There are some undeniable realities that a coat of airy pink paint can’t fix: the fact that it now takes a Canadian millennial an average of 14 years of work to afford a 20 percent down payment on a house, for example. Yet finding a home in the world—a place to lovingly scatter our psycho-energetic debris—remains a primal need.
That search for rootedness is all too familiar to Alexandra Gater, a 30-year-old rising star on YouTube’s home-decor circuit. In fact, her eponymous channel—which presently boasts 400,000 subscribers, and is a favorite among young renters for her budget-friendly makeovers—positively exploded only after a mass layoff ended Gater’s first editorial job in 2018. (She later gave a rousing TEDx talk about it.)
“I'm really stuck on the fact that our generation (and those younger) grew up without space for us,” the Torontonian says over dinner. “We have all these other things, but not the foundation. I see myself bridging a weird gap between decorating and interior design, teaching renters it’s still possible to make a place ‘yours.’”
It was during her tenure at Chatelaine magazine, hosting an online video series then called “The Home Primp,” that Gater became intimately familiar with the gatekeeping common among industry experts. “I really felt like an impostor in that world, where people built their careers around: ‘This is the way you do it,’” she says. “More than ever before, people are realizing that they’re probably going to be in a tiny apartment until they retire. And I want to say that they can live in a beautiful home that feels stylish and warm without spending $30,000 on a kitchen renovation; that it can be more about their own sense of place.”
While the average Sunday scroll of Pinterest can elicit a flagellating sense of not-enoughness, Gater’s video makeovers, released weekly, skew more towards the dreamy recognition that home is an opportunity for channelling the self. Beloved among renters for her DIY hacks, Gater’s resonance lies in her ability to convey the deep, still-meaningful impact of small touches, generationally appropriate in their temporariness: peel-and-stick tiles, a painted arch (done freehand), new knobs, fresh eucalyptus hung in the shower, and the odd pom-pom—now something of a calling card.
“People always think I’m going to walk into their space and judge it, or say, ‘You know, you should really change that light,’” Gater laughs, relatably noting that spackling, drilling, and wallpapering are all relatively new additions to her DIY repertoire. “To me, it’s less about what your space looks like than how it feels.” The idea of decor as personal expression isn’t new by any means, but it certainly holds more weight among those who might never be mortgage material.
Without any formal training, Gater is tasked with operating as a sort of design empath, manifesting her viewers’ and clients’ aesthetic desires in an external nook using well honed intuition. When it comes to actually executing makeovers, she relies on her eclectic magpie sensibility and her team: a telegenic, affectionate band of young employees. The first order of business, aside from sourcing willing renters, is always budgetary constraints, which Gater calls “the mother of invention.” Photo inspiration and product information are also furiously culled, shared, and mood-boarded, but Gater’s ultimate questions relate to functionality: “I always ask what is and isn’t working for the renters in their space, or how people actually exist in their homes,” she says. “It’s as much about decor as it is about learning what they need help with. Sometimes it’s uplifting them with wallpaper or paint; sometimes it’s scents or a throw blanket; sometimes it’s storage, or just putting shit in a box and getting it out of their apartment.”
And if the renovation process is transformational, Gater says, it’s nothing compared to the final reveal. Hands usually raise to cover mouths, agape. Sometimes there are tears. For a 31-year-old writer (hello!), fresh off of a breakup, there is a walnut desk where there used to be haphazard piles of books—a symbolic fresh start. For two young businesswomen, it’s a pink-hued space to nurture their burgeoning dream. “I said to them, ‘I want you to look around. Yes, I brought in a sofa and paint, but you created this,’” Gater says. “I’m getting goosebumps thinking about it, but you could see them thinking, ‘This is the brand we built. It’s all here. We’re here.’”