Ellen DeGeneres’s Favorite Contractors on How to Get the Most out of Your Renovation
John Colaneri and Anthony Carrino know renovations. The New Jersey–based cousins, known for their work on HGTV’s Cousins Undercover and Kitchen Cousins, have beentearing apart and reimagining homes for years. “We’ve always been close,” says Carrino of their relationship. “One time we were chatting over some beers, and we had always wanted to work together, so we decided to go for it.” Now, several imaginative HGTV renovations and their fun, can-do dynamic have earned the duo a devoted following. This September, Colaneri and Carrino debuted a new series, Grand Design, on Ellen DeGeneres’s Ellen Digital Network. In each episode, the cousins transform a room for a nominated family or individual in just one day. The biggest catch? Their budget can’t exceed $1,000. Inspired by the pair’s creative thriftiness and fearless attitude toward renovating, AD caught up with Colaneri and Carrino to get some advice.
Architectural Digest: What is the first thing you notice when looking at a kitchen you’re going to renovate?
John Colaneri: One of the biggest things is the function of the kitchen, because it’s such a multiuse room. The kitchen has become an office, a place you cook, entertain, hang out. It’s where all daily work begins, whether it’s your kid doing homework or you going over bills. Whatever it is you’re using the kitchen for, we always say, “Well, we want it to look beautiful, but does it work?” Are you a big cook, do you entertain? That’s the number one thing we look at, is what needs to go inside it to make it work for you.
AD: What’s something that people are afraid of during renovations that they shouldn’t be?
JC: People are scared of big changes. A lot of times people get scared of losing a window or changing a wall, for example. One couple on America’s Most Desperate Kitchens had this space where the kitchen was separated by a wall, and we closed up one kitchen window and gave them a lot more space for cabinetry. They were so scared of losing light, but it was worth it. People take design too literally sometimes, and they think they have to follow certain rules, which isn’t always the case. You have to work with what’s best for you and your family.
Anthony Carrino: The kitchen in general scares people because it’s so complex. There are wires, there’s plumbing, there are surfaces. We find that the reason our kitchen show is so successful is because people are scared. Some homeowners will have beautiful, redesigned homes and they just leave their kitchen alone because they’re afraid to dive in.
JC: Overall, one of the biggest things that gets people nervous is that they want to stay inside the box. We have grand ideas to mix and match, do new things, and people shy away from that. But really, that’s how you make a space unique. We’ve done plenty ofwhite kitchens, and they’re very pretty, but we always say, “Why not try something different to make the project unique to your family?”
AC: Part of the reason this is daunting is that kitchens are expensive. If you’re watching a cooking show, you think, “Why not try that?” Worst case, it’s bad and you throw it out, but it cost you $15. If you buy the wrong countertop, that’s a different story. That’s a couple thousand dollars down the drain. That’s the idea behind Grand Design; $1,000 is relatively small, but the transitions we make are substantial. We want to show that design can be attainable, and that you can try things without being afraid to break the bank.
AD: What’s the kitchen change that gives the most bang for your buck?
AC: Paint is the biggest bang for your buck. It’s absolutely and completely transformative, and if you combine a can of paint with a roll of tape and a bit of creativity, you can make some incredible spaces. To create a mural or an interesting geometric pattern on a feature wall can be done with paint, a brush, and tape, all for $100.
AD: What’s the one part of a kitchen renovation that’s always harder than people think it will be?
JC: The one thing we always tell people is that you can play around and DIY carpentry, and maybe it takes you a couple tries, but once you start getting into electrical and plumbing, you want to hire a professional. We’ve seen some scary situations. We had one guy who tried to unclog his bathroom drain with a hanger and we—
AC: Oh God, that guy . . .
JC: Well basically, he punctured his drain. But he didn’t realize it at first. He took a shower, and 20 minutes later, his dog came upstairs soaking wet and his entire kitchen was flooded. So, we tell people, just in case, you’ll save time and money in the long run if you call a plumber.
AD: What’s a kitchen trend you love right now?
JC: I’m a really big fan of mixed metals: copper, brass, nickel all playing in the same space. You combine those mixed metals with geometric patterns and I’m really loving that whole feel.
AC: You always hear the buzzwords “rustic,” “reclaimed, “reused.” I wouldn’t even call it a trend anymore, but we do like using raw materials in their natural state. For example, we did a really cool headboard for someone by putting a couple of 1×1 slats vertically on the wall and then stacking horizontally halfway up past the window, which created shadows with the light coming through. Then we added some greenery, and the effect was really beautiful. And it only cost about $50 in wood.
AD: How do you balance a “rustic” look to not make it look too unpolished?
AC: Well, for that particular case, we wanted to make sure the raw wood wasn’t too heavy. A 2×4 would look too beefy, like it was an unfinished construction project, but the 1x1s are light in weight, and combined with the light color of pine, that solves the problem. You have to think about scale and material like that.
AD: Have you had any big mistakes in your career that have really been learning experiences?
AC: I think what we’ve learned over time is the value of planning and budgeting. It wasn’t ever something we didn’t do, but it’s something we do to the nth degree now, because you go from a regular construction project that will take 18 months to redoing a kitchen in four days; Grand Design is just 24 hours! That doesn’t happen without planning, both from a budgeting standpoint and design.
JC: Yeah, that’s the number one rule we tell everyone we speak to. The planning process is so important. The old saying “Measure twice, cut once” is always true. Not even just for a DIY project: Even if you’re just putting up pictures, always measure twice, always double-check. We’ve seen people so many times mess something up and say, “But wait, I measured that!” It’s one of the age-old rules that will always be true.