As Nicole Curtis says at the beginning of every episode of her number-one HGTV show Rehab Addict, “I’m not your average flipper. . . . I don’t just renovate, I restore old homes to their former glory.”
The glory of old homes is Curtis’s pride and passion, and in a landscape of shows about trying to make a mint by flipping property or renovating something old to look like a new dream home, Curtis’s philosophy of reusing whatever she can, keeping to a strict budget, and renewing and maintaining as much of the historical and architectural integrity as possible is refreshingly traditional.
Curtis lives in Minneapolis, where she buys houses that look like they are ready for demolition or are in foreclosure. Some are in bad neighborhoods; others are in more up-and-coming areas. “I believe old houses hold memories and soul,” she explains.
She fixes them up using as much old material as she can and then sells them and moves on to a new project. Unlike just about every other renovation show on HGTV and DIY Network, Rehab Addict usually features Curtis talking about saving anything and everything she can. She asks why anyone would want to cover a brick wall, for instance. She gets old stained-glass windows restored and resealed to be put right back where she found them. She exposes any and all wood, from floors to countertops to doors to banisters. “Everything can always be reused, it’s just a bit of modification,” Curtis explains, talking about turning old carriage doors into room dividers in her basement. At times, she is so proud of her restoration that she’s even brought previous residents to see the work she’s done returning their former home to the way they remember. And she always hangs an American flag outside her properties.
Curtis is also traditional in terms of her personal history. Indeed, she’s so devoted to her hometown of Detroit that, as soon as she had the clout at the network to demand it (once her show was number one in the ratings, that is), she had Rehab Addict film episodes there. She restored a blighted house in a show of solidarity, and love, toward her past. Why does she feel such a connection to a city she hasn’t lived in for decades? Because, she explained to one reporter, her roots are what make her who she is today.
“I always have people . . . question how a five-foot-three, 100-pound blonde gets all this done, and the answer for me has always been: I’m from Detroit.”
Curtis loves conservation, and she’s frugal as well. The point isn’t to break the bank; it’s to make a house as authentic as possible while keeping her business eye trained on the bottom line. The Detroit house offered a good example of that tension when she re-did one of the bathrooms. She found one extra box of original porcelain tile, but it wasn’t enough to cover all the areas needed to restore the room. She showed the audience the difference in quality (and thickness) between the old porcelain and what she dubs the “cheapy” subway tile that she often uses. As she’s prone to do with wood floors, she interweaved new tiles among the old porcelain and explained how to place the thinner tiles alongside thicker ones without the result being too noticeably different.
Curtis will, however, acknowledge the importance of newer technologies. Working on the Detroit restoration revealed piping that was so degraded it all had to be replaced. Curtis did so with new plastic tubing, explaining that the choice was utilitarian because metal would have been too expensive—and because looters won’t steal plastic.
Her passion for older homes can be controversial, however. Take what is going on with a home on the corner of 24th Street and Colfax Avenue South in Minneapolis. It was built in 1893 by Theron Potter (T. P.) Healy, a Twin Cities builder known for his Queen Anne style of architecture. Curtis got involved when she heard that the building was scheduled for demolition to make room for an apartment complex. Marshaling the force of her by-now-very-recognizable name and face, she appeared at the building site and at city council meetings to oppose the plan. “The entire structure of the original house is still there,” Curtis told a local news station. “Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s not valuable anymore.” The owner says that restoration is unlikely since a fire during the 1990s gutted the second and third floors, leaving almost nothing of the original details.