Living With Kids: AB Chao

March 27, 2012

You may call Anna Beth Chao AB, ABC, or Anna Beth, but never Anna. Unless, according to AB, you are her mother. She is a witty writer, insanely talented decorator, and interior stylist with a refreshing editing prowess. Before I run out of effusive synonyms for amazing, I’ll tell you one of my favorite things about Anna Beth. If you saw her on the street, you would probably think that she looks like a super stylish teenager. You would be shocked to learn that she is not, but she has a daughter who is! Which is exactly why I reached out to her. We’ve seen how some of us are living with kids – what about those of us living with teenagers? I just know you’ll enjoy this tour!

Q: Who lives in this fabulous home?

A: Well, let’s see. There’s me, and my husband Vince, and our daughter Madeleine. We also have a dog, Hank, who is very, very bad, and a cat, Spike, who is not.

I am a former corporate communications writer (I’m sorry, I see that you just fell asleep) turned interior decorator, stylist, and blogger. In fact, my one-year anniversary of leaving that corporate job is in just a few days, so yay to that! It’s been quite an adventure. My husband Vince Chao is also self-employed. He does something something with some things in China. There is possibly manufacturing involved. (I like to tell people that he exports potato chips and imports fake mustaches.) And finally, there is Madeleine, our only child, who is sixteen and a junior in high school. I’ll say one more thing about that, and then you will understand why I have to be medicated some days: she drives. A car.

Q: How did this house become yours?

A: Our house is located in a part of our small Louisiana town called the Garden District — historical, beautiful, quiet, tree-lined, super-close to Mad’s school — and it’s a place I have always, always wanted to live. So when we began looking for a house to buy in 2003, I knew exactly where to go. The house we ended up with was actually not even on the market at the time, but I just knew it was THE ONE, and I somehow inveigled the owners into selling it.

The house was built in 1945 and, while charming, was badly in need of several updates. So we saved and saved and made lots of notebook drawings and charts and spreadsheets and had some fights, and finally updated the kitchen. After that, I was hooked on renovation, and we’ve tackled at least one room a year since.

We are currently on our VERY LAST ROOM, the master bath. It’s currently nothing but a sub-floor and studs. After that’s done I guess we will just have to pack up and move.

Q: You’re an interior stylist, and it shows. Your editing ability is insane. What are your top three tips to making your home look uncluttered and well-designed but still completely livable?

A: The first and most important tip I would give is: less is more, y’all. Just take it all out. If you have eighteen thousand tchotchkes on your bookshelves, your bookshelves are going to look terrible and be hell to dust. If your desk is a tangle of cheap plywood and cords in the middle of your living room, I am going to have to ask you to remove it. The ceramic light-up Statue of Liberty that your in-laws brought you from New York that you secretly hate? I am sorry, but you cannot have that anymore. Oh my gosh, isn’t it crazy that it just got LOST somehow? You’re devastated. I’m just saying, the cleaner and clearer a room is, the better it’s going to look.

Tip Two: Use beautiful but hard-wearing materials: leather, jute, cowhide, cotton canvas, velvet, hardwood, wool, etc. The most beaten-up items in my house, by far, are the ones in Madeleine’s room, but that jute rug and pine IKEA desk just keep on ticking. My sofa’s white cotton duck slipcover was made in 1981. It doesn’t have a working zipper on the back anymore, but it still looks pretty good after years of washing and bleaching.

Tip three is a tie between a) don’t underestimate the power of paint, and b) don’t buy an item just to fill a space. The paint thing is self-explanatory — everything looks better with a fresh coat, right? The other one is more difficult to carry out, but listen: why are you spending $300 on bedside tables when the ones you actually want cost $600? Save the $300 and then save some more and buy the ones you REALLY want and love. In fact, don’t buy anything unless you love it. That is how you get a beautiful, well-designed, impeccably-collected house. And I know what I’m talking about, because I have been using twelve-dollar IKEA stools as bedside tables for the past forever.

Q: You have a teenager, and a cute one at that! How has her style evolved and mixed in with your own? Have you guided her or has it just been organic?

A: Those of you with older kids will be laughing at this one. Madeleine has gone through multiple phases of style, from preppy to emo to vintage to hipster to neo-grunge-post-modern-Japanese (I made that one up). I don’t know who she is from day to day, sometimes. And she definitely has her own ideas when it comes to design.

But overall, she’s got pretty good taste, she understands the importance of line and scale, and she can style a vignette like a tiny little Jonathan Adler. I don’t know if she gets it from growing up with me, or if it is just hereditary (my mother is an exquisite but ruthless editor, herself). I’m really enjoying watching her style develop into its own amazing Madeleine-ness, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Q: Were there any rough patches where she wanted to express herself differently? How did you handle it?

A: There are rough patches raising any girl, but the worst I can remember is when Madeleine was in junior high, and she and her friends had, oh, just a TINY BIT of an eyeliner problem. If you had done a study that year of the sentence I said the most, the winner would have been “TAKE OFF THAT EYELINER RIGHT NOW YOU ARE GOING TO SCHOOL NOT A RAVE WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU.”

And just when I thought things couldn’t possibly change or get any better, they did. And then she was in high school and went on dates and got a drivers’ license and is going to be a senior next year and I don’t want to talk about it.

Q: Favorite room in the house — yours and your guests — and what makes it so?

A: The screened-in porch and kitchen, hands down. They’re the best, most comfortable places to congregate, and they are where the food and drinks are. And we do a lot of eating and drinking down here. Sometimes people have guitars, and there are sing-a-longs. Sometimes a person pretends she is Gladys Knight and enlists others to act as her Pips. I do not know that person.

Q: Will you share your learned, tried and true secrets to living with kids – and specifically a teenager — with style?

A: Just chill. Easier said than done, I know, but it’s so easy to get all mad about the small stuff — and it doesn’t MATTER in the long run, so let it go. And you can do that with a teenager! They don’t need you to feed, bathe, clothe, or help them, nor do they want you to. So don’t get all aggro if their rooms aren’t totally clean at all times — teenagers throw clothes around and have a lot of Styrofoam cups. Give them a bunch of chores on the weekend, one of which is cleaning their dumb horrible bedroom with the forty Sonic drinks in it. On the other hand, don’t be letting your baby out of the house with a flask and hot-pants. It’s all about balance.

Oh, and keep a lot of food in the house. The grosser the snacks, the better (I’m looking at you, Totino’s Frozen Pizza.).

Q: Your Dewit Design Camp sounds amazing! Tell us all about it. What will camp attendees learn?

A: Yes! I am so excited about this. The term “Dewit” comes from my friends making fun of me for the very Southern way I say “Do it” — something I say a lot, because I am kind of bossy about the correct way to do things.

Through my blog, I hear from so many people who are into interior design and want to hire a decorator, but don’t necessarily have the desire/disposable income for that kind of commitment. So, Dewit Design Camp is a weekend design boot camp-type situation, where along with the basics of design, campers will learn how to make inspiration boards and layouts — and learn about all the paint colors and furniture and lighting and window treatments that go into those things — and then drop all that knowledge onto their own homes. It’s their chance to DEWIT!

Camp will also cover things like using and re-purposing existing items, common mistakes, budgeting, regular styling, floral styling, and shooting interiors. So, you know, EVERYTHING. This thing is going to be so much fun, and I cannot wait for the first one (which is in New Orleans the second weekend of May and there are only five spots left, I am just telling you). Also, there will be adorable swag. And lunch. And probably cupcakes.

Q: I loved what you did with Heather Armstrong’s house. She has two young girls; how did they influence the outcome of the living room and guest bedroom?

Since the living room was to be a more formal, grown-up space, we didn’t really consider the girls and their needs when we were decorating. We were careful not to use sharp objects as accessories, obviously, but this room wasn’t really for them.

Now, the guest bedroom is a different story— both girls really love the room, and it’s cozy and fun and much less adult — and I think of it as being not only a place for visitors, but also a place for the older one to escape the little sister chaos and hide out with a good book.

Q: What’s on your wish list to add to your home tomorrow?

A: A new bed and bedside tables. Vince Chao and I haven’t had a proper bed or tables since we got married in 1999. And that is just real sad, but it’s very much a case of the cobbler’s children having no shoes. So, De La Espada, if you’re reading this…CALL ME.

Q: Finish the sentence: I wish I had known…

A: …that all shades of white aren’t the same. That oil paint really does take that long to dry. That one original beats ten knock-offs. That burr coffee grinders are superior to all other grinders. That mayonnaise is just totally necessary on a shrimp po-boy. That only children are spoiled just a little bit. That long-distance running sometimes makes your toenails fall off.


Thank you so much, AB! I can’t wait to hear all the rave reviews from your Design Camp; it’s sure to be a hit! Send our thank yous to Madeleine, as well, for opening up her room to us and being such a gorgeous model.

I think AB’s right. One original does beat ten knock-offs. And about less being more. And about just chilling. And about how a messy room doesn’t matter in the long run. Before you know it, they’ve got drivers’ licenses and dates. For those of you living with young kids, how do you feel about someday living with teenagers? Oh! I think I need a tissue!

P.S. — You can find all the homes in my Living With Kids series here. If you’d like to share your home with us, drop me a note. I’d love to hear from you!

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{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Marisa March 27, 2012 at 7:31 am

I loved this! Man, AB, you’re funny. I really needed the “Let the small stuff go” reminder as I was awakened at 5:45 this morning by a preschooler with a wet bed. We’re going to take our sweet time getting to the teenage years because, like you, I don’t want to talk about it.


2 Cheryl Markel @ Artsy Redhead March 27, 2012 at 7:34 am

AB is hilarious! I couldn’t agree with her more about ‘less is more’… having sold and donated 2/3rd’s of our belongings in the past year. It basically equates to freedom and a much easier house to care for! As for someday living with a teenager? I have to say the same… I don’t want to talk about it. (My baby is 6 1/2, still sleeps between my husband and I, still asks us to wipe her – don’t tell her I shared that!.. and still holds my hand when we cross the street. In other words, she still lets me love her… unlike what I let my Mum do at that age. Sorry Mum!)
Thanks so much for sharing this post Gabrielle! It is a sunny and warm Spring in Colorado, how about France?!


3 Cecilia March 27, 2012 at 7:44 am

i continue to love this series! i just started reading AB’s blog and i think it made reading this feature that much more interesting. what great advice and style she has!


4 Gretchen March 27, 2012 at 7:44 am

Loved this! Wish I could wander through the Garden District! And my, could I ever go for a shrimp po-boy right now…


5 Andreerah March 27, 2012 at 8:14 am

I discovered AB Chao through Heather’s blog and basically sat and read back through her past posts for longer than I’d like to admit. I absolutely adore her style. If she comes to the rotten rust belt region of the country, I am so at her design class. Especially since we are in the process of selling our house and buying a new one!


6 Clementine March 27, 2012 at 8:20 am

I’ve seen all the LWK post but this one takes the cake. She’s hilarious, and her home is insanely gorgeous! Thank you so much for sharing!


7 {plum} March 27, 2012 at 8:20 am

how fun and simple are the painted branches! my playroom is in desperate need of homegrown art and this certainly fits the bill! Thank you Design Mom and ABC (love her and the midtown behemoth!).

Living with Kids is one of my FAVORITE features on your blog. Afterall, what mom doesn’t love seeing another mom’s way. Thank you.

best – d.

post script: am I the only one who eats 20 hershey kisses for breakfast? nom nom nom.


8 Sam B. March 27, 2012 at 8:28 am

While we’re on the topic of mayonnaise, let it be known that only BLUE PLATE Mayonnaise should ever grace the loaves of a poboy.

Anna Beth Chao, I love your blog and your house. Thanks for sharing, Design Mom!


9 Sandra March 27, 2012 at 8:51 am

I’ve been debating zooming to Seattle for Design Camp….looking between the cushions for quarters and such.

Love the Hudson’s Bay Blanket! Oh Canada and all that…Great tips, especially the “less is more”. It’s so easy to go overboard. I’m the “thrower outer” and my husband is the “saver” so we have that delicious, let’s call it “designer tension” of give and take as I pare down and he wants to keep everything! Heh…


10 Sarah March 27, 2012 at 8:59 am

I love this series, and this house. I am inspired to go and fill a couple bags for Goodwill.
I remember AB Chao from way back in the early days of TWoP. It’s really not fair that someone gets to be so funny and stylish at once.


11 Andrea March 27, 2012 at 9:04 am

I love how light and open her house feels. And I LOVE her advice about getting rid of stuff and only keeping/buying stuff you love.

Also, my oldest will be a teen in a little less than two years. We’ve already got some eye rolling and shrugging going on, and I know it’s not going to be a picnic every day–but I think there will be plenty of wonderful things about the teen years too. I liked AB’s advice about chilling out. I’ll take that one to heart:).

Thanks for sharing!


12 Mary March 27, 2012 at 9:21 am

Really awesome post. I’m pretty far away from teenagers, but I love the casual attitude. Very cool.


13 Mags March 27, 2012 at 9:23 am

Love. This. House. If I had that porch and kitchen, I’d spend all my time there, too! I stalk AB’s blog like it’s my job, hoping to soak up some of her great ideas (and generally just enjoying her hilarious DEWIT style). And what she says about using natural materials is so true: They wear so much better in the long run. People pay extra for the patina on old wood; particle board…not so much.

Thanks for sharing!


14 Julia at Calm Cradle March 27, 2012 at 9:40 am

I love AB’s house and sense of humor! I had to laugh when I read the following sentence, because we’re in the midst of everything she describes right about now:

“So we saved and saved and made lots of notebook drawings and charts and spreadsheets and had some fights, and finally updated the kitchen. “


15 Molly Winn March 27, 2012 at 9:41 am

GORGEOUS! Oh man, that first picture had me!! Truly stunning and inspiring. (and since I too have 1 daughter, I love hearing another mom talk about it!! So fun!)


16 Karen F March 27, 2012 at 10:49 am

I not only love her house, but I think I have a girl crush on AB now! Thanks for the reminder to let go of the small stuff – I have a very headstrong 5 year old. Can’t imagine what she’ll be like at 15, so I think I need to chill out a lot more before then!


17 Jadah March 27, 2012 at 11:02 am

I heart AB Chao’s home tour. Since we move a lot (L.A. to Kauai to San Francisco to…), we have been surviving on Craigslist finds and IKEA forever. :-) I love her tip to just let go when it comes to teens. We have one almost 5 year old daughter, but I am already reading every teen book to be a step ahead. I know how I was when I was a teen, so I’m just a little paranoid. It was nice to get a peak into her daughter’s ever-changing style. And I adore the Alice in Wonderland/Queen of Hearts theme. Really great and inspiring tips. And I love the small kitchen table with two black chairs. Where are those from? Thanks for sharing!


18 Tina March 27, 2012 at 11:07 am

This has been my favorite house tour thus far. I agree with getting rid of the clutter and keeping things simple and clean. I also love her use of color. And that she has “just one” kiddo. It’s a lonely club. ;) I have a bit of a girl crush as well….


19 Laura Gaskill March 27, 2012 at 1:12 pm

Gah! I love AB’s living room! That mirror is to-die-for. Really loving this series, by the way, what a wonderful idea. xo


20 Sharon @ Discovering March 27, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Love her!
I’ve known of her through Pamie and TWOP, and saw the awsomeness of Dooce’s house, and she just rawwwks!
She’s such a riot, so happy she’s making her living doing what she wants and what she’s AMAZING at!


21 Kate March 27, 2012 at 2:52 pm

This might be my favorite one yet!


22 The New Diplomats Wife March 27, 2012 at 3:28 pm

she has such a fun personality – loved seeing her home!


23 sarah jane March 27, 2012 at 5:57 pm

awesome post! gorgeous home! great person! can’t wait to read her blog, check out her boot camp, and see more wonderful interiors. thanks! (kind of embarrassed about my little home tour after seeing this!) I do have two babies though…right? good enough excuse for clutter and toys everywhere? :)


24 Pistolette March 27, 2012 at 6:03 pm

Beautiful! So minimalst yet warm too.

Also, you’re apparently my neighbor. I’m on Magazine St a bit further down toward the park :)


25 Trish March 27, 2012 at 6:27 pm

Great read. The lwk posts are the best. I really want to thank you for featuring moms with older kids. It seems so many blogs just feature babies. Sure they are cute but I am past that stage. One of the reasons I love your blog. Kids of all ages and stages.


26 Chris March 27, 2012 at 7:12 pm

What a refreshing and amusing article!! Coming from a mother of one teenager (14) and 4 others…ages 11, 4, 3, 2…I’ve struggled with a small house and too much clutter. After reading this article and seeing the pictures…I feel the need to purge and paint my walls white! Thanks for sharing! I feel there is hope!


27 Maricris @ SittingAround March 27, 2012 at 8:05 pm

I love Madeleine’s room. I think she has an eye for design.


28 Leslie March 27, 2012 at 8:19 pm

AB, if you’re reading this, you rock. You always teach me something, and you always make me laugh.


29 Jenny March 27, 2012 at 8:31 pm

This was a great article – loved the whole meshing of design and family life. I just love the airy, clean, and super chic look of AB’s rooms. She helped me decorate my dining room not too long ago and it is my favorite room in my whole house!


30 christina March 27, 2012 at 9:05 pm

Oh this was just so fun! And Madeline’s room is just bursting with cool!


31 Jill March 27, 2012 at 9:29 pm

I loved this feature and emailed it to every one I know. I hope they read every word! I love her writing and her home is so beautiful. Her words rang so true to me… Buying only what you love, I agree 100% on the less is more, it really is, you’ll breath easier with every load you take to the Goodwill. Let it go… let it go…

I love the tips on sturdy materials too. Items that last, perfect for kids & the whole family.

Thank you!


32 findingmagnolia March 27, 2012 at 9:43 pm

So much great stuff in this one! I don’t appreciate the reminder that my little girl will grow up, though. I’m ignoring that part but taking the rest to heart.


33 Kelly March 27, 2012 at 11:17 pm

I love AB, been reading her for several months now. So jealous of her beautiful home and locale. I have to agree on the “don’t sweat it” part of a teenager’s room, as I was a TERRIBLE slob myself. But my ways have certainly changed — for the first decade of my marriage, my mom would enter my (clean and non-cluttered) house and comment, “I can’t believe you’re the same person!” So, there is hope! :-)


34 plaeground March 28, 2012 at 12:08 am

Best interview yet!! Loved AB, her home and her hilarious sense of humor!!


35 Tiffanie March 28, 2012 at 1:05 am

This was a fun read, let alone the great style! Love the kitchen, love the larger pieces of art/posters in Madeline’s room. So much better than the hundreds of torn pages of Duran Duran teen magazine photos I had plastered to my teenage walls. :)


36 Cheyenne March 28, 2012 at 6:55 pm

AB is a kindred spirit. I wish I lived in NOLA so we could be friends.


37 Monica April 1, 2012 at 7:14 pm

Oh yay! I’ve been reading AB since her recapping days at TWOP and am so happy to see her name keep popping up with all the big name bloggers these days. :) Her house is my absolute fav and a huge reason I’m trying to convince my husband that you don’t have to paint all the walls, white is a perfectly lovely color too!


38 Sara @ Zahara Dessert April 3, 2012 at 7:04 pm

I LOVE LOVE AB’s entire house, it is just beautiful. The article was a great read also and I got some great advice.


39 Becky April 25, 2012 at 8:07 pm

Love your beautiful home! Could you please tell me where you got your Sunburst mirror, or what company its from? Thank you!!!


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