Home improvement-themed reality TV shows seem to dominate cable airwaves, and as they balloon in popularity, so do the scope and size of the projects. There are shows dedicated to whole-home renovations, as well as shows that highlight kitchen, bathroom and even treehouse repair. While most of these shows offer great advice and a stunning final product, the average homeowner may find the projects — and the prices — out of reach.
"I [saw] a hole in the market," says Monica Mangin, executive producer and host of The Weekender, a home improvement web series sponsored by home improvement giant Lowe's. "There's nothing that's relatable out there, nothing that's attainable."
The Weekender team strives to make home renovations reality, "not reality TV," says Mangin, by shifting some of the responsibility of the renovation to the homeowner. The premise is that the homeowners and Mangin come up with five home improvement projects that can be completed in two days (the "weekend"), and work on them together. The do-it-yourself approach isn't unique, but the idea that a whole home can be transformed simply by tackling a few problem areas at a time is a welcome one for homeowners facing the realization that renovation is necessary.
"It was overwhelming. There were so many details. I didn't know where to begin, what brands to use, what project to start first or in what order to tackle projects," local teacher Amanda Isaacs says. Isaacs and her recently purchased Mid-City home are featured in a season-two episode of The Weekender.
After buying her home in June 2016, Isaacs had to have the property leveled, which caused the sheetrock to crack. This was only one of the house woes that cried out for Isaacs' attention. In addition to the fissures in the walls, the paint and trim colors (white and dark brown), lackluster wood floors and plastered-over fireplaces made her home feel dull.
"It had no life — it didn't pop," she says.
Anxiety over how to proceed wasn't the only thing inhibiting a working plan to shape up her home. Budget constraints also complicated matters. Isaacs wanted to redo her kitchen and bathroom, get the door frames leveled and have the floors touched up. The cost would be tremendous, and the work would render her house unlivable until renovations were completed. Mangin advises potential DIYers against starting every intended project at the same time because too many concurrent ventures cause a space to get out of control quickly.
Realizing she couldn't do it all on her own and lacked the time and the resources to pay an army of professionals, Isaacs applied to The Weekender and was accepted. She liked the DIY idea. Not only would it save money, but it would allow her to control the refurbishment. She realized that as a homeowner, ultimately it is her responsibility to manage her own home.
"I'm the first line of defense," she says.
Mangin and her team decided to play up the charming details inherent in Isaac's shotgun home. Mangin says breaking up problem areas into much smaller, more manageable projects is the key to realistic plans. Rather than revamping the entire kitchen, Mangin reduced Isaacs' main concerns to a lack of storage space and unattractive cabinets, which she solved with new shelving in an unused closet and new paint and hardware on the cabinets.
Mangin, Isaacs and The Weekender team also upgraded the basic builder-grade cabinetry with crown molding. They visually extended the fireplace by using shoe molding to recreate the trim details up the height of the wall and coating the entire space in the same color of paint. Isaacs personally chipped away the plaster that covered the original brick of the hearth. They gave the counter space new life by adding a backsplash made of solid white penny tile — the cheapest tile available. To give it a customized look, Mangin and Isaacs used ceramic paint to color individual tiles in a hue that drew out the subtler tones of the eye-catching, poppy-dotted wallpaper on the opposite wall.
Mangin warns against "playing it safe" when it comes to home improvement projects. Many of her clients are wary of creating a brightly colored accent wall in their homes, or of causing clutter by hanging too much art on their walls. Erring on the side of "less is more" often leaves DIYers wanting just that — more.
"You won't feel that same satisfaction at the transformation (of your home)," she says. "Don't be afraid. It's just paint. It's just a hole in the wall."
DIYers can always scale back later, or paint again. There's also a chance it will be a hit. Isaacs acknowledges the idea of the bold, poppy field accent wall in her new kitchen didn't thrill her at first.
"The wallpaper. The wallpaper was almost a breaking point," she says. "But now I love it. The floors don't even bother me that much anymore."
Small projects can pack a big punch and avoid breaking the bank. Mangin is a fan of anything that adds texture to a room and offers plenty of tips on how to achieve the feeling of a whole home facelift on a modest budget. She advocates buying basic as well as buying local — it's often cheaper, and builder-grade materials are easy to dress up (like the penny tile or the plain kitchen cabinets).
The goal is to complete a series of smaller projects that transform the space and inspire more projects. After seeing the finished kitchen, Isaacs was enthusiastic about starting on her bathroom, beginning with changing lighting fixtures.
"There are so many tutorials online," she says. "I think it's going to be easy, and I know I can do it now. The most rewarding thing about doing it myself was the outcome — seeing what you've done, what you've accomplished, and seeing what's next — (and) figuring out what else I can do on my own."
Home DIY isn't intimidating as long as tasks are broken up into smaller, more achievable goals that are important to the homeowner.
"I think you need to pick the room (or project) that is going to encourage you and inspire you the most. It's going to act as a launch pad," Mangin says. "I think if you start with something that is really daunting, it's going to really pull you back. You need to start with something that is going to keep you motivated and keep you going. You should love where you live, whether it's a small space or a large space or a rental, and there are many ways to do that."