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Turning Your Passion Into Something Special with Colin and Justin

Clothing, accessories and furniture supplied by Roots Canada. Photos taken at Roots Home store, Toronto and Scotland Yard Pub, Toronto.

It’s high noon at the Scotland Yard Pub in downtown Toronto, and the place is filling up with a mix of casually dressed regulars sipping imported beers, business types closing deals and out-of-towners scanning smartphones, planning their descent on the landmark attractions of Canada’s biggest city.

While the ‘Yard’ is alive with activity, the energy of the place goes up a few more notches when two more well-dressed men stride in, making their way to the main bar area. When design experts and TV personalities Colin and Justin enter a room, people notice.

“Let’s have a pint,” shouts Colin.

“OK, just one… if you say so,” responds Justin in a cheerful and animated voice.

Instant audience

The Scottish duo does a high-five, and right when their two pints are served up, they raise their glasses for a quick cheer. Their enthusiasm is utterly contagious and they quickly have an audience. Upon meeting me, they opt for a big hug instead of a typical handshake.

“A big hug for you, lad,” says Colin.

“Hugs are real, way better than handshakes… hugs are fun,” adds Justin. There’s no doubt about it, Colin (McAllister) and Justin (Ryan) are full of passion, which is clearly part of their tremendous success as designers and television hosts in Canada, the USA, the UK and Australia.

Making the world more beautiful

The designing duo is on a mission to make the world a more beautiful place, one fixer-upper at a time. And they have had nothing but fun along the way since getting into the TV and media business nearly 20 years ago.

The married couple began their career as designers and co-hosts on British television, and became widely known for their hit BBC series Trading Up. It launched in March 1999 and aired for seven straight seasons.

“The BBC was our start and everything from there just exploded,” recalls Colin.

Justin adds, “It was amazing how everything has fallen into place. We started off renovating and flipping homes on our own and the next thing you know, it we went big on TV.”

As Trading Up grew in popularity, the BBC tapped them to star in the Million Pound Property Experiment from 2003 to 2005.

Giving back

In this series Colin and Justin faced the challenge of renovating and re-selling properties for profit (the goal was to make a €1 million) while being saddled with a €100,000 loan from the BBC. After renovating and selling seven properties over two years, they finally sold a property for €1.25 million, which allowed them to pay off their BBC loan. They also made a profit of almost €300,000, which they donated to the BBC’s Children in Need Appeal.

From there the ‘Colin and Justin’ brand only got bigger in the UK and abroad as they began hosting and starring in a number of TV shows: Twenty Ways to Make Money on Your Property, Housecall, How Not to Decorate, Three Celebs and a Baby, The Farm, Wedding Belles, Hogmanay Stories, and Colin and Justin On The Estate.

Jetsetting lifestyle

Taking the advice of their agents and fans, Colin and Justin crossed the pond to North America. Today, the jetsettingcouple havehomes in Glasgow, London, Toronto and Haliburton—cottage country north of Toronto.

Canadians from coast-to-coast instantly fell in love with them when their series Colin & Justin’s Home Heist premiered on HGTV Canada in October 2009.

Fans couldn’t get enough of their honesty, design savvy and, of course, their signature sass and humour, as they helped hapless homeowners revamp their decor. The widely popular series has aired in over 35 countries, taking Colin and Justin’s battle against ugly decor international.

“We love turning crappy places into beautiful homes—it’s just in our blood,” laughs Colin.

“Interior design is like art and we love it because there are no rules—everything is left for the imagination,” says Justin.

A full plate

Beyond TV, the two are busy guest speakers, columnists and authors of three books: The Million Pound Property Experiment (through the BBC); Colin and Justin’s How Not To Decorate (Time Warner); and Colin & Justin’s Home Heist Style Guide (Penguin Canada). A fourth book is currently in the making.

Their dance card may be full, but that will never keep them away from their passion: television.

“TV is a very cool medium and it has allowed us to show homeowners and cottage goers alike on how to get creative with their spaces—there are no boundaries when it comes to design,” says Colin.

Justin echoes his view. “It’s our main platform where we get to clearly illustrate that home decor is like art, fashion and even music—everything is so wide open. You can make any space, old or new, totally beautiful when you let go of the rules and be open minded.”

Reach for the sky

When it comes to design and decor, Colin and Justin want homeowners and cottagers to think big. “You need to reach for the sky,” says Colin. “Your hard work and efforts will only add more value to your home and even your cottage.”

As hosts of Colin & Justin’s Cabin Pressure(Cottage Life Television), the duo get to encourage cottagers to embrace design, a challenge they love.

“We really enjoy hosting Cabin Pressure,” says Colin. “Canada is cottage country and owning a cottage is an amazing weekend getaway experience for city folks. There is so much everyone can do with their cottages. I tell all of our fans to make them look and feel just like home. Never settle for second best with your cottage—go all out and make your ideas come to life. Spend the money and make your cottage new on the inside and out. You will be richer for it on every level, trust me.”

All about balance

The designers are also enjoying a new role as judges on W Network’s Game of Homes. “Doing this show is something new to us and we really enjoy it. The show is full of challenges, drama and excitement, which we crave. We get to work with heaps of other great home space celebrities from shows like Love It Or List It and Masters of Flip. And it’s great to judge the contestant duos on the show, all of whom are vying to win a fully furnished house and a plot of land. The stakes are huge!”

How do they keep up with a demanding schedule? As with most things, in design and in life, it’s all about balance.

“We always follow the right work-life balance,” says Justin. “We eat well, exercise daily, hang with the right crowd, and do everything in moderation. And we love what we do so nothing ever really feels like work.” -H

Photography by Richard Sibbald