• Tue. Apr 20th, 2021

How a DIY Minnesota home designer became an accidental Instagram star

So you want to be an influencer? A whole lot of people do. Social media is awash in the carefully styled selfies of aspiring lifestyle mavens.

Kate Chipinski didn’t intend to be one of them.

The 38-year-old mom of two and DIY home enthusiast accidentally stumbled into the world of collaborations, brand partners and sponsors.

It started a couple of years ago, after she and her husband, Mike, bought their home in Northfield.

Mike was out of town when Kate looked at a rambler set on small Union Lake.

“The house was totally dated — 1980s. It smelled like smoke,” she said, but they’d been looking for a home on a lake.

“I walked in with the kids and said, ‘This is it.’ It had good bones.” She shared photos with Mike, and they made an offer.

The couple started redoing the house room by room, tapping into Kate’s flair for design and her handy hubby’s construction skills.

“We pretty much DIY everything,” she said, from laying tile to scraping popcorn ceilings to creating a secret playroom with twinkle lights in the ceiling for their daughters, ages 6 and 9.

Mike, who manages the Amazon facility in Shakopee, is a self-taught carpenter, by necessity.

“Our first house was a ’60s house. It needed a lot of repairs,” he said. “We didn’t have the means to hire contractors. I learned by trial and error.”

As they improved their way through the house, Kate shared their progress with 100 or so family and friends via Instagram (katechipinski).

Now she has more than 72,000 followers and the online clout to entice companies to supply her with products, materials and furnishings. (While that number is a fraction of the following commanded by local heavy hitter Wit & Delight, both qualify as mid-level “macro influencers,” according to Influencer Marketing Hub.)

“I had no intention of doing what I’m doing,” Kate said. “It wasn’t like, ‘Yes, I want to be an influencer.’ It just happened. People started sharing. Companies started sharing. It grew from there.”

Mike admits he was surprised by how Kate’s Instagram account took off. “It’s all been super-organic,” he said. “It’s truly an extension of her artistry and design.”

Modest, affordable, green

Kate said it’s likely that her home — and her efforts to improve it — resonate with people because both are relatively modest.

“I feel like people can relate to my house more than a mansion,” she said. “It’s attainable, affordable.”

She also takes a thrifty approach to DIY.

“In every room I try to maintain the original character and enhance it,” she said. “All people want to do is rip everything out. I find that wasteful. We have all the existing cabinets in the kitchen. Mike made new doors, but the boxes are original.”

The couple also try to salvage and reuse, such as making their own curtain rods using old plumbing fixtures.

“I am big on being eco-friendly,” she said. “Everything we’ve taken out we’ve donated. We’ve never gotten a dumpster.” Instead they post things they’re getting rid of, such as old cabinets, for free on Facebook Marketplace. “Almost everything has been picked up,” she said.

While Kate doesn’t have a formal design background, she has a good eye, and a signature look — sleek lines, wood accents and moody colors — that has been described as “minimalist design with an edge.”

She describes it as kind of a smorgasbord. “My look is a bunch of styles all mixed into one — some midcentury modern, upcycled vintage, modern farmhouse and Scandinavian,” she said.

Design as an art form

After graduating from high school in Bloomington, Kate studied sociology at the University of Minnesota, dropping out for a few years, then returning to finish her degree. She’s worked mostly as a restaurant server and a stay-at-home mom.

But she was interested in home design before their current house. While living in Lakeville, she started “a little design company with a friend. We did some work, then went our separate ways,” she said.

She enjoys designing her own home more than someone else’s. “I think of it as an art,” she said. “I like to create the space I feel should be created instead of how a client wants it.”

As an influencer, she works with companies that reach out to her and that align with her brand, which includes eco-friendly products. She’s turned down some promotional relationships.

“I did some with candle companies and was offered others, but I don’t want to overdo things,” she said. “Too much of one thing is too much. I like to keep things fresh.”

Keeping it real

In addition to her redesigned rooms, she shares projects by other DIY-ers and sometimes posts political content. “I feel it’s important to be real, to have those conversations,” she said.

Some days she shares goofy videos and musings about daily life, such as a recent post about trimming her own bangs. “I cut my face five times,” she said.

Her most unpleasant DIY project involved staining the wood paneling on their four-season porch. She chose a very dark color, and it took two coats of stain to cover the light wood. “I did it in winter, it was 20 below, and the two coats made me sick, gave me migraines,” she said.

But she doesn’t let the less-than-perfect projects throw her off.

“I feel like you should just jump into things,” she said. “If you screw up, everything can be fixed.”

Currently, she and Mike are at work on their lower-level bar. They found a secret “creepy room” behind the paneling, which they plan to turn into a wine cellar.

Kate’s not sure what’s in store for her after she finishes redesigning her family’s house. “I have no idea,” she said. “I love designing and rehabbing, but I have no clue where it’s going to take me. I might get an Airbnb and fix it up. Mike is on board.”

Last year was supposed to be the year she figured out her work direction, she said. Then COVID happened. “It was going to be my year of discovery, before the kids came home.”

Instead, she discovered quite a bit being in the Instagram spotlight.

Her advice to other aspiring influencers? “Be yourself,” she said. “Your truth will speak out.”

DIY home influencer Kate Chipinski

Age: 38.

Platform: Instagram (katechipinski).

Family: Handy husband Mike Chipinski, daughters ages 6 and 9.

Home base: A 1980s rambler on a small lake in Northfield, that she and her husband have been renovating room by room.

Her advice to wannabe influencers: “Be yourself. Always remain yourself. Your truth will speak out.”

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