Queens’ Celebrity Builder

Stephen Fanuka has been in the construction business since his father had him pulling nails at 12 years old. Photo courtesy DIY Network
TimesLedger Newspapers

Queens native Stephen Fanuka has built a reputation as the “contractor-to-the-stars,” crafting tony digs for a celebrity clientele that boast names like Beyonce, Lindsay Lohan and Astoria’s own Tony Bennett.

But the outspoken yet humble contractor who was born in Astoria, raised in Fresh Meadows and attended St. John’s University, says that the new show he hosts on DIY Network, “Million Dollar Contractor,” is not about showcasing the outlandish and opulent homes of celebrities.

“We’re not like an ‘MTV Cribs,’” Fanuka said. “The point of the show is to teach people who can’t afford a million-dollar home renovation how they can take some of the ideas from the show and apply them to their own projects and make them look great. It’s not about the bucks, it’s about the premise.”

Fanuka’s show, set for a 13-episode run in its inaugural season, debuted on DIY Network Oct. 16 and focuses on his Maspeth-based contracting business, Fanuka, Inc., with its high-end Manhattan-based projects as well as the daily challenges that often go hand-in-hand with such projects.

One example was a project to place a $750,000 glass house atop a penthouse on Central Park West. It took Fanuka more than a year to complete due to complications with city rules regulating building on landmarks. The name of the penthouse owner was not disclosed.On the show, Fanuka points out that since it is his real life, there is no sugar-coating of some of the conflicts that often arise while on the job. He relates a story of how he often clashes with employees about how certain jobs are not progressing to his satisfaction. “You see us going at it … There is a lot of pressure on me to get the jobs done and that can sometimes lead to frayed nerves,” Fanuka said.

In addition, he said that all of the show’s episodes are filmed around actual client jobs in-progress as opposed to some home improvement shows that will go and scout a location and then film it for the show.

“I don’t care that there are cameras filming while I’m working,” he said. “First and foremost, I’m there to get a client’s job done. It’s my life and my livelihood. I’m just giving the audience a taste on how complicated the whole process can be.”

Fanuka, who also does guest spots as the home improvement guy for the “Nate Berkus Show” and for NBC’s “George to the Rescue,” credited his father for instilling in him old world values that have helped him achieve his current success.

At age 12, his father taught him cabinet making the hard way. “My dad made me straighten-out nails for six months. He also taught me the value of money,” said Fanuka. “My work ethic is that I treat everyday like it’s my last and I work my butt off.”

And, while many of Fanuka’s clients are celebrities and affluent homeowners, many are regular people, too.

“We also have a school teacher from a public school in Queens,” he said. “Actually, she couldn’t afford my work, but I showed her how I could give her what she wanted without the high price tag. Now, she has a new kitchen, bathroom, new painting and she spent a fraction of the money she might have spent.”

He adds that notwithstanding the show’s name and his high-end reputation, he’s done jobs spanning a wide range from $1,500 to $5 million and everything in between.

Asked about unrealistic project expectations, Fanuka said he was once offered a $500,000 bonus to get a six-month project done in three months. “I shook the guy’s hand and wished him luck finding someone for the job. “A job that is rushed, likely won’t be done up to my standards.”

Underscoring his own satisfaction with his work, Fanuka said he wakes up every morning like it is Christmas. “I have a Rolodex with close to 6,000 customers and on most days I can’t wait to get to work.”

“There’s no trick to this business,” he explains. “Just give a damn, that’s it.”

Reader Feedback

lilllian Franco from Mineola, NY says:
I wanted Stephen to do my kitchen, but I thought he was unattenable. THen, I got a contractor ( horrible) and saw Stephens truck in my area!!! I almost had a heartache. We'll I told my cousin Reg Fazio who lives inn NHP, NY to contact Stephen. She is having trouble getting a contract or even come to her house!!!! She has a little cape and just wants her kitchen and den area made over. I hope she calls him. Stephen, was also at Timeless Cabinetry in Mineola last summer and I wanted to go visit. Timeless is where I purchased my kitchen cabinets. I hope my cousin calls. I always watch Stephen on HGTV. Good luck to him
June 2, 2012, 9:12 am

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