Q&A With Carter Oosterhouse

America's handyman, Carter Oosterhouse talks about his favorite tools, TV shows and and his reasons for building green.
By: Caren Baginski


Call him America's Handyman, and Carter Oosterhouse will half-chuckle, half-groan. From modest Midwest summer job beginnings, Carter is one of TV's hunkiest carpenters — and most down-to-earth and laid back personalities. He lives an eco-friendly life, split between his L.A. modern home and Michigan Victorian farm. HGTV.com caught up with him to find out his favorite tools and why he chooses to build green.

You studied nutrition and communication in college. When did being a handyman come in?

The town that I grew up in, which is Traverse City, Mich., is a big tourist town. So a lot of people are always remodeling and building. For me it was just a summertime job, just to make some money. Who would ever think that it would take me this far? But my brothers are both carpenters and have private businesses. I would probably be doing the same thing if I wasn't on TV. My sister is an interior designer. My dad is one of those old guys who just never stops working. He's the best motivator, even when he's not around. When we were younger he'd say, "You shouldn't watch TV — go outside and do something." They're really supportive and have all helped me in some aspect along the way. To this day they still help out — there's always Monday morning quarterbacking.

What do you most love about carpentry?

When you're able to see something through within such a short period of time — building furniture — it really gives you that payoff. It really makes you feel good about yourself. In what other business can you see such a dramatic change in something that's physical, and right in front of your face that you crafted and put together? That's the biggest reason that I do it. When you can sit back and say, "Wow, look what I did — that's amazing. Pat myself on the back for that."

Describe what you do on your show, Carter Can.

We help homeowners who don't know what to do. They're caught up in the everyday, "I want to do this, but we've lived in this house for four years and haven't changed it once." A lot of people get into the house and if they don't act right now, then they never do. They become too accustomed to what it is and it's hard for them to change. We get those people to shake a leg and try to get them to broaden their horizons. We take what they want to see in their home and continuously push them. We've had amazing results so far. We've done 22 episodes and it's just getting better.

What are some of the typical mistakes you see homeowners make?

Wrong sized furniture that you put into a house is a really common mistake. Bad placement of furniture is another one. A big problem is when people try to do it themselves – which isn't bad; I always tell people to try to do it themselves — they just don't take the time and the resources to really figure some stuff out. Some people have an eye for it so they can do it right away, but for others it's difficult and that's where the trouble ensues.

What's the most difficult home improvement project you've tackled on the show?

The first episode is pretty big. We tore out two load-bearing walls — basically changed three rooms into one. If you do that in a house that was built in the '20s — making sure it's not going to cave in — it was definitely a difficult project, along with finding asbestos.

You're working on a production schedule, you only have so much time and you want to please this family, but when you go in there you don't want to tear up their own house for the sake of doing a TV show and having a big before and after. You really want to get in the homeowner's head and think, "OK, if this were my house, would I want these people tearing up walls and floors?" You have to be aware of the homeowners' feelings and thoughts throughout every episode. That's the best part about it.

The one tool you can't live without?

That's tough. For everyday around-the-house it would definitely be a screw gun. But if it's making a piece of furniture — I always go back to it — I'd definitely say it's a router. It's a tool that can still form a piece and give it its rigidity, but at the same time give you a beautiful profile. And I just change out the bits to the router. It's just one of those tools where if you have it, you can go so much further. You should just carry it around in your back pocket all of the time!
Top 5 essential tools every DIYer should have around their house:
1. Screw gun
2. Measuring tape
3. Torpedo level (simply for putting pictures up)
4. Hammer
5. Wrench

What's in your tool belt?

Tape measure would be number one. Also a T-square for building.

What inspired you to go green in your building?
Growing up, my family was always into nutrition. My dad was always telling me, keep your body clean, eat healthy and that sort of carried over into his business and life in general. Being taught that at such a young age, that carried over into: Why can't I try to build something without taking away from the environment? I'm doing something that's so progressive, trying to erect something and take away from natural resources, that if I can, I do it while still being eco-friendly and smart. I feel a lot better when I can be green about my building than when I'm not.

What's your design style?

I still think that I'm trying to find my own style, and the reason I say that is because I live in L.A. where my house is very modern beachy. The reason I styled the house as I did is because I love clean. I think less is definitely more, and I love things put away. I love being able to come in off the beach and not worry about sand getting in a bunch of old tchochkes. The hard edginess of modern lines isn't completely me, but I love seeing it because it's clean-lined. I just don't see it as practical, especially for me, so that's why I say (my home) has that beachy twist to it.

I have a place back in Michigan. But the style that I have there is very farm-style, almost Victorian. I've kept that style because the house is over 100 years old and I think I'll one day grow old there. That's the feel that I like there, which is a little more traditional and contemporary but is not nearly as modern as the house in L.A. Where your surroundings are play a big part in how you shape and form and style your place. Back at home it is home. There's no other place like home than the Midwest, and that's because I was born and raised there.

What's the most expensive investment you've made in your home?

The kitchen (in the Michigan home) is amazing. It's definitely set up for having friends and family over and entertaining. The kitchen has a very open floor plan where you can see into the living room, dining room and family room. Big island, concrete countertops, farmhouse sink with a gooseneck faucet, big, double-door fridge and freezer and a six-burner stove and range. The thing is I'm not even married yet or have kids, but I set it up for down the road. It's a great place to one day retire to.

What TV shows are you watching, when you're not in front of the camera?

I don't really watch too much TV. Entourage is probably my favorite show. I also like Curb Your Enthusiasm. If I have another vice — not that I have a lot of vices — but if I have something else to tear me away from doing my day-to-day activities, I try to stay away from that.

Your show's called Carter Can, but is there anything you can't do?

When we were coming up with the concept for the show, they approached me with, "Well, Carter, how about you go into people's homes and you really find out what they want and you make the change." And I was like, "Are you kidding me? How is that different from any other show?" I was kind of on the fence about it. But I thought about my dad, who was always very good at getting things done regardless if he really knew how to do it or not. He was just one of those guys who worked at it. And I think he instilled that same work ethic in all of his kids: You may not know exactly how to do something, but by the end of the day you'll definitely have figured it out. That made the show evolve... into figuring things out together and making it happen. A light bulb went off and by episode two it was like, "Man, I think we really can do anything — the title of the show is true!" You name it, and we will be able to get it done. Fortunately we haven't had any snags yet.

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