If you think all home improvement shows feature chunky guys in beards and belts, think again! As the host of Rehab Addict, Nicole Curtis is changing the face of renovation and restoration, for the better.

It’s been quite a journey for the down-to-earth Detroit beauty, a former “nerdy kid” who bounced around colleges in Georgia, Florida and Michigan before becoming a Minnesota real-estate agent and landing a one-hour DIY special thanks to some attractive studio shots on her website. “Even back then, I was so headstrong,” she reveals as we hang out in a Park Avenue hotel suite, her home base as she spreads the word about Bernzomatic’s Find Your Fire Community Grants. “I was like: ‘Listen, I’m doing it my way. I’m not wearing makeup. I’m going to work, and if people don’t like that then I don’t need to be on TV. I don’t need to be fake.’ ”

The combo of grit and glamor clicked, as Curtis parlayed that special into a popular HGTV series that begins its seventh season with a return to Detroit tomorrow night at 9/8c. So when we got over being totally smitten, we asked her about what makes old things great, how we can improve our home game and, well, blowtorches…

“Men, you have to have a hammer or a drill. A full-size hammer. Not a cute one. Not your chintzy one. A real hammer. Yes.”

First off, why are you so passionate about restoration?
I work in cities all across the country, and that’s where the best old houses are. That’s where the best old everything is. That’s really what got it started. I love modern design, but I just don’t feel it has a home in an old house. Leave the bones antique. You can put a modern sofa in an old parlor room and it looks wonderful. But when you take down the old plastering, you take the woodwork down and then you make it all modern… why are you even in an old house? I don’t understand that at all. No one’s ever going to see me put an open floor plan in a 1904 Victorian. It’s just not going to happen.

Is there anything new you actually like?
There’s always new materials coming out that make my life easier. So simple things like paint, electrical, plumbing—we’ve had so many different improvements. You know, more efficient ways to heat and cool our houses and anything like that I get excited about, because the smaller we make plumbing systems or this or that, the easier it is to update my old houses without going in and tearing everything up.

What’s your number-one tip for sprucing up a man’s domicile?
Oh, it’s got to smell good. A lot of times, men have a great eye for design. I’m a very collective person so I have a great set of friends that are just so unusual. A friend of mine’s house, you walk in and you pretty much know you’re in a man’s house because there’s a collection of seventies lunch boxes lined in this room and then there’s old movie posters and everything like that. You can take whatever you think is cool and make it all work, but your house has to be clean and smell good.

How do you suggest we make our homes smell better?
One, if you can’t clean, hire a house cleaner. I was a house cleaner for 10 years. Scented candles—there’s so many great manly scents out now. I prefer a clean fresh scent. I’m not a girly girl. I don’t like all the florals. Nothing beats cedar hanger clips too. They still make them with these big chunks of cedar you can put around your house.

nicole curtis portrait 2

So tell us about Bernzomatic’s new grant program…
It’s seriously the coolest thing I’ve been involved with because anyone who’s done any kind of attempt to get free money knows that it’s a really archaic system. It takes forever. And Bernzomatic is giving away ten-thousand-dollar grants and you can enter right from your phone. You can upload a photo and a thousand-word description, done. And then you beg, borrow, steal your friends, family, neighbors, everyone you don’t know to vote. I’m loving watching the projects come in because even if people don’t win, it’s still getting the wheels turning…

What’s one tool every man should own, besides a Bernzomatic blowtorch, of course?
I really think a blowtorch is a manly tool to have. And I say this too, women who torch, if you want to not have a date for the rest of your life, tell a man you know how to use a blowtorch. That intimidates them. But men, you have to have a hammer or a drill. A full-size hammer. Not a cute one. Not your chintzy one. A real hammer. Yes.

You obviously value older things. What’s an old-school thing any man can do to impress a woman like you?
You know what, as tough as people think I am, I still want the door opened for me and I still want the chair pulled out for me. That takes a sweet skill though because I’m always in such a hurry that I’m probably going to end up on my butt on the floor because I don’t know what’s happening. But anything like that means the world to me. I’m a woman and I still want to be cared and nurtured for.

I got ripped the other day on Instagram because I posted I had a flat tire and I called my friend and he came and changed it for me. People are like, ‘You can’t change your own tire?’ Why would I? My friends are offering to help me. It’s a huge-ass truck. No, that’s a job for a man right there. I guess I didn’t prove my womanhood that day to change my own tire. Well, thank you so much.