Designer Interview Series: BRIAN MCCOURT

Brian McCourt

Photo credit: Kit and Lauryn

Brian McCourt, HGTV star and the founder of Toronto-based Brian McCourt Design Build, recently partnered with Harry Rosen to curate the offerings for their new Home Edit pop-up. The iconic store is launching its first foray into homewares, including a selection of Brian’s favourite artisan-made Obakki products. We spoke with Brian about how he got his start, his thoughts on sustainability in design, and more.

Brian McCourt Designs - St Clement Kitchen

Photo credit: Maxime Brouillet / Design: Brian McCourt Design Build

OBAKKI
Let’s start by talking a bit about how you got into design. We understand that real estate was your first love—and you were fixing and flipping your first house at 19! What was that experience like, and how did it lead to a career in design?

BRIAN
When I was 14 my parents hired an interior designer to help them with a formal living room— I sat in on their meetings and found myself extremely curious about the process and the art of design. After my parents redecorated the formal areas of the home, I decided I would surprise them with a room makeover while they were away for a day. In 12 hours, I painted the room, hung pictures up on the wall and dusted off some old furniture pieces that I found in the attic to fully orchestrate my very first homeowner reveal! When my parents came home, they were shocked at how nice the room looked and I remember them commenting that they would have never allowed me to paint a room on my own at the age of 14 but that it was very well done and I could have free reign to design of the rest of the house! That was really the start of my design and renovation career.

 Flipping was something I decided to do when I was in university. I raised funds from family and friends who believed in me. I had a budget of $10K, I was already working two jobs, and going to school. I planned to finish in two months but the project ended up taking 7 months to complete. While I blew the timeline, I stuck to the 10k budget by making my own cabinets, learning how install vanities myself and watching Youtube videos for anything else I couldn’t figure out on my own. So what was it like? It was one of the hardest things I had ever taken on, but it turned out incredibly well and even though it was stressful – I loved it. Everyone made money and I had hard-earned experience to move on to the next one.

1572 Dundas St Project by Brian McCourt - Dining nook
1572 Dundas St Project by Brian McCourt- Walk-in closet

Photo credit: Patrick Biller / Design: Brian McCourt Design Build

OBAKKI
How would you describe your distinct style? 

BRIAN
This keeps changing, but has recently solidified through my values and desire to improve the sustainability and longevity of my work. I would call it new classic—a mix of clean modern lines and old world charm. Adding pieces that have been handed down to you and have come through generations, pieces that were handmade and are well loved—mix those pieces with newer artisanal pieces that work in your space. This is one of the reasons I love Obakki so much. So many of your pieces are handmade and made with care. They really fit into the aesthetic of my style, but they also align with my values – to shop special and invest in pieces worth keeping.

 I’ve done a lot of reflection on how we buy all of these things and discard them to then just buy another one. These types of pieces don’t last, they don’t hold real significance or value—and I have realized that I want my style to have more meaning. I think it’s important to curate spaces with more special, handmade pieces. I think if we can wait or save up for the right pieces that can last a lifetime, then we should.

Photo credit: Patrick Biller / Design: Tommy Smythe,
Trish Johnston & Brian McCourt

OBAKKI
Can you tell us a bit about your process? 

BRIAN
When I first meet a client, I evaluate how they’re living— what is working for them? And more importantly, what isn’t working for them? I’ve always loved getting to know people and to really help someone improve their home, you need to listen, observe, and ask the right questions. I think that being invited into someone’s home to help them live better and improve their every day is pretty big honour, and a truly rewarding career if you’re good at it! 

OBAKKI
What’s your secret power for understanding what clients really want?

BRIAN
Communication. Which really means listening—not only to what they want, but also what they don’t want. To be honest, sometimes clients don’t know what they want until they go through all of the things they don’t want. 

Brian McCourt Designs - Kitchen
Brian McCourt Designs - Kitchen

Photo credit: Patrick Biller / Design: Tommy Smythe,
Trish Johnston & Brian McCourt

OBAKKI
What are your favourite sustainable materials to work with, and do you believe sustainability is a key element of great design?

BRIAN
Sustainability is not only a key element to design but also a responsibility of professionals in the industry. We should know what is sustainable, how long the materials we use take to break down, and the environmental cost of production rather than only focussing on monetary costs. We try to use sustainable materials anywhere we can - we’re not perfect but we make effort and we’re always learning. 

Brian McCourt

Photo credit: Andy Vanderkaay

OBAKKI
What design trends and colours are you predicting for next year?

BRIAN
I think we are going to continue to see a lot of warm earthy tones. One thing our design team has been loving is painting trim and baseboards a shade darker than the walls - it’s a beautiful look but it’s also practical because the baseboards, doors and trim take more abuse than the walls. Also having a level 10 obsession with checkerboard floors because they are timeless, graphic, affordable, and easy to pull off. In terms of trends, I try to focus on non-committal trends; things like paint, pillows and décor, rather than hard finishes like tiles that require a lot of resources to install or remove – I strive to keep those things classic.

OBAKKI
What are your favourite Obakki collections or products? Are there specific artisans whose work speaks to you in a deeper way?  

BRIAN
Steelwood serving boards, earthenware pottery and the wall hangings handwoven in Mexico—the one we hung at the Harry Rosen pop-up is so eye-catching. Everyone who walks in the room is incredibly curious about it. The woven sansevieria gives it a smooth, polished finish. 

The minimalist stoneware from Australia that are made with shells and found flora and fauna —unwrapping these plates is like Christmas. Each piece is so unique and they’re such works of art. I also love the texture of the earthenware pottery—the two tone clay finish on them is really gorgeous.

Shop all of Brian's favourite Obakki products here.

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9" Minimalist Bowl

$165.00
Universal Incense Burner Pottery
Universal Incense Burner Pottery
Universal Incense Burner Pottery
Universal Incense Burner Pottery Smoked
Universal Incense Burner Pottery
Universal Incense Burner Pottery
Universal Incense Burner Pottery
Universal Incense Burner Pottery Smoked

Universal Incense Burner

$110.00

OBAKKI
What were the key elements in putting together a collection like the Harry Rosen home collection? Where do you start a project like this?

BRIAN
The collection was really created around timeless design and quality construction—two things that I really care about. Selecting items that will pass the test of time and that hold value through decades and designed to keep for life.

OBAKKI
Where do you think a great sense of design comes from? Do you need to be born with a design sense to be a ‘great’ designer? 

BRIAN
I’m not sure anyone is born a great designer. Every designer needs to practice and hone their craft. I do think there is an eye for detail that some are born with, but it needs to be developed. Collaboration is huge—design is an art and there is always something you can learn from another artist. A great designer understands the rules but knows when to break them.

Brian McCourt Design - Kitchen Nook
Brian McCourt Design - Living Room

Photo credit: Patrick Biller / Design: Brian McCourt Design Build

OBAKKI
Your HGTV show, Backyard Builds, is hugely popular. What’s the craziest backyard design you’ve ever done?

BRIAN
We’ve done a few. On one episode, we built a 500 sq ft ‘vacation home’ with a huge pool, a sunken lounge and a fire pit —all within two months. It was such a tight timeline and a massive undertaking. In one of our early episodes we dropped a shipping container in someone’s backyard to be repurposed as a home office which was a really cool way to reuse something. It’s been fun to help people use space that they didn’t use much before we renovated it for them.

OBAKKI
And what’s next for you? More TV? More homeware design and collaboration? Where do you see yourself next year at this time?

BRIAN
I am always thinking of a thousand different things and I wouldn’t really have it any other way. The chaos of working on many projects is where I feel most comfortable; there might be more TV, maybe a furniture brand... Definitely more design projects and lots of time with my kids and family.  

I think the homeware design and collaboration is going to grow—really centred around investing in things to keep; special items that designed to keep for a lifetime. 

SHOP BRIAN'S PICKS

Obakki No.12 Candle – Limbe Candles
Obakki No.12 Candle – Limbe Candles
Obakki No.12 Candle – Limbe Candles
Obakki No.12 Candle – Limbe Candles
Obakki No.12 Candle – Limbe Candles

Obakki No.12 Candle – Limbe

$69.00
Super-Soft Throw Blanket | Ash Rose Home Textiles Ash Rose
Super-Soft Throw Blanket | Ash Rose Home Textiles Ash Rose

Super-Soft Throw Blanket | Ash Rose

$89.00
Mixteca Fruit Bowl XL Serveware Prickly Pear
Mixteca Fruit Bowl XL Serveware Prickly Pear
Mixteca Fruit Bowl XL Serveware
Mixteca Fruit Bowl XL Serveware
Mixteca Fruit Bowl XL Serveware
Mixteca Fruit Bowl XL Serveware

Mixteca Fruit Bowl XL

$205.00
Mixteca Bowl M Serveware
Mixteca Bowl M Serveware
Mixteca Bowl M Serveware Prickly Pear
Mixteca Bowl M Serveware
Mixteca Bowl M Serveware

Mixteca Bowl M

$145.00

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