Ty Pennington on being the ‘main character’ of home improvement shows 22 years after ‘Trading Spaces’

Ty Pennington, the OG of home improvement shows, talks about hosting HGTV Rock the Block. (Photo: HGTV)

Ty Pennington could never have predicted the longevity of his television career when he first stepped on set Commercial spacesthrowing away his tool belt, in 2000. More than two decades later, the carpenter-craftsman-designer juggles numerous HGTV shows, including Rock the Block, for which he serves as the emcee with his signature high-energy style. The series’ fourth season premieres Monday.

“It’s funny — when I meet new people on HGTV, they’re like, ‘Oh my God, you’re the OG,'” he tells Yahoo Entertainment. “And I’m like, Oh my God, how did I become an OG? How did I become the oldest person to do this?’

Pennington, 58, says, “Not only would I not have predicted this, but if I had, I would have bought in stock at Home Depot right away. It’s crazy how it created a genre’ with entire television networks dedicated to home improvement. “It was the first show to put actual tools in the hands of homeowners. Whether they can or not, it proved they can get close. It sent everyone to a home improvement store saying, ‘Let’s do it ourselves,’ and that started the whole DIY craze.”

The Georgia native says it’s wild now “to meet young people who go to SCAD, Savannah College of Art and Design, or other design schools, and they tell him, ‘I wanted to be a designer and an artist because I saw you “ ” on TLC or later as host and lead carpenter on NBC Extreme Makeover: Home Edition for nine seasons. “It’s great to know that you’ve inspired people to not only take over their bathroom, but maybe even take on a career doing the exact same thing you did.”

Pennington’s had to roll up his sleeves in his various TV jobs – whether it was making a lot of custom furniture on a budget of $45 a Commercial spaces (which was briefly restarted in 2018, bringing it back 14 years after it first left) or renovating the homes of struggling families in a short time frame of Extreme (remember: Move! This! Bus!) — so hosting Rock the Block is a lighter lift.

“Compared to what the contestants have to go through, being a host is the dream job,” Pennington says of the show, in which four teams of HGTV stars design homes on a cul-de-sac in Berthoud, Colorado. Each 5,000-square-foot house is valued at $1.9 million before $250,000 is given to each designer for upgrades and renovations to be completed in 6 weeks.

“I get to have fun and call out what the challenges are,” he says, then watches as the teams “try to figure out what they’re going to do.” He’s impressed with what he’s seen from contestants Brian and Sarah Baumler (Renovation Island), Michelle Smith Boyd and Anthony Ell (Luxury for less), Jonathan Knight and Christina Crestin (Farmhouse Fixr); and by Fix My Flipmulti-billion dollar realtor and house flipping expert Paige Turner and Mitch Glue.

“In every space there is something you resemble: That was a great thought.” he says. “I’m an artist, so I’m always looking to be surprised when it comes to design. How are you going to do something I’ve never seen? You get that in a big way this season.”

While the contestants are sweating it out, as host he’s had to “just kind of be my jovial self” on set — and, yes, he always has that high energy, he says. “The problem with doing all the work yourself is that the stress gets to you. And it’s hard to be cheerful all the time. So at this age, it’s better to just be cheerful and funny.” (He talks about keeping the crew laughing when the cameras aren’t rolling by telling funny stories he calls “Ty Time.”)

That said, Pennington — who also stars as a judge on the HGTV show The battle on the beach, who is in production on Season 2 — admits that he’s also a “very competitive person,” so there was a part of him that felt like he was missing out by not competing. Plus, “I’m also one of those people who is a control freak. I like to do work. Whatever the project is, I like to be involved.”

“So I like everything,” he says. “Look, I’ve done pretty much everything I’m supposed to – except brain surgery – so I’m cool with whatever job they throw at me.”

Pennington admits that now that he’s married — to wife Kelly Merrell since November 2021 — he takes a different approach when choosing his projects, especially those that take him away from their home base in Savannah, Georgia, where they renovate historic home together.

“Let’s face it, you definitely have a different approach to everything when you’re married,” he says. “That’s because it’s not just your decision anymore.”

But Pennington, who has his own home design line and has written several books, says his TV career has actually helped him be a better partner and collaborator in general.

“I’ve been really lucky to have worked with some great people over the years,” he says. “When I left Commercial spaces, I was so tired of just being a carpenter. I wanted to spread my wings and show that I am both a designer and a creative person. Then I showed him in spades.”

He continues, “As someone like me — growing up with ADHD,” who was diagnosed in college, “we’re always trying to prove to others how talented we are, that we’re gifted, and that we’re worth it. But I’m to the point where I don’t even have to do what I’m struggling with anymore because my instinct is trying to prove to you, “You have to look at this! I made this painting!” — like the kid putting the artwork on the fridge. I’m still that person, but you get to a certain age where you realize that listening to other people’s opinions, seeing the room from a different perspective, only makes the project better.”

That holds true professionally — and when it comes to his partnership with his wife, a social media manager originally from Vancouver.

“What I love is that Kelly is also very creative – and she won’t take no for an answer either,” he says. “So she’ll say, ‘Your opinion is good, but that doesn’t mean it’s better than mine.’ And I think life is like that. You learn that it’s not just about making yourself happy. Sometimes you do a lot of these design projects, even what I did extreme, the reason you do them is to make someone else happy. So I think finding a nice, happy environment where — you have to learn to bend.”

Pennington adds with a smile, “Luckily, I’m a Libra. My goal is just to make everyone happy. So it works.”

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