"To be honest, my ego wasn't bruised," Pennington said. "I went to the folks producing it and said, 'Hey, man. I know you are not sure who the host will be. I'm totally okay with that. I just want to make sure the show is authentic. That's what has separated it from other shows." He said he was happy just to be on set for a few episodes to help out. "It's been kind of fun working with all the same people. The production was a family," he said. "From what I've gathered, it feels more like the show when I'm on set. Let's face it: my voice and face are synonymous with the show." Since the show ended in 2012, Pennington has been involved in multiple TV shows - many of which didn't click. He also took part in the revival of TLC's "Trading Spaces," fronted commercials and renovated homes for clients.
One of the most notable efforts was a syndicated chat show on ABC in 2012 called "The Revolution," which also included Tim Gunn of "Project Runway" fame. It only lasted a few months. He felt like the producers didn't quite know what to do with the show and while he enjoyed dressing up nicely and being in a studio, at heart, "I'm built to be an outside guy, not a studio guy."
“Extreme Makeover” was an amazing lift for him career wise and spiritually, but it did nothing for his social life or the bags under his eyes.
“I didn’t see family or a girlfriend for ten years,” Pennington said. “I would come home to do laundry and go out again. When I saw people from the old TV show, they said, ‘My God! You look amazing!’ ‘I got some sleep! I would imagine I look a lot better than when I was on the show.”
Still, he realized “Extreme Makeover” fit his makeup and earlier this year, he wrote a memoir called “Life to the Extreme: How a Chaotic Kid Became America’s Favorite Carpenter.”
Reaction to the book, he said, has been more positive compared to his previous books as he opened up about his issues with attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder. "I mention my mom's struggles raising me," he said. "My mom went to my elementary school one time to study the worst kid they had while becoming a child psychologist. I was the worst kid. I was throwing things. I was a complete distraction."
He gives his mother Yvonne Burton full credit for helping him turn into the man he is now, focusing on building his creative strengths. At age 54, he now lives and takes care of her in a beach home he built in St. Augustine in Florida.
“It’s the cycle of life,” Pennington said. “I’ve lived long enough to understand what’s important in life. I’ve had incredible luck and success. I was the guy who broke his arm every other weekend. It’s a miracle I still have all my fingers working with saws over the years. I made it this far. That is my book.”
As for the home show, he enjoys meeting with his fans. “It’s almost like doing stand up,” he said. “I share stories. It’s pretty entertaining. I like that interaction between myself and the audience.”
He also enjoys checking out the latest materials available for building and renovations. “There’s always new materials, new technologies,” he said. “Homes are changing fast. I check out all the booths and cool things that show up.”
Pennington lived in Atlanta in the 1990s until 2003 and ran a painting business. He also worked on old homes in neighborhoods such as Grant Park, Cabbagetown and Virginia Highland.
“Cabbagetown was great. I liked it when a bathroom had a 28-degree pitch,” he said. “That’s the charm.”
Currently he is working on a space for a client in the Otis building on Walker Street in Castleberry Hill.
“It’s been commercial space,” he said. “It’s going to be loft space with a stadium view, the whole nine yards. It’s surreal to think how far I’ve come. I used to make kitchen countertops out of doors. It’s cool being back in the old hood.”
WHERE TO SEE HIM
The Fall Atlanta Home Show
1 p.m. Sunday, September 29
$8 online, $10 at the door (adults), children (12 and under) and seniors (65+) free
Rodney Ho writes about entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A native New Yorker, he has covered education at The Virginian-Pilot, small business for The Wall Street Journal and a host of beats at the AJC over 20-plus years.