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 degree in interior architecture to use and fix up her parents’ house in New Hampshire, chronicling the process on TikTok.
Within a month, she had 1 million followers to her account, @emilyrayna, who watched her pull up carpets, replace countertops and restore old furniture. “It was pretty scary,” said Ms. Shaw, 23, who moved out of her parents’ house and now has a TikTok following of 5.2 million. “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, packaged in the itty-bitty nuggets that make TikTok so delectable. Her early videos, narrated in a soothing yet perky voice-over, 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 cadre of young influencers who offer an alternative to the glossy image of home makeover shows popularized by networks like HGTV. In this world of home improvement, there is 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 up shiplap. Instead, these influencers on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube are luring a younger generation eager to figure out how to fix up their homes on their own, on an extremely tight budget.
YouTube video. Since she finished her parents’ project, she has decorated her own apartment and offered design advice to followers 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 drab bathroom a renter-friendly makeover for less than $300, covering the beige tile floors with peel-and-stick hexagon tiles and covering the walls in peel-and-stick subway tile wallpaper. In another video, about Ikea hacks, he turns a basket into a hanging lamp and upgrades a plain pine cabinet into a glammy black one.
make a flower pot out of an old paint can and wood dowels, or how to build a headboard out of cane and pine. “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 DIY crowd with a larger budget, there’s Smashing DIY, an Instagram account that Ashley Basnight started in 2016 after she successfully built a kitchen table for herself and got hooked on woodworking.
In her Instagram stories, Ms. Basnight, 30, chronicles the renovation of her home near Oklahoma City. She shows followers how to lay tile, install board and batten siding, and build a pantry. On her website, Handmade Haven, she sells design plans for her furniture and offers woodworking and renovation tutorials, offering followers step-by-step guides for how to replicate her projects.
Ms. Basnight found that once she focused her videos on the process and not simply the results, her following grew. She no longer has to limit her projects to trendy farmhouse décor, a style she doesn’t like but attracts 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.