What’s it like to renovate homes on reality TV? Anthony Carrino, who’s remodeled houses on HGTV’s “Kitchen Cousins,” Ellen DeGeneres‘ “The Build Up,” and other shows, compares it to being “indoctrinated by fire.”
“There is nothing you can do to prepare for television other than to jump in,” says Carrino, who was working with his cousin John Colaneri at their family’s New Jersey construction company before debuting on “Kitchen Cousins” in 2011.
Now, six shows and nine seasons later, Carrino has stepped back from the spotlight to tackle a new cause: building homes that are cheaper than buying a house that already exists.
Typically, the cost to build a house is much higher than purchasing a preexisting home of the same size and location. It also takes many months of construction before buyers can move in. But Colaneri’s latest New York–based venture, Welcome Homes, is working to change that, bringing custom-built homes to the masses. He even argues that new construction is less expensive (and definitely less headache-inducing) than renovating a fixer-upper. (Hear that, Chip and Joanna Gaines?)
In this exclusive interview, Carrino opens up about his roughest moments behind the scenes of reality TV, and shares his hard-won wisdom on whether you should build or renovate your way to the house of your dreams.
What was it like renovating homes on reality TV?
You have no idea how insane the schedules are. We were literally doing houses, with inspections, in three days. So the level of organization, details, crossing t’s and dotting i’s that you need to have is crazy.
I was recently reminiscing with a friend of mine, a general contractor who worked with me on the “Cousins” shows, about the 12-degree build that we did in Maryland, where literally not a single scrap of wood wound up in the dumpster because we had a burn barrel to keep ourselves warm. It’s things like that that you wouldn’t otherwise experience, other than for the fact that those schedules were so insane.
What was your most challenging renovation project for TV?
I’ll never forget one where my cousin and I were in an apartment in New Jersey, we were doing the demolition part of the renovation, we had the whole thing planned and budgeted. Then I opened up the wall underneath the electrical panel, and there was a wire spliced into the main feed that comes into that house.
I cannot even remotely begin to explain how dangerous that was. We had to have the power for the entire complex shut down in order to disconnect the wire, because if you touch the wire coming into that house, you’re dead. How these people even managed to splice that wire in there, I have no idea.
But those are things that can come up that, as a home buyer, you’re not going to know. The home inspector can’t see through walls. So if you’re buying a home and doing a renovation, you’re not going to know exactly what you bought until you open those walls. And that could be an expensive surprise.
What inspired you to transition from TV to building homes?
The approach that Welcome Homes is taking is utilizing technology to facilitate our clients’ ability to personalize a home. Good design has got to be personal. So they’re able to personalize a home, yet not have to spend money on an architect, designer, on filing for building permits, and all of the anxiety-ridden minutiae that usually goes into building a home.
What can a buyer get from purchasing new construction versus a preexisting home?
I would argue, very hard, that the value in building a new home can be way more economical than trying to buy that 1982 fixer-upper and do that renovation on your own. There is so much you don’t know that you need to know in order to make a home renovation successful.
Do you have any tips for those who can’t build their house but still want that custom feel?
One of the biggest things that you can do in your home to give it a refresh is getting new light fixtures. Now, we’re not talking about recessed fixtures, but pendant lights over your island or peninsula, a chandelier in your entryway or the dining room. That can really update and transform the feel of the home and can be done relatively economically.
Something else that’s really great for just changing the feel inside the house is adding a feature wall to a living room, dining room, or bedroom. Pick one of the walls and wallpaper it, paint it a different color, add reclaimed wood. It really depends on your overall aesthetic, but it’s something that will give you big impact in the matter of an afternoon.
Do you have any tips for home buying during COVID-19?
You really need to have an understanding of what you want in your home. It’s a hectic time. You definitely need to be prepared. It’s not the days of old where you’re going out on a Saturday and hopping around to different houses and taking your time making decisions. If you’re a serious home buyer right now, you need to have your ducks in a row in order to get the home you want to get.
What are your COVID-19-friendly interior design tips?
If you’re in an apartment, you need some designated workspace. But if you leave that work setup there all the time, it becomes part of your everyday environment, and I think you’re not necessarily as productive.
So while it may take you an extra 15 minutes at the top and bottom of the day to set up a home office and break it down, I find it’s a good exercise to go through because it sets your mind for the task at hand. And then when work is over, it sets your mind back to relaxation.
Bu if you’re in the suburbs and have a room to dedicate to work, I highly recommend it. I think if you can separate your workspace from your live space, mental health–wise, I think you’re in a better spot.