K-State grad and HGTV host, Tamara Day, found success as a home renovator through hard work, perseverance and little luck.
When Tamara Day attended Kansas State University in the late 1990s, she had no idea she’d end up where she is today — a home renovator with her own show on HGTV. Tamara graduated in 2000 with a degree in communications, which has come in handy. “I use that communications degree every single day,” Tamara said. In hindsight, she wishes she’d gotten a design degree, but at the time, she didn’t even know that was a possibility.
When Tamara and her husband, Bill, were newly married, they continued his family’s practice of buying homes and renovating them. “Our first house was a fixer upper,” Tamara said. “It was in really bad shape, and that is when I fell in love with renovations and design. After our kids were born, we did our own houses and moved different places around the Kansas City area. When we moved into our current house, it had been a foreclosure and squatters had lived in it, so it was in really bad shape. We started working on it the summer of 2008 and by late fall, the world was ending, similar to now.”
The economic recession of 2008 nearly derailed the Days’ renovation of their almost 6,000-square-foot home, but having the work ethic of growing up on a farm near Salina, Kansas, Tamara wouldn’t let that stop her. She rolled up her sleeves, donned her gloves and got to work.
“We were in the middle of the massive renovation of our house when the recession hit, but we had to finish,” Tamara said. “So, we said goodbye to the contractor, my husband worked his day job, I put a baby on my back and worked on our house, doing as much of it myself as I could. We hired professionals, but told them I would be their helper to save on labor costs. We were able to get the house finished, but then we needed furniture.”
Tamara went to estate sales and garage sales and refinished old furniture. People started to see her work, and her design business was born. Twice a year, Tamara hosted a sale of her refurbished furniture, which she had displayed on the first floor the home she’d renovated. People buying furniture would ask for her help renovating parts of their homes. From there, the renovations grew.
How she ended up with a TV show was an act of serendipity. Tamara’s brother met a TV producer, Matt Antrim, who had moved from Los Angeles to Kansas City to care for his ailing father. He told Matt about his sister’s business, then Tamara met with Matt to pitch a show.
“There are no HGTV shows being shot in Kansas, so it didn’t seem very real, I think, but it seemed like something fun to do at the time,” Tamara said. “I didn’t know enough to be afraid of it. With four babies and working from home, I didn’t really know what it would all entail. One good decision after another, here we are, seven years later, season three going in, and we’ve got everything moving.”
Tamara wishes she’d studied design while at K-State, but she has learned a lot through doing. She also hires interns to help with various aspects of her company. “Our current intern is from K-State and she’s been with us for three summers. She’s fabulous!,” Tamara said. “Seeing as how I don’t have a design degree, I wing it much of the time, and I’m okay with that, but it’s great to learn. I always expect the interns to come in and teach me something I don’t know, which has been great.”
Tamara typically hires three to four interns throughout the year, based on her company’s needs. Right now they have three interior design interns and are looking for a graphic design intern. Providing a hands-on learning experience is one way Tamara gives back to her alma mater and community.
Another way Tamara helps lift others is to partner with people who are also trying to make a difference. “I really want to support people who are building businesses and bringing people up with them,” Tamara said. She works with Weave Gotcha Covered! for all of her upholstery needs on the show and in real life. “I love her business model because she employs women who have come from difficult situations and teaches them a skill — to sew. Her store is on the bus line so her employees can get to work. I’m working in a mostly male-dominated industry. It’s changing slowly, but any opportunity I have to support women in business, I do.”
As the mother of four and a mentor to college students, Tamara has one key piece of advice for young people — find what you’re passionate about and find a way to make money doing it.
“I wish I had known that getting a design degree was available and I could follow that passion, but when I was 18, 19, I didn’t know what my passion was,” she said. “I think kids today have more opportunity to find that passion earlier in life because of the internet and social media and being able to explore their interests. Look at what you’re following on social media and what shows you’re watching, because there is a thread of interest in all of those things that could lead you to a career path you may not have thought of. The goal is to be happy in your job.”
While Tamara’s path to discovering her passion and finding success was circuitous, this Wildcat accomplished her goal to be happy in her job.