People magazine named him one of its “Sexiest Men on Television.” He’s the face of two Nautica fragrances, and has made guest appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Entertainment Tonight, and The View.
Not bad for a carpenter. In the face of such newfound celebrity, Traverse City native and HGTV personality Carter Oosterhouse remains outwardly matter-of-fact, claiming he’s a regular guy — one who looks pretty good in a tool belt.
“It’s all in a day’s work,” the 32-year-old star of HGTV’s Carter Can and the eco-minded Red Hot & Green. “I’ve been fortunate.”
It’s not a life he would have imagined while studying nutrition at Central Michigan University a decade ago. Oosterhouse graduated from CMU in 2000 and moved to Los Angeles soon after with hopes of finding a job as a nutritionist, but eventually ended up working as a production assistant with actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Encouraged to try work in front of the camera, he began studying acting. The need for a part-time job and his ability with a hammer led to a gig on The Learning Channel’s Trading Spaces in 2003. Hollywood and HGTV soon took notice.
“My older brothers are contractors, and I’ve been building since I was 12 or 13,” Oosterhouse says. He also credits his father, “a farmer who knows how to do everything.” Aside from the obvious thrill, he didn’t take his career turn seriously at first. “I thought being a carpenter on TV would be a fun run for a while, but now I realize the opportunity I’ve been given,” he says. “Craftsmanship is a dying art.”
Off-screen, he makes his home in a clean-lined California contemporary on L.A.’s Hermosa Beach. He also recently renovated a century-old farmhouse near Traverse City, which allows him proximity to his northern Michigan family. (He and his girlfriend, who grew up in Sterling Heights, visit as often as they’re able — most recently in February to film an upcoming HGTV Christmas special.)
“We get back to Michigan quite a bit,” says Oosterhouse, whose name has the distinctive spelling that reflects his Dutch heritage. “There’s such a great quality of life.” He calls Traverse City “a special place, with the water and the small-town feel,” and claims “there’s nothing like a sunny summer afternoon on the water.” He also recalls loving childhood trips to Detroit, “where we went to watch the Pistons, Wings, and Tigers,” he says. “It was a big thing for a little kid from Traverse City. It’s still fun to come back to Detroit and go to the Joe and Greektown.”
Oosterhouse’s affection for his home state extends to his design sense and an appreciation for the Midwest’s more traditional style.
“Michigan homes are very homey, very cozy,” he says. “Colors are warmer and richer than you see on the coast. Life may be a bit slower paced, but it’s definitely more comfortable. Midwestern style makes you want to curl up on the couch.”
He hopes to return full time someday. “I want to grow old and raise my family there,” he says of his Victorian-style home near Traverse City. He says Michigan’s struggling real-estate market has him sympathizing with homeowners who are forced to postpone remodeling projects. He has one word for cash-strapped homeowners in his home state: insulation.
“In L.A., it’s all about the bells and whistles, but in Michigan, what’s really important is how well your home is sealed up, how the roof and windows are,” he says. “It’s not about glitz and glamour. Those practical things are a must if you’re trying to sell, but can also help you save on energy while you’re there.”
For homeowners seeking a low-cost lift, he advises paint. “It’s not a new idea, but it’s a no-brainer,” he says, adding: Forget beige. Stepping outside that comfort zone and being a little more adventurous with color choices is both exciting and low risk, he says. “If you hate it, you can always change it. Just be sure to use low- or no-VOC paint” as a nod to the environment, he says. That, and CFL bulbs are two easy changes he suggests for ecological impact. “If everyone did it, it would make a huge difference,” he says.
When not in front of the camera, Oosterhouse devotes time to Carter’s Kids, which partners with communities to build neighborhood parks and playgrounds. “Growing up in Traverse City, my fondest memory was getting together with the other neighborhood kids and playing sports,” he says. “I founded Carter’s Kids because I wanted young people to have a place in their neighborhood where they can enjoy activities to increase their health, self-esteem, and well-being. Kids then have the opportunity to take an active part in building up their community.”
He’s also happy to talk about Carter’s Workshop, a new carpentry show for children, as well as the production company he founded and the documentary on Native Americans he’s working on. What he’d rather not discuss? His growing legion of fans.
“It just comes with the job,” he acknowledges. “My friends, family, and girlfriend always put me back in my place.”