Building women

Sunday, August 15, 2004

NEW YORK -- Norma Vally's got the power, and she's trying to share it with other women.

The Discovery Home Channel's "Toolbelt Diva," which airs Fridays at 8 p.m. with replays throughout the week, is taking power tools, putting them in women's hands, and showing her audience what they might do manageably in a two-day, weekend project.

"Say goodbye to 'honey-do lists,"' Vally screams in the "Diva" promo, "because on my show, honey, you do it yourself."

Vally became familiar with unwieldy weapons of mass construction while renovating 100-year-old homes for her cousin's contracting business.

On her show, Vally guides a female homeowner -- sometimes knowledgeable, usually not -- in painting, sawing, nailing and demolishing in the name of home improvement.

Typically, the first pull of the nail gun's trigger incites a cathartic squeal in the homeowner.

Unlike the "Trading Spaces" troop of revolving designers and carpenters, Vally is the sole on-camera craftswoman, although she does have off-camera help.

"Toolbelt Diva," whose 12-week run began last week, is more do-it-yourself than surprised-by-strangers. And that's the way Vally likes it.

"It's not a design show," the 39-year-old Brooklyn native declares in her chunky New York accent. "This is real stuff. There is a design element to it, but it's more practical."

The show's projects are small and manageable. Each is doable with a free weekend and a trip to the local home improvement warehouse. In one episode, Vally helps a soldier's wife transform a backyard ditch into a peaceful pond. In other outings, she constructs a fence and builds a desk.

"We really get the job done in two days and take it from start to finish," says Vally, who peps up the otherwise dull projects with her zesty personality.

She's not afraid to goof off, either. In one show, Vally slides into a white sequin gown found in a closet she's remodeling. Such foolery seems natural, not forced.

"I'm a New Yorker," Vally says. "There's no hiding that. People tell me they love my straightforward approach."

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