LAS VEGAS — Jonathan and Drew Scott, the identical twins better known as the “Property Brothers,” after their hit home-renovation show, have for the last several years lived not in Vancouver, where they grew up, or Calgary, where they began buying and flipping houses as college students, or even Toronto or Los Angeles, where they spend months at a time filming, but here in the desert, where the temperature on a recent morning was a very un-Canadian 108 degrees.
For two successful 36-year-old guys who last year made People’s “Sexiest Man Alive” list, the brothers also, curiously, share a house. More curiously, that house is in a part of the city more scrubland than neighborhood, and appears to be directly under the flight path of McCarran International Airport.
The reasons for this began to make sense to a reporter (more or less) after a few hours of hanging with them.
Jonathan answered the door. He looked sleepy. Plopping down on a gray sectional in the open living room, he described a big party held there days earlier, a family reunion that included, among the guests, “a phenomenal juggler” and someone’s pet monkey. It sounded very Vegas.
On the wall opposite him was a massive built-in shelving unit made of dark wood that stretched from floor to ceiling, a towering 26 feet, with a shiny sword suspended in the center. It was the furniture equivalent of a monkey at a party; it demanded your attention. In Property Brothers parlance, this is known as a “feature.”
“Every room needs to have at least one feature,” Jonathan said. His design for the shelf was inspired by a feature he saw in a casino, he added. “I sketched it pretty much exactly the way it is here.”
Soon, Drew appeared, looking fresh-scrubbed in a pair of khakis and a blue polo shirt, just like he does on TV when he walks “clients” through the stressful home-buying process. It wasn’t long before he and Jonathan, who handles the design and construction side and wears flannel shirts and three days’ worth of scruff to differentiate him as the more “butch” twin, began razzing each other.
Jonathan started by bringing up the kitchen cupboards, which he wanted to rip out but was instead persuaded to paint, thereby saving a pile of money.
“Make sure to write this down because I think he’s going to say something nice about me,” Drew said.
Jonathan grudgingly conceded: “Actually, O.K., I will give that to Drew.”
It went on like that.
But if you have a pulse and basic cable, you are probably familiar with the brothers’ different looks and jocular bantering. Since “Property Brothers” had its United States debut on HGTV in 2011, they have become the faces (or the face) of home renovation on television. Every time you turn on the TV they seem to have a new series: “Property Brothers” was followed by “Buying and Selling,” which has more of a real estate focus, and most recently “Brother vs. Brother,” the inevitable competition spin on the formula.
Kathleen Finch, the president of DIY Network and HGTV, said that HGTV has arranged to present a new episode of one of those shows every week of the year. Jonathan and Drew, she said, are “the cable equivalent of box-office movie stars.” (Or as The Daily Beast once dubbed them, “reality television’s crack cocaine.”)
Not content to be mere TV personalities, the brothers have an outdoor furniture line, Scott Living; speak regularly at home-industry trade shows; and run their own production company, Scott Brothers Entertainment. That doesn’t leave much time for relaxing on the couch.
“I only get home two or three weeks a year,” Drew said. “I’m always on the road filming.”
Jonathan is more of a homebody, relatively speaking. He takes advantage of production breaks to fly home for a few days each month. Instead of spending eight hours on a plane, Drew prefers to “stay in whatever city I am and work,” he said, living in hotels or a rental house.
Last year, Drew sold his condo on the Strip and moved into this house, which the brothers bought three years ago to renovate and turn into a family hub. (Their parents often visit from Alberta, and an older brother, JD Scott, lives nearby.) Jonathan had already been living there with a few sticks of furniture, having sold his place in Summerlin, an upscale suburb here, because it was 40 minutes to the airport (now the drive is a straight-shot 10).
Completed earlier this summer, the renovation has produced yet another HGTV show, “The Property Brothers at Home,” which has its premiere in November. Viewers will finally have a look at the brothers’ own space, while Jonathan and Drew finally have a finished home.
It’s like the mechanic who drives a car that’s falling apart, Jonathan said. “You’re always working on other people’s vehicles. We wanted to get this house done so we actually had a place to go.”
So are the brothers’ styles as similar as one might expect from a pair of home renovators who shared a womb?
Jonathan described his taste as “elegantly eclectic,” which struck the reporter as a little vague and sound-bite-ish. But the shelving unit in the living room is its manifestation, he insisted: “I love having all of these conversation pieces. And I think a design should be filled with conversation pieces.”
Drew sees himself more as a “rustically modern” guy. “I like modern efficiencies and functionality,” he said by way of explanation. “However, I like to put in those rustic pieces, like the armor, the swords.”
Ah, yes, the swords. There is a sizable collection of them, along with a suit of armor and a battle-ax, all arranged on a high recessed shelf near the entry. Yet not once on “Property Brothers” have swords been suggested as a way to spruce up a home. Have they been keeping all the great “Game of Thrones” décor ideas for themselves?
“We’ve had a medieval weapons collection for a long time,” Jonathan said. “That battle-ax is a replica of one used by Robert the Bruce from Scotland. We’re related on my mother’s side.”
The house is full of bachelor-pad toys, not all lethal. There’s a two-story water slide that spirals into a pool (“That was Jonathan’s big-kid thing,” Drew said), a game room with a billiards table and a vintage arcade machine, and a backyard with a putting green and a basketball court (Drew is a sports fan).
Where’s the feminine touch?
“I’m single,” said Jonathan, whose first marriage ended in divorce. Instead, he added: “I have two dogs, a Yorkie and a Chihuahua. I like that Drew is only here three weeks a year. I have the whole place with my dogs.”
Drew cut in: “Jonathan’s typical Saturday night.”
When Drew is home, he shares a small downstairs bedroom with his girlfriend, Linda Phan, who works for the brothers’ production company, though beyond a few pairs of heels tucked under a dresser, her material presence in the house is imperceptible.
Jonathan led the way to his bedroom across the hall, neatness and stillness being the prevailing impressions.
Standing inside Jonathan’s large, empty-looking master bath, Drew remarked, “I say that this is ‘designer loneliness.’ ”
It was with his ex-wife that Jonathan began traveling regularly to Las Vegas, he said. He liked the live entertainment and the community of performers (in addition to being a TV star, he is an illusionist). And in the wake of the housing collapse, both he and Drew saw an investment opportunity to buy real estate.
“Oh, and it’s warm,” Drew said. “We should have been born in the Caribbean. We like the heat.”
They were instead born in Vancouver, where their father worked in the film industry. They were child actors — Drew appeared on “Smallville”; Jonathan did magic and was in an “X-Files” episode — but they also showed a knack for business. As kids, they made and sold clothes hangers with nylon woven around them, craft-project style.
“We went door to door,” Jonathan said. “People thought, ‘That’s cute.’ Then we hooked up with this woman who had a chain of stores in Japan.”
While studying at the University of Calgary, the brothers began reading books on real estate investment, as a hedge against becoming starving artists. Using a take-back mortgage, an arrangement in which the seller lends funds to the buyer to facilitate the sale, they bought a $250,000 house for $250 down.
“It was a 1960s home,” Drew said. “Stucco everywhere, inside and out.”
Jonathan laughed. “The guy who originally built it was a stucco guy,” he said. “He didn’t have any sense of style. All he knew how to do was stucco.”
The brothers fixed it up and sold it. Profit realized: $50,000.
They bought more houses for little money down, making basic improvements like swapping out old flooring for new laminate, say, or re-siding them. They did the work themselves, and sold the homes for an absurd profit. Jonathan earned a degree in construction and design; Drew became a licensed real estate agent.
The business continued apace until around 2005, when Drew realized that the creative life they planned to fund through house-flipping had never materialized. He left Jonathan running the business in Calgary and returned to Vancouver to audition for television roles. Casting agents discovered he was in real estate and had a twin, and one thing led to another.
The original “Property Brothers” show has a winningly simple formula: a couple with a limited budget enlist Jonathan and Drew to help them buy a fixer-upper and transform it. You can have your dream home, the brothers caution starry-eyed clients again and again, but it won’t be brand-new move-in ready. (If Jonathan and Drew seem like the world’s fastest home renovators, it’s because only three or four rooms are done for television, and they work with numerous subcontractors.)
Given the housing bust, the show’s message of fiscal limitations and diminished expectations struck a chord. And because the homeowners pay for the majority of the renovation themselves, the creative clashes and little tiffs they get into with the brothers feel real (or at least more real than the conflicts in most reality shows).
With their Las Vegas house, the brothers followed the same playbook. Looking for bargains, they paid $400,000 for a 5,400-square-foot home on a cul-de-sac, one of several built just before the recession and left to molder by its owner. The outside was “just a dirt lot,” Jonathan said, and “nothing had really been done on the inside.”
For the renovation, they stuck to neutral tones and materials (bolder styles go out of date faster) and used money-saving tricks like repainting, rather than replacing, cabinets. And although they weren’t crazy about the brown travertine floor, they kept it, Drew said, because “it would have been a fortune to tear it up and do something in a more contemporary color.”
Still, with $2 million for the redesign, their budget wasn’t as restrictive as it usually is on “Property Brothers.” Jonathan could install “features that I’ve been itching to do,” he said, like a wall of windows in the living room that open onto the backyard and create a visual line to the pool. “We didn’t want to spend our budget on this beautiful yard and not be able to see it,” Jonathan said.
Indeed, the yard is crammed with features: the pool, a bar and grilling station guests can swim up to, a retractable movie screen, a spacious guesthouse for their parents. It was also the source of the brothers’ main renovation battles. Jonathan wanted play space for his dogs; Drew wanted a putting green and a basketball hoop. Drew won, sort of. There is still a dog run in a side yard, and anyway, Jonathan got the water slide.
Whether the brothers will have time to enjoy their new house is debatable. Scheduled to fly to Toronto to continue filming the new seasons of “Property Brothers” and “Buying and Selling,” they were spending one of their few days off with a reporter, and Drew had been up since 5 a.m. on conference calls.
Ms. Finch, the network president, said that the brothers are so productive, “I keep wondering if they’re really triplets.” She’s not far off.
“The only reason Drew and I can accomplish what we do is we have perfect balance,” Jonathan said. When one brother is filming one of their shows, the other is off filming another. When one works on the furniture line, the other designs a coffee-table book. With twin-ish continuity, the Property Brothers can seemingly be everywhere.
Originally published on nytimes.com August 21, 2014