Q & A with Nicole Curtis of 'Rehab Addict'

Nicole Curtis (photo courtesy of DIY Network)

In the Case Ave house, a little-used porch, at top, becomes a great place for a breezy breakfast or supper. The “car siding” that adds such a warm tone to the space is now reflected by the restored plank flooring. (photos courtesy of Ariel Photography)

In the bathroom of the Case Ave house, Curtis used a couple new fixtures with old-time style, but kept the lovely claw-foot tub. To make the tub useful as a shower, it was easy to add a shower spray and curtain, but the team also had to make the wall alongside the tub waterproof. The glazed subway tile Curtis chose looks like it’s been there since the 1880s. (photos courtesy of Ariel Photography)

TV host talks about her latest project and popular show

Minneapolis resident Nicole Curtis, host of the popular show “Rehab Addict” on the DIY Network, recently focused her trained eye and experienced hands on a 124-year-old East Side home. At first glance, most folks would have said the place was ready for the wrecking ball, but Curtis saw a gem underneath the household debris, stained carpets, peeling paint and water-damaged ceilings.

This spring viewers have been watching Curtis and her crew patch and paint walls, repair windows and doors, refinish hardwood floors, remodel the bathroom and kitchen, and spruce up the exterior, all the while making sure to retain the home’s original features and vintage charm.

The final episode will be airing Thursday, April 11, at 10 p.m.

We asked Curtis about the 381 Case Ave. renovation project, her career and her home-improvement show. Here’s what she told us:

Q: Did you have a vision for what the Case Avenue house would look like once it was finished?

A: Yes and no. I walked in and saw the “after” which was beautiful hardwood floors, sun shining through the stained glass windows and an overall happy feeling.  However, once I took off the rose-colored glasses, the work had to begin and it was not easy. I spent a week alone doing the layout of the living room. I had a specific couch in my mind and couldn’t find it, so I made it out of a $100 Craigslist find. The best part for me is the mirror. I framed some of my grandfather’s pictures from World War II.
Q: Did the final results meet your expectations?

A: This house blows me away. It truly is the best yet. I can’t really explain why, but I feel that everything is just perfect.
Q: Were there any surprises on this project?

A: There are always surprises.  Fifteen years of experience has led me to a very calm reaction to every disaster. I just throw my hands into the air and say, “Well, this is fun! Let’s fix it and keep moving!”
Q: How did you decide what to leave intact, discard or reuse at the Case Avenue house?

A: For me, it is a very simple process. We can fix anything original to the home, so everything there would remain: broken floors, broken windows, broken spirit. Fix, fix, fix.  I don’t believe that anything is ever too far gone.
Q: What’s your favorite feature of the Case Avenue house?

A: The little tiny window in the upstairs bathroom. I used a .25-cent piece of Salvation Army fabric and made a curtain. The window is cute, petite and was a wreck at first, but now it is the focal point when you glance into that room.
Q: How much did you spend on the project, and how much did you increase the home’s value?

A:  Too much, as always. However, the home will close for around $140,000.00. It’s previous market value was around $15,000.
Q: How did you gain knowledge about home renovation? It’s traditionally a man’s world; has that been a hindrance at times?

A:  I watched my mom do everything right alongside my dad, so I had no idea growing up that it was a “Man’s World.”  My mom still comes out and works with us. I think she would get a laugh out of that one.
Q: Why do abandoned homes appeal to you?

A:  I had a few rough years personally, and I look at these homes as allies - they have been abused and left for dead. I’m the one that says, “Wait.  There’s still a pulse.” It’s a very pleasing life experience to save these historic homes. They keep me balanced and dedicated to what I believe in.
Q: What do you look for in a rehab project?

A: I just need one silly reason to convince me that risking my financial future is worth it. For the Case Avenue home, everything from the 1889 original builder was still there. Sometimes it’s a fireplace, or a staircase, like the one in the “Dollar Home,” featured in the third season of “Rehab Addict,” or it’s just the history of the house in general.
Q: Do you have a favorite style or age of home to rehab?

A: Oh! I’m a sucker for bungalows, but that’s kind of like asking a mom if she has a favorite child. They are all special to me.
Q: What are your thoughts about new fixtures; should they reflect the age and character of the home, or is gutting an older home and making it appear brand new an acceptable alternative?

A: The word “gutting” when referring to house renovation makes me a little ill. If you don’t like old; don’t buy it. Always make sure your design reflects the home’s integrity and character. I always say, “No ketchup on a filet.” When I see new floor plans in a historic house, I just shake my head and then get to work talking the owners out of it.
Q: Do you think people’s interest in rehabbing houses will continue as the economy gains strength?

A: I think as long as I have a microphone in my hand, it will have to. I’m just getting started, and I’m not going away easily. I have been rocking old houses for almost 20 years - no overnight contractor here! I’m putting a cool spin on what we do to attract the masses, because historic restoration lovers are a minority. The show is an outlet to bait the people who don’t love old houses. It draws them in because once they get to our side, they won’t want to leave because they will fall in love.
Q: Now that there are fewer foreclosures and the Twin Cities housing market is improving, will it be harder to find vacant gems at rock-bottom prices?

A: No. Our country is a mess. This little bubble is just that - a bubble. I am an economist, money crunching fool at heart. I watch the markets very closely for a reason.
Q: Why do you think “Rehab Addict” is so popular?

A: Funny you ask, because I ask everyone this question when they come up to me and say, “I love your show!”  I think it is so popular because women love seeing a woman who really does the work, and not just for camera. The houses are so great because they remind viewers of homes they grew up in, like for nostalgic appeal.  I also think a lot of people want to get into restoring old houses, but can’t see the potential. That’s why I enjoy educating people through “Rehab Addict” - to make them believers!
Q: Would you consider another project on the East Side of St. Paul? What about St. Paul’s suburbs?

A: Oh, the suburbs and me just aren’t a good fit. I am very busy in North Minneapolis. The East Side of St Paul ...  it was never on our radar until our North projects got delayed; another example of making lemonade out of lemons. I reached out of my comfort zone and gave it a go. It was an even bigger risk than what I am used to, but on our first week there, some tragedies took place. Shaking hands, kissing babies and using one house at a time to turn these neighborhoods around.  Good neighbors make good neighborhoods, and sometimes a neighborhood just need a nice kick-start. I am very happy to be the one to provide it.

Video courtesy of DIY Network

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