Brian McCourt: new host of HGTV’s Backyard Builds

Sarah Keenleyside and Brian McCourt, the co-hosts of Backyard Builds. (HGTV/submitted)

SOUTH DUNDAS – Brian McCourt is the co-host of a brand new show, airing on HGTV Canada beginning at 10 p.m. on Thursday, April 6. Backyard Builds is unconventional, fascinating and anything but an ordinary renovation show.

Brian McCourt, now in his early 30s, is the son of Pat and Jennine McCourt of Williamsburg, a kid who grew up in this area, graduating from St. Joseph’s in Cornwall, and, as he puts it, “a proud Morrisburgian.”

With a thriving business, Brian McCourt Designs, and Backyard Builds debuting this week, Brian admits that 14 hour days are not unusual for him. But he also makes it clear that he is passionate about what he is doing. That enthusiasm is obvious when he talks about the new television production.

“We are not a conventional garden or building show,” Brian said. “In fact, each week on the program we try to do something very new, maybe even something a little outrageous, but definitely something exciting.”

The idea for Backyard Builds grew, to some extent, out of the realities of home owning these days.

“The steadily rising cost of housing in Toronto, and throughout Canada, has increasingly made it hard for people to move, or to buy the getaway cottage the way they once used to. What we want to do is to get people outside again, to show them that their own backyards can be so much more than they thought. We’re saying you can create a great quality of life right in that existing backyard,” Brian explained.

Co-host Sarah Keenleyside is a designer, as is Brian, but Brian also brings 13 years as a renovation specialist to the show, where “I tend to focus more on construction.”

People apply to HGTV to be featured in an episode of the show. “With a minimum budget of $20,000 per episode, we are looking for a wide range of projects,” Brian explained. “We are particularly looking for projects that are basically ‘outside the box’, something special.”

He laughed that once clients have been chosen (projects are generally within a two hour radius of Toronto) “we snoop around the backyard, then Sarah and I sit down and talk with them. What do they feel they are missing in their backyard? What do they want to see out there?”

One client, with three children, needed a quiet place to work, where he could still be steps from the house.

Brian and Sarah and the Backyard Builds team literally dropped a shipping container into his backyard, and turned it into an attractive, comfortable, four seasons home office for the businessman. They built a storage area, and beautiful, relaxing decks around the property, transforming an ordinary backyard into a usable, family oriented space.

Matching the backyard to the clients’ needs (and dreams) is a vital part of the show’s goals.

“The parents of one family near Barrie, a newly blended family with several kids, laughed that they essentially ‘bribed the kids’ with the idea of a new backyard,” Brian said. For them, Backyard Builds created two incredible tree houses where the whole family could hang out. One has bunk seating and a meditation space, the other is kids only, complete with games and a zipline. “It was a dream project to build, and a dream for the family,” Brian said.

The team designed and built a spectacular backyard movie theatre for another group of clients. “We dug down to create a kind of Roman amphitheater for them, able to seat 50-75 guests, with a fire pit attached.” Another client got the “getaway cottage” he had always wanted, with hot tubs and natural trails, right in his own backyard.

From planning to finish, most projects take about four weeks.

“We talk to clients, we conceptualize, we solve potential problems, and we create the dream backyard.”

However, Brian didn’t actually plan to become a television host.

His passion for building and for outdoor design began at a young age.

“At 13, I was lawn mowing in Morrisburg, and also delivering papers,” he recalled. “I decided to add flyers offering lawn maintenance, along with my papers, and I started getting jobs.” By age 19, he had rounded up financing, bought a fixer-upper, and later flipped the property. By age 25, he had the experience and the capital to set up Brian McCourt Designs.

Then HGTV spotted his website and invited him to audition for a new show they were planning.

“I wasn’t chasing a TV job,” Brian laughed, “and I told them I was not an actor. But if they wanted me as myself, I was open to exploring options.”

He did an audition, and two months later the production company called him back. He went on “a hosting blind date” with Sarah Keenleyside, and hit it off with her almost immediately.
Television production was a “whole new world” as far as Brian was concerned with 20 different people beyond the camera range working on each episode. The first season of Backyard Builds wrapped up in late November, with Sarah and Brian recently finishing the voice overs.

The show allows him to “show my expertise, to be creative and to have fun as well,” Brian said. “I think my approach is a combination of my dad’s creative genius in wood-working and my mom’s fun-loving out-going personality. Mine’s definitely been an interesting career route, from delivering papers, to lawn maintenance, to a contracting business to television host. But I love what I’m doing.”

Two back to back episodes of Backyard Builds air weekly on HGTV on April 6, starting at 10 p.m. To follow Brian: Facebook: @BrianMccourtDesigns Instagram: @BrianMcCourtDesigns Twitter: @BrianMccourtTV