Catch Ty Pennington at the 2015 Minneapolis Home + Garden Show on Saturday, February 28, at 11 am on the Lifestyle Stage.
If you’ve even looked at a paint chip during the past 20 years, you know about Ty Pennington—the undisputed king of D.I.Y. television as we know it today. But the way he tells it, he’s just a hyperactive kid who liked carpentry, loved art, and (one house at a time) built a career out of simply being Ty.
What’s life like as the first home improvement heartthrob?
Trust me, it’s interesting! When I went on the audition for Trading Spaces, I was working on actual houses and projects. I never realized what I was doing until they hired my replacement [Carter Oosterhouse]—he was chiseled perfection! I just enjoyed being a guy busy making things that people needed.
You launched a new genre of television with Trading Spaces, and then an even larger cultural phenomenon with Extreme Home Makeover. How’d that happen?
Trading Spaces was the first show that put tools in the hands of the homeowners. I think that is when the D.I.Y. revolution happened. Extreme Home Makeover changed the face of reality television. I remember I went on these meetings in L.A. and they said, “You and six designers will build a house in six days.” I said, “It’s impossible but it would make a great TV show!” By the time they shot all the stuff and we saw the reaction—these 300-pound construction workers crying at the reveal, I myself would watch the show and I’d be on the couch crying—it was one of those rare things that shows itself. It became just a beautiful life. There will never be anything like it again. I still don’t believe that a house can be built in six days, even though we once built one in four. I’m still working on my own house and it’s been two years.
You’ve never been to the Minneapolis Home + Garden Show. What do you know about Minnesota, aside from what Genevieve Gorder has told you?
Genevieve used to go into her Minnesota accent: “Yah! You betcha!” She always talked about how beautiful and wonderful it is on the lakes in the summer. We built a couple of houses there, and they made me get up at 5 am and got me on a boat. It’s a cool town with cool people. I’m pretty excited to come there.
You describe yourself as both a carpenter and an artist. Where do those two things intersect?
My whole goal in life was to be an artist in some way. It’s the only thing I’ve ever been good at. I was a super hyperactive child and would literally be thrown out of the house. It was only when I sat down with crayons and paper that I would actually be quiet. I went to art school at night and did construction during the day to pay for art school. I always went back to construction because I could get a job in that.
When it comes to design, art is design. It’s a visual of an image. It’s the way you crop a photo. It’s about shape, and leading the eye. And it relates to functionality; furniture is sculpture you can sit on. Design gave me not just one artistic outlet but many—the wallpaper on the wall, the bed you sleep on, sometimes stuff I just made up.
Your latest book is How Good Design Can Change Your Life. Obviously it’s changed the lives of many people you’ve worked with. How has it changed yours?
I went to Japan when I was younger. I was in the fashion business, as a model, which is hilarious. I began to appreciate architecture. The more you appreciate the way a home is designed, the more you see how space works to your mood, and how it defines the person living in it. For instance, when you walk into a room that is uncluttered, with light coming in, and color, and something funny on the walls, it effects your emotions. You are glad to be in that space. It’s like when you buy flowers, and then clean the kitchen to match those flowers. If you wake up in a space that doesn’t make you feel good, it will affect you. It’s important for you to invest in your space because you live in it.
It certainly sounds like you are in the right business.
My friend said, “How did you get a job being you?” I told him, “I guess I was qualified!”