Hey PJ & Thomas! Let's do some introductions first.
Hi! We're PJ and Thomas McKay, we live here in South East Tennessee, and we are home renovators and foster parents.
How did you get started in design and renovations? And then how did that develop into the successful brand you’ve built today?
PJ has a degree in construction management and has been flipping properties for 15 years. We have both always loved interior design- designing our family’s homes growing up and rearranging rooms, so when we got together over 10 years ago, it was just a natural progression. Once we got married, we started working on flipping houses together. PJ finds the properties and decides which one to do next, comes up with a vision, and does about 85% of the work himself (demo, rebuilding walls, installing windows, tiling, etc.).
We will bounce ideas off each other and come up with the design and layout of a house, and I (Thomas) will usually handle the painting. We try to do as much of the work ourselves before we hire contractors to come in and finish the bigger jobs. Now that we’re foster parents to a sibling group of three (ages 6 and under), I will mostly stay home with them while he is working on a house, so we’ve found a nice balance where we both contribute to our livelihood in different ways.
For PJ, the thing about renovating is that it’s not work for him- it’s fun, it’s something to do that he enjoys. He always has to be doing something, that’s just how he’s wired, so flipping and renovating houses is how he exercises his creativity, alleviates stress, and gets his hands dirty.
A few months before we got married we purchased our first house together and began renovating it. We created an Instagram account to document our journey of fixing it up and called it The Property Lovers (a name my younger sister came up with as a joke- a play on words of the show “Property Brothers” on HGTV). After a few months of posting that, our following started to grow pretty rapidly and a few production companies started reaching out to us asking if we would be interested in filming a pilot to pitch to different networks. We had what seemed like a million phone calls and in the end, we signed with one and that was that. The production company filmed a “sizzle” which is basically a 5 min video explaining who we are and what we do and they sent it to HGTV who then gave us the go-ahead and green lit a 30 min pilot episode to be filmed.
Over the next 6 months we renovated my childhood home (that we had bought the year before) for the show that would air on HGTV sometime that summer. It was called “Down to the Studs” which we thought was hilarious. It ended up airing on HGTV twice that summer and drew in big numbers, but they weren’t quite enough to get picked up for a series, so we made our peace and resumed our lives. The show gave us a lot of exposure and we were able to grow our brand through our Instagram, YouTube, and blog presence and now four years later, oddly enough, social media is our full-time job. It’s been a wild ride and we are just happy to be here and spread love and positivity and inclusion however we can.
How do you define community? What is the power of community?
Community is so many things! First and foremost, a community is love and acceptance, and to belong to one is the greatest feeling in the world. Human beings weren’t meant to be alone, were we? We all need some sense of community, which looks different for everyone. But at the core of what a community should be, I believe, is love and acceptance for every member of that community, flaws and all, because when communities come together, they can have the power to change the world. When people can feel that love and acceptance and know they’re not alone, they have the power to do great things, for themselves and for others, and then that love spreads.
And all of this isn’t to say communities are perfect or don’t have issues, but I believe if you lead with acceptance, understanding, and love, communities can overcome anything (both internally and externally) that comes their way.
And what makes you proud to be a part of the Parker Clay community?
We are so proud to be a part of a community who helps those in need, and not just helps, but provides opportunities for others to thrive and work hard and show the world what they can do if they’re just given a chance. So few people are willing to give others chances, but magic can happen when you let guard down and learn to trust others.
Any favorite Parker Clay products?
At least a few times a week we get messages about our “green bag with the leather straps” and for good reason: it’s our favorite Parker Clay bag ever ever ever. It’s the Rincon Backpack and it’s so beautiful while at the same time functional. We use ours as a carry-all bag that is home to pull-ups, important papers, pens, wipes, sunglasses, the kiddos’ iPads, etc. It looks and feels so upscale, but knowing who made it and where it comes from might be the thing we love most about it.
What is the thing you love most about being a parent? How has becoming parents changed your outlook on life and career?
Two things come to mind when we read this question: 1. Personally, being a parent has allowed us, no, forced us, to put others first for the first time in a long time. We were so used to it just being the two of us (and our animals) for nine years and suddenly we were responsible for three kids that we didn’t even know existed the week before. They were 4, 2 1/2, and 18 months when they came to live with us and we had no idea what we were doing, but they were ours to care for and look after, and after a while what seemed hard and insurmountable became our new normal. Potty training and doctors appointments and bad dreams in the middle of the night and three meals a day and school became our life and they became our life and their happiness became our number one priority and it allowed us to see the world differently because we weren’t the most important people in our lives anymore.
Before kids, we were traveling for work for two years straight and seemed to be on a plane every month to a new destination. When we got the kids, though, everything slowed down and then the pandemic hit, so we stayed home, just the five of us, and really became a family through it all. We always like to say, we weren’t with them for the first few years of their lives which meant we had a lot of catching up to do, so 2020 was our year to stay home and make up for all the years we missed.
And then 2. We love to see them learn and progress as little humans who will, eventually, will grow into big humans, who will hopefully carry the curiosity and kindness and love they have right now with them forever. We are big in our family on self-expression and feelings and being true to who you are, so our hope is that they feel that every day in one way or another.
What is one small way you work to affect positive change each day? Can be as a parent or otherwise.
We work to affect positive change each day by doing our best to live as our true selves, which sounds trite, so let me explain:
We’ve lived in our small, southern town our entire lives, and growing up we never had an out, openly gay role model to look up to and understand that being gay (especially in a small town) is not wrong, nor is it anything to be ashamed of. I think we both would have felt much more comfortable being ourselves when we were younger had we had someone like that in our lives. Sometimes, just seeing something like two guys who are married and living their lives can have the power to create lasting change.
People always ask us why we still live in our hometown when we could move to a more liberal city like NYC or LA, and we always say maybe by staying and living here as proudly and unapologetically ourselves, we might help an LGBTQ+ youth who is struggling like we did to realize it’s okay to be who you are and that it’s possible for you to live the life you truly want, as there’s an entire world out there who will love you for you.
What is one hope you have for the future?
That we keep moving forward, and don’t regress, on important issues like LGBTQ+ rights, racial equality, climate change, and that we all remember to lead with light and love.
What's next for the McKays?
We are currently in the process of renovating a little cottage in the downtown area of our town which should be finished up by the end of the year (hopefully). We’ve also just started a farm!! We have 30 acres near the Ocoee River here in Tennessee that we’ve been slowly working on the last few years while trying to decide what we wanted to do with it, and at the beginning of this year, we finally decided to just go for it! So right now we have geese and sheep and have plans to get some chickens in the near future. We call it Ocoee Farm because of its proximity to the river. It’s a really beautiful area and the kids love it out here because they have the space and freedom to run and roam and get dirty. We love it, too, and have even talked about moving out here full time one day (it’s about 30 min from our house in town). We’re slowly renovating the small cottage on our farm that we call “Holiday House” so that’s been really fun to try some new things design-wise and experiment with a different style than our house in town.
We’ve been going, going, going for over a decade now and even after all this time it still feels like we’re just getting started. Like I said, we’re just happy to be here, figuring it all out as we go.
We are proud to share and to honor our Community Voices feature, @pjandthomas. Parker Clay has made a donation to @TheTrevorProject, the world's largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people.
PJ and Thomas McKay's Favorite Parker Clay:
The Rincon Backpack
Hear more from The McKay's @pjandthomas
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