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Who picks the locations? What's the "winner's weekend?" And more behind-the-scenes details of the fan-favorite giveaway

By Hannah Chubb
December 08, 2020 12:51 PM
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Brian Patrick Flynn Dream Home
Credit: Robert Peterson

Brian Patrick Flynn might just know the ins and outs of the HGTV Dream Home sweepstakes better than anyone — he's designed the last six!

He sat down with PEOPLE to share some little-known secrets and talk about the franchise’s upcoming 25th anniversary and the 2021 Dream Home, which he and his team recently put the finishing touches on in Newport, Rhode Island. 

“It still hasn't hit me that I have been doing this for more than half of the decade,” the designer, 44, tells PEOPLE. “It still feels like a brand new job because it's just so creatively fulfilling.”

“When I was in college, HGTV Dream Home was new, and I remember thinking that it would be amazing if one day I had the opportunity to have a job like that, where you're creating this house that's seen by millions of people on this massive level,” he adds, noting that it’s still surreal to him that hundreds of millions of entries come in every year for a home that he dreamed up. 

The first HGTV Dream Home that Flynn worked on was the 2016 home in Merritt Island, Florida — an experience he says he’ll never be able to top, because the winner, David Rennie of Shelton, Connecticut, was so deserving. 

Flynn explains that Rennie had undergone a kidney transplant prior to winning the grand prize, so he had plenty of time to enter the sweepstakes twice a day, every day, while recovering.  

Dream Home
Credit: HGTV

“When we gave the home to him, I was joined by one of our other giveaway home designers, Tiffany Brooks, who has also had a kidney transplant,” Flynn remembers. “So it was a really emotional thing. That was my first experience of having somebody win one of the houses that I designed. It was so life-changing. So, that's going to be a hard one to beat.”

One thing fans may not know is that almost every Dream Home winner is invited to join the HGTV team on what they call a “winner’s weekend,” where they get to see the home they’ve won in person for the first time, and then get the keys. 

“We celebrate with them over the course of two and a half days,” Flynn explains. “I show them everything we've done and how the house works, and then they get to know the surrounding areas by participating in some experiences.” Those can include ski trips, boating or other activities, depending on where the home is located. 

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Location is incredibly important when it comes to the Dream Homes, Flynn says, sharing that there’s actually someone on the HGTV team who spends “95 percent of their job looking all over the country to find a very dreamy location.” 

“She does have a cool job, but there's a lot of complexity,” Flynn says of his colleague, noting that she has to take into consideration factors like weather conditions, distance from the nearest airport, and whether the location can offer 3,000 to 4,000 square feet of interior space so that the home can be a fit for families and entertaining. 

Once a destination is chosen, Flynn says he then designs with the style and culture of each location in mind — something that's very clear when looking through the past homes. 

HGTV Dream Homes Through the Years
Credit: HGTV

“I think what's really interesting is when you look at the houses from year to year, they're never the same,” Flynn says. “I think part of my job is to consistently design and decorate based on things that inspire people, while also trying to avoid anything that can become super dated in one or two years."

"What we usually try to do is come up with something that's really original and unexpected, and then morph it back into the location and type of architecture,” he adds.

Flynn’s favorite Dream Home he’s designed, he says, is the 2019 cabin in Whitefish, Montana, calling it “so unbelievably scenic.”

HGTV Dream Homes Through the Years
2016 HGTV Dream Home in Whitefish, Montana
| Credit: HGTV

“No matter where you go, you're only 45 minutes from a National Park,” he says of the ski town. ”And then on top of that, the house was literally located on a ski slope, so it was a ski-in, ski-out house. I'm still waiting for what will top it. Something will come along, but I think my heart is still there in the West.”

“I really can't complain at all about the travel that is linked to designing HGTV Dream Homes,” he adds with a laugh. “It's almost like building in these vacations, experiencing a different part of the country that I’ve never seen before.”

Flynn got to spend a good part of 2020 in Rhode Island working on his first-ever Dream Home in New England. (The house is located in Portsmouth, close to Newport.) But thanks to the pandemic, he says, this year’s project was a little less like a vacation.

“I still can't get over the fact that in a year with so much uncertainty, the entire build and design team built another HGTV Dream Home,” he says, explaining that safety and efficiency were factors that were not taken lightly in the process. 

“It is a miracle we finished the house on time,” he says, noting that so many supply lines were interrupted due to the pandemic and importing and exporting procedures have been shaken up across the world. 

HGTV Dream Homes Through the Years
HGTV Dream Home 2021 in Newport, RI
| Credit: HGTV
Dream Home
Credit: HGTV

Despite the circumstances, Flynn says, the hillside, shingled home “turned out absolutely beautiful.” It features three stories, a rooftop entertainment deck with a wet bar, and views of sailboats on the water just beyond. 

Fans will be able to enter to win the  HGTV Dream Home 2021 grand prize package — which is worth over $2.8 million dollars — every day, twice a day, starting at 9 am ET Monday, December 28, 2020, until 5 pm ET Wednesday, February 17, 2021.

Dream Home
Credit: HGTV
Dream Home
Credit: HGTV

“I think that it's part of everybody's American dream to one day move to a place that is not where you live right now, but a place that where you can create all these incredible memories and get excited about being active,” Flynn says, explaining why he thinks the Dream Home sweepstakes is so popular. 

“I think a lot of us have the same goal,” he continues. “We want to work really hard through our twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, maybe into our mid-sixties, early seventies, and then we all dream of, "Hey, we're going to retire. We're going to pick a place that's just totally dreamy. We're going to go and we're going to watch the sunrise and the sunset and take long walks and take life easy.’"

“So the fact that it's a possibility is amazing,” he says. “And my job as the designer of the Dream Home is to create a place that has a little bit of something for everyone.”

The one-hour HGTV Dream Home 2021 Special will air on HGTV on Friday, January 1 at 8 p.m. ET.