Make the most of your outdoor space – Backyard Builds

You’ll be looking at your backyard in a whole new way after watching what Brian McCourt and Sarah Keenleyside can do on their show, Backyard Builds.

Designer Sarah Keenleyside and contractor/designer Brian McCourt are two people with quite different backgrounds fortuitously paired to host Backyard Builds, a show that just started its second season on HGTV Canada. McCourt and Keenleyside work with homeowners to maximize their backyards’ potential by creating personalized outdoor solutions with big custom builds.

So, how did these two come to cohost Backyard Builds? Each was plotting how to recreate spaces in innovative ways. With open hearts and creative eyes, they submitted separate tapes to HGTV Canada. Luckily for their clients and Canadian television, a mutual friend thought they would work well together. And as Sarah puts it, “We hit it off like a house on fire.” Since then, McCourt and Keenleyside have melded their primary angles to form a dynamic duo with one common goal: to provide the best renovations possible for their clients and leave the all-too-common designer versus contractor scenario by the wayside.

What makes them tick individually? “I get excited about new materials that come out. I really like using construction materials in design ways that they’re not necessarily intended for and making them a feature,” says McCourt. For Keenleyside, “it’s about how the different zones are going to link to each other, [and] picking finishes and fixtures that tell an overall story.” Both of them always keep the big picture in mind, even as they focus on the details that will ultimately tell the individual stories of their clients.

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Focusing so keenly on the overall story while viewing each backyard as a clean slate comes with its challenges. Because McCourt and Keenleyside steer clear of anything ordinary, they take on projects consisting of things they’ve never attempted. “It’s like problem solving to the max. There is a lot of research, but our years of experience really help us get through it, and our problem-solving skills are essential,” says McCourt. However, none of this industriousness is approached grudgingly. Keenleyside points out: “What gets us really excited about this show is that it’s always different and it’s always challenging us.”

This season’s first two episodes will showcase this propensity to embrace challenge and change as the team works with families and bachelors alike to create spaces that perfectly suit their needs. From a family-friendly backyard to one designed to please even the most demanding of hosts, Keenleyside and McCourt excel when tasked with the seemingly impossible. They always manage to come together in just the right way to create innovative designs that produce backyard spaces essential to a home, rather than simply an afterthought.

McCourt and Keenleyside are settling well into the HGTV family with Backyard Builds, but there’s more to that story. They’ll also be part of the next Home to Win cast, and it will be exciting to see what their smooth collaboration style holds in store for this year’s winner.

If you’re thinking about how to transform your own backyard space this spring, Keenleyside’s advice is to start with an overall story, one that is a synopsis of your interests and lifestyle. Then, gear each piece of the renovation process to fit well with others to present your personality to those with whom you share the space.

Bright, clashing patterns and movement away from the simplicity of modern design are what’s trending in 2019. “Add some fun back there. It should feel like a celebration in your backyard,” she says. McCourt agrees and adds this advice to those who want to embark on backyard DIY projects: “Get a [professional] quote anyway and divide and conquer.” He urges you to start within your skill set in order to avoid frustration and increasing costs in the long run. Then, let the contractor take care of those projects you’re not so sure you can pull off. You don’t have to complete every single aspect of your backyard renovation to enjoy it, and professionals are hired for a reason.

For the future, Keenleyside and McCourt once again have individual approaches with a common goal. They want to keep leaning more and more toward environmental awareness in their work and educate clients in the process. “Sometimes, money isn’t the first consideration. [Environmentalism] is becoming more and more of a focus for us,” says McCourt. He and Keenleyside strive to reduce the current 30 per cent of solid waste coming from construction, adjusting as much of their footprint as they can. Keenleyside and McCourt attribute their concern for the environment partially to being surrounded and inspired by Mother Nature so much in their work. “She really is the best designer,” says Keenleyside.

The second season of Backyard Builds premiered on March 28, with back-to-back episodes at 10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. ET/PT on HGTV Canada.



Written by Stephanie Clarke

Interview by Victoria Scott

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