Nadya Sagner has a very cool job. One of those jobs, in fact, that sound fascinating at dinner parties and school events. “Hi, I’m Nadya. I’m an art consultant.” See what I mean? Yet I imagine her career has its share of issues. Like, how does she not buy up every piece of artwork with which she falls in love? And how does she create an inspiring but not overwhelming, peaceful yet invigorating, decorated blank slate in the space where she works and plays with her family? Those of you who work from home understand; in order to work happily, you’ve got to be living happily! Friends, here’s Nadya’s story. Please enjoy it!
Q: Tell us all about the family who lives here!
A: I live with my husband, RP, a lawyer who likes to paint and take photographs in his spare time; our son, Charlie, who’s almost ten; our daughter, Tessa, who just turned six; and our Boston terrier, Flora, who is still fun-loving at 13. Oh, and a blue Beta named Fishy, who’s at least two. We’re not exactly sure.
Q: How did this home become yours?
A: We bought our house from a family who got divorced halfway through adding on and renovating. We hadn’t really been looking for a new house, but I happened to see the listing and went to an open house, since it was right in our neighborhood. We were surprised when they accepted our offer! It was over a New Year’s weekend, and I remember saying to RP, “Uh oh, now we actually have to move!”
The sellers had done the major construction, but left us with a horribly dated kitchen, unappealing wall colors — think drab brown and toothpaste green — and some awful carpet in a few of the bedrooms. We ripped up the carpet on the day we moved in, and we quickly painted most of the walls. The kitchen waited a year for an update. We still haven’t really decorated our bedroom, but it’s spacious and bright and I’m happy to wake up there, so it’s no rush.
Looking back, moving house with a three-month old baby wasn’t the perfect situation. It’s a distant memory now, but I remember having a panic attack over a sink of dirty dishes at five in the morning the day after we moved in. And the movers had left filthy handprints all over Tessa’s crib, which seemed like a bad omen! Poor Charlie, who was barely four at the time, kept saying he preferred our old house.
Q: What do you love about your home?
A: I work from home, so it’s important to me to have a space I want to spend time in. I used to feel antsy at home; now, I can happily spend the whole day in this house. Not to sound corny, but I really feel like it represents us, or at least the best version of us: open, welcoming, modern but not cold. And we’ve been lucky to find such a great town. In Bethesda we’ve got excellent public schools, a bustling downtown with cute shops and restaurants, and a friendly, kind, smart, interesting community. And yes, we do know a lot of lawyers.
I’d lived mainly in New York as an adult (from college on) and thought I’d stay forever, but when my husband finished law school we knew we wanted something a little more…easy. DC has a familiar East Coast energy, but it’s more mellow and easygoing than New York. We love Bethesda’s proximity to DC for wonderful, mostly free museums and great food. We love that we can manage with only one car. And we get back to New York several times a year to see friends and family.
Q: What do you hope guests and your family members feel when they walk through the front door?
A: I want them to feel comfortable, soothed, relaxed. Visitors are surprised to see such an open, airy space inside a rather traditional red brick Colonial. And they always remark on the colors we’ve painted our walls: serene, cool shades of gray, blue, and green. My favorite reaction? A close friend always says she loves to sit at my counter with a glass of wine, watching RP cook. I love doing that, too.
Q: Describe your favorite room in the house. What makes it wonderful to you?
A: As I said, we redid our kitchen about a year after moving in. We planned simply to update the cabinets and appliances within the existing floor plan. But based on the advice of a really talented architect friend, we ended up knocking down walls and turning three rooms into one huge space. And now we pretty much live in our kitchen.
We’d always dreamed of an open, comfortable, sunny space with tons of counter space, so I’m glad it hadn’t been redone before and so glad our friend had the vision to recommend a bigger project! Now we’ve got exactly what we wanted: light sage green walls, Carrera marble counters, and no upper cabinets — only lower drawers in a light birch finish — so it’s incredibly spacious and airy. Our contractor, whom we knew from a previous kitchen renovation in DC, was a dream. The project from start to finish took six weeks.
So my favorite room would be a toss up between kitchen and living room — they’re connected by a large doorway that used to close with French doors, so it’s sort of one giant L-shaped space. Two walls of the living room are all windows. The light coming in is fantastic, though I feel like the whole neighborhood can see when Tessa and I dance around the room. Speaking of which, I love parties in my house. Though it’s not a huge place, it’s so open and uncrowded, and everybody ends up clustered around the kitchen counter or slouched on our living-room sectional.
Q: You’re an art consultant! Tell us what that involves, will you?
A: It’s so hard not to buy everything I see, especially when my whole scope is inexpensive, accessible art. I’ve been blogging about the great work I see on Etsy, Supermarket, and elsewhere online. You can find really beautiful, appealing work, much of it well under $100. But people don’t know where to look or what they want. So I navigate that process for clients.
With all of our windows, we don’t actually have that much wall space, which is a mixed blessing. I love the light, but I want to hang more pictures! And my husband paints and draws as well, so there’s a constant homegrown supply of work that I truly love.
Seriously, seeing so much beautiful, inexpensive work does get tempting. But Pinterest is great for pretend purchases. And when I really, really like a piece of art (or clothing, for that matter), I try to make myself wait for a few days. If I’m still into it, I’ll get it. And if it’s sold out? Well, it wasn’t meant to be.
Buying things for my clients is rewarding too, of course. I’ve been helping friends find art they love for years, so making it into a business seems like a natural extension of my own life. And after being a freelance writer for so many years, art consulting is a way to tap into my visual side. I’m in the process of formalizing the business right now; a designer is almost done with a website, which will make it feel more real.
Q: What is your basic philosophy about living with kids? Do they have free reign? Rules? Chores? Design input?
A: I need a certain amount of tidiness to get anything done, and I can only stand clutter in measured doses and in certain spots. I’m constantly fighting a pile — school papers, magazines, unsorted mail, art projects in various stages of completion — on my kitchen counter. I do think my kids appreciate a lack of clutter. I’ve tried to give them lots of open floor space, especially when they were younger, and now table space for homework and art projects.
I’m not strict. About housework or anything else. That’s as bad for inspiration as clutter is! So I try to balance an easygoing manner with lots of structure, so that I don’t have to get all rules-y. That said, I prefer to keep toys and other kid stuff out of the living and dining rooms. My kids have free reign in their own bedrooms up to a point. Tessa’s stuffed animals must stay in their bins. Charlie has to clean all the Legos off his rug at least once a week. Somehow their disorder doesn’t bother me, as long as it’s contained to one area.
Q: Do you ever wonder what your design and decor choices will teach your kids? What do you hope they remember most about this childhood home?
A: I hope they feel comfortable and inspired and loved. I hope they’ll remember a place where fun music played, the sunlight streamed in, the right-hand drawer was filled with good art supplies, and their dad was cooking something delicious.
Q: What do you love most about living with your own kids? What do you already miss?
A: Often on weekends they don’t want to leave the house. They’re content right here. I’m still a little antsy by nature, so that can be annoying. Plus I want to get out and show them things and have experiences.
But then I think how proud I am of this house we’ve made for them, which they love so much. I love the art I’ve so carefully chosen for them, as well their own creations, like Charlie’s painting of a soldier and Tessa’s pastel ladybug. And despite the clutter, I love their rooms full of treasures: stuffed animals, trophies, drawings, lists, bits of this and that. I will miss those things that seem like junk but are so precious to them.
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish I had known…
A: …that white marble counters get chipped and dinged and embossed. We haven’t had any stains, but there are definitely a few nicks and some funny spots from glass rims or splattered oil. Then again, each little spot is a reminder of a happy time spent there, right?
Right. Exactly right, Nadya. And the fact that your children don’t want to leave their home tells me they’ve got everything they need right there. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and home with us!
How about you, Friends? Have you created a space where your little birds want to roost? What are your best secrets to making your home feel like a cozy nest?