We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs.
When longtime hairstylist Marcel Dagenais (he has worked on such shows as Broad City and most recently with Natasha Lyonne on Russian Doll) and his partner, Ben, bought their home in Milwaukee in 2020, Marcel wanted to start with a blank slate. So he set out to paint their circa-1946 red-brick house white. “I was blissfully unaware of what I was about to get into,” he says. After hours researching the best products (he went with Romabio, a lime-based masonry paint that absorbs into the brick and can last up to 20 years), he patched some of the cracks, primed, and got to work. His only regret? Using a roller instead of a sprayer. “I was in the best shape of my life—I was ripped—but it was so hard,” he recalls. It was the very first renovation Marcel documented for his then-new YouTube channel, Brew City Builds (also on Instagram @brewcitybuilds), and he doesn’t mind that some viewers don’t love the transformation as much as he does. “People are like, you ruined the brick. But when I pull up, especially in winter when it’s snowing, I still think, damn, the house looks great,” he says with a laugh.
With filming shut down in the early stages of the pandemic and Ben busy pursuing his Ph.D., Marcel threw himself into the role of contractor—a job that came naturally to the creative. Growing up in San Diego, he watched his parents flip homes. “My dad’s a woodworker, and my mom would draw out the plans,” he shares. When it came time to remodel the kitchen, his folks helped guide him through the process, which started off with an exhaustive demolition.
“I thought I was going to be able to easily chip away at the mortared brick accent wall in the space, but I ended up having to take it down to the studs and re-drywall and mud everything,” shares Marcel. While the kitchen was under construction for a good month and a half, Marcel and Ben relied on takeout and washed their dishes in the bathtub. But the end result was worth the inconvenience: They put in sleek black and white cabinets with a wood IKEA countertop and covered the newly flattened floor with stick-on tile. (Marcel used a tile roller when applying the squares to make sure they weren’t going anywhere.)
The only big job Marcel has hired out so far is retiling the bathroom in 2-by-2-inch squares (although he prepped the space’s cement board floor and shower surround on his own, and did all the waterproofing post-tiling). “Bathrooms are so complicated because there’s so many little things that have to be perfect for it to not be right,” he says.
Instead of podcasts, Marcel prefers to work to the sound of Ben playing the piano (he’s classically trained). “It’s a nice atmosphere when I’m tinkering around the house,” he says. The instrument has pride of place in the living room, right across from the tufted sofa they chose for its cozy bouclé texture and low, window-height profile. Marcel admits he has a Cold Picnic rug obsession, and he’s particularly careful with the one in this space. “It’s not the smartest decision to put a cream rug in such a high-traffic area, given we’re not a shoes-off-policy kind of household, but we try to be very careful,” he says. Walking up the stairs on the hand-tufted wool runner by artist Trish Andersen is a more carefree experience. “When she started her rug line, I knew I had to have it,” says Marcel, who bought three 25-inch-wide ones, totaling 24 feet long, to accommodate all the steps as well as the top landing.
The splash of color offers a bright juxtaposition to the clean white walls and hits of black throughout the house—peep the hallway ceiling, banister, and slatted accent wall in the primary bedroom. “The theme for this house has become 1-by-2s,” says Marcel. The slim, evenly spaced boards serve a solely aesthetic purpose behind the bed, but in the nearby lounge area, they help create a semi-private workspace for Ben and disguise the chimney stack that bisects the space. “We wanted an area where we could have cocktails or host guests, and that giant column was a problem for me,” says Marcel.
Surprisingly, of all the DIYs he’s tackled—constructing open shelving in the dining room, building a custom headboard for the guest bedroom—Marcel says his favorite is mudding drywall. “You have to get enough [compound on the wall] but not too much for a seamless, smooth surface,” he explains. “It’s something I never considered doing, but I guess because I sculpt hair and pay attention to tiny details, I’m really good at it.”