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True Grit

How many times does Nicole Curtis, host of DIY Network’s reality hit Rehab Addict, have to insist that the dirt under her nails
is real?

True Grit
Photo by A. Brisson-Smith, Sidecar

Bob Vila, she ain’t. With spitfire intensity and a wolf-mother protectiveness toward ugly, abandoned houses, the DIY Network’s Nicole Curtis is a fresh firecracker in the banal world of TV home improvement. After the premiere season of Rehab Addict, during which she restored a 1916 Arts and Crafts-style home on Minnehaha Creek, fans were hooked on the keeping-it-real, soap-opera drama of a single-mother freelance home rehabber. For season three, which debuts this winter, she’s taking on another marquee Minneapolis project: rescuing a condemned home in the blighted Central neighborhood. Just before the work began, we caught up with Curtis to talk about the hammer-swinging life.

Okay, so male viewers are dying to know: are you single?
Let’s just say I’m off the market.

Is he a handyman, too?
Not at all. It’s kind of a running joke: people always assume I’m dating the contractor, but I always end up with very un-handy men.

You’re from Lake Orion, a tiny town outside of Detroit, where your family had a garbage business. How does that translate into an obsession with home rehab?
My dad is a history enthusiast; we were always restoring furniture. But here’s the real inspiration: my great grandmother had an 1890s home that sold when I was in high school. I remember screaming, “Why isn’t anyone buying this house?” My family just let it go. So this whole thing is the result of that post-traumatic stress. I was heart-broken.

Detroit is like the spiritual capital of all-things rehab. The ultimate fixer-upper, if you will. Do you consider the city a muse?
Detroit definitely empowers me. On the weekends, my family would pile into the car and drive through the city while my dad told us the story of all these historic neighborhoods.

I feel like it’s my job to put the truth about Detroit out there. As soon as I say “Detroit,” people make a face. But there are so many beautiful sections. I went back recently to rehab some old mansions.

How did you connect with the DIY network?
I came to Minneapolis about four years ago, got my real-estate license, went into the antiques business, and supported myself that first year selling on Craigslist. Then I bought the house I currently live in, and picked up two others.

Coincidentally, there was this really horrific Glamour Shots photo of me on my website, and when a production assistant at Magnetic Productions was scanning for blond real-estate agents for the show, they saw it. So I met up with them, and they told me they’d just replaced the original kitchen in a 1920s with a modern one. I said, “Oh, that’s horrible.”

How did they react to that?
No one ever just tells you the truth in Minnesota. They’re too nice. But when I told them that I do this all day long, and I wouldn’t put that crap in my homes, the owner of the company said, “Okay, I’ll bring a crew and watch you work.” I got a tryout.

Is being a woman—especially a petite, blond woman—in the home-improvement world as big a deal as I think it is?
Some days it might as well be 1925 around here. There are still men that want to speak with my husband. There are people who will explain projects word-for-word to me. My own family is very male-dominated—my grandpa is 87-years-old, and he’s just now coming around. Up until the last few years, he was always trying to marry me off. I’d go to his house, and he’d say, “Oh, I’ll have one of the boys do that.” Now I go there, and he has a to-do list waiting for me.

Our culture has never seemed so DIY driven as it is now: urban homesteading, at-home cooks, home-brewed beer. It seems like people don’t want to just hire an expert, they want to hire a coach.
Right. I think we’re in this DIY state because everyone’s broke. The bottom line is that if our economy were flourishing, nobody would be doing this on their own. I want to be a coach and a cheerleader. The more I can share my knowledge, the more houses I can save.

How has the struggling housing market affected peoples’ attitudes toward renovation?
We were a disposable economy for so long. Real estate is about investing in something and then having that investment returned to you in 30 years, not 30 seconds. I don’t chase the dollar.

Do you still believe buying a house is a good investment?
It’s always a good investment. But you have to buy wisely.

What’s the current project?
I’m working with the City of Minneapolis right now on what they call the “Director’s List”: houses scheduled to be demo-ed. I bought a house on the condemned list, and am focusing season three on renovating it. It’s a no-money deal for me; just for the love of the house and my belief that if you save one house, it really fires up the neighborhood.

Every city in the United States has these lists. The easiest solution is to just bulldoze the houses, but it costs about $20,000 to do that and then the property never makes another dime; it’s gone.

Using Minneapolis as the model, I’m asking cities to reject the federal money for demolition and to let us keep the houses. We start here in the next couple weeks. It’s on like Donkey Kong.

Gregory J. Scott is a regular contributor to Minnesota Monthly’s arts blog, TC Culture.

Comments may be edited for length, clarity, or appropriateness.

Old to new | New to old
Comments, page 1 of 8 1 2 3 4  ··· 8 Next »
Jul 22, 2012 06:19 pm
 Posted by  DOODLE123

Nicole brings a lot of enthusiasm. I'm also a home reno enthusiast, much to my husband's fears! I understand the issue with folks not expecting a woman to own a pickup truck, a toolbox, & love to do plumbing repairs. Keep up the great work Nicole, & if you ever want a helper, call on me!!! Leslie.

Sep 15, 2012 07:02 am
 Posted by  speedy70

How about a historic convent with approx 2-3 acres? Where do we start?

Dec 8, 2012 02:33 pm
 Posted by  old

Hi Nicole,love you love the show,and love old homes.I would like to know how much are you selling the house on Minnehaha.

Dec 27, 2012 06:22 pm
 Posted by  DeAnn

Nicole, I to love to redo houses. My husband and I have brought a 15 acre farm because I need to be close to work. He is retired but I still have to work. So a friend found me a piece of property with a large barn that I was just going to put our camper in to stay in. Well it came with an 100 year old farm house. It has been redone in the past but very poorly. The foundation has problems and the wiring is not good and the add on part of the house is tilting. But I stay in it mostly through the week and when I am on call as I work in surgery in two local hospitals. I would really like to restore it and the barn but not sure if it worth. My father always said property was an good investment but sometimes you have to ride out the tough times. Would love your opinion on what I should do. There is not what I would call good history value in the workmenship of the house. I think they just threw up anything they had to make it work. But we love the location and the woods and the pond. It gives my husband something to play with and is closer to kids than our real home. Any input would be greatly appreciated.


De Eberlin

Dec 28, 2012 04:55 am
 Posted by  debmik

We need your help or advice, please! Look at our website, www.longwoodmanor.org. The city is going to tear this beauty down February, 2013 for a boogie board park. We have been trying to save it and we need some BIG GUNS like you to give an opinion. We are literally fighting city hall, for property that was donated to the people of Macedonia which has a 2 hole golf course and a Recreation center on it. This house represents the memory and devotion of the oldest standing mayor of a city and the first mayor of this community. He was a Cleveland business man and built this home as a summer home/retirement home for his wife and self. We need to preserve the beautiful architecture and create an art gallery/small meetings, showers, reception area in a beautiful park with endangered spiecies of wildlife as well. Please help with your celebrity or advice! 440-346-9623, Deb Mikulski art teacher/preservationist

Dec 30, 2012 12:49 am
 Posted by  Happy2604

Nikki, I am a police officer in Jacksonville AR doing all I can to support my wife with chronic Lyme disease, and my three young kids. We have owned our house for about 8 years, and are at a loss on whr to do with our kitchen and living room with a fire place. My home was built in 1978 and the fire place is all brick from floor to ceiling. I am a huge fan of the work you do to restore old homes. Any way I could send you some pics of my kitchen and living room and see what ideas you would have for revamping these two areas to help me better take care of my family?

Dec 30, 2012 12:51 am
 Posted by  Happy2604

My name is Paul Huddleston.

Dec 30, 2012 12:52 am
 Posted by  Happy2604

And my wife's name is Nicloe, but goes my Nikki too.

Jan 9, 2013 11:28 pm
 Posted by  Jlo

So I've seen you uncover amazing brick on your show, is there any way to make GOD awful brick look like that? I mean it's BAD!!

Jan 12, 2013 07:20 am
 Posted by  Rich06

What I like about your show is you work in Minneapolis, so I'm always thinking you're going to do and say things that apply in the northern climates, like putting posts in the ground 4 feet to account for the frost line, and the application of vapor barrier.

I was at a big box home improvement store the other day and asked the worker if they have any spray-on vapor barrier so I can apply it directly to the cinder block wall (unheated garage is on the other side of that wall) in the basement. He said in Minnesota you don't apply it there, that most those shows are done in warmer climates, but that you definitely don't spray it directly onto the cinder block in Minnesota. Also, by the way, no, he didn't think there's any that comes in a spray can.

So, although "Holmes on Homes" always shows him applying vapor barrier spray to the cinder-block basement walls before putting up the drywall, do you on "Rehab Addict" have a show on finishing the basement walls? Do you use vapor barrier spray on the cinder-block in a basement, or just put the furring strips on the block, plastic sheet for vapor barrier on top of that and directly under the drywall? My basement walls are cinder-block, and that is all that separates them from the -10 degree air outside.

Comments, page 1 of 8 1 2 3 4  ··· 8 Next »
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