No Place Like Home: Star designer Taniya Nayak gives her own Boston interior a fresh look.

By Janice Randall Rohlf         Photography by Dan Cutrona

When interior designer and TV personality Taniya Nayak isn’t traveling—wait, who are we kidding?

She’s always traveling! She’s currently filming a new season of Restaurant: Impossible, working alongside Chef Robert Irvine to revamp restaurants across the country. She also co-hosts ABC’S The Great Christmas Light Fight and manages her own design firm. But when she finally gets some downtime, her favorite thing is simply hanging out at home with her husband and bulldog, a treat that’s even sweeter now that her Boston-area condo remodel is complete.

Q: You have to be one of the busiest people I’ve met, yet you found time recently to renovate your condo. What was the inspiration behind that?

A: I’d love to say it was something designer-ish, but it’s not. The inspiration was that I got a bulldog and his fur shed everywhere—on the dark floors and the dark couch. Once we replaced the floors with something lighter, it led to changing up the furniture, and then we thought, Why not do the kitchen while we’re at it? That little dog is the most expensive dog on the planet!

In terms of fitting the renovation into my busy schedule, I think I’m a master at doing these things while I’m on the road. I was renovating a condo in Fort Lauderdale while I was filming The Great Christmas Light Fight—dealing with filming, traveling, even a flood. Sometimes the more you have on your plate, the easier it is to juggle. Being a designer on television, I’ve learned that sometimes our time constraints are challenging, but I’ve also learned that if you let things be, they work out, and sometimes for the better.

Q: Compared to working with clients of your firm, Taniya Nayak Designs, was it easy to figure out how you wanted your own space to look? 

A: It was hard doing it for myself because I have access to too much information when it comes to design. I love so many different styles that pinning it down to just one was tough. Often, the best way to discover your style is to look in your closet and ask yourself what you gravitate toward. I tend to gravitate toward very neutral clothing with an accent piece of jewelry. [In clothing] I’m not a bold-pattern, bold-color type of girl, so you’re not going to see that in my house either. I lean toward a lot of neutrals and a lot of texture and a few statement pieces. I like to look put together, but I like to be comfortable too. My husband is also pretty casual.

Q: The countertop is your own design?

A: Yes. I worked with a childhood friend who owns Stone Showcase in Woburn. He reached out to me for a countertop brand that would have a luxury look without a luxury price, which is true for much of what I design. We worked up the patterns and colors and came up with this lovely, limited line of engineered stone and wood called Element Surfaces. There are 25 different surfaces—not a million, which can be mindboggling—that range from a Carrara-looking marble to one that looks like concrete. It is affordable and looks awesome. For my own countertops, I used “Ranier” from Element Surfaces’ Malbec collection.

Q: What did you look for in appliances?

A: I decided it was finally time for big-girl appliances since my husband is a restaurateur and I’m a designer for high-end restaurants and residences. I love to cook, so the obvious choice was to go to 7 Tide in the Seaport District and select top-of-the-line appliances. Now I’m obsessed—the new Sub-Zero and Wolf appliances have changed the way I cook. I love how they look, and I couldn’t be happier.

I was a little nervous about doing the microwave drawer, but I think it’s so nice to have the microwave tucked away instead of on display. And it gave us the space to install a proper rangehood. Little things can make such a big difference, like the panel on the dishwasher and the extra-deep sink with a really great, restaurant-style faucet. The kitchen now fits the comfort level of my restaurateur husband. Plus, it gets him to cook at home every once in a while.

Q: Tell us about your experience at 7 Tide.

A: It couldn’t have been more seamless. I worked closely with Jeremy McCulla, who walked me through everything and made me feel so comfortable. I really wanted my home to feel personal and be customized to my lifestyle. I had a lot of questions. Jeremy listened carefully and really was methodical about what he showed me. When it came to cabinetry, he referred me to Lori McGeown at Kramer’s Custom Kitchens and Woodworking. She helped me find the right stain color and talked me through details like making sure the door swings wouldn’t hit anything. It was funny for me to be in that situation because that’s exactly what I do with my clients. It’s like an aesthetician going to a spa other than her own to get a facial. My expectations naturally are high.

Q: Was it hard to choose art for your condo that wouldn’t compete with the great views of the Neponset River?

A: I can pick art all day long for other people, but selecting my own was, I imagine, like getting your first tattoo. I was intimidated by the process because I feel like art tells a story, and I didn’t know what story to tell. Gabriella Levy at Grand Image talked to me about what my husband and I like, which is contemporary urban art, almost graffiti-esque, and she helped us find a happy medium between our preferred styles. Our art is fun—it’s wild, but I don’t think it distracts from the view. I would definitely encourage someone who doesn’t know where to start with art to enlist the help of somebody who knows what they’re doing.

Q: Your husband, Brian O’Donnell, is a restaurateur and you’ve been the interior designer for several of his restaurants. Do you have a favorite in terms of décor?

A: I love them all; each one has a special twist. Yellow Door Taqueria, though, is special to us because we live in the neighborhood. Most people who live in Lower Mills have lived here for generations. So, it was important to me to maintain the building’s historic aspect; it was home to Dark Horse Antiques for over 20 years. I had the idea to make the restaurant feel like an antique shop in Mexico. The mosaic tile floor is original to the first tenant in the 1900s, an apothecary. It’s kitschy and fun and was a cool challenge.

Q: You and your husband have an impressive collection of wine. Were the wine fridges added during the renovation?

A: I realized that we had some really incredible wines just sitting in a wine rack by the window and suggested to my husband that we get wine fridges. He agreed 100 percent. I love Sub-Zero’s temperature control feature, which allows us to store the whites and reds at just the right temperature for each. Now, we feel like we’re taking care of our wines better, in fridges that were custom built into the cabinetry from Kramer’s.

Q: Do you like to cook and entertain at home?

A: I love it. I have a little fear of cooking for a large group of people; more than six and I start to panic. I do a really nice Chicken Milanese, and I like to cook fish. I don’t do as much Indian food as I’d like to. My mom, who is a great cook, lives just 15 minutes away, so I’m spoiled.

Q: Speaking of restaurants and food, I heard that the TV show Restaurant: Impossible on Food Network is coming back on the air and you’ll be returning as the designer.

A: We’re already into our second season; we came back in January. The show started filming almost 10 years ago but has been off the air for the last three. It’s really cool to be together again with the same group of people—Chef Robert Irvine and Contractor Tom Bury. We’re all a little older and more experienced.

Q: Do you have any other TV projects in the works?

A: Yes, The Great Christmas Light Fight, on ABC, which is pretty awesome. I go all over the country seeking out the wildest and craziest Christmas lights. We start filming at the end of October and continue until right before the holidays. It’s a happy show that parents watch with their kids. This is my sixth year, and I love doing it. Also, I’m one of Rachael Ray’s most frequent guest designers. She and I met about 12 years ago when I was on an HGTV show called Designed to Sell.

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