If you thought every concept possible for a home-reno reality show has been exhausted, guess again.
This October, Justin Ryan and his partner, Colin McAllister, bring their eye for design and their bitchy wit to Canada in Home Heist on HGTV. On the phone from Toronto, I ask design’s answer to The Pet Shop Boys if this new show is a Canadian update of How Not to Decorate or something brand new.
“Totally different,” says Colin in his thick Scottish brogue. “This show really is centred on the home owner because obviously the person who lives there is responsible for their bad taste and for the way that they’ve kept it together.
“There’s someone at the centre of the story of that house and I think that more often than not, programs tend to gloss over the people,” he continues.
Colin and Justin have had made a decent living off of people’s poor taste. In How Not to Decorate the pair go from one design-challenged household to another and help the occupants see the errors of their ways with love-it or hate-it results.
What separates theirs from other “Concept, Brink of Disaster, and Reveal” shows is the couple’s blatantly gay sensibility, their obvious affection for each other, and their all too brutal honesty.
When asked if their comments sometimes go too far, Colin responds: “We’re like your best friends; we’re the kind of pals that tell you you’ve got BO, you’ve got dandruff, you’ve got sweaty armpits. While everyone else is talking about you, we’ll talk to you and I think that’s the difference.”
Adds Justin, “At the end of the day if we don’t tell it like it is, then our viewers won’t believe us because they’ll see the stuff we’re commenting on and if we’re unfairly lovely about it then they’ll think we’re being unfairly kind.”
The pair has been together for 20 years. They met at a bar while at the University of Glasgow, where Colin got his degree in Business and Market Analysis and Justin in Psychology. They had just got to talking when, as Justin describes it, ” A bullet-proof dyke pulled her bra off and these pendulous bosoms fell to the ground —at which point she tucked them into her boots.”
Instead of hopping right into the sack, the couple went the unconventional route and courted each other for several months. I ask if they still get sentimental and mushy or if their relationship is all work all the time.
“Of course we do!” Justin says. “Absolutely! It’s not just a business venture, it’s Colin and Justin the emotional pairing.”
“And I regret every minute of it,” says Colin.
“Of course, like any other couple that has been together for a long time you go through different stages of a relationship, but we have a really good relationship.”
“We’re still active like stags,” Colin is quick to point out. “Like bunnies!”
The couple has their sights set on adopting a child. Justin reads me a text message from a friend who has had a vivid dream of each them pushing twin prams.
“We’d be good parents,” he tells me. “We’re kind, we’re loyal, we’re devoted, we’re trustworthy, we’re courageous, we’re adventurous, we’re artistic and we’ve got a little bit of spare income to make sure the child is still safe.”
“And if we had a baby naturally we’d look gorgeous,” says Colin.
“I’ve had a hysterectomy, though,” Justin says, closing the door on that option.
Next to the longevity of their relationship what’s impressive about Colin and Justin is how gay they are on screen without trying to cover it up with double-entendres. The pair blow off any allusions to activism on their part.
“We’re not political at all,” Colin says. “We’re not gay, we’re Colin and Justin! We’re not going to disguise one part of our personality; like we’re not going to say we’re not Scottish, we’re not going to say we’re not male, because we’re all of those things and they’re all as important.
“We don’t banner wave, but we don’t make any excuses for who we are and I think that’s a very important lesson. I think for gay people it’s great to belong but don’t ghettoize yourself.”
“The best way to be integrated is not to be segregated,” Justin contributes. “The only way to be accepted for having the same value of any other good person is to be yourself.”
He pauses. “However, people normally can tell by the colour of my shirt,” he adds. Not to mention those larger-than-life corsages.
I ask them what is the one sure sign to “get out now” when you see a potential partner’s home for the first time.
“Crab ointment,” Colin responds.
“Carpet in the bathroom,” says Justin. “It’s the harbinger of bodily drizzle and urological issue and none of those things are particularly good in a home environment.”
And then there’s that all-important question: “Where is the fine line between kitsch and gauche?”
“Middle class,” answers Colin without hesitation.
As candid as they are about people’s bad taste, if you want a true sense of the couple’s depravity, ask them about their reality show The Farm and the episode where an actress masturbated a pig.
“It wasn’t just an actress, it was Rebecca Loos,” Colin says elongating her last name for effect. “She was the Beckhams’ nanny who allegedly had an affair with David Beckham. She porked off a pig.”
“You can imagine the headlines,” says Justin. “I refused point blank to put my hand anywhere near that willy of the pig. The most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen —a foot and half long —angry purple! Just no! But Rebecca Loos, desperate to elevate her career, was more than happy to pleasure the pig.”
Adds Colin, “And there’s a picture of the pig afterwards having a cigarette.”