Since its premiere in September of 2008 on W Network in Canada and HGTV in the United States, reality television show Love It or List It has been offering homeowners a choice: to remain in their current home, newly renovated by designer Hilary Farr and her team of professionals, or to opt for a new home shown to them by realtor David Visentin. As an instrumental member of Hilary’s team, Fergus McLaren helped achieve these eye-popping renovations with tight budgets and even tighter deadlines.
Since 2001, Fergus and fellow contractor Ed Richardson have been operating construction and renovation company R-Mac Solutions Inc. in the city of Toronto. They started small but were quickly granted larger commercial and residential jobs based on their impressive work. Taking notice of R-Mac’s success, Big Coat Productions contacted Fergus and Ed in 2006 and asked them to join their crew on Love It or List It, which airs around the world and is currently in its 11th season.
What was your childhood like? How did it shape who you are today?
I had a great childhood. We were very poor, as my father was still in school and we were quickly growing to become a family of five. Being poor in Britain gets framed with the weather. Don’t get me wrong, I have spent lots of time in the UK, and have great friends there still today. I generally love the place. One of my earliest memories was looking at the suitcases all lined up as we prepared to emigrate to Canada. We landed in Newfoundland and moved to Nova Scotia a year later. Life was always on the move, and I remember singing songs in the car to make the journey more palatable. I had a thick Scottish accent when I got to Nova Scotia and that drew some unwanted attention. Those days taught me to stay away from powdered milk, appreciate a hard-earned buck, we are nearly all immigrants, and never complain about the weather. We North Americans are very lucky people.
Who have been your biggest influences or inspirations?
My parents have been two of my biggest influences. They taught me how to work and that you never stop learning. I am trying to instill these skills and values in my own kids. My mother in particular taught me introspection which, quite honestly, still haunts me today. Once you start to learn who you are, your whole perception changes. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that my wife has been a great influence. She has taken me with all my faults and inspires me to be a better person everyday. She is a very successful teacher, hip mother, and great partner in life.
How did you initially become interested in construction and renovation work?
One day, my dad did finish school, pay of his loans and become a little bit more liquid. The first thing that he and my mother did was renovate the kitchen. Boy, did it need it. We got a dishwasher! I guess I was seven or eight. I remember being a fly on the wall for the kitchen planning and seeing the process from demo to complete. We had speakers hard-wired in which ran back to the 8-track player. My parents listened to a lot more music back then than they do now. Soon after that, they bought an old farm house. It was a full gut redo — top to bottom. I probably didn’t do as much as I remember, but I was part of the demo team clean-up team and paint team. That pretty much cemented it. Nearly every job I’ve had since has had something to do with building, renovating or landscaping.
Are there any Love It or List It renovations that you’re particularly proud of, or do they all hold a special place in your heart?
I have a great memory. With Love it or List it, I remembered an amazing amount of detail on every house and every family until about episode 75. By the time episode 80 was in the can, I forgot almost all of it — lost forever, and it was a blur after that. We met some amazing families. We pulled off some amazing renovations, and brought some incredible design ideas to life. If I had to pick a favourite design amongst the 130, I would say the country kitchen Desta and Hilary designed for the Preston family in episode 11, season 1, was most pleasing to me. It was everything a kitchen should be and complemented the house. The house was right in the city but seemingly in the middle of the country if you looked out any of the windows from the kitchen. I wanted to move in there and love that place.
Off-camera, what is your relationship like with Hilary and David?
Hilary and David are both generous and caring folks. I do try not to overdo it with Hilary though, as I cause her a lot of problems as it is, so when the camera is not rolling I figure she deserves a break. Generally speaking, though, it is always going to be a bit of a rough ride with a designer and a builder. At some points the conversation will get heated. I think that’s always been the way and I think that will always be the way. I want more money to do the work and that money inevitably will come out of the budget she and Desta need for what I call the frills. I have only really spent time with David on a social level. To my memory, we never got caught on camera together. If he is shooting, I am not. He doesn’t come around much during the renovations. I did promise him I was going to take some of his money on the golf course and I need to make sure that happens. Both of them are a lot of fun at the end of the day.
How has R-Mac Solutions benefited from your role on Love It or List It?
Love it or List It definitely gave me a lot of street cred. It’s a tough business, and it’s hard to know who to invest your money with. I had a great reputation before, but now I get a little bit of notoriety to go along with it. It was a lot of fun and I have benefitted greatly from my experience.
How has the building industry changed since you were first starting out?
The building industry has changed a lot since I got started in the business. Some of the things that were done right 20 years ago are very wrong today. The basic principles of Building Science are more well-known, and we are making better decisions out there as a whole to build better-performing homes. City officials are getting very picky about important parts of the code to ensure problems like mold aren’t encountered down the road. But to be honest, the biggest change is the prevalence of home design and renovation shows. Most homeowners need or want a renovation and a designer’s touch. The homeowners today are much more educated or ready to be educated, and design-conscious than they were 15 years ago. If a homeowner is invested in the process, then by default their builder has to be as well and that’s when I really like what I do for a living.
Aside from Love It or List It, what are your current favorite television shows?
My favorite show is The Mercer Report featuring a Canadian comedian named Rick Mercer. I also like Modern Family. Other than that, I am a bit of a news junkie and can easily fill my time up with that. I don’t watch American news daily, but near enough. I generally have a pretty good sense of what is happening with our neighbours to the south. Of course our worlds are so close, your news is important to us up here. I have no cousins, uncles or aunts in Canada, but I have many in the U.S.
What do you like most about your job?
It’s a real journey a family enters when they agree to take on a renovation with me. I think my favourite part of the job is either my first day when we are setting up the job, or the last day when we are loading up the tools and driving away. The anticipation in the beginning or the relief and satisfaction in the end, those are definitely the happiest times.