Nicole seems like she has endless amounts of patience. Rooms full, actually! Nearly every corner of her home is adorned with art she has created with her four young daughters, yet none of it looks messy or hastily made. Rather, it looks intentional, harmonious, and made with care. There is a difference, isn’t there? Anyone who has attempted a handmade décor knows it’s definitely a trick to execute, and Nicole does it very well. You’ll see. I hope you enjoy the interview and the inspiration!
Q: Please tell us about the artists who live in this handmade home.
A: I am Nicole Shiffler, mother of four lovely little ladies: Caroline (6), Johanna (4), Ainsleigh (2), and Annabelle (2). My husband, Bobby, is one outnumbered man in a home where dolls and tutus can be found strewn across every room. I am a stay-at-home, blogging, homeschooling, want-to-be artist who knows very well the privilege of me-time. I absolutely love creating with my children and for my home. It is a stress-relieving, gratifying, incredible process to create. It is even more so when I can share it with my children.
Q: Tell us about your home and how it came to be yours. What’s the first feature you remember that made you gasp and know that this was the one?
A: We actually rent our home. Life just so happened that we sold our last home when we found out we were expecting twins, and began the hunt for a larger home. Once the twins did come, we ended up spending what would have been a down payment towards a house on NICU bills for two preemies. Thus, the rental hunt. We were so blessed to find a four bedroom home to rent (what are the odds of that?!) and have called it home ever since. I’ve worked hard to make every room uniquely ours without painting a single wall or renovating it in any way.
I first fell in love with the finished basement where I now sew while my children play. We’ve had play restaurants, marketplaces, a baby hospital, and the likes down there in their playroom. Truly a dream come true for all parties involved. We also have a yard, which is a first! My older girls have created an outdoor house in the trees behind our home, complete with boulder chairs and table.
If I could change something with our house it would definitely be to have hardwood floors in the dining room. Come on now, who puts carpet in the dining room? Definitely not home builders with toddler twins!
Q: How would you describe your style? Has it changed since you’ve added kids to the mix?
A: I’m still trying to put my finger on my style. I would say it is colorful, fresh, and eclectic at times and vintage, old, and purposefully meaningful at other times. I’ve definitely arrived at this style stage from having children. I see the beauty and unpredictable, unrestrained innocence of childhood in my children and want the walls of our home to reflect that.
The colorful and fresh side of my style comes mostly from my creations and my children’s creations, things that reflect us now and the life within us. The vintage and purposefully meaningful side of my style comes from my past and history that I want my children to grow up with: my Granny’s treasures and outdated fabric, my great aunt’s embroidered hankies, my father’s ceramic yellow teapot which was his first attempt at pottery, and an old family friend’s suitcase turned into a nurse’s kit.
I’d also say that my style is all about recreating something new from what you already have. Re-purposing rather than buying new, like stapling fabric over old canvases to create an instant, bold bulletin board. That’s one of my best makeover tricks.
Q: Where do you find your inspiration for designing your decor? How much input do your children have on your family’s style? Is there a planning process for projects and forums for ideas?
A: My inspiration first comes by deciding what is needed in a space in terms of functionality. Because we live a homeschooling life within our walls (and outside our walls), we rely heavily on functional spaces while living and thriving in our home. I am very conscious to create a nice marriage between function and aesthetics in our decor.
After deciding upon the optimum function of a space, then comes the exciting part; brainstorming what raw materials I have on hand to make it all come together. Hopefully beautifully!
My children play a major part in the family style of our home. I learned years ago that there is so much beauty in the absolute innocence and untrained creativity of a child, whether through art, sewing, or even setting a table. I try to let their creative personalities be seen in our home by celebrating it in every room. Their art and other handmades are just as much art as mine. Every wall in our home is literally decorated somehow creatively by the very people that live in it. It makes for a very warm and friendly feel with Johanna’s red water-colored girl next to a wood block print I made for Bobby when we were dating.
There is somewhat of a planning process for all of the projects we do in general and for our home. Most Sunday nights, I sit between my oldest girls and we look over our many lists of things to make, create, sew, or bake, and decide the most important ones to add to the calendar that week. We always have at least one baking day and one project day, although many days we end up doing both. I aim for both structure and spontaneity in our days together.
Q: Materials you always have on hand for crafting…
A: Lots of fabric, ribbon, paints, brushes, oil pastels, crayons, buttons, popsicle sticks, canvases, good paper, IKEA frames, glass jars and bottles, and anything random that looks promising from garage sales or thrift stores. You’d be surprised what you can do with wooden embroidery frames and wooden frames. Sticks and leaves, and really anything from our backyard, are thankfully always on hand for projects.
Q: Tell us of an average day in your house. How does it work best?
A: An average day starts with the house looking like we don’t have any children. Within the first hour of play and breakfast and kitchen clean-up, somehow everything has been pulled out onto the floor. Even things that weren’t intended to be pulled out! Some mornings after we are all dressed, laundry is started, and the big girls’ morning jobs are completed, we might bake our week’s snack or other baked goods around the island in the kitchen. Everyone drags a chair in to participate.
Or our morning’s activity might start at the dining room table with homemade play-dough or a specific project. Homemade stickers are on the calendar this week! When we aren’t together doing or making something, you can usually find my older girls situated in the art room writing stories or upstairs whipping up plans to open a bakery.
After lunch together and taking the twins upstairs for naps, we spend most of the afternoon in the living room. I designed the living room to be a space for a lot of living, with the kids’ books, my favorite books, blocks, a few simple toys, and our computer. The girls know mom needs her quiet time resting on the couch for a bit, and then I get to have time with my older girls learning or exploring whatever we’re most interested in at the moment.
The evening winds down in the kitchen and then dining room, with my little dinner helpers coming in and out preparing the table for dinner. We turned the top of our lowboy into a dinner helper station where everything is in one place for the table setters. Even the toddlers like getting involved. After dinner and clean up, we return to the living room for closure from the day together, maybe playing a game of Fish, or Bobby reading a classic novel aloud, or a big pile-up on Daddy.
These are the moments, surrounded by the homemade stick horses and fabric garland, dolls in their cradle by the fireplace, that I feel satisfied with the simplicity of life. No frills or extravagances, just real life and its props.
Q: Advice for parents who love the idea of DIY but have a hard time with the mess!
A: Train your kids to take real art supplies seriously. Art aprons are a requirement with paints, watercolors, printmaking inks, and ink with quill pen in our home. Use an old tablecloth on your table for really messy projects. When it is warm, we like to take our painting projects like painting frames or glass jars outside on the grass. The kids and mom get to relax a bit.
We actually have a room specific for the less-messy art projects, which we affectionately call our art room. Yes, at the end of the day I beckon my girls’ help to pick up millions of little pieces of paper someone cut up and buttons that my toddlers were pouring from bowl to bowl and they somehow ended up on the floor, but the girls are learning they are free to create if they then are responsible for the clean-up.
Q: Best DIY you and your kids made together? You can tell us the horror stories, too!
A: I have a few. Our outdoor letter rocks that welcome visitors at the door and encourage my girls to spell, printing our own personalized labels, and the soft books we made for the twins when they turned one. Being literally surrounded by so many things we’ve created means that I and my girls are constantly reminded that we, together, contribute to something much bigger than ourselves. I know they feel it because they value and take pride in those special things.
I would have to say that attempting to hand-trace my girls’ silhouettes from a photograph to hang on our wall was beyond frustrating. A few of the silhouettes are decent of my girls while one of them is remarkably reminiscent of Curious George!
Q: How do you incorporate handmade into your daily life?
A: I believe incorporating handmade into our day happened by accident. My love of creating and handmade homemaking has been observed so much that my children see needs in their own world, like needing something in their bedroom and automatically beginning to plan how to make a solution. All they really know is making their way through curtains, decor, toys, treats, and gifts for others.
My girls hear the phrase “find a creative solution” almost daily. We just made a fabric curtain using a branch as the curtain rod the other day for Caroline’s doll who was apparently suffering from the bright sun in her bedroom. They rarely think of buying first, but set out in their minds to make first. Our homeschooling life allows for the simple and complex creative solutions throughout the day, like the essential doll curtain.
My girls are a part of the many necessary processes of the day that force us in many ways to slow down: baking bread, sewing up a pair of needed pants, making refills of homemade cleaning supplies, tidying between projects, prepping a meal, and so forth. Living a slower life means enjoying the process of these tasks that feed us, clothe us, clean us, and entertain us.
I’ll be the first to admit that slow living doesn’t come naturally for me. Living alongside my children every day, though, and seeing their curiosity and enthusiasm for life helps me live in the moment much more. This is one of the reasons I wanted to home school; to be there for every discovery and to encourage their curiosity further.
Q: What projects would you like to accomplish this year for your home?
A: I’d love to paint the hand-me-down dressers in our master bedroom a bold color this spring. And I’d really like to be able to walk through my basement storage room without risking my life…or the life of the many stacked boxes!
Q: Describe your favorite time of day.
A: My favorite time of day is definitely early afternoon. My Ainsleigh and Annabelle would hopefully be napping upstairs and I would be sitting between my big girls, feet propped up, reading a good book to them as the afternoon sun begins to peer through the living room windows, flooding the entire back end of the house with light. Those are precious moments shared.
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish I had known…
A: How much paper my little artists go through a day!
Thank you, Nicole, for sharing your beautifully-made life with us. You may be renting, but you’ve made that home belong to your family. I love it.
Friends, don’t you have three new tabs open following Nicole’s DIY project links? At least, right? Tell me: Are any of you living a handmade life, or wishing you did? I’d love to hear your stories!
P.S. — If you’d like to share your home with us in my Living With Kids series, drop me a note. I’d love to hear from you!