By Charlotte Triggs
July 11, 2011 12:00 PM

Most people try to avoid bringing their work home with them. But for Ty Pennington, host of ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, leaving his job behind has proven impossible. Over the past year, the designer has invested a lot of energy-and money-into refurbishing his sleek Manhattan condo, from creating his own wallpaper to making a one-of-a-kind headboard carved with the same contours as his thumbprint. Now if he could just find some time to actually live there. “I’m on the road nine months a year. I’m only ever home long enough to do laundry!” Pennington, 46, says with a laugh as he shows off his 1,900-sq.-ft., two-bedroom, two-bath Chelsea apartment, which boasts sleek black floors (no shoes, please). But even when he does have time off, “instead of unplugging, I chill out by searching flea markets or making furniture,” he says, gesturing around a home office strewn with fabric samples. “I’m always ‘on.'”

He may not get points for being Zen, but Pennington’s inability to slow down has helped make him a household name: In addition to his hit ABC series, his empire includes multiple lines for stores like Sears and Lumber Liquidators. “Ty’s a machine,” says his Extreme Makeover costar Jillian Harris. “He always comes up with the wickedest ideas.”

His creativity was born from necessity. Raised by a single mom in Atlanta, by the time Pennington was a young designer, “I moved a lot and lived in a lot of studios, so like many people, I used plastic milk crates for furniture,” he laughs. “But I always figured out how to give it some style.”

As a professional designer he continued to make use of junkyard finds. “When I see something cool that someone is throwing out, I have to stop them,” he says. Unfortunately, such stylish hoarding has led to multiple warehouses stocked with everything from stained-glass windows to a staircase. “It’s kind of a problem,” he admits.

As is his lack of a love life. “It’s tough to find anybody who’s going to wait for me as I travel around,” Pennington says, noting the upside is that “there’s no pressure on me to impress anyone.” After all, not everyone will appreciate a coffee table made from a salvaged door. “I’m pretty good at making something out of nothing,” Pennington says with a shrug. “I’ve been doing that my whole life.”