Kansas City native Tamara Day worked in sales before she realized her true passion—renovating and decorating homes. And now, thanks to years of hard work and successful pilot episodes, the Leawood mom will star in her own show on the DIY Network. Bargain Mansions will be filmed in Kansas City as Day transforms six local homes. We spoke to Day about her rigorous filming schedule, her design style and her favorite local home decor shops.
Congrats on Bargain Mansions! How does it feel to finally have the episodes ordered and the show official?
It’s been a big year. Yesterday was our first day of filming. It was a really good day, and we film again tomorrow. We’ll be renovating six houses in Kansas City over 12 episodes.
When did you start renovating and fixing up homes? Has it always been something you’ve done?
No, I had no idea. I got a degree in communications at Kansas State and did sales, and I never realized people had careers in interior design. I didn’t know people that bought and flipped houses. My husband grew up with parents that owned a lot of rental properties—he bought his first property at 16, and had 12 houses he managed in college. When we got married, we bought a house that was terrible and renovated it. I wish I had known that was a career path I could have gone down.
When we bought our current house in 2008 during the recession, we were in the middle of construction. It was really scary financially, so I started doing everything myself. I could sand things, I could paint things. I designed every inch of the house myself. Whatever could be done, if I could physically do it I was working on it. Now, my husband and I have quite a few properties we’ve renovated. We’ve done everything from great big houses to little Prairie Village homes.
The first home you’re renovating for the show is a Hyde Park property built in 1906. How did you discover it?
It was random—we were at a Chiefs game, and on the way home we decided to drive around and look at houses. We saw the for sale sign, called the realtor and bought it in 15 minutes. An Australian investor had given up on it, so on one hand we got lucky, but on another hand we were not so lucky. He did a lot of the demo, but he also didn’t save a lot of the character that I would have saved.
How are you going to transform the house?
We’re going in and doing a lot of structural work. We’re going to raise all three levels, and there’s a bay area off to the side that we’re going to have to take off. The house was converted into apartments at one point—each floor was an apartment, so we’re going to take down a couple of walls and redo the layout.
How long will it take to completely renovate it?
About three months. For the show, we’ll renovate two houses every three months. It’s definitely an aggressive schedule, especially for this home. The house has no electricity, no plumbing, no HVAC. It still has the gas lines for gas lighting. We’re the third generation to renovate this house.
A lot of renovation shows feature couples as the main characters, but you’ll be working a lot with your dad on Bargain Mansions. Did he inspire you to renovate homes?
For sure. My Dad was a self-made man. He was the manager of a welding supplies company, and when I was young, I watched him build our houses. When I was five, we lived in Des Moines, Iowa, and he nearly built our house from the ground up. He worked on it every weekend. Then we moved to Burlington and I remember him building our basement. Work was always a part of our lives. He’d take us to his workshop, and he’d have us clean the back room.
How will this show be different than the other renovation shows on DIY Network or HGTV?
The size of our homes is really unique, but the finish on these houses is going to be a lot different than a typical flip show. I can’t just go in and do beige. If I’m going to do a house, I want it to be someplace I would live. These homes have that historic character that gives you a lot more to work with. I restore things wherever I can, as long as it makes good design sense.
How would you describe your style?
My homes are not a showroom, but they are beautifully curated with cozy layers and a touch of glamour. I’ve always really liked a full home. I like things to be full and luscious, with layers and intentionality. I like things that have meaning and story behind them.
For homeowners who want to make changes in their homes but aren’t professional renovators, what are some things you recommend they do?
Obviously painting is the easiest way to transform a space, and anybody can paint. Changing out a light—if you can hire an electrician to do it, it can make all the difference. I have a friend who could have hired a company to do custom drapes, but she went to Ikea, got some drapes with grommets and some iron-on adhesive and put a trim on it, and these drapes look amazing in her kitchen. She maybe spent an afternoon doing it. And this is in a million-dollar house. If you have the desire to do something beautiful, there’s always a way you can do it on budget.
Where do you like to go locally for home accents or to get materials for renovations?
I am getting ready to open my own retail location. It’s a mobile Airstream so I can hold pop-up shops. I source a lot of my stuff out of town, but I love the boutiques like Coveted Home, Golden & Pine, and Spruce Home.