The Eleven Percent: Meet Jenny McCarthy, Painter and Stud Hugger Inventor
Painter and inventor Jenny McCarthy talks about community, Stud Huggers and what's in her tool bag.
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This FHM series introduces readers to some of the women who make up 11 percent of the construction workforce in the U.S., spotlighting stories of their careers in the field. Know someone we should feature? Email us here.
Jenny McCarthy was in her early 20s, helping her father paint a house, when she overheard a conversation that changed her life. Her father was telling a friend about wallpaper school and recommended it to the friend’s son. McCarthy asked her dad if she could go, too. He not only encouraged her, he helped secure her student loans.
McCarthy quit her job as a secretary and left home for the first time to complete the ten-week course. After graduation, she often wallpapered alongside her dad when he painted houses, a side gig to his job as a history teacher. For a decade, business boomed.
“Thirty-plus years ago, wallpaper was the thing,” she says. “Then, in the blink of an eye, everybody was like, ‘No, I don’t want wallpaper anymore, let’s strip it all off.’ ”
McCarthy rolled with the times and worked double-duty to learn painting skills from her dad. Before long, she turned that knowledge into a full-fledged arm of her business. More recently she branched out again, launching her invention, the Stud Hugger for hanging drywall.
We caught up with McCarthy for her thoughts on the state of the painting, wallpapering and inventing industries.
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Q: How has COVID affected your business?
A: Before vaccines came out, business was really slow. It was some of my doing because of the unknown safety risks. During the downtime, I worked on Stud Hugger, tweaking the packaging, finessing supply chain issues and working on brand recognition. The painting business started building back up last fall, and I’ve been nurturing it ever since.
Q: Which painting projects stand out to you?
A: Of course all of my long-term customers stand out. They pretty much consider us family. Half of the time when we arrive on their doorstep, they have coffee on, and some of them even make breakfast or lunch for us. Those customers you hang onto for dear life.
Beyond that, there was a project way back when with my brother, Garrett, who is a muralist. It was a multimillion dollar home down at Cape Cod. We had to install two 25-ft. by 56-in. panels of Garrett’s mural on an arched ceiling in this humongous foyer about 20 feet up. It seemed like 50 at the time. Did we totally know what we were doing? Hell, no. But sometimes you just have to wing it.
We rolled heavy-duty, non-diluted clay-based paste on the whole ceiling surface, let it tack up, and then we just started to do it. It ended up that it couldn’t have been an easier project. It was seamless. The owner loved all of the clouds and cherubs up there. We practically skipped away, it went so well.
Q. What changes have you seen over the past 10 years?
A. With HGTV and all that, wallpaper seems to be making a comeback, with a heavy emphasis on focal walls. The paints are ever-evolving, and you have to keep up with that or go to your local mom-and-pop paint store for sound advice on different scenarios. The moral of that story is, if you do not know what is the best product and the steps to apply it, ask, ask, ask!
Q. Any pros or cons to being a woman in the painting trade?
A. I haven’t seen many negatives, especially being my own boss. I started out helping my dad in my teens. He would put my hair up in a hat, and I was shutter girl out in the driveway. His theory was that customers didn’t really want to see a girl on the job.
After I graduated, he saw how customers, especially women, were really happy to have a woman on the job. There’s a comfort level there. It really changed his tune.
Usually the guys are terrific on jobsites, but on occasion I’ll run into someone whose jaw drops when he finds out I am the project manager or owner.
Years ago there was this older gentleman, the father of my customer. He said, “You know, you’re taking the jobs away from the men, don’t you?” I laughed and said, “Yes I do!” He didn’t know what to do with that, so he just left the room. I thought, it’s okay, the times they are a-changing, you know? It’s so much different now.
Courtesy Jenny McCarthy
Q. Any advice for young women looking to get into painting?
A. Sometimes you have some scootches on the job who will make your life miserable. They make smartass comments and let you know they’re not happy you’re in the workplace. Let them know you’re there to do your job.
If you do your best, you’ll outshine the son of a gun who is a little bit insecure and doesn’t want you there. Blow past them with your work ethic, quality and tenacity to succeed. But always keep in the back of your mind, you have nothing to prove except to your customers, who will never stray if they feel you are taking care of them.
Q. Can you tell us more about your invention, Stud Hugger?
A. I fell in love with all things carpentry after taking a home building course 12 years ago. I always tell people I think I was a beaver in my previous lifetime.
When I finished the course, my mom told me my dad’s pension was running out — he had passed away 10 years prior — and her roughly $3,000 a month was going to drop to $700. The only solution I could think of to save the family home was to knock down the dilapidated garage and make a small apartment in that space so we could rent out the house.
I wound up working on various aspects of it by myself, including [drywalling] and exterior plywood. That was a bear, and one morning I woke up with an idea to make it a lot easier.
Stud Hugger is basically a shelf to help hold up sheets while you’re installing them, like having a third arm. You don’t need screws or nails to attach them. You hammer them on and then just tap them off and reuse them. Also, if you put them end-to-end facing each other, it forms a channel to help with electrical or plumbing rough-ins and installing strapping for trusses in some instances.
Although these really help the DIYers, smaller general contractors benefit from them, too. As we go through our careers in our different trades, we all need to be thinking about longevity and our spines, shoulders and backs. These may help take the edge off that in the long run.
Q: What are your go-to pro-specific tools?
A: I am a Benjamin Moore paint fan, especially the Regal Select. It makes you look like a rock star. I also like their thin-handled, 2-1/2-in. sash brushes. They don’t tire my hands as quick, and boy, you can cut in some serious lines with them.
Their 3/8-in. nap roller covers are the bomb. They don’t shed, and they are my go-to for most wall surfaces. There’s also an angled brush extender by Shur-Line that attaches to an extension pole. I use it mostly to cut in stairwells, so I don’t need to put up scaffolding. I can cut in the line really well, if I don’t have too much coffee in the morning.
Painter and Inventor Jenny McCarthy Bio
Jenny McCarthy has been a painter and wallpaper hanger for 34 years. She owns and operates McCarthy Painting in South Hadley, Mass, and invented the Stud Hugger tool. During her professional career as a painter, McCarthy also owned a nightclub and a small moving company. She’s a member of the LGBT community and always striving to be a mom her dogs can brag about.
Writer Karuna Eberl Bio
Karuna Eberl is a regular contributor to FamilyHandyman.com. She spent the last 25 years as a freelance journalist and filmmaker, telling stories of people, nature, travel, science and history. She has won numerous awards for her writing, her Florida Keys Travel Guide and her documentary, The Guerrero Project.