Reality Realty: She restores beat-up mansions to stately glory


You won’t find a shack, let alone a mansion, for $100,000 in Los Angeles. For that kind of deal, head to Kansas City where estates bought for a song are featured on DIY Network’s “Bargain Mansions.” The second season starts Nov. 28.

Host Tamara Day revives fading mansions with occasional help from her father, Ward Schraeder, who schooled her in construction. She scored more DIY ingenuity from time spent on her grandparents’ Kansas farms.

“I was riding a tractor with my grandpa from the time I could talk,” said the mother of four.


Day, 43, has an eye for design, and she also wields tools and operates machinery — excavators, power drills, jackhammers. “I don’t know if there’s a tool that I don’t use,” she said.

She took a break from staging a turn-of-the-century mansion to talk with us.

There are countless renovation shows that seem gender-stuck: The husband builds and masters the floor plan while the wife designs. You do both and that is so refreshing.

So many young girls come up to me and say, “I have to get a sledgehammer; you’re so cool!” They’re just in awe that they could get to do this. So many people underestimate their ability –– any problem can be fixed.

Describe the mansions you renovate — and why are they so cheap?

They’re in difficult shape. For one home we had to run electrical through four layers of brick, a huge challenge. A lot of developers would knock these houses down.

After the war, soldiers needed places to live. Many turn-of-the-century single-family homes were converted into multi-family, or boarding houses, and now apartments. My goal is to turn them back into single-family homes.

When we think of mansions, we envision clawfoot soaking tubs and fireplaces. Ideally in the same room.

Well, having a fireplace in at least the bedroom is always a delight. One home had fireplaces kind of everywhere, but none of them really worked. We salvaged one by installing an electrical fireplace. I find old tubs in salvage yards for about $100. To reglaze those, you’re talking under $1,000. Something about the master bath has to have that “wow” factor –– it’s the owner’s retreat.

Historic windows and fenestration represent a home’s sense of soul. When removing rotted windows, how do you get some of that vibe back?

You can’t make a new window look old no matter what you do –– no way. I’ve found that trimming them out in a beautiful way makes the best sense. We have a good shop in town with a library of machine blades that can match the home’s trim.

How often do you encounter lead paint in historical homes? And what’s the fix?

We find lead paint a lot when dealing with old trim. We opt to clean it really well and paint over it. Companies will test for lead and you can buy a lead kit at any hardware store. Soaker tubs can have a lot of lead so I always test those. With a bathtub, we reglaze it.

With older homes there’s always the cost-benefit ratio of what’s tossed versus what’s restored. What do you most often keep?

Interior doors. They add so much character, even if they’ve been painted. With a recent house, all the woodwork had been painted to look like woodwork, which blew my mind. We painted the doors black and the trim white –– a crisp feeling. The shape and style of the door and hardware were all salvaged. They’re absolutely stunning.