For the design enthusiast, there’s no greater fantasy than being able to entirely customize your own space. It’s the antithesis to all of the qualms of renting—imagine having carte blanche to change anything, from hideous carpet in the bedroom, to highly impractical cabinets, lack of natural light, or pastel-hued retro tiling from the 1950s.
The struggle is real. So when, finally, the time comes to work on a remodel, it can feel both euphoric and overwhelming. If you're looking for inspiration to light the way, here are 10 home renovators who are killing it, creating the homes of their dreams, and sharing the journey (many with instructions) on Instagram; because there’s nothing more gratifying (or impressive) than DIY.
Erin Francois | @francois_et_moi
Erin Francois began in commercial interior design in her twenties before shifting to a construction company where she saw how plans and specs translated into tangible spaces. She later managed a trade fabric showroom at Minneapolis Design Center. It was during that time that she began her blog, transitioning into interior design and blogging full time over the course of a few years. When the time came to renovate her own home, she sought to update the 1930s Tudor duplex with new amenities while maintaining the original architecture and charm.
"The Tudor-style home leans traditional in style, while our personal style is a bit more modern, with moments of Nordic and midcentury," she says. "We’re a melting pot of styles over here, but somehow it works."
Pairing bold patterns with clean lines and neutral tones, she finds balance for their mixed batch aesthetic, and also their lifestyle. "With a two-year-old daughter, we’re in the season of high chairs and alphabet magnets in the kitchen and play dough cutouts at the living room coffee table. So, I appreciate the way the home’s architectural character elevates the look of our home even on our messiest Saturday morning."
When they first bought the house, both units required some fixing up before the upstairs could be leased out, and before they could move into the bottom half. When they closed on the home, they had just two months left on their apartment lease, so they scrambled to get things move-in ready, renovating two kitchens at once. "We ultimately started with the tenant kitchen, which was super bare and desperate for cabinetry and counter space. In an effort to stay within our budget, we ended up removing the cabinets from the first-floor kitchen so that we could repurpose them upstairs."
Her sage advice: "Save on your bottom line by doing the dirty jobs yourself. Demolition, patching/sanding plaster, and painting are all dirty jobs that many would just assume hire someone to do. But, labor is expensive—often 50 percent of the overall cost of a project. So, if you’re looking for ways to value engineer, roll up your sleeves and do some of the less technical things yourself. The added bonus is that we often feel a greater sense of pride and satisfaction in the finished project when we actively get involved in some way."
Angela Rose | @angelarosehome
Angela Rose began building furniture as a creative outlet to relax her mind and provide a sense of control. For the past 10 years, the activity has provided her with emotional release while raising two boys on the autism spectrum. Since then, she and her husband purchased a home in Las Vegas, Nevada, and she started applying her skills to the 2,600-square-foot, four-bed, three-bath abode. She proves that with a little bit of elbow grease and willpower, anything can happen—and she'll make a believer out of even the most timid of DIYers.
Craving simplicity with negative space and room to breathe, Rose transformed a "very yellow, brown, and red Tuscan-style" aesthetic into a streamlined Scandinavia-meets-California casual vibe. She learns as she goes, fearlessly taking on more and more complex projects. "Beauty in my home is essential for me. I once repainted an entire 1,200-square-foot apartment we were renting...even though I only lived there for 10 months."
A prime example is her fireplace—her biggest project yet. She removed built-in cabinetry and filled in shelving to give the space a more minimalist feel. Now she’s debating materials, mantel, shelving, and the type of walls. "Usually I like to work with what I have, but in this case it had so many weird cutouts, so I needed to think outside of the box and redesign the space. It involved lots of demo, and rebuilding."
As someone who spent hours staring at her walls imaging what she would do with them, Rose decided to step away from Pinterest and get to work. "My slogan is ‘stop pinning and start doing,’ because I believe that we shouldn't all wait until we live in our dream homes to be happy. I believe we can make our current home a place we can love...and I wanted to show people how."
She cautions: "Expect things to take longer, cost more, and not always go as planned. I am used to this now so it never surprises me. I make mistakes all the time, but I am also learning all the time. YouTube is my best friend! Just give a project a try. You never can learn unless you try. The worst that'll happen is you'll have to do it over!"
Clare Conklin | @conklinhouse
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With a B.A. in interior design and the bulk of her professional experience in commercial architecture and design, Clare Conklin had the technical know-how to put together a space. However, as she worked primarily on offices, medical spaces, and large-scale hospitality, residential design was a relatively new concept for her—and there was no better to place to jump in than her own home.
Her goal was to make her 2,800-square-foot abode comforting and inviting, but also functional for her husband and two young boys (ages two and six). "My style tends to be more neutral with a balance of traditional and modern," she says. "Having a calm, relaxing, and safe environment for all of us was important to me."
Tackling projects on the weekend while juggling two kids was challenging; the couple worked during naps and after bedtime, and they had to clean up every time as they couldn’t leave tools laying around. The results, however, are worth it. Modern and clean with bold accents, quirky touches, and thoughtful placement, the four-bed, 2.5-bath Conklin residence is put together, homey, and stylish, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Her advice? "Be flexible and go with the flow. Assume that everything will cost more and take more time than you anticipated. Try to enjoy the process and take time off when you feel burnt out."
Julia Marcum became a celebrated renovator on Instagram when she and her husband, Chris, began working on their five-bed, three-bath primary residence in a small, rural town in Idaho. Now, she’s working on an A-frame cabin in the Palisades on the Idaho-Wyoming border, about an hour from their home. For their main abode, the couple sought to create a comfortable, casual, and beautiful place for the entire family to enjoy—which meant no off-limits rooms for their three daughters and large Bernese Mountain dog. "It also meant that every place had to be beautiful and look good for me and be comfortable for Chris," says Julia.
The 2,700-square-foot A-frame takes on a different approach, embracing the art of hygge in all four bedrooms and four bathrooms. "For our cabin, we are treating the renovation like putting on cabin clothes. It’s us…in the mountains. Lots of plaids, textures, wood, antlers—really modern rustic casual." She admits, however, that it was a questionable decision renovating in the winter. "We’re averaging about a foot of snow a week and still managed to get our appliances delivered (on a sled), but everything planned is based around the impending blizzard. Getting snowed in, on the other hand, is a perk!"
Though Julia has no formal interior design experience, she began by updating their apartment and blogging about little projects. She applied her fine art degree to release "pent up creative energy" after she became pregnant with their first child. What began as a fun project Julia worked on during nap times became a full-time career for the couple. They share the entire process, including the good, bad, and ugly, documenting the entire journey and keeping it real.
"It was such a wonderful outlet that continued to grow with our homes and family," says Julia. "We often say ‘Chris loves Julia’ because he literally tackles every crazy idea I throw at him."
Her advice? "Take so many photos! There have been so many times where we have been knee deep in a renovation and start to lose steam. Looking back at where we have come from always gives us the extra push we need to keep going!"
Audrey Sprinkle | @theblackhouseonthecorner
In Concord, North Carolina, Audrey Sprinkle is renovating her third home with her husband. Swathed in deep hues, bold patterns, and vintage furniture, the 3,000-square-foot abode is teeming with thoughtful curation. Sprinkle is entirely self-taught, but she has an eye—and she knows what she wants out of a space.
She designed this space to reflect her persona. "I wanted it to be me, so to speak," she says. "The other two homes we renovated knowing we would only be living there a short time, so I designed them for a future buyer in a very neutral palette. We will be in this house for the foreseeable future, so I really wanted it to reflect my taste and just do what I wanted!"
They, too, are navigating the four-bed, three-bath renovation with four children, while living in the house and doing nearly all of the work on their own. This past year, Sprinkle also started selling vintage furniture and decor out of a local shop, and she opened her Instagram account at the same time. She knew she needed a social media presence in order to be successful, so she started uploading photos of the house to display how vintage pieces could be paired with contemporary style.
Her words of wisdom: "Take your time, do your research. I can’t tell you how many times I rushed a project and was either having to go back to square one to fix something or just hated the way it turned out!"
Laura Sima | @simaspaces
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In April 2016, Laura and Josh Sima jumped into a full-scale renovation of their "fixer upper" in St. Paul, Minnesota. With Josh’s know-how in electrical, plumbing, and carpentry, and Laura's design skills, they work together to handle over 90 percent of the work themselves. They also work full-time jobs—she’s a pediatric ICU nurse, while he is the manager of an environmental company.
They chip away at the renovation during their off-hours, and it’s not without its challenges. They lived in a construction zone with constant dust and supplies for the first eight months, spent two months without a kitchen, and lived in the basement for at least six months before they finished the guest bedroom and could move upstairs. Maintaining a social life has been difficult too—they often sacrifice their weekends, and they had to find a way to balance events with friends.
"The learning curve was steep, but our renovation has taken so long that it's also given me a lot of time to study design and decor and consequently create better designs with each room we take on," says Laura.
The renovation is still in the works, and the couple is currently planning a bathroom remodel, but the home now has a personality. It’s stylish but welcoming, modern yet cozy, and pairs organic elements like wood, marble, and stone with soft textiles, creamy leather, and lots of throw pillows.
Laura leaves us with three tips:
- "Be realistic with yourselves about what you can afford, and how much it will cost you before you start demo! Also, plan to spend quite a bit more than you budgeted—there are always hidden costs, and they add up quickly."
- "Take inspiration from trends, but do not copy them—create your own version that you love and that will stand the test of time."
- "Invest in good quality tools—you'll need them throughout the course of your renovation, so you want them to last, and the right tools make a huge difference when completing a project."
Lindi Vanderschaaf | @love_create_celebrate
Lindi Vanderschaaf and her husband, Russel, recently moved into an outdated hip roof home in Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada, that they affectionately call "green acres." They are slowly transforming the house that Russel's parents built, with some help from him in his teenage years. After experimenting a bit in their previous home, Lindi now puts together the designs and selects tile, fabric, and paint swatches to create a "casual, modern vibe."
Though she was originally uncertain about the 2,700-square-foot home sans basement, his mother happened to be downsizing at the same time that they were seeking more space for their family. Russel drew a few sketches showing the home looking like a modern estate instead of a barn, and she was sold.
"For the next few years, we will be renovating the inside, one room at a time, and doing some landscaping," she says. "In five to 10 years we plan to add an addition and completely transform the exterior of the home."
Though Lindi likes to get her hands dirty, the behind-the-scenes labor is done primarily by Russel, who has a long history of woodworking and renovating with his family. "Together, we juggle our needs for functionality and ‘prettiness’ to design beautiful rooms again and again."
Of all the spaces, the bathroom proved to be the most challenging to renovate. It involved moving walls, plumbing, and doors, and the couple had to double the amount of tiling they initially planned for. "The scope of the project was big, and got even bigger once we tore into the space...but the results speak for themselves."
She recommends: "Plan, plan, plan. I think people underestimate the amount of planning that goes into a major renovation. Also, there is a lot you can do with a limited budget, if you plan accordingly and research different materials and products on the market!"
Erin Conway | @kismet_house
Though her style is ever-evolving, Erin Conway feels most at home in minimalist settings with a modern, cozy, and laid-back aesthetic. As with most home renovators, she has no professional training, but she dabbled in design since she was very young and eventually shifted into helping friends and family decorate their spaces in her early twenties. She began her Instagram journey to gain traction for creating a design firm and working on her first home. It made sense to document the progress on this house as well, though she never anticipated it becoming a full-fledged career.
Her 2,000-square-foot Pacific Grove home is a go-to on Instagram for streamlined Cali style. Teeming with earth tones and textures, it’s a serene getaway that came together organically. "Truthfully, I was out of my element when we bought the home," she says. Beyond renovations, she also needed to navigate a new style that departed from her previous eclectic cottage aesthetic.
"Learning to embrace and understand the home’s modern design needs was an incredibly maturing experience in my design education. Now, the ultimate vision is to create a warm and timeless modern look, that will perhaps go out of mainstream trend but never feel tired or dated."
- "We have found that not being able to do it all at once was a great thing—except with flooring. Whether that means replacing or refinishing, if you can, get your floors done before you move in."
- "Otherwise, for us living in the space and learning how it needs to function, and then renovating space by space has proven to be a great advantage, because we really know how we need it to work."
- "Also, I always suggest to people that they use the money where it counts: flooring, windows, tile/countertops, lighting (assuming the building is structurally sound)."
Kelly Hartley | @hartley_home
Kelly Hartley's abode breathes an air of classic-meets-Danish with coastal flair, an alabaster palette, and pops of azure, stone, and chestnut. Hartley and her husband purchased the 1,500-square-foot house in South Florida as a potential forever home, and then they set to work making it a functional space for their family.
Though she’d helped friends with their homes for fun, this was her first foray into renovation. She began with the kitchen two years ago. Since then, friends have reached out for help—and then friends of friends—and her career as a designer began.
"I love crisp and clean designs that feel welcoming and approachable," she says. "I try to make decisions that will be timeless for the ‘big stuff’ and have some fun with trends when it comes to accessories."
Her three tips:
- "Know when to hire out. First of all, you never want a DIY project to look like a DIY project. You're going to be spending a lot of money, and living with the changes for years. If it's something you aren't capable of handling, there is no shame in hiring a professional. On that note, sometimes it just makes more sense. Look at how much it will cost you to have someone else do it versus the time it will take you to do it yourself. Most DIY renovators are working on the projects on the weekend and evenings. If something such as tiling your bathroom will take you weeks to complete and a professional will have it done in a day or two, it makes sense to hire out."
- "Take your time with the design. It can be overwhelming to make all of the decisions for your home, but rushing just to get it done will be something you regret. You may look at faucets for a week, but believe me, it's worth it! Pull inspiration from as many sources as you can and think about what you love about those spaces. Create a design board with your final choices and make sure it all works together and fits the style of your home."
- "Make sure it is what you love and not just what's all over the internet. It's easy to get sucked into the trends and stop trusting yourself. Resist! In the end, it's your home, and you are the one who needs to love it."
Suzy Holman | @simplysuzys
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Suzy Holman, mother, wife, and proprietor of a photo studio in Denver, Colorado, mastered the art of family-friendly and stylish design with her home for five. The home allows scooters to put around without breaking anything, and it also fosters art and creativity with minimal decor and a hint of the Southwest. Paintings by her children adorn the walls in the living room (along with a large chalkboard), and rugs add a sense of luxe coziness and pattern.
Related Reading: 25 Epic Kitchen Renovations to Tack to Your Inspiration Board
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