Ty Pennington, host of HGTV’s “Ty Breaker,” became a pop culture star in his hit TV shows TLC’s “Trading Spaces” and ABC’s “Extreme Makeover, Home Edition,” which won two Emmys. Pennington helped start America’s obsession with reality home improvement TV. The carpenter, craftsman and designer went on to do many other design shows, create his own line of products and write books.
His latest show on HGTV, “Ty Breaker,” helps conflicted homeowners decide whether to overhaul their home or find another property to renovate. He joined a recent Washington Post Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.
Q: Do you decorate your own homes in any particular style, or do you put a different spin on each one?
A: I’ve always been partial to modern design, mid-century modern and Scandinavian design. I recently bought a house in Savannah, Ga., that was built in 1853. It’s a departure from what I’m usually attracted to, but the house was so charming. I’m renovating now, but it’ll have more of a traditional style – a mix of old and new, with lots of antiques.
Q: I’m preparing to sell my home sometime in the summer. With not much of a budget for repairs and beautification, what are some reasonable and important items and spaces where we should focus?
A: I just went through this process myself. First, declutter and donate what you don’t need. Have a garage sale or sell items through online marketplaces, and store pieces you want to keep. Then do a fresh coat of paint in the main living areas. The kitchen is always a huge selling point. Refresh cabinets with a new coat of paint if you can’t afford to renovate. White is always great for staging, because it feels like a blank canvas for potential buyers. Also switch out old hardware and faucets. Curb appeal is very important; clean up the outside of the house as much as possible. Use a new color on the front door. Power-washing the sidewalks, pathways and entries is also essential. Remove weeds and dead or overgrown plants, even if you don’t have much of a green thumb. New hardware, such as house numbers and door knockers, and a fresh, seasonal wreath or new outdoor lights will also give the house a mini-facelift.
Q: I saw magnetic tile on your show. Could you use this on a kitchen counter?
A: This is a great product by Magnetic Building Solutions. It’s just a strip that you can put on any brand of tile. You could technically use it on a counter, but I wouldn’t recommend it, because it’s not grouted, so you have the potential for bacteria to grow between the tiles.
Q: I keep painting my cheap kitchen cabinets white until I can replace them. Is there something I can put on top, so the paint doesn’t chip? I’m thinking of clear poly, but I like a matte look.
A: This probably isn’t what you want to hear, but you need to scrape off the old paint, sand the cabinets down and use a really good primer. After that, paint the cabinets using paint with a matte finish. You don’t need a top coat. I just painted my cabinets with matte navy, and they look awesome.
Q: I’m interested in updating our family room, where we all hang out and watch TV. What color scheme do you suggest? Any thoughts on a must-have item or piece of furniture?
A: Color is such a personal thing. Look to your wardrobe for inspiration. What colors do you feel good in? Those are the colors you should use in your home. If you are lost for inspiration, try following paint companies on Instagram; they always have awesome ideas. I’m really loving Farrow & Ball’s account at the moment (instagram.com/farrowandball). For furniture, I would say a really great antique armoire. You can hide all the kids’ toys in it, but it still looks really beautiful.
Q: What is a realistic time frame for major renovations? Most of the HGTV shows say six or seven weeks, but I’ve had friends who have had three- or four-month jobs. Buying a fixer-upper for more space is appealing, but timelines are also important when trying to buy and renovate when you also have a property to sell (especially with impatient toddlers).
A: Six or seven weeks sounds amazing, but that has never been my experience, especially with the current state of affairs. Contractors, plumbers and electricians are booking months in advance because of the pandemic. I myself started a kitchen renovation this past November, and we’re still not done. Know that it may take up to 12 weeks. The best way to avoid delays is to ensure you have every single detail and decision worked out before you begin. Avoid making changes once you’ve started, because changes will only slow the process down. Do as much research as you can to find a good contractor, and check references. It’s best to use someone either a friend or family member has worked with, because you’ve seen that contractor’s work firsthand.
Q: My kitchen is the typical early-2000s style, with dark granite and dark wood. I’m looking to make a small update. Would changing out the cabinet colors or countertop give me more bang for my buck?
A: It’s hard to believe, but darker, warmer woods are making a comeback. Switch out the countertop for something lighter, and replace the hardware with gold or brass. If you have enough budget left, replace the faucet and even the sink (try white clay). This will make such a difference.
Q: Do you have suggestions for renovating to add sound proofing? We need to reinsulate our interior walls because it’s so loud between the bedrooms, and we don’t have any privacy. I’d like to move to get away from this problem, but we love our neighborhood and property.
A: I just did this; my house is so old, it didn’t even have insulation. Unfortunately, in your case, the only way to fix this is to take down the drywall and reinsulate it. The best solution, if you can budget for it, is spray-foam insulation. Just be sure you can get out of the house for one to two days while it’s installed.
Q: How do I tackle a major decluttering project? Besides donations, should I consider renting a dumpster?
A: Donating is great if you can. Sell anything else through an online marketplace. You can rent a dumpster; the company will charge you based on how long you have it, so I’d suggest first getting as organized as possible.
Q: I have a 100-year-old house, and although it has wooden floors on the second floor, they’re in really bad shape. This includes missing, cracked and dried/shrunken pieces. Do you think it’s worth it to restore the flooring? The planks are installed right onto the crossbeams, and there is no subfloor.
A: Original wood flooring is so darn charming. If you can afford to have it restored, I absolutely would. It adds history and personality to a home; there’s nothing like it. Even if the wood is a tone you don’t prefer, such as orange or mahogany, you can always have it sanded down and restained.
Q: Do you have any resources on people who donate houses?
A: The best resource is Habitat for Humanity. It’s an incredible organization, and you can contact the group through its website, habitat.org.
Q: My home was built around 1957. We like our location, but we’re running out of room. We have made upgrades, including a new roof, HVAC and all the windows. Our dilemma is: Do we renovate and stay in our house, or do we move? The house will be paid off in 13 years. I’ve done some casual home searching, and the houses with more space are, obviously, more expensive.
A: I wish the answer was simple, but it’s not. You have to weigh the pros and cons of moving. Do you love your neighborhood and neighbors? Is the house a happy place for you? Does the thought of leaving make you sad? Perhaps you love the house, but the layout isn’t working for you. I suggest getting a design consultation from a professional to learn about the possibilities for your home. They might be better than you imagined.
Q: My cousin was featured on one of the renovation shows, and it showed him searching for a home and “being surprised” to see the final result. However, he had already purchased the home and was involved in all the renovation decisions, and he was told to “act surprised.” Is this typical for your show, too?
A: I can’t speak for all the renovation shows, but on “Ty Breaker,” we did our best to keep everything a surprise. We want genuine reactions, which make the best TV. The tough part is they have the keys to the house. We ask them not to peek, but do they go over at night after we’ve left? Probably!
Q: What design from your show are you most proud of?
A: I don’t want to give anything away for the upcoming episodes, so I’d have to say the convertible countertop from the first episode. Not only does it look great, but it’s also such a space saver. I’d like to think I’m the first to do this, but I could be wrong.