magine a bedroom designed to be a fully functional obstacle course, complete with monkey bars and a rope-climbing area. Every kid’s dream, right?

Erik Per Sullivan, of Malcolm in the Middle and The Cider House Rules fame, did more than just dream about it—he lived it, thanks to Taniya Nayak, who served as his interior designer on ABC Family’s show Knock First. “He was about 12 at the time and loved obstacle courses,” says Nayak. “The purpose of the show was to tell a story about both the kid and the designer.”


Wholehearted dedication to both client and creativity is typical of Nayak, whose trademark is creating interiors her clients love, even when she’s on a tight budget. A graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, and the Boston Architectural College, Nayak wasn’t sure if architecture was the way to go. “I’ve always been a creative person, I just didn’t know which way to channel it. My father has been an architect for 50 years, and I would have followed him into architecture, but I’m glad I waited.”

Design on a Dime: Taniya’s Tips

1. Listen to your mother and clean your room. “Be organized and neat,” advises Nayak. “I know it’s hard, but once you start that way, you’ll appreciate coming home to a clean house.”
2. Never underestimate the value of a fresh coat of paint. “It’s one of the cheapest ways to transform a space,” notes Nayak.
3. Think outside the box. “Our moms have tons of saris they don’t wear. And places like IKEA sell frames at reasonable prices. It’s a beautiful way to add color if you live in an apartment and can’t paint.”
4. Find inspiration in your belongings. “Use a decorative pillow or a favorite piece of art to guide you,” says Nayak.
5. Look for inspiration in others’ belonging. “You can use hand-me-downs to pull [a look] together.”
6. Change the kitchen hardware. “It may seem like a hard task, but when it’s done, it is so worth it. The place will look like a thousand bucks.”
7. Personalize, personalize, personalize. “Use your personal items to make a space really comfortable and yours.”
8. Be adventurous. “Everything doesn’t have to be ‘matchy-matchy.’ Don’t be afraid to try new things.”
9. Aim for functional and fashionable. “Baskets are a great way to conceal mess, and they look great on shelving, too.”
10. Get by with a little help from your friends. “If someone can sew a pillow, or help paint, ask them.”

The guiding light Nayak, who lived in Boston, was awaiting finally arrived in the guise of an email seeking a “young, hip designer for a television show.” Although she initially disregarded the message, she reconsidered after a friend forwarded her the very same advertisement. “I figured it was coming from two sources, and I should just listen and go,” she says.

Out of the nearly 500 people who auditioned, Nayak was selected to be one of the designers on Knock First, which she describes as a “fast-paced, MTV-type show aimed at teenagers.” Produced by the team responsible for Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Knock First shared that hit’s fresh, hip vibe.

Before and after, Taniya style.

“That was fun. We started after Queer Eye did, and we got to see them grow … and go to their parties!” she adds, with a laugh. But Knock First wasn’t just fun and games. “I did that show for about two years,” says Nayak, “and we shot 103 episodes, an astronomical amount for television.”

The experience only whetted Nayak’s appetite for the delicious blend of drama and design: “I suddenly found myself loving television and design and the combination of the two. [It was] fast-paced, energetic, and not just sitting in an office designing.”

But as much as she craved the challenge of creating while playing to the camera, she also recognized the need to establish a secure foundation for her endeavors. “I started my own business—Design Digs,” she says. The venture flourished, and Nayak expanded her business to both residential and non-residential design. She even designed her fiancé’s Boston restaurant Vinalia.


Opportunity came knocking again in the shape of a Craigslist posting for a young, urban designer for a new HGTV show called FreeStyle, which aimed to make a home over simply through reorganizing and rearranging. Nayak’s audition for that show led to an offer to work on a new Washington, D.C.-based series of the popular HGTV show Designed to Sell.

Viewing the chance as a one-time opportunity, she accepted the offer and moved to D.C., away from her company, her hometown and her fiancé. “He’s been extremely supportive,” she notes. “The only tough part is the traveling; we go back and forth every weekend. But I think,” she confides with a laugh, “that he’s relieved to have me out of his hair sometimes.”

“Our transformations are done over three days for $2,000. It’s a very small budget to add value to a house, but it shows you how many things you can do with space that can make a gigantic difference.”

Although she was physically distant from her fledgling company, Nayak didn’t put her business life on hold either. “Design Digs is still a functioning business. I’ve been taking smaller consulting opportunities like one-time consultations for homes getting on the market. I can offer advice without committing the time to a full remodeling.”

And Nayak is an expert on how great design can help a home sell for a great price. As one of the designers on Designed to Sell, she helps accomplish thorough makeovers with limited resources. “Our transformations are done over three days for $2,000. It’s a very small budget to add value to a house, but it shows you how many things you can do with space that can make a gigantic difference.”

Such a big difference, in fact, that some homeowners change their minds about leaving their newly redesigned abodes. “There are some who don’t want to move. [They] love the house so much, they don’t want to go,” says Nayak.

Whether designing for Hollywood stars or suburban homeowners, Nayak clearly has a knack for making her clients’ design dreams a reality. And if along the way she makes some of her own career dreams come true, it’s probably by design.n

Deepa Kamath recently stole her mom’s home design and décor magazines to read on the train. She promises to return them soon.
Published on April 2, 2007.
Photography: Courtesy of Taniya Nayak.
Comments are closed.
  1. March 22, 2008, 10:52 pm Sheila Walker

    I would like some tips from Tanya and how to make things stand out for sale. My husband and I are retiring and I need to sell my home in CA to move to Arkansas. My husband has some health issues that make retiring very important.

  2. May 16, 2008, 7:31 pm lillian gonzalez

    I just moved in with my fiance and he has a few injuries from a car accident and a couple of surgeries which makes it very difficult for both of us to work on the house. and I can’t do it all myself. we are also a big fan of your show and watch it all the time and would love to have your team help us out since we are trying to sell our home to move closer to our family in new jersey. I hope that we hear from you soon enough to help us make this house good to sell. thank you so much in advance.

  3. August 21, 2008, 5:32 am yogesh

    taniya i m fine
    taniya good night

    taniya i love you

  4. August 21, 2008, 2:55 pm sanchita

    HI Tanya,

    I have seen your shows and they are outstanding. Need some help in staging our old house for selling. Hoping to hear from you soon. Thanks..

  5. November 5, 2008, 3:33 pm Akshay Desai

    Hi Taniya,
    We are doing a total remodel in our house. I only have one question for now. How high should the chandelier be from the dinning table? Good luck with the show, and hope to hear from you soon. I have a lot of questions to ask and hopefully you have the time. Will you be in the New Jersey area?


  6. November 8, 2008, 12:52 pm Yunona

    Hi, Tanya
    I have some problem with huge ceiling in our living room. Walls are painted in natural nice and warm colour, but yet, we have the feeling our room should be not only furnished but decorated with gobelens or paintings.
    What do you think about it?

    I admire your talant so much never miss your show.
    Wishing you the best,
    Yunona T.