Lena Elizabeth’s life turned upside down in 2020.
She and her family had just moved and settled into a new home in Forsyth County when, as the pandemic began, she had to leave her nearly 10-year career in real estate behind to teach her young kids while in quarantine.
For the first time, the mother of three was forced to slow down and simply focus on her family.
But as they all began to get used to life in the pandemic, Lena found herself with free time she had never had before to explore new interests and hobbies — something she shared with others across the nation at the time.
Looking around at her new home one day, Lena picked up a brush and started painting the walls in the dining room. The next week, she started looking at other areas in the house she could work on, envisioning a new kitchen and new furniture.
“It brought out this part of me that I think had been just buried away because you get busy with life,” Lena said. “You get busy with raising kids.”
The pandemic gave her the time she needed to simply get lost in a new project and flex the creative muscle she had let sit for far too long.
But to take her new journey into renovations and DIY projects one step further, Lena downloaded TikTok, and created the page @FlippingGorgeous to document each of her projects along the way. She had no idea that the page would grow in popularity, earning more than 100,000 followers and kick-starting her plans.
While she never focused on followers or views, Lena said she believes her account on TikTok gained popularity ultimately because her videos document her delving into and falling in love with her new hobby.
She started with smaller projects like painting different rooms and changing light features before moving on to slightly bigger tasks like refurbishing furniture.
The large wooden table that now sits in her family dining room was an old, beat-up piece she purchased from Facebook Marketplace before sanding it down, painting it and making it look brand new.
Lena did the same with two benches she bought for $50 each that now sit, with a completely new look, next to her fire pit outside and with a large, grey table that sits on the front porch.
At this point, she said almost every piece of furniture in the home is one she either built or refurbished.
While some question why she didn’t just buy new furniture or stick to newer used pieces, Lena said the process of rebuilding is fun for her, and these pieces have so much more meaning. Not only did she make something new out of them for herself, but “you give it a second chance at life.”
Since building these pieces, she has done much more to revamp some of the more outdated parts of their family home.
Outside of the main house, she worked with her husband to turn the detached garage into an at-home gym to use, especially during the pandemic, and began work on the cottage house.
Lena said the cottage on the property is a kit house designed by Sears. The company sold mail-order kits out of catalogs beginning in the early 1900s, offering the blueprints and materials needed to build a house.
It was originally the main house on the property, but a larger main house was built later. With new renovations in mind, Lena said it would make a perfect guest house for family or friends.
She’s already renovated the kitchen in the house, changing up the countertops, cabinets and backsplash for less than $500.
‘An authentic feel’
Lena has documented each of these projects online, showing her journey in one-minute videos on TikTok and pointing out to viewers where she found success, where she went wrong and where she saved money.
When she started the videos, her goal wasn’t to gain followers or notoriety online. In fact, she assumed no one would really watch them.
“I’ve always had a presence on social media, especially with real estate,” Lena said. “I used to do a lot of educational videos on real estate, so I’ve always liked [making] videos …. But when I started on TikTok, it felt like a place where no one knew me.”
The anonymity associated with it felt freeing for Lena, giving her the confidence to post without the fear of judgment or without too many expectations. Although the 34-year-old worried at first that she may be too old for TikTok, it quickly became her favorite social media platform.
So instead of putting too much thought into her videos, she just had fun with it.
This was a huge reason why she believes her videos eventually gained popularity.
“I think just because I was really trying to have fun, maybe that made people want to follow along,” Lena said. “And also not be perfect. A lot of these things I was learning as I go, and I’m sharing mistakes that I’ve made along the way. I think that helps inspire people to think, ‘You know what? She did it. I can do it. It doesn’t have to be perfect.’”
On other platforms like Instagram, Lena said it’s much easier to hide the ugly parts and harder to show the full process. End-result photos on Instagram can be beautiful and inspiring, but they can also intimidate.
“[Video has] an authentic feel, which is why I think it’s become such a popular platform for people,” Lena said. “That’s why I like it.”
Today @FlippingGorgeous has more than 111,000 followers and her videos have a total of 1.1 million likes. Lena said the growth on social media feels surreal.She went from having a small community where she felt free to post videos almost anonymously to having a large platform where suddenly thousands were watching. But in the end, the feedback she was getting from her viewers made her more confident in her work.
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@flippinggorgeous MY STORY! Thank you for being here ❤️ #diy #diyhome #hometok #mystory #fsbo #foreverhome #momof3 ♬ Buttercup - Jack Stauber
‘That’s my art’
For a long time before she delved into these DIY projects, Lena told herself she just simply wasn’t creative or artistic. She recognized that she was crafty and driven, but she refused to allow herself to explore her creative side.
Most of that mindset came from comparing herself to others.
“My sister and I are best of friends, but growing up, [I realized] my sister is this super talented artist,” Lena said. “[She] can draw [and] paint anything. Amazing talent. So sometimes I think even when you’re surrounded by people you love, you start to compare your gifts to their gifts. And your gifts might not look the same, so you tell yourself [you’re] not artistic… not creative. She’s the creative one.”
With this limiting belief, she steered away from more creative activities that could take her in a different direction.
But as she began the projects and posting them on TikTok, she really started to recognize the gift she had for envisioning new looks for furniture and spaces.
“I had to stop and recognize my creative gifts are different from [my sister’s] creative gifts,” Lena said. “She might have these great artistic talents, but I can take a piece of furniture and that’s my art.”
Now, she feels proud that she can walk into a house that “everyone else wants to come out of” and really see what it could be.
When she and her husband first bought the house, it was dark and “very brown.” There wasn’t much light. But with the work she’s done inside the main house, it looks completely different, welcoming guests with bright walls and windows open to sunshine.
“Envisioning something in my brain and seeing it come to life is very rewarding,” Lena said. “You have something in your mind, and you hope it’s going to turn out that way, and then when it does, it’s just like, wow.”
@flippinggorgeous Don’t forget to serve your inner child while raising your own 💕#momof3 #diy #momsoftiktok ♬ TO THE MOON - Jnr Choi
A better mom
Working on DIY projects and renovations gave Lena the creative outlet she felt she needed for a long time. She not only enjoyed the process of building and painting, but — much like her viewers online — she enjoys the end result.
That feeling of immediate accomplishment and success is something she’s not always able to have as a stay-at-home mom.
“With my kids right now, I’m doing everything I can do to mold and shape them and hope that they turn out a certain way,” Lena said. “But I’m not going to know that for a really long time. When they’re 25, I’ll know if I did a great job raising them. But a table, a dresser — I can shape that and mold that and it becomes what I want it to be.”
She pointed out that no one gives parents a gold star for getting their kids successfully through a temper tantrum or getting them to school on time. No one pays stay-at-home caregivers for doing their job.
“I feel like it’s made me a better mom to have these creative outlets and have something where I think, ‘I did that.’ That’s tangible. That was a win for me,” Lena said. “It carries over.”
For many years, she juggled a career with motherhood and taking care of her home, and forgot how important it was to take time for herself and do something she has a passion for.
“For any type of caretaker, I think it’s so easy to lose yourself in taking care of others,” Lena said.
But taking a few hours to occasionally get lost in a DIY project where she can forget about her worries and focus on something creative has made her feel much more fulfilled.
Using her platform for good
Lena said hopes to always inspire others to do the same through her videos, no matter the activity or creative outlet they choose to take on.
“If I can inspire other women to just take chances and not worry if they’re going to mess it up too bad, just try it,” Lena said. “That’s always nice when a friend or somebody says, ‘Hey, I’m going to do this project because [you inspired me to do it].’ I can see them get excited about it and have a sense of pride and accomplishment.
“Sometimes just small things like that really carry so much weight.”
Lena said a family friend was inspired by her account to create his own TikTok and put himself online more. He has a full-time job, and in his spare time, she said he is a talented woodworker. But posting videos or photos online always felt a little awkward to him.
He has since started his own account, and he saw immediate success, earning half of a million views on his first video.
“I really encourage everyone to, whatever it is you love doing or you think you want to try, just try it,” Lena said. “What’s the worst that could happen?”
@flippinggorgeous I love this countertop makeover ❤️ it was intimidating at first, but I promise you can do it! All the details under my tips! #kitchenrenovation #diy ♬ ily (i love you baby) - Surf Mesa
Plans for the future
Moving forward, Lena said she hopes to create more educational videos for anyone wanting to learn more about how to get into renovating and DIY projects, her focus shifting to showing people how to transform outdated spaces and furniture.
She’s made some downloadable blueprints available through a link on her TikTok page where viewers can see how to get started on certain projects.
In the next month, she also hopes to launch her own website, and she has just started her YouTube channel, Flipping Gorgeous TV, where she plans to create and feature more in-depth, step-by-step videos for viewers to follow.
Through these videos, viewers will be able to watch as she begins future renovations on her home and finishes smaller DIY projects for fun.
The next big renovation Lena plans to dive into is the kitchen in the main house, so she hopes to share tips on where to find countertops on a budget and how to build a new kitchen island with those watching.
Lena said she has encountered many opportunities through her TikTok account, and she wants to continue to grow it where she can.
Around the holidays, she was able to partner with ACE Hardware to take part in promotional materials, and she said she’s been able to meet with others involved in television networks such as HGTV.
“It’s fun to see just some of the opportunities that are coming my way as a result of that,” Lena said. “It just shows how the world has really changed with social media.”
With these new opportunities, Lena said she plans to dive into content creation full-time instead of going back to her career as a realtor. This way, she can combine her passion with her real estate background to create helpful content while giving her more time to be with her family.
Having three young kids, she said her priority has always been to be a very present mom, but in the last seven years, she has had to learn how to carefully balance her career and family. That balancing act, for her, was never easy. She often felt like she either wasn’t there for her kids in the way she needed to be, or she wasn’t fully there for her clients.
Now, Lena finally feels like she is in a place where she can do both.
“Real estate has helped me so well in so many ways, but I think in this phase of my life, I really love the content creation,” Lena said. “And as a mom, it’s great because I can say, I’m going to put down my phone and be with my kids. And I don’t have to worry about someone calling me or needing to respond to them.”
Focusing on this new kind of work, she can do what she’s always wanted to do — be a mom.
Looking back, Lena said she’s grateful the pandemic ultimately forced her to stay home and take a moment to slow down. In the end, it led her in a new direction she never could have imagined, lending her a new purpose and exciting future.