Sexy dancer-cum-handyman Francis Toumbakaris swings his big, gay hammer on new HGTV show ‘Brother v. Brother’
HGTV’s newest renovation stud, Francis Toumbakaris, is as comfortable in a pair of tights and pointe shoes as he is in work boots and overalls. Trained in classical ballet since age 12, Toumbakaris has high-kicked his way onto stages in national tours of Fosse and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and on Broadway in the revival of Fiddler on the Roof starring Alfred Molina (and later, Harvey Fierstein and Rosie O’Donnell). Other theatrical career highlights include the award-winning Susan Stroman dance musical Contact and Candide at New York City Opera.
“Drama is in my blood,” he says. “I am Greek, after all. Drama was born in my country.”
His sense for the flamboyant shines in Brother v. Brother, HGTV’s latest competition show where renovators are split into two teams — headed by Property Brothers siblings Drew and Jonathan Scott — to compete for a $50,000 cash prize. Toumbakaris is one of the contestants on Team Jonathan, hoping to take home the big prize. And he’s not shy about being the token gay on the show.
“I’m out and loud,” he says. “I’m not afraid to get dirty and I thrive on making decisions on the fly. I want to think I am a likable character, but it’s a show where even within our own teams, we are pitted against one another. The show is filled with conflict.”
A lot of that conflict has been fueled by Toumbakaris, whose decision to use a vivid wall color in the series premiere nearly got him booted. Since then, he has alternately flummoxed and delighted his teammates with his antics and fiery Greek personality.
Toumbakaris has been financially independent since he was 15, when he left his Athens home on scholarship to attend the prestigious Rudra Béjart dance school in Switzerland. The same year Toumbakaris entered high school, he signed a lease on his own studio apartment. To make the tiny studio a home away from home, he painted, decorated and, with the help of his stepfather, constructed customized furniture for it.
“I designed a dual purpose kitchen island that would allow me extra counter space and storage. What 15-year-old thinks of that?” he laughs. “But I loved it. I felt the same thrill handling tools as I did pointing my toes and trying to leap higher than anyone else in my ballet class.”
In 2000, on a tourist visa, Toumbakaris set out for New York City. He had only $2,000 in his pocket, money he had saved from being a backup dancer for a pop singer in Greece. But he was young, driven and ambitious.
He would land the occasional theater and film job, but he needed another job to see him through the lean months between gigs. After returning from touring with Scoundrels, he placed an ad looking for small painting projects, repair work and other odd jobs.
“I would ride around the city on my bicycle and a backpack full of tools,” Toumbakaris says.
The big surprise was when his survival job began to take on a life of its own. One satisfied client referred another, which led to another and so on. Within a year, Toumbakaris went from completing simple jobs to doing full-scale renovations in Manhattan apartments. In 2007, his contracting and design company, Greek & Handy, was established.
Toumbakaris believes his years as a dancer helped prepare him for design. The stage taught him to be fearless, to perform under tremendous stress and to make the job work even when all appears to be going wrong. It taught him to trust his gut instinct and most importantly, dance taught him about the art of space.
“Dancers learn to appreciate how bodies and objects flow through space. I bring that philosophy into my renovations, striving to find the perfect balance in a room through smart design and efficient layout.”
According to Toumbakaris, good design is not simply about pretty colors, fabrics and accessories. It is an art that requires precise and intricate problem solving. “I am constantly calculating new ways to improve my clients’ work and living environments.”
Toumbakaris describes his style as comfortable luxury with a classic urban feel. “I like to think of myself as the orchestra conductor.
Although I may not play all the instruments, I direct all the moving pieces to create one beautiful harmony.”
His theatrical training even helped to land Brother Vs. Brother. ”I auditioned three times for the network, hoping to compete on season four of HGTV’s Design Star.” However, producers felt Toumbakaris’ background in home construction was better suited for Drew and Jonathan’s new show.
He’s excited that Brother Vs. Brother is giving him the opportunity to combine his love of show biz with his passion for renovation. “I never thought wearing a tool belt would give me the chance to perform on a new stage,” he says. “But why not? I’m an artist. I’m always looking to create something new.”
His ambition extends beyond the show. A Greek & Handy line of tools, paints and home goods is in the works. Toumbakaris also aims to find a husband and build a family. Yes, the dancer-turned-handyman-turned-interior renovator admits he is anxious for his next big role, that of daddy.
And by daddy, he means, being a parent … just so we’re clear.
Brother v. Brother airs on HGTV Sundays at 9 p.m.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 2, 2013.