Minnesota native Amy Matthews is bringing reality television to the Twin Cities. As the host of HGTV’s new series Renovation Raiders, Matthews works with a team of skilled professionals to pull off a complete room overhaul in a matter of hours while the homeowners are out to dinner.
Mpls.St.Paul Home spoke with the seasoned TV contractor about the show, tips for homeowners wanting to renovate, and her favorite home improvement stores in the Twin Cities.
Mpls.St.Paul Home: The entire season of this show takes place in Minneapolis. What do you like about filming in your hometown?
Amy Matthews: I worked on this show called Sweat Equity. It’s a long running show, and the first season was in Denver with a different production company. After the first season I said, “You know what? I can’t commute to Denver. It’s too far!” The head of the network called me up and said, “How about we move it to Minneapolis?” So it’s happened before with shows. I can’t tell you how grateful I am. It’s awesome for my family life—my husband and son are here—but also for the gains of employment for these great, talented people in the Twin Cities.
MSP: You’ve tackled projects all over the world—from Los Angeles to Thailand. What’s different about taking on projects in Minnesota?
AM: When you look at some of the shows shot in California, you might be looking at a bungalow that’s the same size as your bungalow in south Minneapolis, but you’re house is about $275,000 to $300,000, and out there, it’s $800,000 to $1 million. And you’re going, “Are you kidding me?” It’s unrealistic. We’re relatable and I think that’s a beautiful thing. I also love being in a place in the Midwest where people are excited about their projects. They want to get their hands dirty and they take so much pride in doing parts of the project on their own. There are a lot of great places in the country and I’m really lucky to have worked on so many different projects, but it’s my hometown. How can’t you love it?
MSP: You’re from north Minneapolis, you grew up in Robbinsdale, and you recently purchased a house in Afton. How did your Minnesota upbringing lead you to a career in the renovation business?
AM: I grew up doing a lot of projects through my church, actually. They did projects every summer and throughout the year that were kind of Habitat for Humanity–based. As a young kid if you asked me if I thought I was going to go into construction, I would’ve laughed. I played the violin and I was in the arts—I even went to college for that out east. But I think that taste and that early knowledge—putting a hammer in my hand at 14 years old—was really a great experience. I have a picture of myself with a bad ’80s hairdo doing some roofing. It was only later in my career when what I learned in television and film collided with an audition for a home improvement show years ago. I just felt absolutely connected to the process of television and home improvement. It was a great marriage.
MSP: Being a contractor is a difficult job in general. What additional challenges do you face being a contractor on TV? AM: It’s really a completely different game. On TV, there’s a broad scope of knowledge that I’ve had to research and gain to be able to translate to someone watching television. I feel like I have to be a jack-of-all-trades. The television part of it has forced me to get an incredible insight of all different facets of the home building and home improvement industry.
Amy Matthews and the rest of the Renovation Raiders team.
MSP: Watching this show is sure to give viewers some inspiration for their own renovation projects. What tips do you have for them?
AM: A coat of paint is the first thing you can do to make a change in a short amount of time. Also, think about energy savings. A lot of people get scared away because they want to spend less upfront. Let’s say you’re going to the length of installing a new furnace. Think about purchasing a learning thermostat, something that costs about $100. Nest has one that learns your behavior in the house. You don’t have to program it, and you don’t have to turn it up and down at night. Everybody forgets that, so they’re paying much more on their heating and cooling. For every degree that you change the thermostat, you’re saving 5 percent on you bill. That’s huge! Above all, try and choose things that are healthy for your home. You don’t want your house to look good and then realize that the indoor air quality is as bad as it is downtown at rush hour.
An example of a Renovation Raiders project.
aption] MSP: The draw of this show is that all the projects are done within a few hours, while the homeowners are gone. Can viewers pull that off?
AM: One thing you can do inside the house when your spouse is out to dinner—besides a coat of paint—are the cabinets. If you have old golden oak cabinets, which are the bane of my existence, think about repainting them or just purchasing new doors.
MSP: Whether shopping for a client or yourself, what are some of your favorite home improvement stores in the Twin Cities?
AM: I’m always looking for new, eco-friendly products and I try to use local stores. I love the Building Materials Outlet [in Eagan] and Forest Products Supply [in Maplewood]. I wanted to build a floating vanity with some unique type of wood. I didn’t have anything in particular that I needed; I just needed something that was the right size. I went to that store and they had a lumberyard of amazing pieces. They’re a great resource if you need any type of wood. I also shop a lot in Stillwater for antique pieces. The idea of repurposing furniture and materials is so fun for me. Everybody wants something unique. It’s not about keeping up with the Joneses anymore. It’s about personalizing your space. When you think out of the box with the products that you use, you’ll stop shopping at the basic stable places and you’ll start looking for creative ways to use things, which I think is the most fun way to design.
MSP: Being from Minnesota, you’re obviously very familiar with buildings in the area. If you could renovate any space in the Twin Cities, what would it be?
AM: I’ve always wanted to renovate that old Sears building that turned into the Global Midtown Market off Lake Street.
Tune in to HGTV for the season premiere of Renovation Raiders on May 30 at 8 p.m.