Even as a kid, Ty Pennington had an eye for design.
“My mom was a child psychologist, and she tested me in several different categories. Let’s just say that in the verbal area I wasn’t so strong,” he recalls.
In the visual category, however, he solved a puzzle within seconds of seeing it. “I have a real knack for looking at positive and negative space. I can see things symmetrically and asymmetrically.”
So it’s little surprise Pennington studied graphic design and fine art in college, working his way through school by renovating houses.
While working at a design firm in New York, he started acting in commercials on the side. “I took a gamble and played around with that for a while, but it was always the art and the creative end that I was interested in.”
Craving more hands-on work, he returned to renovating houses. Then he began making appearances on the reality series “Trading Spaces,” which began to gain popularity.
“I was excited that I was on a show where I got to be funny and could use my creativity and actually build things, and be challenged by time. But I had no idea that it would be a training ground for my job now,” he says. “That’s where I really started learning skills for bringing people out of their shells a little bit, which is so important in reality TV.”
As host and head carpenter on “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” Pennington shoots two episodes simultaneously, spending any spare time on side projects including a furniture design business, Ty Pennington Style magazine and a product line for Sears. He’s also working on his second book.
Pennington says he wouldn’t endure such a grueling schedule if he didn’t enjoy his job and realize how much of a difference the show can have on people’s lives.
“It makes you want to gear back up, suit up, go back and make a difference,” he says. “It’s a team of us doing it, and there’s a bond we have as a family helping another family. I know it sounds cheesy, but the truth is it’s phenomenal.”
Showcasing human fragility and resilience in each episode is affecting, too.
“It can be emotionally draining. Sometimes it can be tough, especially for someone like me who’s never showed too much emotion. I was always the kid who tried to hide from all that. So it’s definitely been a journey for me as well. I think I’ve changed in the process.”
Pennington experienced a different kind of reality check this spring: a DUI arrest.
“It definitely made me realize that you can’t go out to dinner and have a few drinks and not think about that fact that you’re behind the wheel,” he says.
As someone who thrives on helping people, he adds: “The last thing I’d ever want to do is put anybody’s life in jeopardy. It was an eye-opener in that you really have to think about what you’re doing on and off your job.”