‘Cheap old house’ being renovated for TV show

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Photo by EJ Conzola II A crew working with the producers of the upcoming HGTV series “Who’s Afraid of a Cheap Old House” work on Aug. 31 to return the brick on the former village office building at 1 Saunders St. in Whitehall to its original burnt sienna color.

By EJ Conzola II

The former Whitehall village offices on the corner of Saunders and North Williams streets have gotten a makeover – which will be the subject of an episode of a new HGTV show set to premiere in the spring.

The building at 1 Saunders St. has been undergoing renovations almost since it was sold in late April, and the renovation work was set to finish Friday, Sept. 8, according to Cristiana Pena, the publicist for “Who’s Afraid of a Cheap Old House?”

A film crew has been at the worksite several times over the past few months, recording the renovation of the historical building.

The new show is an offshoot of what began as an Instagram project by Elizabeth and Ethan Finkelstein and grew into the HGTV series “Cheap Old Houses.” That Instagram project “was really beloved and inspired a whole lot of people,” Pena said.

The new series will feature eight episodes, each focused on a different house, recently purchased for less than $150,000 and in need of renovation, Pena said.

The Whitehall property was bought in late April for $100,000, according to the real estate website Zillow. The new owners, William D. Lance and Joseph F. Hiatt, both of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, plan to use it as a residence, Pena said.

Lance and Hiatt could not be reached for comment.

The building was built in 1872 as a fire station. It later housed the village offices and has been used as a residence in the past.

The renovations included removing the old blue-gray paint from the exterior of the brick building and returning the outside more closely to its original burnt sienna color. Work also included stripping paint off the stamped metal ceiling and walls in what had been the fire bays, as well as refinishing the floor in that area. Windows proclaiming the building as the village offices, including an interior window designating a room as the mayor’s office, were retained.

The former fire bays will become a living/recreation room and entertainment center, while the mayor’s office will become a library, Pena said.

Some of the old fixtures in the building, including shelves and other storage units and a vault with a massive safe manufactured in 1806, will also be kept.

The HGTV project is not a total renovation of the building, instead focusing on several specific areas, Pena said. The costs of the work are borne by the property owners, but the television production company works to find low-cost materials and some sponsored donations, such as appliances, to help keep the price of the work down, she said.

“We find all kinds of ways to make it work,” she said.

The original “Cheap Old Houses” series showcased homes that had already been redone, Pena said. The new series will allow viewers to follow the renovation process and see the buildings transformed, she said.

The Whitehall project is one of eight being filmed in the greater Capital Region, Pena said. Other projects have been done or are planned for Menands; Middle Granville; Albany; Troy; Cambridge; Sharon Springs; and Worcester, Massachusetts, she said.

The region was chosen because of the Finkelsteins’ ties to the area, Pena said. Elizabeth Finkelstein grew up in an 18th century house in Queensbury and the region, including Washington County, is “very near and dear to their hearts,” Pena said.

The conversion of an 1850s one-room schoolhouse in Greenwich into an Air BnB unit was the subject of an episode of the Finkelstein’s earlier show, “Cheap Old Houses.”

More details about the new show, including the date the Whitehall episode will air, will be released as the show’s debut approaches, she said.