Getting to Know HGTV’s “Kitchen Cousins”

NJ-based builders Anthony Carrino and John Colaneri, who began their TV careers in the kitchen, are now hard at work on the whole house, and beyond.

By Jane Dagmi | Updated Nov 9, 2013 10:26 PM

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Kitchen Cousins

Anthony Carrino and John Colaneri, HGTV’s Kitchen Cousins . Photo: HGTV

The kitchen has always been considered the most important room in the house, the warm heart of the home. When you add in a couple of good-looking brawny thirty-something Italian guys from Jersey—armed with sledgehammers and power tools, construction expertise, and lots of positive energy—the kitchen gets undeniably hotter.

With renovations worth pinning and Nielsen rating worth tweeting, Anthony Carrino and John Colaneri, HGTV’s well-known Kitchen Cousins, are applying their talent for remodeling to the rest of the house in a new series, Cousins on Call , which launched earlier this month.

“Cousins on Call is a much bigger show with many more facets,” says Anthony. The “Jersey Strong” premiere was a gratitude-filled collaboration with Ellen DeGeneres and featured an intense, nearly sleepless six-day mega-makeover for two Jersey Shore EMS responders, whose shared home was severely damaged in Hurricane Sandy.

When the renovation was revealed, nary an eye was dry. For the cousins, that episode hit home. “We’re both emotional guys,” says Anthony, “and the ability to give back to those who gave to so many other people is really cool.”

Kitchen Cousins Post-Sandy Beach Shack
Post-Sandy eye candy: A repurposed surfboard makes a great bar in a backyard beach shack.
Photo: Anthony Carrino

Not every Cousins on Call episode reaches the same level of feeling, but for Anthony and John, helping people define and design comfortable, efficient, and personal spaces is always a gratifying experience. The two view themselves as problem-solvers dedicated to providing creative solutions that enable people to live and function optimally and without waste. They attribute their success to an honest approach to design and would rather have some fun than create unnecessary drama for TV’s sake.

There are of course challenges and moments of increased stress. “I can’t tell you a single job where I opened the walls and stuff was the way it should be,” says Anthony, recalling a construction career that unofficially began at age ten, when he helped his father with an extension on their home. About 14 years later, Anthony and Alfonso Carrino co-founded Brunelleschi Construction. A little while later cousin John was recruited into the family biz.

Kitchen Cousins Headquarters
BrunCon is headquartered in an 1896 firehouse.
Photo: Alex Goodlett/The Jersey Journal

BrunCon, as it’s usually abbreviated, develops underutilized urban structures and turns them into dynamic mixed-use properties. In the process, the company strives to retain as much of a structure’s historic vibe and existing materials as possible while making the building strong, safe, and technologically current. BrunCon also makes eco-friendly choices when possible, preferring tankless hot water heaters, spray foam insulation, low-E windows and low-VOC paints.

Before the advent of “Cousin TV,” Anthony and John were starring on Brunelleschi Construction’s Vimeo channel, piecing together videos that detailed some of the company’s big Jersey City restoration projects. The duo’s ease on camera was evident; the familial warmth was genuine and endearing. A friend of theirs sent a reel to a producer, and a show deal followed. Kitchen Cousins launched in October 2011.

The kitchen was a great place to ingratiate themselves to a large HGTV audience hungry for tips and ideas on how to tackle a daunting kitchen renovation. Anthony explains, “There is an order of operations, and planning is absolutely paramount to having a successful renovation.”

Speaking as contractors and designers, they offer some hard-earned wisdom:

1. Figure out the basics of what you want to achieve. Keep an inspiration file of magazine tear sheets and design-blog printouts to share with your contractor.

2. Understand the way an estimate works. The first estimate is based on everything the contractor can see. Once the walls are open, expect a minimum 10% contingency fee.

Geometric Backsplash
Adding black grout to a white tile backsplash accentuated the modern geometric design.
Photo: Anthony Carrino

3. Splurge on the backsplash! The eye is drawn to the backsplash, and because it is a contained space, it’s a great area to step up the quality of materials.

4. Hang pendants over a breakfast bar or island. Pendant lights provide a lot of mood, shape, and light. And they don’t have to be expensive.

5. Invest in multipurpose furniture, such as a stainless steel table on casters that can be wheeled into position—as a prep station, dining table, etc.—as needed. A piece like this is especially useful in a small kitchen or rental apartment.

6. Balance the new with the old, industrial, and organic. Juxtaposing grainy old lumber with industrial steel makes an open kitchen feel harmonious and inviting.

Aside from HGTV and BrunCon projects, Anthony and John have a new passion project. Rust and Grain is a collection of objects such as farm tables, cutting boards, and coasters made from reclaimed lumber and new wood scrap. R&G, as it is logoed, blends a respect for classic hardworking materials with a commitment to sustainability and enables the cousins to get back to building and making things. “It keeps us in touch with the tangible aspect of the job,” says Anthony.

Rust And Grain Products
Photo: Rust and Grain

Despite the crazy pace, the cousins insist on spending one day a week at Brunelleschi Construction’s home office, and they also carve out personal time to refuel. Anthony spent New Year’s in Istanbul. “For me,” he says, “inspiration comes from seeing things I have not seen before.”

From small wooden houses to patterns in fabric, shapes of tile, and colors in the market, Anthony’s Flickr is now filled with images a thousand times more alluring than any imaginable travel brochure’s photos.

The cousins also try to get to the gym; they like reconnecting in a stress-free zone. Anthony says, “Sometimes we’ll be working out and somebody’ll wave and say, ‘Thanks for showing Jersey City in such a great light.'”

If you can’t get enough of these cousins, be sure not to miss their “delicious” 7 Secrets to a Successful Kitchen Renovation.