Behind the scenes of a popular Atlanta-based do-it-yourself design and renovation show on HGTV, a 6-year-old gives his hand-drawn instructions on how to build a Transformer to the crew. They’ll build it for him, and he and his younger sister and brother will test the kids’ room they built for an upcoming episode.
“When I do kids’ spaces, we’ll bring them in to try it out and see how they interact with it. They’re always there. They think it’s normal,” said Gwinnett County-native Chip Wade.
Wade, 32, is the host of “Elbow Room,” an HGTV show with four seasons under its tool belt. A couple of years ago, he may have been labeled as an up-and-coming face on the home improvement network. But now he’s sitting atop that hill, surrounded by a wide family support system that spans three generations in the metro area.
“I’m a huge family guy,” Wade said. “I have a huge family, and we still get together as often as once a week. I have two sisters, and we all live close by each other.”
After growing up in Gwinnett County, Wade moved to Midtown, where he attended Georgia Tech and met his wife, Pauli, on the cheerleading team. Good thing he didn’t play football, for which the school approached him.
He left college with a degree in mechanical engineering and earned his certification in residential construction, working as a structural engineer for an Atlanta-based custom home builder.
“Making one-of-a-kind solutions really resonates for me, to be able to do the construction and design, of course, but with creativity,” he said.
Wade and his wife moved with their three kids — Mac, 3-year-old Mara, and JT, 1 — and Wade’s parents to Cumming about two years ago.
Doctors placed Mac on the autism spectrum when he was 2, though Wade said he “is doing so much better now. He has made tremendous strides forward.”
“[Forsyth is] an area that we love to be in, even though it’s a bit of a destination because it’s in the middle of nowhere compared to Atlanta,” Wade said. “But we love it.”
Designing a home, not a house
His TV audience won’t look at his on-screen projects and see the middle of nowhere, nothing homes, though, and his target houses haven’t taken him far from home.
Before landing his first host job with “Elbow Room,” he proved his carpentry skills on HGTV’s “Designed to Sell” and has since appeared on the network’s “Curb Appeal: The Block,” “Showdown” and “Design Star.”
“I did one stint for ‘Curb Appeal’ in California, but otherwise it’s all been in [metro] Atlanta,” Wade said. “Last season, the farthest south I went was Dunwoody.”
He has renovated “hundreds of Atlanta homes.” He’s even host of a new, still untitled, show this summer.
“The area provides a nice diversity of architectural style that’s identifiable internationally. The weather is nice longer, so we can film longer. And the network is here, too, so the production value increases,” he said.
He recently finished a project in south Forsyth that he said will be “more of an iconic landmark” visible from the Big Creek Greenway. The fully exterior project boasts “sculptural pavilions and floating structures all made out of wood blocks.”
Projects on “Elbow Room” — he recently finished filming its fourth season — showcase Wade helping a family who has outgrown their space over time or circumstance. Sometimes he completes a large-scale renovation. Other times he builds an addition to the home.
Every design is personalized to the family who will live in and use the space when the cameras and Wade’s team of six — and a larger production staff — clears out.
Wade picks the projects himself. Homeowners apply to the show through his website, and he vets through hundreds a week.
From design to family time, the process takes between two and three weeks. He’ll work on as many as six at a time.
His method is founded on innovation and originality, and he is always looking for new materials and to “look at problems.” Everything should serve a purpose.
“I like doing indoor-outdoor spaces, creating connectivity between them, opening spaces up. Creating furnishings that can be used in both settings. It reflects the lifestyle that families live,” Wade said.
His on-screen work attests to that thought. One custom element that has multiple purposes rather than purchasing and installing multiple pieces.
It’s hard to do that really well, he said.
That’s where his engineering background comes in, to make sure “that they work and last.”
“All about the details”
His own home reflects a side he often does not translate into his network projects.
“I’m more classic in my personal style, but I like to design modern,” he said of his home that displays all stone, brick and cedar elements. “It’s a little more old-world. Simplicity but with quality materials.”
His home and work life blend together more through people. When Mac tests another family’s play space. Or when Wade’s dad often stops by the set to “throw ideas around.” How his wife is a licensed Realtor and CPA and runs their local real estate group.
“There’re elements of each project I’m drawn to. It’s all about the details for me,” Wade said. “The large-scale has to be right, but once it is, I pride myself in the work if the flow and feel and functionality of the space works.”
He said with customization naturally comes individualized opinions, and the design may speak to the homeowner in a different way than he imagined.
“My favorite projects are when I’m not only in love with them but the client really resonates with them,” he said. “Sometimes they’re the simplest ones.”