Ty Pennington Reminisces About Trading Spaces & Extreme Makeover - Exclusive Interview

Ty Pennington never thought he'd end up on television. Now, none of us could ever imagine any episodes of "Trading Spaces" or "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" without him.

Since the original "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" ended in 2012, the carpenter has been busy. He's appeared on multiple television shows, written a couple of books, designed furniture, continued renovating houses — of course — and even returned to reboots of some of his fan's favorites. While he's already made his mark on our television screens over the years, he's still just getting started. We got the chance to chat with this star for the ultimate inside look into his life today.

In an exclusive interview with The List, Pennington told us all about what we never saw on "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," how his reality television career almost took a completely different turn, and what he wants us all to see him doing on TV next.

How Ty Pennington got involved with Trading Spaces

What first got you interested in carpentry and home renovation? I know you first were in modeling and graphic design.

Yeah. I mean, let's see. I guess I've always done a little bit of everything. I think for me, I just seem to always be gravitated toward working with my hands on anything. But I think for me it was just sort of naturally what I was drawn to. My first job probably out of high school was landscaping, and then I was painting houses, and I was building houses, I was building furniture. And it was just one of those things that I just did for — I mean, I don't think I ever intended on making a career out of being a carpenter, but it was the skills that I just sort of knew how to do. And then I was renovating warehouses and that was right around the time that I got an audition to be on "Trading Spaces."

And so, I was one of those guys that would go on auditions, [and] at the same time [I was] always going back to working on a construction site because that's the only way I could keep the lights on, you know?

What made you want to audition and be involved in that show?

What's interesting about that is that I had told my agency to stop sending me on auditions because I'd been in the business a while, and I always looked like I was 12, and I just never really got big jobs when it came to, like, any type of — Anyway, it was just one of the things that I was like, "Look, I'm renovating this warehouse and building furniture. That's what I'm doing. If there's something really big you think I should do, let me know, but I'm kind of done." It was also — my brother left my book in his car, and so basically my career was over anyway.

So the funny thing about this is I got this call from my agency and they're like, "Hey, there's a show that you should audition for. They're looking for a carpenter that's half funny and half knows what they're doing." And I was like, "Well, I'm half of that." And so I went and auditioned. It was just one of those funny moments that I was working with this guy named Frank [Bielec], and everybody had built these planter boxes for him. I could tell he was going to ask me to do the same thing. And he's like, "So why don't you build me a box?" So I started measuring his height, because I was going to build him a coffin, and then the cameraman started laughing at things. So they could just tell we had a good chemistry, and then I got the show — so yeah. It all sort of changed after that.

Who does Ty Pennington still keep in touch with from Trading Spaces?

Is there anybody that you still keep in touch with from the show?

Oh God, yeah. I'm really good friends with Hildi [Santo-Tomas], [who] is, to me, probably one of the greatest to ever be on "Trading Spaces," because everyone was so afraid of her designs, but she really knew what she was doing. I mean, she made people tune in, because you wanted to see just how bad her rooms were going to be, good or bad. She's the one who glued hay on the wall, put plastic flowers in a bathroom, glued wine labels on people's kitchens who didn't drink alcohol. And I was like, "Oh, my God." So yeah, it was amazing. Honestly, I'm friends with everybody like Genevieve [Gorder] and Paige [Davis] and Doug [Wilson]. Well, that was sort of my first TV family until "Extreme [Makeover: Home Edition]" happened.

Ty Pennington looks back at his time on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

What was it like flipping a house in seven days on "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition"?

I still am blown away by that, because the reruns still air on Discovery Family. And so sometimes I'll see it, and I'll click on it, and I'll just watch it. I'm like, "Oh, my God. I remember this episode." And I can't believe that I'm looking at this full-on house with a working fireplace, a working hot tub, in five days of building. It's just crazy.

But yeah. We did it. And the crazy thing is we were doing two at the same time. It's all sort of a blur, because I was doing two builds at the same time in two different states. We really pulled off miracles, and there's not a day go by that I don't realize just how amazing that show was and how not only it affected so many families in America, but how it affected all the people that were involved in the show. Because I think we were all changed from being part of something like that.

Ty Pennington shares his favorite moments from Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

What was your most memorable home or episode from doing it? I know there's a lot to choose from.

Ah, that's so hard. It's one of those things where you sort of have to separate it into categories.


So there's a couple of rooms. A lot of people don't even realize this, because my room was a secret room. You never really saw what I was working on, which is, in many ways, a shame. But it's because I was doing two shows, they had to be able to act like I was there, I was just hiding in my room.

But the truth of it is we really made — So I basically built custom furniture for each room I did, so that means custom bed, custom side tables, custom — so it was one of a kind because I didn't want to just find local furniture from a dealer and do that sort of a thing. I really wanted it to be special. And there's a couple rooms that I just know — There was this one family down in, I think it was, Tallahassee that the dad, the day that we were showing up, he had to go back in for brain cancer. And if you know anything about brain cancer, it's so horrible. It was just really, really tough. And I told the mom and the family, "Look, we don't have to do this. You do not have to share your story with us. This is way too heavy for any ..." And so the amazing part is they wanted to do it because this was his dream was to have a house for his — He was adopting all these Chinese kids and one of them was blind, and it was just really amazing.

He was a lover of music, and so I built this really custom bed, almost a tapestry bed. I also built this rock 'n' roll hutch that he could put albums in. So we were hoping that he was going to be coming home. I was so excited for him to see, not only what we'd done with the house for his family, but also what we'd done in his room. And then we found out he wasn't going to be strong enough to come home. But the biggest reveal, I think the most powerful reveal happened in that show. Because we had given them a piano, because he loved music so much, but I didn't know if this was going to happen. But then I was showing the family the house and I took them into another room.

And then in that moment, we had a secret celebrity come into the living room, and then I brought the family back out, and I didn't know if this was going to happen, but it did. It was Stevie Wonder, and he started playing "I Just Called to Say I Love You," and he changed the lyrics so that we could use the song. I don't think I've ever cried more in my life. And I was like, "My God." That's what I'm saying about "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." There are moments that there is nothing that can compare to just how [much emotion you feel]. I just think as an artist, when you really put your heart into something, and it's all about someone's reaction, that's the reward, right? When you see somebody react to it. But it's also those special moments when you realize that other people are giving their talent and their time to share in this moment.

To this day, it's hard to even put into words how you feel. Because it's joy, it's happy, it's elation, and it's — But then you realize, "Oh, my God. I wish this guy could see this," you know? It was a whole bunch of mixed emotions, but there's a lot of stories like that. And that's just it. It's hard to say what is the best, because there's so many families I connected with. And there's so many human beings that we met that are no longer with us that are younger than 12 that had to fight such horrible things. You get connected with them, and it just rips your heart out. So yeah, I probably needed therapy, to be honest with you. Maybe that was my therapy just to deal with — You know, it makes you appreciate all the moments in life.

But yeah, it's one of those things that I'm just so glad I really got to be part of something. The thing about "Extreme" was, too, is the show evolved and it turned into — I mean look, these guys that wanted to make the TV show, they cast people that didn't even get along, because "Survivor" was the No. 1 show at that time. And I think the most powerful thing about "Extreme" is, in all of that casting, somehow we turned it into — Because they wanted to make a completely different show, which was about chaos and anger, and it turned into something that was really about the family, and it naturally occurred. And that's what I mean by the most beautiful things in life sort of just spontaneously happen. And I think that's what "Extreme" was like.

What it was like behind the scenes of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

Did anything ever happen behind the scenes that viewers didn't get to see as part of the episode?

Well, I mean, yeah. Yeah. I mean, there's moments that the rest of the design team is hanging out with KISS, but I'm at the other house, and I'm seeing it later like, "Oh, my God. This is amazing."

But I mean look, there's all kinds of things that happened. I mean, we did a demolition derby demo, and I was dumb enough to get in one of the cars. I ended up breaking my ribs, and I broke my nose on the camera. Because I was crazy, I would do anything. I just love the thrill and the excitement of it. There's so many things that happened behind the scenes that — I mean, we even did a show of the behind-the-scenes of the show, because there was so much stuff that happened, you know?

Was there anything that happened that you wish was included in the show?

Well, yeah. Look, I'm one of those people who absolutely wishes we could tell more of the behind-the-scenes story.

I mean, look, those things that happen when you build a piece of furniture, then you're trying to get it into the house, and you realized you built it too big to get in the door, and you got to cut it in half. I mean, those are the things that would happen almost every fourth episode. For some reason, we'd still forget like, "Oh, yeah. It's not going to fit." It's those kind of moments that are hilarious. I mean, look, there were moments. We were building a house in Baltimore, and we hadn't put the roof on, and this crane was going to put it into place, but then this thunderstorm came in and basically was like a mini tornado that happened. And I was hanging onto a tarp and literally blowing in the wind. We couldn't air that, because it looks like I'm going to die, but those are the kind of moments I wish made it. We just never imagined that's real, but it was for sure.

Oh, my goodness. Wow!

It was a lot of fun. It was crazy.

What it was like for Ty Pennington to walk away from Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

What was your first thought when you found out that the show was going to be ending? Because you spent a decade of your life on the show.

Well, it wasn't just that. I mean, there's also a woman named Denise Cramsey who I sort of brought over to the show that used to be the producer of "Trading Spaces." And her and I were like family, and then she had just a freak sort of accident. She was working out, she ended up having an aneurysm, and it was a crippling blow emotionally, I think, to many of us that were on the show. And for a moment there, we thought, "God, how can we even go on," you know? But we did. I think we even did three or four seasons after that. But yeah, it was just one of those things where in television to be able to get more than five seasons is a miracle.

The thing that people don't even understand is we went through a building crisis while we were shooting the show, right? Where you couldn't even find a builder to build homes, because a lot of them were going out of business because of the market crash of real estate. And so to be able to keep the show going through all that is just amazing. And that's what it was. It had been a decade of just amazing stories and journeys. But then I think what actually happened was the President of ABC — They somehow switched. I don't know if something happened, but they ended up getting a new CEO or something and he was from the UK, and he basically was like a football coach. He wanted to just do all new shows. And so it was just one of those things where you're like, "Okay, we're out."

To be honest with you, I think it ran its course. You can only do something that's so magical for so long, and I don't think anything lasts forever. So I think it lasted as long as it needed to, you know?

What it was like for Ty Pennington to join the Extreme Makeover and Trading Spaces reboots

How did it feel years later appearing on the reboots of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" and "Trading Spaces"?

Well, yeah. Well, I mean, the "Trading Spaces" reboot was so much fun, because everybody had not changed. I mean, it was so much fun because everybody really was the same, and we really were such a family. And so it was a blast. It really was. It was so much fun. And then with "Extreme," too. It was interesting, because I was working with some of the same people that were on the original, that was behind the scenes, to producers, the design producers ... all of the above. It was a little strange, because I wasn't the host, but I still wanted to be part of it because it's such a huge show that changes people's lives. And so yeah, it was a bit challenging because I wasn't in my regular role.

So it was a little confusing, but it felt great to be part of that family again, you know? But it's been fun, and look, I'm one of those people that I don't like to do what's already been done. It's rare that I do. And, of course, I did the reboots, because that's my family, you know what I mean? I'm not going to be the guy that's like, "No, I'm too good to go back to it." You know what I mean? I'm always about — But I love doing anything new, and that's why it was so much fun doing "Ty Breaker" and doing any show that hasn't been done before. Because I'm an artist, I'm creative. I like doing things that I haven't done before.

What does Ty Pennington want to do next on TV?

What is something that you haven't done before that you would still like to do? Because I mean, you've hosted cooking competitions and obviously home renovation shows. You were on a lifestyle show for a while. You have your own show. I mean, what's left that you would like to do?

That's a really good question. I know. It's crazy. I even did shows in the UK.


I don't know. I think for me, I like the process. I like creative problem-solving. There's something about the fact that I think I'm at the point that I'm okay being on camera or not on camera. But what I've realized, I think through all the years, is that I'm just naturally good at being on camera. But here's what I realized, and maybe it was from the early '90s and late '80s when I ended up getting these commercials in New York.

I kept asking the guy, "Why do you guys keep hiring me for these commercials?" Because I mean, it's not like I stood out and was like, "Oh, this guy is so handsome. We've got to have him as a sixth person in line." You know, it's not like I was the lead guy. And I was like, "So what's the deal? I'm just curious. Why do I keep getting booked with you guys?" And he's like, "Well, to be honest with you, you make everybody else look better." I'm like, "What?" He goes, "See that girl over there?" And I was like, "Yeah." He's like, "She's our main character. And she just seems to light up even more when you're around, and she's more natural talking the way we need her to talk." And I was like, "Oh, my God." So even back then, I never knew it until later on in life that someone said, "You're really good at making us feel comfortable on camera." And if you think about reality TV, that's the most important thing, right? Is to make people feel comfortable.

And so, I guess to answer your question, there's still a bunch of stuff I'd like to do, to be honest with you. I love humor. And I like pushing people to their limits and that is creatively, but it's also sort of mentally and physically. So there's a couple ideas that I'm pushing out there too about sort of battling the elements while you design, but there's a bunch of stuff. And so the thing is it's about whether or not you can find a home for it, whether or not there's a budget big enough, all [of] the above, you know? But yeah, creatively, I'm always working on something that's on television and off.

I mean, I'm doing this project in Atlanta that's going to be this beautiful building in the area that I used to live in, these old warehouses. But I mean, I'm constantly working on something. And I think as an artist, that's the way you always are, you know? You're only as good as your last piece. Yeah, but for TV, I'm always open. And that's why when Ben and Erin [Napier] said, "Do you want to be part of 'Home Town'?" I was like, "Yes!" And then I wondered if they'd checked my background and realized that I do a show called "Small Business Revolution." I'm like, "This is what we do, man." When I heard about that, I was like, "Of course I want to be involved."

I mean, it's so important, I think, to just find and put new life into small towns and especially small town businesses. Because the stores out on the main highways, the ones in the malls and the big box, they're going to survive, but it's the charm of a small town. There's where we all want to live. We want to live on a street where you can walk down to a local café, you can check out a shop, but the only way those places survive is if we give them business. And sometimes the only way they get business is if we move back into these small towns and give them the life that they need.

Ty Pennington reveals the designer he'd love to work with next

You've worked with so many designers over the course of your career. Who haven't you worked with that you would jump at the chance to?

Who haven't I worked with? Yeah. You know what, I'm friends with Leanne Ford, but I haven't worked with Leanne Ford, so maybe we'll do "Ford versus Pennington." Instead of Ferrari. "Ford versus La Tigra." That's it. It'll be great.

I can't wait!

I think with the success of "Rock the Block," I'm probably going to work with a lot more HGTV talent, I'm hoping. But it's fun because I think there's so much — I just love people, and I love the personalities. No matter who you are, you bring something different to the table. And so for me, I love a variety, you know? And that's what "Trading Spaces" was so great at. Every designer was like a variety pack of chips or cereal that you get in the variety pack. And I think it's important that we all have that, you know what I mean, in whatever project we're doing. So that you sort of cover all your bases, and if somebody doesn't like the kitchen, then they're going to like the bedroom in the other house, but there's something for everybody's taste. What I don't like seeing is when everybody's place looks the same, you know what I mean?

An inside look at Ty Pennington's upcoming TV show

Can you tell us a little bit about your upcoming show "Battle on the Beach?"

Oh, my God. Here's what I can tell you [about] "Battle of the Beach." I didn't think I was going to survive it, okay? So here's the behind the scenes of "Battle on the Beach."

By the way, my designer co-stars are amazing. I had so much fun with Taniya and Alison. And it was great being sort of like the only male, because — I don't know — it was just interesting, because they're both really good at what they do. And they really bring the bling and the luxury look to all the finishes, all the countertops, all the above, right? So I knew I really had some stiff competition. But I think what I didn't realize is that — I'm sure you'll hear more about it once they start promoting it — is that there's a set — There's a couple in each house that are going to flip it and do the best they can with the budget that they have.

But I ended up having the sweetest couple. They just happen to have zero experience on flipping. And so every other couple had so much experience. So I realized that I was going to have to really work twice as hard, because they didn't know how to do the work. But as a mentor, I couldn't physically do the work for them. I could just try and help them through it or tell them what not to try and spend their money on labor on, right? But anyway, it was a challenge, but it was so hilarious because whatever could go wrong went wrong. In the end, we still ended up having this amazing beach house. And so we had to get super creative and it was just one of those things that it was super competitive, so much fun. But I ended up being so proud of the team that I didn't think was going to be able to pull it off, but it was just a lot of hard work. And here's some things that nobody else knows. I'm not going to tell you who won or what house sort of walked away with a win.

Right, right!

But I will tell you this. So the person who actually owns the houses, when it was all said and done, they came by and looked at all the houses. And let me just tell you, ours barely skated by with a word, completely finished, because we ran out of everything, including time. But what was amazing is the people that own the property in all three were like, and maybe it's because they owned it since the late '70s or '80s, but they were like, "This is our favorite." And I was like, "Yes, that's awesome." But it's because it was the homeowners themselves. And so maybe that's a sneak peek into, let's just say sometimes leaving vintage can work, but boy, it can go 50/50 on that.

But anyway, I think what's great is there's just so much entertainment with this show. I'm already hearing from the producers that they want to turn it into an hour and a half, 90-minute show, instead of 60 minutes because it's so good. So yeah, I think it's going to be a great show. I'm excited just because I get to relive it. Because we were in the middle of nowhere. You couldn't get anything, much less food and water. It was really, we were in the end of an Island, but I think it's going to be a great show. I think you're going to like it. It's fun.

Ty Pennington shares his biggest advice for home renovations

What are some of the biggest mistakes that you see people make when they're renovating homes?

I think the biggest is where they spend their money. You know, it's because I think a lot of times you forget that it's going to cost this much to redo the kitchen, because the cabinets are going to cost so much, the countertops are going to cost so much. And the question is, how can you get away with renovating a kitchen, and then save enough money for other rooms? And sometimes you have to keep the cabinets you have, but just focus on a new island. And maybe it's not even the same color as the original cabinets or countertop on the other side. But I think the thing is you have to get creative. You can't just put all your money into one space, because you won't have enough leftover to either finish — by finish, I mean painting and trim and all of the above — but you got to save enough money, too, to complete all the renovations that you're doing. And I think balancing the budget is always the biggest thing. And to be honest with you, people just start knocking out walls before they find out if they're load-bearing. And so a bit of a no-no.

Yeah. So to sit down first and kind of break down what you want to do with your budget beforehand would you say is the best advice?

Yeah. And not only that, but just from my own personal experience, because I used to renovate for people, and they wouldn't even tell their wives when they're going to start. And I remember ripping the roof off and looking down at them in the bed and I was like, "You didn't tell her we were coming today? What is this?" You have to schedule things, but you have to make plans to not be there. Unless you want people in your home, in your living room, in your bathroom, renovating, it will lead to a divorce if you do not plan correctly, you know what I mean? That's just the reality. Yeah.

How Ty Pennington almost ended up on The Bachelor

I've read, and you talked about it in your book "Life to the Extreme," that you were almost on "The Bachelor"? Can you talk about this a little bit?

Yeah. So it was crazy, but I think it was the first year I was on "Trading Spaces," and the show got incredibly popular in one year. I think Season 2, it was crazy. We had huge crowds that were ending up in cul-de-sacs in neighborhoods all across America. And I was just going like, "Wow! How is this show that's on at 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon on a channel like TLC, The Learning Channel, how is this even this popular?" But I guess it had just blown up. And then I ended up getting an email through a friend or a call from a producer and they're saying, "Hey, congratulations on blah, blah, blah, this, whatever. We're going to do a show, and we're just interested in seeing if you would be willing to come and be a part of it." And I was like, "Well, what is it?" And they're like, "Well, you'd be sort of a bachelor. And you would live in a house with a lot of women, and you would have to sort of go on dates every day. And then after a month or two months, you would have to make a decision to get married." So I'm like, "Oh, this is going to go over well with my girlfriend."

Oh, no!

So I told him, "Let me get back to you on that." And, of course, I told a friend of mine who lives in L.A. and he's like, "Do it." I'm like, "Yeah, that would be the end of everything that I know." But it is interesting, right? Thank God I said no. What a huge change my career would have taken. Just crash and burn.

I had to bring that up, because I was reading that, and I said, "I have to ask him that when I talk to him!"

You know what would've been funny, though? I often think how funny it would have been, because I'm a pretty genuine person, and so I think the things I would have said would not have really fit with ["The Bachelor"] — because I would have been like, "I don't believe anything you're saying." I don't think I would've been able to play the game that you have to play on "The Bachelor." I wouldn't be able to look at all those people and be like, "I love each and every one of you."

But that being said, I cannot stop watching that show. There's something about it, it's like watching a train. You just have to watch. But anyway, thank God I didn't have to watch myself on that, because that would have been horrible.

"Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" is streaming now on discovery+. You can also catch Ty Pennington in the finale of "Home Town Takeover" on Sunday, July 6 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on HGTV and discovery+. His new series, "Battle on the Beach," premieres Sunday, July 11 at 9/8c on HGTV and discovery+.