Kate Riley spends most of her day in sweats and flip flops, with paint in her hair, running into hardware stores to grab something before she has to pick her kids up from school.
In Petaluma, nobody judges.
“I was in a store the other day. I was a total mess. In a hurry… distracted. And this nice lady recognizes me and says, ‘Oh, I follow you. I love your blog.’ And I’m thinking oh, great…” Riley says, grinning.
Riley is the creator of Centsational Girl blog where she gives readers step-by-step instructions for home repair and decorating projects. But this is no run-of-the mill blog. Riley gets around 50,000 visitors a day and generates revenue, along with non-stop invitations from television and radio shows.
A former assistant district attorney, Riley left the law to raise her family. And somewhere between the power suits and being a stay-at-home mom, she tapped into her inner design diva.
Riley likes casual but sophisticated, elegant, not glitzy, light and bright, livable without any hint of frumpy. She gravitates toward dark natural woods paired with crisp cottons and linens. She never met a sad old piece of furniture she couldn’t spark back to life in new paint “clothes.”
“I was always one of those people who loved home improvement but I had never seen a blog, didn’t know how they worked,” she recalled.
So one day while the baby was down for a nap she looked at one blog and had the same idea everyone always has when reading blogs: I could do that.
Only instead of lying down until the impulse went away, Riley spent a solid week studying blogs. She made notes on what spoke to her, what layouts and colors drew her in and how content could be organized.
“I think that’s where my legal training really helped me. Lawyers organize, write well, think clearly, have confidence and thick skins,” she said.
What started as a fun thing to do while she was raising her stepdaughter and eventually two babies, developed into an effort to create a charitable foundation that will link stylish and affordable home improvement projects to families that need help via nonprofit partnerships.
serves homeless people in Sonoma County helping them find housing and develop life and work skills to attain steady incomes and independence.
“When people are rebuilding their lives it’s first things first. They need a safe, dry place to sleep, for example. But in transforming the environment you can transform lives,” said COTS Executive Director . “Good design has the overall effect of shifting the way people see themselves. I’m very grateful to Kate for being a part of this effort.”
"If you've had a hard life you might not know how to create a nice home environment. Somebody with Kate's skills can show you. That's empowerment." said Records.
The COTS project took a few thousand dollars and stretched them a long, long way. It also helped Riley sharpen her vision of harnessing DIY energy to help others.
“I love Martha Stewart, but I don’t want to be or replace Martha Stewart. I want to be who I am, Kate Riley. Martha and I have a completely different vision. I see my future as using my talents, combined with sponsors from home improvement chains, to help regular people improve their lives,” she said.
Riley is growing her dream in the Wine Country where she is inspired by a wide range of city to country motifs including one of her favorites – bringing outdoor colors and textures from nature indoors.
For those considering starting a blog, she has this bit of advice: “Never start a blog to make money. You’ll burn out. I was so honored when Home Depot invited me to design for their veterans project. And we loved helping local women trying to get back on their feet. Within three years, I know that’s what we will be doing full time. That’s what we’ve been dreaming about from the very start,” she said.