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Building Bryan's house of success

by Colin J. Fleming, BA'07

bryan baeumler

Bryan Baeumler, BA’96 (Political Science), never set out to land a television gig. For five years, he steadily built his business, putting in punishingly long hours and following his simple rules of success: “Pay your taxes, be there when you say you’ll be there, do what you say you’ll do, and collect what’s owed to you.” It worked. The company grew and so did the profits. Yet Baeumler, a man possessed by a restless entrepreneurial spirit, wanted more. To do that, he needed a marketing plan.

Around 2005, Home and Garden Television (HGTV) was just becoming popular and there was an explosion of big-box stores like Rona and Bed Bath and Beyond. Baeumler sensed an opportunity. So, he approached a production company working with HGTV and offered them a deal: He’d work for free in exchange for some promotion. Nothing big, just a logo at the end of one of the shows. They agreed. However, what Baeumler didn’t know was that they were also on the hunt for a new host for Disaster DIY.

Soon after, the production company came by one of Baeumler’s sites. It was a classic Disaster DIY scenario – homeowners made a mess of their big reno, and they called Baeumler to repair the damage.

“We were already doing the show,” Baeumler said. “We just weren’t filming it.”

Two weeks later Bryan got the call. HGTV wanted him to host. “It was unexpected,” Baeumler said. “But I thought, ‘What the hell? Let’s give it a shot.’ “

Bryan Baeumler is now probably the biggest name on HGTV Canada. He’s the star of Disaster DIY, House of Bryan, and Leave it to Bryan, and one of three expert judges on Canada’s Handyman Challenge. He’s also a Gemini-award winner, husband, and father of four. For the 39-year-old Western alumnus, it’s a success story he still finds surprising.

“If you had [told] me when I was stomping around Western what I’d be doing 20 years later, I would’ve said you’re nuts,” Baeumler said. “But here I am.”

These days Baeumler can’t even go to the mall without being approached by people.

“You’re never really sure who’ve you met before,” Baeumler said. “ Because people come to us and they know us. They’ve spent time watching us for years.”

Baeumler is so approachable because he’s one of those reality TV stars you feel like you really do know. There’s no character, no pretense, no theatrical cruelty. Baeumler is just himself – a masculine, good-humoured teacher unafraid of doing the dirty work, whether it be hanging drywall or ripping rotted tiles of an old roof.

Considering how easily likeable Baeumler is, it should come as no surprise that his most successful show is also his most personal: House of Bryan. Baeumler spent the second season building his family a gorgeous 3,500 square foot island cottage on Georgian Bay.

“At the time we thought it was a one-off because I had to take time to build,” Baeumler said. “We said to the network, ‘Let’s just film it.’ ” Much to Baeumler’s surprise, the series smashed network records, becoming HGTV Canada’s highest-rated series ever.

Yet, while Baeumler’s personality is now one of the driving forces of his success, he wasn’t always so happy and gregarious. In a Toronto Star article published in June of last year, he admitted, “I spent a few years in a very dark place dealing with severe anxiety and agoraphobia.”

These struggles were particularly acute in his final years at Western. “We’d go out at night, and I’d want to sit in a chair in the corner,” Baeumler said.

Things also didn’t get much better after graduation. Baeumler, unsure of his life path, took off with five friends to Vancouver to take what he called “one of those ‘What do I do now?’ years.” The anxiety and agoraphobia persisted.

“You’re getting into the big world, and you have to figure out where you’re going to rest your head at night, and how you’re going to feed yourself,” Baeumler said. Baeumler toyed with the idea of law school, but ended up landing a job through one his father’s connections brokering cargo flights.

The work was decent, but unfulfilling. Two years after he got the job, Baeumler found himself sitting in his Vancouver office wishing the clock would hit 4 p.m. so he could get back to renovating his home.

He decided he had enough. It was time for him to leave his job, to leave Vancouver, and to come home. Baeumler had found his path.

“I went to George Brown, took some trade course, some building courses, put my practical knowledge and my book knowledge together and charged out the door at full speed,” Baeumler said. “I haven’t looked back since.”


Baeumler is now at the peak of his career, but he has no plans for slowing down anytime soon. He’s developing several new shows, writing a book, and working on a clothing line with Dickies.

“I think very few entrepreneurs get to a spot one day when they say, ‘Okay, well I’m done,’ " Baeumler said. “It’s a continual process.”

However, Baeumler seems most proud of his and his wife Sarah’s charity, The Baeumler Family Foundation. Baeumler explained that they give money to established charities, but mostly provide desperately needed renovations to help struggling families.

So, if a child is living in a home full of toxic mold or in an apartment in danger of burning down because of faulty wiring, the family can apply through the charity and Baeumler’s crew will fix it for them.

For Baeumler, helping people take pride in their homes is one of the most important things he does. As he says, “It’s where you wake up in the morning.”


This article appeared in the Spring 2013 edition of Alumni Gazette
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