In the spring of 2020, Emily Shaw had just graduated from college and, like many pandemic graduates, was living at home with no job and nothing to do. So she decided to use her degree in interior architecture to use and redecorate her parents’ home in New Hampshire, and wrote the process on TikTok.
Within a month, she had 1 million followers on her account, @emilyrayna, who watched her pull up carpets, replace countertops and restore old furniture. “It was pretty scary,” said Ms. Shaw, 23, who left her parents’ house and now has 5.2 million followers on TikTok. “Before that time, I was never someone who was into social media.”
Ms. Shaw had unexpectedly landed on an audience with an appetite for the grind of DIY home improvement wrapped up in the little nuggets that make TikTok so delightful. Her early videos, narrated in a soothing yet perky voiceover, focus on the grit of renovation. In one clip, she talks about the tools she uses to remove wallpaper. In another, she recommends the best tape for painting (spoiler alert, it’s not blue.)
Ms. Shaw is among a group of young influencers offering an alternative to the glossy image of homemade makeover shows made popular by networks like HGTV. In this world of home improvement, there’s no professional duo like Chip and Joanna Gaines to duck in and hold the hand of a hapless homeowner as they tear down and overlap walls. Instead, these influencers on TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube are attracting a younger generation eager to learn how to redecorate their homes on an extremely tight budget.
These influencers rely heavily on the finds of the Dollar Store and the wood of Home Depot, rejecting the idea that an Instagram-worthy living room needs a four- or even three-figure budget. Renters and homeowners can learn how to turn Ikea dressers or lampshades in the yard into spicy centerpieces. Ms. Shaw renovated her parents’ living room, dining room, kitchen, patio, and family room for a cool $1,000, showing that with enough elbow grease and sandpaper, just about anything can be worth a big reveal.
“I still get a lot of comments on all my videos of, ‘Oh, I could never afford this design,’ said Ms. Shaw. ‘I try to reassure people that it’s something they can do.’ She pointed to color lighting, and furniture arrangement as three elements that can enhance a space on a budget.”There are so many things that don’t necessarily have to do with money,” she said.
To pay for the project at her parents’ house, Ms. Shaw sold their old furniture online and used the proceeds to buy new materials. She celebrated her finds, such as a stump she sanded, sealed, and turned into a table for the new patio her boyfriend was building from pressure-treated logs, which he found for free online. Despite the tight budget, Ms. Shaw transformed a cramped, claustrophobic living room into an airy, modern space for her parents, demonstrating the reveal in a teary 11-minute YouTube video. Since completing her parents’ project, she has furnished her own apartment and provided design advice to followers who sent her photos of their frustrating spaces.
On Lone Fox, a YouTube channel with 1.3 million subscribers, Drew Scott recently gave his mother’s drab bathroom a renter-friendly makeover for under $300, covering the beige tile floors with removable hexagonal tiles and covering the walls. with peel-and-stick subway tile wallpaper. In another video, about Ikea hacks, he turns a basket into a pendant lamp and upgrades a plain pine cabinet to a glammy black one.
Scott, 26, launched the channel in 2018, but it gained traction during the pandemic as people looked for activities to spend 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 cute,” says Mr. Scott, a renter himself, likes to focus on tenant-friendly improvements such as simple wall coverings and furniture upgrades.
The transmitter is now Mr. Scott’s full-time job. In long, snappy tutorials, he shows his subscribers how to make a flower pot out of an old paint can and wooden dowels, or how to make a headboard out of wicker and pine. “You don’t need a full design team,” he said. “There are little things you can do on a budget to bring about such a transformation.”
For the more ambitious DIY’ers with a bigger budget, there’s Smashing DIY, an Instagram account Ashley Basnight started in 2016 after successfully building herself a kitchen table and becoming addicted to woodworking.
In her Instagram stories, Ms. Basnight, 30, describes the renovation of her home near Oklahoma City. She shows followers how to lay tiles, clear shelves and slats, and build a pantry. On her website, Handmade Haven, she sells design plans for her furniture and offers tutorials on woodworking and renovation, providing followers with 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 following grew. She no longer has to limit her projects to trendy farmhouse decors, a style she dislikes but attracts a wide audience. Instead, she can show off her personal style, which she describes as “modern boho glamour.” She now has 224,000 followers and made $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, when they were in college in Toronto and saw a market for college students looking to redecorate their dorm room. “As college students, we didn’t have a lot of budget,” said Ms. Wright. “How do you make your dorm room look like a place you want to live in?”
The answer, they found, was to ship pallets. Or at least that was one of the answers. For an early 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 to use a drill and learned how to make one.
Now, more than a decade into their channel, and with 2.1 million subscribers, Sorry Girls operates out of a Toronto office with a staff of 10. College days may be long gone, but they’re still focused on an affordable facility.
In a recent video, the duo save an employee’s green bathroom. In another example, they make another employee’s small living room more livable by building a sofa console and shelves to add more storage space. A short window appears larger with clever shade placement, and viewers are shown how to create a folding table that can be mounted on the wall. In other videos, they discover how to make Anthropologie knock-offs using thrift store finds, such as making a decorative tray from a wicker basket and plastic plate.
All this enthusiasm makes it possible that with enough spray paint, hot glue, and prolific thrift stores, almost any space can look like it belongs on the Internet.
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