The duo is now based permanently in Canada but, this week and weekend, are making appearances at Yas Mall, as part of a five-day, mall-wide, interior-design-focused initiative called Fashion Hits Home
Fashion hits home: TV stars Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan share interior design tips at Yas Mall
Given their proclivity for sound bites, it’s not difficult to see why Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan – best known as just Colin and Justin – have had such a successful career in television.
“We often say that in addition to being interior designers, we are home translators,” says Justin.
“We’ve always wanted to create extraordinary homes for ordinary people,” counters Colin.
“Don’t rush it. To fail to plan is to plan to fail. Think twice; buy once; that’s a big thing that we tell everybody,” says Justin.
And Colin: “There’s only one thing that’s worse than bad taste, and that’s no taste at all.”
Over the past 25 years, the Scottish design experts have presented more than 20 home- and property-related television shows in the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada, including Colin and Justin’s Cabin Pressure, Game of Homes and The Million Pound Property Experiment. They have written books and regular columns for the Toronto Sun and Huffington Post, designed objects for the home, judged competitions, are often hired as keynote speakers and even starred in series nine of I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.
This is a slick, finely-tuned double act, decades in the making. Justin loves texture – satins, brocades and the suchlike. Colin is a technophile and excitable while on the subject of dimmable lighting. Both proclaim that they are “obsessed” with area rugs, primarily due to the usefulness of said rugs in demarcating zones in open-plan living spaces. Colin and Justin complement and contradict in perfect measure. And even though, every now and again, it can feel just that little bit too much like an act, they are so warm, engaging and fun, that you’ll forgive them anything. Because, when everything is said and done, they come across as two guys from Glasgow who are immensely grateful for their lot in life.
They met at university in Glasgow. Justin studied psychology and Colin studied business, but they shared an interest in interior design. In their final year at university, they co-invested in a tiny flat in Glasgow, which cost them a grand total of £26,000 (Dh127,000). They transformed the space, spending very little money in the process (a local restaurant was closing down, so they took most of their fittings from there, and they bought a used fridge from a builder they knew for £50).
A year later, they sold the flat for double what they had originally paid for it. “We realised that we had just made more, in a single transaction, with minimal effort, than we had earned in a year in jobs that we didn’t particularly enjoy. So we did it again. And again. Four flats later we were at £150,000,” Justin recalls.
They were still in their early 20s. “With one of the flats we were selling, we had these great photos of it displayed in a realtor’s office, and someone from a TV show saw it and went to the agents and asked who designed it. He phoned and asked if we wanted to feature that flat on their show. And we said: ‘Why would we want to do that?’ And he replied: ‘They’ll give
you £50 each.’ And we said: ‘Okay, we’ll do it.’”
A few months later, when the TV network was looking at whether they should continue that particular show, they sent an episode out to a focus group. And, of the 30 episodes filmed, it happened to be the episode that Colin and Justin had featured in. “The focus group said: ‘The presenters are quite boring, but who were those two Scottish guys? They seemed quite fun’,” says Justin.
Thus came their first presenting job. They continued to flip properties and within a couple of years were selling homes worth more than a million pounds. They went on to host a prime-time BBC show in 2003 called the Million Pound Property Experiment. The premise was that they would start with a property worth £100,000, which was the average price of a home in Britain at the time, and flip their way, through seven purchases and sales, to a property worth a million. The proceeds from each flip were given to a well-known British charity, Children in Need.
The duo is now based permanently in Canada but, this week and weekend, are making appearances at Yas Mall, as part of a five-day, mall-wide, interior-design-focused initiative called Fashion Hits Home. Until Saturday, Colin and Justin will be presenting twice-daily, 30-minute room makeovers, dubbed Battle of the Rooms, where they are going head to head to design a specific space using products and furniture from Yas retailers such as The One, Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids, West Elm, Home Centre, Debenhams, Muji and Ace Hardware.
Their last trip to the UAE was 12 years ago, they tell me over coffee. “We came here to write one of our books. We’ve done three books and for our second, How Not to Decorate, we had a month to write it, so we came to Dubai for a few weeks and stayed at the One&Only Royal Mirage. We bedded into that hotel
for two-and-a-half weeks, and we wrote the skeleton of our book,” Justin explains.
They certainly know how to spin a good tale. When they did I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here in 2009, they were joined in the jungle by the likes of Katie Price, former heavyweight boxer Joe Bugner, actor George Hamilton and 1980s singer and model Samantha Fox – although that was a little awkward, they tell me conspiratorially. The duo had previously done a show called How Not to Decorate, which looked at some of the worst homes in the country. “Homes that were medical situations,” Colin says. “We would arrive and transform them.” The concept was so successful that they launched a celebrity version for Channel 5, and Fox’s home was one of the properties featured. “So it was kind of bizarre to see her again. Her house was crazy. But she was really nice about it.”
One important thing to note. If you are feeling despondent about the state of your own home, you are not alone, says Colin. “It’s a weird thing – people are still disappointed by their homes. They still don’t get that sense of self from their homes. I think if you’re living in a city like Abu Dhabi or Dubai, which is modern and all about opportunity, the pressure’s on.
“You’re in beautiful hotels and restaurants that are bringing all the latest trends to your doorstep – and then you get home to your little white box and you are disappointed. But everything that we do can be done by anybody who watches our programmes, which are all about making the ordinary extraordinary. It’s about how you put things together, how you assemble all of those elements, and that’s the information that we are hoping to impart in Abu Dhabi.”
Colin and Justin’s Battle of the Rooms will take place daily at 6.30pm and 8.30pm until Saturday, in Town Square at Yas Mall, Abu Dhabi