In 2007 Nicole Balch began blogging as a means of sharing new products she developed for her on-line stationery store. When she and her husband Brandon purchased a home in South Oak Park, she realized she had a wealth of new material and began chronicling the makeover of the home.
Interest in home remodeling and decorating quickly trumped interest in paper goods, and her blog took on a new life, rapidly becoming a popular home and lifestyle blog. The Balch family grew with the additions of a daughter, now five, and son, now three. With the changes, Nicole continued to showcase the evolution of both her design style and the family home. After spending six years in the house, the Balch family found a new place to call home in 2013, and Nicole has been sharing the makeover of that Victorian in Oak Park with readers around the world. Her fresh take on decorating a grand painted lady of a house, as well as decorating for a family, which recently added a new baby to the mix, keeps her readership growing.
Balch readily admits that she didn’t foresee where blogging would take her when she first began. “I had a stationery shop, and the advice at the time was that if you had a shop, you should have a blog. The early days were sort of boring because my posts related only to new products for the shop. When we bought our new house, I mentioned it in a shop newsletter and got an immediate response.”
With an interest in architecture and some experience doing handy work, Balch and her husband set out to fix up their first house. Photos and projects detailed on the blog allowed them to share their work with far flung family, but it didn’t take long for new readers to discover them. “It quickly became clear that more people were reading than just my mom and grandmother. While my stationery customers provided an early audience, people began reading who were interested in the house. I began updating the blog more frequently with our projects.”
Making it Lovely was named one of the 50 World’s Best Design Blogs by the London Times, and as Balch’s blog has changed from hobby to full-time job, she sees over 400,000 page views from over 125,000 unique visitors each month on the blog.
The Balches welcomed a daughter and then a son in their bungalow, and the blog encompassed not only the changes made to the home to accommodate two children, but also a bit of daily life. Posts on décor, fashion and family life, including Nicole’s monthly photos of her children, resonated with readers. While their first home suited their family, inspiration hit Nicole during the Wright Plus weekend in May 2013.
“It was the day of the Wright Plus walk, and I’d just spent the day touring these amazing houses, when I noticed an open house for a Victorian that was for sale. I walked through the home and loved it. I immediately went home and talked to Brandon about it. At first, we weren’t sure if we were ready for this kind of purchase, but we were able to make it work.”
The Balches moved into their new house in September 2013, and Nicole is quick to point out that the new house has quite a different feel than their first. “The other house had sort of a craftsman feel, but it was not a distinct style, so we could really do whatever we wanted there. This house is definitely a Victorian, and we needed to respect that.”
While blog posts in their first house included a library created from Ikea bookshelves on an upstairs landing, painting woodwork and finishing a basement, the style of the new house led to a bit of a style change for the blog as well. The ornate, unpainted woodwork is a part of the Victorian home’s charm that Balch would never consider painting. Pocket doors, stained glass and period light fixtures are elements that reflect the home’s past and made Balch fall in love with the house. Much of her design work in the new house has been decorating that meshes her love of the home’s history with her interest in more contemporary design. Balch sees this as a reflection of her growth as a designer.
“I was very into mid-century modern style with our first house. With this house, there is a natural progression of where I was going. It’s been a great fit.”
The new house offers a great deal more living space for the family, something that might come in handy now that family includes a new baby, born two months ago. While a third pregnancy might have slowed some people down, the Balches kept working on their new home, with Nicole documenting their updates for the blog.
The bulk of the work they’ve done has been literally behind the scenes, with updates to the home’s heating and electrical systems, but Nicole still found time for the design changes that her readers love. She painted the rear parlor black, and admits climbing up and down the ladder to reach the 10-foot ceilings was not an easy task while expecting, but loves the mood the color brings to the south-facing parlor. The Balches also added a wall of built-in library shelves in the front parlor, hiring a carpenter used by the home’s previous owners to achieve a look that matched the more than a century-old woodwork in the house.
“The kids are convinced that there are secret passages in this house because you can get to rooms from different entrances, so they love the house. We have places we can be together and places the kids can retreat to as they get older. Our move was personal and not motivated by the blog at all, but we love having a larger place with tons of potential projects.”