FLORENCE, S.C. – Tracy Manuel barely watched HGTV, but in June she temporarily moved to Laurel, Mississippi, to work for the show “Home Town.”
The interior designer with a knack for do-it-yourself projects worked on five of the 10 homes for the second season of the show. Her main duty was overseeing design budgets.
“I loved the energy,” Manuel said.
The fast-paced, constantly evolving work environment matched Manuel’s upbeat personality.
“It’s really a creative process of people just verbally spitting out [ideas],” Manuel said. “It’s ideation.”
Manuel said she is a problem solver. While working for HGTV, she said, some of the houses had no budget. So she had to creatively use donated materials to give the client a good-quality product.
“If you have a big budget, you can do anything; but with no budget, you have to be creative,” Manuel said.
For example, for one “Home Town” house, she asked a friend to carve a wooden stamp that could be pressed in paint and stamped onto plain wallpaper, transforming drab walls to an original blue and white pattern.
After moving nine times in 12 years, Manuel said, she knows many home improvement hacks.
“My house is DIY overload,” Manuel said.
However, it was Manuel’s diverse skills, not just her visual design capabilities, that landed her the job. An HGTV representative contacted Manuel’s alma mater, LSU, for recommendations.
“The dean of the school of interior design at LSU sent me a text and said to call her,” Manuel said. “She said HGTV called and needed an interior designer that could design, that could collaborate, that could project manage that had a lot of construction experience, and she said, ‘All we could think of was your name.’”
One Skype interview later and Manuel had the job.
While working on set, Manuel fielded design ideas from show hosts Erin and Ben Napier, producers, grips and more. Everyone had ideas, Manuel said, and foresight was imperative. Knowing when different paints dried, how much flooring cost and what merchandise was available in Laurel all played into design decisions.
“Think about pretty much the most collaborative, crazy, work environment,” Manuel said. “It’s so fluid.”
Manuel said she was nervous about working for television, but her experience gave her confidence.
Manuel said the 25 years of DIY projects – successes and failures – were the best preparation.
Manuel went to college after getting married and having three children. When she enrolled, she said, she knew exactly what she wanted to study – interior design.
“I am extremely ambitious and passionate about what I do,” Manuel said.
While in college, she worked at Gensler, a design firm, and her first project was as lead designer over a $32 million corporate headquarters. She was the first college student the firm hired. After she graduated in 2015, her resume continued to lengthen.
While Manuel enjoyed the HGTV experience, she said, she probably will not do it again. She said it was difficult to be away from her family for seven months. However, if there was a show filming closer to her home, she said, she would do it in a heartbeat.
Manuel said her husband, Bryan, has consistently supported her passion for interior design and encouraged her to accept the temporary position with HGTV.
After filming, Manuel returned to Florence. Her business, T3M Studios, is housed at the North Dargan Innovation Center. Ideally, Manuel said she would like to have enough clients to hire employees.