Built to Last
TV carpenter Paul DiMeo on his nine-year run on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, his grumpy audition and why his own
Studio City digs might surprise you
Written byLinda Grasso
What an interesting career you’ve had—from renovating homes to acting to hosting …
I have loved building since I was a little kid. At the end of the day, you have something physical to show for your work. I also love acting, the theatre. For the many years that I spent in New York City—both building and performing—neither was more important to me than the other.
So I understand you were kind of grumpy at the Extreme Makeover audition.
I was in this room with other designers, and everyone was talking over everyone else. It was crazy. This went on for about a week. I kept getting called back and then would never say a word. I’d look at the group as if they were somewhat insane (many were!) The more I went, the less I wanted to do it. Finally Andrea Wong, ABC’s head of alternative TV, asks me what I thought. I say, “You are all out of your f-ing minds. Remodel a house in seven days? It takes me three months to build a kitchen.” They called the next day saying I got the pilot.
You are in your 50s … man, that’s a tough age to be going after host gigs in LA.
I don’t really go after host gigs or think of myself as a host. It is just me listening and reacting. With the new Nat Geo show I’m doing, Building Wild, I am actually building cabins in the wilderness—and it just so happens that there are cameras.
If the TV thing went away tomorrow, would you be okay renovating and going on acting auditions?
Yes. I’m very lucky that I entered into the on-air thing in my 40s. I realize that I am very lucky—blessed—to be able to put two passions together and find success. Do I still dream of working on ensemble pieces like Breaking Bad and The Office? Sure. But I won’t spend my day auditioning when I can be doing something that allows me to make something tangible and get paid for it.
Tell us a bit more about Building Wild.
Here’s the concept: What if I were to find a partner to build cabins all over the country with—400-square-foot cabins, no plumbing, no electrical. We do it with the landowners. They bring the labor, and we repurpose materials. In five days, you have a beautiful cabin. It is fun, crazy, challenging and, most importantly, real.
How did you get into acting?
I started acting in the third grade. I loved the applause. I studied in high school, then at Temple University. I was building sets for all the little theatres on 4th Street in the East Village in the early ‘80s, and at a few theatres I started trading my services for acting classes. When I moved to LA, I started classes with Tracy Roberts in Studio City.
Why do you live in the Valley?
I love the Valley. I would not be anyplace else. You can garden. You can have a wood shop in your garage, and no one will mind if you are using a table saw at 8 a.m. on a Saturday. I love our food markets. Everyone knows your name in the Valley.
What style is your own home? Have you renovated it?
Our home was built in 1926 by Tom Mix. It is a wonderful Spanish that is built into the hillside. As for working on it, I’ll simply say, “The cobbler’s kids have no shoes.” I have done very little. I hate hearing myself say that.
Favorite local restaurant?
My wife, Kelly, and I love Iroha Sushi in Studio City. Best I’ve ever had. My #1 is Olive & Thyme in Toluca Lake. Christian and Melina Davies, the owners, treat us as if we were in their home kitchen. That means the world to me.
Other favorite Valley haunts?
Woodley Lakes Golf Course. If I had a trillion dollars, it would still be there that I golfed. Pilates Sports Center in Encino. Kelly teaches there. Valley Sash & Door in Van Nuys. Great doors and windows. Encino and Mid Valley Little League. Best baseball in the city. Sunday breakfast at Good Neighbor in Studio City. Another privately owned restaurant were they greet you with love and kindness.
Paul’s 5 Must-Own Tools
“If you make a fence for it, you can cut anything in a perfectly straight line. Remember: straight, plumb and square. Those three things are very important in building.”
“You can cut curves and cope crown molding. Moldings can really enrich a room.”
“You never have enough clamps.”
“With a couple of sawhorses, you’ll have a place to use your tools.”
“It sounds pretty basic, but when I’m building, I constantly grab for a pencil.”