House Project Creates ‘Celebrity Status’ for Couple

Post a Comment » Written on January 17th, 2007     
Filed under: News
By Stan Friedman

CHICAGO, IL (January 17, 2007) – Aaron and Jeanne Marie Olson just wanted to renovate their home. They never intended to become celebrities.

In the last year, however, the two members of Cuyler Covenant Church in Chicago have been featured in numerous national publications, most recently in the Home & Garden section of the New York Times that mentioned several couples involved in renovation projects.

Aaron, a 1996 graduate of North Park University, is the son of Mark Olson, dean of enrollment and director of church relations for the university, and Doreen Olson, executive minister of the Department of Christian Formation for the Evangelical Covenant Church.

The attention first began when the couple started what they labeled as a House in Progress website to keep friends and family informed of how work was proceeding on the 1914 bungalow they purchased in 2003.

Gradually, people across the country found their way to the website, which led the Olsons to develop HouseBlogs. The second site boasts nearly 1,200 members and features more than 500 other bloggers.

Last year, Money magazine named HouseBlogs the best website for guiding remodelers. “If you love watching Extreme Home Makeover, but aren’t sure you’d like to live it, get inspired at,” the magazine wrote.

“This community can keep you motivated long after your offline friends think you’ve gone completely nuts,” Jeanne told the magazine.

The Washington Post, New York Times Magazine, Chicago Tribune and the San-Francisco Chronicle, among others, all have written about the website. In response to the Chronicle article, which placed home renovation in the context of cultural and literary trends, the couple mused on their blog, “It’s certainly flattering, but when you’ve spent a weekend pulling raccoon poop-saturated insulation out of an attic, it’s hard to imagine that you’re doing anything culturally significant.”

Humor is a characteristic – and perhaps a lifesaving necessity – of the Olsons’ website as well as those of other bloggers. The header for House in Progress reads, “We call it home IMPROVEMENT because it can’t get any worse.”

The self-effacing humor has been a major attraction, says Mark Olson, who notes that his son and daughter-in-law don’t portray themselves as experts on their websites. The two are experts at relating their everyday foibles, such as dealing with disagreements.

Jeanne writes, “We both have backgrounds in organizational psychology, so we use a lot of funny terminology when we disagree,” as in: “I can see that your preference for more information will delay the decision, and I guess I’m just feeling frustrated because I have a preference for closure.”

The following excerpt from the New York Times article highlights one learning experience for the couple.

Jeanne described the time when, pregnant with their daughter, Grace, now a year old, she was unable to put up the drywall herself. “It had to be contracted out, and I wanted it to be five-eighths-inch, to match the depth of the plaster,” said Ms. Olson, who is the technical one in this partnership, the one who takes apart the dishwasher and puts it back together, the one to whom the thickness of drywall is of utmost importance. “But the contractor thought I was nuts and kept going to Aaron. So that didn’t get negotiated into the final work, which made me very, very angry. I felt like the two boys had made the decision without understanding me. And for a long time after that, any decision we had to make I would get really defensive about.”

She has since dropped that bone, after explaining to her husband that she was still shaking off the effects of what she imagined to be condescension and collusion between him and the contractor.

“And he got it,” she said.

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