Now going into
his fifth season as host of ABCs Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,
Ty Penningtons 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
Disordera 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, lets 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 thats whats great about the show:
It kind of creates itself. While the original show theyd 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. Its the greatest job I think Ill 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, its 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
cant 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.
Theyre 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; thats the story. Thats 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 arent even asking, theyve been nominated
by someone else. Thats the key. Im real passionate about family.
Cooper: Saying no to so many people...
Pennington: Yeah, thats 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. Whats really cool is, some of the families weve
helped have come out and helped us with other families. They really want
to give back whats been given to them. Theres 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 its doing great. It sends back postcards, its met some
other bullhorns and theyre having meetings, theyre yelling
at each other. Its great. Its having a great time on its own.
Itll come back eventually, but right now its on vacation.
Cooper: (laughs) Tell me about your home-fashion line at Sears?
Pennington: I designed bedding, plates, glassware. Its something
Im really passionate about as well. Thats 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 its cool, man. Im 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. Its
definitely more than just putting my name on something. Im kind
of a control freak, but its awesome, man, its really, really
cool. Its great to see the finished thing out there and see people
enjoying it. But Ill 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 Ive 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. Ive 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 its kind of weird, because its always
the path Ive wanted to be on. I just didnt know I would take
so many different back roads to get here. Its awesome that I actually
ended up where I wanted to be.
Cooper: Are you using Photoshop, Illustrator, CAD?
Pennington: Im pretty fluent with Photoshop. But every year they
do an upgrade, so the tools become slightly different, which is good,
its just that I have to keep upgrading myself. Im still working
on CAD and all those other tools. I have a shop where I design furniture
and stuff. For some of the programs, Ive got a guy I work with.
Hes actually a buddy from high school. So Im really trying
to understand CAD. I just dont 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 dont. I dont.
But you can walk into a room and know if it doesnt flow because
the back of the couch hits you in the knees. That room definitely doesnt
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 Im 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 doesnt have to be forced on anyone. But I can
walk into any home and tell whether its elements are working in harmony.
Usually its 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. Im 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, theres ADD and then theres 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, whats 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
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 didnt
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 wasnt really diagnosed with ADHD until
I was starting college. So its amazing that I actually graduated
high school with a decent grade-point average. The grades would be As
one year, when Id start a new school, then Ds the next year once
people got to know me. Thats how you can tell if someones
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 cant succeed
because you dont make good grades, youre always out in the
hallway so you dont really fit in as a member of the class. That
really kind of affects you later in life, especially when youre
trying to get a job and your confidence level is low, and your parents
are afraid for you to mow the grass because theyre afraid youll
chop your toes off. Chances are you will chop your toes off... So for
me, it wasnt 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 couldnt really see me as an
adult. So that was difficult. .... continued in ABILITY