Photo courtesy of Mandi Johnson of Making Nice in the Midwest
Mandi Johnson makes it look easy. The 32-year-old Stark County native runs Making Nice in the Midwest, a blog where she chronicles home remodels, DIY projects and travels with her family. She’s also a frequent contributor to A Beautiful Mess, a popular lifestyle company founded by sisters Elsie Larson and Emma Chapman.
Johnson’s latest project is remodeling the Jackson Township home she and husband, Phil, purchased, and then gutted, last summer.
“We have two more rooms to finish before fall. Then we can take an extended break and enjoy the fruits of our labor,” she said, chatting to About on the phone while her daughters—Lucy and Juniper—played at the Plain Township splash park.
“The remodel is a ton of work, but I get to do that for my job and blog about it, so not only is it affording me the time to work on it and get materials, I have deadlines so I have to do it (on schedule),” she said.
“It’s like a perfect storm. It’s exhausting, but it’s also what I want to do, and it gives me the home I’d like to have.”
Johnson began blogging about eight years ago. She started by documenting her scrapbooking hobby—it’s how she began her friendship with Larson—mixed with writings about her life, including her fight with cancer, and other interests such as classic films, vintage fashion and various creative endeavors.
“At the time, I had a really small budget,” she said. “I was living paycheck to paycheck, trying to make it as a blogger.”
Then, A Beautiful Mess took off almost overnight. Larson turned to Johnson for help and hired her to create posts on a regular basis—mainly things such as making jewelry or building a footstool, Johnson said.
“Back in the day, I used to share a lot about life around Canton, things I did with my friends. That was a lot of fun,” she said.
About three or four years ago, Johnson approached Larson about doing a kitchen remodel and blogging the process. Larson agreed.
It was a success. The posts were popular and shared widely, including by Country Living Magazine and other outlets. It was a launchpad to Johnson taking on bigger projects, such as home renovations.
Because she documents the remodel online, Johnson has snagged sponsors for the project. She often receives items and materials, such as a couch or window treatments or paint, for free in exchange for reviewing the products in her posts.
Johnson relies on her background in interior design—she has a degree from the University of Akron—to map out her projects and shares those visuals with her audience.
“People say, ‘You have vision.’ No, I have Photoshop,” she laughed.
Johnson also uses social media, including Pinterest and Instagram, to gather inspiration and document her life. The family loves to travel, especially around Ohio, and are big fans of local ice cream joints.
“One of my goals with social media is to make people aware that Ohio is cool,” she said.
It’s that love for Ohio, combined with a low cost of living, that have kept the Johnsons here in Stark County when bigger cities and states beckon.
“It’s always home for me. I like to travel, but in the end, it just feels (like home),” she said. “You know when you travel, you look around and wonder what people think? I’ll never be able to look at it like that. It’s always been home for me.”
TIPS FOR DECORATING YOUR HOME:
1. When deciding how to allocate your home makeover funds, put the bulk of it toward timeless fixtures such as hardwood flooring or quality molding. Things such as lighting and paint colors are less permanent and can be relatively easily changed as trends come and go.
2. Don’t be afraid of mixing wood tones. Choosing the same type and tone of wood for doors, floors, trim and even countertops won’t give your home the kind of dynamic style that you’d get by using variety of wood tones.
3. If you love mixing different decor styles but want to keep your home feeling cohesive and balanced, it’s a good idea to keep your colors on the neutral side, bringing in a punch of color in limited applications. I have some daring elements in my home, such as a pink sink and a yellow sofa, but the other elements in those spaces are more subdued so it doesn’t feel like a funhouse. Just a fun house!
4. When deciding what room to renovate first, I always say—go big! Renovations tend to go over budget, so if you’re planning on renovating your kitchen eventually but decide to do another smaller room first, your kitchen renovation most likely will suffer. Previous projects will eat away at your budget as well as your energy and motivation. Instead, I say funnel that gumption and cash toward the project that will make the most impact in your home, and take your time getting around to the other smaller ones.
5. If you have a big renovation budget, it can be tempting to do everything at once. I personally have never done this because I like to take my time planning each space and changing my mind a few times before beginning work. If I had renovated most of our house before moving in, I know I would’ve regretted a lot of what I would’ve done. Living in the house for a while gave me the opportunity to figure out each room’s functionality and also the general style of our home. When you take your time renovating, you’re able to plan more thoughtfully and do more yourself without feeling up against a time frame that requires cutting corners or hiring help.
6. Don’t be afraid to do the work yourself. So many people tell me they wish they could do what I do, and I tell them they can. I started learning woodworking with some very simple projects and worked up my confidence to build massive shelving fixtures and cabinetry after only a couple of years. Sure, you’ll end up making mistakes, but you’ll learn a lot in the process and definitely save a lot of money. In our modern age of blogging and YouTube, there’s a tutorial for everything. You’re really only limited by what your body can physically do and what your mind sets forth to achieve. (Oh, and I suppose money. That too!)
7. You can save a lot of money by repurposing existing elements in your home as well as by purchasing used fixtures and building supplies. Kitchen cabinets can be reconfigured and refaced for a brand new feel, almost new appliances can be found on buy, sell, trade sites for a steal, and even materials such as drywall and lumber can be found at building auctions or through classifieds such as Craigslist. For some DIYers, half the fun is sourcing salvaged materials for a project.
8. If you’re not sure what kind of style you want for your home, websites and apps such as Pinterest and Instagram are full of inspiration. You can easily organize and catalog pictures of interiors that appeal to you, so that later when you browse through your findings, it’s easier to pinpoint elements and trends that you like enough to frequently save.