Home improvement shows are definitely one of the most well-loved and successful niches in the reality TV industry, but these accomplishments haven’t come out of nowhere. Before all the house flipping series you know nowadays were even a reality, PBS “This Old House” had already set the standard for the genre.
Aired for the first time in 1979, “This Old House” is undoubtedly one of the most legendary TV shows of its type, initiating a popular franchise and becoming the inspiration of uncountable series. Knowing this, it’s not surprising that “This Old House” cast has gained an important place in its audience’s hearts, especially in the case of regular stars such as Roger Cook, whose health problems have worried viewers no end in recent times.
So whatever happened to Roger? Why does he limp in some episodes of “This Old House”, and is still in the show anyway? Keep with us to discover all!
A BIG congrats to Roger Cook for his gold medal from Massachusetts Horticultural Society!
Why Does Roger Cook Have A Limp?
If you watched recent seasons of “This Old House”, you’ve surely have noticed that Roger Cook has a limp, which is pretty evident given a huge part of his job depends on his physical condition.
While fans have refrained from asking too many questions about Roger’s health, it was definitely taking such a toll on him that it hindered his appearances in the show: ‘I haven’t been myself over the last season. In fact, I’ve been dealing with several health issues that have made performing on television more difficult’, he wrote in an official statement released in early 2020, making clear that although his role in “This Old House” and spin-offs would be considerably reduced, he would appear in them from time to time.
Though it’s assumed that Roger’s limp is a direct result of his health problems, the fact that his diagnosis has been kept secret has given a green light to many speculations, including those which point out that he could have suffered a stroke, a heart attack, been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, or even that he has cancer.
Of course, all of these assumptions are unproven, and most-likely come from malicious sources, leaving us to only wish that Roger’s condition isn’t that serious, and that he’s recovering well.
Where Is He Now?
Although Roger Cook is no longer “This Old House”s main landscape contractor, that doesn’t mean he’s entirely retired from the field. As the owner of K&R Landscape, Roger is still involved with most of its projects, even those which are featured in the show: ‘I’m not going anywhere. I’ll still spend time with Kevin, Richard, Tommy, Norm and the entire team’, he wrote in an official statement following his exit from the show.
Needless to say, Roger has been true to his word and though he’s rarely seen in the show, he often writes articles for “This Old House”s online blog, and is involved with its production.
Roger’s online presence has also increased quite a lot since his supposed retirement from TV.
As seen on his social media accounts, in 2021 he set up a blog on the Substack platform, which allows him to directly interact with his fans, answer their landscape-related questions, and to share his thoughts on the industry after over three decades of experience. This is great news for his fans, who appreciate that he’s been steadily become more active on Instagram and Twitter in the last couple of years.
All in all, we’re happy to see that Roger hasn’t disappeared from public life at all.
Who Replaced Him In The Show?
Though we all will miss seeing Roger Cook in the show, the truth is that he left his job in good hands.
As it happens, Jenn Nawada is now the newest “This Old House”s landscape contractor, which was really the right choice considering all the time she has been working with Roger and the show. Her debut on TV dates back to 2010, when she appeared as the designer for K&R Landscape in “This Old House”.
However, she had been working in the field since 2001, when she graduated from Rollins College as a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies and established her company Nawada Landscape Design, Inc., specializing in residential landscapes which are modern, environmentally conscious but sophisticated enough to catch people’s attention.
Knowing how talented Jenn is, it’s no surprise that “This Old House” wanted her on TV. Although for several years Jenn rarely appeared in the show, the 40th season saw her becoming a regular presence, and in spin-offs such as “Trade School”. Her hard work, the good audience reception, and Roger’s approval of her work is what definitely made her the right choice to take his place in the show.
Who Is Roger Cook?
With over 35 years in the industry, it’s unsurprising to know that Roger Cook’s beginnings as a landscaper date to very early in his life.
A native of Boston, Massachusetts, Roger’s interest in environmental issues grew to the point when he moved to attend the University of Maine, from which he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Management and Conservation Law in 1977.
Right afterwards, Roger was hired for a summer job which apparently wasn’t well received by his wife Kathleen, as he told My Fix It Up Life in 2013: ‘My wife informed me I would find a job, a real job, right away, said ok, and I ended up working for a landscape company.’
Cutting ivies off Harvard’s campus wasn’t Roger’s ideal of what he wanted to do in life, but it soon improved when he was transferred to the company’s construction team, which was a surprisingly good change: ‘For five years, I was a happy camper. I loved what I did’, he affirmed.
Roger’s employer – Frost and Higgins Company – was hired by “This Old House” to lead their projects, allowing him to do some networking with people from TV, without even appearing in the show.
His Business & Debut On TV
Although Roger Cook was in a good place with his first employer, he eventually leveled up by establishing his own business in 1982, K&R Landscapes with his wife Kathleen.
Nonetheless, having five years of experience building landscapes didn’t mean Roger’s co-owned business was immediately successful. As he told My Fix It Up Life in 2013, K&R Landscapes started from the bottom, with only a couple of ‘little 21-inch mowers’ which Roger transported on his truck to his customers’ houses: ‘I think they just felt sorry for me at the time, cutting their lawns, but it was kind of crazy’.
The much-needed help to take his business to the next level came from an unexpected place, though; five years after establishing K&R Landscapes, Roger was contacted by Tom Wirth, who had previously worked with his former employer for “This Old House”: ‘he was the landscape architect on the original shows we did, saying, ‘Do you want to work with This Old House again?’’ as Roger affirmed.
Roger shares some pointers on how to maintain a snow blower:https://t.co/gxqB4XqbCY
— Ask This Old House (@AskTOH) January 29, 2022
The next day he was back on the show’s stage, to work in the Lexington Bed & Breakfast renovation, marking the start of a long and successful career both in the building industry and on TV.
Is Roger Still Married?
Unfortunately, Roger Cook is a widower. At 56 years old, Roger’s wife of 31 years Kathleen Ellen Gulde Cook died on 1 December 2010 in Boston, after battling cancer for several years.
Kathleen and Roger actually met in the 1970s while both attended college. Also a native from Massachusetts, Kathleen was a graduate of Sociology from Merrimack College, marrying Roger in 1979. Though she worked for her father’s insurance company, she eventually founded Gulde-Cook Insurance Company on her own.
She and Roger eventually moved to Burlington, when they established their long-time home in addition to welcoming two children Jason and Molly.
Though Kathleen was rarely seen by the audience of “This Old House”, she actually co-founded K&R Landscapes with Roger in 1982. However, her support for his projects went far beyond the business aspect, as Kathleen was described as ‘extremely proud’ of her family’s accomplishments, in addition to treating her company’s customers with ‘warmth, respect, and kindness’. Although it’s unknown who exactly manages Kathleen’s business now, Gulde-Cook Insurance Company is still active nowadays.
While it’s been over a decade since Kathleen unfortunately passed away, it seems that Roger hasn’t found another romantic partner yet, but spends a lot of precious time with children and grandchildren, as seen on his Instagram account.
What Is K&R Landscapes?
You have seen Roger Cook in action for many years while working on “This Old Houses” projects, but what exactly is his business about, when cameras aren’t around?
As the company’s name says, K&R Landscapes build beautiful front yards for those homeowners who are bored with their houses’ appearance. The business focuses on projects which could be managed by a small team, making sure that all the process of designing, excavating, building, planting and cleaning is done by familiar faces all along.
However, the work that K&R Landscapes does definitely goes far beyond just making cute flowers grow in their customers’ gardens. As seen on their website, there’s a wide array of services they’re contracted for, starting with their customized stonework, which includes building gorgeous-looking stairways, sideways, firepits and so much more in patios, terraces and front yards.
When it comes to their landscaping works, their outstanding services include relocating trees, designing gardens and building water features, which go from fountains to artificial ponds.
K&R Landscapes also offers their customers valuable information resources about gardening and construction on their online blog, in addition selling clothes merchandise for those who deeply love their company.
Why Has The Show Been On Air For So Long?
“This Old House” has definitely become a legend in the reality TV genre. Not only has it aired over 1000 episodes during its four decades on air, but has also won many well-deserved awards along the way, including several Daytime Emmys in the categories of Outstanding Lifestyle Program and Outstanding Directing.
The truth is that everyone involved with “This Old House” does an amazing job to keep the show afloat, while not lowering the quality of their renovations. However, many people wonder what it is about the show which makes it so enthralling, so that it continues to attract such a huge audience after so many seasons.
While there’s surely no infallible way of making television, Roger Cook actually explained what the ‘key to success’ behind “This Old House” is: ‘the guys you see on the show are real. On any given day they are doing what you see them doing on TV, only without the cameras rolling’, he asserted during a Question and Answers session on the show’s website, in which he affirmed it’s mandatory for the designers, builder and workers to keep up to date with the newest techniques and tools, due to how uncannily necessary TV considers it.
All in all, it seems that the strategy behind “This Old House” isn’t really a complicated one. It all consists of sticking to their essence, without involving drama or unnecessary details.
Spin Offs & Magazine
To talk about “This Old House” is to also talk about its popular and successful spin-off series. The first of these was “Ask This Old House”, which premiered in 2002 and focuses on renovating barns in rural New England areas.
From left to right: plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey, master carpenter Norm Abram, host Kevin O'Connor, general contractor Tom Silva, landscape contractor Roger Cook
The show included almost the entirety of “This Old House” cast, though following the retirement of Roger Cook in 2020, Jenn Nawada also replaced him in the show.
In 2003 the second TV spin-off from the series – “Inside This Old House” – premiered on A&E. Though this show was short-lived, airing for just two years, it offered a closer and more personal view into the staff’s work by focusing only in one area, instead of a whole house.
The latest and newest spin-off is “Trade School”, premiered in 2017. Although it features the original “This Old School” experts, this new show was centered around teaching and instructing the audience on the techniques used during the renovations.
It’s also worth mentioning that “This Old House” released its homonymous and unsurprisingly successful first magazine in 1995. Nowadays, over a million issues of the magazine have been released so far, more recently incorporating a well-resourced website which makes the necessary information about construction, building and landscaping available to everyone.
All in all, it doesn’t seem that “This Old House”s reign on TV is ending anytime soon, and that’s good news for all of us.