It’s not far from Baltimore to Silver Spring, Maryland, home of Discovery Communications. For Towson native Evan Farmer, however, it was a rather more complicated route to hosting TLC’s “While You Were Out.” After nearly two years on the show, this young builder, musician and entertainer has found himself at home—even if he doesn’t seem to stay put for long.
As affable and open as he seems on television, Farmer lounges in the living room of his childhood home in work boots and blue jeans. It is an intense passion for creativity and love for his work that drives the conversation, as he talks about the path that lead him to his current role in the home improvement industry.
Growing up just north of Baltimore, Farmer was an outdoors person who wasn’t particularly interested in school, which to him meant sitting through lectures and learning by rote. At Towson High School, an architecture and engineering instructor changed that, and Farmer “fell in love with architecture, with creating stuff with my hands. For that to be considered an academic pursuit was something I could relate to.” Further inspired by a summer course offered by the University of Maryland, he went on to Tulane University in New Orleans, where he studied architecture.
In addition to architecture, Farmer pursued other creative outlets at Tulane. He had played the guitar and written songs since childhood; in college he began playing with a band. He also began doing commercials to make money, and experimented a bit with theatre. During an internship at a Baltimore architecture firm, he was turned off by what he perceived as business limitations to creativity in the profession, and began to gravitate toward work in television and film.
“If I knew at the time that 10 years later there would be this huge home improvement boom where you could be creative as an entertainer and be true to yourself as a designer or hands-on person, I would have gone straight in that direction, but it wasn’t in existence back then. So I made the choice and went the entertainment route,” he says.
He discovered, however, that Hollywood didn’t hold enough meaning for him. After several experiences in film and television, he was still looking for a place where he could work with people “who shared the same common passions and goals that I did.” And for Farmer, these were tradespeople. Dropping out of the entertainment scene, he and architect Tom Granthem began work in New Orleans, buying homes in disrepair and renovating them to rent out and eventually sell.
Targeting low-income areas, their goal is to spark urban renewal and create quality, affordable housing in un-subsidized areas. Eventually they plan to expand into other communities outside of New Orleans. Started as a hobby, the company was officially incorporated as Renovolution last year, and so far has a portfolio of eight single-family homes.
In 2003, Farmer was focusing on Renovolution and about to start touring with his band when “While You Were Out” came along. With his other obligations, Farmer was hesitant to audition, but once he met the cast and producers, “I didn’t blink before saying yes.”
On the show he has found the passionate, creative people for which he had been searching. “I get inspired by them,” says Farmer, who also loves the opportunity to be hands-on. With his background in both architecture and entertainment, he was a perfect choice for the show, and for him, it is “probably the best match that I’ve found so far.”
It’s been rewarding to Farmer to put his entertainment—and more recently, design—skills to use. On a recent episode of the show, he switched roles with one of the designers and tackled a room for a father of two young sons. Calling on the boys’ love of cars and memories of time spent working in the basement with his own dad, the finished “Pit Stop” design includes a pitching pit, a Velcro dartboard and a functional go-cart, designed by Farmer and carpenter Jason Cameron.
Despite the busy schedule of the show, this entertainer isn’t sitting still between takes. Renovolution is going strong, and Farmer also keeps his musical career active. Between filming episodes for the third season, he’s been in the studio finishing an album, and is looking into getting a tour bus for his band. “I get to do it all at the same time, and I’m having a ball,” he says. “I have everything right now at my fingertips that I’ve worked a long time sowing the seeds for. Even though I had no idea that something like ‘While You Were Out’ would come along, my life was sort of leading up to that anyway.”
One of the other irons in the fire is the renovation of his New York apartment. Given the size of the space—a mere 286 square feet—every inch is at a premium. Farmer’s goal is to not only make it look and feel bigger, but to make it more utilitarian. Stairs that lead up to a loft are open on the side for drawers, storage shelves and a nook for shoes. “I actually had to stop and think, ‘How do I function every day?’ I designed around those little habits that you become accustomed to, that are very natural,” he says.
While function comes first, creativity is still very much in residence. Farmer hopes to create the feeling of being on vacation in his apartment in the middle of the city. He has included details such as tongue-and-groove joinery and five-foot wainscoting often found in seaside homes. Atop