New Bravo Show Reveals the Drama in Landscape Design
By Jonathan Vatner
The roster of alumni making it big on reality TV just grew by two. Backyard Envy, an addictive unscripted show that debuted January 17 on Bravo, follows the Manscapers, a three-person New York City landscape design firm, as they meet with clients, work their magic on derelict gardens and barren rooftops, and confront disasters, large and small. At the end of each episode, the transformed spaces are revealed in a series of extremely satisfying before-and-after shots.
Melissa Brasier and James DeSantis met in the Interior Design program at FIT and have been best friends and business partners ever since. DeSantis also worked as a senior project manager for Ralph Lauren designing store interiors. In 2014, they teamed up with close friend Garrett Magee, a graphic designer and budding horticulturist, and the Manscapers was born. Today, Brasier oversees construction, DeSantis handles the client relations, and Magee is the plant expert. As luck would have it, designing outdoor rooms relies on many of the skills Brasier and DeSantis learned studying interiors. Hue caught up with the FIT grads during their publicity tour for the show. Hue: You’re trained as interior designers. How did you make the transition outside? Brasier: The three of us were doing work on James’s backyard in Brooklyn, and people said, “Why don’t you do this for money?” It started off as a side project. Within a year and a half, we transitioned to full time. Was it hard to learn landscape design? DeSantis: It helped that we had drawing, rendering, and presentation skills from FIT. We still use those on a daily basis. Only two of you are men. Why are you called the Manscapers? DeSantis: We started as a gay-focused company hiring almost exclusively gay men to execute our labor, and we marketed toward a gay fashion and design clientele in New York City. We’ve obviously since expanded. A name change is a possibility … but stay tuned. How did the show come about? DeSantis: A British producer friend of mine knew about our business and how we worked together. He said, “I think this is a TV show.” There weren’t any outdoor design shows that are interesting and cool. Gardening is so granny. We had one meeting with Bravo, and they loved it and developed the series. It took almost two years to get the show made, but every step was a yes. What has the response been so far? Brasier: We’ve been flooded with people reaching out to hire us. DeSantis: Our producers are World of Wonder, who do RuPaul’s Drag Race. They have a team that monitors all the social media, and they were like, “Oh my god, the response on Twitter is the nicest we’ve seen from any show.” People are usually vicious on Twitter. To me, that’s a win.