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Originally published February 21, 2014 at 8:02 PM | Page modified March 1, 2014 at 9:18 AM

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TV’s ‘Rehab Addict’ battles blight to save old houses

Long before “Lean In” encouraged women to go bold, Nicole Curtis was living it, throwing herself into rehab projects, building her own business in a male-dominated industry — and ruffling a few feathers along the way.

Minneapolis Star Tribune

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She has a hot TV home-improvement show and her own crew, but that doesn’t mean Nicole Curtis is immune from typical homeowner headaches.

Last month, the star of “Rehab Addict” got hit with a very Minnesota problem: frozen pipes after the furnace failed in her century-old home in Minneapolis.

Curtis, per usual, was a woman of swift action and words, ripping out her plumbing and sharing the saga with her legion of Facebook followers. “I basically just gutted my whole house,” she says.

Long before “Lean In” encouraged women to go bold, Curtis was living it, throwing herself into rehab projects, building her own business in a male-dominated industry — and ruffling a few feathers along the way, whether butting heads with bureaucrats over condemned houses or pushing back against stubborn contractors.

Now 37, she’s been rescuing old houses — buying, rehabbing and selling them — for almost two decades. “I believe old houses hold memories and soul,” she says.

Curtis first aspired to become an attorney. But after working three jobs to buy her first house, in Florida, when she was 18, she chose a different path.

“I got a taste for being on my own and having money,” she says. “It was important for me to establish myself.”

She was already established as a real estate agent, rehabber and interior designer when she was first approached about doing a show.

“It was hard to convince her,” says Steven Lerner, senior VP of original programming and development for DIY Network and HGTV. “We had to ask, ‘Can we follow you and not disrupt your life too much?’ ”

She didn’t want to do a typical home-transformation show. Instead, she wanted to show the nitty-gritty details of rehabbing old houses — mouse droppings and all. “I wanted to keep it raw and real.”

“Rehab Addict,” which premiered on DIY Network in 2010, is now in its fourth season and one of the network’s highest-rated shows, Lerner says. HGTV recently added “Rehab” to its prime-time lineup, bringing Curtis to a wider audience, and is now using her in network promotions. There also are plans to feature her as a guest judge on a competition show that’s in development.

Curtis’ fierce passion for old houses, combined with her hands-on skill with power tools, gives her credibility with viewers, Lerner says. “She’s actually getting dirty and doing the work.”

Her latest projects are two just-rehabbed houses in north Minneapolis, one a 1929 bungalow boasting its original built-in buffet, and the other a former duplex, built in 1883, that was boarded up, its windows shot out, when she took it on and converted it back into a single-family home.

Curtis’ zeal to save blighted houses from the wrecking ball made news last spring when she stood inside a condemned house on Minneapolis’ Park Avenue to protest its city-ordered demolition, even as a claw took bites out of it.

She has demonstrating that decrepit old houses can be made beautiful — and that you don’t have to be a guy to do hard-core DIY, says her friend Beth Rutledge, education coordinator for the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota. “I think she really inspires people — especially girls and women.”

Curtis says she loves hearing that little girls dressed up like her for Halloween, or that a teen became inspired to study preservation after watching her show. She’s optimistic about the next generation.

“These kids are all about preserving history,” she says. “Old is better. We’ve started a movement.”


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