The HGTV.ca editorial team sat down with the dynamic design duo, Justin Ryan and Colin McAllistar, on their whirlwind Toronto press tour to talk about pressing design matters like manicures, knotty pine and why you should always keep a close eye on the family dog.
HGTV: You two have now been together for over 20 years. How long have you actually been working together?
Justin: About 10 years now, actually. We kind of fell into it gradually together. I was working for the local government and we were decorating our own flats and to make them sell we made them look pretty and to make them look pretty we didn’t spend a lot of cash. We turned trash to treasure and junk to funk and we trolled the sidewalks for stuff to renovate. And eventually we were asked to write features for magazines and newspapers and it just sort of ballooned from there over a few years.
Colin: We started working together like any other couple starts working together. We started working on our home. We were just lucky that we were able to turn that into an employment.
HGTV: Were you both interested in working in design before you met one another, or is that something that grew out of the relationship?
Justin: Colin was only 17 when we met and we were still in college, and neither of us actually studied design, we really just fell into it. I was studying psychology and he was studying business.
HGTV: That leads well into my next question then. Do you think style is a product of nature or nurture? Are you born with it?
Colin: I think it’s a bit of both. I think it’s like a language. You know, maybe we both speak English at the moment but you can go out and you can learn how to speak French. I think you can teach someone how to be stylish, it’s about increasing your knowledge, increasing your vocabulary. And it’s about getting comfortable using your new language. You know practice makes perfect. I think it’s great for people to try different things and learn to find their own style.
HGTV: And I guess that’s what you guys are doing. You’re trying to teach people to be more stylish?
Justin: Exactly. It’s our mantra that we keep repeating over and over again. We are on a mission of decorative beautification. It started off in Scotland and then it kind of flowed into England and Europe. We’ve got our sights on Canada now. And once we get our claws into Canada we are going to push in screaming and shouting and kicking our way to the top. And when we’re through with Canada we’ll turn our attentions to other parts of the world, but for the next few years the focus is in Canada.
HGTV: Look out Canada! Here they come…
HGTV: We’ve noticed from watching your shows that you guys like to pamper yourselves. Pedicures and manicures often come up… do you have any other fabulous pastimes that you can tell us about?
Colin: We’ve got far too many to mention, actually! We always say that a day without champagne is like a day without sunshine. But also, if you watch our programs you know that we know our limitations, we know our strengths and weaknesses. For instance, I know how to pick a fabulous bathroom suite but I wouldn’t want to put it in myself. And so I think if there’s an excuse for us to go off and pamper ourselves we will, just to re-centre ourselves so we’re always thinking creatively. Because we’re not into D.I.Y, we’re not into do it yourself. We’re into D.F.Y., done for you.
HGTV: I don’t know if you’ve noticed this yet, but stereotypically, Canadians are reserved and conservative. We decorate using a lot of beige. I think one of the reasons that your shows are so successful here is that we are starved for the drama—both in your designs and in your personalities. Can you give us three ways that Canadians can add more drama to their homes right away?
Justin: The days of painting things beige and plain have really kind of passed by. We use a lot of colour and the best way to start off is by adding an accent wall. If you’re confident enough to paint your room a really, really vibrant colour, then start of with a rich blood red or a really opulent blue and use those on one wall. Then pick up the accent colour using upholstery, rugs and other accents.
Colin: Also, buy art! If you’re scared to colour, buy art. Take down your old boring pictures with scenes of horses or bloody sailing ships. The thing is, pictures of Her Madge is fine, but at least get a kind of Sex Pistols pop-art print or something. I mean, I think art is great way to get people to add colour and also a great way to get people to buy things that they care about. I like things that are about meaning. I want to walk into a room and go, yeah, that hits the spot.
Justin: And wallpaper as well. It’s just such an easy way to connect things. We always recommend you buy flat wallpaper so that if you do decide you can’t look at it anymore you can paint over it.
HGTV: So it’s okay to paint over wallpaper?
Justin: If you’ve got flat wallpaper. On our programs we generally do not do it, we always take it off, but we’re not working with $500, we’ve got budgets upwards of $10,000 minimum. Our best advice is if you are decorating try to get rid of as much as possible and start from scratch. But if you have one accent wall with flat wallpaper, you can paint over it.
HGTV: Can you give us three design must-haves or basic design rules?
Colin: Storage. Storage is the secret to great homes. Two types of storage: display and discreet. Display for things that we want to look at, pieces of art, photographs, plants. Discreet—everything we don’t want to see. Books, we don’t want to see DVDs, we don’t want to see home paperwork. If you want to sit down and cleanse your mind, you don’t want to be surrounded by all that clutter. Get rid of it.
Justin: Lighting. Task, mood, and pool lighting. Lighting is a really good way to change the feel of your home. Task lighting is under-cabinet lighting in the kitchen, angle lighting in your study, anything does a job for you. Mood lighting is the atmosphere lighting that can come from different switches or light dimmers. Pool lighting is something like table-top lighting, which creates a pool of visual illumination at certain focal points in your home. So get your lighting down.
Colin: Thirdly, if you don’t have any cash, tidy up. A clean house is a happy house. Just try and keep on top of things. File your bills. Your home is going to be so much more efficient and you are going to be happier.
HGTV: Can a home be too clean and tidy?
Justin: Yeah, it can. If you sanitize your home to the point that there is nothing left of you in there, then you’ve missed the point. You need to find your own happy balance.
HGTV: This is your first time in Canada. Are you enjoying Toronto so far?
Colin: Toronto is really chic! There are loads of great stores, which are excellent sources of inspiration. There is really no excuse for bad design in Toronto.
HGTV: Have you noticed any disturbing Canadian design trends?
Colin: We’ve been hearing that people like to decorate using a lot of timber and they don’t want to paint over it. But we’re going to paint over it. We’re going to get one of those big trucks that you have here and just fill it with paint.
Justin: Knotty pine is the cheapest timber you can get. It’s knotty by texture and naughty by name.
HGTV: On How Not to Decorate we’ve noticed that you guys can sometimes be a little hard on Andy and the crew…
Justin: But do you know why that is… imagine we’ve come to your house and we’ve promised you the most beautiful hand-blocked wallpaper and the most beautiful hand-loomed carpet. We then give our design to Katie or to Andy and disappear off to do the next house. Then we come back and Katie says, “I’ve had a few problems! Do you remember that lovely hand-blocked wallpaper you wanted? I couldn’t get that but I’ve got you this paper at 99 cents a roll instead.” It might still be wallpaper, but it’s not the right one and it’s not what we wanted! If we say okay and let it through then we are not servicing our promise to our clients.
Colin: We are actually the nicest people on the planet to work with. If you give us what we want!
HGTV: Despite conflicts with others on the show, you guys always seem to get along with one another. Your chemistry is obvious and lovely to watch. But there must be something that you fight about?
Justin: On the whole, most of our fights are because I’m the better designer.
Colin: And, when he said better, he actually meant older.
Justin: Seriously, we share everything.
Colin: We never bully each other and we discuss everything.
HGTV: Have you ever really made a home-owner angry? Tears? Tantrums?
Justin: Oh yes. The Hamilton’s! Series three—Christine and Neil Hamilton. He was a Tory MP and his wife was his secretary. They’ve become somewhat of a celebrity couple in England, doing reality shows and the like. You either love them or hate them. We didn’t want to alienate half of Britain, so we gave them a gorgeous bathroom and a gorgeous kitchen. But we also asked Christine what she didn’t like. She said, “Oh I hate pink Darling. And I hate black!” So we gave them a pink and black living room. It was just gorgeous. It was very high impact. And she went completely mental. It’s a great episode! Not to be missed!
HGTV: What’s the worst thing you have ever encountered in a home you went to fix up?
Colin: Oh, we’ve seen it all. On an episode of Trading Up there was something that the BBC wouldn’t even show. We were in a house where there was mess and garbage and stuff everywhere. Stacks of stuff absolutely everywhere. And the smell would almost knock you down! We went into the front bedroom and the smell actually started to make us feel really, really sick. We had been talking to the family earlier on and learned that they had recently lost the family dog. They had posters up and down the street looking for it. In fact, the old dog had actually crawled under the guest-room bed and died. The house was so messy that they didn’t even find it. It had actually just died of old age, but they didn’t even know it was there.
HGTV: Let’s end on a slightly more light-hearted note, shall we? I’m going to toss out some words, and you just shout out the first thing that comes to mind.
Colin: It’s the colour of Satan!
HGTV: Theme rooms.
Justin: Theme-ing is screaming. If you try to theme, it ain’t never going to be a dream.
HGTV: Faux finishes.
Colin: [Look of utter horror]. No thanks. If you want the look of timber, use proper timber.
Justin: Love her, absolutely love her.
HGTV: Hotel chic.
Colin: Holidays should be better than your home. Hotel chic is great because you’re taking inspiration from something better than your own home.
HGTV: Fancy wallpaper borders.
Justin: Don’t do it! It’s always bad and inexcusable in any world.
Colin: And why do people always hang on to the extras? They turn into border hoarders!
HGTV: Carpeting in the bathroom.
Justin: There’s only one thing worse than bathroom carpet—somebody else’s bathroom carpet. You don’t want to know what’s living in there. You really don’t.
Justin: If the Mounties always get there man, Colin and Justin always get good taste.
Colin: That’s right. And we’re coming after you next…