Living With Kids: Ashley English

July 17, 2012

The sign leading to Ashley English’s home should read Wonderland, perhaps even with a stern warning to Enter at Your Own Risk. It’s mesmerizing, this one. After only a few paragraphs and lush photos, I’d mostly convinced myself that we need more grocery gardens, wine-berry bushes, a secret room decorated as a cave, and a yome. (It is the yome, I think, that will hook Ben Blair into the idea!) Enjoy meeting Ashley, friends, and enjoy the moments of “Honey? Let’s move to the forest!” cravings this tour will surely evoke.

Q: Tell us about the family who calls this wonderland home.

A: I share this home with my husband, Glenn, and our 20 month old son, Huxley Wild. There are also two dogs (Fly and Dexter), four cats (Kali, Cleo, Jonah, and Blueberry), nine hens and one rooster, and about 50,000 honeybees in two beehives.

Glenn and I both work from home. We collaborate on everything. He does some freelance art consulting and various projects, but mostly we just sort of tag-team watching Huxley (he’s been with us exclusively since his birth) with juggling working on blogging, freelance writing, cooking (for both work-related projects and our own needs), gardening, property and house upkeep, and all of the assorted and sundry stuff of life!

Q: How did this home become yours?

A: My husband owned the home when I met him. Although he’d been in it for a few years, it was seriously a bachelor’s pad as he’d never really fully moved into it, decorated it, and made it his own. So we did that together!

We live a mile down a dirt road, in an 11-acre forested cove. There’s a massive nature preserve on one side that’s hundreds of acres in size, and undeveloped mountainside property all around us. It’s incredibly secluded, about 20 minutes west of Asheville, N.C., but close enough that, when we want the amenities of the city, we’re just a short jaunt away.

Glenn had already had some remodeling done when I came on board. He’d had a soaking garden tub put into the master bathroom, along with a shower and terra cotta sink and cabinetry. He’d also had a massive built-in floor-to-ceiling wall of cabinets and drawers put into the master bedroom. The house, a Craftsman bungalow from the 1930s, also has original bead-board walls throughout, which I just adore for the texture they impart.

Upstairs, Glenn remodeled the guest bathroom, putting in a new shower and bathroom fixtures. In what he hoped to one day be his child’s room (he was already planning for a family in his single days!), he had a wall of built-in open cabinets installed, as well a tiny room added into a portion of the attic that would serve as a hidden room. That room is what we now call “the cave” up in Huxley’s room.

Glenn painted the interior walls, floor, and ceiling with a sponge technique that mimics rocks and minerals. He put glow-in-the-dark stars, comets, planets and moons on the ceiling of the cave and filled it with furry rugs, blankets that are grey (to mimic the color of rocks), fur-covered pillows, and lots of teddy bears and owls to make it cave-like.


Huxley is absolutely wild about his cave, as are all of his buddies who come over to visit. It’s a pretty magical place that I hope will grow with him as he ages. For now, he plays in it with stuffed animals, but I can see it being a pretty stellar place to read, take a nap, or just hang out with his thoughts and imagination.

Q: Your home seems decorated with usefulness and daily enjoyment at the front of your mind. There are the skillets hanging on the wall, books and music everywhere, and lots of comfortable places to sit. What’s your decorating philosophy?

A: Glenn and I are both avid cooks, so we want things right on hand, where they can be grabbed and used at a moment’s notice. But we also both like decorating with bits of whimsy, quirkiness, and unexpectedness. People say they completely lose track of time when they visit us! They say it’s so comfortable and colorful and intriguing that things slow down, that they settle in, and forget to rush. One friend said our house felt like one giant hug!


We’re also really into earth tones and natural tones and textures. There’s a great deal of wood and metal and glass and ceramic in our furniture, textiles, and decor. My husband has an MFA from a fine Ivy League university (he jokes his diploma would make a nice placemat!), with a concentration in color theory. He’s a ninja with color selection, evoking a mood and a feeling so well in each room. Our kitchen walls are painted a pumpkin/sienna, the dining room walls a merlot, the living room walls a dark chocolate, the master bedroom walls a mustard, the master bath walls a deep sage, Huxley’s room walls are moss and his ceiling is mushroom, and the guest room is a light sage.

When people visit us, we want them to feel like they’ve found a retreat, a respite, a refuge. We want to feel that way ourselves, too, so there are lots of places to sit and chat, blankets and pillows everywhere, glasses and mugs in the kitchen that are easy to access for beverages, and many similar touches that say “Hey, you’re welcome here. Sit and stay a spell.”

In decorating, that’s what matters the most to me: the humanity. I never want to live in a space that doesn’t speak to the comfort, usefulness, and life of the beings who dwell within it.

Q: How has your style changed since the arrival of your son?

A: Our style hasn’t really changed at all. What’s changed is our approach to safety! We use a wood stove for heating the home during colder weather, and so a railing around it to protect Huxley was essential!

Same thing with the wooden fixture Glenn built on our stairs, which he calls a stair screen. There was a railing when he moved in, but he didn’t like it and took it down. For years, we lived with a stair case that had no guard rail, which was fine for adults. When Huxley was learning to crawl, and then walk, though, we realized the open stair case we loved was risky business for our little guy.

Q: I view your home and its surroundings as a wonderland! The gardens, the toadstools in your son’s room, the nooks and crannies throughout your house, and all the growth are just magical. What do you see when you look at your home? What do you guests and family seem to love about it?

A: Thank you so much for saying that! Yes, that’s exactly how we view it. We love the idea of unexpected discoveries and sensory stimulation, all couched in a natural aesthetic.

I don’t look to decorating trends when I bring objects into our home, I look to the setting around us, and the things that speak to me and stimulate me for inspiration. Homes are reflections of their owners, and we want a space that feels inviting but that offers a bit of levity and humor, too. I think folks get that when they visit us.

Q: What are your other favorite spaces in (and out) of your home?


A: We all are totally smitten with Huxley’s cave! I also love our big tub. It’s amazing to soak in it when it’s snowing outside, watching the flakes fall down through the window.

The wood stove in the kitchen is great to be around, too, on a cold winter’s day. The kitchen gets so cozy when the stove is going and we’re cooking and baking in there, while Huxley plays with his own two wooden kitchens.

Our large oak dining room table is where I do all of my writing and all of our entertaining during colder weather. I love it. It has two sleeves that extend its length, so we’ve actually squeezed 14 guests around it! It’s a wonderful anchor for gatherings.

Also, Glenn just built the pergola and the deck out in the garden, which I absolutely adore. It’s so nice to be out there, enjoying the forest with a beer or hot mug of coffee.

The big tent is actually a yome, which is a domed yurt. Friends of ours, both art teachers living in Atlanta, bought it and put it down in the field below our house. They wanted a place to enjoy during the summer months, holidays, and long weekends with their two year old daughter. When they’re back in Atlanta, we can use the yome for house guests, teaching classes (I’ve taught both home canning and backyard chickens classes out there in the past), and as a writer’s retreat.

Q: Tell us about the gardens! What do you grow? And why?

A: Oh, goodness. The garden.

We grow seasonal gardens, beginning in the spring. Those crops get consumed and then rotated to a summer and then autumn planting. Right now, I just picked, shelled, and froze all of the peas, as well as unearthed a massive amount of potatoes. In their spaces, I put in 13 pumpkins of about eight different varieties. We also have about six to seven varieties of lettuce that are nearing the end of their growing cycle. Beets, carrots, cabbage, fennel, two kinds of spinach, and dill are still hanging in there. We have a permanent patch of sorrel growing. For summer crops, we’ve got a variety of hot and sweet peppers, winter squashes, watermelon, celery, chard, zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, cucumbers, okra, and 38 tomato plants are all just starting to get ready to harvest.


There are also scads of different culinary and medicinal herbs here, both in the garden and up closer to the house. For fruits, we have a wine-berry patch (these are wild berries, sort of like a cross between a raspberry and a blackberry), strawberries, rhubarb, blueberry bushes, and fig, apple, peach, pear, and cherry trees.


We grow a large garden because we like variety. We also live a bit outside of town, and it’s wonderful to have what we need on hand instead of running into town to pick it up. We grow way more than we can consume fresh so that we can preserve crops for later use, through home canning, freezing, culturing, and cellaring. We also do it simply because we love to! When I’m out there, watering the garden, or putting in seeds or starts, or weeding, or digging things up, or harvesting crops, I feel so content. My purpose and goals are so specific when I’m working the soil, and I feel fully present. As for Huxley, he just loves to get dirty!

Q: What are the top three things your home requires to be a home? What can’t you live without?

A: Comfortable spaces (whether that’s a worn-in couch or armchair, or a soft, plush blanket), a gathering table to sit and dine at (so that we can reflect on the food, the ones that grew it, and the ones that prepared it), and a bath tub. And lots and lots of laughter and cuddles. Everything else is gravy.

Q: What do you hope the way you’re living teaches your son? What do you hope his best memories will be of his childhood home?

A: We’re very much into experiential learning, feeling that memory retention and true knowledge (as opposed to rote memorization) come by doing. In this setting, Huxley is really free to explore without worry. Not that we let him just wander where he pleases at so young an age (that will come later when he explores the forest around the house with our dogs!).

We just let him kind of do his thing out here, whether that’s getting crazy filthy stomping through mud puddles, or going to visit the chicken coop with me, or checking out frogs, bugs, and worms. We decorated his room with an exploratorium theme in mind, feeling that it’ll encourage and foster curiosity and creativity.

When he reflects back on his childhood, I want him to remember playing out in the garden and in his sandbox, cooking together at the stove, having pillow fights in his cave, and cuddling together. We’re emotionally demonstrative people and, in the final analysis, I want Huxley to remember that he was always, always loved, and that that love was shown to him in so very many ways.

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

A: I wish I had known how amazing being a parent would be. Not that I would have tried to have children any sooner; I’m glad I waited until I found the person that would be the ideal partner on this parenting journey with me. But that maybe I wouldn’t have worried so much about parenting the right way as much as I used to. Everyone finds their groove, their way, with their children. The profound love I feel for our son surpasses anything else I have known. It’s neither romantic, or familial, or platonic love. It’s baby love, as I call it, and it is so much fun.

—-

Thank you Ashley! You’ve inspired me today with your anything-but-ordinary life. For sure, it probably takes a lot of hard work to keep those grounds of yours fruitful, but you’ve made it sound like it’s so worth it! I want to grow something.

Friends, Ashley is so right when she says “In decorating, that’s what matters the most to me: the humanity. I never want to live in a space that doesn’t speak to the comfort, usefulness, and life of the beings who dwell within it.” Sometimes, decor gets in the way of a life’s design, don’t you think? Do you ever feel like you’re filling up your home with completely unnecessary objects? I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you edit your belongings!

All of the beautiful photographs were shot by Rene Treece Roberts.

P.S. — You can find all the homes in my Living With Kids series here. And if you’d like to share your own home with us, just send me a note! It’s a lot of fun…I promise!

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{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sonya July 17, 2012 at 8:01 am

I love all the color in that house and the fantastic collection of cast iron pans! And that garden, I’m inspired! What a cool family.

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2 Andreina July 17, 2012 at 8:03 am

¡Es justo lo que quiero ;) me encanto este Vivir con hijos, gracias Gabrielle!

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3 my honest answer July 17, 2012 at 8:07 am

I love the house! But was there any need for the aside regarding their son “(he’s been with us exclusively since his birth)”. I’m deliberately trying to avoid the mainstream media’s focus on competitive mothering.

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4 jessica July 17, 2012 at 8:55 am

I noticed this phrase as well. In an attempt to believe folks have good intentions I think that perhaps these parents were just expressing that they are a pretty self contained family; huge garden, work from home. However I genuinely appreciate your bringing to light the issue of competitive mothering!

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5 ashley english July 17, 2012 at 9:34 am

oh, goodness. the last thing i intended by mentioning that huxley is always with us is to convey any sort of sense of competition (i’m actually not familiar with the phrase “competitive mothering”). i’m so sorry if you read it that way, because that’s not at all how i meant it.

we’d love, love, love to be able to afford childcare. that would be amazing. but, at this point in our lives, we can’t really swing it. also, we live far away from town, and, since we work from home, have just tried to juggle taking care of our son together. i applaud any style of parenting that folks find works best for them.

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6 SEC July 17, 2012 at 10:25 am

Thanks for replying, Ashley! I’ll admit that I, too, was put off by that same statement, and wasn’t going to read the rest of the article, but now I can’t wait to sit down and read it after I get home from work! Possibly there’s a lesson there (for me) about trying to think the best of people rather than the worst (especially on the interweb, where anything and everything can be misinterpreted/misunderstood, including, of course, by me!)

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7 jen July 17, 2012 at 12:51 pm

Being a long-time reader of Ashley’s blog and having met her several times and having visited her home, I can tell you with confidence there is no way she wrote this to say she was better than mothers that had child care. I honestly don’t think Ashley has a mean-spirited bone in her body. Her family is genuinely nice. I think she just means that their family lifestyle is remote and contained.
Yes, there are women that say things to belittle others – but Ashley is not one of them. Perhaps we could all do better with being a little less sensitive and not reading so much into innocent statements.

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8 Aimee July 18, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Oh Man! When I read that I thought she was being funny and took it as a really sweet comment. I also have never heard of that statement! LOVED this post. I spent four years in the surrounding area studying outdoor education. love those mountains and love her house!

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9 Giulia July 17, 2012 at 8:09 am

I had read about Ashley on Nectar the other day. Seems like Asheville and surroundings are a magical place. I admire that serious garden, wow, the variety is amazing and all the work it must take. And the cave is magical, everyone should have a cave.

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10 Andreina July 17, 2012 at 8:10 am

Ashley, me encanto tu gusto y como piensas con respecto a la decoración…Felicitaciones aprovechaste muy bien los espacios. Visitare tu blog ahora :)

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11 Janelle July 17, 2012 at 8:33 am

I want her to come to my house = hers is the warm, eclectic gathering of what I want. Early cast off & rundown clutter with kid-stains is what I actually have. harumph. Oh well, just keep trying ;)

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12 Lindsey@ Piecefully Home July 17, 2012 at 8:38 am

i’m from asheville and i miss the mountains…it’s like a left of piece of my soul there. one day i hope to move back. i love the mantel above the fireplace.

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13 karla July 17, 2012 at 9:26 am

What a cosy home! Many of the homes that you have featured in this series have been very beautiful but this one feels like a place where I would be very happy to curl up in and relax. I don’t know if I could live with all those dark colours for long without wanting to reach for a paint brush but the encompassing hug affect it creates gives me an important reminder not to forget how important using colour is. I love the stair rail but in my home it would doubtless get stuffed full of books!

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14 Krystle @ Color Transformed Family July 17, 2012 at 9:29 am

This is such a unique and cozy house. Just from looking at the pictures you get the sense of family land closeness. I would love to have gardens like that someday!

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15 Julia @ Calm Cradle July 17, 2012 at 9:59 am

I have a serious case of cave and garden envy!

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16 Emily July 17, 2012 at 10:01 am

Of course this lovely home is near Asheville! I visited Asheville and the Biltmore Estate last Christmas and fell in love. I also went to the Black Mountain and Chimney Rock areas. Love, love, love it.

Ashley, can you tell us what the living atmosphere is like in the area? I’m particularly interested in what the art scene is like from the perspective of someone who lives there.

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17 ashley english July 17, 2012 at 10:05 am

emily-there’s a vibrant, thriving art scene in asheville. loads of galleries, street performers, theatre, dance, and cultural events happen here on a regular basis. asheville has even been referred to as the “paris of the south” for its mix of eclecticism, art, and culture. there’s always something going on downtown, throughout the entire calender year.

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18 Katie Gnau July 17, 2012 at 10:13 am

The interior of the house isn’t my personal taste… but those gardens… Oh, how I wish we could grow food more easily in our city home. I’m hungry just thinking about it!

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19 becky July 17, 2012 at 10:31 am

Oh My Word – i love this home and ashley’s life perspective. when i dream of my cabin in the woods…this is it – a place so warm and cozy that people “lose track of time”. i love that. and the gardens – there are no words. she’s living my dream life (i was raised in the country and yearn to return someday). can i send my kids to spend their summers with them? they would love it. thanks for such a wonderful tour.

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20 Alison July 17, 2012 at 11:02 am

Oh this one is my favorite!

I too struggle with the issue of decorating with both comfort and usefulness, in the end it often leads me to simplicity. I am happy there but would probably be happy in an empty yurt – so wish there were pictures of the interior of the yurt.

I am also impressed with the size of her kitchen, it is much smaller than I would have thought, even smaller than mine but it does not seem to hold her back.

And loved the gardens!

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21 Jill Adams July 17, 2012 at 11:14 am

I’ve been following Ashley English’s blog for a year now and really admire her approach and style! Great article!

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22 Kate July 17, 2012 at 12:19 pm

All of the living with kids home tours have been lovely and impressive. I would really love to see a few more including families with 3 or more children. Or, then again, maybe not — I might throw up my hands in defeat if I saw a “perfect” home of someone like myself living with three kids under age 5. ; )

As for this tour – I loved the inclusion of nature where ever possible. Thanks for sharing some inspiration!

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23 John July 17, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Even though I’m not necessarily into crafty/design things and don’t have kids, I thought your house was fantastic. Super natural and a bit funky with a very warm and welcoming feel. Very cool and thanks for the tour!!

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24 Caitlin July 17, 2012 at 12:32 pm

What an amazing home! I love the whimsical feel to it all. And that garden! My own tomato plants on my apartment balcony are jealous. ;)

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25 how2home July 17, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Wow…this home is so much fun! They used every inch of the space so nicely. I’d love to grow up in that house omgosh…so much to do and so much to see :)

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26 jen July 17, 2012 at 12:58 pm

I loved this interview! I attended a canning class Ashley hosted last summer and her home is every bit as beautiful in person. Definitely a relaxed home that welcomes long chats and lots of beautiful surroundings!

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27 mandi@herbanhomestead July 17, 2012 at 1:51 pm

I am a reader of Ashley’s blog and her books. I really enjoyed peeking into her home! It is as warm and as nature based as I assumed it would be. Thanks for the tour!

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28 unfounddoor July 17, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Wah. Those gardens! Lovely home, inspiring.

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29 Grace July 17, 2012 at 5:41 pm

I love this little family! They are giving Huxley such a wonderful childhood already. Man, what I wouldn’t give for a “cave” of my own–as a child that would have been the coolest! It is so cute that her husband already had a room set aside for his child one day. This is my favorite Living With Kids!

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30 kasia jacquot July 17, 2012 at 7:21 pm

Oh maaaan! I feel so inspired!!

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31 Katy @ The Non-Consumer Advocate July 17, 2012 at 7:32 pm

Ashley and Glenn,

I *love* your house. I want to come over and take a nap.

Katy

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32 Lena July 18, 2012 at 12:28 am

I’ve been trying to figure out how I want to design my son’s sand box. I love this one! Thank you for sharing Ashley and Glenn. Now to make it happen….

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33 Rieke July 18, 2012 at 12:54 am

I love ‘the cave’. What a wonderful idea!

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34 SK Farm Girl July 19, 2012 at 12:46 pm

LOVE your place, Ashley!!! Excited to see that my colour scheme closely resembles yours; would appear as though our style is very similar also; I believe in decorating to your own taste be it formal, casual or my personal favourite, me with a seasoning of eccleclic!I have an open staircase and have pondered numerous ideas as to what to do with it. I gasped with true excitement when I saw what your husband did yours; this may be the inspiration I have been searching for for 17 years! Beautiful place you and your family have. Funny how beauty can be found in the most unexpected of places – middle of now-where and lovin’ it!!!

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35 Grace July 19, 2012 at 6:40 pm

Beautiful and cozy! I especially loved her son’s room and can’t wait to check out her blog! Thanks for another great interview :)

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36 nicole i July 20, 2012 at 12:46 am

this is an amazing home…the love of home and family just oozes forth.

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37 Diana July 21, 2012 at 11:28 am

I linked to this site from Ashley’s blog Small Measures and am so glad I did. Her house has such a homey and calming feeling in the photos! And the garden is spectacular. I just finished reading one of Ashley’s books “Canning and Preserving” and loved it! The photos and colours in that book are just as inspirational!

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38 Robin Plemmons July 25, 2012 at 5:34 pm

Beautiful… all of it. I do believe it was me who said it felt like one giant hug! I totally meant it. I especially love the disco ball in Huxley’s room, the wooden “H”, & the moon on the door to the cave that Glenn painted for him. I love a home that feels personal & lived in, where you’re not scared of your child accidentally spilling your coffee or scratching the table. Just looking at the photos makes me breathe easier.

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39 R Roberts August 29, 2012 at 7:23 pm

This home is amazing. Even cozier in real life!!! Love Love Love it!

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