Aaron Olson Featured on Cover of The New York Times Home and Garden Section

Aaron and Jeanne Marie Olson, Photo by Nathan Kirkman for The New York Times

CHICAGO, IL (January 16, 2007) – Aaron and Jeanne Marie Olson just wanted to renovate their home. They never intended to become celebrities.

In the last year, however, Aaron C’96 and Jeanne have been featured in numerous national publications, most recently The New York Times Home & Garden section.

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

Their national exposure, including a large photo to accompany the NYT piece (pictured here), has led the two to be recognized in public.

The attention first began when the couple started the House in Progress websitewww.houseinprogress.net 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 site, which led the Olsons to develop HouseBlogs.net. The second site boasts nearly 1,200 members and features more than 500 fellow bloggers.

Last year, Money magazine named HouseBlogs the best web site for guiding remodelers. "If you love watching Extreme Home Makeover but aren't sure you'd like to live it, get inspired at HouseBlogs.net," 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 site. 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’ web site 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 web sites. 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. '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 NYT article highlights a 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."

"And he got it," she said.