Ty Pennington on being 'the OG' of home renovation shows 22 years after 'Trading Spaces'
Pennington says he never would have predicted the longevity of his TV career, now as host of HGTV's "Rock the Block" and a mentor on "Battle on the Beach."
Ty Pennington never could have predicted his TV career longevity when he first stepped on the set of Trading Spaces, slinging his tool belt, back in 2000. Over two decades later, the carpenter-craftsman-designer is juggling multiple shows on HGTV, including Rock the Block, for which he serves as host with his signature high-energy style. The show's fourth season premieres on 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 the OG? How did I become the oldest guy doing this?"
Pennington, 58, says "not only would I not have predicted this, but if I had, I would have bought in stock in Home Depot immediately. It's crazy how it created a genre" with entire TV networks devoted to home improvements. "It was the first show to put actual tools in the hands of homeowners. Whether they can do it or not, it proved that they could come close. It sent everybody to a home improvement store, saying, 'Let's do it ourselves,' and that started the entire DIY craze."
The Georgia native says it's wild to now "meet young people who are going to SCAD," Savannah College of Art and Design or other design schools, and they tell him, "'I wanted to become a designer and artist because I saw you'" on TLC or later as host and lead carpenter of NBC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition for nine seasons. "It's awesome to know that you inspired people to not only take on their bathroom, but to maybe even take on a career doing exactly the same thing you did."
Pennington's had to roll up his sleeves in his various TV jobs — whether it was making multiple pieces of custom furniture on a $45 budget on Trading Spaces (which was briefly rebooted in 2018, bringing him back 14 years after he first quit) or renovating the homes of families facing hardships on a tight deadline on Extreme (remember: Move! That! Bus!) — so hosting Rock the Block is a lighter lift.
"Compared to what the competitors have to go through, being a host is the dream job," Pennington says of the show which sees four teams of HGTV all-stars design homes on a Berthoud, Colo., cul-de-sac. Each 5,000-square-foot house is valued at $1.9 million prior to the $250,000 each designer is given for upgrades and renovations that must be completed in 6 weeks.
"I get to have the fun and call out what the challenges are," he says, and then watches as the teams "try and figure out what they're going to do." He's impressed by what he saw from competitors Bryan and Sarah Baeumler (Renovation Island), Michel Smith Boyd and Anthony Elle (Luxe for Less), Jonathan Knight and Kristina Crestin (Farmhouse Fixer); and from Fix My Flip, billion-dollar real estate broker and house-flipping expert Page Turner and Mitch Glew.
"There's something in every single space that you're like: That was a great thought," he says. "I'm an artist so I'm always looking to be surprised design-wise. How are you going to do something I've never seen? This season, you get that in a big way."
While the competitors sweat it out, as host he got "to sort of just be my jovial self" on the set — and, yes, he always has that big energy, he says. "The problem with doing all the work yourself is the stress hits you. And it's hard to be jovial all the time. So at this age, I'm better off just being jovial and fun." (He talks about making the crew laugh, when cameras aren't rolling, by telling funny stories, which he dubs "Ty Time.")
That said, Pennington — who also stars as a mentor/designer on HGTV show Battle on the Beach, which is in production on Season 2 — admits he's also "a very competitive person" so there was part of him that felt he was missing out by not competing. Plus, "I also am one of those people who's a control freak. I like to do work. Whatever the project is, I like to be involved."
"So I like it all," he says. "Look, I've done just about everything there is to do — except brain surgery — so I'm cool with whatever job they throw my way."
Pennington admits that now that's he's married — to wife Kellee Merrell since November 2021 — he takes a different approach in selecting his projects, especially ones that take him away from their home base of Savannah, Ga., where they're renovating a historic home together.
"Let's face it, you definitely have a different approach about everything when you're married," he says. "It's because it's no longer just your decision."
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 that I've worked with some great people over the years," he says. "When I left Trading Spaces, I was so tired of just being the carpenter. I wanted to spread my wings and show that I was also a designer and creative. Then I showed that off in spades."
He continues, "As someone like me — growing up with ADHD," which he was diagnosed with in college, "we're always trying to prove to others how talented we are, that we got a gift and we have worth. But I'm to that point that I don't even have to do that anymore, which I struggle with because my instinct is trying to prove to you, 'You got to look at this! I did this painting!' — like the kid putting the artwork on the fridge. I'm still that human, but you get to a certain age that you realize listening to other people's opinions, seeing the room from a different perspective, only makes the project better."
That applies professionally — and when it comes to his partnership with his wife, a social media manager originally from Vancouver.
"What I like is Kellee is also very creative — and she's also not gonna take no for an answer," he says. "So she'll say, 'Your opinion is good, but it doesn't mean it's better than mine.' And I think that's the way life is. You learn that it's not just making yourself happy. Sometimes a lot of these design projects you do, even what I did on Extreme, the reason you do them was to make somebody else happy. So I think finding a nice, happy medium where — you gotta learn to bend."
Pennington adds with a smile, "Luckily, I'm a Libra. My goal is just to make everyone happy. So it works."