Q+A: Tamara Day from TV show ‘Bargain Mansion’

This Kansas City-based HGTV show turns run-down houses into gorgeous mansions.

KC_Tamara behind the Scenes Bargain Mansions

Lights, power tools, action.

Photo via Tamara Day

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If you love looking at beautiful homes and imagining your own space spruced up with a reno project or two — we see you, Zillow scrollers — you’ve come to the right place.

In anticipation of the KC Remodel + Garden Show at the American Royal Center this weekend (Friday, Feb. 3-Sunday, Feb. 5), we spoke to one of the celebrity guest speakers and star of the KC-based HGTV show “Bargain Mansions,” Tamara Day. The show is all about taking cheap, run-down houses and turning them into exquisite homes.

Tamara had already learned the basics of renovation growing up with her father. Then 2008 happened, she rescued a house in foreclosure with her husband — and there was a lot of work to be done on a budget.

KC_Tamara Day Q+A graphic

Tamara and her team also do commercial design.

Photo by Paul Versluis, graphic by KCtoday.

How did you make the transition to hosting a TV show?

It’s not a jump I ever would have expected. When we finished the house, I had to furnish it, so I started painting and refinishing furniture and thrifting a lot and doing these open houses. My name got out there with these open houses [...] We had food trucks, and we’d have 1,000 people come through the house in a weekend.

Tamara also hosted women-owned businesses like Convivial Handmade Ceramics and Merci Candle Company.

Then her brother met a casting agent at a hardware store. It wasn’t a good fit, but he suggested Tamara meet the show producer, Matt.

The moral of this story is it pays to have cute brothers. [...] I met Matt begrudgingly because I thought it was a scam, you know? Have you ever heard of TV in Kansas City? [...] Then he called and said, “Hey, I really want to pitch a show about you to the network. Would you be interested?” And the rest is history.

Give us a peak behind the camera — How hard is it?

I love that word, “romanticized.” It seems so glamorous and fun and exciting and romantic to do this stuff, but it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot harder than it seems.

I think being a woman in this industry is a layer of challenge that’s unique, and even though I have done this for so long, we’ve done 50 houses for “Bargain Mansions” that you could go out that any contractor could watch [...] and we walk into a project with a contractor that has never bothered to watch the show and treats me like a housewife that doesn’t know what I’m talking about.

How long does it take?

It depends on the size. That’s the big thing — and how many walls are we knocking down. A lot of the houses get done in 8-10 weeks [...] It’s a lot more aggressive than in real life, and we have the benefit of a production company really holding a contractor’s feet to the fire.

We worked with a lot of homeowners this year, and it’s a very intense process for the homeowners because it’s so fast and furious. Decisions are made really quick. [...] It’s a huge perk because nobody gets their home done in 8-10 weeks.

We did 20 houses this year in 11 months.

Do you have any funny stories that come to mind in regards to your show or business?

It’s interesting when you start doing demos what you find, and — my kids think it’s fascinating — we find mummified animals in the walls. They dehydrate in the walls, mice, lots of mice, squirrels, but one time, we found a possum that had totally mummified, and my boys thought that was the most fascinating thing I’ve ever done.

Why is Kansas City the perfect spot to host your show?

This is home. I don’t plan on going anywhere (unless it’s a lot warmer) [...] I think it’s a great place. We’re the Heartland, right? This is the Heartland of the country, and no other show was being shot here.

Kansas City is another character for every episode. There’s always beautiful shots of Kansas City. We always feature local Kansas City businesses, and I think on the coasts, people are amazed at what you can find, what you can buy, and how great our city really is.

You said KC is a character in your show — what kind of character?

I think it’s a supporting character. It’s the backbone of the show. [...] Every house has a Kansas City story, and a lot of them have really long histories of Kansas City, that have seen Kansas City for 100+ years and have survived WWII, and the stories that are held within those homes, I think, are fascinating. It wouldn’t be the same without it.

What’s a perfect day in KC look like for you or you and your family?

A family perfect day — that’s one of the beautiful things about Kansas City, there’s so much to do. [...] There’s a lake. We go to Lake Perry. It’s a 40-minute drive, take the boat, kids can ski, take the friends, and we’re still at home every night. We don’t have to go sleep somewhere else.

Girlfriend day, I mean, there’s nothing like the Plaza or Corinth shopping or Prairie Village shops. There’s so many quaint, cute areas of Kansas City — Brookside, you know? The list goes on and on. Go to Andrés, have an early little coffee and croissant or something yummy, start the day there, wander some shops there, meet up for lunch.

What is your presentation going to be like at the Remodel + Garden show?

When you’re going to a home and garden show, you’re going to learn a little bit about what’s available. [...] I am planning on talking about the trends and what to look for and what to ask for when they’re working with all these vendors, and really trend spotting to get ahead of the curve instead of staying in that white kitchen phase.

We’ve had the all-white walls, all-white kitchen [...] We have done a ton of color. Purple is on the rise. I know it’s not a traditional color to think of, but we did four different spaces: a kitchen, bar, wine bar, and pantry — all in different shades of deep purple, and I think you’re going to see a lot of those wine grape colors coming through with hints of red.

See more of Tamara, her show, and her design services on her website.

Tamara will present at the KC Home + Garden show twice on Saturday, Feb. 4 and Sunday, Feb. 5. Find tickets here.

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