Relatable Renovation for DIY Dummies

A man and a woman smiling, holding tile against a wall, with a Ring light and tools in the foreground

Alex D’Alessio ’18, M.S. ’19 and wife Kylie D’Alessio ’18 have become TikTok and Instagram stars with “Real Life Renovation,” documenting their home improvement projects—and relatable mishaps—around their Baltimore rowhouse. Photo by John T. Consoli.

by Annie Krakower | Maryland Today

If his wardrobe of University of Maryland tees is any indication, Alex D’Alessio ’18, M.S. ’19 is a proud grad. But the Terp often quips that he’s also a University of DIY YouTube alum.

His experiences at both alma maters contributed as D’Alessio created “Real Life Renovation,” a social media video series documenting his adventures in home improvement projects with wife Kylie D’Alessio ’18 around their Baltimore rowhouse. His clips—chronicling everything from cabinet construction to electrical endeavors to makeshift plumbing ploys—have amassed 291,000 followers on TikTok and another 137,000 on Instagram, with plenty of relatable mishaps to keep fans engaged.

As Alex watched tutorials on YouTube and elsewhere online, he noticed that those posting the videos “never talked about mistakes, so I just assumed that they were perfect. It was honestly disheartening watching all this perfection, so I wanted to do real-life renovation and show all the real-life parts of it—the struggles, the not knowing what to do, the mistakes, everything. I’ve gotten a lot of people messaging me saying that it inspires them more.”

Alex studied civil engineering before earning his master’s in project management, then landed a job at Clark Construction after graduation, which sparked his fascination with building and renovation. In August 2020, he and Kylie moved into their house—built in 1900 and not pristine after being rented out for a decade—and soon revamped their laundry room, recording the process for family and friends who “didn’t really believe we were pouring cement,” he said.

While Alex admits that Kylie is more naturally handy than he is, YouTube and Instagram tutorials gave him the confidence to take on the foreman role as they updated their circa 1980s half-bathroom, with dingy wood floors. He posted a video of the project—unfiltered and “talking like how I talk,” he said—and went to work one day with virtually no TikTok followers. He came home to 10,000, plus 300,000 views, with commenters admiring the bright blue paint color, crisp white trim and conversational tone (including a stray curse word or two).

The fast-paced posts—featuring upbeat music, relatable tips and stars who aren’t afraid to make fun of themselves—garnered enough social media interest for brands like Wagner and the Home Depot to approach Alex about advertising, leading him to take “Real Life Renovation” full time last fall. The transition has been another learning process, Kylie said, but the couple has settled into a routine a la HGTV’s “Flip or Flop” or “Fixer Upper,” with Alex leading the construction and Kylie spearheading the design.

Besides upcoming plans to revamp their master bedroom and even add a bathroom, the Terps have a few Maryland-themed ideas, with Alex, who previously worked as a manager and graduate assistant coach with the Maryland men’s basketball team, working on a dry bar now, complete with a UMD bottle opener. He and Kylie also hope to eventually create a sports-centric basement to display their Maryland memorabilia. In the meantime, they’re enjoying the renovation ride.

Check out some of their DIY adventures and advice:

Paint Like a Pro

Ever wonder how to get an even coat on the surface of new cabinets? Alex demonstrates how drilling a couple extra holes and grabbing a hanger can be a game-changer.

Opening New Doors
In one of “Real Life Renovation’s” most popular projects, Alex transformed a sliding door into a custom barn-type door for the basement. It took some finagling to get it to hang straight and open and close seamlessly.

Powering Up
Electrical work can be tricky, but rather than blow a fuse, Alex learned how to calculate the correct size for outlet boxes in his basement, then tested each one to make sure it was working.

Speed Up Cleanup

Hate tidying up your tray after painting? Try lining it with a trash bag and pouring the paint into that, Alex suggests.

Tile Time

Even a novice can tackle tiling, Alex says in a clip where the duo renovated their master bathroom. Using spacers and leveling blocks helps make sure the tiles are even “and you don’t stub your toe.”

Published October 6, 2022