In a brightly-lit living room in a house near Baw Beese Lake, four children are running around. Their mother Jennifer Lutz, wife of Hillsdale’s Director of Health Services Brock Lutz, sits calmly in her upholstered chair with her apron on.
“If I’m standing in my home, it’s at the kitchen sink,” she says. “That’s it.”
Just a year ago, Lutz started a now-burgeoning lifestyle blog on home decor and hospitality, called “Jennifer Lutz at Home.” But before she blogged, she was just a mom and a marketing guru — and a Hillsdale grad.
“It was a cart-before-the-horse sort of situation,” Lutz explained. “I was an ambassador for a Christmas tree company, and I started following bloggers because of that. They trained me to be an ambassador.”
Lutz, who graduated from Hillsdale College in 1998, has been working in marketing ever since she was a student. After graduating and marrying fellow Hillsdale graduate Brock Lutz, she began staging and photographing Christmas trees in her home, producing photographs which several major publications bought and used to sell products. When she had her first son in 2006, and he was quickly followed by three other children, Lutz decided to take a break.
But in 2011, Brock and Jennifer Lutz moved back to Hillsdale, and Tree Classics, another Christmas tree brand, reached out to Jennifer Lutz to be its brand ambassador. Lutz said yes, and still produces content for the Tree Classics blog today.
“They would send me products, and I would stage products and write my own human, real-life views on them. So from that, I learned how to navigate the blog world. By the time I started my own blog, I was not entry-level,” she added, laughing.
Blogging for Tree Classics pulled her into the blogging world, Lutz said, because she began to read other blogs.
“I was learning,” Lutz said. “I’m watching people who were DIY-ing their homes, and my skills were vastly improving. I’ve always liked design and had a bit of an eye for it, but I really got much better and I’m still improving by seeing what other people are doing, and learning from other people.”
About two years ago, photographer Rachel Cuthbert moved to Hillsdale when her husband took a job at College Baptist Church, where Lutz and Cuthbert met and became friends. When Lutz started her blog, she hired Cuthbert on to help photograph her work.
“It’s been really fun,” Cuthbert said. “Obviously we’re good friends, we both have a lot of the same interests in hospitality, decor, food. We’re also both pretty busy moms trying to do a little bit of this on the side. But we make it work at odd times, odd places.”
What resulted is a blog about home. From interior design tips and renovation projects to conversations about hospitality and generosity, Lutz’s front page says it all: Home is a place “where friends become family.”
And she’s made both in the process: Lutz said she believes there’s a definite blogging community online, but shared that some of her in-person friends in the Hillsdale community read the blog too.
But “the cream rises to the top,” she said, particularly the bloggers who treat their websites like a business. Though she’s still taking things one step at a time, putting her kids and her family first, Lutz said she strives for excellence. Cuthbert said this looks like something different every time they get together.
“Probably my favorite project — well, it’s Jenn, so it’s always fun — but my favorites are when she does these holiday hospitality posts,” Cuthbert said. “She did one for Saint Patrick’s Day and one for Easter, where she makes a meal. That’s double fun, because we get to shoot and then we get to eat.”
Lutz’s oldest son Sam, 13, called this his favorite part too.
“That’s the nice part,” Sam said. “It’s kind of annoying when we have to wait for like three hours and all the scones get stale, but that’s the nice part of it, all the stuff we get to eat.”
Though his mom’s blog has changed some things in the Lutz household — Sam said he now prefers fake Christmas trees, and is “creeped out” when he sees pictures of himself on his mom’s blog — he said it mostly feels “pretty normal.”
“Obviously when she has a photoshoot, like two hours beforehand she makes us clean everything,” Sam said. “But it’s not like we totally flip over the living room. We don’t have to do a ton of extra stuff for a photoshoot. It’s pretty clean in general.”
Getting ready for a blog shoot isn’t complete without Lutz’s “special sauce,” her mother. Gramma helps a lot with the behind-the-scenes stuff, Sam explained.
“It’s true,” Lutz agreed. “She’s my finisher. I’ve found it’s really helpful to have a handful of people — my mom, Mary Katherine — just to help make things look good before Rachel comes in to photograph. And I definitely employ my kids for that, too. But often I feed them, so it works out.”
Especially germane to Lutz’s interests, as a former wedding planner, is entertaining, as well as creating memories and passing on traditions.
“I have four children, I work part time, but I work out of my home,” Lutz said. “So for me, home is about creating a place where my family wants to be, but that is welcoming to other people. A place where I can entertain and love people and serve.”
The blog’s audience is mostly married women with kids, but Lutz added that through the work her husband does for the college at the Health and Wellness Center, and their joint mission in the local community, college students are naturally a part of the equation too. A few 20-something women read Jennifer Lutz at Home, she said, as a way to look to women who are older than them for advice.
The blog is more than mere home renovations and recipes, however, though Lutz does have a wealth of those. It’s also about Christian hospitality.
“My faith is important to me,” Lutz said. “It’s a central part of my life. It’s why I take what I write about so seriously, because I think home-building is so important. I like enjoying and creating beauty in our everyday world, but that is not the end to which I’m doing these things.”
Lutz says she wants to write with “eternal things in perspective” and with an authentic voice.
“If I was only design, or something just external, it wouldn’t be me,” Lutz said. “And then I don’t think people would like it. So I figure I’m probably not for everybody. Some people will appreciate it, and some people won’t.”
Though her blog has connected her with several new interior design clients, Lutz says she’s not ready to monetize the website — not yet. For now, she seeks to inspire other home-builders, without focusing too tightly on herself, or the home decor elements themselves.
“What I’m not wanting this to be is, ‘Oh, look how amazing my life is. I’m so great,’” Lutz said. “You know, putting myself on a pedicel and making other people feel cruddy about who they are. That’s been a balance I’m really trying to work hard at. I don’t want other people to feel bad about their stuff because of things I’m talking about. It’s fun to inspire, but there’s a fine line.”