Ã”Trading Spaces’ hunk hammers out a home repair guide Ty Pennington, the handyman heartthrob from the hit television show Trading Spaces, is looking for a little respect. He’s an adorable goofball, one of People magazine’s sexiest bachelors, and he keeps millions of women glued to the tube. But the guy famous for filling out a tool belt wants to do a little redesign on his own image.
“People don’t realize that I’m more of a designer than a carpenter,” he says. “I’m a cross between Martha Stewart and MacGyver, so I’m going to change my name to Stewart MacGyver.” Obviously Ty doesn’t take himself too seriously, and the wacky sensibility in his new book, Ty’s Tricks, was in full force in a recent BookPage interview. Peppering the conversation with “dude” and “awesome!” the Atlanta native with a surfer vocabulary shows an enthusiasm for home repair that’s infectious. In fact, we spent five minutes on the merits of a “killer toilet” from American Standard called the Tower of Power. “This thing is so bad ass,” he says. “I’m telling ya man, it’s incredible.” After reining in Ty’s tangents, we got back to the book he describes as “a home-work handbook for screw-it and do-it-yourselfers” that embraces the “cheap and easy” mantra. The first chapter shows off Ty’s renovation of his own home, a process that cost him a mere $10,000. A real fixer-upper, the design challenge on a shoestring budget brought out Ty’s talents and creativity, and the designer relishes letting readers into his house for a change.
“People will finally get to see me in a different light, not just the carpenter who makes you laugh. It’s more like, wow, this guy has some style and knows what he’s doing.” Even the Trading Spaces cast of designers was impressed with his work, Ty says with satisfaction.
The results are irreverent kitchen lights made out of plungers, a salad bowl sink and a faux bamboo forest but ingenious. Before-and-after shots show the amazing results of the modernized bachelor pad (along with a full page of the sudsy stud in the shower). The self-described “penny-pinching freak” loves “making something for nothing and making it really special. What I do is make crap, craptastic. Let’s be honest.” He describes his furniture style as “modern primitive, which is an oxymoron, which is so much like me. Really modern clean lines but it’s made in a primitive way.” His furniture has an Asian minimalist feel with a touch of Swiss Family Robinson thrown in. “It’s funny, in my brain I think I see things very simply, but I like to be surrounded by chaos at the same time. I’m kind of like the Zen eye in the middle of the hurricane.” Chapter two of the book gets into nitty-gritty plans for eclectic projects, which Ty says was key because “so many people come up to me and say, Ã”Dude, I hate your guts. My wife loves you. Just kidding. Dude, you gotta come over and build us some furniture.'” That house call isn’t likely to happen considering this carpenter’s busy schedule. Ty just finished taping 10 new Trading Spaces episodes; he also makes and sells incense holders and such on his website (www.
Tythehandyguy.com) and runs a furniture company called FU. Ty’s Tricks fills the gap where the show leaves off.
“You get such a positive reaction and realize that people are actually trying [to build] some of the stuff,” says Ty, but “there’s a lot on [Trading Spaces] that they don’t show. I guess they just find it boring or it gets edited out. And there’s so many tricks that I know.” Building a backyard treehouse as a kid started Ty’s passion for home repair, but he never expected to turn his handyman skills into a career. “It’s just something I’ve always fallen back on,” he says. “I never really meant for [carpentry] to be my long-term career goal.” He studied graphic design for a couple of years but quit to model in Japan. After 10 years of globetrotting, he moved back to Atlanta and started renovating a warehouse with his brother. Exactly one year later the call came for a crazy carpenter for a new TV show, and Ty knew it would be the perfect job. He loves showing off his creative side and at the same time being “my crazy little self.” Ty may be a ham, but he knows his place on the show. “I have to just kind of shut up and build whatever,” he says, while conceding that “if they’re going to do a room that’s completely hideous, by all means, I’m really going to help them out to make sure they never do that again.” Those “what were they thinking?” designs have helped Trading Spaces attract millions of viewers, earn an Emmy nomination and spawn a publishing powerhouse. So which of the show’s designers would Ty let loose in his home? “None of the above, just because I know them all too well. . . . But I guarantee that some would have to stick with yard maintenance.” “Hildi [Santo-Tomas] has definitely got a creative gene in her that’s insane. What’s great is that she knows it’s a TV show, so she pushes the envelope. You can’t keep doing the same room every time, like some designers; you gotta branch out and do some crazy stuff.” Ty may know what makes good TV, but fortunately his book focuses on the practical. “I want everything to be a project that you can put together yourself and you can change depending on your tastes, so that everyone can become part of the creative solution. That’s the only way I stay happy.” Is it just a matter of time before the master of beer budget transformations becomes the star of Trading Spaces II? “Who knows,” Ty says, “maybe I’ll become a designer on a show like that, and instead of $1,000, we’ll do it for $100.”