would have helped myself to a swig, but no such luck. There was, however, a bowl of M&Ms…and cameraman Mark Hayes had kindly replenished the coffee in the break room. After five small packets of chocolate and three cups of coffee, I was ready. (The crash came a few hours later.)
Thanks to Colleen Douglass, Phil Huber, Mark Hayes, Dennis Kennedy, Becky Cunningham, Becky Kralicek, and John Doyle.