Live from Greensboro
Tasha Agruso’s evolution from legal eagle to design diva
By Robin Sutton Anders
Tasha Agruso was folding clothes when she got a call from one of the producers of the Rachael Ray show last year. “They were putting together a segment on rooms that were made-over for less than $100, and they saw my laundry room in Pinterest,” Agruso says. Two days later, the Greensboro native and internationally known lifestyle blogger boarded a plane for an all-expense-paid trip to New York City.
As Agruso walked onto the bright stage facing rows of cameras and a live, studio audience — her own larger-than-life image projected on the big screen behind her — she felt the rush of one of life’s most surreal moments. Rachael Ray shook Agruso’s hand and introduced her to the audience. “She introduced me as Tasha Agruso from Greensboro, North Carolina — not as a professional blogger,” the blogger remembers. “They felt I would be more relatable as just a normal person out there who figured out how to renovate her laundry room for $71.”
And really, she adds, “that’s how it all started.”
Rewind six years, and Agruso was a partner in her law firm, often working up to 60 hours a week — defending doctors and nursing homes in medical malpractices cases. Her husband, Joe, was a firefighter.
As parents of twin girls, toddlers, the Agrusos needed more space. So Tasha and Joe made an offer on a 1986 home in Greensboro’s Starmount Forest neighborhood. They didn’t exactly love the place, but it was functional. “Before we bought this house, we’d only ever lived in historic homes, and this was a two-story contemporary — the kind of newer house with no character I’d sworn I was never going to buy,” Tasha says. “It had the typical hallmarks of a Brady Bunch–style home — vertical painted cedar siding, skylights. It was definitely going to be a challenge.”
They decided to do something about it and started in the laundry room. “It was an easy decision to make over the smallest room in the house,” Tasha laughs. For starters, she had leftover paint to cover the faux-brick, vinyl floor and orange oak cabinets. There was also that set of sunny, floral curtains lying around that didn’t match any other room. The makeover was simple and cheap — $71 later, one room in their house looked brand-new.
The couple stepped back and snapped a few pictures of their success. Then Tasha started a blog, “Designer Trapped in a Lawyer’s Body.” She figured, why not? She wanted her friends and family to see the before and after, and besides — this was only the beginning of her renovation projects. She sent an email to her nearest and dearest letting them know how, if they were interested, they could follow her renovation progress, room by room. A few months later, Tasha learned her blog had been reposted by the popular “Apartment Therapy” blog. Within hours, her nearest and dearest had skyrocketed to an international following.
Laundry room: check. Powder room: check. Family room: check. With every $20 concrete bathroom countertop or $30 herringbone plank accent wall, Tasha’s online followers grew. “Most weekends and evenings after work, Joe and I were doing stuff on the house,” she says. “On average, we were probably working 10–20 hours a week.”
Some families have game night; others bond over movie night. The Agrusos host renovation parties. “We’ve come up with creative ways of getting the twins involved in projects. While we were painting my office, they were still small. I have pictures of Joe painting with the girls on his back, giving them piggy-back rides.” Last month, while they were overhauling their garage, Tasha spread out a huge role of brown paper for the girls to paint their own murals.
When they turned their focus to redecorating the twins’ room in time for their third birthday, Tasha learned a major lesson in blogging: People respond best to easy, bite-size projects. “Average people don’t want to spend 20 hours a week on their house,” she observes. “They just want a simple project they can wrap their heads around.”
Like bed skirts held together with safety pins, for instance. As parts of the girls’ room reveal, Tasha and Joe made headboards and duvet covers; they painted and repurposed Ikea furniture into custom, built-in storage chests and bookshelves. As the big day approached, she had one project remaining: bed skirts for the twin beds.
“I just didn’t have it in me to make them. I was working full time and doing all the house things, and I was tired,” she says. So Tasha figured out a way to make a tailored bed skirt just using safety pins. “People went bananas for this thing. I was so surprised because I almost hadn’t published it.”
Tasha’s readership grew. Within 10 months of starting the blog, her data showed she was receiving more than 200,000 page views a month. Playing around with the idea of monetizing her blog, she’d included a few ads and sponsored posts. “But I realized, holy cow, people are making a full-time living at this. About that time, I heard about a six-figure blogger who was teaching a course on monetizing.”
Tasha signed up. Considering her blog’s traffic, it occurred to her that she could be one of those people. Six months later, the lawyer was trapped no more. Tasha quit her day job to focus 100 percent on her blog. “You hear people say that you can turn your passion into a living, and I believe that is possible,” she says. “If there’s something you really love, chances are you can find a way to turn it into a profitable gig.”
Having an analytical mind helps, especially when it comes to writing tutorials for her 50,000 email subscribers and 131,000 social media followers. “I’m pretty type A and detail-oriented. Realizing my DIY tutorials will reach this big audience, I try to be super detailed in my instructions and take good photos of each step so people can really follow along,” she says.
Tasha also pays attention to what works and what doesn’t. If she pins a photo on Pinterest and it doesn’t perform, she stops pinning it. “Same with Instagram. You have to really study what you’re doing and how people are responding to it.”
For fellow bloggers looking to turn their passion into a full-time gig, she offers a key piece of advice: “Stick with it.” Tasha says most blogs don’t survive beyond the 12-month mark because their authors lose steam. “The people who are able to take it to the next level are willing to see a project through to fruition, and then do it again and again. That’s what sets them apart,” she says.
Do It Yourself: Top Five Home Projects Anyone Can Tackle
From making her children’s bedding using safety pins to painting the kitchen floor, Tasha Agruso takes a can-do approach to almost every home-renovation project. You can, too, she says — starting with these easy endeavors.
Painting interior walls. “I don’t want to pass judgment — and I did hire someone to paint a vaulted ceiling one time, but painting is the easiest job in the world. It’s instant gratification and so rewarding.”
Installing linoleum or tile flooring. “Even if you don’t have DIY skills, laminate and tile flooring are really do able.”
Creating your own art. “I can’t paint or draw, but it is easy to find graphics on Etsy. You can buy a graphic for $2 and print it off at Office Depot.”
Rehabbing furniture. “Unless it’s a really intricate piece, it’s pretty easy to refinish or stain a piece of furniture you find at a consignment store. It’s easy and it can save you so much money.”
Making your own headboard. “Maybe you can’t build a bed, but it’s really easy to follow a tutorial for making a headboard. We built two in the afternoon while our girls were napping.”
Phone a Professional: Five Projects Best Left to the Experts
Sometimes, however, it’s better to leave it to the pros. When faced with one of these jobs, Tasha doesn’t mind a bit of outsourcing.
Painting exterior walls. “To do it well, you’d really need an expensive professional-grade paint sprayer, and when are you ever going to use it again? Also, just as a practical matter, professionals get discounts on paint that the average person doesn’t get.”
Repairing drywall. “Even people who are pretty skilled at DIY stuff can make a drywall look like a bad patch job. It’s worth it to hire a professional.”
Hardwiring lights. “While it is easy to replace a light fixture, if you have to start from scratch, I would hire out electrical work. It’s just safer.”
Plumbing or drainage work. “The problem here is that it’s too easy to mess up, and you can end up with a really expensive mistake.”
Installing natural stone tile. “Natural stones are not totally uniform in thickness, and you have to level them with the mortar. When we did it in a bathroom, it turned out great but it was painstaking. I’m not sure I would do it again.”
For more tips and how-tos visit Tasha’s blog at designertrapped.com.
Robin Sutton Anders is a Greensboro-based writer who has big dreams of renovating her laundry room.