Ask the expert: Matt Creelman, Canada’s Ty Pennington, talks home improvement

Ask the expert: Matt Creelman, Canada’s Ty Pennington, talks home improvement

If anyone is destined to become Canada’s Ty Pennington, it’s Matt Creelman, head of Mattu Building Specialists. His client base of stylish, young downtown homebuyers swears he’s one of the last honest contractors in the city.

(Image: Vanessa Heins) 

How did you become a contractor?
I grew up in a building family; my dad and my brother were engineers. Our motto was “Don’t buy it; we can build it.”

Is there one consistent challenge to renovating in this city?
Fixing other people’s work. I live in an old Victorian in Beaconsfield Village, and when I bought it, only the bathroom had been renovated. So one day my girlfriend calls me, saying, “There’s a big water blister hanging from the ceiling, and it’s dripping.” It was two feet wide and six inches deep. When I took the ceiling apart, I found a bucket sitting on the floor joists. They knew the pipes were leaking and just drywalled a bucket in there instead of fixing the plumbing.

How should clients prepare for a reno?
Get a designer. If nothing else, it helps you organize your thoughts. And make sure you get building permits. I don’t work without permits, and nobody should.

Why are there often such big discrepancies between contractors’ quotes?
You can always find someone who’ll promise to do it cheaper, but there’s a reason it’s cheaper. You have to ask if the workers are being paid fair market value, are they getting WSIB, insurance, liability? Some people purposely bid low and sneak in extras later. It’s a dirty trick.

Will the open-concept reno ever go out of fashion?
I think it will. Nobody wants to be in the same room as the rest of the family all of the time. I’m working with some clients now, and we’re talking about redividing the main floor. We’re bringing sliding pocket doors back to the old Victorian.

What makes a good client?
A good client is someone who’s willing to educate herself and take some time to look into things on her own, as well as with you. Somebody who wants to be involved in the process, but not overly involved.

Should the client offer coffee to the crew every day?
Some people do, and some people don’t. None of my guys expect it. You know what we do hope for? Water in the summer­time. When people say, “Help yourself to water,” and it’s 30 degrees, that’s fantastic.

A Toronto design blogger praised your renovation skills and professed her undying devotion to you. Do all your clients swoon for you?
I, uh, I don’t—oh my. It’s probably that I’m not what people think of when they picture a contractor. They’re expecting a guy with big, leathery hands, chain-smoking. But then they meet me, and I’m part black, part Vietnamese, so maybe I have a different look. And I’m pretty laid-back. People like that.