A DIY Pro Shows Off Her Upgraded Pad

When we think of someone who “does it all" — and makes everyone in her orbit feel like maybe they could do it all, too — local do-gooder Katalina Mayorga instantly comes to mind. And, by the looks of her recent home renovation, she has fully earned the title of DI(A)Y goddess. (That's do-it-all-yourself, if you're wondering.)
She's a photographer; creator of The You Finder, a blog about discovering your passions; world traveler; and socially conscious entrepreneur. Her work regularly takes her to underdeveloped countries, where she helps local communities implement clean sources of energy (and picks up beautiful decor finds along the way). The rest of the time, Mayorga is a career coach, wife, and new homeowner with her first major reno project under her belt.
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After eight months of sneak peeks on Instagram, the Jill-of-all-trades (along with her husband Sam) gave us the first look at her overhauled Kingman Park place. (Spoiler alert: It's amazing!) On a cold, snowy afternoon, we chatted about decorating, style, and the DIY spirit — and left her home feeling inspired to paint something, pronto. Click through for all the motivation you need to design your dream house and more. She'll make you an I-can-do-this convert!
Photographed by Sebastian Marin.
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Photographed by Sebastian Marin.
Tell us about your home. How did you find it?

"We found our home with the help of Steve Israel, a buyer’s agent, from The Buyer’s Edge. He was absolutely the best. His experience helped us find a perfect fit, which, for us, was a home that had good bones, but needed some TLC."

Katalina and Sam liked the design of a CB2 bookshelf, but not the price tag. They recreated it using stair treads purchased from Home Depot.
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Photographed by Sebastian Marin.
What was the process of searching for a home like for you?

"Stressful at first. We spent several weekends with Steve looking at houses. When you’re trying to find a good mix of livable, but fixer-upper-ish homes, you get a real mixed bag. Some homes were complete horror stories that required more work than we had time and energy [for].

"There were a total of three homes that we put offers on. One of them I don’t even really remember, which probably means we shouldn’t have bid on it. The other two were our current home, which we really liked and saw opportunity, and another really great one that had a nice mixture of historical preservation, including the original tin ceilings and doorbell buzzer (think: school bell), with some great new modern pieces in the kitchen. It still had some work to be done, but it was manageable. We weren’t the only ones who saw the opportunity in that house; they received nine bids in one day, with the winner coming in at $40K over asking price, in cash. It started to feel like we weren’t going to be able to compete, but then the owner of our current home decided to begin negotiations with us.

"In the end, it worked out. It was surreal at first, being a homeowner. Now, we’re truly happy to have a place of our own, with our style and touch, to hang our hats."
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Photographed by Sebastian Marin.
The couple found a reclaimed piece of wood at Community Forklift in Hyattsville. Katalina and Sam stained it gray and added legs (scored on eBay for $15 each) to make the perfect end table for the master bedroom.
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Photographed by Sebastian Marin.
What were your design inspirations when you starting with a blank slate?

"I knew that our home had to be an expression of both Sam and I. After all, it was not my home, but our home.

"Sam’s design aesthetic is more [in line with] an old English library filled with worn-in leather couches, dark paint, and some sort of cigar laying around. And, while I am not really girly, I love my feminine touches and Scandinavian midcentury influences, and appreciate more airy spaces.

"Since I was taking the aesthetic lead on the house, the blog post Design Compromise For Couples by designer Emily Henderson was key to having our home feel like 'us' and not just 'me.' Emily continues to be a huge source of inspiration.

"Additionally, I am a huge fan of Sarah Samuel from Smitten Studio and all her major DIY renovations. It made doing a lot of this with our own four hands seem possible."
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Photographed by Sebastian Marin.
"These white shelves were modeled off of ones I liked at CB2, but they cost $500 each. I found a DIY online and it ended up costing us $125 for two. It was just the cost of the plywood."

Katalina creates a sense of harmony on the bookshelves by grouping like-colored objects together.
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Photographed by Sebastian Marin.
The coffee table boasts a sweet display of mini succulents and Polaroid photos from Katalina's travels.
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Photographed by Sebastian Marin.
What is your proudest DIY from the renovation?

"The dining room floor is my proudest DIY. The tiles themselves were our big splurge and I sourced them from Marrakech Design in Sweden. The cost of the tiles plus the shipping meant that we really needed to do the rest on a tight budget; as in, we could not hire anyone to do the labor-intensive part of actually laying the tiles.

"Sam and I worked together for over a month to pull up the old tile, chip away cement, lay the tile, fill it with grout, and so on. It was the hardest project to date, but there is nothing like working with your hands and being ecstatic about the finished product that you did all by yourself."
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Photographed by Sebastian Marin.
What is your favorite room in the house?

"Our dining room has been the host to many dinner and brunch parties that always include the type of conversations that make you want to dream bigger. I think the big print we have in the dining room that says 'Eat Well Travel Often' is a main catalyst to that. When people see it, they usually say, 'I love that saying.' And, I usually respond with, 'Why?' The answer to that [question] has gone in many different directions."

Katalina created the artwork herself, using a large canvas from Michael's that she scored for $90.
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Photographed by Sebastian Marin.
What kinds of resources did you use throughout the process?

"There is nothing as amazing and efficient as a saved Craigslist RSS feed. Meaning, when I knew the type of furniture I wanted, I went to Craigslist, put the search terms in, and then took that RSS feed and plugged it into my blog reader of preference. If this is sounding like a different language to you, you can read more here.

"Every time a new post popped up with my search terms of choice, I was notified and could quickly contact the seller. If you are a D.C. Craigslist [shopper], you are in Craigslist heaven. This is such a transient city, where folks are always being quickly deployed out of the country or to another state and they are trying to get rid of their brand-new designer furniture at ridiculously low prices."
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Photographed by Sebastian Marin.
What are your top tips for being creative on a budget?

"If you see something you like that is out of your budget, but your natural instinct is 'I can probably do that,' then you probably can! The next step is to spend a good amount of time doing research on the Internet. This part is really important — do your research, and be an informed DIYer. It will save you a lot of stress and unnecessary, frustrated rants in the long run. I swear, you can find anything on the Internet with a creative word search or by going [beyond] page one of your Google search. Compare and contrast DIY tutorials, look at finished products, and decide which one makes sense for you."

The couple did a DIY paint treatment on the wall behind the bed to create visual interest. The small closet door on the far side of the bed meant there was no room for a night table, but a simple cord lamp from West Elm ensures that there's still ample light for reading.
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Photographed by Sebastian Marin.
What do you like best about the neighborhood you're in?

"Kingman Park is about five minutes east of H Street NE, a bustling neighborhood that is always filled with activity. We are so close to some of the best restaurants and bars in D.C., but also can walk five minutes in the other direction and be in the middle of a nature preserve (Kingman Island) or easily hop on a bike trail that takes us all the way to the other side of the Anacostia River or down to the Navy Yard. And, I know this is going to be hard to believe, but I also have a new and deep appreciation for the Anacostia River from living in our neighborhood. If you can’t believe it, check out Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens."

A poncho from Colombia adds a pop of color to the master bedroom.
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Photographed by Sebastian Marin.
What were the overall biggest challenges and lessons learned during the process of renovating your new home?

"For us, the biggest challenge/lesson was time management. In college, Sam had worked a lot of construction under a contractor. It was almost like an apprenticeship in many ways. He learned a lot, but was always working in teams of four to six people, with all the necessary tools. It was very difficult at first to keep from overextending ourselves when we bought the home. Sam had no team of guys, few tools, and a mindset that said, 'Oh yeah, no problem.'

"We quickly figured out that with home improvements, you need to take your time, acquire the proper tools, and never rush it. That’s probably the best piece of advice I can give to any DIYer. You have to realize that each project is going to take longer than you originally anticipated, and, yes, you are going to have to acquire tools, which are expensive. However, the cost of the tools, and taking your time, is still significantly less than hiring someone — and your appreciation for it is that much greater."

Proof that you should always be on the lookout for unique art: Katalina scored this print from Kafe Bohem.
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Photographed by Sebastian Marin.
Who's feeling closet envy? The couple designed and built this two-tiered closet system using metal piping from Home Depot.
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Photographed by Sebastian Marin.
What advice do you have for people who want to own their own home one day?

"Seek out people who really know what they’re doing and care about your well-being. Even a 'great deal' of a fixer-upper can turn into a nightmare and a bust for you. Find a buyer’s agent or someone who is close to the family that knows what to look for and will aid you in making what is actually a very important life decision. Your home is where you sow, as it were, so it needs to be more than an investment. It needs to be a home, first."

Leftover crates from a grocery delivery service are transformed into convenient closet shelving.
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Photographed by Sebastian Marin.
Katalina originally spied this DIY paint project on The Brick House. Once she figured out a design she wanted and taped it off using painters' tape, she hired professional painters to take care of the rest.
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Photographed by Sebastian Marin.
What is your favorite way to spend a day in D.C.?

"Wake up early, head to Kingman Island, and let the dogs off-leash so they can run wild and get all their energy out. Then, head over to Sidamo and hang out in the back patio, drink some delicious coffee, and finally scour all the magazines that have been piling up while Sam works on his book. Meet friends for a long brunch at Granville Moore's, then head home and do like the Spanish do and take a siesta."

The couple scored the electric-blue cabinet from a vendor at Eastern Market, pairing it with a Max Wanger photo of Tulum. The red leather chair and ottoman came from a sidewalk sale along North Capitol Street.
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Photographed by Sebastian Marin.
A simple vignette proves the unifying power of color.
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Photographed by Sebastian Marin.
Tell us about your blog, The You Finder.

"The You Finder has evolved from when I started it and left my job to go into independent consulting. It's lifestyle and personal and a way to be able to discuss work, the trips I take, and the people I meet along the way. It's about things I find exciting, which include international development and innovation and travel. I'm also a career coach so it's about finding yourself and the things that make you happy."
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Photographed by Sebastian Marin.
You seem to manage a lot, from running your own business to buying and renovating this home. How do you balance your busy life?

"Do what you love and are passionate about, and none of it feels like work. Life is too short to do otherwise."

A clean and organized workspace is essential when you work from home, as Katalina does. The couple removed the back panel from the IKEA drawers to the right of the desk, and use it to keep cables and wires out of sight.
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Photographed by Sebastian Marin.
A collection of offbeat artwork — including a commissioned painting of the couple and their two dogs — adds a personal touch to a workspace.
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Photographed by Sebastian Marin.
To create a unique version of a mood board, Katalina spray painted bungee cords with gold paint and used hooks to attach them to the wall in a simple design. Thumbtacks hold inspiration photos, letters, and mementos in place.
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Photographed by Sebastian Marin.
This one's fun: If you had a magic wand to fix one thing in the house at this very moment, what would it be?

"Our kitchen! That is our next big DIY undertaking. We are putting in subway tile, new countertops, additional shelving units, and a farmhouse sink all by ourselves. I am sure there will be a lot of cussing involved, but, hey — that is all part of the process."
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