A Designer’s Guide to DIY Dos and Don’ts

A Designer’s Guide to DIY Dos and Don’ts

A Designer’s Guide to DIY Dos and Don’ts


So, you’re an aspiring DIYer, but you’re not sure which projects require an expert. Designer Angela Belt shares five tasks you can tackle yourself—and five you should leave to the pros.

In honor of New Homeowner’s Day this past month, I had the pleasure of spending some time at Home Depot’s HQ with HGTV design expert Chip Wade, who provided helpful tips on how to DIY the right way. So for anyone aspiring to knock down that wall or install overhead lighting by yourself, I’m here to share some helpful advice I learned from my day with Chip and Home Depot, plus some DIY tips I’ve learned over the years. Because even when you swear you’ve got it all figured out from that Youtube video—it’s always worth heeding the advice of someone who’s been there and done that.

DIY Don’ts

There are plenty of things you can do on your own (and I’ll get to them), but first let me address the top five projects that are better in the hands of a professional. This will ensure your home stays in one piece—and your renovation doesn’t take five years to complete.

Design by: Kaitlin Thomas, Jen Talbot Design
Photo by: Sara Tramp, Dustin Forest

1. Plumbing

Rule of thumb: if it involves water and pipes, call a professional. In general, when you’re trying to DIY your bathroom or kitchen, it’s best practice to work around your existing plumbing, because unless you truly know the difference between a flange and an l-pipe, you’re already in over your head. Many states require a licensed plumber and permit before you can even start dealing with the pipes in your home. When you hire a licensed plumber, you can rest easy knowing this contractor won’t leave you high and dry if a pipe bursts days after your new bathroom renovation. Simply make the call to a local plumber or Homepolish can connect you with one.

Design by: Kelly Martin, Crystal Sinclair
Photo by: Meghan Beierle O’Brien, Claire Esparros

2. Wallpaper

Resist the urge to install wallpaper on your own. Too often I’ve worked with a client who’s been reluctant to hire a pro, only to learn that their wall surface isn’t quite smooth enough or the recommended paste doesn’t hold up. Every wall is different and needs to be prepared accordingly, and different applications vary depending on the type of paste required for your wallpaper and the surface it’s going on. Wallpaper is such an investment statement—make sure this step is done well.

Design by: Jennifer Dennis
Photo by: Laura Metzler

3. Flooring

Installing flooring can be easy, depending on the kind you choose, but prepping your floor and making sure it’s structurally sound is a whole other beast. Clients often ask if it’s really necessary to hire a contractor just to inspect the floors you’re about to rip up. The answer is absolutely. You need to get the answers to some important questions like, “Is it level, is it rotting, is it structurally sound?” You should get a yes to all of these questions before you get the green light to install your floors.

Design by: Casey Debois
Photo by: Claire Esparros

4. Gut Renovation

Thanks to the the popularity of HGTV, more and more people feel empowered to knock down walls and rip out cabinets unassisted. But before you take matters into your own hands, do a walk-thru with a contractor and discuss what is and isn’t possible. It’s essential to know up front which walls are structural and which cabinetry is connected to the plumbing before you get hammer happy. Pro tip: before you decide to rip out any kitchen cabinetry, find out if its more cost effective to simply refinish them and add a fresh coat of paint. A contractor can give you the lowdown on all the structural details of your home, and you can begin building a plan with a designer before your gut renovations begin.

Design by: Matthew Merrell
Photo by: Tess Neustadt

5. Carpentry

Don’t build your own sofa or any other foundational pieces in your home unless you’re a skilled carpenter. You may have the DIY bug, but when it comes to large-scale furniture, you should really head to a furniture store to select some pieces or a flea market to find a vintage gem. There are just too many things to account for in terms of proper staples, kiln dry wood, springs, upholstery-grade foam—the list goes on. Save yourself any unnecessary injuries, and treat yourself to stylish and structurally sound furniture.

DIY Do’s (with some DIY-ish sprinkled in)

For all you DIY lovers, you made it to the good part. Here are five DIY style projects that you can do on your own with a lot of time, an open mind, and the patience to try it again if you don’t get Instagram-worthy results the first time around.

Design by: Orlando Soria
Photo by: Tessa Neustadt

1. Paint

The number one DIY of all time is painting your own walls. It gives you that instant gratification, and with the right tools and proper planning, you can transform a room in a single afternoon. While I was at Home Depot’s HQ, I got to paint an entire room with a group of stellar editors in 30 minutes. But the trick to making this project fly by was our tools. First, the entire wall was taped down with green tape. Forget the standard blue tape, and use what the pros use: frog tape. This tape reduces paint dripping into the seams, is UV resistant, and doesn’t peel off the wall until your ready to pull it off. Next, you need a roller with an edger to cover all of the edges of the walls and around window frames. Then comes the fun part: fill in the larger parts of the wall, use the super fancy-sounding Wagner 2000 HVLP sprayer. This paint gun allowed me to paint the entire wall in a matter of minutes, and my surface was completely smooth and consistent when it dried. To finish it all up, use a small paint brush to fill in any gaps and holes around the trim and windows.

Design by: Jae Joo
Photo by: Nick Glimenakis

2. Laminate Floors

Laminating your floors lands more in the DIY-ish category. Before you lay down your own laminate flooring, you need to have a meeting with a licensed contractor to confirm your floors are level and in good condition. Installing flooring can quickly become a big ticket item for renovation, and people usually want hardwood floors, which can come with a steep dollar sign. And if your area is prone to floods or other environmental obstacles, it may not be the strongest idea. A great alternative: luxury Lifeproof vinyl flooring. It looks like hardwood but is 100% waterproof, and you can install it on your own. Similar to painting a room, good tools make all the difference. To install this flooring properly, all you need is a mallet, X-Acto knife, and a tapping block to hammer the flooring into place. These vinyl floor panels have easy drop-and-lock end points to snap together. There are a ton of videos on how to install vinyl flooring, but with this product, you won’t even need it. This project can usually be done by one person, and you will see dramatic results in no time. Pro tip: when installing your boards, make sure your end points are staggered and not too close to each other to ensure the boards do not pop up.

Design by: Amy Row, Liz Lipkin
Photo by: Julia Robb, Sean Litchfield

3. Sewing

Want to put a personal touch on your home? Consider making your own curtains, pillows, and bedding. I often meet with clients who have a particular fabric sourced from a trip abroad or passed down as a family heirloom, and they’re unsure what to do with it. I recommend using a sewing machine for these projects (unless you have the patience for a needle and thread) to make your own accent pillows or duvet for your home. If you don’t own a sewing machine, fabric glue is another great alternative. I’ve actually made my own roman shades with wooden blinds, fabric glue, and expertise learned from a few Youtube videos.

Design by: Jesse Turek, Tali Roth
Photos by: Claire Esparros

4. Knocking Down

One of the ultimate DIY fantasies (especially after watching a few episodes of an HGTV show): knocking down walls, cabinetry, and flooring. This also falls under the DIY-ish umbrella because you do need to do some serious prep work with a licensed contractor to confirm what parts of your home can and cannot be removed for structural reasons. To start, you need to make sure your wardrobe is project-proof—think a t-shirt and jeans, closed-toe shoes, and a helmet depending, on how many things you’re planning on knock down. To start the demolition (aka the fun part), all you need are goggles, gloves, and a hammer or mallet of your choice. Depending on the size of your project, permits may be required and a rental dumpster is needed to remove debris.

Design by: Studio MHLI
Photo by: Claire Esparros

5. Furniture

Still tempted to make your own furniture? Start by making some small-scale pieces, like an ottoman, bench, or chair. One of the easiest ways to master this type of DIY projects is to take an old, structurally sound piece of furniture and buy new fabric to make it feel updated. In this case, all you need to do is invest in new fabric, buy an upholstery grade staple gun, and potentially new furniture grade foam to put in the piece. This project may take a while, but with a lot of patience and planning, you can create a real wow piece on a limited budget.

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