Trading Spaces’ new carpenter Brett Tutor, who makes his debut on TLC’s rebooted series on Saturday, is truly a jack of all trades.
One of the only new talents to join a cast consisting mostly of Trading Spaces veterans, he boasts an impressive resume, having worked as a stunt performer, home inspector, climbing guide, singer-songwriter, house flipper, EMT and SWAT medic, and security/survival specialist on Discovery Channel’s Treasure Quest. It’s this blend of rugged, hands-on skills and on-camera experience that makes him a natural fit for the fast-paced atmosphere of TLC’s beloved home design show.
Tutor says joining the cast, many of whom have known each other for a decade or more, was like “joining a highly dysfunctional family.” He admits that adjusting to the intense time crunch of the build schedule for the show was akin to being thrown into the deep end of the pool, but with one season now under his tool belt, he says he’d do the show forever if he could.
EW caught up with Tutor ahead of his Trading Spaces debut to nail down what it’s like combining his carpentry skills and on-camera experience, find out which member of the original cast was hardest to work with, and assess whether he’s already tired of people using his name to make “Tutor” house design puns.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Were you a big fan of the original Trading Spaces? And what brought you to the show?
BRETT TUTOR: It’s been a long journey. My grandma and my mom used to watch the show when I was younger, but I was in middle school and high school when it was on. I was doing things like getting into sports and hitting puberty. I wasn’t at home watching design shows. I watched it a little bit, but I wasn’t at home and watching TV. I kind of knew who Ty Pennington and Paige Davis were. I was traveling across the country in my airstream trailer, and the showrunner for Trading Spaces was following me on my road trip on Instagram and saw that I was in L.A. and set up a meeting. Then a couple of weeks later, I was building stuff for Ty Pennington. It was real quick.
This reboot is bringing back fan favorites from the original cast and a few new faces. What has mixing those two groups been like, and did they ease you into it?
It was like getting adopted into a highly dysfunctional family. Everybody is so sweet, down to earth, and hardworking, but it took me a minute, being the new guy. They had been doing it for a decade, so they knew the drill. They knew how it worked. When you’re starting out, you’re still learning what tools you have and generally what these designers are going to be asking of the carpenters to build. One designer may be really easy with a light carpentry load for me, but then Ty Pennington gave me about three weeks worth of carpentry projects to do in two days. We called it “Hazing Spaces.” He kind of was like, “Hey buddy, congratulations, let’s see what you got. Welcome to the show, and you don’t always get to sleep, so here you go.” I think he was kind of making me earn it at first.
The previous carpenters on this show, Ty Pennington and Carter Oosterhouse, have gone on to become household names; was stepping into their shoes intimidating? Did they give you any advice?
It was terrifying. It was very intimidating. I’m from a small town in Texas, so you don’t see people around that are famous ever. All of a sudden being around Carter and Ty — for me, being a carpenter, those guys are my heroes. It was crazy. I used to watch Carter’s show, and I watched Extreme Makeover: Home Edition when I was younger, so I was super nervous. But they could not have been cooler. I was scared to meet Carter, and then within an hour, I’m sitting down with Carter and he’s helping me. He has a nonprofit, and I have a nonprofit as well, and he was kind of giving me some advice on how to run it and things that he had learned. He couldn’t have been sweeter to me. Those are big shoes to fill. It’s strange because they put in a decade of hard work, and I’m getting to come in on the shoulders of giants, so I got really lucky.
You’ve done on-camera work, and then you’ve worked as a carpenter and home inspector. What is it like merging those two skill sets? More challenging than expected?
It’s a lot harder than I thought. Trading Spaces carpentry is unlike any other carpentry that I’ve ever even heard of. Doing a renovation is one thing, or doing cabinet-making is another thing, or furniture-making is another thing, or framing. With Trading Spaces, it’s all of those things at the exact same time. You never know what you’re going to get until the day of. You have no money hardly at all to do the things, and you have two days to do it all in. You’re not doing it in some woodworking shop; you’re doing it in a driveway, whatever the weather is outside. So you’re trying to get things done, and you’re always behind schedule, and you never have enough money, and you can’t ever find the right tools in the truck. You try so hard, and you want to do a great job. It’s crazy; it’s absolute mayhem as far as carpentry goes. It’s a lot of fun too, but you really try hard to build quality stuff and do that with such a short amount of time and a small budget, and then having cameras run up in your face making you nervous.
What do you love about carpentry? Do you feel you get to convey that on the show?
I do. I didn’t go to college. I’ve always liked working with my hands. I like to create. I do music and I write and I like to be creative, so it kind of gives me a chance to create, and usually, there’s quite a bit of flexibility with what type of furniture they build. They may want a cabinet, but I can design it, or they want a bed frame, but I can build it the way I want it, so I get to incorporate that creative aspect, which is a blessing for any job. The other thing is I like doing things that are tangible, where I can see a finished product. It’s really the ultimate for that because you get to see a finished product in two days. It’s a crazy two days, but by the end of 48 hours, you get to see a whole room transformed. And you get to see a homeowner’s reaction to the whole thing.
Obviously, your experiences in those fields probably gave you a good baseline here, but you have so many other skills and interests, from your time in the military to working as a stuntman to being a musician; have those helped you find your footing on the show? And can we expect to find them come into play in any of the episodes?
With my nonprofit [Off the Grid International], we build water systems and sanitation systems alongside the Peace Corps in remote villages that are in need. We don’t have a hardware store or a big budget or a lot of time. So you’ve got to be creative, and you’ve got to improvise. One time, we built a birthing house for these women to come from these villages to give birth at, and they needed a place to put the newborn babies. We didn’t have a bathtub or a sink, so we used a wheelbarrow, and we hooked up a drain and a water system into this wheelbarrow. That kind of improv and having to be resourceful was very transferable to Trading Spaces. It’s having to be creative and having to try to do a whole lot with very little in a very short amount of time.
What has been the most difficult part of the show?
Working with Ty. [Laughs] Just watch episode 2 — it will make a lot of sense. He’s a high-energy guy. He’s very fly by the seat of his pants, which I can appreciate. Herding cats would be an understatement. It was like lassoing tornadoes. Trying to keep up with him and what materials to buy based on his very malleable design ideas in his head… it was hard. I also felt a little pressure because that’s my first day on the job being a carpenter for the most famous carpenter on the planet. So, I was really trying to do a good job, but it was crazy. It just took a lot of caffeine and a lot of hard work, but we got through it.
There’s been a lot made of your looks… did you feel that was something they played up on the show and wish they hadn’t? Or were you cool with it?
I don’t know. I try not to think about it. I feel like I just got really lucky to be there. If somebody thinks I’m attractive, that’s really sweet, but if I stand next to Carter, I look like a hobbit. So it’s all relative. I just focus on trying to match my work ethic with how lucky I got to be a part of it.
How many times can we expect there to be puns on your last name and the design style of a “Tudor House,” and are you tired of it yet?
There’s been two in writing so far [laughs]. In two magazines. I would imagine infinite. That’s going to go on for a while. Even though the spelling’s different, nobody seems to care. It’s unavoidable at this point.
Would you want to return if it gets a second season?
I would do Trading Spaces forever if we can. I hope people love the show and there’s big enough support there for us to keep doing this. Just because we have so much fun doing it, and it’s such a fun job and life. I hope we get to do it for a long time, and I hope people love it.