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updated: 9/14/2011 6:08 AM

Tool belt unlocked HGTV career for Wood Dale native

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  • Wood Dale native and HGTV celebrity designer Monica Pedersen says she's been living her dream.

      Wood Dale native and HGTV celebrity designer Monica Pedersen says she's been living her dream.
    Photo courtesy of Monica Pedersen

  • HGTV interior decorator Monica Pedersen says she learned her sewing and remodeling skills from her parents while growing up in Wood Dale.

      HGTV interior decorator Monica Pedersen says she learned her sewing and remodeling skills from her parents while growing up in Wood Dale.
    Photo courtesy of Todd Everett

  • Wood Dale native and HGTV celebrity designer Monica Pedersen says she's been living her dream.

       Wood Dale native and HGTV celebrity designer Monica Pedersen says she's been living her dream.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Wood Dale native and HGTV celebrity designer Monica Pedersen says she's been living her dream.

       Wood Dale native and HGTV celebrity designer Monica Pedersen says she's been living her dream.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Wood Dale native and HGTV celebrity designer Monica Pedersen says she's been living her dream.

       Wood Dale native and HGTV celebrity designer Monica Pedersen says she's been living her dream.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Video: Pedersen's holiday kitchen tips

  • Video: Pedersen's holiday decorating tips

 

People follow her around Home Depot.

Strangers approach her with cabinet handles or paint samples, asking her opinion on which would look best in a bathroom or kitchen.

But the No. 1 thing people ask HGTV designer Monica Pedersen when they see her out in the suburbs is: "How do I get on the shows?"

"The best way is to go to the website of the production company and see what they're casting for. They like to cast in Chicago, because of the diverse style and architecture of the houses," says Pedersen, who decorates homes around the country on the HGTV shows "Designed to Sell," "Bang for Your Buck" and "Dream Home." She also recently teamed up with the Napa Valley winery Rutherford Hill to help couples "design" their own date night.

Pedersen grew up in Wood Dale, where her sewing-obsessed mother and handyman father unknowingly groomed her to be an interior decorator.

"It was common, in our house, to come home from school and there'd be new curtains in the kitchen," said Pedersen, laughing. "For my 18th birthday, I got a Makita cordless drill. I was so mad. But I still have it."

The Pedersen kids always had to help their dad with his remodeling projects, handling tasks from holding up a light to painting or grouting tile.

"We just thought that was normal," Pedersen said. "We didn't grow up in an area where people had decorators. To me, my mom's friends who had wallpaper sample books were decorators."

When given a modest budget to remodel her "Holly Hobby" bedroom, Pedersen put her heart and soul into the project -- painstakingly picking out just the right furniture, having her mom sew the white eyelet curtains, and finding knockoff Laura Ashley wallpaper for a fraction of the price.

At Fenton High School, Pedersen was an all-star basketball player and started modeling in her spare time. She was picked for the elite Woodfield Teen Board, which involved doing fashion shows at the Schaumburg mall each season. Her modeling continued when she attended Northern Illinois University -- and so did her remodeling.

When her parents moved out of their Wood Dale house, Pedersen and her sister Michelle tore their childhood home apart and redesigned it -- just for fun.

"We'd go to bed with primer on our hands, we were so tired," she recalled fondly. "We used to go to the Ace Hardware in Addison every five seconds. And Maher Lumber on Irving Park Road? Best lumber store ever."

Modeling regularly for retail catalogs like JC Penney and Bath & Body Works, Pedersen auditioned for a Sears television commercial and, on a hunch, brought along her tool belt and power tools.

"I got the job because I knew how to handle the drill," she said.

That commercial caught the eye of HGTV's "Designed to Sell" producers, who asked her to audition.

"I don't know how to act. But 'Designed to Sell' was about what you can do yourself, and how you can stretch your budget. And that, I can do," she said. "It ended up being a perfect fit. But never, in a million years, did I think I'd be doing this. If I think about it too hard, I get nervous. I can't believe I do what I do."

A few notes about her experiences during her five years with HGTV:

• Elizabeth Sincox, the Re/Max Realtor from Barrington whom she constantly spars with on "Bang for Your Buck"? They are close friends.

• Often, people who have their homes redone on "Designed to Sell" end up staying in their house because they like their new decor so much. A few tricked the network and said they were selling their house, but really weren't.

• There have been a few ungrateful and uncooperative home makeover recipients over the years, and without question, the nicest and most cooperative people are teachers, police officers and firefighters.

• After designing roughly 300 rooms in 4 years on "Designed to Sell," Pedersen said the most important lesson she has learned is, "Everything can be fixed."

• Pedersen was asked to present a woman with an award for best booth at a design show. As she approached holding the award, flowers and champagne, the woman got hysterical thinking she had won the "Dream House." Pedersen had to break the bad news to her, in front of a crowd of her peers.

This year, Chicago magazine named Pedersen one of the "50 Most Beautiful Chicagoans," but modeling is not among the projects she has on the horizon. She's working on a book she describes as an "ode to my mom," on how to decorate for special events. As a kid, Pedersen said her mom always put out special tablecloths, place settings and fabrics, and it made the occasion more special.

"We used to go to Minnesota Fabrics, buy remnants, and dream of what we could make. We used to have an entire closet full of remnants," said Pedersen, who sews draperies and bed skirts all the time on "Designed to Sell."

Pedersen's also pitching a few show ideas to the network, including her own series based in Chicago.

"My dream is to get a remodeling show in Chicago, doing Chicago homes," said Pedersen, who lives in Highland Park with her husband, Eric, an attorney. "That's what I want to be doing. My family's here ... and my family comes first. If the cameras stop rolling tomorrow, I'll still be doing design."

-- Jamie Sotonoff

• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for suburban people in showbiz. If you know of someone, send a note to dgire@dailyherald.com and jsotonoff@dailyherald.com.

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