From High Kicks to Mr. Fix
Francis Toumbakaris is as comfortable in a pair of tights and slippers as he is in boots and overalls. Trained in classical ballet since he was twelve, HGTV's newest renovation stud has danced on "Broadway in Fiddler on the Roof," as well as national productions of "Fosse," "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," "Contact" and "Candid."
"Drama is in my blood," he says. "I am Greek, after all. Drama was born in my country."
Toumbakaris' animation shines in "Brother vs. Brother," HGTV's latest competition show where renovators are split into Team Drew and Team Jonathan to compete for a $50,000 cash prize. "I'm out and loud. 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," he continues, "but it's a show where even within our own teams, we are pitted against one another. The show is filled with conflict."
Conflict is nothing new to Toumbakaris, whose whole professional career has been an uphill battle.
He has been financially independent since he was 15, when he left his home in Athens on scholarship secondact 3to attend the prestigious Rudra Béjart dance school in Switzerland. The same year Toumbakaris entered high school; he signed a lease on his own apartment. "It was a bit scary," he remembers. "I was a boy living in a very grown-up world."
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, he set out for Broadway. He had only $2000 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.
Toumbakaris was lucky to land the occasional theatre and even film job. He appeared in two major motion pictures: Joaquin Phoenix's "We Own the Night" and Tim Robbins' "Noise." But he needed another job to see him through the lean months in between show biz gigs. After returning from touring with Scoundrels, he placed an ad on the internet looking for small painting projects, repair work and other odd jobs. "I would ride around the city on my bicycle and a back-pack full of tools," he laughs.
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. Within a year, Toumbakaris went from completing simple jobs to doing full-scale renovations in Manhattan apartments. He hired an assistant, filed for insurance, and 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 trust his gut instinct. 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 showbiz 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."
"Brother vs. Brother" airs on HGTV Sundays at 10 p.m. Francis can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/GreekAndHandy or go to his website at GreekAndHandy.com