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Creative Fox Valley residents treat their homes as a canvas

The Mischler home was built by Tom Mischler, Rick Forster (Allison’s brother), and Con Forster (Allison’s father). All the murals in the Mischler house were hand-painted by Tom.

A home’s beauty comes not from the amount of money put into it, but in the soul that is infused by its occupants. Residents of the Fox Cities have an incredible amount of creative energy, and many channel that individual creativity into their homes. There are as many ways to do this as there are people in the Valley.

But first, it is important to understand why personalization in the home can be beneficial. 

“Interior personalization can be a great way to boost creativity, create calm spaces, and even enhance your life,” says Oshkosh resident Rose Hardee. Hardee has turned an apartment in an old bank building into a cozy bohemian haven for herself and her dog Virginia. Her style is warm and boho-minimalist, and her nods to music, books and art give off a very refined feel without being stuffy. Hardee says she is drawn to “plants, wood, metal and earthy tones” as well as “a mix of modern and vintage.” 

Warm neutrals allow the old architecture in Hardee’s apartment to shine.

Hardee continues, “On a deeper level, I believe [interior design] is a healthy exercise in control. We can’t control a lot of factors outside the home, but inside we can create spaces exactly the way we want.” This is especially true during a worldwide pandemic. “It’s important now more than ever to explore customizing our homes so the end result can give us a little reprieve from the stresses of the world,” Hardee says.

Welhouse’s favorite places to shop for home goods include Etsy, eBay, her sisters’ basements and her mother’s barn and shed.

The first step to successful home decor is knowing what you like. Appleton resident Kathleen Welhouse’s specialty is découpaging with wallpaper pieces that she cuts out and rearranges into new designs. To determine what interior design styles you like, Welhouse recommends to “keep a notebook, tear out pictures from magazines, read decorating books, write about things you see that you like, and don’t try to do everything at once.” In addition to being an excellent 2D florist, Welhouse has a great eye for vintage furniture and other home items that have had a past life before coming home with her. She has a natural affinity for mixing colors and patterns and can envision what will look good in a space before she does it. She calls her style “obsessive complectic,” a mash-up of obsessive compulsive and eclectic.

Decor magazines and Pinterest are great sources for discovering your desired style, but it is important to stay true to yourself as you collect ideas. Hardee suggests “staying away from current interior design trends. They may look gorgeous in pictures, but if the trends do not fit your personality or lifestyle, it’s going to feel cold and unfamiliar.” 

Kaukauna residents Tom and Allison Mischler (the author’s parents) learned by experience not to blindly follow the trends. Today their home features huge wildlife murals hand-painted by Tom, but it wasn’t always like this. They admit to making design mistakes along the way. “We stenciled all the way around the living room,” Tom says. Allison adds “We had little rabbits in teal and brown,” before breaking into laughter. 

The Mischler home has come a long way since then. The couple allows the paintings to be the obvious star of the home, filling around them with rustic furniture and functional yet beautiful brick and wood. Allison, a self-professed minimalist, says “Don’t buy a lot of stuff. Take time to look for the perfect pieces to decorate – don’t rush and keep it simple.”

Welhouse takes the opposite approach, proving that there is no wrong answer so long as the result is a beloved home. 

I’ve collected a lot of things I love during my life, and it makes me feel happy, peaceful and comfortable to find ways to display my collections,” she says. “I’m pretty sure I’m thinking, even in my sleep, of what I’m going to do next to add to my home ‘art installation.’” 

Welhouse has a clear love of patterns, florals, nature and soft colors, all of which are used repeatedly to unite the home’s style.

No surface is safe from Welhouse’s decoupage.

Arbitrary interior design “rules” are much less important than how a home feels to the people who live there, which can take time to figure out. When Hardee decides she has outgrown something in her apartment, she sells it and uses the money to buy something that feels better to her. Likewise, Welhouse painted her bedroom four times before discovering the shade she needed by mixing other paints together. And the Mischlers’ stenciled bunnies, despite being “cool” at the time, were ill-fitting for them almost as soon as they happened. “We always did what we wanted and then changed it when we were ready for something new,” Allison says. “Homes should evolve to meet the needs of who’s living there.” 

Nods to art and music solidify Hardee’s Bohemian connection.

One thing that all three homes show is that anyone with determination can achieve eye-catching interior design. More important than money or formal education is enthusiasm, patience and a certain level of bravery. As each old idea is replaced with a better one, the design as a whole gets stronger and the amateur designer gets more confident. 

And when the inevitable missteps happen (whether figurative or literal), just take it with a dose of humor like Welhouse does. “I stepped in a full can of paint once. Does that count?” she says. 

It is all part of the artist’s journey. 

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