The 54-year-old, who splits his time between St. Augustine, Florida, and Venice Beach, California, found fame on the groundbreaking TLC show “Trading Spaces” almost 20 years ago. Looking back, Pennington says, “I didn’t realize it was just a steppingstone to something bigger: “Extreme Makeover Home Edition.” Sure enough — that was the show that exposed both the host’s carpentry skills and his open heart.
Now Pennington is in a reboot of “Trading Spaces” and has just released a new book called “Life to the Extreme: How a Chaotic Kid Became America’s Favorite Carpenter.” In it, he charmingly outlines a journey with undiagnosed ADHD and draws comparisons between his life and home shows.
What about you made you a good fit for “Trading Spaces?” I went to the audition with these tall, handsome models out of Miami. These guys had tool belts that still had the price tags on them and I was like, “Oh boy, I’m not going to get this.” But I think it was my dry [sense of humor that got me the job]. I realize how lucky I’ve been. I got to be my sarcastic self and, at the same time, was really building and trying to create cool things to put in these houses.
When did you realize how big “Trading Spaces” was becoming? I didn’t really realize I had become famous until a year and a half [into the series]. The crowds started getting so big in the cul-de-sac and the next thing I know I’ve got a trash can over my head and [the cops] are trying to get me out of there. I’m like, “Really? This is what fame is? Couldn’t I just meet the people?” I always found it interesting that anybody would find me amazing.
When you were finally diagnosed with ADHD at 17 years old, did life start to make more sense to you? Oh my God, yeah. It not only gave me mental clarity, it gave me confidence for the first time. I think anybody who suffers from ADHD realizes what a struggle that is. [When you] get out in the world and are independent, you find your path and start believing in yourself.
With both “Trading Spaces” and “Extreme Makeover Home Edition” making comebacks, do you worry the legacy will be tarnished? For the “Trading Spaces” reboot, I wasn’t sure I was going to say yes in the beginning. Like a band, the first album is always the best album. I didn’t want anyone to damage the legacy of the show. When they told me the entire crew was returning, I came back because I knew it was going to be fun. That show is truly different than any other show on television, because the designers don’t care about branding themselves. We’re in a world now where everyone is branding themselves, [but] how many designers are really willing to push the envelope? That’s the spirit of “Trading Spaces.”
You seem so grateful for your career so far. What’s been the most rewarding part? [My career] really turned into something much less about me and more about a bigger story. Creating something and putting it on a wall and having people see it is one thing. But seeing the face of someone who has really been through something horrible and you give them something that means so much, [that’s another thing]. There’s an impact. Once you’ve done that as an artist, that kind of gratification is really hard to duplicate. I hate the word “blessed,” but I think I’ve been that.
“Trading Spaces” airs Saturdays at 8 p.m. on TLC
Photo Courtesy Rob Marish Keystone Pictures