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May 19, 2020

Home, Again

With a host who’s no master carpenter, a reboot builds sustainable homes for families in need.

John Griffiths
  • Jesse Tyler Ferguson (center) with designers Breegan Jane (left) and Darren Keefe

    Casey Durkin
  • Ferguson at a community rally in Covina, California, where volunteers met the lucky Holtzclaw family

    Casey Durkin
  • Ferguson hugs Anifah Barobi

    Casey Durkin
  • Triple sinks in the Barobi family’s new digs

    Casey Durkin
  • Before in the Joseph family home in Carson, California

    Casey Durkin
  • After in the Joseph family home in Carson, California

    Casey Durkin
  • Before at the Washingtons’ in Los Angeles

    Casey Durkin
  • After at the Washingtons’ in Los Angeles

    Casey Durkin

On ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition — the 2003–12 reality hit that turned the dilapidated homes of families in need into near-mansions — host Ty Pennington was pretty handy with beams, drill bits and demo.

But Jesse Tyler Ferguson, host of the show's HGTV reboot? Not so much.

"The closest I've gotten to building stuff is learning in Catholic school that Jesus was a carpenter," quips Ferguson, who's famous for playing fussy Mitchell Pritchett on ABC's Modern Family. "I do have a tacklebox full of tools. But I don't do too much beyond, like, changing a fuse."

Turns out it was Ferguson's DIY cluelessness that helped him land the gig.

"The producers wanted to take a new, fun, fish-out-of-water approach," he says of Makeover's makeover, which premiered to solid ratings earlier this year. "I'm like a stand-in for the viewer, someone who's not too versed in home design and carpentry. I'm learning from the professionals."

Born in Missoula, Montana, and raised in New Mexico, the star jokingly blames his aversion to drywall on his father, Robert, a now-retired microbiologist. (His mom, Anne, is a former OB-GYN.).

"My dad always wanted to do [home improvements] himself. He created these big holes in the house that he didn't need to."

Early on, it was clear that Ferguson was born to be an actor, not a contractor. He joined the Albuquerque Children's Theater when he was just eight, then sang and danced in high school productions before moving to Manhattan to study at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.

He made his Broadway debut in a 1998 revival of On the Town, then got his big Hollywood break in CBS's unsung 2006 sitcom The Class. Of course, he's enjoyed 11 years (and five Emmy nominations) on Modern Family.

His own Los Angeles home, a cavernous late-1920s Spanish Colonial he shares with lawyer-husband Justin Mikita, is spotless. The couple, who wed in 2013, also keeps a chic pad in New York City. Both places are likely to get messier, though, when their first child arrives in July.

"We're converting one of our guest rooms into a nursery," Ferguson says.

Breegan Jane, part of EM:HE 's on-air design team, has been offering advice, since she "has two kids herself and has some fantastic ideas." The show's on-air team also includes woodworker-designer Darren Keefe and interior designer Carrie Locklyn (Hotel Impossible).

The old EM:HE was sometimes faulted for making its troubled subjects' abodes a bit too fantastic; some beneficiaries were unable to maintain or even hold on to their new megahomes.

Ferguson is proud that the producers are now emphasizing sustainability in every sense. "We're giving people the homes that they need, with mortgages that are cheaper than the rent that they were paying for their previous places."

But they're not skimping, either. In one episode, a refugee family of six, having fled violence in their native Congo, marveled as a 3,000-square-foot home went up for them in Ogden, Utah, in just five days.

"They had one bathroom, now they have three," Ferguson says of the Barobi family, who had previously lived out of suitcases in a basement apartment. "One has three sinks!"

No family can find fault with that.


This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 4, 2020

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