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Coffee with Designers: Alexandra Gater
DIY pro Alexandra Gater shares her tips for renter-friendly renovating
Photography by Carla Antonio
To her more than 500,000 YouTube subscribers, Alexandra Gater is not merely another content creator, she’s the inspiration behind every decorative cabinet knob and statement wall in their homes. Gater’s playful and trend-driven DIY hacks cater to renters in small living quarters – encouraging them to shape-shift their homes into personalized pads. “I felt there was a gap in the world of home decor and understood the importance of making your space feel like your own,” she says. “It inspired my entire career.” We caught up with Gater to discuss the rise of renter-friendly renovations, styling tips and her debut coffee table book, Own Your Space, hitting store shelves on April 25.
What inspired you to build a career in home decorating?
I started my career in publishing, and while working on the home section of a magazine, I felt there was a gap in the world of home decor. At the time, most of my friends and I were living in small apartments, with little to no effort put into making those spaces their own, because they were seen as temporary. Through my work, I really understood the value of making your home feel homey, and it inspired me to double down on DIY projects and share it with the world. It inspired my whole career. Now, I connect with people who have smaller budgets than, say, the average homeowner and inspire them to make their spaces, temporary or not, feel as curated and cozy as possible.
What level of experience with DIY renovating did you have going into this new career?
Absolutely none. If you really want to dig deep into my YouTube videos, you’ll find some embarrassing ones where I clearly didn’t know what I was doing. It’s all about trial and error, of course, and over time I’ve been able to adopt many new skills. It’s been a very empowering journey.
Why do you think more renters are investing in their homes today?
Millennials are renting for much longer than any generation before them, especially in the city. As our homes become less temporary, people are finding value in a functional and personalized space. I think folks have also come to understand this over the course of the pandemic.
Do you have any advice for those with strict landlords who might not want to see changes made to their property?
The most important first step is to ask. Oftentimes, landlords are actually excited to hear about a renter investing in their space. Reaching out to them with a solid plan, maybe even including the products you plan on using, will get the conversation started on the right foot. Having a visual also makes it easy to earn their support. Also, be transparent about what you’d leave behind or take with you should you move. It boils down to communication. The worst thing that could happen is that they say no.
What’s your golden rule for renter-friendly renovating?
When making reversible changes, be sure the products you use are indeed reversible and that you are using them properly. I’ve seen people on social media incorrectly uninstalling peel-and-stick wallpaper, for example, without the use of heat, and then claiming the products stripped their walls. What it comes down to is understanding how to reverse the changes just as much as applying them.
Is there one room you find easiest to transform on a budget?
Making over your living room, or any space where you can lean into trends with textiles, is always an easy fix. You don’t necessarily need to be a skilled DIY-er to make your space more beautiful. Accessories can make all the difference.
What are some of your favourite shops in the city for home decor?
I love supporting small businesses in the city. One of my favourites is SOCCO Living, which has a great selection of bed linens and small accessories. I’m also a frequent shopper at Tonic Living for fabric and pillow covers, as well as Easy Tiger Goods and Rose City Goods. Euclid Farms on Queen West is also an awesome spot to get fresh flowers in Toronto.
What can readers look forward to seeing in your debut coffee table book?
It’s a combination of a handbook and coffee table book and a nod to my origins in publishing. My goal was to showcase beautiful photography as a source of inspiration, but also detail the design process and break down the knacks of incorporating new styles into your own home. I cover basics like “how to hang art” and even include a template for asking permission from your landlord to make permanent changes in your apartment.
What are some of the products you feel make the biggest impact in a space?
Peel-and-stick backsplash can totally transform the feel and look of your kitchen. This is the most magical fix for outdated backsplash and even floor tiles. They’re a great renter-friendly renovation option because they stick right on top of the permanent tile and are completely waterproof.
Peel-and-stick tiles inspired by Alexandra Gater’s DIY reno tips
Tetra Peel and Stick Backsplash
These modern peel-and-stick tile panels by WallPops have a high shine finish and can be easily trimmed with scissors or box cutters. $45/4 tiles, The Home Depot.
Metro Fiona Smart Tiles
These emerald Smart Tiles are heat resistant and suitable as a backsplash in bathrooms or even around a fireplace. $32/4 tiles, Lowe’s.
Shaman Vinyl Tile
Toned-down neutrals in a trendy angular motif make for a subtle yet eye-catching complement to bright white kitchen countertops. $29/8 tiles, Quadrostyle.