Whether you watched Shay Holland show off her design chops on HGTV’s Unfinished Business or you haven’t heard of her yet— she is a force to be reckoned with. While she might be petite in stature, the interior designer has a big personality and lots of talent. Smart and scrappy, unlike some HGTV stars, she didn’t get her start flipping houses or as a content creator on social media. Rather, she developed a love for design from alongside her father.

While a second season of the show has yet to be announced, Holland has moved on to pitching her own ideas and working on her chic tiny house 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 to sand, stain and restore antiques and barn sale finds to mix in with pieces he’d bring back from his tours of duty. We were a military family that moved frequently so it didn’t make sense to spend a ton of money decorating temporary housing. I loved working with my hands and the idea of exploring the world from your living room.

Later, I honed my skills in building houses with Habitat for Humanity, managing a design showroom, and taking night classes to earn my contractor’s license.

Lauren: What was it like working with your father?

Holland: My dad had this incredible gift of turning mundane tasks into adventures— even raking leaves or washing the car was magical. When he was deep in thought, he’d have full-on conversations with himself. I think I absorbed a lot of his knowledge just by listening. The military taught him to perform with excellence and even as a kid, I knew there was something special about his work. I inherited his legacy. For example, if something’s not right on a site, like paint drips or crooked pictures, I’ll be the one up on a ladder trying to get it right.

Lauren: How did you become a television host?

Holland: I was always drawn to storytelling but growing up on army bases and in small towns, that wasn’t really viewed as a viable future. I didn’t see much need to go to college so I quit high school as soon as I had enough credits for a diploma. My dad intervened and shipped me off to a private college. Six years and a Master’s Degree in Journalism later, I got my big break as a television news investigative reporter.

Years later, needing to get away from the crime beat— I came to Los Angeles for a fresh start. But I quickly found there wasn’t much demand for a hard news type. I was working a soul-numbing desk job when I happened to watch a TV show with media coach Marki Costello. I used all my vacation time training at her studio. I also joined a Facebook group, Hosts in LA, which ultimately led to a casting for a new home renovation show.

Lauren: How did you end up on HGTV’s Unfinished Business?

Holland: It really does sound like a dream: I submitted a homemade video to a blind casting and the next morning HGTV called.

A friend who knew my design experience had tagged me in a Facebook casting for a home renovation expert that had no mention of HGTV. I brushed it off since the deadline was hours away. The world was still largely shut down because of the pandemic. I also had no way of hiring someone to make the kind of reel I would need to submit.

Later, while scrolling through my iPhone camera roll, a lightbulb went off. I could re-cut Zoom auditions, family videos— ordinary footage of me doing things like hanging pictures, painting, etc and make a reel. I finally finished close to midnight. It was past due but I decided to submit it anyway.

The next day I got the call. The production company had received my reel late but decided to include me on the shortlist of candidates sent to the network.

Lauren: What was it like filming the show?

Holland: It was unlike any production I’ve been a part of— mainly because of the pandemic and protocols that made filming very difficult, exacerbated by the fact that we were working during the holiday crunch amid already severe supply chain issues.

On the design side, it was nearly impossible to get products shipped in time or find in-stock furnishings. Covid surges meant stores might close at any moment. With only weeks to complete our renovations, I was driving thousands of miles to pick up pieces wherever I could find them.

I was the only female on our team and that presented its own awkward moments, such as needing the one toilet we had on set to work. I just did my best to focus on designing spaces where our families could build their futures. I look back now and honestly. I’m amazed at what we created.

Lauren: How did being on HGTV change your life?

Holland: Even though audiences see me and my work in all our episodes, I’m not “the face” of our show so for now the exposure hasn’t upended my life. Tom Reber, the main host, did a superb job.

What has changed is that being on HGTV has opened doors to pitch shows and be heard. I’d love to see more women and diverse talent in construction and design and hosting. I’d love to see more shows that help future homebuyers better grasp the process and potential pitfalls of ownership.

The landscape of renovation TV is changing with storytelling at the forefront so it’s a great time for me to be involved. Before, it was all about having a “big personality” so I didn’t fit the mold.

Lauren: What projects are you currently working on?

Holland: Away from the cameras, I mostly work with private clients and I also do project management for a general contractor. I’m exploring brand collaborations and I’m also mentoring up-and-coming hosts.

In my spare time, I’m renovating a tiny house I rented near the beach. I took down all this awkward existing shelving, put in new hardware, I’m building a closet, installing a barn door. I had to let the owner know it might be a while before I’m done taking the place apart. It’s hard to get off that DIY rollercoaster once I start!

Lauren: How do you define your interior design style?

Holland: I’ve been trying to first 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 some elements tie everything together. What matters most is how a space feels and how it functions.

Style for me comes from the story I want a space to tell. I’m deeply inspired by nature and the idea of home as a sanctuary. My own space is curated across 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 into 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 of designers’ top 2022 trends, and they include many ways that I already design.

I love that we’re moving toward focusing on how our homes influence our overall well-being. We’re bringing the outdoors in and eliminating mindless clutter. Of course, the vintage revival resonates with me because of my childhood experiences but also because repurposing helps us preserve the environment. I love this season of design—it’s not about making our homes perfect, but embracing imperfection as part of the beauty.

Lauren: What’s next for you?

Holland: If Unfinished Business gets picked up for a second season, or one of the projects that my agent, Babette Perry of Innovative Artists, is pitching me for goes into development, then I’ll likely be filming somewhere remote. I can be on the road for weeks with just a carry-on and a backpack but I’m also content bringing the world into my living room.