Architecture and Design

A Behind The Scenes Look at Ask This Old House's Upcoming Phoenix Episode

Lara Piu
Ask This Old House is filming three episodes for its upcoming season in the Phoenix metropolitan area.
The last time Shoshana Whitehead owned a home, she wasn't old enough to drink. But these days, she's knee-deep in adult-life fixings. Besides managing her career as a behavioral health worker and other day-to-day responsibilities, she and partner Liz Ahumada care for Whitehead's bedridden mother, Carmelita, who lives with them in Glendale.

So when Rod Pappas, owner of Phoenix landscaping company Xeriscapes, knocked on their door in late March and offered to overhaul their bare front yard off 80th and Glendale avenues for an episode of PBS's Ask This Old House, they were on board.

"We were excited," Whitehead says, adding that this comes at a perfect time, since she and her mom will soon purchase the home.

Things sprouted about a month ago, when Ask This Old House landed on xeriscaping, a landscaping style requiring little to no irrigation, as a topic for an episode in its 16th season. The show's producers looked to the Valley for pros well-versed in drought-resistant landscaping, and they found Pappas. He, in turn, helped them scout a suitable home to demonstrate xeriscaping.

"When I was contacted by the producers of This Old House, I was asked if I had a landscape job using indigenous plants that they could film," Pappas says.

There wasn't an existing job that fit the bill, so Pappas looked at this home at the suggestion of a friend. He and the producers agreed this was the right location.

"The fact this home had basically no landscaping other than one shrub made it a great candidate for a Sonoran desert design," Pappas says. "We had a blank slate to work with, which helped us reduce the time in the demolition phase."

Before the production crew arrived, Pappas' crew sprayed the weeds and grass and prepared the irrigation plumbing. He also obtained plant, rock, and other materials as donations so there would be no cost for the homeowners.

Bright and early on Wednesday, April 12, the local landscaping company and Ask This Old House crews arrived. That morning, Whitehead woke up at 4:30 a.m. to care for her mother, and then pitched in to install granite pebbles, plants, trees, mounds, granite rocks, and a wheelchair-accessible walkway.

"Heavy work has never bothered me, but the retakes were hard," she says with a smile.

Whitehead wasn't alone, however. The show's landscape designer, Jenn Nawanda, along with Pappas and his work crew, helped out. The two landscape designers also collaborated on the design. Their goal was to create a climate-appropriate front yard that would utilize xeriscaping's water-preserving principles, as well as allow Whitehead's mother to be transported to and from the house on a gurney with ease.

"Then there's the approach and arrival," Nawanda says. "That's when you come to your home and say, 'Ahhhhh.' And there's the curbside appeal. It makes you proud of your house."

The filming took 12 hours, and Whitehead says it paid off.

"It's beautiful. I did not expect it to look like it does," Whitehead says. "This was an amazing team."

click to enlarge The show recently completed its tour of all 50 states with first-time visits to Kentucky, Alaska, and Hawaii for its season currently running on PBS. - COURTESY OF ASK THIS OLD HOUSE
The show recently completed its tour of all 50 states with first-time visits to Kentucky, Alaska, and Hawaii for its season currently running on PBS.
Courtesy of Ask This Old House
The crew filmed two other episodes of Ask This Old House while they were in the Phoenix area. One will feature the installation of an alternative to water softeners in a Scottsdale home, and another focuses on Zero Mass Water, a Scottsdale startup that creates drinking water from thin air. 

“It’s embarrassing to say that it’s been almost 10 years since our last visit to Phoenix, though it seems that there is no shortage of good home improvement stories to tell here,” says senior producer Heath Racela. “We’ve found exciting plumbing, landscaping, and high-tech stories that all have a local angle but we hope will also be of interest to our national audience.”

These three episodes of Ask This Old House will air on PBS during the show's 16th season slated to start in October.

Correction: A previous version of this article referred to This Old House instead of Ask This Old House.