Spotlight On: I SPY DIY
I SPY DIY, also known as Jenni Radosevich, is a do-it-yourself superstar. From creating her own clothing to writing a book on budget fashion to renovating and remodeling homes, she’s come a long way in a short time. Learn more about how she made the leap from DIY column to flipping houses, her best decorating advice and, our favorite topic, her favorite tiles.
Can you give us a little background about your education and work experience and how you got started before you created I SPY DIY?
I went to the University of Wisconsin—Madison for magazine design and journalism and then I moved to New York and started working at InStyle magazine. While I was there, I started a DIY column and it ended up taking off. That’s where I SPY DIY came from.
The column led to my blog, and then Random House asked me to write a book which came out in 2012. Eventually DIY fashion turned into DIY home when I moved back to Wisconsin. My fiancé convinced me to buy this fixer-upper house to renovate, and then a friend suggested I pitch the renovation to HGTV. I ended up doing a pilot that aired three or four times. They decided not to pick it up but I was fine with that because I learned doing a TV show is a lot of work! Since then I’ve been working on different renovations for my fiancé’s rental properties and then began my next big project: the Barnhouse.
How long ago did you make your I SPY DIY blog and renovating a full-time career?
In 2012. Right when my book came out, I left InStyle, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
Were you surprised that everything took off so quickly? It sounds like a whirlwind!
Yes, it was crazy! That was back when DIY was just becoming a “thing”. I had CNN calling me and asking me to tell them about DIY. It took off really quickly and it’s crazy to see how many other girls have been doing DIY since then. It went from being 3 or 4 of us to a ton of DIYers.
Was your first renovation intimidating? How were you sure you could redo a house from the bottom up?
Having TV cameras film your every move was good motivation. I had to fake it until I made it! It was a bold move, and it paid off. It was a quick way to dive into the renovation process, and I didn’t really have a chance to fail because I just had to keep on going. (Note: She redid the entire home in just 4 months!)
What was your process like? Did you have a vison for the house as a whole or go room by room?
I have no idea how I pulled that off! We had a budget, and The Tile Shop was awesome for that. I started by picking out what I could afford for materials, and it ended up being a lot of subway tile. In the bathroom, I used more interesting patterns to use these simple subway tiles and elevate the look.
“Every other room I just kind of tried to go with my gut instinct and not second guess myself. If I liked something, I moved forward with it because there wasn’t time to rethink.”
It’s been interesting with the Barnhouse because I have more time to make decisions and ask my readers. It’s more interactive, but it comes with definite pluses and minuses.
Your style certainly inspires a lot of people. Where do you find inspiration and ideas?
It’s tough because I try not to do what everyone else is doing. I think that with the last house, I did look at other people’s projects too much because I didn’t know what I was doing. Now, I try to go with my gut. The Barnhouse has an older feel so I look more at European-type kitchens. I was just there for a couple weeks, and I tried to pull a lot of inspiration from what I was seeing. Since we’re calling it the Barnhouse, I’m trying to do more antiquing and finding older pieces so the house has a more authentic feel because it was built in 1875. I’m trying to stay away too much from Pinterest and all those places that you typically get inspiration because I don’t want to be too influenced.
How do you describe your design aesthetic? Or do you have one? It sounds like it changes based on the project you’re working on.
I used to think I should have a certain aesthetic that you can tell from house to house is mine. But ultimately, I think every house needs something a little bit different. The last house we fully gutted, and we were starting from a clean slate. And this one, there was already a character about it and the super-modern vibe didn’t feel right. Painting the exterior red is something I never would have done but everyone in the neighborhood loved the big red house that become known as the Barnhouse. I didn’t want to lose that uniqueness. I try to take the character that the house has given me and work with that.
“Every house needs something a little bit different. I try to take the character that the house has given me and work with that.”
What is a typical day, if there is one, like for you?
The best days are the ones where I get to run around all day and go shopping for the houses. Today I was running around getting lighting, working with the electrician and now I’m off to find a mirror for the bathroom. My days involve a lot of troubleshooting for the houses and figuring things out. I do a little computer work, but I try to stay off it as much as possible. I’ll post Instagram stories to get my readers’ opinions and show them the process. I try to cut things off at a decent time, and then I hang out with my puppies.
Do you have a favorite Tile Shop tile you find yourself coming back to?
In the Barnhouse’s upstairs bathroom and kitchen backsplash, I used Splendours in white. It’s a subway tile, but it has a hand-glazed look. I just love that it’s irregular, organic and handmade looking. I definitely see myself using that one again because it’s an elevated version of a subway tile.
I love the Laura Ashley Wicker Dove Grey tile I used in the master bathroom, too. It’s patterned, but it’s not too overwhelming. It feels serene in the bathroom. I am so happy with how that one turned out. I would love to use that one again in another bathroom.
Oh my gosh, the Bricklane White tile that is on my kitchen floor and entryway floor is my favorite thing. I think that’s my favorite tile in the house. I love that The Tile Shop always has something for my budget, whether it’s large or small.
Do you have any tips for people designing with tile?
Tile can be overwhelming, but you can do really cool things on a budget, like I did in my bathroom upstairs. We used a herringbone pattern. Installing the tile in unique patterns and using a darker grout can have a high impact. The combination of black and white always pops. If you’re going to use a statement tile like Laura Ashley, pair it with something less busy like a subway tile and use similarly colored grout so you don’t have an overwhelming tile on both the floor and the wall. Pick which one is going to be your statement and then have the other one be more neutral. In a small space (especially one without a window), consider using lighter tiles to brighten up the room. Look at size of your space and the light before you pick the tile. If you have a bathroom with a lot of light, you have the option of using a darker, bolder tile.
What do you pick out first in a room?
It depends. For me, I like to use neutral tiles because they’re more permanent than everything else in the bathroom. Then I use accessories and other pieces in the room to add pops of color. It works great for me because I love to change things up so often and everything I decorate with can be an accent.
What do you like about working with tile?
Since it is more permanent, it can be daunting. It’s not as easy as changing up a paint color. But I like the big impact that it makes. In this house, we did a lot of fully tiled walls. The bathroom tile goes up to four feet all the way around the room and it just makes it look expensive and finished. It really elevates a space. Especially in a kitchen, once you put the backsplash in, it ties everything else together.
What advice would you give someone trying to get into remodeling or someone that has never redone a house before?
My advice is to make a decision and stick with it. There are always going to be a million options. The most important thing is to be decisive. When you start second guessing things and making changes, that’s where things start getting costly.
What’s your favorite part of your own house?
The upstairs bathroom, the clawfoot tub and how that whole room came together. It’s super serene. It’s also one of my most popular rooms in my house on Instagram.
The Fun Five
What’s your dream vacation?
3 weeks in the south of France.
What are you streaming right now?
I’m desperately looking for something to watch! I liked watching Queer Eye. I watched them all on the plane for my recent trip. It’s great to have in the background and I cry in 90% of the episodes.
What is your favorite hobby when you’re not working?
Antiquing, even though it is kind of work. I love thrifting. Whenever I’m having a super stressed day I got to Antiques on Pierce. It’s a four-floor massive antique store. I go there and wander around for an hour and it relaxes me. Everyone is nice to me and they have me a VIP (very important picker) card. It makes me calm.
Who would play you in the movie of your life?
Who I’d want it to be would probably be different than who it would be. It’d probably be a cute girl like Ginnifer Goodwin. I’d want it to be Rachel Bilson.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing, what would your career be?
Something in the creative field. Maybe graphic design, which I did earlier on, working at an advertising agency or visual merchandising in a store.