Ty Pennington, in person, is just as you would expect him to be: funny, talkative, fidgets a lot. America first fell in love with Ty’s signature crooked grin, go-with-the-flow demeanor, and remarkable creativity when he was the hunky carpenter on reality TV show Trading Spaces, and even more so as the charitable host of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Ty visited Crown Point back in September, as the celebrity guest for the grand opening of WaterPlace, an upscale kitchen, bath and lighting showroom by Leeps Supply Company. We met with Ty prior to the opening to chat about his past influences and future predictions for home improvement.
What initially drew you to the home design industry?
When I was a kid, I was the epitome of what ADHD looks like, back when they didn’t know what that was. The only way I would calm down is when I was drawing or putting a jigsaw puzzle together. My mom [who was a child psychologist] put me through a bunch of tests. There was one test where you had all these wooden blocks and it made an image when you put it all together. She set a timer and within seconds, I had it figured out. I scored high in this area, but then in verbal areas not so much. She realized I had a talent in one area. That’s not really a blessing in a family when you find out your kid can draw—oh, that’s great; that’s a big career. That’s always sort of a challenge when you know you’re pretty creative at certain things, but how do you turn it into a vocation?
Where did your building skills develop?
I paid my way through art school doing construction and building houses, so I learned how to do all of that then. It was never really my intent to become a professional carpenter. It was just a way to pay the bills.
I like creative problem solving. It’s what I’ve always sort of done, it’s what I was good at in college. That’s what I went to school for. I was a graphic designer for a while; I won some awards doing that. I consider design design, whether it’s a corporate identity logo or an interior space. But I’ve always been good with three-dimensional objects, so I started making custom furniture and pretty unique stuff.
When I was 9 years old, I built a three-story treehouse in my back yard. I didn’t have any tools because my dad was a jazz musician, he wasn’t exactly a home fixer. But I ended up trading comics with all the kids in the neighborhood, so I pulled a Tom Sawyer. For the first project, I brought the community together, everyone brought [their tools], and in a day we built a three-story treehouse. [Earlier that day] I had destroyed the piano and probably destroyed most of the home by writing on the walls. My mom said, “Look, I’m really glad you’re creative, but any other projects you start, you can take it outside. In fact, you can’t come back in until you get it out of your system,” so that’s what I did. I find it apropos that later on I’d be building houses in record time with community involvement, only I didn’t have to give up any comic books.
Trading Spaces was pretty much the start to home improvement reality TV. Why do you think that was so successful and why does this genre continue to succeed?
Trading Spaces was successful because first of all, the format was genius: the fact that two neighbors basically sabotage each other by redecorating each other’s house. But also you throw in some crazy designers with crazy ideas, that just makes good television. But more importantly, what really changed in the DIY world, is that for the first time we put tools in the homeowners' hands. So for the first time you saw actual people doing the work themselves instead of professionals, and they were actually doing it. Even though they were being told to put Liquid Nails in the back of trim and tiles—let’s just say it’s not always the right material to be using—but the idea that they can do it was proven. So that revolutionized it and next thing you know, Home Depot stocks went through the roof. So Trading Spaces changed the face of DIY for sure.
What are some of the top home trends we’ll see in 2017?
There’s still a lot of what’s old is new. A lot of the rustic throwback, reclaimed, of course—until we run out of reclaimed, which is sadly going to happen soon because everyone wants that look. But at the same time they’re making new products that look like they’ve been around a long time but they don’t necessarily have to be made from actual wood. There’s a lot of that simulated old-school look.
The subway tile thing is still big. That clean, sort of modern but at the same time throwback old period is still big. I think more people are getting to really understand what green is. At the beginning nobody really understood or really cared, but now the kids are really getting involved in understanding what is recycled and what can actually use less energy; it’s making more sense.
I spent a lot longer than seven days building a home for my own family. My mom has health issues and asthma so I had to make it the cleanest and healthiest. I think people are really starting to understand, when you build a home or make an addition onto the home, how can I make this the cleanest environment for my kids to grow up in, because they’re realizing that it is the family that lives in it. So you’re talking about mold-free drywall, you’re talking about HEPA filters in your air conditioning system to make the air cleaner. It may cost a little bit more, but now that our smartphones can tell us how much energy our homes are actually using, people are starting to realize, ‘Oh, maybe I should go with a different product’ like spray-foam insulation that makes a massive amount of difference instead of old-school insulation.
But those are the kind of [trends happening] that are behind the wall. I mean, everybody can tell what’s going on fashion-wise in a home because you see it on TV and in magazines, but I think what’s important is what’s happening behind the wall, in the attic and underneath the house. As corny and “home-builder” sounding as that is, it’s kinda true. There are products you can use that cut down on the footprint. You’ll pay a little more for it, but you know when you’re building that you’re using less waste, and that’s what green building is.