As a kid, Day grew up helping her dad Ward Schraeder with construction projects on their family farm. So years later when she and her husband, Bill, a financial planner, moved into their first fixer-upper, she was ready to tackle the renovations.
“It was in such bad shape we had to wear shoes to bed while we were redoing it,” Day recalls. “But we sold it, did well with the sale and just kept doing that.”
After welcoming their sons Henry, 16, Bobby, 14, and Tom, 13, in quick succession, the couple purchased their first “bargain mansion” in the town of Leawood in 2008.
“Teenagers had been squatting in the house, there were cats living there, just trash everywhere,” says Day of the massive undertaking.
For more on Tamara Day, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
But midway through renovations, the national financial crisis hit. “It felt like the world was falling apart. At the time, I was like, ‘Just sell [the house]. This is too scary for me.’ But Bill was like, ‘We’re going to push through.”
Day eventually took on the role of general contractor. “Anything that I could physically do to help, I did so with a baby on my back,” she says. With little money left to furnish their home, Day, who welcomed her fourth child, daughter Nora in 2013, spent her weekends at estate sales where she’d purchase furniture then refinish it herself.
Soon she began holding furniture sales at their home twice a year, attracting nearly 1,000 visitors each time. Her career “just grew from that,” she says.
Now with more than 60 houses under her belt, Day has a hit TV show, a booming interior design business and a retail store.
“It’s insane,” she says. “I always think, ‘How did we get here?’ I still pinch myself.”