Keith And Evan Compare Rock The Block To Their Other Work - Exclusive Interview

HGTV's hit competition, "Rock The Block," has returned for Season 3 with home renovation teams facing off in Charleston, South Carolina. The competition is hosted by craftsman and design expert Ty Pennington, and there are four teams competing to win the overall show and have a street named after them. The competitors this season are twins Leslie Davis and Lyndsay Lamb of "Unsellable Houses," Dave and Jenny Marrs of "Fixer to Fabulous," Egypt Sherrod and Mike Jackson of "Married to Real Estate," and Keith Bynum and Evan Thomas of "Bargain Block."

Bynum and Thomas sat down for an exclusive interview with The List to share their experience on the show. The Detroit-based couple discussed what made "Rock The Block" a completely different experience from their show "Bargain Block." They also opened up about what the judgings were like, how they adjusted to working on a bigger project with a bigger budget, and what their biggest regret from the show was.

How Evan went from a Ph.D. in physics to flipping homes

How did you guys start renovating homes together?

Evan: We met in Colorado, and then we bought a house together as our first place to live, and it needed to be renovated. We renovated that house together, and then we did it while we lived there. That one took about nine months because we both actually had full-time jobs while we were working on it, and then we bought another house right after that house was finished, and we renovated that house and sold that one. And then at that point, I graduated from graduate school, and I was deciding what kind of path I wanted to take, whether I wanted to continue on with what I was trained in or jump into this house flipping thing with Keith, and I obviously went with the flipping, and then we moved to Detroit to start our flipping business.

What were you studying before that? What were you planning on?

Evan: I was in physics. I finished my PhD and then, it was at that point that we decided to move here.

That's a really big career shift. Did you ever see [yourself] doing something that out of left-field or what it would possibly lead to in the future?

Evan: It was definitely a left-field choice for sure, but I liked what we were doing in Colorado, and it was paying the bills, and we were having fun with it. I decided to continue on with that and try and grow that business.

Why Keith and Evan started their business in Detroit

What made you decide on Detroit to start the business there?

Keith: I don't even know who this guy was, but I was following somebody randomly years ago on Instagram that had the same interest in renovations. I was following several people on Instagram that were doing similar flips, like what we were doing in Colorado. This one guy — I've tried to find him for years — but this one guy I remember posted a story that said he was flying to Detroit to look at a bunch of houses. I remember the following day, there was a story saying that he put offers in on ten houses. I was like, "What, what, what is going on? Like this is so crazy." Then, a few days later, he said he got most of the houses, and he started renovating them, and I followed him briefly in the beginning, and then he disappeared off of Instagram, [in the middle of] his renovation process. That's what put Detroit on the radar for me, was that particular social media interaction.

I started doing research out here, and I was looking at Baltimore, Oakland, California, Detroit, all over the country. It was clear that Detroit had a really great opportunity for the creative side. That was really what sold me on it, was Detroit's arts scene.

Evan: We also didn't have a lot of money. We didn't have tons of capital to go in and start flipping million-dollar houses, so we had to start somewhere that we could actually afford.

How they balance their relationship and their business

What would you guys say is the best and most challenging part of working together, running a business together, and also being a couple?

Keith: We always get that questions like this.

Evan: People are so fascinated by couples who work together.

Keith: I love it. I think what works in our situation is that we both found different aspects of the job that we are passionate about. I love the creative. I love the fun part of the design. I like all of the artistic side of things. Evan is also extremely into the process. He really loves making things work with that Ph.D. brain and that math side with the physics. The process was perfected. We were able to take this creative and really fun side for me and combine it with his process capabilities. It really creates a unique and fun product. In our case, it's a house which is, really, for us it's fun, and that's my answer, and what's yours?

Evan: That's probably why it works. The challenging things would be if we have different opinions about the other person's lane, like if I have an opinion about his design or if he has an opinion about how we need to approach a certain series of tasks or something like that, then I think we can sometimes butt heads. Usually, we're pretty much in agreement.

Keith: We're both pretty mild-mannered, so it doesn't ever get terribly loud or messy. It's so funny. I know, even before I present a problem to Evan, pretty much what his response is going to be. It's extremely formulaic. It's very well researched. There's a process there. It's really incredible to watch his mind work.

Why Rock The Block was "completely different" from Bargain Block

What was it like going from where you were in Detroit to then South Carolina to film for "Rock The Block?"

Evan: That was a totally different experience. 100%. ["Rock The Block"] was filmed totally different than our show. The budget is completely different. The type of house is completely different. Everything about it is completely different.

Keith: There was not a single similarity. We had this mindset of, "Okay, it's got to be like 'Bargain Block.'  That's our experience with television, that's all we know." We get down there, and I was like, "Ah."

Evan: We were told that it was going to be different, and it was very much different.

Keith: It was very different.

Evan: There's not a single thing that was the same about our show. Every aspect of it was different.

Keith: From a work perspective, it's really wild to think about, in your normal day-to-day job, you have pretty much the set day, and it's very nice and regimented and you know what's going to happen when you wake up. And then, HGTV calls, and they're like, "Hey, we're going to ... how about you go to South Carolina for six weeks, and we're going to put you in this place you've never been."

It's super exciting, but at the same time, you're like, "Okay." Then you get down there, and the reality of it is you're super far from home, you're trying to run a business now from a thousand miles away, and we were in the middle of filming our season [for "Bargain Block."] We were running, at that time, [more than six houses, and now we're in] Charleston, in a place we've never been, running a project we've never seen in real life with people we've never met and contractors we don't know. It was a wild experience.

What it was like designing such a large house for Rock The Block

As you mentioned, the house that you're working on is a lot bigger than what you usually do. What was that adjustment like?

Keith: Oh man, that square footage difference was insane. It felt like we did six of our houses down there because this was like...

Evan: Each space is essentially like a similar budget to one of our entire houses.

Keith: It felt like, square footage wise, the main suite is about the same square footage as some of our houses. In fact, it's a bigger first floor than most of our bungalows. We were standing there, and we were like, "We're doing the same amount of work for a whole house and the same budget and everything, but we're doing it six times." It was like, "Wow." It felt like six houses in six weeks instead of [one]. I think everybody else was — I know Egypt and Mike have done much larger houses. I feel like they were in their wheelhouse and the twins (Leslie Davis and Lyndsay Lamb) too, and Dave and Jenny also do bigger houses. We attacked it like it was six different houses.

Evan: Well, not really. We still had —

Keith: With the same design.

Evan: We had a plan of attack, but it was also really fun, though, to be able to have that kind of budget where we could pour in $50,000 into a kitchen where we obviously would never be able to do that on our houses.

Keith: No, that was a dream come true to have a budget, to be able to express some of the fun ideas that we've had when you're standing around, and you're like, "Oh, if I had $10,000, this is what I would do."

Evan: Well, you do.

Keith: Now they're like, "Here, here it is." I'm like, "Now what do I do?" When we don't have a big budget and our shows, we don't have the luxury of a lot of selection. We don't have to worry about, "Can we buy handmade tiles?" It's like, "No, what's available at Home Depot today?" The difference is, suddenly, the whole world opened up in terms of design possibilities, [and] it was hard for me to pick because I love doing so many different things that it was really a challenge for me to find something and make it cohesive for that much square footage and those big impacts.

Why designing budget-friendly homes is important to Keith and Evan

Do you feel like you had to think of it in a different way to get over that adjustment, or were you still doing the same way you operate?

Evan: I don't think we had to change how we thought about designing a house necessarily, but we definitely added a lot of things that we never would normally add.

Keith: Architecturally.

Evan: All sorts of features that we had never put in houses before, we got to do, like outdoor kitchens, and beams in living rooms, and huge fireplace features, and ten slabs of marble, and the list goes on and on.

Keith: I know, we had a dream list of all the times we've discussed these little houses, and I'm like, "I got to check off almost every one." It was really fun.

On your show, "Bargain Block," a big part of it is making the houses affordable. Was that, originally when you started designing out, a necessity, and it stayed in your lane, or was that important to you for a different reason?

Evan: Well, when we started ... that still is, actually, what the houses would sell for in those markets. Those houses don't sell for $300,000. That's not what happens there. When we first moved here, we were just listing it at the appropriate comp range, and we kept doing that. That's what we're still doing.

Keith: Yeah. What really developed from a business standpoint on our side was we were seeing that there was a massively underserved portion of the market. Like we were seeing that there was a massive response to a really well-done affordable house. If you can hit that under $150,000 range, that's a very affordable house in today's market. Not just that, but to be able to give an elevated design, that's somewhat thought out, we don't have infinite time and money, but we think about the spaces and how we would live in them because a lot of times we did — not anymore thank goodness, but it's part of the whole challenge, being able to give somebody something that isn't on the market, and that's what we've continued to do.

That's where the passion I found came alive, seeing people light up, having an opportunity to own something like what we can sell at the price we can sell it at. That became addictive. I was like, "Everybody has to have a hundred thousand house." I was like Oprah — everybody got a house!

How the competition affected Keith and Evan

With "Rock The Block" being a competition, did having that competition aspect affect the way you worked at all or get in your head in any way?

Keith: Yes.

Evan: Definitely. For the most part, it was a fun experience. The process was fun. The people were fun, but the judgings were definitely really hard.

Keith: We both did have a crying spell on the bedroom bath. We realized that we had ... I think it hit me harder because I actually ... Evan kept saying that we really need to do something as a wow factor for the closet, and I was like, "No, no, no, no. That's dumb. Like the bathroom and bedroom are great enough." He was so right, and it was so heartbreaking for me on that side because he was saying it the whole time, and I didn't want to hear it. I didn't want to spend the money there. The judging aspect is ten times harder. They were so nice, too.

Evan: It's not like one of those shows where you're read to filth.

Keith: We love "Drag Race," they are so much nicer than "Drag Race." It's hugely still devastating, though, to stand there and be told, "Hey, you did mess up," and really, to be fair to Evan, it was me that screwed that up. He was like, "We have to put a fun closet in. We have to do something really crazy." I was like, "No, like we're going to do this built-in and it's good enough. The bathroom will sell the whole thing," and I was wrong.

At least you'll own it. You're like, "I'll take that one."

Keith: Yeah. It really was my fault. He can't like...

Evan: Other than those judgings, the whole process was...

Keith: Awesome.

Evan: Was pretty fun, actually.

What sets their designs apart on Rock The Block

Do you feel like you guys had any edge or anything that kind of set you apart from the other pairs?

Evan: I don't know if I'd call it an edge.

Keith: I wouldn't call it an edge...

Evan: Definitely things that set us apart. It's obvious to people our the style of the house is 100% different than all the other houses.

Keith: I think it was interesting now that we've been around other TV people that ... we hadn't really ever met anybody in the TV world before this "Rock The Block" experience. Seeing how they operate and there were a few similarities, but it is odd to see how different we operate on every level of our business than what a lot of people do. It was jarring because we live in this little bubble of, "This is our life, and this is how everything is." Then you see it, and you're like, "Whoa, everybody's got such a different approach."

Evan: Yeah. Our style [is] obviously very different. Yeah. Keith, he doesn't do things, I don't know how to put it, but he's not going to do anything that's a mass appeal just for the sake of mass appeal. If he has a vision about something, he's going to do that, even if it makes a more specific buyer.

Keith: That's the Leanne Ford approach. She doesn't care who hates her designs. She knows she's good. I'm working to get to that level one day. Maybe I'll get close to Leanne.

Why production on Rock The Block 'felt like a city'

You said that filming this show was completely different. Were there any specific differences that really stuck out to you?

Evan: Well, you're renovating a 3,500 square foot house in six weeks. So, obviously the amount of crews around, the amount of help that everyone has to get this enormous feat done is very different than our show.

Keith: It felt like a city.

Evan: It was like a...

Keith: Little town.

Evan: Yeah. It was like a little "Rock The Block" town where there were tons of people. It's a totally different production than our show. There's way more crew members, way more construction people, way more everything.

Keith: It was like what I envisioned [for] the fairytale version of the behind-the-scenes of "Bewitched," where they have all the cute little houses, and then you turn around, there are the cameras and everything. It was exactly like that. It was like this little magical world of TV over there and then construction with a little stick on their shoulder. It was like a dream.

Evan: I have no idea what you're talking about, but...

Keith: You know what I'm talking about.

Evan: No, I don't.

Keith: Maybe I'm not the only one that [saw]  "Bewitched," I don't know. Well, anyway, it was like a little fairy tale world of TV/house reno, which is really fun.

This part of the house is "a total departure" from the rest

Are there any parts of the home that you designed that you're really excited for people to see when the episode comes out?

Evan: We were really excited for people to see the living room and the bathroom and also, and the kitchen and the exterior is really cool.

Keith: You know what? This is a great opportunity for me to put the next episode, a little teaser, just to say, as a reminder, this is the frog space coming up this next week. Okay. Frog space is a free room over the garage.

Evan: Finished room.

Keith: Finished room. I always get it wrong. With that space, since you've given me a voice, so here I go, it was a total departure on purpose from the rest of the house. It was meant to feel like a totally different space.

Evan: It was meant to be a rental, so it's a boutique hotel separate from the main house.

Keith: I can already see social media lighting up, saying, "That's totally different. It doesn't make sense for the rest of the house." It was designed to be a totally separate space, so I am excited for everybody to see this coming week. I feel like we're going to get a lot of Twitter action.

All press is good press, right?

Keith: You know they keep saying that.

Evan: That's what they say.

Keith: But whenever you read that you have a super annoying voice on Twitter. It's like, "Hey, I can't help that."

Keith and Evan share their top tip for renovating your home

If you guys could recommend one thing that anyone could do to kind of change their space or make it look a little better, even if they don't know anything about home reno?

Evan: Wow. That's an open-ended question.

Keith: Do you want an answer from each of us? Cause I think that would be fun. All right. I'll go first because that'll give Evan some time to think. A lot of people are super terrified of color, and it's one of those things that, if you can figure out what you are attracted to in color, that's awesome. I love people's image boards, all those types of things that put together a visual of it. That is step one, create a visual and then not to be afraid of color. It is so easy to fix if you mess up. That's what I always tell you. What's a couple of hours to paint a wall? If you really screw up, you can paint over it. A lot of people have hesitations about taking that design step, and I think it would be fun.

Evan: If you're furnishing a space, if you don't have a huge budget, maybe get one nice new piece, and then you can have thrifted pieces or vintage pieces paired with the nice new one. Somehow, that one nice, more expensive new piece elevates the whole space. If you have a lot of money, then you can get all new, but if you don't, then you can do that.

"Rock The Block" Season 3 airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HGTV and streams on discovery+.