Photography courtesy of The Benders.

THE BENDER BROTHERS want to make something that will last a hundred years. Milan, Aaron and Ariel Bender made a name for themselves designing one-of-a-kind furniture, photo industry props and movie sets while conjuring extraordinary pop-up art exhibits from their East Dallas studio. They crafted the Sprinkle Spa, Sunset Lounge, Dream Suite and several other rooms in the Instagram-famous Sweet Tooth Hotel, where visitors can pose in a forest of glowing cacti or a rainbow rocket ship ready to blast off to the land of sugar. Yet months of hard work concluded when a pop-up came to the end of its run and landed in the trash. When the participatory art experience was upended last year, the brothers paused and pondered what they wanted to create. They enjoyed their job, but working with clients could be a long and grueling process. The siblings decided to put their creativity to use flipping houses, where they could still work with their hands to produce innovative living spaces from their own imagination. “It’s hard when you’re coming up with crazy ideas and getting a client to see the vision and agree to execute it,” Milan says. “We’ve excelled when it’s a blank canvas. 

That didn’t happen often enough. The pandemic forced something we were already thinking about — getting out of the immersive art world. It was a natural progression to stop and make a major change.” Their first house is a 1955 fixer-upper near Casa Linda. The brothers closed on the three-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath home and hope to finish the project in three to six months. This isn’t the Benders’ first remodel. They’ve all renovated their own homes and are skilled in carpentry, framing, plumbing and electrical. They honed their skills while working at the family business, the bottled water company Rain Fresh. There they learned to construct furniture, lights, skate ramps and other products before launching a fabrication shop, Built by Bender, in 2016. The goal is for most homes to have a built-in office nook or outdoor workspace in a renovated mother-in-law suite or modular office. “We’re going into this like an art project,” Ariel says. “We know our first house may not achieve everything in our realm of possibilities, but we know the goal and will try to get close to that. We’re going to add more and do better.” The company’s business plan is manifold. The first step is to make a living flipping houses.

During renovations, they hope to design products that meet specific needs unique to the homes. They would then sell those products to earn revenue while searching for the next project. The third component is a YouTube channel providing a behind-the-scenes look into their restoration and product development processes. “Our Realtor is telling us to play it safe, but there are already people doing that, and that’s not who we are,” Milan says. “We’re creating the experience of someone’s life. It’s the backdrop for life’s moments and experiences they’ll remember forever.” With unlimited time and money, the Benders would build everything from scratch. But to stay on budget, the trio will limit what is custom built. Each house will still have one or two craftsman features to add character and value. One idea is an underlit arched hallway reminiscent of the immersive art world. Whatever they build, it won’t be boring.

The Benders describe their style as the best of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Milan is drawn to the smooth lines of mid-century modern, Aaron adds a punch of rock ’n’ roll flair and Ariel brings bright, bold patterns from Memphis style. The brothers will blend their retro styles to create something new, yet nostalgic, from a home’s existing materials. “When I looked at houses, I toured 40-plus and kept seeing sloppy, plain remodels,” Aaron says. “Houses use the least offensive materials, and then it’s a white or gray box that all look the same. I didn’t want to pay for that. We’re excited to have our own vision. Eventually, we want to build and design our own homes from scratch.” The brothers dream of owning a family compound on land outside of Dallas where they can test and build ideas. They imagine it as an artistic retreat, where they can host camps or rent cabins to visitors for remote getaways. “We have a crazy vision of where it could go,” Milan says. “We take every passion we have in life and try to figure out how to make a living at it. Wha t else would you do with life?”

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