The best home renovation show isn’t on HGTV, it’s on YouTube

Flip through cable TV at any given moment, and you’re likely to find a number of home renovation shows on. Thanks to the seemingly endless supply of home improvement spinoffs and Fixer Upper reruns, it feels like there’s always a wall worthy of getting knocked down or a kitchen deserving of a facelift.

But the best home renovation show isn’t on HGTV, it’s on YouTube. 

On a hill in a small town in Nova Scotia sits a modestly sized 3-bedroom farmhouse that was built over 100 years ago. There’s an old red barn on the property and a large tree that stands tall next to the house. The whole scene looks like it was dreamed up by city-dwelling millennial, longing for a simpler life after watching an episode of House Hunters Renovation.

The before shot on the kitchen renovation.

The before shot on the kitchen renovation.

Image: Hannah Cook and Elliot Wajchendle

The after shot on the kitchen renovation.

The after shot on the kitchen renovation.

Image: Hannah Cook and Elliot Wajchendler 

For the past three years, Hannah Cook and Elliot Wajchendler have been peeling horsehair plaster off the walls and ripping down ceilings to expose the home’s charming details, like an old brick fireplace and hand-hewn beams. Unlike the most popular shows on TV, there’s no script or pretend house-buying bit, no camera crew or reno team working behind the hosts who barely know how to hold a hammer. Just Hannah and Elliot figuring things out as they go — with occasional appearances from their dog, Wally, and three cats Boo Boo, Edgar, and Phoebe.

For the past 3 years, the couple have been documenting their home makeover with aesthetically pleasing videos on YouTube channel Wabi Sab – E to their modest audience of 153,000 subscribers. But Hannah, who works for the Canadian government, and Elliot, who’s full-time job is now working on the house and turning that work into content, happened into the whole thing by accident.

“It was a complete surprise,” Elliot told me in a phone interview with Hannah. Late one evening the couple decided to see what lay beneath their living room’s outdated carpet, where of course they discovered the farmhouse’s original wide-plank hardwood floors. 

“It was my first video I ever made, really. First time using a camera. First renovation,” Elliot explained. He later submitted the short $300 living room makeover video to Reddit’s r/videos, and the couple says they racked up over 800 subscribers in a night. Now with 19 home renovation episodes under their belt, they have a loyal audience that’s anxious to feast their eyes on the next project. 

And that’s not exactly surprising to hear if you’ve watched any of the clips on their channels. From the pleasing-to-watch paint timelapses backed with exceptionally catchy music mashups, to the odd closeup shots of wood getting sawed, the videos on Wabi Sab – E are edited in a way that is smooth but still real — and they’re also incredibly entertaining to watch. 

But when it comes down to it, the couple doesn’t really know what they’re doing.

But when it comes down to it, the couple doesn’t really know what they’re doing.

Most of the projects tackled in the renovation were learned by watching countless YouTube videos, including videos on how to edit the videos. Though Elliot did study architecture, the knowledge needed for renovating the old farmhouse comes from the same community that is consuming the videos they’re creating — making them part of some DIY home renovation ecosystem.  

“I’ve always been like, handy and crafty. And I, like have a sense of how things are put together, but through the renovation, that’s all learned through trial and error and off YouTube,” Elliot said.

“YouTube is your best friend. Any path is not too difficult. You just need to find the right person to teach you, which is often on YouTube,” he added.

After getting a quote back of $3,000 to install plumbing for a toilet in their laundry room, Elliot taught himself. “I learned electrical for the kitchen, how much harder could plumbing be?” Elliot says in episode 17 of the show. “Worst comes to worst, if I fail in plumbing we have a little poop. Worst comes to worst, if I fail in electrical, I burn the house down, and it worked out fine.”

A before and after shot of the laundry room.

A before and after shot of the laundry room.

Image: HANNAH COOK AND ELLIOT WAJCHENDLER

But the beauty in the imperfections — the old abused and exposed wood beams in the kitchen ceiling, a piece of floor rot filled in with scrap wood found on the property  — that’s where the channel name “Wabi Sab – E” comes from, a play on the ancient Japanese philosophy wabi-sabi.

“Wabi-sabi almost like … that imperfection is beautiful. That chip off that corner is unique. [There’s] nothing like that in the world, and it makes it that much more interesting,” Elliot said. 

Like most home reno shows involving couples, watching the two is extremely endearing. The videos often contain relatable real-world frustrations. In episode 4, Hannah gets annoyed at Elliot because there’s no door on their home’s only bathroom. “Stop laughing, if you want help with the rest of it,” Hannah quips in another episode as she attempts to screw an odd piece of drywall into a wall. Elliot’s behind the camera and you can see she’s visibly annoyed with him.

Then there’s the pajamas.

Hannah and Elliot and in their signature PJs.

Hannah and Elliot and in their signature PJs.

Image: HANNAH COOK AND ELLIOT WAJCHENDLER

While most reno shows probably have at least some hair and makeup prep, Hannah and Elliot appear on their channel mostly in their pajamas, which has become somewhat beloved among fans of the show. It’s also, probably a pretty accurate attire for a couple renovating the home they’re currently living in. 

In our phone call, Elliot he pointed out that even in the first video they filmed — because it was done in the middle of the night — that they’re wearing their PJs. Now it’s become sort of a thing.

When asked if Hannah and Elliot consider themselves influencers, I was surprised at their response.

“Oh, yeah, 100 percent.” Elliot said. 

“People keep telling us that they are looking and bought their own farm house to renovate,” Hannah chimed in. “People contact us and say that we give them self-motivation to keep going with their own home renos.”

A photo of a bedroom before it was renovated.

A photo of a bedroom before it was renovated.

Image: Hannah Cook and Elliot Wajchendler 

An after shot, featuring original wide-plank hardwood floors.

An after shot, featuring original wide-plank hardwood floors.

Image: Hannah Cook and Elliot Wajchendler 

“I also hear a lot that we show people that there’s potential in a lot of reclaimed materials — with beauty and the character that’s hidden underneath all this grime and dirt is absolutely, like priceless. And everything holds a story which makes it way more significant and interesting,” Elliot said. 

When you think of an influencer most people will probably think of someone pushing shakes or CBD on Instagram. But inspiring someone to make a life-changing purchase — like buying an old beaten down farmhouse to restore — is an influence that will have a lasting effect for generations to come.

Even if the dream of owning a home seem like an impossible life achievement, watching Hannah and Elliot make something new for themselves from something old is a comforting and entertaining watch. 

You can follow their progress on YouTube and on Instagram

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