When "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" returns to TV in February, a familiar face won’t be out in front: Ty Pennington, the host of the original show.
This time the show will be hosted by "Modern Family" actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson and will feature celebrity guests like Pennington.
Pennington will be working with volunteers to design a room in the house that is being remodeled. That room design includes building the furniture as well.
While you might not see as much of Pennington on the show as you’re used to, you can see him in person when Pennington comes to the Austin Home & Garden Show on Jan. 10-12.
There he’ll share tips about home design and carpentry and answer the audience’s questions. Inevitably, someone will ask him something about if the houses on "Extreme Makeover" were real houses or if those were real rooms on "Trading Spaces," the TLC show that gave Pennington his start as the carpenter.
Yes, he’ll tell you. Those early seasons of "Extreme Makeover" might have had some houses where a builder had to return for the finishing touches, but then they started working with better builders who could better handle building a house in seven days, and a community center and whatever other surprises producers threw at them.
It wasn’t staged, he says. "People actually were doing all the work," he says. "It was real."
Inevitably, when Pennington travels around the country, he runs into folks he worked with on an "Extreme" house or their relatives.
Pennington and "Extreme" came to Bastrop County in 2011 after the wildfires to build a home for volunteer firefighter Mizzy Zdroj, and earlier in 2006, the crew built a house in Northwest Austin for the O’Donnell family of six children, five of whom have autism.
People also ask about the finances of giving someone a much bigger house with bigger taxes, but Pennington rebuts that families had their mortgages paid off and were given financial advisers to help figure that out. "All they have to pay is the property tax and the utilities," he says.
The show, he says, changed the way people look at home design, and "it changed the way people look at giving back," he says. "I saw a part of humanity that people don’t see a lot."
Even though Pennington, 55, would have liked to have come back as the host, that wasn’t in the cards.
"Sometimes there's a reason why Led Zeppelin didn't get back together," he says as to why he isn’t the host. He did jump at the chance to be part of it in any capacity.
"I said, ’Look, I'd be glad to help in any way,’" he says. "I wanted to protect the integrity of the show."
Still, he says, "it was a little bit awkward when someone else has your job," but ultimately he felt like shows like "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" need to be on the air, and he needed to be part of it.
"That is my family," he says. "The entire production company is my family. ... That show is so personal to me."
It provided him many memorable moments, like when they added touches to honor a child who died, or when a kid who is deaf and has autism played on a swing with elation.
"An 8-year-old can just slay you," he says.
Pennington has been reintroduced to his past on TV a lot lately. Two years ago, "Trading Spaces" rebooted with many of the original stars. This time, however, Pennington stepped out of the role of carpenter and became a designer as well.
"I wasn't really sure about that one," he says. "It had been so long, and honestly, it was, ’Well, maybe,’ but then I found out that every single human that was on the show was coming back."
It made for good drama, he says, especially when he had to design a room with designer Hildi Santo-Tomas.
"She’s like the sister I never wanted, and I'm the brother she never wanted," he says. He had to change the way she saw him, though, as an equal. "She sees me as her servant, as her lackey," he says. "We're designing this room together, and she's just hijacking the whole thing. We almost killed each other."
The original "Trading Spaces" launched Pennington into stardom. He first realized that something was happening, he says, when a tattooed biker saw him in Orlando and said, "Hey, you’re that Ty guy."
And when hundreds of people started showing up where they were filming and he’d have to escape wearing a trash can on his head. "That’s the hilarity," he says. "You’re on a reality show. That my 15 minutes turned into 15 years is a stunner for me."
The friends he grew up with often say, "How did you get a job being you?" "I was qualified," Pennington says. "It’s been a crazy, fun roller coaster I never would have expected."
Pennington’s best advice for people who want to do some DIY home remodeling is, "Don’t be stupid; it’s not smart," he says. "Everybody rushes. Think it out. Before you take out a wall, make sure your foundation can handle it, that it’s not a load-bearing wall. Before you start, make sure you can finish. So many people think they can get it done in a weekend, and three months later, they’re still doing it."
Pennington’s other advice: walk through the door of opportunity. That’s what he’s tried to do as much as possible. He left Georgia to move to New York, where he rented out a closet in a warehouse because he couldn’t afford anywhere else. That’s where he met artists who were from Austin and learned that there was a big difference between Austin and Texas.
He did art and learned carpentry and went on auditions. He went to Japan. "All of that nonsense, all those different doors gave me that experience that was exactly what they were looking for on a television show," he says.
Even though he seems like the guy who leaps first, he says, "before you jump off the roof, figure out how high you are. Lay out what you want to do before you do it."
The door of opportunity has led him to projects all over the country, including building his own home in Florida.
"It took a lot more than a week," he says. "It turned out amazing."
He has a studio in it for music and artwork. He designed and built all the furniture and made it green with solar power.
"It’s never really over for me," he says. "I’m always building something."
The house was built for himself as well as his mom.
If someone asked him if he thought he’d ever be living with his mother again, he would have said no, but, he says, "it’s been fun." And it also makes sense, "because I am so many places, I can barely take care of a plant or dog. Those are things I’m hoping to change, but I’ve got to figure out how to stay in one place."
He’s also working on a commercial project in Atlanta, rebuilding reefs in the Bahamas, building a house in California and trying to be a fine artist.
"I don't think there's anything I'm not doing," he says. "That's the problem." At one point, he says, a therapist asked him if he ever thought of not doing so much. "Whoa, no," he says.
"At some point, I will try slowing down. The body doesn't move like it used to," he says.