"Trading Spaces" star Ty Pennington is famous for being a carpenter and TV personality, but he was also an actor and a fashion model before the TLC hit, which returns this Saturday at 8 p.m., made him a household name.
"I was discovered in an interesting way. My parents left me at a gas station," Pennington, 54, joked. "I was going to art school in Atlanta and this guy came up to me and handed me a card and said, 'Hey, I think I can make you some money.' In Atlanta at that time, I was like, 'I bet you can!' But I really like to make money the old-fashioned way."
"About two or three months later I went into the agency, " he continued, "and I had this '80s rat-tail, and they started laughing at me when I said, 'This guy told me to come in, he said I could be a fashion model.'"
The modeling agency staff asked Pennington if he could cut his hair and if he had any experience — and none of the scouts were interested except a Japanese scout, who urged him to come to Japan with him. He showed his father the contract, and his dad advised him against it. Still, he persisted, and went on the trip to Japan. When he returned, he says, "I learned to be comfortable in front of the camera." He went on auditions in New York and booked four commercials in a row.
"I asked them, 'Why did you guys book me four times for different commercials? Is there something about me that's amazing?'" he recalled. "They're like, 'No, you make everybody else look good!' I'm basically a fluffer — the girls that they hired and all the other people seemed to be having more fun, so they took better photos and better cinematography when I was in the photo than when I wasn't."
Like Pennington, "Trading Spaces" host Paige Davis boasts a showbiz background. She began her career in regional theater, she says, but her first big break was the touring production of "Beauty and the Beast," where she played the feather duster, Babette.
"That was really my first huge equity show — it was a production contract, it was a big deal," Davis, 49, said. "I think it was when connections started happening for me a lot more," she recalled. "In terms of being discovered, that would probably be 'Trading Spaces,' because that's when people learned my name."
Davis joined "Trading Spaces" in season 2, and she auditioned with Pennington, who was already a show fixture. For the auditions, casting hopefuls were instructed to pretend to fix a fireplace mantle with Pennington, and Davis won simply based on her chemistry with the carpenter.
"We had so much fun," she said. "I remember hearing the other women audition … I remember thinking one of the mistakes they made was talking about the mantle. Nobody cared! They wanted to see, 'Was there a relationship there? Could they get along?'"
"We had a very good relationship, very funny immediately on camera," Pennington says, "but when I auditioned for 'Trading Spaces,' I walk in the room and there's all these really tall, good looking dudes with beards wearing brand new tool belts. I auditioned with this guy Frank [Bielec], who's on our show, and I could tell from the scraps of wood that everybody was building flower boxes."
Bielec asked Pennington to build a box — but Pennington thought outside the box, and it got him the job.
"I started measuring his height instead, and the camera guy started laughing," he said. "He could tell I was going to build Frank a coffin."
"We're all so different and yet we have this really great camaraderie, I feel," Davis said. "Even more so now having come back with the reboot last season — to go away for 10 years and come back and realize we can still all tease each other exactly the same [way] … The only thing different after 10 years if that we all have readers now."