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St. Louis designer takes TV by storm — and stealth

St. Louis designer takes TV by storm — and stealth


Meet Peggy Tart, “design ninja.”

Tart looks like a kid, and she’s billed as a design student on HGTV’s “Brother vs. Brother.” But the competition shouldn’t underestimate this 27-year-old mother of three, a St. Louis native and 2005 graduate of Lindbergh High School.

Tart doesn’t have experience in home remodeling. But design is her passion, and she gets a chance to prove it in Season 2 of the series, in which twins Jonathan and Drew Scott of “Property Brothers” each lead teams of rehabbers.

“I’m very eager to learn, but I have no knowledge of construction,” Tart admits to the cameras in the season premiere, in which each team is challenged to make over a midcentury California ranch house. Tart grabs the office room, promising to “make it look fantastic.”

Tart is on “Team Jonathan” but says she would have been thrilled to work with either of the Scotts. Also featured this season is a third brother, J.D. Scott, the eldest of the bunch.

“They are all great, and the brothers aren’t as stereotyped as they are on their shows,” which depict Drew as the slick real estate agent and Jonathan as the rough-and-ready remodeler, Tart said in an interview last week.

The family angle was a plus for Tart, who says she has always been fascinated with design but never thought she could make a living at it. After high school, her plan was to go away to college, but her mother died, “and that put a damper on those plans.”

Instead, she went to work and started a family. (Tart and her husband, William, an inner-city youth mentor, have two sons, Isaiah, 7, and Eli, 2, and a daughter, Zara, 6.) Currently, Tart attends Stevens Institute of Business and Arts in downtown St. Louis and works in staging large spaces for a home furnishings retailer.

“There’s so much psychology involved in staging,” Tart says. “I think of myself as a design ninja, convincing people that they need to buy what we’re showing. They should enter a space and feel at home, not just plop on a couch and see if it’s comfortable. Of course, that’s important, too.”

With her big personality, Tart has always been someone whose girlfriends told her she should be on TV. She had her eye on HGTV’s “Design Star,” which isn’t airing this summer. But late one night, when she saw a casting notice for “Brother vs. Brother,” she thought, “Why not?”

“I called my husband and told him the closest audition was in Chicago. It was just a couple of days off, and I had finals. It really wasn’t a good time. He just said, ‘Well, I guess I’m taking you to Chicago.’”

After talking to Tart for 3 minutes, the casting producer told her she was “exactly what we’re looking for,” Tart recalls. That was last September; by Thanksgiving, after a second audition in New York, she got the good word.

“I cried,” Tart says. “I was excited and nervous. It was overwhelming.”

Above all, Tart saw the show, which carries a $50,000 first prize, as a chance to learn. “Since I didn’t have a construction side, I knew I’d have to make my mark differently, and I tried to be a valuable teammate,” she says. “I took every opportunity to learn, to get familiar with every tool.”

Viewers shouldn’t expect Tart to be controversial. “I got along fine with everyone,” she says. “I generally like people right away, and I liked my team. It’s interesting, to put a bunch of strangers together and force them to live and work with each other, but for me, it was fine.”

When people watch, Tart hopes they will see “a young designer who can’t live or breathe without it.” The only thing hard for Tart was being away from her family while shooting in California. Her faith got her through.

“God is so good,” she says. “This was totally ordained. He gave me the strength I needed to make it.”

What “Brother vs. Brother” • When 8 p.m. Sunday • Where HGTV • More info

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Gail Pennington is the television critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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