An attractive couple in hardhats looks over a rundown nightmare house. You know the deal – popcorn ceilings, dingy carpet, Harvest Gold kitchen, the pinky-beige ceramic tile everywhere. Then, through the power of his hammer and work crew wrangling, and her design smarts and client negotiation skills, it slowly transforms into a dream home.

Tamara Day (the American designer, not the South African singer Tamara Dey) is bucking that home reno show trend. She can wear both hardhats herself, thank you. In her new show Bargain Mansions – admittedly with some practical help from her dad, Ward Schraeder – she tackles everything from the physical labour of stripping wallpaper, to the design intricacies herself.

Watch now on Catch Up


Take your daughter to work

Tamara learned the dirty details of home renovation at Ward’s knee. He’s been in the housing construction and remodelling business for 40 years now. When Tamara was naughty as a child, her punishment sometimes was doing gritty on-site work like hanging sheetrock. While Ward still has something of a builder’s attitude to fixing up and moving on, Tamara is a perfectionist. “He has a little different feeling to his design style than I have. He’d leave the cracks in the walls if he could. I like to fix them,” she reveals. But Ward is always there when she needs a word of wisdom. “A lot of times it’s new to me, but it’s something he’s already done. Having him there to help guide and direct things is really helpful because he may have had experience with something that I’ve never seen before or dealt with before. Having his wisdom is always helpful,” says Tamara.


DIY Pride

Tamara’s first big home renovation project was her own house. She and her husband, Bill, had bought a fixer-upper, hoping to pay someone else to do the work. But then the early 2000s, recession arrived. “This was right around the time the economy tanked, so I decided to do as much as I could myself. From sanding down the wood floor to tearing down the rotting walls, I did it. Everything. It was during this process where I really developed and honed my design style and skill set and was able to participate in the construction side of things. I spent months working 12-hour days, sanding floors and tearing down wallpaper with one baby strapped to my back and the others crawling in the playpen,” says Tamara.

She’s proud of the feedback the show has gotten from girls and women in the US. “I didn’t anticipate how many young girls would watch this type of show, and how inspired they are, and how eye-opening it is that a woman can be in this industry. And it’s not relegated to strictly the design side of this industry. You can be part of the design, you can be part of the construction, you can be part of anything you want to be a part of. Breaking through that glass ceiling and showing young girls anything is possible has really been a blessing in my life,” says Tamara.

Sneak peek

The first few episodes of Bargain Mansions see Tamara and Ward working over a chateau-style mansion that’s actually in Tamara’s own neighbourhood. The moment it came up for sale, she pounced. “Not only was it in horrible condition from a structural and electrical standpoint, but it was completely outdated. It was renovated back in the 80’s, so it was filled with hideous wallpaper, shaggy carpet, and a lot of light pink and aqua colours throughout… yikes,” she reveals. ”My goal through the entire process was to modernise the home and bring it up to current standards of an actual French Chateau.”

Throughout the house, Tamara has taken care to keep charming original features like fireplaces and window fittings. “The living room was probably my favourite room to tackle in this house because it was filled with so many historic elements. The half-moon arches above the full-length French windows, the plantation shutters, the amazing marble fireplace… I wanted to keep it all! It just needed some major TLC to bring it all back to life,” she says. And once the renovation was complete, it was instantly snapped up by a very proud owner – Ward!

“The Juniper house holds a special place in my heart for more reasons than one. I actually ended up buying this house after the renovations were complete. It had great old world charm that can be seen in every room and it’s a few blocks away from my grandkids,” he says. Meanwhile, Tamara claims that it isn’t just the grandkids nearby giving Ward those warm, fuzzy feelings – his favourite feature in the house is the underfloor heating they had installed in the bathroom. The luxury!

Watch Bargain Mansions S1 on Saturdays on HGTV (DStv 177) at 19:50 or on Catch Up

Get it on Google Play

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