The openly gay contractor/carpenter talks about everything and anything…
By Christopher Turner
Kenny Brain is back and customizing spaces across the country while a legion of fans ogle their TV screens. Along with designer Kortney Wilson, Brain stars in the HGTV Canada series Making It Home With Kortney & Kenny, which returned for its third season on October 11. While the season has just begun, Brain guarantees that fans will see plenty of the duo’s chemistry as they help a new set of homeowners turn their dysfunctional and dated properties into dream homes.
Proudly hailing from Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland, Brain replaced Dave Wilson beginning in Season 2, after the Wilsons after the Wilsons announced in December 2019 that they were separating after 18 years of marriage. Brain seemed like an unlikely choice to take over as co-star of the series: after all, at the time the former model was best known as a the brains behind one of the most memorable houseguest alliances on Season 2 of Global’s reality competition series, Big Brother Canada. But before the alliance, Brain was a general contractor and carpenter whose passion for renovation had been sparked in his early 20s after helping some friends renovate their home and cabin. He says once he got a taste for transforming spaces, he couldn’t let that creative outlet go, so following his stint with BBC, Brain set his sights on a career in residential and commercial renovations. Cue Making It Home With Kortney & Kenny.
Pairing Wilson and Brain proved to be a smart move. HGTV reports that last season the series was a runaway hit both on-air and online, ranking as the number-one visited show site on HGTV.ca. Reno lovers love the chemistry between the dynamic duo, and love the strategic renovation decisions that keep the homeowners’ needs and style in mind.
IN caught up with Brain recently and chatted about everything and anything, including the hit HGTV Canada series, Big Brother Canada regrets, coming out, his relationship status, and whether or not he’d shave off his trademark beard.
Let’s kick things off and talk about Season 3 of Making It Home With Kortney & Kenny. What can viewers expect this season?
Big things! This season has been a roller coaster in the BEST way. The ups and downs of renovating these homes under such tight timelines wasn’t easy, especially since the designs are bigger and bolder than ever. On top of that, the homeowners, their personalities and their stories are so inspiring and deserving, so the stakes have never been higher. However, I think the biggest thing to expect from this season is way more fun and laughs. Kortney and I didn’t go a day without making each other laugh until we almost wet ourselves, and I think that is going to be really fun to watch.
What’s one thing about your relationship with Kortney that we don’t know?
Half the stuff we talk about can’t be aired on TV.
Are there any stories from this upcoming season or a past season of Making It Home With Kortney & Kenny that have just stuck with you?
There is one in particular from this upcoming season that hits hard. Really hard. I don’t want to get too deep into it because it’s something you really have to witness to fully comprehend the magnitude. However, I will say that it has honestly changed my mindset and how I react to things in my own life that may not be going that well. These homeowners and their incredibly positive attitudes, even in the face of the hand they have been dealt, will shatter your heart and rebuild it in the same episode.
Do you consider yourself a role model for LGBTQ+ viewers across the country?
I definitely did not set out to be a role model for anyone. I have many flaws and I make many mistakes…fairly often, actually! But I make no apologies for that because I think the biggest growth in my life has come from taking chances and making those mistakes. I’m very much still figuring things out as I go. The only thing I’ve ever wanted to do is be my most authentic self and be the happiest I can be while doing something I love – and if someone sees that and it resonates with them, I am truly honoured.
Who do you consider a role model?
That’s a tough question. It’s tough because the people who surround me all inspire me in some way, shape or form. My father’s sense of adventure, my mother’s heart, Kortney’s work ethic and honesty. Every time I speak to a friend who is going through something, either good or bad, I am reminded of some aspect of how incredible they are because of how they carry themselves. So I have many role models in my life.
I’m wondering how you got your start with Making It Home With Kortney & Kenny. Before HGTV we knew you from Big Brother Canada, which is a very different show…
VERY different show in so many ways. However, both are very much pressure cookers: Big Brother Canadabecause of the social aspects of the game and the trust issues (still getting over those), and Making It Home for the tight timelines to deliver something custom and perfect for some of the most deserving people.
The jump between the two was sort of out of the blue for me. I had been working in and around the Greater Vancouver area doing renovations, and I got a call asking if I would be interested in auditioning for a renovation show. I obviously had no idea what it was at first, and I almost didn’t do it. However, ultimately I am a ‘yes man’ and think life is about experiences, so I decided to give it a whirl. And I couldn’t be happier that I did.
Speaking of Big Brother, you were the brains behind Big Brother Canada Season 2’s fallen ‘First Five’ alliance. Hypothetically speaking…would you ever revisit the experience on an All Stars season?
This very thing pops into my mind on occasion. Would I – and COULD I EVEN if given the chance? It wasn’t easy for me in there, and I struggled being cooped up like that. You have no idea how long a day is when you have NOTHING to occupy yourself but your own very overactive and paranoid brain. But the more I think of it, the more I realize I am not the same person that stepped into that madhouse the first time – and like I said, I am a ‘yes man’ and super-competitive, so I think I wouldn’t be able to say no should the offer ever come knocking.
Most people will remember that you played it straight during your time on Big Brother Canada.… Do you have any regrets about that strategy?
Absolutely not. Did it work? Not really – but I don’t regret it for a lot of reasons. First and foremost is because it gave me one of my favourite moments from the show: when I came out to the entire house around the hot tub. They were all so incredible, and it sparked some really amazing conversations about WHY people have to ‘come out’ at all and how hopefully at some point in the future ‘coming out’ will be a thing of the past. Not one of the housemates had to come up to me and shake my hand and say, ‘Hey, just so you know…I’m heterosexual.’ So why should I have to do any different? I also didn’t exactly state I was straight – I just eluded telling them I was gay.
I know I got some kickback about that [with some people] in the media stating I was ashamed of myself and I set the gay community back by doing so – but I had come out to my family and friends on the outside prior to the show, I had come out to Canada in the Diary Room [where players speak directly into the camera to tell viewers about their emotions and strategies], I came out to Sarah [Miller, a fellow player] first and then to my fellow housemates when the time was right. I’m very proud of who I am; I’m just apparently not very good at Big Brother strategies.
When did you come out? And what was that experience like for you?
I was 23 when I came out and overall I had a very positive experience. I would say that I am very lucky, but I know that it’s not just luck. I have worked very hard my entire life at surrounding myself with people who love and support me just as much as I do them. I don’t have room in my life for bad energy, and if you aren’t okay with something as simple as who I love, then I don’t have space for you in my life. Period.
Am I making it sound like I had way more confidence than I actually did? Absolutely. Even with a great support system, I was scared to death to expose myself like that – revealing something that would change everyone’s perception of me. However, I attribute that support system – and some luck being born in Canada – to why I had such a positive experience. I know there are so many who do not have the same story, or who live in a place where no matter what people they surround themselves with, it isn’t safe for them to come out.
This is why I hold the people in my life very close to me. My friends were all supportive and loving. My family were there for me and made me feel seen and loved. My dad was the last person I told, and I would be lying if I said it went great. I am the last male in my family with the surname ‘Brain’ and that means a lot to my dad, so he did have some concerns. We talked it out and he realized there are so many ways a family can form and grow, and being gay just means there is more planning involved. He has since become my biggest cheerleader and supporter, and our relationship has never been stronger. He’s actually going to be in an episode of this season! I won’t give away too much but he may pop up driving his Harley. He’s a man of the road, after all.
How long have you had your trademark beard?
Honestly, at this point it feels like I was born with it. I think the last time I fully shaved my face was Grade 11 – I was a really hairy kid and used to be very self-conscious about it. So I’ve had some form of beard or scruff since then.
Would you ever shave it off?
I don’t think I would ever fully shave it off. It’s almost like a security blanket now. I would feel hyper-exposed – but then again, if an incredible opportunity came along where a shaved face was needed…it’s hair, and it would grow back.
Are you single?
I am indeed.
Your celebrity crush?
Murray Bartlett and Tom Holland.
What do you want people to know about you that they might not already know?
I feel like there’s a fair amount about me floating around on the internet as it is. I think that’s maybe what I want them to know: that as much as you can read and watch, there is still more. I’m still just a guy who grew up in a small town in Newfoundland who has to pinch himself when he gets a minute and realizes where his life has led him. I have bad days, I sometimes get really nervous before shooting, I say the wrong thing and beat myself up over it. I read what people say online sometimes and it can bother me. I’m human and I’m figuring it all out and trying to learn as I go.
I have a whole bunch of exciting things happening in my world. I recently moved to Calgary to be closer to family and also started a renovation business with my sister, Laura. She hated her job. She wanted to work more with her hands and have a more gratifying career. I can totally relate to that. It’s why I went back to trade school to become a carpenter. She is apprenticing under me as a tile setter. We are focused on being an LGBTQ+- and woman-run inclusive space, and I can’t tell you how exciting it is to start something I’m so proud of with someone I love so much.
I also just did a national activewear shoot with Simons, which should be released in October and November – so keep your eye out for that! There may be some acting happening in the new year, but don’t want to get too much into that just yet!
Season 3 of Making It Home With Kortney & Kenny is currently airing on HGTV Canada on Tuesday nights at 10 pm ET/PT.
CHRISTOPHER TURNER acted as guest editor for this issue of IN Magazine. He is a Toronto-based writer, editor and lifelong fashionisto with a passion for pop culture and sneakers. Follow him on social media at @Turnstylin.