HGTV host Nicole Curtis gives old houses new life

HGTV host Nicole Curtis gives old houses new life

With Nicole Curtis, what you see is definitely not all that you get. 

At first pass, the pint-sized Minneapolis resident looks like she's a camera-ready TV star (which, well, she is). But as fans of her show Rehab Addict will attest, Curtis is a hands-on contractor, designer, and old home aficionado. 

Her hit HGTV show has made her one of the Twin Cities' most well-known reality television personalities, as her passion for saving old homes has inspired people from all over the country to take on DIY projects of their own. 

This past week, Curtis was one of the featured personalities at the HGTV Holiday House at Mall of America (which runs through Tuesday, January 1). Before she took the stage to dish out tips for potential homeowners, she sat down with City Pages to dish about her houses and why being on TV doesn't mean you can quit your day job.

How did the HGTV show come about?

It was really random. I moved here to Minneapolis because the stock of houses was unreal. I'm also a realtor. I had this really horrific headshot on the Edina Realty website, one of those Glamour Shots-type photos they make you do. So, some poor production assistant was going online and trying to find a realtor who they could put on the show Sweat Equity, and they came across my photo and asked if I'd be interested coming on the show as a real-estate expert. 

I ended up going in to meet with them, and what they were talking about was they took this 1928 bungalow and ripped out all of the original cabinets and put in glass, tile, and granite. They wanted me to talk about how great it was and how good it was going to be for resale, and I told them I thought it was an awful idea and wouldn't say that on television.

Long story short, they told me, "Well who are you to tell us that this isn't any good?" And I told them I'm a contractor and designer who saves old homes. So they sent a crew out the next day to see it for themselves, because they didn't believe me at the time in my business suit and five-inch heels, and it just went from there. It was a hard sell because they didn't think you could actually save old homes but eventually they bought in.

How did you first get involved with saving old houses?

I was always about home ownership, and buying houses and transforming them. My first old house I bought was actually another 1928 bungalow I just started tearing apart. And as I did, I realized that I needed to take my time and learn how to put the puzzle pieces back together.

On your Facebook page, you actually invite fans to come out and help you with projects here in the area. Do you get a lot of people?

Actually, it's crazy. Everyone thought I was nutty when I first said I was going to do that. See, everyone thinks that because I'm on TV that the network sends me this big check and pays for all the work, but these are actually my houses and my money. So I have these little tiny budgets. That's how I got into salvaging in the first place -- I'm cheap. That's why I make do with what I have. So when we did the dollar house, I decided to see if fans were really serious about coming out and helping. I put a call out on Facebook to see if people would volunteer to paint. My crew laughed at me, until the first day when 25 people showed up. It was really cool of them to help, and it also let them see that I'm actually working on these projects and not just popping on and off the set.

Do you have a favorite part of the process of transforming old homes? 

My favorite part is owning the house for those first couple of days, because we're just getting to know it and I get to go in and tear everything apart. It's kind of like dating. You go on those first few dates and you're like, "This is fabulous!" but then you get into the lull of it. And by the time we're done with that house, I'm DONE with that house.

You're about to start season three of Rehab Addict. Anything exciting in store for this year?

We're back to me working on my own projects. Last season was a combination of my projects and working on other people's projects, because my big project house on Minnehaha Parkway hadn't sold yet. I actually thought that was really good, because it reinforces that I'm actually the investor and I have money tied up in these homes. But this season is great because it's back to my projects, and I also get to make my first voyage to St. Paul for a home that was built in 1880. We've got a lot of really cool things planned.

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