Come late October, Tamara Day of Leawood plans to do two things: sleep a lot and make up for a lost summer with her four kids.
By that time Day will have spent nearly every day of the previous 10 months renovating six mansions in the Kansas City area.
Think about that: It takes most people twice that time to renovate just one. But Day is not like most people. Late last year, DIY Network signed the home rehabber to star in “Bargain Mansions.” The first of twelve 30-minute episodes will premiere at 8 p.m. Nov. 7.
Reality Road Entertainment, a video production and casting company in the Crossroads Arts District, is producing the show with Conveyor Media of Los Angeles. Matt Antrim, co-owner of Reality Road, is executive producer and creator of the show.
Day’s father, Ward Schraeder, who lives in Salina and is CEO and a principal partner at Medical Development Management in Wichita, will co-star, as will Troy Paul, owner of Leawood’s Next Generation Construction, who is acting as general contractor on the homes.
“We’ve been working all summer and with four kids home from school, it’s been tough to do,” Day said, during a break one day last week as she sat on the front porch of house number four, in midtown. The three-story, 3,100-square-foot home had most recently been occupied by an octogenarian hoarder and her drug dealing tenants.
“When we bought it, it was dark brown and looked really small and condemned,” she says. “The house was just in complete disarray and in very sad state. But at the same time it had so much character.”
Now, its exterior has a new faux slate roof and a fresh coat of navy blue paint on its cedar shingle siding that contrasts nicely with its fresh ivory trim. Walls throughout the four-bedroom home were still covered in sheet-rock splotched with pink spackle, but Day said the home was very close to being finished.
She has preserved several original and vintage features in the home, including the living room fireplace, a mural in the dining room, wallpaper featuring dancing ladies on a silver background inside an entryway closet and a map on an upstairs bedroom wall. She says the home will have a preppy, Swiss chalet feel when it is finished.
“I feel like this house has been one of my favorites to transform because it went from so horrible to really stunning and classic,” she said. “It’s very clean and crisp, white and bright but with lots of pops of navy and color.”
(The show’s producers asked that we not photograph any of the homes so as not to spoil the show for viewers.)
Typically, the camera crew has been on-site two to four days a week. But Day and the construction crew have been working 12 hours a day, six or seven days a week, often on more than one house at a time. There have been brief periods — for a couple of weeks at a time — where they were finishing two homes and starting two others. Lists of construction projects were taped to several windows in the midtown home, asking subcontractors to alert a camera crew member when they were getting ready to tackle one of them.
“I have lots of wonderful spreadsheets and beautiful keynote pages with pictures that keep me on track,” Day says, chuckling at the whirlwind that has been life since February.
When they begin working on a home, Antrim, Troy, a producer for Conveyor Media and Day walk through the home, and Day tells them what she’d like to have done. Things like get rid of this wall, put a door here, convert these three rooms into the kitchen.
Antrim and a producer would come up with scripts for each 30-minute show based on the projects in each room to be done. Two shows will regularly air back-to-back and follow Day as she starts and finishes a house.
She and the production crew have also been taking field trips to highlight local businesses that Day works with on her projects, including Restoration Emporium in the West Bottoms, Rock Tops in Olathe and WoodCraft in Lenexa.
Day is renovating three homes in and around Central Hyde Park, two in Leawood and one near Loose Park. The biggest challenge, she says, was finding those houses.
“When we originally pitched this idea it was easy to find these big old houses in bad shape, but now this whole area (midtown) has been revitalized, and real estate is turning over quickly,” she says. “So it’s super hard to get the houses to begin with then finding ones with the potential for what I want to put into them is a huge challenge.”
Finding people to work with her on the houses wasn’t as hard, thanks to Paul, the general contractor and Day’s neighbor.
“She propositioned me during the pilot,” Paul joked. “And I said ‘Yeah yeah yeah, call me when it becomes a reality.’ Then she called and asked if I would like to audition.”
Paul found working with a television crew to be the biggest challenge, because it slows construction for crews on unusually tight deadlines.
“The construction crew has to stop and be quiet during taping,” he explained. “We also have a hard set date for television and construction deadlines that can be really hard to hit because you have bad weather, subcontractors who don’t show up, products that don’t show up. Usually you don’t put subs on top of subs, but right now we have tile, trim (installers) and painters all in at once working on top of each other.”
Antrim stood nearby grinning, and joked: “You will see that Troy goes from 170 pounds in episode one to 150 pounds in episode eight.”
Day’s goal with every house is to keep some of its original architecture then compliment it with modern amenities.
“We’re preserving as much as we can and not just for the sake of preserving,” she says. “We preserve what’s really beautiful and historically accurate then update it with modern amenities that make it even more awesome. So when I do save something, it’s because I think it’s really beautiful and interesting and that somebody now is really going to appreciate it.”
One of the homes had a three-story metal fire escape with intricate handmade metal treads. So Day and her dad carefully disassembled it, ground down and repainted the treads and turned them into open shelving in the home’s laundry room. They re-purposed the old leaky windows in another home by grinding up their glass and incorporating it in the master bathroom’s counter top.
Day bought the first of the six homes she is renovating in Midtown for $130,000, invested $250,000 in it and sold it for $400,000. She sold one of the others to her father.
Antrim says “Bargain Mansions” is “real estate porn” because unlike similar shows, such as HGTV’s “Flip or Flop,” Day never runs out of money.
“This is a 3,000-square-foot, four-bedroom home that will be done to the nines from basement to attic,” Antrim says. “It doesn’t leave the viewer saying, ‘Oh, it would have been so much cooler if they could have done it the way it was supposed to be.’ ”
Day has found one way to include her kids and husband in all the excitement of producing the show is to move them into the houses once they’re finished, even though it usually leaves them all with a case of house-envy.
“We’ll spend a night or weekend in the houses so they can see the fun stuff I’ve done,” she says. “And they say ‘Mom, why don’t you make our house this awesome?’ ”