Behind the Scenes with DIY Guru Carli Alves

Meet the Rhode Island creative who’s building a reputation for smart, budget-friendly living solutions that pack a big design punch.

By Yankee Editors

Jan 18 2021


As Carli Alves writes on her blog: “One of my favorite sayings is ‘Necessity is the mother of all invention,’ and is definitely the starting point for most of my projects.”

Photo Credit : Courtesy of Carli Alves

When Carli Alves first began blogging about the DIY projects and interior makeovers she was doing, “I never set out to get a ton of pageviews, or viral pins,” she writes. “I just wanted to share what I did and hoped it would inspire someone else.” Turns out, this creative Rhode Island resident would excel at both.

Today she attracts an impressive following — more than 60,000 on Instagram alone — with her stylish, affordable approach to making a house a home. Her biggest project to date was turning a run-down 1878 Victorian in Cranston into a polished but comfortable living space for herself and her husband, Justin, and their kids Jyren, Nia, Cayden, and Kyle (not to mention Gracie-Gray, the family’s Maine Coon).

Alves writes about this multiyear labor of love in the new March/April issue of Yankee, in the feature article “How to Love a House.” But as her online audience already knows, she has since moved on to the next challenge, a fixer-upper 1945 Colonial dubbed the Hosta House.

Here, we catch up with the founder of the popular Made by Carli blog for an inside look at her (very busy) life.

As Carli Alves writes on her blog: “One of my favorite sayings is ‘Necessity is the mother of all invention,’ and is definitely the starting point for most of my projects.”
Photo Credit : Courtesy of Carli Alves

Q&A with Carli Alves

You rehab houses, you decorate, you craft, you blog, you cook… that’s a lot of irons in the fire! When people ask what you do, what’s your answer?

I typically describe myself as a DIY content creator. I used to say I was a blogger, but then I’d often see a confused look on people’s faces, and when I’d try to explain they’d only get more confused. Really, I prefer to say I’m a creative. I feel extremely fortunate to be able to use my blog as a creative outlet and a source of income, but the days when I’m able to let my spirit lead me — whether it’s into building, crafting, or grilling (LOL) — are the days I enjoy most.

Have you always had an eye for seeing how colors and textures and shapes can work together, and for seeing ways to give old things new life?

I like to think it’s something I’ve had all along, because I see the same skills in my children. However, I don’t think I realized until recently — within the past 10 years — that I had “talent.” My friends would call me talented and it felt weird to me, to call it a talent. I never really spent time trying to develop it the way you would playing an instrument or succeeding at a sport; however, more recently I’ve been trying to fine-tune my skills by studying designers I admire, like Amber Lewis of Amber Interiors and Heidi Caillier. But when it comes to building and crafting, I learn best through experience and trial and error.

A view into the dining room of the 1878 Victorian after Carli completed its rehab and makeover, blending historical details with a clean, modern aesthetic.
Photo Credit : Carli Alves

Congrats on your blog’s 10-year anniversary in 2020! If you could go back in time and give some key advice to yourself, what would it be? In 2010, I had no idea that this blog would eventually become my job. If I had known that it was even a possibility, I would tell myself to go harder, be more consistent, stay authentic, and not to be discouraged. There will always be people with more money, more talent, bigger houses, and maybe even better or more outgoing personalities, but there’s only one you — and you are enough.

Your first house major renovation was a Victorian, and now you’re working on a 1945 Colonial. What new challenges are you encountering? One of the biggest is that we moved in right away, as opposed to spending some time working on the house first, as we did with the Victorian. Having the opportunity to do that gave us a lot more motivation to get things done so that we could move in. Living in this new space (with a large family at that!) while trying to work on projects is really difficult, but we are making the best of it. Another unforeseen challenge is that because of Covid, products and supplies are not readily available right now; plus, we have to be very careful about having professionals in. This renovation has been a whole lot slower.

Left: This Victorian home in Cranston, Rhode Island, had sat empty for a number of years before Carli and her family bought it. Right: The same house, post-transformation.
Photo Credit : Carli Alves

Speaking of Covid, the pandemic has made a lot of people focus more on their homes. Has it changed the way you think about creating living spaces?

I definitely feel I am looking at design very differently than I would have before. For instance, we purchased a cream-colored sofa last December — had I known how much use this sofa would get over the year, I probably would have reconsidered! I feel as though I prioritized form a little more than function when it came to furnishings before the pandemic; now, I think I have a much better appreciation for furnishings that provide more of a balance between the two.

Aside from brightening up her own home, Carli has put her talents to use on community projects like this one, a makeover of affordable-housing units at the nonprofit Amos House in Providence.
Photo Credit : Carli Alves

People may not realize that interior design can be a vital part of nonprofit projects. Can you talk a little bit about how you’ve used your talents in that area?

I’ve had the pleasure of working with several fellow home decor bloggers in an initiative called Bloggers Heart Habitat, spearheaded by my friend Charlotte Smith, who writes the blog At Charlotte’s House. It’s an amazing project in which local bloggers come together and turn a newly built or renovated Habitat for Humanity house into a home for deserving families. We seek out brand sponsorships and use budget-friendly methods to create beautiful and welcoming spaces, helping the families get off to the right start. It’s a really great way to give back. In 2018, we implemented the same idea at Amos House, which is a social service agency, homeless shelter, and Rhode Island’s largest soup kitchen, located in Providence. There, we worked our magic on a four-unit home for the nonprofit’s family reunification program.

Having a knack for doing things on a budget means you must have had some great “scores” along the way. What is your favorite crazy-inexpensive find?

One of my best scores was the mantel that framed the electric fireplace/built-in wall in the living room of the Victorian. It was a FREE Craigslist find! And it was a perfect addition to that space.

Additional views of the Cranston Victorian (including, at right, the living room with its free Craigslist fireplace) show why it was hard for Carli and her family to say good-bye to it, and move on to the next fixer-upper.
Photo Credit : Carli Alves

What are some of your favorite places to go and things to do in your home state (when life gets back to normal again)?

We are generally city people, so we spend a lot of time in Providence, which is such a creative and vibrant city with so much to offer. We enjoy going to concerts and festivals like PVD Fest, Pronk, and Waterfire downtown. We love spending time at India Point and Roger Williams Park. When we want a break from it all and don’t want to brave the crowds at the beaches in South County, we head to beautiful Goddard Park to enjoy the beach.

So what’s on the horizon for you in 2021? Any big plans?
As if 2020 wasn’t a complete disaster already, we decided to pack up our family of six and move during it. Finishing the Victorian renovation, then going through the selling process, and then moving — it was exhausting. For 2021, I’m looking forward to making Hosta House a home before the spring, getting our family comfortable and settled, and then hopefully enjoying some beach time come summer!

To see more of Carli Alves’s work, go to