Ty Pennington can't seem to slow down. Whether he's renovating the storm damaged homes in New Jersey as part of the Craftsman "Make a Difference Tour" or building a "First to the Future" home with NextGen TV, he is passionate about building stronger communities and giving back to others in need. Pennington spoke with Best Self Atlanta about his different projects with the same enthusiasm he was known for on the show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." And that excitement is contagious. His interest in building began at a young age when he and some friends decided to construct a three-story tree house. Years later, Pennington took his love of carpentry and parlayed it into a successful career. During his commencement speech at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) graduation ceremony, he admitted to the graduating class of 2012 that he had no idea at first how to turn his love of design into a job, but he believed in himself and was ready when opportunities came knocking.
At the Starting Line
The world was first introduced to the Atlanta native on a TLC reality show called "Trading Spaces." Before then, Pennington had done some modeling and commercial acting, however, he really wanted to find something that would give him a creative outlet for his design ideas. His career picked up momentum in 2003 when he became part of ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," a show that took him all over the U.S. helping deserving families by redesigning their homes in a week or less. "You become very connected to their stories—they become part of you," Pennington says. "The experience of seeing what can happen when a lot of people come together, that's inspiring." When the show ended in 2011, Pennington and his team had rebuilt over 200 homes. Next Pennington went on to host the short-lived, lifestyle-based talk show "The Revolution." After only six months on the air, the show was canceled, but Pennington continued to work, focusing on personal ventures.
Opportunity Around the Bend
Pennington kept busy with various projects of his own including expanding his furniture and home decor line, but once again television came calling, this time in the form of a new series on HLN called "American Journey." Launched in January of this year, the show gives viewers an inside look into the lives of different people striving to better themselves and follow their dreams. With Pennington as the host, the episodes have included everything from occupants of a nature commune to lobster fishermen. "The thing I like about (the show) is it dives into the subculture of America and shows you what people are really going through," he says. "In 'Extreme Makeover,' I traveled around the country and we focused on telling the story of the family that we were helping, and I always wanted to come back to that. I think 'American Journey' really does that – takes you into these untold stories of interesting people doing amazing things with their lives."
A Bump in the Road
Going from project to project and still loving what you do can seem like a daunting feat. But for Pennington, keeping busy through different design ventures is how he channels his creativity, his seemingly boundless energy and deals with his Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). After being diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 17, Pennington found that juggling various building projects helped him stay focused. As his career grew, Pennington did not shy away from sharing his disorder with the public, even naming his L.A. design boutique ADHD(Art Design Home Decor), as a nod to his condition. He has remained very outspoken about treatment and support for adults with ADHD. "I really wouldn't be the person I am today if I hadn't gotten treatment," he says.
Bringing it Home
Pennington knows firsthand that life will give you obstacles, and it's up to you to find a way around them. "The best thing you can do is find out what it is that makes you happy. What are you passionate about? Is it music, art, dancing, writing? That thing you want to be doing when you've got time on your hands - keep that in your life. That's the key. And hopefully you can turn that into a job," he says. "It's really hard to do, but go after whatever it is that really makes you happy and don't let it leave your life." Pennington reveals he is working on some more TV ideas and has additional projects on the horizon, but is hesitant to give out details because he can be "really superstitious." And in between it all he is just trying to live his life to the fullest and have fun while doing it. "I think my life is a project, the best project in the world."
The Last Word
Last book you read that really inspired you?
I read Keith Richards' book, "Life." I think it is books like that that make you realize you have to live every single moment in the moment and really appreciate every breath.
How do you stay fit and active?
I grew up being very active, I played soccer and skateboarded. I'm not a weightlifter or anything, but I like to run. I also like to stretch and do some yoga.
What do you do to relax?
Honestly, a lot of people don't know this but I play a little bit of music, I like writing funny songs and playing my guitar. The other thing that helps me come down is just laughing at funny things that come up, spending time with family and friends – that's how I relax. I also find it calming when I'm working on the next project. For me, I like working on a project because I'm creating solutions to the problems and it elates me. I was one of those kids who got tested a lot. And my mom noticed the only time I was calm was when I was drawing something, when I had a pen in my hand. And I think that still holds true today.
In an interview with "Parade" earlier this year, you spoke of the 50 things you'd like to do before turning 50 (including swimming with whale sharks, coaching a Little League soccer team and going white water rafting down the Snake River). Have you accomplished anything on that list yet?
I have. I've started the process. One of the things on my list was to visit national parks, take really good pictures of them and then figure out a way to raise awareness to help protect them. I've started to knock some other the things off the list too—it is a big list and hopefully I can get it all done!
What do you miss about living in Atlanta?
I love the South. There's something so charming about it, maybe it's the fireflies, maybe it's the kudzu, maybe it's the sweet tea, but when you grow up there, you never lose it. Of course there's some of my favorite restaurants like Little Bangkok. I think Atlanta has some very good restaurants and the music scene is one of the best in the country. All we need now is to figure out a way to deal with traffic and we're good.