As the host of the nationally syndicated home improvement show, Hometime, Johnson has hung dry wall, dug fence post holes, and helped set tile through two pregnancies for over one million viewers each week. She loves the message her presence on the show sends about women today. “Moms can fix things just like dads can fix things,” she said.
After graduating from college, Johnson moved to Los Angeles to become an actor. “I was chasing the proverbial carrot,” she said. While she found her groove in commercial acting, doing spots for Lincoln Navigator and Neosporin, she never quite broke into television or film as she’d wanted, beyond playing Shelly Long’s daughter in a mini-series. “There’s a reason why you go to Los Angeles when you’re young,” she said. “It’s hard work to be rejected over and over. When you’re young and you’re flexible, there’s always that possibility of another acting job you’re right for.”
She married Paul Dunkirk and after close to 10 years living with her husband in a 500-square foot house in Los Angeles, Johnson decided to move back to the Midwest. “We’d found a good community, friends and schools we liked out there,” she said. “But I wanted to start a family near my family, and my family is in Minnesota.”
At first, returning home felt like a step back. “I didn’t have tons of auditions like I used to have,” she said. But then her agent told her Hometime was auditioning for a host. “It was a natural fit,” she said. “Not only did they get somebody who could walk and talk on camera, but they got somebody who could handle a drill as well.” In fact, Johnson built furniture as a hobby. “My dad had a real farm kid attitude, like, ‘I can fix that.’,” she said. “And I inherited it. When I saw a piece of furniture in a catalog, I would figure out how to make it.”
Being on Hometime has allowed Johnson to use her skills to grow beyond an acting career, and reinvent herself as a host. “I’m not playing a character. I’m playing myself,” she said. “It wasn’t what I was going for in Los Angeles, but I like what I do now. It comes naturally, and it’s fun for me.”
Johnson believes your biggest asset in home improvement is what her husband calls a “can-do attitude,” that is, curiosity and drive. She points to her own parents. “They rarely hired help for home improvement projects,” she said. “Duct tape and epoxy fixed lots of things.”
“It feels really good to say, ‘I did this job myself,” or, ‘I’m never doing that again’,” she laughs. “Either way, you get the bragging rights.”
Here’s what she’s learned on Hometime to give you the confidence to get started, as well as quick easy fixes for everything in your home.
Knowledge is key. “There’s always a way to find out how to do a home improvement project, whether by watching a show or watching videos on the web,” she said. “The more you learn about a certain project, the more you’ll know whether you can tackle it or not.”
“There’s always somebody willing to share knowledge, pitch in and help,” she said. “There are certain projects where having more than one person is very helpful, like to carry bags of concrete or boards.”
Plus, look for tools that make the job easier. “Anybody, man or woman, who’s not used to heavy lifting every day, will be tired,” she said. “Pick tools that are lighter and ergonomic.”
Double your budget and the time you think it’ll take to do a project. “Something else may come up when you open up a wall to change a pipe,” Johnson said. “You never know what hidden expenses may pop up when you are doing a project.”
If safety is a concern, you may want to hire the job out. “If you have a steeply pitched roof, you probably don’t want to repair damaged tile on your own,” Johnson said. Personally she hires out electricity. “An electrician can do it faster, better and safer,” she said.
If you start to feel you’re in over your head, you can turn to the experts. “Sometimes you get stuck halfway into a project and think, ‘I should have hired this out,’” Johnson said. “But you wouldn’t know that if you didn’t try.”
Johnson has a huge list of home improvement projects she’d like to do around her own home, like building a treehouse for her kids, and moving her laundry from the basement to their main level. “Pick one job and finish it so you can get through your list,” she said. “Otherwise, you’ll go for years with things that need to get done.”
Prioritize your list by starting with projects that are timely and work within your budget. “If your project is weather related or due to a hazard, fix those things first,” Johnson said. “If budget is a concern, do the things that don’t cost an arm and a leg first. Paint the walls before remodeling, and see what that does. Or buy throw pillows before buying new furniture, and see where that gets you.”
For efficiency, Johnson keeps both a Philips and a flathead screwdriver in her junk drawer. With tools close by, she’s more likely to fix things. “Whether it’s opening a battery case on a toy, or tightening a door knob, I don’t have to run to the garage to get a screwdriver,” she said.
First impressions count. To welcome your guests into your home, paint your front door a bold color. Then change out the boring storm door for a full-view glass one to show off the inside door and let in more light.
Got a closet that’s not keeping up with your wardrobe? Try vertical dividers to keep your shelves organized. Increase your bar space by using a chain to hang a shorter rod from the longer one. You can also hang clothes on the chain.
Curb appeal sets the tone for your home. Spruce up the outdoors by planting flowers, refreshing mulch and using nitrogen-rich fertilizer to green your lawn. Brighten up your exterior by installing new house numbers, hardware, and light fixtures.