The name Taniya Nayak might not be a household name, even if millions of Americans probably recognize her face. Regardless, Nayak is about to gain a lot more name recognition from viewers around the country, as she’s become Ellen Degeneres’s new brand ambassador.
What was she up to before now? Nayak has long been a part of television’s design niche, serving as host of HGTV programs “House Hunters on Vacation” and “Design to Sell.” Nayak also has appeared on Food Network programming, including the popular salvage-the-eatery show, “Restaurant Impossible.”
The Start, and Restart, of an Unlikely Design Career
Nayak grew up in a household that strongly valued academics. Her father, a successful architect, put considerable pressure on Nayak to earn good grades. Getting a B was a shortcoming (“B meant Bad,” to her father) in a strict Indian household. The expectation was that Nayak would earn only A’s and go on to become a doctor, scientist, researcher, or other highly competitive, academic-driven field.
Of course, her father offered more than pressure. Nayak remembers her father constantly at work in his mind, even drawing on napkins when the family was out at local restaurants. She attributes her depth of creativity to him; both parents nurtured her creative talents by encouraging her to draw in sketchbooks as a child. By the age of ten, she had a keen interest in fashion design, but this fell short of the lofty expectations her parents retained for their daughter.
The pressure to succeed unraveled during her first semester at the University of Massachusetts–Lowell. She failed out of the university her first semester, attributing her mistakes to an inability to manage the sudden freedom afforded to new college freshmen. She simply didn’t go to class, and her grades reflected her absence.
Her second chance came both by way of pleading with her parents and the university’s somewhat unique ReStart program, which was developed by Jacqueline Moloney, who now serves as the college’s executive chancellor. Nayak graduated from the University of Massachusetts–Lowell in 1997 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing. After finishing her undergraduate studies, she went on to earn a master’s degree from Boston Architectural College.
From there, she was free to begin her own interior design business, the perfect outlet for her creative mind.
Going from HGTV to E.D. On Air
E.D. On Air, Degeneres’s personal décor line, was a product of the talk show host’s own interior design passion. Degeneres and Portia de Rossi had frequently cited their long-term effort to perfect their Beverly Hills home. They were even profiled by Architectural Digest during the process.
Degeneres’s décor line, however, did not come to fruition until that project completed and Degeneres had taken a European tour to collect stylistic information and influences she wanted to feature for E.D. On Air. The décor brand found a home on the QVC shopping channel, and Degeneres quickly sought to expand her market with the selection of a brand ambassador.
The brand ambassador search cast a wide net—some 4,000 auditioned for the role, which began with a Skype interview with Degeneres’s casting director. Once passed through the initial phase, candidates moved on to an interview in New York City. A final audition of nine candidates took place at QVC studios in Pennsylvania. Five made it through, and Ellen had ultimate say. She chose Nayak.
Moving forward, Nayak is now the face of E.D. On Air, responsible for acting as a stand-in for Degeneres when it comes to representing the décor line. The three-year contract, with the possibility of a two-year renewal, includes five one-hour specials hosted by Nayak as well as two hosted by Degeneres. The distance between Los Angeles, where Degeneres films her show, and Pennsylvania, the headquarters of QVC, means that Nayak must coordinate conversations and operations between the two distant locales—a logistical challenge well suited to a creative mind.
Debbe Daley is the designer of choice for residential and commercial interior design in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and coastal Maine. Learn more about Debbe in the following, The Huffington Post, The Lowell Sun and WCAP - 980 AM Lowell, MA.