If you’re a fan of home improvements, budget-friendly decorating, and fun-loving, down-to-earth families, you’ve probably heard of Young House Love, the wildly popular blog in which John and Sherry Petersik track the creation of a stylish, comfortable Richmond home out of thrift-shop finds, craft supplies, and repurposed merchandise from the hardware store. The blog gets more than 180,000 hits a day, and their creative ideas have been featured in dozens of national publications – not to mention TV programs like “The Nate Berkus Show” and HGTV’s “Rate My Space.”
And just last year, the Petersiks published their first book, Young House Love: 243 Ways to Paint, Craft, Update & Show Your Home Some Love. Like the blog itself, the book contains expert tips on everything from optimal furniture arrangement to spiffing up an old bookshelf to replacing a dated light fixture.
“We DIY everything,” Sherry Petersik says, “even publicity. The blog, the photography, all of it is something we Learned as we went along.”
Unlike the multitude of followers and fans who keep up with the couple online, the Petersiks are a full-time DIY family. For this dexterous pair, the work-at-home designation applies in every sense of the term. Doing the work is one thing; recording and writing about it to keep the blog updated regularly is another. But the Petersiks’ favorite creations are their children: 3-year-old Clara and her little brother, whose birth is expected in the spring.
So how do they balance a home-design empire and a growing family?
“I think I’m kind of bad at balance,” Sherry says. “But Clara will get antsy if we aren’t getting out enough. She’s very social and draws us out more.”
Aside from the time they invest in it, Sherry says that their work is very physically demanding so they usually know when it’s time to take a break. And she says unwinding really isn’t that complicated.
“It’s a myth that you need a week in the Bahamas to recharge,” says Sherry. “It seems counterintuitive, but a nice long walk can actually be very relaxing for us.”
The whole Young House Love phenomenon started taking shape in 2007, when the Petersiks were new homeowners and engaged to be married. After making the decision to host their wedding in their own backyard, they launched a full DIY ceremony and reception, designing the invitations, centerpieces, and favors themselves. After the wedding, when they turned their creative attention to updating the home, they were excited to share their progress with family and friends.
“Instead of inundating their email with pictures,” Sherry says, “we started keeping sort of an online diary.”
They soon noticed that people from other states – even other countries – were reading and commenting on their projects. Before long, the Petersiks had a bona-fide following. Seven years later, they are in their third home together and still learning as they go.
Sherry says the timing of their start had a lot to do with their success.
“We started right after the crash of the housing market,” she says. “In 2006, everything was rosy, but when the economy started to dip, it allowed people to admit that things aren’t perfect, they aren’t rich, and maybe they’re struggling a bit. So handmade things became chic, and thrifting became mainstream.”
Alongside the no-sew curtains and the tiling tips, the Petersiks share tidbits about their life as a family, from Clara’s dramatic birth story to the antics of their chihuahua, Burger. With so much of their home life on display, Sherry says they have tried to strike a balance between their public presence and their private lives.
“We are pretty cautious about what we share,” says Sherry. “We make sure that the house number isn’t showing when we take a picture of the house, things like that. But you can only be guarded for so long, and if people want to figure out where we live or drive by the house, we can’t really stop them. The support we get is amazing, and we’ve never had a reason to regret being as open as we are.”
Anyway, Sherry says, if someone had a plan to break into the house, they’d soon be disappointed.
“I mean, my jewelry is from Old Navy,” she says, laughing, “and we only have one TV. If you’re looking to rob a place, you will not hit the mother lode here.”
That laid-back attitude is something Sherry says they’ve cultivated over time.
“With our first house,” she says, “it’s almost like we thought we had something to prove. You know, ‘We’re grownups! We have a house!’ So our style was what we thought was very sophisticated – all neutral colors, totally safe, nothing very gutsy. But when Clara came along, it was like a pop of color came in. We started to add some bright colors and get some bold artwork. The whole house got more fun and more relaxed.”
But they have resisted letting parenthood make things too relaxed. The images they share through Young House Love give DIY devotees a look at how things have played out over the years.
“We don’t have toys taking over the whole house,” Sherry says. “We rotate toys out instead of letting them pile up. If you put some things away for a couple of months, they’re like brand-new presents when you bring them back out.”
When it comes to design and décor, Sherry gathers ideas and inspiration on Pinterest, the social network where users create “pinboards” to showcase everything from favorite recipes to holiday wish lists. Pinterest is crowded with DIY construction projects, complicated crafts, and elaborate decorating plans, which makes it a perfect platform for the Young House Love message (Sherry has more than a million followers there). But, she says, she understands how it can leave some users feeling defeated.
“You have to remember that Pinterest is a highlight reel,” she says. “It’s not the complete picture. If you scroll through Pinterest and start to think, ‘Oh, everyone’s making this amazing breakfast and packing a perfect lunch and doing cute little crafts every day,’ that’s not going to be fun. That’s stressful.”
Instead, she says, it’s a good idea to focus on one or two projects that you’ve wanted to do for a while – and just dive in.
“Don’t be afraid to make mistakes,” she says. “You have to have a sense of humor about it, because there will be things that turn out weird or don’t turn out at all. That’s the stuff they don’t show on Pinterest.”
5 Pointers from the Woman Behind Young House Love
1. A padded storage ottoman can be your best friend for quick clean-ups. “Just cram everything in there,” Sherry says, “and you’re ready for company.”
2. For local thrifting fun, try Diversity Thrift (1407 Sherwood Avenue) or Love of Jesus Thrift Shop (5503 Midlothian Turnpike). And don’t forget Craigslist, which is always full of treasures.
3. For a quick, inexpensive room update, get some new curtains. “People always say paint, paint, paint for the biggest impact,” says Sherry, “but curtains really brighten a room and bring it together.” (She particularly loves Ikea’s Vivan curtains. “They’re the perfect weight, and only about $12 a pair.”)
4. Don’t leave your walls bare. “I think everyone is guilty of this,” Sherry says, “but don’t feel like you’re going to ruin a perfect wall if you put a nail in it. It’s just a hole. If you don’t like where it is, patch it, paint it, and try again.”
5. Get away for a while. If you need inspiration, or just some distance from a project to clear your head, take some time to wander around. The Fan, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, even Maymont can be great places to take in the scenery and let a great idea bubble up.