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Design Stop: Tamara Day Designs a Way of Life

Tamara Day shares her design career trajectory, and her plans going forward.

by Diane Falvey
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Tamara Day shares how she got started as an interior designer.

There’s nothing like moving your family to a new home in need of some design love to inspire a career in interior design. For Tamara Day — you may recognize her name from her show “Bargain Mansions” — that was her starting point.     

“I had a love of design based on my love of home. I was a mom of four and wanted our home to feel beautiful.” Day says. She explains that that was in 2008, and budget limitations at the time inspired her to create the home environment she wanted on her own and with the resources she could find.    

Fast forward to today, and Day has leveraged her love of home to build a lifestyle viewpoint — as an interior designer, home furnishings product designer and as the recognizable host and designer for the design and renovation show “Bargain Mansions,” currently in Season 5 on the Magnolia Home Network.

Day’s background was in communications and speech writing, not interior design. As for the latter, which has become her career path, she is completely self-taught because it was something she was so passionate about.    

In her own home, at a time when Tuscan design was the prevailing style, Day was installing white cabinets, the kind she’d seen in coastal design across magazines. “I was more of a white and bright and open shelves fan before any of that was a thing,” she says. “I got a lot of pushback. My cabinet company told me if I ever wanted to sell this house (in Kansas City), no one would buy it. They didn’t like the whiteness of my house or the open shelving. Thankfully, I listened to my gut instead of doing what everyone else did.”    

Day’s lack of an interior design degree didn’t seem to slow her trajectory, and following her gut paid off. Her aesthetic appealed to others in her area, and she started working with friends and neighbors based on what they loved about the design of her home.    

Continuing to adhere to her budget, Day also found herself visiting estate sales to find beautiful furniture pieces that she could refurbish. “I wanted pretty things and couldn’t afford them,” she says. Refurbishing gave Day other entrepreneurial ideas too. Twice a year, she’d hold events in her home to sell some of the furniture she’d refurbished alongside other “mompreneurs” selling their wares. She’d rent out her space every spring and fall and have a huge event that people would come through. They’d buy, and some loved her house to where they began asking about design services. “I loved finding old things and giving them new life…and using my house as a backdrop,” Day says. “I got to spend all my time with my kids, and it organically turned into something.”

To HGTV and Beyond

As Day continued to build her design business, something unexpected happened when she was approached to host and design for HGTV’s “Bargain Mansions.” (The Show has since moved to the Magnolia Home Network.) While the “mansions” Day first renovated were eventually for sale, the show has shifted to designing for clients in more recent seasons.    

Becoming the host of “Bargain Mansions,” Day says, was through a random series of events. The casting director wanted to meet her after seeing some of the work she’d been doing in her Kansas City area. They had a show in mind and needed a host. “I agreed to meet with him reluctantly because it sounded like a scam,” Day says. “Once I realized he was legit though, we talked.”     

She got the show. Day feels that the self-made piece was a big part of that. “I wasn’t credentialed, but I was designing houses and we owned a lot of real estate. I was doing this stuff,” she continues. While the show originally showcased Day’s design ethos on homes in need of renovation that weren’t lived in, today’s show showcases another side as Day designs with clients in mind. Finding clients for the show is a mix of finding people who want to be featured and clients Day already has. A lot goes into the final decisions, such as budget and timeline for when the show is shooting, 
she notes.     

And while “Bargain Mansions” has made Day somewhat of a household name, it’s only a part of what she does. She still runs her design firm, Tamara Day Designs, now with a larger staff but still with a few designers who’ve worked with her from the beginning. While she still consults on each project and meets with clients, she has quite a busy schedule so she trusts her team to execute the vision.    

“When I walk into a house, each has a personality. You can feel it,” Day says. “There’s the architectural style that it’s intended to be. You have to take that into consideration when you’re working on a home. The bones of the house, the budget, those are considerations. Then it’s all about the feeling, and the client and what they are looking for. And how brave and bold they want to be.”    

She works with clients coast to coast, taking on projects of many sizes and even doing some virtual design work. “When the show got picked up, it was a busy time, and the demand has been there ever since,” she notes.    

Day’s business also inhabits a brick-and-mortar studio where she showcases furnishings and now sees clients by appointment. bringing style to the masses Lately, Day says her agenda includes sharing her vibrant design style, which has moved in new directions — her kitchen now features Tiffany blue cabinets, and she loves wallpaper — with more people through licensing partnerships with home furnishings suppliers.    

She stays very involved in the product design and development process. “Start to finish, I have my hand in the design of every product. I want it to represent what I do,” Day notes.    

As for the inspiration behind her designs, she points to travel, vintage style and other brands she admires. “I love finding inspiration wherever it may be. I do a bit of Frankensteining. I want this body, this texture, this cord. I’ll Frankenstein all the little bits and before you know it, we have a whole product!”    

To date, Day has wallpaper, rug, lighting, mirror and furniture collections with more in the pipeline for next year. Her latest debut will happen in High Point this month, where she’s unveiling seven upholstery collections with Spectra Home. “The seven collections all compliment each other but nothing matches,” she says. “They all blend well.” The collections include accent chairs, sofas, ottomans, benches and more. “There are lots of textures and colors that are really great,” she adds.    

This past summer, Day introduced a lighting collection with Quorum and before that, she debuted several rug collections with Kaleen, as well as a mirror line with Varaluz. “There’s a lot of variety in what we’ve done. Anyone can find what they’re looking for,” Day says of the versatility of her current collections. She is planning to bring additional categories to her brand as well — bedding, lamps, pillows, garden and outdoor, tile, plumbing hardware and more. Looking to the future As busy as she is, Day makes time for family and fun too. She has built a great team around her, she says, which helps her keep a balance between work and home. After all, she says, it’s not just about design, it’s about lifestyle.    

As for the future, Days says she’d like to continue with “Bargain Mansions” and branch into those aforementioned new product categories. “It’s about more than making rooms pretty. It’s about creating a way of life,” Day says. “That’s what my aim is. I want to embrace all the things I love in one place.”

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