Rehab Addict Star Talks Tough About DIY Realities

Nicole Curtis

“I’m at a tree stump with a chain saw right now.” That’s the first thing Nicole Curtis said when we called her, and that encapsulates her perfectly. If you watch her show, you can picture the moment… the ever busy contractor, historical preserver, realtor, single mom, trying to get a job done, getting a call from some interviewer and balancing her cell phone with her chainsaw. We finally caught up with the “host” of the DIY Network’s Rehab Addict—with a new season starting October 17ththe next day, when she had a little breathing room between her day rehabbing a historical home in Detroit, and flying back home to Minneapolis in the evening.

You have deep roots in Detroit. Do you see the bankruptcy – and all of the media attention surrounding it – as a shame or more of an opportunity for the city?

I see it as RIDICULOUS, all caps. People need to be aware that when you buy products not made in the USA there are real people that lose jobs across the country. There isn’t one city in the U.S. that doesn’t have the possibility of ending up like Detroit. We’ve been broke for a long time. Now we just declared it.

Detroit was the city to be 100 years ago, and now we’re bankrupt. It doesn’t make any difference to me. I grew up here. I’m back here. Some of the most beautiful architecture in this country is in Detroit.

You seem more “real” than any other DIY or reality show host. Why is that?

Well here’s the thing, I’m not a host. I’m actually a contractor. You’re not going to interview many hosts who wake up at 7 in the morning and go to their job site with their own money, their crew, and their financial future at stake. They go in and eat a craft service breakfast and have a coffee brought to them and they step into the shot. I think that’s what appeals to my viewers. They know there’s no bullshit with me. It’s not all rainbows and lollipops. You can’t do a kitchen in 22 minutes. And who has a budget of $30,000 to do a kitchen?

This is who I am and this is what real people do. They have bad days when they’re drywalling their own house and they’re stressing because they want to do a quick fix up in the kitchen when they thought it was going to be $1,100 and now it’s $3,000. Or they had a plumber that walked out, or an electrician that really doesn’t have a license. I have been doing this for 15 years, and I still run into those issues every single day. I tell people to celebrate their small successes. Every time you get something done, celebrate it.

For those living in an older home, are there clues one can look for that there might be some hidden original architectural details behind the drywall?

I’m really good at exploratory holes with my sledgehammer, so I always tell people, when in doubt, buy one of those patch kits. Hammer through a wall and just see what’s behind there. Every cool thing I’ve ever found in a house is covered up, and when people are that stupid to cover it up, they’re that lazy not to remove it in the first place. So we’ve found fireplaces, bathrooms, sinks, cabinets, doors, everything behind little tiny flimsy sheets of drywall. So to me, I would rather do a little patch work than live in a house with hidden cool features.

Unfortunately, if they hired a contractor and had it professionally remodeled, then your chances are down. Because they’ll see something, tear it all out and throw it in a dumpster. But you can research permit schedules on a house online and see who was doing the work. I track down the contractor and ask: “What did you do with blank?”

When you are doing something on an older house, how do you balance modern advances like double glazing for energy efficiency with historical accuracy and craftsmanship, like original windows?

This is what I think about energy efficiency: take it and toss it out the window. I’m sorry but I’m so sick of hearing about it. When you do an energy efficiency audit on an older house, you’re not going to have the best of what they can do now. But you have to think about it like this, everything that’s energy efficient that they put in a house now is loaded with chemicals - your insulation, windows, and everything else.

With old windows, if you do an energy audit, they’re not really the culprit. Sometimes they just need more glazing, they’re not properly sealed. I’ve never seen an old window that’s properly sealed with a proper storm on it that’s not energy efficient. So they get a bad rap because people like to sell replacement windows.

Old houses have 100 percent natural materials - they will outlast anything built today - I mean except the plastic, which we know will be here ‘til the end.

We're actually on the same page because modern homes are built so—

Really cheap. If you’ve ever seen one burn down, they burn in 5 minutes.

Also they’re so sealed up and “efficient” that—

Yeah, they don’t breathe.

So, what about people that live in cookie cutter modern houses? Do you have suggestions for them to bring more character into where they live?

It’s all about your furnishings and design. I’ve always decorated very eclectically, partly because I was poor. Being poor makes you very creative. When you have money, you don’t have to be creative. I love garage sale finds, I love vintage furniture. I love just kinda mixing and matching everything. That’s really a way to give yourself and your house some character.

So many times I’ll go in a house and somebody bought the furniture display, every single piece in it, from XYZ “we’ll will finance your furniture for 10 years” furniture store, and the house looks horrible, but it’s no doubt why. So, I always say experiment and take your time to find out what you want in your house and put your own flair to it.

For someone who does live in an older home, is there one typical thing that you always do that you think everybody should go out and do tomorrow?

Go find the people that used to live in your house. There is nothing more magical or endearing than getting the history and story of the home. Unless there was a murder… which I’ve run into before!

You’ve referenced on the show that you’ve done a triathlon. How do you find the time to train for something like that?

I don’t have to train at all because what I do every day is pretty physically extensive. For the past two days we’ve been carving tree trunks with chain saws, and if you’ve never spent 2 days straight chain sawing, you don’t know what you’re missing. Unfortunately I know with all the asbestos, lead and all that good stuff I suck in, I need something to counteract that. But on most early mornings you’ll find me running, and at 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock at night. I’ve always incorporated fitness into my life, with my son, and we always find it when we can. No reason to sit idle, ever.

To finish up, whenever you do a renovation, you have to start with demo, so, what’s the coolest or most unusual thing you’ve found inside of a wall?

We save all the old newspapers. And in the Case house that we did in St. Paul we found a TON of 1930's pinup calendars that were shipped to my brother for his shop [where he restores old motorcycles].

There are always naysayers that don't believe that I do all this. I was on the Adam Carolla show a few months back and he tried his best to trip me up. And when he got done, he said, “I'm impressed. You actually know your shit.” So I’m always up for someone who wants to challenge me. This is why I make all my projects open to the public. We have had over 200 visitors to our Detroit house. People show up as early as 8 am til 10 pm, expecting just to drive by. I'm in there working and invite them in.

Well, thank you for inviting us in. We’re looking forward to the new season.