In the spring of 2020, Emily Shaw was a recent college graduate, and like many pandemic graduates, she was living at home with no job and nothing to do. So she decided to put her interior design degree to good use and fix up her parents’ home in New Hampshire, chronicling the process on TikTok.
Within a month, she had 1 million followers on her account, @emilyrayna, who saw her remount rugs, replace countertops and restore old furniture. “It was pretty scary,” said Ms Shaw, 23, who moved out of her parents’ house and now has 5.2 million followers on TikTok. “I was never someone who was into social media before that.”
Ms. Shaw had unexpectedly landed on an audience with an appetite for the drudgery of do-it-yourself home improvement, packed in the little nuggets that make TikTok so delectable. His early videos, told in a soothing but perky voiceover, focus on the grit of the renovation. In one clip, she talks about the tools she uses to remove wallpaper. In another, she recommends the best duct tape for painting (spoiler alert, it’s not blue.)
Ms. Shaw is one of a group of young influencers who are offering an alternative to the glossy image of home makeover shows popularized by networks like HGTV. In this world of home improvement, there’s no professional duo like Chip and Joanna Gaines to swoop in and hold a hapless homeowner’s hand as they tear down walls and slap. Instead, these influencers on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube are appealing to a younger generation eager to figure out how to fix their home themselves, on an extremely tight budget.
Leaning heavily on Dollar Store finds and Home Depot lumber, these influencers dismiss the idea that an Instagram-worthy living room requires a four-figure or even triple-figure budget. Renters and homeowners can learn how to turn Ikea dressers or yard sale lamp shades into sassy centerpieces. Mrs. Shaw remodeled her parents’ living room, dining room, kitchen, patio and family room for a whopping $1,000, which shows that with enough elbow grease and sandpaper , almost anything can deserve a big reveal.
“I still get a lot of comments on all my videos of ‘Oh I Could Never Afford This Design,'” Ms. Shaw said. “I try to reassure people that this is something they can do.” She pointed to color, lighting, and furniture arrangement as three things that can improve a space on a budget. “There are so many things that don’t necessarily touch the money,” a- she declared.
To pay for the project at her parents’ house, Ms Shaw sold their old furniture online and used the proceeds to purchase new materials. She celebrated her finds, like a tree stump she sanded down, sealed and turned into a table for the new patio her boyfriend was building from blocks of pressure-treated wood, which he found online for free . Despite the shoestring budget, Ms Shaw transformed a cramped, claustrophobic living space into an airy, modern space for her parents, presenting the revelation in a tearful 11-minute YouTube video. Since finishing her parents’ project, she’s decorated her own apartment and offered design advice to subscribers who send her photos of their frustrating spaces.
At Lone Fox, a YouTube channel with 1.3 million subscribers, Drew Scott recently gave his mother’s lackluster bathroom a makeover for under $300, covering the beige tile floors with hexagonal tiles peel-and-stick and covering walls in peel-and-stick subway tile wallpaper. In another video, on Ikea hacks, he turns a basket into a pendant lamp and transforms an ordinary pine cabinet into a glamorous black cabinet.
Mr Scott, 26, started the channel in 2018, but it gained traction during the pandemic when people were looking for activities to occupy their time and improve their homes. Many of his followers are renters who want their apartments to feel like home. “They need solutions to make them look cute,” said Mr. Scott, himself a tenant, who likes to focus on user-friendly upgrades like easy wall coverings and furniture upgrades.
The line is now Mr. Scott’s full-time job. In lengthy, energetic tutorials, he shows his followers how to make a flowerpot out of an old paint can and wooden dowels, or how to build a rattan and pine headboard. “You don’t need a full design team,” he said. “There are little things you can do on a budget that make such a transformation.”
For the more ambitious do-it-yourselfers with a bigger budget, there’s Smashing DIY, an Instagram account that Ashley Basnight created in 2016 after she successfully built a kitchen table for herself and became addicted to woodworking. .
In her Instagram Stories, Ms. Basnight, 30, recounts renovating her home near Oklahoma City. She shows followers how to lay tiles, install siding boards and battens, and build a pantry. On her website, Handmade Haven, she sells design plans for her furniture and offers woodworking and remodeling tutorials, giving her followers step-by-step guides on how to replicate her projects.
Ms. Basnight found that once she focused her videos on the process and not just the results, her audience grew. She no longer has to limit her projects to trendy farmhouse decor, a style she dislikes but appeals to a wide audience. Instead, she can showcase her personal style, which she describes as “modern boho glam.” She now has 224,000 followers and earned $267,000 as an influencer in 2021, according to a recent post. Two months ago, she quit her job as a software engineer to focus on her social media presence.
Kelsey MacDermaid, 29, and Becky Wright, 29, started their YouTube channel, The Sorry Girls, in 2010 while at University of Toronto and saw a market for students looking to spruce up their dorms . “Being students, we didn’t have a lot of budget,” Ms. Wright said. “How do you make your dorm look like a place you want to live?”
The solution, they found, was to ship pallets. Or at least that was one of the answers. For a first project, they painted a shipping pallet turquoise and turned it into a coffee table. Then Mrs. Wright wanted a headboard for her bed, so she learned how to use a power drill and figured out how to make one.
Now, over a decade after starting their channel and with 2.1 million subscribers, Sorry Girls operate out of a Toronto office with a staff of 10. The college days may be far behind them, but they still focus on affordable decor.
In a recent video, the duo save an employee’s green bathroom. In another, they’re making another employee’s small living room more livable, building a sofa console and shelving to add more storage space. A small window pops taller with clever shadow placement, and viewers learn how to make a folding table that attaches to the wall. In other videos, they learn how to create Anthropologie knockoffs using thrift store finds, like making a decorative tray out of a wicker basket and plastic plate.
All of this excitement shows that with enough spray paint, hot glue, and fruitful thrift stores, almost any space can feel like it belongs on the internet.
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