MILLIONS OF Americans will settle into their man (and woman) caves this weekend for the big game, but chances are those retreats won’t have been designed by Paul DiMeo. The Media native and famously emotional carpenter from “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” is now building cabins for people who want to get away from it all – including their flat screens – in National Geographic Channel’s “Building Wild.”
The show, which airs at 9 p.m. Tuesdays, chronicles the odd-couple adventures of DiMeo and his business partner Pat “Tuffy” Bakaitis as they build one-of-a-kind getaways, with the help of their customers, in places where the challenges may include building a road to get there.
DiMeo, who lives in LA these days but still vacations at the Jersey Shore, spoke with Ellen Gray about his newest venture.
Q So, were you looking at this as a business or a TV show first?
A business first. But I mean, I came off a decade of television, so I like the idea of being in television.
Q How many cabins had you two built together before the show?
None at all. It happened very quickly. George [Verschoor, executive producer of “Building Wild”] introduced me to Tuffy. I liked the idea of building cabins, maybe making a bit of money, and George said, “What if I try to get Nat Geo to follow you guys from its inception?”
Q Was your plan all along to be a TV star?
In life? No. I mean, I’ve always loved theater. Building sets, acting. When I got to New York, I was building sets by day, working for a lot of great theater companies down on 4th Street. Being that I was a carpenter, I got to do a lot.
Q It’s a great skill. Wasn’t Harrison Ford a carpenter?
Harrison Ford was a carpenter, yeah. Now he’s a pilot.
Q Is that your next thing?
No, no. My next thing is goat cheese. I like the idea of grabbing some goats and making some cheese.
Q How do you find clients?
In New England, everyone wants a cabin. I really wanted this business model to happen where [customers] helped, where you brought the labor pool, doing it together, hitting it hard for five days. These are only 400-square-foot homes, there’s no plumbing.
Q No plumbing? Because I think I’d want plumbing.
There’s an outhouse. Plumbing is really great. The problem with plumbing is getting rid of the waste. No, we want to build forts in your back yard.
Q People often want more house than they need. Do they want more cabin than they need?
No. So we’ve built 10 cabins. Four of our clients [said] “I don’t want any electricity” – because usually what I’ll do is I’ll put in like four to six outlets and a generator hookup. But a lot of the guys said, “No, I don’t want any of that. Let me come up here, let me read.”
Q You’re known for being emotional. What gets the tears going on this show?
You spend a week with somebody and you do something. You look at it, and then you look at how it affects the people you did that for.
Even if it’s a cabin and it’s a father and a son. They worked on something together that week that never would’ve happened without us bringing it to them. I did that with my old man, and I loved that.
Q You built a cabin with your father?
No, but I worked with my dad.
[Also] our house burned down in ’63, in Delaware County, right on the border of Media and Brookhaven. [DiMeo was 5 at the time.] The contractor went on strike. So here’s my dad, with five children, and my mom. And I watched the Knights of Columbus, I watched Our Lady of Charity [parishioners] come and help my dad.
I also learned at a very early age that if it’s not breathing, what good is it? So maybe it’s why I don’t collect things.
Q What’s your house like?
We have [cowboy actor] Tom Mix’s house. It’s beautiful. Right now I’m redoing a bathroom.
Q You’re still working on your own house?
Oh, yeah. Does that ever end?
Philly.com Delco ‘Makeover’ guy goes ‘Wild’, Philly.com, February 2, 2014.