Melissa Coleman already had her hands full with her popular blog, the Faux Martha, when she relocated from Connecticut to Minnesota with her husband, Kevin, and their daughter, Hallie. Building a custom 1,800-square-foot house wasn’t her intention, but when an e-mail mishap revealed that the family’s broker, Mike Smith, had a lot for sale in the Seward neighborhood, the wheels started turning.
“I was ready to do this sight unseen. My husband was not. He’s the logical one,” Coleman said. “It took convincing for him.”
The lot was a teardown of a house that once had been a hub of shady activity, but the location was a short commute to Kevin’s new job at Children’s Hospital of St. Paul and within walking distance to a food co-op, which Coleman liked. Smith, co-owner of Forage Modern Workshop and Hi-Lo Diner, also co-owns Brownsmith Restoration, and was willing to make the Colemans’ project the company’s first home build.
In April 2014, a six-month design process began. It was the couple’s first home, and they weren’t entirely sure what they needed. Smith guided them through the process, with Kevin weighing in on the layout, Coleman on the design.
The home, now known to Coleman’s fans as “the Faux House,” came to fruition in 2015. Because the goal was to build a quality structure while staying within budget, the completed three-bedroom home featured lots of windows, clean lines, flat white paint and hardwood floors throughout – but it was essentially a blank slate. Coleman has spent the past 2½ years adding character and comfort, as the family’s bank account allowed.
“Minimal design — not necessarily modern — with cozy accents,” is how Coleman, 32, described her forever home, while Hallie, age 4, buzzed about energetically in a blue sparkly princess dress.
Coleman used her considerable fan base and social media clout (110,000 Instagram followers) to pitch partnerships to home goods brands like Rejuvenation and Wayfair. Those partnerships helped furnish the house, from the master bath vanity to the antique artwork on the walls to the light fixtures. In return for the products, Coleman blogged about or Instagrammed them.
Now her blog is run from her main-level office, a room with two side-by-side Ikea desks, leather schoolhouse chairs and an Army green wall, all enclosed by glass doors, which lets in natural light in and allows easy access to the kitchen — aka her other office.
The kitchen is fit for a queen. Countertops are black opalescent granite, while the pine island boasts a marble top. The custom cupboards have finger notches rather than handles. Coleman says the Italian-made 36-inch Verona range was a budget choice at $3,000. It’s the family’s workhorse, as they decided against having a microwave. (After surviving a year in an efficiency apartment without one, it just didn’t feel essential.)
A structure that serves as a pantry on the kitchen side but acts as a shiplap divider wall on the dining-room side is the envy of organized cooks everywhere. It was also a feature that Smith — who dislikes open concepts — had to advocate for. “The experience in a dining room that is visible from the kitchen is a diminished experience if you can see all your pots and pans and spaghetti splatter,” he said. “I kept coming back and saying, ‘No, you do want it. You just don’t know you want it.’ ”
Coleman keeps her food-styling tools in the dining room in an Ikea “fauxdenza,” a piece upgraded with semi-handmade doors and topped with a piece of remnant marble purchased off Craigslist. A chalkboard hangs on the wall, and metal patio chairs surround the table. A potted fiddle-leaf fig adds a touch of nature, a farmhouse painting by Coleman titled “Two Weeks Without Internet” contributes a pop of color, and Hygge & West wallpaper adds subtle flair.
In the living room, stacks of real firewood evoke warmth, though the home’s fireplace is gas. A gray tufted Atwood sofa and a camel leather sofa (another Craigslist find) offer seating.
The mudroom in the back of the home isn’t quite big enough, as evidenced by the number of shoes and boots spilling from beneath a floating bench. The too-tiny mudroom is the only area where Coleman admits a design flub.
Coleman believes “a design solution can solve every problem,” and the mudroom wall is one example of this. Previously white, the wall was riddled with scuffs, so Coleman hung removable wallpaper tiles in a pewter-hued pattern. In the adjacent half-bath, she solved the problem of low light with black paint, which enhances the darkness of the space rather than fighting it. Coleman also imbued that bathroom’s plain mirror with rustic charm by framing it with Stikwood.
An open stairway with an iron railing leads to the second floor, which houses three bedrooms, a full bathroom for Hallie, a 3/4 master bathroom and a laundry room. Most notable about the bedrooms are the massive walk-in closets, wide enough to accommodate dressers.
“We live in fairly clean, tidy rooms,” Coleman said. “Our closets are our spaces to have a contained mess.”
The master bedroom features a walnut platform bed draped in heather gray and white linens flanked by white nightstands. A floor-length mirror leans against the wall, and an Ikea chair holds an inexpensive throw pillow and a faux Faribault blanket. The master bedroom overlooks the backyard patio and pizza oven.
The master bath has a vintage and masculine vibe and is split into two sections by a shiplap divider wall. “It helps bring consistency in design,” Coleman said of the repetition of materials. “People think, just like recipes, that they need to reimagine everything. If you want it to be cohesive, that’s actually counterproductive.”
On one side of the wall is a double walnut vanity with a marble countertop and French antique crystal pulls beneath a pair of black metal-framed mirrors. On the opposite side of the wall is another piece of Coleman’s original artwork (a bobby pin and a comb illustration) along with an open subway tile shower. Brush gold fixtures are used throughout.
Hallie’s bedroom is decorated with a handmade wired word wall hanging that spells out P-L-A-Y, as well as a tepee reading nook.
Hallie’s bathroom is where Coleman reveals more of her design cheats. The robin’s egg blue vanity is custom made by Berhausen Designs but Coleman topped it with an Ikea sink. “I always pair a low with a high, and it almost always elevates the low to where it’s unnoticeable,” she said.
Because of Coleman’s massive following, the home’s design plan has been made available for sale through Brownsmith Restoration. Her cookbook, “The Minimalist Kitchen,” forthcoming from Time Inc. Books, also shows readers how to declutter the kitchen, reorganize the pantry, and make tasty meals. (The book, to be published in April, can be preordered at Amazon.com.)
If the idea of a stranger wanting to imitate Coleman’s domestic life seems odd, consider that every nook and cranny of the Faux House has already been photographed, blogged about and detailed online, right down to the folded toilet paper in the master bathroom. Does this lack of privacy concern Coleman? In a word: yes.
“I want to take it all back,” she said bluntly when asked about her online presence. “I do. I feel like the internet has gotten too big for me. And everybody has an opinion, and I don’t want my life to be someone’s opinion. I love the aspect that I can help people design, but I don’t love the aspect of people feeling the need to have an opinion on my space. It’s just too personal. I’m actually really struggling with that right now.”
Fruitful as the Faux Martha blog has been for Coleman — not only did it help put the finishing touches on the house, it is now her full-time job — her life isn’t as picture-perfect as it might appear onscreen. Coleman knows life isn’t curated — it’s messy. Presumably her fans know this, too, but they don’t want to see the mess. “It’s a really tough thing,” Coleman said. “What people want from me is the highly curated thing. But what they also want is to know that I’m human.”
Erica Rivera is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer.