Photography by Tommy Lei

Published on July 27, 2021

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“I don’t want to mess it up,” Tommy Lei, the modern lifestyle creator and interior stylist behind My Belonging, said to himself while looking at his curved living room wall and the pile of herringbone floor panels he had just ordered. If he were only dealing with right angles, the seasoned DIYer would have taken on the job himself. But in this case, “I didn’t really want to take a chance and not have it look polished,” he recalls. 

The issue was, Lei couldn’t just call up a contractor—all the ones he knew in Los Angeles were booked through the summer (blame the COVID-induced renovation craze). So he pulled out his phone and started browsing verified professionals on Thumbtack, a service he had previously used to have his faucets installed. “It’s helpful when you are in a time crunch,” he says. “You can make a dramatic renovation, without cutting corners, just by being resourceful.”

In about a week’s time, he had someone come in with a crew to tackle the project. But booking a service like this through an app, much like TaskRabbit, can be nerve-racking if you’ve never done it before. We asked Lei to share his tips for navigating the process and how he pulled the much needed upgrade off for only $3,500. 

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The vinyl boards were a steal from Floor & Decor’s clearance section (Lei got the materials for less than $1,000 to cover 300 square feet). He opted for ones with a slate gray tone to achieve a European feel that played nicely with his Italian Mario Bellini sofa. “Now the couch doesn’t just fade into obscurity,” he says. Scouring the final sale section at an outlet saved him some expense up front and meant he could avoid any designer- or contractor-related markups. 

“I try to keep all conversations within the app,” says Lei. That includes the back-and-forth in the beginning with the multiple pros bidding on your project to nailing down the time frame and whether you’ll pay via Venmo, Zelle, or some other way. This way there is a clear record about everything you’ve discussed. “You’re not going into it blindly,” he says. 

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Talking costs can be intimidating, especially in person. “Being a millennial, it just makes me a lot more comfortable over the app,” says Lei. Leaving a paper trail of what you are agreeing to means no day-of surprises for your wallet. Also contractors on Thumbtack are more motivated to negotiate with you because the app rewards users with higher ratings.

Lei watched the crew cut the new flooring to fit the curve of the wall. Their solution? Cut out a cardboard template first and use that as a guide for the saw. “I would have approached that the wrong way,” he says. “One of my fears was spending more time and money fixing mistakes versus just having someone do it the correct way the first time.” Crisis averted.

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Mario Bellini Cameleonda Sectional, Eternity Modern; Coffee Table, Tom Dixon; Neon Light, Yellowpop; Lamp, Gantri