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A New Career and House With the Help of Over 1 Million Instagram Fans

The Wall Street Journal. logo The Wall Street Journal. 7/30/2018 Katerina Ang

Ms. Rumson says she is on the hunt for another slice of land in New Jersey to build what she sees as a ‘dream house’—with the help of her virtual friends.

Ms. Rumson says she is on the hunt for another slice of land in New Jersey to build what she sees as a ‘dream house’—with the help of her virtual friends.
© Photo: Vicky Nikolaeva
Kate Rumson’s professional success wouldn’t have been possible a decade ago.

In 2013, Ms. Rumson was working in banking, and designing and flipping houses part-time. After she ran out of storage on her phone, she created an Instagram account to share interior-design pictures. The photos went viral, and now Ms. Rumson has 1.8 million followers and a new career as an interior designer and social-media celebrity.

Ms. Rumson’s newfound prominence let her quit her job, and now she makes a living consulting with furniture-design brands and hosting events for them. So when Ms. Rumson began designing the interiors of her recently purchased Matawan, N.J., house, she turned to the brands that employ her and the wisdom of her crowds.

Ms. Rumson began by narrowing down her choices for various design decisions to two or three options. She says that she chose items that fit her overall aesthetic, and that some of those options are made by brands she works with professionally. She says the brands gave her some furnishings for free, otherwise she paid for everything herself. She estimates the project cost about $150,000. (She declined to specify what she got for free.)

She posted photos of the options, like different chandeliers, side-by-side against the backdrop of her home, and invited followers to vote in the comments. Ms. Rumson says she consulted users on Instagram about 30 times, with about 5,000 people per post, on average, offering their opinions.

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The crowdsourced home renovation reflects the demand for ever-increasing access into the carefully curated lives of social-media celebrities. Personalities with more than 1 million fans can charge brands up to $15,000 for a promotional post, creating a powerful incentive to deliver attention-worthy content. Ms. Rumson’s much-shared renovation also reflects how social-media celebrities mix brand promotion and editorial content.

Ms. Rumson, 34, says she didn’t conduct the polls as a financial tactic. “Popular personalities on Instagram aren’t opening their lives up for the money, every big personality became big simply by sharing their lives every day,” she says.

The property, where she now lives with her boyfriend, is a 1,900-square-foot townhouse in a suburban neighborhood about 45 minutes outside New York City. Ms. Rumson paid $210,000 for the three bedroom, 2½-bath home after seeing it listed as an estate sale over Christmas in 2014. The couple moved in last summer after an extensive renovation to create a space that reflected her love of clean lines, glossy finishes and a calming pastel-color palette.

Ms. Rumson says there was often a clear favorite when it came to the polls. “There’s no right or wrong answer, but it’s cool to get feedback,” she says.

In the kitchen, she asked her followers to choose a lighting fixture. While she was leaning toward a simpler $480 option, her followers chose a $750 vintage bronze set with amber pearls and crystal that wouldn’t be out of place in a disco. (Ms. Rumson was comfortable paying for either option.)

For the backsplash, the choice was between white marble panels with an antiqued mirror finish—something she had helped design—or another non-mirrored option. She didn’t disclose that the first choice was her handiwork. “I wanted their honest opinion,” she says. Her followers picked her design.

In the living room, she consulted her followers on the sofa and armchair, which she then acquired from Virginia-based retailer Bassett. They also picked out an Arhaus desk. (Both brands are her clients. She declined to say whether she paid for these furnishings.) Stone bookends—a gift from British designer Sophie Paterson, who Ms. Rumson first met on Instagram—are displayed on an open shelf.

Not everything was democratically chosen. She overhauled the staircase with stained ebony oak railing and new paneling. “This was not negotiable, I had a vision for what the staircase would look like the moment I walked in,” she says. She did query her followers on the whether the steps should have a dark-chocolate tone to match the floor on the second level, or the ground floor’s lighter shade. They chose the former.

Instagram also had less input on the second level. Ms. Rumson converted a bedroom into a walk-in wardrobe, with customized white IKEA cabinets that hold her shoe and jumpsuit collection. With more subdued accents preferred over sleek elements like mirror and glass, it has a more lived-in look than the first floor.

Ms. Rumson’s social-media success has led to numerous professional opportunities. In addition to her consulting gigs with furniture-design brands, she is also on the hunt for another slice of land in New Jersey to build her “dream house”—with the help of her virtual friends.

Ms. Rumson doesn’t think follower feedback made the house look better or worse, but says the process added personal value to her home. “When I see wallpaper, I remember the comments that people left,” she says. “Everything has meaning in a space designed by so many people.”

Write to Katerina Ang at


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