Living With Kids: Rebecca Brown

May 31, 2012

I like Becky Brown very much. Her design plans are fascinating, the fresh ideas she and her family have already executed in and around their home make me smile, and her interview reads like a welcome chat with a dear friend. But there’s more. Her style is seeped through with so much substance and pure love that it’s not hard to walk away from this tour feeling refreshed about so much more than her outrageously happy green homework table. Although that table is more than enough, isn’t it? Enjoy this gorgeous  interview, friends! (And the photos are pretty, too!)

Q: Please introduce us to your family!

A: Hi. We hail from a small farming town in the central valley, California. Nick’s the Dad, I’m the Mom, Luke’s the first (7), Charlie’s the second (5), and we are currently waiting on our referral for another little person to join our family – all the way from Ethiopia. Nick’s a high school history teacher, assigned to freshman geography this year, which he likens to herding kittens. Hormonal irrational kittens! I’m a stay-at-home-home-schooling-screenwriting-two-business-running-mom. I’d like to say we’re normal, but then we’re not. We’re mellow and crazy at the same time, homebodies that love to travel, cinephiles obsessed with books, irreverently righteous…you get the idea. We love to home school, read, hang out, take long walks, go to jiu-jitsu, play the guitar in the living room, and we spend a lot of time cuddling.

Life has been tough around here the last few years as I’ve dealt with cancer and radiation damage, and it’s sort of turned our family into a little motley crew of survivors. But it’s been a good thing. We seize every opportunity now, don’t put up with a lot of drama, and have learned that we mean everything to each other. I can’t begin to describe the depth of emotion I have when I think about my family. They’re everything to me.

Q: Tell us how this house became your home.

A: So, Nick and I originally hail for the same neck of the woods. I moved away and studied and traveled and got on with life, but the fates conspired for me to end up back in my original hometown, falling in love with a boy from my childhood. I love when life works out that way.


We bought the house next door to his parents and had kids and waited for the day when we could work on our little tract home and make it work for a family. For all those years we had jokingly started planning our dream vacation home at the coast – made entirely of containers just like The Adriance House by Adam Kalkin. And after a quick geek-out with our architect and builder over our mutual love of container houses, an idea was born. We were going to marry the old with the new, cottage and industrial, traditional and green…all of it.

We’ll definitely have to update you, as the containers will be craned into place on the second floor of our house at the end of June. This will be one of the first container homes of its kind and after lots of planning and patience and dealing with local government, we are finally ready to move onto the next phase of our remodel. It’s still hard for me to believe this house is just going to double in size – poof! – just like that and our tiny little house will blow up and be ready for a full-grown family.  Now if we could just hurry up the whole family building part!


What we love about container homes is the idea of reusing pre-engineered materials that are currently being left stacked in shipping yards all over the country. When utilized, it makes for cheaper and more efficient buildings. And while I appreciate modern design, it’s the cheap utilitarian in me that really attracts me to these projects; they just make sense.

Q: What do you gain from a home design like this?

I wouldn’t say it is the cheapest option. If we had torn down the existing structure and built a traditional stacked container home, it would have been way cheaper but that would probably have been a fight I would not have wanted to pick with our town. In our case, with the complication of tying together both traditional and experimental building processes, I would say it is comparable to stick building.

Additionally, there are some amazing people (our designer, engineer and custom builder) really vested in this project and what it will mean for our little town and its future growth. It would be really nice to prove that young people can “come home” to small town America and put their stamp on things, really defining who they are as a generation, as well as an individual. And trust me, we’re not a bunch of hipsters sitting around drinking pretentious lukewarm tea in our boldly unflattering thrift store finds and ninety dollar Tom’s as we push thick tortoise shell glasses back up our noses and preen on about the dramatic shift in environmental consumerism in the wake of a post-Gore apocalyptic fear cycle being rammed down our throats by the onslaught of social media (say that five times fast!)…okay, I own a pair of tortoise shell reading glasses and they’re huge – but don’t judge me.

Plus, I have a dream that this will be the future of low-income/student housing…that all these little projects will eventually lead to our cities and states opening up to the bigger container projects we’ve seen in Europe and Asia. This could be a more responsible and safer solution to our housing crisis. We’ll see. A girl can dream, and I will!

All joking aside, we’re just part of a bunch of thirty-somethings coming together to figure out where we fit in our town and seeing if we can push the envelope a bit and figure out who we are.


Q: Describe your neighborhood. What’s been the reaction to your construction and design plans from neighbors and friends?

A: We live on a tree-lined street in a neighborhood of well-built custom homes from the 40s and 50s that have had little to no updates. Of course, ours was the only home built by a tract home builder, so no cove ceilings, arches, or wood floors, or character of any kind! But our street has plenty. We have neighbors who look out for each other and truly care about our well-being, as we do theirs.

As far as the radical house design goes, everyone has been really supportive of our out-of-the-box approach, or at least they haven’t complained to our faces! We have, however, gotten “the look” when we explain what we’re doing. It’s a “those-crazy-hippies” look. But at the end of the day, we’ve steadily improved an older home in a neighborhood of homes with minimal updates. In addition, we’re beautifying and bettering our home in a town where homes are falling apart more than the economy is. We’re proud that we fought for this dream and we’re proud of what it will mean to our street, our neighbors, friends, and family. It’s just a breath of fresh air when people need it the most. And at least people will have something to talk about!


Q: You seem to have one of those homes that works hard. Storage under the kitchen table, surfaces like the green homework table that seem pretty indestructible, and rooms that seem to be able to handle real life messes and still be comfortable. Is function the most important to you?

Form and function are equally important in our house, mixed in with a good dose of “use what you got.” For instance, we had this IKEA table from early in our marriage that was incredibly practical and huge; we couldn’t see getting rid of it and we couldn’t see keeping it like it was in its relatively unfinished state. So we dragged it down to the local auto body shop and cajoled them into giving it a spray. We were all impressed with the results and having lived with it for the last six months, that thing can take a beating and still look all glossy and sassy at the end of the day.

Another trick that works for us is that every room has to have a basket or three for the kids’ crud. Also, every room has to have lots of room for books, bowls for keys and doodads, pillows, and art. Art is a big deal in this house, whether it’s my own photography, pieces we’ve picked up, or even the kid’s canvases and drawings. It’s everywhere.

Because we home school and I work from home, we are in the house all day, every day. And we live in it HARD. We are not easy on homes. We build forts, paint masterpieces, run obstacle courses, and then sew and scrapbook and paint and read and dance and play tag until we fall into our beds at night, so our house has to keep up with us. And as much as I love beautiful things, nothing is precious and everything must have a place to live.

Q: Where do you find decor and design inspiration? What do you do with giant ideas? Do you and your husband talk things over and decide on a direction, or is one the dreamer and the other the more practical?

A: Okay, I have to be honest: I wear the design pants in our house. Nick is generally supportive and just trusts me to make it work. But it is very important to me that I know everyone’s needs before I start to work on a room. I respect that everyone has to live here and everyone has to feel represented by the design of our home – especially the kids. That being said, I’ve had to fight really hard for almost every wall that had to get torn out of our great room. I think the idea of ripping out so many walls was overwhelming to my poor sweetheart, but I had a vision and I knew it had to be done.

As far as inspiration goes, I love blogs and magazines and digging into the vault in my head. I’ve been keeping ideas stored up for years and I finally have the canvas to work on in my own house.  I try be aware of the idea of reusing and re-purposing and of sitting with an idea for a while.

I think we’ve gotten so used to this idea of perfection and immediacy, and it’s not practical or realistic. We use old things and work with what we’ve got, not only because we don’t have the finances to buy all new stuff, but because it takes time for a room and its needs to grow on you. Right now, we’re in the “design with what you got, because you don’t got more money” phase of life. Square footage is far more important to us at this point than the $6,000 restoration hardware sofa I dream about!

Q: Favorite DIYs in the house…

A: Well, there are the big things that I learned to do with this remodel, like laying floors and tiling. And then there are the little fun things, like blowing up pictures and spray painting everything in sight. So far, the silver bench has been a favorite DIY project. My in-laws picked up a great old picnic bench for free and dropped it off for us, but it was pretty beaten up and un-stainable.

So, one day I just dragged it outside and grabbed a can of chrome spray paint and went to town! Everyone thought I was crazy at the time., but once we dragged it inside, it was perfect. PERFECT.  That big green table needed some competition and it got it. Plus, every time I look in the home school room I think, “Dang!  There’s a silver bench in my house!”

Q: What’s your favorite room in the house? How do you spend your time there?

A: Hands down, the living room and kitchen is our favorite combo room so far. It was such a mess of walls and half walls and spindles before. And when we tore everything out, our small house suddenly lived big. Because we kept it simple with lots of white, minimal trim (don’t put too much lipstick on a pig, if you know what I mean!) and lots of open spaces, no one felt crowded.

It was tricky figuring out how to make the kitchen not feel too much like a kitchen since it was such a big part of the space, but we think the old wood shop station mellows things out and keeps it from feeling too modern. The open shelves and the art go a long way towards tying everything together.  I love to watch old movies while I bake for the holidays and parties, and this is perfect for what I envisioned. Sometimes it’s hard to believe this is my house!

Q: Somewhat off the design topic, but your decision to home school has probably affected your design approach, hasn’t it? How did you decide to home school?

A: This is one of those topics I try to avoid, but because it’s you…here goes!

Here’s the deal. I want them to spend their days and years exploring the world through travel and books and art and people. It just didn’t seem like we could accomplish those things and have the family time that I believe we so desperately need these days if they were sitting in a classroom eight hours a day.

We have specific curriculum we have to get through (math, writing, reading) and it takes less than an hour most of the time. From there, we pick and choose what we are going to do. Sometimes we are unit based and study all things birds for a week, from science projects to art projects to service projects.

I’m also a big believer in kids getting their street smarts at an early age, so I make sure we spend a lot of time out of the house working on handling money, visiting house-bound church members, crossing streets, reading street signs, etc. This summer we’re doing a transportation unit and will spend a lot of time learning how use our local bus and train systems, so when they backpack through Europe or Asia one day they will have no fear of public transportation or reading a subway map.

I like to let the kids explore their own personal interests. Right now we are developing a cooking show. Since this is my background, I’m taking the opportunity to teach them all the ins and outs of producing and prepping a show, and eventually we will get to shooting, editing, and promoting. I like to do projects that show us process so that my kids will understand the layers to the world around them. So that when they see a movie or eat a meal at a restaurant or even watch our house being built, they understand the layers of planning and work that go into a final product.

Remodeling and home schooling at the same time is both good and bad. Good in that we are flexible and plan our days around whatever needs to be done on the house, and bad in that there are days where I just hand them a television remote and a bowl of popcorn and say, “Good luck and Godspeed…”

Q: What’s the greatest thing about living with kids?

A: The greatest thing about living with kids is that you learn to live in the moment. Kids aren’t thinking about what they’re doing later or how much they have left to do on their checklist. They are right here and right now. Their only checklist is this: play, play, sneak chocolate, play, and play some more. And while my job is to temper this desire a bit and teach them some basic life skills, it’s nice to be reminded that playing is important. Who knew at 34 I’d be playing nightly games of hide-and-go-seek in the dark all winter long? Life has become spontaneous and fun…which makes up for the copious amounts of vomit and poop that accompanies kids!


Q: Please finish the sentence: I really wish I had known…

A: …that flooring glue would NEVER-EVER-NOT-EVEN-WITH-A-WISH-FROM-A-GENIE-IN-A-BOTTLE come out of my clothes, my hair, off my skin, the walls, shoes, underwear…sigh.

And on a sappy note, I really wish I had known that my love for my guy and my kids…that it would fill in all the empty places inside of me. I wish I had known this kind of love was coming, because the surviving part of life would have been a lot easier.

—-

Thank you so much, Becky! Your last line absolutely melted me. I can’t wait to see your finished home, so please stay in touch.

Was I right about this tour, friends? Don’t you feel a  little bit like someone just handed you a sweet gift? Me, too. Tell me: What’s your favorite part about living with kids? Did you ever think it would be this much fun?

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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{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

1 leslie May 31, 2012 at 3:34 am

my favourite part of living with kids is all the crafts you can do again and again and again….and even if they’re not “picture-perfect”, they’re still fun and your kids LOVE everything you make.
and water! playing with water as much as possible is a great plus when living with kids :)
and i have to agree with becky: it makes up for the whole poop/vomit/sickies :)

i must say that this was one of my favourite homes in your series; not the house {don’t get me wrong, it’s a great house and all…}, but the things becky said {like sitting with your design-ideas, waiting for stuff to be bought, repurpose….}
thanks!
and please keep us updated on that container-housing!

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2 Sherri May 31, 2012 at 5:54 am

Can’t say enough – just LOVE this series. I, too, have a family who lives in our space “hard” – as Becky put it. We craft at the dining room table, have chalk walls throughout for inspiration, cook with our kids (bake a lot), etc. My boys do sword play – my preschooler has a castle in our entryway, etc. Somehow, we make it all work. I just love the ideas I get here – love the “back stories”.

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3 Cindy May 31, 2012 at 6:54 am

O My God!! Could living with kids can be any more beautiful? Living with kids is like unfolding a new story everyday. They keep amusing you with their imagination and energy. And the way you described the home school is really thought provoking.

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4 Shannon { A Mom's Year } May 31, 2012 at 7:09 am

What a lovely way to start the day! Thank you for the inspiration, both visual and spiritual. I love all the books and the art and the wonderful pops of color. Why does the sight of a yellow pot on a stove make me so happy?

And best of luck to you as you wait for your little one. (Is it bad form to talk about one’s own blog? It’s just that because you like to sew and are so creative and community-minded, it made me think that you and your kids might like to do a quilt-project like the one we did with our older kids while we were waiting to bring our daughter home from China. It helps the time go by!)

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5 Joslyn May 31, 2012 at 7:13 am

Love this.

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6 my honest answer May 31, 2012 at 7:21 am

So true about flooring glue! What a great tale of survival and living life to the fullest.

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7 Chris May 31, 2012 at 7:24 am

Best one in the series yet. Loved her. Funny, articulate, a bit sassy, and maybe partly b/c we home school too…our brood of biological, domestic and internationally (from Ethiopia!) adopted children.

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8 Sarah Lemoine May 31, 2012 at 7:53 am

Wow!!!! What a beautiful way to start the day! My kids are painting at the dining table as I sit here with a big mug of coffee (my youngest on my lap) being fulling inspired by this beautiful home and family. Somehow makes me *appreciate* the bits of rogue cereal interspersed with their art supplies… I want to be friends with Becky Brown. :)

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9 Sarah Lemoine May 31, 2012 at 8:19 am

*fully inspired

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10 Christina West May 31, 2012 at 9:53 am

i am friends with becky brown, and she’s truly just as amazing in person as she comes across in this article. and the home feels this fresh and fun in person too. it’s a happy place to be.

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11 Sarah Lemoine May 31, 2012 at 10:16 am

I love to hear that!!

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12 Sarah Lemoine May 31, 2012 at 7:54 am

Oh- and I WILL be having some piece of furniture painted at the auto body shop before summer’s end.

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13 Missy W May 31, 2012 at 7:59 am

Loved this. Loved it. I think my favorite picture was the living room with DJ Lance’s head popping out of the tv screen. Classic. What lucky children!

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14 Michelle A May 31, 2012 at 7:59 am

adore her take on life and her amazing attitude and perspective. Way to go.

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15 Kate May 31, 2012 at 8:26 am

Dumb question: the bench on casters – is it from Ikea?

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16 becky May 31, 2012 at 8:30 am

yep. we took an expedit and just turned it on it’s side and attached casters (from ikea as well) – i actually think they now sell an actual castor kit for this idea. at the time, we just rigged it up and crossed our fingers – it’s indestructible and moves all over the room – and 5 grown women sat on it at a baby shower recently and it didn’t even groan.

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17 becky May 31, 2012 at 8:31 am

ps: thanks for all the sweet comments. i woke up and was waiting for the flood of criticism (typical design insecurity) and nothing but kind and supportive comments were here – so thanks!

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18 Colleen June 1, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Hijacking this thread to thank you for sharing your home, Becky! It’s gorgeous…so many ideas and inspiration. I loved, loved, your interview, too…I agree with other commenters, I absolutely want to be friends with you! What a blessing you are to your family. I hate you expected criticism, but thanks for being brave and sharing your personal home anyway.

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19 Laura May 31, 2012 at 8:43 am

Love this house tour and especially loved the below comments by Becky…really stuck a chord with me.

“I think we’ve gotten so used to this idea of perfection and immediacy, and it’s not practical or realistic. We use old things and work with what we’ve got, not only because we don’t have the finances to buy all new stuff, but because it takes time for a room and its needs to grow on you. Right now, we’re in the “design with what you got, because you don’t got more money” phase of life. Square footage is far more important to us at this point than the $6,000 restoration hardware sofa I dream about!”

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20 alexis_gentry May 31, 2012 at 8:56 am

What a lovely, authentic interview! So wonderful. Thanks Becky for sharing your home and a wee bit of your life and thoughts with us. xo!

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21 Jennifer May 31, 2012 at 8:57 am

“I can’t begin to describe the depth of emotion I have when I think about my family. They’re everything to me.” And your last paragraph. . .just beautiful! Love all the exploration, artwork, love and happiness in your home. The shiny green table and silver bench are perfect. Inspiring.

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22 Grace May 31, 2012 at 9:10 am

Oh my. Just loved everything about this. Love that home- so lovely and refreshing! I’m inspired by how great everything looks while still serving their family so well. That is my constant goal. Love their goal of re-using and re-purposing, and love how important family time is to them. I love living with my little 13 month old boy- he too has taught me to live in the moment and enjoy right now! And now, I too want to spray paint something and have something painted at an auto body shop, ha :)

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23 mrpsresidio May 31, 2012 at 9:26 am

What a refreshing mom and a beautiful space!

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24 Kristy May 31, 2012 at 9:47 am

Um, I’m in love. Love the house, the family, everything. I am inspired! And can we be next-door neighbors someday? :)

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25 Heather May 31, 2012 at 9:49 am

I absolutely love this series and I love, love, LOVE this particular tour. That last sentence moved me as well. I appreciate the bright spot that your blog adds to my day.

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26 Stephanie May 31, 2012 at 10:02 am

Beautiful, inviting home. This post makes me want to run home and spray paint something and hug my kid! Her version of home schooling sounds quite nice, I only wish…

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27 Kayte May 31, 2012 at 10:02 am

Becky is an inspiration. What a wonderful insight into the homes of wonderful women making the world better through their love of family and beauty.

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28 kalanicut May 31, 2012 at 10:57 am

This requires several read throughs to take in the amazing things said and the beautiful, family friendly home shown. Thanks Becky for sharing your wisdom and person philosophies, esp. when you know there are so many people out there who just want to say something negative. This is a good place to share thoughts away from that kind of audience. :) I have found that snarky bloggers have snarky audiences, gracious bloggers have gracious audiences. Thanks Gabby for being in the gracious pool! I know this is always somewhere to get a good word & see something lovely.

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29 Shannon { A Mom's Year } May 31, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Well said. And so true.

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30 Denise Laborde May 31, 2012 at 11:01 am

What an excellent read! Thank you Gabrielle and Becky. My favorite? That sassy table! Haha.

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31 Summer May 31, 2012 at 11:29 am

Oh my goodness….that last line melted me too. Weren’t the surviving years tough!

Also, I felt like I should comment, because I’m typically one of those people that frown upon homeschooling, but you sound FANTASTIC! If I had kids, I’d want them to go to Becky’s School. :D

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32 Melissa@Julia's Bookbag May 31, 2012 at 11:32 am

Who IS this fantastic lady? Apparently the COOLEST person ever!

Oh my goodness, I loved reading every word. What a great house. What a great interview! Loved it SO MUCH!

Gabrielle, if you ever stop doing this series, I will fly to France (or wherever) and get down on my knees and start crying. Real life house tours of homes with kids was what I adored most about Cookie Magazine — I feel like there is nowhere online or in print where one can find something like what you’re doing with this Living With Kids series. xoxo

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33 Colleen May 31, 2012 at 11:33 am

I love that this series shows where the families live but also talks about the actual living. Despite her reluctance to talk homeschooling, I LOVED her thoughts…there were some really valuable takeaways from that for me, like teaching your kids that there are layers of process that go on before an end product. Plus, what great visual inspiration from their fantastic home! I agree, I really hope to see the finished product following the reno. Fingers crossed she keeps us updated!

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34 Celeste May 31, 2012 at 2:06 pm

I love the kitchen and the fantastic green table (and Becky’s awesome attitude and outlook on life)! This series leaves me feeling inspired and “warm and fuzzy” every time.

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35 Cortnie May 31, 2012 at 2:50 pm

I loved this tour – and Becky certainly is an inspiration in so many ways! We hail from the central valley too – we design types have to stick together! :)

xo
cortnie

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36 jenny also May 31, 2012 at 3:32 pm

This may be the best one yet. I LOVE the kitchen table/island and the green table! And to think, these are just the “before” pictures!

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37 sophie May 31, 2012 at 3:52 pm

LOVE IT.
Simple and easy on the budget afordable for everybody.
Great.

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38 Nikki @ Outnumbered May 31, 2012 at 8:45 pm

that table! genius!
with three boys under age 6 and a baby girl too, we desperately need a new, very hard working table. i love the green and the glossy! must do!!

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39 Jen Daily May 31, 2012 at 8:53 pm

I love this tour. I try to achieve a balance between serenity and joy in our home. This home strikes exactly the right balance. Thanks for the inspiration!

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40 Pholesha May 31, 2012 at 11:31 pm

Loved this piece… just scoured Becky’s site to find details on the long table/desk with the pink chair… couldn’t find anything. Please provide details as to how it was made/constructed/etc. I absolutely love most of the pieces in her home but adore the use of that space and how functional a side table so perfectly tucked could be used. Thanks… great post!

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41 becky June 1, 2012 at 1:03 am

sorry, our house blog (gone dormant – sick of two blogs) is asplashofbipolar.blogspot.com and goes into lots of details on the house. the desk is a length of cheap white countertop from ikea (i think @ $60) and we built a ledge for it underneath and the spindles were salvaged from the half-walls we took out (yes, our house had spindles everywhere!) – we thought it would be nice to spray paint them glossy white and use them as front supports – also sort of an homage to the old house. the cabinets the desk runs between were two HUGE kitchen cabinets that we decided against using in the kitchen and put in here. They hold everything. I love them and they really define the space. oh and the pink chair was another cheap-o find from ikea and not worth tracking down (it was on clearance for next to nothing and the casters don’t work well). let me know if there’s anything else you want to know – and sorry if this is unclear (tired and need to go to bed). best of luck.

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42 Kitschy Pulp June 1, 2012 at 8:03 pm

Are you from Porterville?

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43 Tara June 2, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Love this series. I think this is my favorite home yet! And lovely, lovely interview and thoughts. Count me inspired.

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44 erin June 14, 2012 at 7:52 am

So fun to see inside Becky’s house, her sister told me I’d love this write up and she was right.

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45 Patricia June 20, 2012 at 9:37 pm

this is the kind of home i would love to live HARD in. It’s like a welcome hug that keeps you warm and happy! I’m totally doing the blow up photographs, but again your family photos are so cute. That’s one for the books! (I don’t know how I didnt think of it -a great solution for empty walls)

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46 Bek @ Just For Daisy November 11, 2013 at 2:29 am

What an absolutely beautiful home. Home design is one thing I feel stuck on but people like this inspire me! :) Love the use of colour especially!

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47 Aubrey December 18, 2013 at 1:44 pm

How has your green table held up? Would you recommend doing it? I have three rough and crafty kids who love to work at the table. I found an awesome conference table that I’d love to take to an auto body shop to have painted…

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