Ty Pennington Interview IBM ad community grid

Now going into his fifth season as host of ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Ty Pennington’s brand is expanding nearly as quickly as the Starbucks folks can throw up a new java joint on the next corner. The designer not only made the leap to a hit show, he recently opened his own L.A. design boutique called ADHD (Art Design Home Decor), with a wink to Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder—a condition that once made the successful life he leads today seem like an impossible dream. Today, Pennington publishes a quarterly, home-décor magazine that bears his name; presides over a line of home fashions for Sears, and even serves as a spokesperson for both an aspirin and an ADHD medication manufacturer. Our editor-in-chief, Chet Cooper, caught up with him during a brief break in the action. Pennnington could only sit still long enough to answer a few questions as he was preparing to get back on the road for the show.

Chet Cooper: How did you get involved with Extreme Makeover: Home Edition?

Ty Pennington: Oh, wow, let’s see. Well, I was on Trading Spaces at the time, and I was sent out to California to start having creative meetings with this company that wanted to do a show with me. I wanted to do something like Make A Wish, you know, maybe build three-story treehouses for kids who are battling some huge illness. I wanted to make a wish of theirs come true. So we got to playing around with different ideas. They came up with building a house in seven days with six or seven designers, and then chaos ensued. But that’s what’s great about the show: It kind of creates itself. While the original show they’d planned was more about the chaos of building a house, it evolved into what it is now, which is the type of show where everybody gets involved. It really is phenomenal. It’s the greatest job I think I’ll ever have.

Cooper: They came to you because of your background?

Pennington: Right. On Trading Spaces I was a carpenter-designer, and I remember them asking me the question, “What do you think about building a house in seven days? Do you think we can do it?” And I said, “No, absolutely not, but that would be a great television show.” So Extreme Makeover: Home Edition evolved along the way. A lot more goes into it than I think a lot of people realize, and because we have such a short-production timeline, it’s incredible that we can pull off what we do. But you really have to have a plan of attack before you get started, because you can’t change your mind once the ball starts rolling.

Cooper: Are you involved in selecting the family?

Pennington: No, no, I wish I was. We have a group of people who do that. They’re fantastic. You have to do so many background checks to make sure their story is true, that the house is really theirs, you know… Our crew goes through like 4,000 tapes a week, and the team is just outstanding. They find great families; that’s the story. That’s our show. So finding families is the toughest job. They have to not only be great people, but they also have to have a great story. I think they also have to have really given back to so many people. And most of the ones that we choose really aren’t even asking, they’ve been nominated by someone else. That’s the key. I’m real passionate about family.

Cooper: Saying “no” to so many people...

Pennington: Yeah, that’s the worst part, but who knows, we might be able to go back and help some of those people we had to say “no” to earlier. What’s really cool is, some of the families we’ve helped have come out and helped us with other families. They really want to give back what’s been given to them. There’s definitely a pay-it-forward kind of vibe on our show.

Cooper: What season is this for the show?

Pennington: We just started season five.

Cooper: Are you still using the bullhorn?

Pennington: (laughs) No, we sent it on vacation for a while with a family, and it’s doing great. It sends back postcards, it’s met some other bullhorns and they’re having meetings, they’re yelling at each other. It’s great. It’s having a great time on its own. It’ll come back eventually, but right now it’s on vacation.

Cooper: (laughs) Tell me about your home-fashion line at Sears?

Pennington: I designed bedding, plates, glassware. It’s something I’m really passionate about as well. That’s one thing I guess that people might not know about me. Design is in my blood. So to be able to have a chance to do it for Sears, and to get it out to people who can actually afford it is awesome. So it’s cool, man. I’m the guy who makes the final decisions on everything for my line. Many months ahead of time I have to give the okay so it can be ready to manufacture. It’s definitely more than just putting my name on something. I’m kind of a control freak, but it’s awesome, man, it’s really, really cool. It’s great to see the finished thing out there and see people enjoying it. But I’ll be honest with you, it takes a lot of research. I design a lot of the product on my computer in between doing the show, so I definitely have a lot going on. The coolest thing about my job is the creative process.

Cooper: You went to school for design?

Pennington: Oh, yeah, those are the only schools I’ve ever gone to. I think I went to the first one when I was 10 years old, and after I graduated high school, I went to the Art Institute of Atlanta. Then I worked in a design studio, and won some awards. I took a break after that, and just traveled a while. But I always went back to working with my hands, whether it be building and designing furniture, or designing logos for corporate identities. I’ve been playing around with graphics my entire life, as well as fine art. So to use my creativity to not only make something unique and different, but also to design a line of home fashions, it really is a dream come true. But it’s kind of weird, because it’s always the path I’ve wanted to be on. I just didn’t know I would take so many different back roads to get here. It’s awesome that I actually ended up where I wanted to be.

Cooper: Are you using Photoshop, Illustrator, CAD?

Pennington: I’m pretty fluent with Photoshop. But every year they do an upgrade, so the tools become slightly different, which is good, it’s just that I have to keep upgrading myself. I’m still working on CAD and all those other tools. I have a shop where I design furniture and stuff. For some of the programs, I’ve got a guy I work with. He’s actually a buddy from high school. So I’m really trying to understand CAD. I just don’t have a lot of time in the day to devote to it. Still, we come up with some really cool, unique stuff.

Cooper: Do you ever incorporate feng shui?

Pennington: Either you understand feng shui or you don’t. I don’t. But you can walk into a room and know if it doesn’t flow because the back of the couch hits you in the knees. That room definitely doesn’t have feng shui. But whether or not my bed is facing north or south… I just use the principal in the sense that I try to achieve harmony in the room, but I’m not the type of guy who will come in your house and say, “My God, you need some feng shui up in here.”

I think everybody has a certain amount of feng shui that they can understand. That kind of thing doesn’t have to be forced on anyone. But I can walk into any home and tell whether its elements are working in harmony. Usually it’s a matter of clearing out a bunch of clutter. But yeah, I think we all dig a little bit of that. Everyone likes a clean, open, Zen-like space. I’m definitely down with the Japanese and Scandinavians’ simplicity of design. But do I have a lot of mirrors that reflect the image of water in my house? No, not really. But I definitely like the sound of water in the backyard. I do find a way to bring in the elements.

Cooper: Was it tough going to school and having ADHD?

Pennington: Oh, God, growing up with ADHD! Well, to be honest with you, that was difficult. First of all, what a lot of people probably misunderstand is, there’s ADD and then there’s ADHD. [For more on ADHD, see page 43] And the “H” stands for “hyperactivity.” And if you are a child with an enormous amount of hyperactivity, school itself, along with the learning process, goes right out the window. I mean, I was so out of control that I spent most of the time in the hallway or in detention. What was really interesting was that my mom was actually studying to be a child psychologist at the time, and went to my elementary school to test the worst kid they had. She was pretty shocked when the principal and the administration sent me up there. She was like, “Oh, my God!” and I was like, “Hey, what’s up?” Then she observed me in class and within 30 minutes, I was wearing my desk. I swung to the blinds, I climbed out the windows, I ran around naked, I slapped Johnny in the back of the head. So I was what you call “a classic distraction.”

With ADHD, one of the things is, you can read a whole chapter in a book and not remember one word. The second one is, you are so distractable that you just cause chaos in the classroom. So not only was I the class clown, but I never really had a chance to learn much because it just didn’t sink in, mainly because I was being disciplined the whole time. So I tried all kinds of different things like antihistamines, which they put me on to make me drowsy. But I wasn’t really diagnosed with ADHD until I was starting college. So it’s amazing that I actually graduated high school with a decent grade-point average. The grades would be As one year, when I’d start a new school, then Ds the next year once people got to know me. That’s how you can tell if someone’s really got it, check their grades and their conduct. So yeah, school was probably one of the most difficult things.

ADHD hurts your confidence. You feel like you really can’t succeed because you don’t make good grades, you’re always out in the hallway so you don’t really fit in as a member of the class. That really kind of affects you later in life, especially when you’re trying to get a job and your confidence level is low, and your parents are afraid for you to mow the grass because they’re afraid you’ll chop your toes off. Chances are you will chop your toes off... So for me, it wasn’t until I really left home and kind of went out on my own that I started to grow in confidence, because people were so used to me as a child with ADHD that they couldn’t really see me as an adult. So that was difficult. .... continued in ABILITY Magazine

ABILITY Magazine
Other articles in the Ty Pennington issue include Humor Therapy — Wheel Fun!: Headlines — National Employment Month; PTSD: Mentor Day — Disability Legal Right Center : Eve Hill — Honoring a Winner: Matt King — Building Accessibility Into Your Computer: Yoga & MS — Ancient Practice/New Mobility: Got Soy? — What’s the Fuss?: Green Pages — Recycling 101: Recipes — It’s Greek To Us: Breast Cancer — Think Pink and Grace Wright: Patients Beyond Borders — Budget Surgery Abroad: Tom Olin — Chief Photographer of the ABILITY Movement ABILITY's Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences...subscribe

More excerpts from theTy Pennington issue:

Ty Pennington — From ADHD To ABC

Jamie Schubert — Whoop De Doo To Cancer

Cynthia Basinet — Finding Her Voice

Patients Beyond Borders — Budget Surgery Abroad

Yoga & MS — Ancient Practice/New Mobility

Got Soy? — What's the Fuss?

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