Cousins Out of the Kitchen: HGTV Stars Bring Reality Home

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HGTV stars and renovation specialists Anthony Carrino (left) and John Colaneri (right) with Alfonso Carrino (center)

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the the 2013 Summer issue of JCI Magazine.

Anthony Carrino and John Colaneri weren’t the first in the family to find acclaim in Jersey City kitchens. John’s great-grandfather, Giovanni Colaneri, operated a cutlery shop at 113 Coles Street in the 1920s. “He used to drive around and sharpen knives,” John tells JCI.

The Carrinos and Colaneris arrived separately in Jersey City from Italy; Anthony’s parents and John’s parents were all born here in town. The draw of the suburbs eventually brought the families out to Bergen County. Alfonso Carrino fell in love with Francine Colaneri; they wed and (reality television historians, take note) the two families were joined.

As Anthony and John grew up (Anthony in Franklin Lakes, John in Wycoff), they developed another bond. “We were always working in construction,” John explains. “I worked for uncles who had large construction companies in New Jersey.” Anthony recalls, “I worked through high school, just being a laborer or digging holes on construction sites.”

After graduating college with an entrepreneurship degree, Anthony returned home to his father Alfonso’s business in the loudspeaker import/export industry. As that company was winding down, father and son turned their attention to a building in Hoboken. “We basically just bought a brownstone and redeveloped it,” Anthony says. “Halfway through the process, we decided to start a company.” So in 2004, Brunelleschi Construction was born. (No, Brunelleschi is not yet another cousin; the company was named after Filippo Brunelleschi, legendary Renaissance architect.)

In 2008, cousin John—who majored in Labor and Industrial Relations, and is now completing a Masters in Construction Management at Stevens Institute—joined the company. A major project reintroduced the family to Jersey City: the m650 Flats. Brunelleschi restored and renovated the former home of the Calco Chemical Company at 650 Montgomery Street. The m650 residential property garnered much attention and praise. In 2009, the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy awarded Brunelleschi the first Adaptive Re-Use Preservation Prize for their work on m650. Meanwhile, Anthony and John both moved to condos in Jersey City. “We love Jersey City,” John says. “It’s such an eclectic spot. I love the diversity of it.”

Their company’s reputation continued to grow with projects throughout Hudson County. Then, out of the blue, a real-estate friend asked if she could videotape a “day in the life” of the cousins. “I told her she was crazy,” John remembers. But the friend persisted, and the resultant recording was sent to a New York City-based production firm. The producers were impressed, and shopped the concept around to television networks for nearly a year. The tape finally reached HGTV (Home & Garden Television), who asked the cousins to shoot a pilot episode in the summer of 2011. By that fall, Kitchen Cousins was on the air, and these Jersey boys were becoming the latest reality stars.

“It happened pretty fast,” says John. Anthony agrees: “It is pretty incredible. We did trip into it; it’s nothing we ever expected nor were we working towards.”

Prior to the show debuting, Brunelleschi moved their headquarters to the former Hook & Ladder No. 3 firehouse on Central Avenue in Jersey City Heights. “We were able to finally call Hudson County home for our business along with our personal lives,” Anthony states. The restored 1896 building also provided the expanding company with much more space and a workshop downstairs. The Landmarks Conservancy again commended Brunelleschi’s work, with the firehouse project receiving the 2012 Excellence in Preservation Award. “There’s no greater honor than being recognized by your peers, and by people who you consider very knowledgeable in the field,” Anthony says. “So to win those awards is a great source of pride for us.”

And the cousins couldn’t be more pleased than having their company based in Jersey City. “It’s such a large city, it has that urban landscape that we love, and the historical buildings. It was just a perfect fit for us,” John explains.

Anthony adds, “There’s just a lot more character in Jersey City, a lot more architecturally significant buildings.”

Rooftop renovations that were in progress this Summer at 8 Erie Street

After two successful seasons of Kitchen Cousins, HGTV started working with Anthony and John on a new show, Cousins on Call, which aired earlier this year. Shooting television shows obviously takes up a fair amount of their time. Meanwhile, the increased exposure has brought in more private contracts for Brunelleschi Construction. John admits that balancing their television work with the company’s other assignments is a real challenge, so they’ve had to adapt. “We wore a lot of hats,” John says of his early days with Alfonso and Anthony in Brunelleschi. “We were the accountant, the construction guy who would go on- site and work, the janitor who would take out the garbage. We were everything.”

Now, Brunelleschi has been able to hire an office manager, two cost estimators/designers, a project manager, and an on-site supervisor. While Anthony and John are off shooting or traveling, Alfonso oversees the entire operation. The extra help and delegation of responsibilities assures that projects get done in a timely manner with the same attention to detail that is Brunelleschi’s hallmark. John admits, “Anthony and I would love to be involved in everything, but you realize you can’t.”

In their television “downtime” this spring, Anthony, John, and Alfonso announced perhaps their biggest project yet: the TelCo Lofts at 8 Erie Street in downtown Jersey City. The space takes its name from the building’s original use in the late 19th century as a switching station for the old New York & New Jersey Telephone Company. More recently, it was headquarters for the Jersey City Police Department. When the project is completed (the target date is spring 2014), the building will house 16 residential units, a barbecue restaurant, and a gym.

In line with current trends in green construction, the TelCo Lofts will feature a large rooftop “solar farm” and one of the most energy-efficient elevators available. John admits that in restoration projects, being environmentally responsible is sometimes tricky. Still, Brunelleschi does everything they can. “If we take down a brick wall—if we can re-use those bricks someplace else in the building instead of just putting them in the dump, that’s what you want to do,” John says. “And we try to be conscious of our materials, checking if they’re recyclable.” Within apartments, Brunelleschi also installs eco-friendly touches such as tankless water heaters.

But the most obvious “green” at TelCo might be the fresh produce. Anthony and John are very excited about the Erie Street Market, which will be located on the ground floor. Vendors will offer a wide variety of meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, and more.

“The market that we’re going to design and operate is going to be integrated into the social fabric of Jersey City,” Anthony says.

John adds, “The people who live in that neighborhood, they are in for a treat, they really are!”

Though the vendors haven’t been announced yet, one is already known,and the cousins are again keeping it in the family. John’s brother Casey Colaneri—a chef who has appeared with the cousins on television—will offer artisan sandwiches, soups, salads, and more. Casey plans to incorporate ingredients from the market’s other purveyors. “Being right there with the Grove Street PATH—when people are coming home from work, he wants to have prepared dinners ready,” John explains. “Quick and easy to-go, but it’ll be very, very fresh—farm-to-table type stuff.”

While work continues at 8 Erie this summer, the cousins are busy shooting episodes for their newest HGTV series, which will premiere in the fall. “If it’s possible, it’s getting bigger! Giving us an hour-long show!” Anthony says. The twist for Undercover Overhaul is that Anthony and John will surprise different “hometown heroes” with much-needed home renovations. (The work will secretly be done while the homeowners are away on vacation.) Ellen DeGeneres, who worked with Anthony and John on a similarly-themed episode of Kitchen Cousins, will be involved in Undercover Overhaul as well. Local fans definitely know where to find Anthony and John, and the cousins deeply appreciate all the support from the community.

“It’s rare that a day goes by now that somebody doesn’t yell out, ‘Brunelleschi!’ or ‘What’s up, Anthony and John?’ It’s cool, you know?” Anthony explains. “You see people take pictures of the firehouse here. We’ll have the garage door open sometimes, doing a project downstairs, making a table or sanding something down, and people are always poking their heads in, saying hello. It’s been fantastic.” After three television series and many major renovations, what dream projects are still out there for Anthony, John, and Brunelleschi Construction?

“We’ve done a firehouse, we’re doing a police station. So I think we need to do a church and a school, and then we’ll have all the public buildings wrapped up!” Anthony jokes. John, meanwhile, gets a glimmer in his eye while discussing another Jersey City landmark: the Powerhouse. “That building is so large; you could do so many amazing things. I love that building. Love it, love it, love it,” he says. But could this actually happen? John adds with a smile, “The city knows about us. It ain’t hard to find us! Come up to the Heights, knock on our door.”

For more information check the Brunelleschi Construction website.

Photos by Mickey Mathis

Additional Coverage:
Kitchen Cousins Cut Ribbon at 8 Erie Street
HGTV Filming Show Promo on Friday at 8th and Erie Streets

is a writer, editor, internet-radio DJ and occasional emcee. He is the author of several books and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, New York Press, New Jersey Monthly, Weird NJ, and other publications. Jack’s humorous ramblings can be found at Salt In Wound.

  • RHONYC

    they’re around the corner from my home…i see these guys like once a month and always think to myself, “hey, there goes one of da ‘Cousins!” Lol

    the kicker is i don’t think other commuters even recognize who they are, just HGTV nerds like me! ;-D