“Kitchen Cousins” building a career that doesn’t feel like work


What might have been the ruination of Anthony Carrino and John Colaneri’s construction careers turned out to lead to their biggest break.

Not so long ago, Carrino and Colaneri were worrying about how they would pay back the loan on a big renovation project. Today they’re TV stars, familiar to HGTV junkies as the “Kitchen Cousins.”

Life has become a blur for the two in the last few years. I caught up with the cousins by phone one day last week, while Anthony was in their office in Jersey City, N.J., and John was driving to work.

They told me it all started in 2009, when the cousins’ construction company was sitting on a 22-unit condominium complex it had created from an old chemical company warehouse. The project had won restoration awards and earned notice from media including the New York Times, but this was the depths of the housing slump. The company was having trouble selling the units.

“It was a scary time,” Colaneri conceded.

A friend of his who works in public relations came up with the idea of holding a benefit in the building for earthquake victims in L’Aquila, Italy. Not only would it raise money for a cause close to the cousins’ hearts and heritage, but it would also get people through the door and create a buzz about the building, she reasoned.

It worked, both for the charity and the project’s fortunes.

And it also sparked the idea of television.

Carrino and Colaneri were so charismatic onstage that the friend suggested they try to get a TV show. They’d never considered anything like that, Colaneri said. They were just a couple of guys trying to make a go of urban redevelopment through Brunelleschi Construction, the company Carrino started with his father, Alfonso, in 2004.

“She hounded me for a couple of weeks,” Colaneri said, until he and Carrino agreed to let her follow them around to a couple of jobs and shoot some video with a pocket-size camera. She pitched her idea to a production company, which sent out a crew to make a more professional video it could shop to home-improvement networks.

That was it for about a year, until Colanari got a call. HGTV wanted to shoot a pilot for a kitchen-renovation show.

“I told my cousin. He said, ‘Just say yes,’” Colaneri recalled with a laugh. “It was pretty wild.”

“Kitchen Cousins” debuted in 2011 and was followed in 2013 by “Cousins on Call,” which saw the two taking on bigger projects, often with help from Carrino’s parents. Now the two star in “Cousins Undercover,” which has them leading surprise remodels for neighborhood heroes with the help of others in the community. The show airs at 8 p.m. Sundays.

Meanwhile Carrino and Colaneri are still heavily involved in the running of Brunelleschi Construction, a company named for Filippo Brunelleschi, the innovative architect and engineer from the Italian Renaissance.

It’s a hectic life. “John and I have two full-time jobs,” Carrino said. “Fortunately work, for us, doesn’t feel like work.”

The banter and chemistry between the two is a linchpin of the show, and Carrino insists it’s real. The two have always been close friends, he said, and their relationship makes their frantic dual careers bearable.

“It something we get to do together,” he said. “That’s really what allows us to push as hard as we do.”

And push they do. “Cousins Undercover” pulls off each of its renovations in just three days, so the two put in 12- to 16-hour days to get the work done on time.

They’re used to hard work, though. Anthony’s paternal grandfather was in the construction business, and both were working on construction sites as teenagers. Although both hold college degrees, Carrino said they still love working with their hands.

They feel privileged to be able to use their skills to transform people’s homes, Colaneri said. That’s especially true with “Cousins Undercover,” which focuses on deserving recipients.

“That’s the most gratifying part of doing the work that we do,” he said. “… Not only are you transforming a home, you’re transforming a life.”

Carrino said they also welcome the opportunity to counter the negative image of their native New Jersey that’s been cultivated by such shows as “Real Housewives of New Jersey” and “Jersey Shore.” “It’s not the Jersev housewives screaming at each other,” he said.

So if those are the best parts, I asked, which project gave you the biggest headache?

Colaneri dissolved into laughter. “They’ve all been headaches,” he said.

Construction, he said, is never without its hiccups and hurdles. No matter the project, unexpected challenges always arise.

That can make for good TV. “We don’t like to create drama. … What you see really happens,” Colaneri said.

And the guys you see, they said, are the guys they really are.

Despite their ease in front of a camera, they insisted they’re not what Carrino called “TV guys.”

They like the outdoors, they said, they like staying active, and they enjoy time spent with their family.

As Colaneri put it, “We truly are very normal, regular guys.”

 

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