'Bargain Block' Partners Evan and Keith on Painting Tilda Swinton, Obsessing Over Oprah (Exclusive)
By Stacy Lambe
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Back with a second season, partners Keith Bynum and Evan Thomas are taking HGTV viewers on a different kind of home renovation journey with their series, Bargain Block. In an ongoing effort to restore Detroit, Michigan’s surrounding neighborhoods, the duo turns rundown and abandoned homes on the same block into affordable, stylish and ideal starter homes that invite people back into the area.
“Our goal is to help bring up the value to a point where the people who have been in those neighborhoods for so long actually have value in their home,” Thomas tells ET. “And we have been seeing that actually in a lot of the neighborhoods that we’re working in, which is really gratifying.”
Not only that, but they infuse each property with original and artful designs not often seen on many of the shows that dominate the channel. And it’s that unexpected pop of color or use of pattern that really sets their aesthetic apart from their HGTV counterparts.
“I think people really responded well to the fact that we were doing something kind of different,” Thomas says of becoming known as “the show that was doing color,” which has paid off. “We’ve had very strong reactions from fans who’ve just appreciated that we do things from an ‘art first’ point of view rather than just ‘sell first.’”
Besides, it’s not often that a house comes complete with an oversized original portrait of Tilda Swinton, as featured in the season 1 premiere. Bynum breathed new life into the property by transforming it from a cavernous space into an open, well-lit home filled with original art, including the 4x4 foot painting, that gave it a museum vibe.
When it comes to painting Swinton in particular, Bynum was inspired by one of her photo shoots. “It was just unbelievable,” he says, explaining that she is someone who “represents being authentic and being who you are.”
“I do lots of paintings just kind of at random. And sometimes I bring them into the design,” he says of the piece, which is actually one of several originals that can be seen throughout the season. “And then it kind of became this statement piece of the room.”
He adds, “That’s what is so fun about season 2. Those elements that people really responded to, I think we tried to lean into that a little more. There are some very fun portraitures coming up.”
In addition to more original art, Thomas teases that audiences will see more of their furniture construction and upcycling skills that they brought to season 1. “I think in the second episode, there’s a little bit more scenes of us actually diving into the upcycling,” he says, adding that “hopefully people will like that.”
(And speaking of episode two, fans can watch a sneak peek of “French Country and Chez Shea” as the couple debates over whether to install French doors and make the home feel like “Marie Antoinette lives here.”)
In addition to finding success with Bargain Block, Bynum and Thomas have officially been welcomed into the HGTV family with season 3 of Rock the Block, a reality competition series that sees pairs of the network’s renovation stars try to add the most appraisal value to four identical homes.
In their season, which aired earlier this spring, the couple found themselves competing against Egypt Sherrod and Mike Jackson (Married to Real Estate); Leslie Davis and Lyndsay Lamb (Unsellable Houses); and Dave and Jenny Marrs (Fixer to Fabulous).
When it comes to competing on the series, Bynum says “it’s the best trial by fire that you could ever imagine.”
While they initially didn’t know what they were getting into and, at times, experienced imposter syndrome, the pair found their footing. “But all of that faded away, I would say, after the first week,” Bynum adds. “Then it really took off after that.”
Sadly, the two didn’t end up winning the overall competition. But they both say it was well worth it. “It was definitely an experience of a lifetime,” Bynum says, before revealing what easily could have been the best consolation prize ever: becoming that much closer to Oprah Winfrey.
As HGTV regulars, Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent appeared as guest judges on the competition, much to Bynum’s delight. Not only is he a longtime fan of their work (“They’re just such powerhouses in their field”), but he’s a huge fan of Winfrey, who used to have Berkus on her talk show as a regular guest.
“I was a diehard Oprah fan,” Bynum says, revealing that the entire time they were all on set together, he was secretly “fangirling really hard” and whispering to himself, “I’m one degree of separation from Oprah.”
He continues by adding, “You meet your idols sometimes, and it’s one of those moments that you just kind of hold your breath. And it was just the most magical experience ever. So, we just really loved that.”
And it won’t be long before fans feel the same when they get to meet Bynum and Thomas in person. As the duo who are unafraid of color, they’re bringing a much-needed fresh perspective to HGTV, while also expanding visibility onscreen.
“It feels nice to live authentically and to be able to share that without fear on a national platform through HGTV. That’s a dream. We’ve gotten so many messages from people, too,” Bynum says.
“There’s just so many people desperate to feel included and feel like they’re part of something. And I think what resonates with the show is that there are so many things you can find interest in,” he continues. “So many can find things to relate to whether it’s art or home renovation or budget or gay lifestyle or Detroit… And that’s what is just awesome to get to share.”