How an Antioch mom became an HGTV star
Tiffany Brooks' life might have been totally different had it not been for a three-word email from her brother.
The words were: "Here's your chance."
The email also contained a link for an HGTV show audition in Chicago.
Brooks -- an Antioch mom and self-taught decorator -- wasn't going to go. The audition conflicted with an open house at her son's school, Country Meadows Montessori School in Gurnee, where she worked part-time doing administrative work. At the last minute, open house organizers, unaware of the audition, asked her to switch shifts. She was free to go. So she did.
Brooks ended up being chosen for -- and winning -- season 8 of "HGTV Star." She has since hosted a slew of other HGTV shows, including "Most Embarrassing Rooms in America," "Smart Home 2014" and "Urban Oasis 2014." She'll be on the network again next month to host "Smart Home 2015."
Brooks also continues to run her Antioch interior design business, which got a big boost from her HGTV fame.
"It basically just raises your clout level a million times. People now take me seriously as a designer and ask me to speak at events. They ask my opinion," she said. "It's like the ultimate co-signers. You have HGTV backing you up."
Brooks' designing talent, interesting life story and fun "real mom" personality made her perfect for TV.
"There's something about her that's very starlicious," HGTV host David Bromstad said about her during the "Star" season finale. "When she smiles, she lights up the room. And that laugh. She's just fun."
Brooks never pictured herself as a TV star, even while auditioning. She thought she'd just show up, be herself and see what happened.
"I wasn't nervous because I thought the worst thing they could do is say no. Thousands of people try out. The chance of me being one of those 10 (finalists) was so small. I just did it to say I went. But then I was asked back for the second round," she said.
In that round, HGTV producers asked Brooks to videotape herself walking through one of her best design projects.
Rather than take them through one of her award-winning model homes, Brooks decided to walk through her own crowded, messy house and point out what needed to be done.
"I was living with my mom, my brother, my husband and my son. The furniture had marks and scratches. People don't even pick up cups. I make spaces beautiful for everyone else, but my house is a hot mess," she said, laughing. "But I guess they liked it."
Born in Waukegan, Brooks did her first interior decorating project at age 15 while she was a student at North Chicago High School. She remodeled her brown cork-paneled bedroom, using her savings to buy carpet remnants and clearance wallpaper and light fixtures at Menard's.
"It went from this brown monstrosity to this pink palace with touches of baby blue. It reminded me of the girls' bedroom on 'The Brady Bunch.' And I love that, I really do," she said. "It was very pink, with white furniture ... very girlie. My mom was like, 'Oh my God, girl.'"
Brooks didn't think people went to school for interior decorating, though. So she went to business school at College of Lake County. After graduation, she was sidelined with serious complications from diabetes and had kidney and pancreas transplants.
When her health improved, she got a job with a high-end property management company (a job she jokingly described as "a glorified landlord"). One day, they needed someone to decorate a model home on a budget. She volunteered.
"It turned out looking pretty awesome," she admitted.
The company liked it so much, they entered it in a model home decorating contest.
"That night (my boss and I) made a bet. If the model home won, I had to quit and pursue interior design full time," she said. "And it won."
But Brooks wasn't ready to jump in full time.
Instead, she gave her two weeks' notice and got a part-time job at her son's school, securing a steady paycheck. Then she built her interior decorating business on the side.
"I didn't realize this is what I wanted to do until I was almost 30," she said. "It was tough when I started. I was thankful I had that second job. But now, things are going great."
-- Jamie Sotonoff
• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for people from the suburbs who are now working in showbiz. If you know of someone who would make an interesting feature, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Decorating advice from HGTV's Tiffany Brooks• Stop asking your friends and neighbors for their opinions. It's not helping the situation to have more people vote on your paint color. What do you like?
• Don't be afraid to "float" your furniture. People think every piece of furniture needs to be up against the wall. It doesn't. You have to think about your focal points and your conversation areas. When you place furniture against the wall it places distance between a conversation. You want it to be cozy and functional.
• Don't feel obligated to hang on to ugly or old furniture passed down from parents or grandparents. I want to free people of that burden. They can get rid of it.
• Use eggshell paint if you have children. It can take more of a beating and wipes away better.