Whether you’ve watched Shay Holland show off her design chops on HGTV Unfinished or you haven’t heard of her yet – she is a force to be reckoned with. Although she is small in stature, the interior designer has a big personality and a lot of talent. Smart and scrappy, unlike some HGTV stars, she didn’t start flipping houses or as a social media content creator. On the contrary, she developed a love for design alongside her father.
While a second season of the show has yet to be announced, Holland has begun pitching her own ideas and working on her swanky little home in Los Angeles. I recently spoke with her about the road to HGTV, life behind the scenes while filming, and what style means to her.
Amanda Lauren: When did you first become interested in interior design?
Shay Holland: From a young age I spent countless hours in my dad’s basement workroom learning how to sand, stain and restore antiques and barn finds to mix with pieces he brought back of his service tours. We were a military family that moved frequently, so it didn’t make sense to spend a ton of money decorating temporary living quarters. I loved working with my hands and the idea of exploring the world from your living room.
Later, I honed my skills building homes with Habitat for Humanity, running a design showroom, and taking night classes to get my contractor’s license.
Lauren: What was it like working with your dad?
Holland: My dad had this amazing gift of turning mundane chores into adventures – even raking the leaves or washing the car was magic. When he was deep in thought, he had full conversations with himself. I think I absorbed a lot of his knowledge just by listening to him. The military taught him to perform with excellence and even as a child I knew there was something special about his job. I inherited his heritage. For example, if something goes wrong on a site, like paint drips or crooked images, I’ll be the only one on a ladder trying to get it right.
Lauren: How did you become a TV host?
Holland: I’ve always been drawn to storytelling, but growing up on military bases and in small towns, that wasn’t really seen as a viable future. I didn’t really see the need to go to college, so I left high school as soon as I had enough credits for a degree. My father intervened and sent me to a private college. Six years and a master’s degree in journalism later, I had my chance as an investigative journalist for television news.
Years later, needing to get away from the rhythm of crime, I came to Los Angeles for a fresh start. But I quickly found that there wasn’t much demand for one type of hard news. I was doing mind-numbing office work when I watched a TV show with media coach Marki Costello. I used all my vacation time training in his studio. I also joined a Facebook group, Hosts in LA, which ultimately led to a casting call for a new home improvement show.
Lauren: How did you end up in HGTV’s Unfinished?
Holland: It really does sound like a dream: I submitted a home video to a blind casting call and the next morning HGTV called.
A friend who knew of my design background had tagged me in a Facebook casting call for a home improvement expert who had no mention of HGTV. I swiped it because the deadline was hours away. The world was still largely closed due to the pandemic. I also had no way of hiring anyone to do the kind of reel I would need to submit.
Later, while browsing through my iPhone camera roll, a light bulb went out. I could recut Zoom auditions, family videos — ordinary footage of me doing things like hanging pictures, painting, etc. and make a coil. I finally finished around midnight. It was late but I decided to submit it anyway.
The next day I received the call. The production company had received my reel late but decided to include me in the shortlist of applicants sent to the network.
Lauren: What was it like filming the show?
Holland: This was unlike any production I’ve been in – mainly due to the pandemic and protocols which made filming very difficult, exacerbated by the fact that we were working during the holiday crisis amid supply chain issues already serious.
On the design side, it was nearly impossible to ship products on time or find furniture in stock. Covid surges meant stores could close at any time. With only weeks to complete our renovations, I drove thousands of miles to pick up parts wherever I could find them.
I was the only female on our team and it came with its own awkward moments, like needing the only bathroom we had on set to work. I just did my best to focus on designing spaces where our families could build their future. I look back now and honestly. I am amazed at what we have created.
Lauren: How has being on HGTV changed your life?
Holland: Even though audiences see me and my work in all of our episodes, I’m not “the face” of our show, so so far the exposure hasn’t turned my life upside down. Tom Reber, the main host, did a superb job.
What has changed is that being on HGTV has opened doors to showcasing and being heard. I would like to see more women and diverse talents in construction, design and hosting. I would love to see more shows that help future buyers better understand the process and potential pitfalls of home ownership.
The TV renovation landscape is changing with storytelling at the forefront, so now is the perfect time for me to get involved. Before, it was about having a “great personality”, so I didn’t fit into the mould.
Lauren: What projects are you currently working on?
Holland: Away from the cameras, I mainly work with private clients and I also do project management for a general contractor. I explore collaborations with brands and also mentor up-and-coming hosts.
In my free time, I renovate a small house I rented near the beach. I removed all those annoying existing shelves, put in new hardware, build a closet, install a barn door. I had to let the owner know that it might be a while before I was done tearing down the place. It’s hard to get off this DIY roller coaster once I start!
Lauren: How do you define your interior design style?
Holland: I first tried to describe my approach to design and came up with the same word that defines our show: unscripted. I design intuitively, exploring and making room to play with surprises that aren’t in the plan. But there are certain elements that tie it all together. What matters most is how a space feels and how it functions.
For me, style comes from the story I want a space to tell. I am deeply inspired by nature and the idea of home as a sanctuary. My own space is organized according to the seasons of my life. It’s full of earthy neutrals, natural materials, light, and nothing too loud or cluttered. I wanted it to be that place at the beach where your soul settles at a slower pace.
Lauren: What are your favorite interior design trends?
Holland: In general, I tell my clients not to worry too much about trends. I want people to create spaces that tell their own story and not bring something into their home just because it’s the rage in every HGTV reveal. That being said, I read an HGTV poll on top designer trends for 2022, and they include many of the ways I already design.
I like that we focus on how our homes influence our overall well-being. We bring the outdoors inside and eliminate the senseless clutter. Of course, the revival of vintage resonates with me because of my childhood experiences but also because reusing helps us preserve the environment. I love this design season – it’s not about making our homes perfect, it’s about embracing imperfection as part of beauty.
Laurent: What is the next step for you?
Holland: Whether Unfinished is picked up for a second season, or one of the projects that my agent, Babette Perry from Innovative Artists, is offering me goes into development, so I’ll probably be filming in a remote location. I can be on the road for weeks with just a carry-on and a backpack, but I’m also content to bring the world into my living room.