In a post-Kardashian world, every millennial thinks they have what it takes to go viral, but few consider what that online fame actually looks like in a person's daily life. In Elite Daily's new series Life Behind The Likes, we speak with the people you know on the internet — from the people behind major Instagram accounts to the Daaaaamn Daniels of the world who went viral for one remarkable moment of their lives — to meet the people behind the screens.
Usually, when you spend an afternoon watching experts make over homes with hundreds of thousands of dollars in the budget, you don't think there's any way you could do anything remotely close to that in your own space. So when Alexandra Gater decided to start her own YouTube channel in July 2018, she was on a mission to help millennials decorate their spaces on a limited income. From DIY hacks to Target decor hauls, Gater makes a stylish and beautiful home seem possible — even as a renter. With nearly 300,000 YouTube followers and 75,000 followers on Instagram, people from around the world are turning to the 28-year-old's home makeover expertise to transform their tiny apartments into cozy hideaways.
Gater isn't an interior designer, but she got her start in home decor in 2014 while working for Chatelaine Magazine, a women’s lifestyle publication based in Toronto, Canada. While she was studying journalism with a minor in studio arts at the University of Toronto, Gater landed an internship assisting the art department at Chatelaine, where she eventually worked her way up to become the home editor. In the home department, she noticed a gap in who had access to the home decor splashed on magazine covers — it primarily catered to people with expendable income. "While I was at Chatelaine, it was either a $30,000 kitchen renovation or buy an expensive throw for your couch," she explains. "I realized there wasn't an in between."
The idea for my channel [is] to show people you can rent and have a beautiful space.
That's when Gater had the idea to make design more approachable for young people. In 2017, she launched a video series at Chatelaine called The Home Primp, in which she produced videos about budget-friendly makeovers over the span of a year. The series was a huge hit with fans, and Gater got her first taste of being a viral sensation. But in June 2018, two weeks after her studio apartment makeover video hit 1 million views, she got some unexpected news: the magazine was sold to another publisher. The sale meant that 75 employees, including Gater, were let go.
After losing her job, Gater took time to think about her next steps. Thankfully, she quickly found direction when fans from her Home Primp videos reached out to her. “People had been messaging me saying, 'I love your videos on Chatelaine,' and in that moment I realized that people want to see more videos,” she shares. “I thought, well, the momentum is there and people are watching, so I started my own channel in 2018.”
Gater decided to gear her YouTube channel toward millennials seeking to fix up their rental spaces on a budget. “I was observing my friends who were renting weren’t putting thought into their rental spaces — they would say, 'Why would we invest money if it’s just a temporary living situation?'" she explains. “That’s where I got the idea for my channel to show people you can rent and have a beautiful space.” Gater thinks designing short-term spots to make them feel like home is important, especially since renting is the norm for millennials. In her videos, Gater often advises renters to invest in pieces they love and can take with them when they move to another space.
Honestly if a space is small — and a challenge — that's when it really inspires me.
Gater puts out a new video every Wednesday and Sunday. Because of the unpredictability of projects, sometimes makeovers will have to be done in a week, while others can take a month. She usually has four different makeovers running simultaneously (with the help of her production assistant, Alana Andrade, her video editor, James Resendes, and freelance videographer Carla Antonio). "The beauty of YouTube is it never slows down," Gater says.
To create the videos, she first finds people who are seeking home makeovers, either through viewer submissions or friends and family looking for room makeovers. Once a space catches her eye, Gater will scout it, which means going in for a 30-minute meeting with the resident to find out what's working and what isn't, as well as taking measurements and photos. Afterwards, she figures out how to fit the project into her video schedule and starts planning the makeover.
Despite the erratic schedule, Gater doesn't shy away from taking on difficult projects. "Honestly if a space is small — and a challenge — that's when it really inspires me," she explains. One of her favorite makeovers was turning her friend Katie's uninspiring studio apartment into a welcoming space in October 2019. When Katie went away for the weekend, Gater worked her magic, adding in hanging shelves to utilize wall space and a movable kitchen island. "She came home and burst into tears," Gater recalls. "That was the best memory, because I saw how making over someone's space can really impact their life."
It wasn’t until 2019 that Gater was able to leverage her YouTube channel into a full-time career and hire two employees, Andrade and Resendes. "It took about a year of instability to be in a place where I feel really stable," she says. A big chunk of Gater’s income comes from brand partnerships, which includes sponsors like Home Depot Canada, Native Deodorant, and Shopify, a Canadian e-commerce company. “It’s been a great experience working with brands and being able to be creative [while] sending a message to my viewers about a product I’m really passionate about,” Gater says.
Find a way to be different, and be able to tell someone in 10 seconds who you are and what you're targeting.
Gater looks everywhere to find inspiration: other creative YouTubers, home decor publications like Domino, and of course, Pinterest. “I’m constantly immersed in this world of home decor and I’m always thinking about the next project and getting ideas,” she explains.
Though Gater makes things look effortless, she assures that her home makeovers are not all glamorous. "People see a 15-minute video, but there's so much going on behind the scenes," she explains. There are many times when she and her production assistant run into last-minute issues — for example, a rug that's too small — that'll require them to improvise with something else or run out to the store for an entirely new piece. "Theres a lot of chaos, but it always works out and that's the fun of it," Gater says.
Recently, during the anti-racism protests against police brutality following the May 25 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, Gater began to re-evaluate whether she, as a white creator, was doing enough in her daily life to support communities of color. "I realized that when I share products or small businesses in my Instagram stories, I haven’t been thinking about the diversity of business owners I’m representing," she says. Going forward, she intends to be more conscious about diversifying the brands, people, and companies she represents. "It’s going to be a process, but it’s really important to me." She's also begun providing followers links to home products from Black-owned businesses.
Gater attributes her success on YouTube to tapping into a demographic that wasn't top of mind for other home decor channels. "I've worked harder than I've ever had in my entire life these past two years," she says. "But everyday I wake up and feel so happy that I get to do what I do." For anyone still finding their niche, she recommends setting yourself apart: "Find a way to be different, and be able to tell someone in 10 seconds who you are and what you're targeting."