Emily Balsley takes her love of color very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that at the graphic designer’s wedding, her husband, Stephen, promised not only to stick by her for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, but to defer to her all future color-related domestic decisions.
Over 10 years later they are still happily married. And one visit to their color-infused home in the Dudgeon-Monroe neighborhood on the near west side will tell you that Stephen clearly made the right decision.
“I adore using color when it comes to my home’s interior, especially my favorite robin’s egg blue, complemented by red,” says Balsley, who is also an illustrator. But she’s clearly an equal opportunist when it comes to different hues, tints and shades. There is not a color in the rainbow that isn’t represented in the family’s charming 1,100-square-foot Craftsman-esque three-bedroom.
And in one bedroom in particular, that of the couple’s 8-year-old daughter, Stella, all the colors converge.
“Stella had always wanted a ‘rainbow room,’” Balsley says. “And while I wasn’t quite ready to paint the walls seven different colors, I tried to honor her request by using colorful vinyl streamers in place of a traditional wooden door to mark the entryway to her room.”
Being a color evangelist isn’t always easy for a homeowner, though. When Balsley moved into her house in the spring of 2011, she immediately knew that all the walls of the first floor would need to be repainted a cool, crisp white, even the wood trim. “It almost killed me to paint over the gorgeous stained oak woodwork, but I knew an all-white ‘canvas’ was going to be the best way to let color pop in the house in other unique ways,” she says.
But blues, pinks, reds and greens weren’t the only things on the designer’s mind when launching a nine-month home renovation that included opening up the home’s modest kitchen into the adjacent dining area. She wanted to incorporate as many recycled and reclaimed touches into the revitalized space as possible.
The family’s contractor, Trimcraft Builders, was key in helping locate the oak planks for the kitchen floor, now sanded and stained dark, from an old church. To back the breakfast bar (which separates the kitchen from the dining area), they recycled as well: “What could be more fun and funky than the wood from a bowling lane? Darts and all,” says Balsely. “Our bowling alley bar is probably Stephen’s favorite part of the house.
“It’s these kinds of eclectic choices that help us say, ‘We love this house.’ And we really do say it every day.”
“Informal and a little unconventional” is how Emily Balsley (left, with dog Chloe) describes her style. She opts for the handmade, the colorful and, of course, the fur-friendly.
How would you describe your personal decorating style?
I love vintage and am a huge fan of anything Mid-Century or Scandinavian-influenced. I guess you could also say I’m also kind of bohemian — you know, informal and a little unconventional, which draws me to things that are handmade.
I’ve tried my own hand at all sorts of projects, including the homemade pom-poms that trim our master bedroom curtains, the woven bathmat in our upstairs bathroom and the geometric quilt, my first, that I created for Stephen’s and my bed.
What was your favorite DIY moment?
I designed and hand-laid the mosaic tile on our entryway floor. I’d never done anything even remotely like that before, and people ask me all the time if it’s original to the house. That’s about the highest compliment someone could pay me.
How does being an artist influence what hangs on your walls?
It makes me happy to have artwork on display that is meaningful to our family. I like to showcase work by artist friends and am particularly fond of a pair of posters by one of my idols, Mid-Century illustrator Charley Harper, known for his work for the National Park Service, that hang in our staircase. Stella’s also a very prolific artist herself and we keep her “Andy Warthog” (as she likes to call him)-inspired Turkey Soup can painting on permanent display in the dining area.
What’s been your biggest home décor indulgence?
We really try to keep everything we do within a reasonable budget, but during the kitchen remodel I was dying for a statement sink. I love the porcelain Kohler apron model we ended up purchasing. I can’t say it was cheap, though.
What’s your favorite decorating tool?
Definitely spray paint. With one little can I’ve transformed an ordinary set of Ikea shelves into something original. I’ve taken a regular white Target floor lamp and made it my own with a can of bright pink paint. The living room chandelier, original to the house, became a lot funkier with a coat of red sprayed on. I can’t say it enough — spray paint is genius. There is no more cost-effective way to add some color to your home.
What’s the thing you would change about your house if you could?
I wouldn’t necessarily change anything, but I wouldn’t mind a little more space. Especially another community space. Someday it would be amazing to loft out the attic for a library or yoga space. I have my studio (the home’s third bedroom), but I know Stephen and Stella would love to have just one more escape for themselves.
What’s your favorite place to shop for home stuff?
In some ways I am totally mainstream. I definitely frequent places like Ikea and Target, but I always try to add my own touches to anything I buy that’s mass-produced. Locally, I love Century House; we treated ourselves to a living room couch from there. Those clean Scandinavian lines make me so happy. Our bowling lane and kitchen light fixtures are from Deconstruction Inc. on the east side; it’s a great supplier of architectural salvage and reclaimed building materials. I also love prints we’ve picked up from Hatch Art House on Willy Street and Zip-Dang on Monroe. The mosaic tile I used for our entryway was from Nan Bieneman at Tile Art — she has a great selection of beautiful stuff. I definitely don’t mind things that are pre-owned. The little sofa in my studio is from Odana Antiques. And I am a proud shopper of the neighborhood listserv, and I’ve found lots of covetable items left out on curbs.
As a graphic designer, what’s your best “professional” advice for someone starting a home makeover project?
Don’t hold back, especially when it comes to color. I know color can be really scary for some people, but I hate it when I hear of someone who is itching to go bold but just doesn’t feel brave enough. I say if you’re feeling inspired to have lime green kitchen chairs or a lemon yellow bedroom dresser, go for it. And if you hate it, change is only a spray paint can away.