Couple puts Minnesota on the national design map with HGTV show Stay or Sell

Couple puts Minnesota on the national design map with HGTV show Stay or Sell

Flipping their first home wasn’t glamorous for former Maple Grove resident Brad Fox and his wife, Heather Fox. It had a foot of water in the basement, lead paint and mold. The project involved the couple eating a lot of ramen noodles, delaying bill payments, and piecing together scavenged materials and DIY projects with no money, no help, and certainly no cameras to document it all.

“We bought the worst house you can possibly imagine,” Heather remembers. “But it was kind of fun—we’d watch HGTV to get inspired, and that’s where the dream started.”

They flipped one house, and then another—and the renovation bug bit, hard. After the recession, they walked away from their jobs to launch a real estate company, Fox Homes, in Minnetonka. It’s grown, and today the Edina couple and its team work with 30-ish independent agents and designers, still brokering traditional real estate but also staging, designing and coordinating contractors to make not-so-optimal homes work for the clients.

“Being Realtors makes us better designers and vice versa,” Brad says. “Sometimes it’s possible to open a floor plan and be more efficient with space. Maybe we find an affordable 1960s two-story that’s 1,000 square feet less than they thought they needed, but we can make it work for them.”

When Brad and Heather were contacted by a production company for HGTV in September 2016, they thought it was an advertising pitch and immediately said, “No, thanks.” About the time they realized the invitation to star in a renovation show was legit, they also realized the huge shift it would mean as leaders of a growing company—and parents of Wesley and Graham, ages five and seven.

Their first order of business was to Google “sizzle reel”—a short commercial, of sorts, designed to give a feel for their on-screen presence—which they completed in May 2017. They got a green light from the network in July and immediately lined up a project for the pilot episode: renovating a home in St. Louis Park for Brian and Liza Hill and their growing family. They filmed in October, finished the episode by February, and it aired in July, with the Foxes and 150 of their friends seeing it for the first time at their launch party at 6Smith.

“This is 100 percent what we do. Sometimes a plane would fly overhead, so we’d have to resay things, but that’s it,” says Heather, who describes long days on set using a frigid portable toilet between takes. “We were nervous, but they did a good job capturing us. They watched every minute of film—days and days of it—and they really made us, us.”

The Fox Approach

Chip and Joanna Gaines, who have had a mountain of success with their HGTV home renovation show, have the Magnolia Manifesto, and the Foxes have a strong philosophy that guides their work, too. Whether they’re helping a client find a perfect starter home or flipping a space for a national audience, there’s a strategy in place:

    • Don’t overthink. Just do it! Trends come and go, and rules are meant to be broken. “You have to be a little free-flowing to do a fixer-upper,” Heather says. “Houses have a million different moving parts, so you have to let your Type A tendencies go a little bit.”
    • Don’t focus (too much) on profit. “With our real estate clients, we’re never high-pressure. We’re really just trying to help people accomplish what they want to do,” Brad says. “We overspend all the time because we want to do quality builds.”
    • Use color and elements to draw people into a space. “Home is an extension of who you are. We’re lucky to be in a place where most people can afford a place to live—and I know there are complexities with that because it’s not true for everyone in the world—but it’s also miserable here for part of the year,” Heather says. “We’re forced to spend more time indoors, so we use colors and fun pieces to create spaces where people love to spend time.”
    • Bring in local artisans wherever possible. “The Twin Cities have so many cool things happening,” Brad says. “A strong economy. Breweries. Cafes. Independent businesses. We’re excited to profile and show a few.”

Get the Look

At every turn, Brad and Heather sourced sustainable pieces and used their new national platform to show a little love to Minnesota-based makers. “This is a cool place,” says Heather. “We’re considered a flyover state. But we want to show it off!” To that end, here are a few of the brands you’ll notice in the pilot episode:

Based in Robbinsdale, Golden Age Design sources and restores mid-century and Danish modern furniture that’s at once minimal and familiar. Founders Bill and Kara Kurth found the master bedroom nightstands and office credenza, and Kara’s behind the photography on the walls in several spots.

The live edge mirror, wooden box in Hazel’s room and kitchen clock were created by Oh Dier in St. Paul. William and Katie Dohman began their careers as an architect and style editor. As the story goes, a present William made for Katie out of architectural samples inspired a nationally known decór, special occasion accessory, and toy company, focused on sustainability and celebrating life’s biggest moments. The kitchen clock was “very special, since it was made from wood from the owner’s father's cabin that he had milled before he passed away,” Heather says. 

 The funky abstract wall mural in daughter Hazel’s room incorporated bright colors and whimsical shapes that became a focal point of the otherwise mostly-neutral room. It was created by Ashley Mary, who has a studio in Minneapolis and creates paintings and product designs from funky shapes and striking color palettes.

Wallpaper’s back in a big way, though (thankfully) it’s used more judiciously than in decades past! The Fox Homes team incorporated Minnesota-based Hygge & West papers on an accent wall in the office—bringing in a masculine, global vibe—and for the dreamy nursery. Based on the Danish concept of hygge—cozy, basically—the brand incorporates modern shapes and colors on wallpapers designed to infuse spaces with coziness and beauty.

The girls’ wall bunnies—and the “Girls Rule” bathroom pennant—are by Pink Linen Designs. Kait Schroeder launched the brand in 2015 after an art project yielded unexpectedly beautiful results. Now the brand creates brightly-colored home- and kid-centric accessories from wood cutouts—all made in Minnesota, of course. 

The live edge mantel above the fireplace was created by Heritage Mantels out of Eden Prairie. The owner, Chuck Paulson, has been creating artful mantels and home accessories from reclaimed Midwestern barn wood for over 10 years, infusing history and creativity in each piece. “Each beam and barn board is unique and has its own story to tell. They deserve to be reclaimed, preserved and given a new lease on life,” Paulson says.