By KATY IBSEN
Tamara Day, star of DIY Network’s home renovation series, “Bargain Mansions,” thinks back to 2008 when she cut her teeth redesigning homes. Amid a national financial crisis, she single-handedly took on a 5,000 square-foot home renovation — an unforeseen circumstance that turned into a blessing.
“The first thing to go was general contracting and I just did it myself,” says Day. “I had three babies three and under; Thomas lived in a [baby] Bjorn on my back or in his car seat. Sanding and painting and whatever needed done, if I was physically capable, I did it myself to save whatever penny we could.”
Today the family of five remains in that very home, a testament to her DIY spirit and appreciation for preserving beautiful architecture from the past. Their nesting, however, would only come after the home became a showroom of sorts — leading to Day’s furniture moniker: Growing Days.
“When we moved in, we didn’t have enough furniture to fill this big old house, so I started buying furniture at estate sales and refinishing it,” she says, comparing her efforts to those who participate at furniture sales in Kansas City’s West Bottoms. “Then it turned into these open houses that I’d have. Then people would come in our house and say, ‘I wanted to buy that painted piece of furniture, but now I’d like you to do my kitchen.’”
From there, Day gained a reputation. Her clientele grew organically with one-off jobs, refinishing furniture to showcase in her open houses, or flipping cheap, old, dilapidated homes across Kansas City. Growing Days became her official brand about five years ago.
Today she shares this experience with others through her reality television series “Bargain Mansions.” The show, developed through a Kansas City-based casting agency, Reality Road Entertainment, follows Day’s local jobs. On the set of each home site, Day works with her father who she learned a lot from growing up on the family farm. Together they demo and refinish low-cost mansions, reviving them to a newly refined glory.
Of course, Day never imagined herself where she is today, and despite the numerous opportunities to be creative and even appear on television, her outlook hasn’t changed.
“There is so much value in a day’s work and in being physically involved in it, there’s so much more pride and joy,” she says. “I appreciate having tired muscles at the end of the day.”
With a tinge of humor, Day admits she might also be a glutton for punishment. Her approach is entirely different from the average flipper. When first evaluating a house, Day does one of two things: she’s either in the basement checking the electrical box, (Will the aged electrical system support her design concept?) or she’s considering the curb appeal (Will the street support her design concept?).
“I think what makes my houses different is that I embrace the things that a lot of people would get rid of,” she says. “I embrace the spaces in a different way.”
That acknowledgment includes her signature foresight to design. For someone who never formally studied interior design, Day has a knack for anticipating future trends; such was the case with her own home.
“I wanted a white kitchen and it was like I was asking for the moon; nobody wanted to paint my kitchen white,” she laughs, thinking back to 2008. “And the opened shelves … my cabinet people actually said, ‘if you sell this house, the first thing somebody will do is call us and ask us for upper cabinets.’”
Day certainly didn’t care and circa 2018, all-white kitchens and exposed shelves are very much in vogue.
Some of her other mainstay design elements include lighting, which she dubs the jewelry of the house, fabrics, which she takes great enjoyment in, and pink.
“I love pink. I have always loved pink. Pink is kind of my signature. I am wearing pink!” laughs Day. “I don’t think you could have too much hot pink.”
Pops of color, like hot pink, can do wonders for a space according to Day, but her other design essentials represent a sophisticated style of natural materials and neutral tones.
“I love mixing natural woods and using different types of species of woods,” she says. Wood is one of her favorite things, especially in finishes that show off the grain — a possible homage to her country roots.
Locally-created art is another of Day’s essentials. She is always searching for new artists, especially local artists whom she can showcase on the show. “Somebody said it to me once and it really resonated, that (on the show) it’s dad and I, and the third character is Kansas City. So, I love whenever I can feature somebody new.”
And because of Day’s downhome, nurturing personality, she’s the kind of now-famous home designer that says, “There are people doing cool things in Kansas City. Email me!” Because like many in creative fields, she hasn’t forgotten how she got here and that ultimately fuels everything she does.
“I think I was always in love with design,” says Day. “I just didn’t realize it was something I could actually make a living at.”