Living With Kids: Sara Kahlenberg

February 12, 2013

By Gabrielle.

How many of you have bought the perfect home in the perfect location with the perfect bedroom just across the hall from the master just made for that perfect child that will someday arrive…only to be surprised by two perfect children at the same time! Two children who do not sleep well together, in fact. Life rearranges all of our perfect plans, doesn’t it? Sara knows this firsthand, and with another perfect baby on the way she is set to rearrange once again in this house she and her family — and all their firsts! — call home. Welcome, Sara!

Q: Please introduce us to you!

A: My name is Sara. I share my home with my husband Andy, our twin daughters, Lauren and Avery, and our dog Wrigley. My husband and I are college sweethearts and have been married for almost ten years. Lauren and Avery turn four this weekend! Wrigley is nine; we adopted him when he was a puppy a few months after we got married and bought our first house.

Q: Where does your home live, and how did it come to be yours?

A: Our home is in the western suburbs of Chicago, about 40 minutes from downtown. The ironic thing about this house is that at the time we were searching for it we were also working on the HGTV show, Designed to Sell, which featured our first home and talked about our desire to move back to Chicago (where we had lived prior to buying that house), but instead we moved further west, away from the city.

We loved this home from the moment we walked into it. It was built in the 1950s, but was flipped just prior to our moving into it, so all the finishes have been redone and are definitely a major part of why we fell in love. We also loved that it didn’t have a traditional floor plan, but felt more modern and unique. A lot of people say it feels like a city house, which I love since I was the one who wanted to move back to Chicago before buying this house.


Our home has four bedrooms and two bathrooms on two floors. Unfortunately, we do not have a basement, which is rare here. We miss it!

We didn’t have children when we bought this house, so the fact that there are two bedrooms upstairs and two bedrooms downstairs was fine with us. We assumed we would have one child who would have the bedroom next to ours, and the bedrooms downstairs would be an office and a guest room. Perfect.

Until we had twins who could not share a room because when they did No. One. Slept. So after a year of trying, we decided to separate them and give them the two bedrooms on the first floor and make the fourth bedroom upstairs a playroom and office. Having the children on the first floor while we are upstairs took some getting used to, but three years later it works well for us.



Q: What makes you love where you live?

A: There are many, many wonderful things about this house. I love the great room. I love the finishes. I love the unique layout of the first floor. I love all the windows. I love the big front yard. I love that there is a park right behind our house that my girls may one day be able to go to by themselves, as if it was their own; it’s a school park and in the summer it feels very private. I love where this house is located, close to everything in our town. I love that we are pretty much equal distant from both sets of our parents. And I mostly love that we started our family here and witnessed all of our daughters’ firsts here.



I know no home is perfect and this home definitely has its imperfections, but overall it is a really great house. We just need some things this house can’t give us. So, unfortunately, this home is not our forever home. And I am sad about that for all the reasons I love it.

Q: How does your daily life affect your design choices?

A: I’m currently a stay-at-home mom. My girls are in preschool two mornings a week. My husband is a banker in Chicago. Prior to having children I was an Early Head Start Supervisor. I am currently a contributor for Chicagoland Moms Blog which is great because I get to stay at home and write about being a mom and also my past education and experiences all at the same time. Perfect!



This is where the combination playroom and office really comes in handy. I can write while the girls play, and they don’t feel like they are being secluded from me. Or I can come in here when my husband is home and have my own private space to do what I need to do on the computer or with crafts. And on the rare occasion that my husband works from home he has his own private space as well, and the girls and I can be downstairs and completely separate from him.

Q: How would you describe your style?

A: People are surprised when we describe our style as modern. Apparently we come across as being more traditional than we want to be or think we are! Part of that comes from wanting our home to be comfortable and kid-friendly and also not break the bank to decorate. We like to redecorate often, which gets expensive, so we tend to buy things that are less expensive, but maybe also less our ideal style. When I look at design magazines and websites I am drawn to a little bit of everything as long as it’s well displayed and well organized; I’m definitely a neat freak!.



I think the styles throughout my house are pretty consistent; there isn’t one room that is way different from another. I really don’t know what you would call our actual style! Whatever it is, it’s pretty much the same throughout the house and you feel and see it right when you walk in, despite which door that may be.

I don’t think there is one room that best describes my style, but there are parts of rooms…I love the corner of the family room with the burnt orange and red chairs, chevron pillows, scrapbook paper art, and Suzani curtains that so many people love! I have probably put the most thought and effort into my daughters’ rooms, so I love those and I think they are a good definition of my style. I love the spaces that hide the clutter, like the baskets that look neat but hold piles of papers I need to file. That can be our little secret, right?

My style hasn’t changed since having kids, but it does hold me back a little bit. There are pieces I would love to replace, but don’t want to spend the money on at this time because I don’t want them to get ruined. From the day one found out I was pregnant with the girls I knew I wanted to find pretty ways to hold all their toys, showcase their photos, etc. I want this home to be modern and neat and organized and kid-friendly all at the same time. It’s all about balance.

Q: Your walls are covered with art and words and photos; how do you decide what to display?

A: Good question! And I have no idea what the answer is! Truthfully though, I am constantly online searching websites and Pinterest, browsing design magazines, taking notes in other people’s homes, collecting details I want to have in my own home. I adore Etsy and have bought many pieces for my hallway gallery wall and children’s photo ledges in the playroom.

Some of the art in my home has been here as long as we have and needs to be updated! Others, like the hallway gallery wall, are new and I have wanted to do them for a very long time and love the way they look now that they are finally in place.


Photos are a constant battle! I love to take pictures and want to display everything, but obviously that’s impossible, so I just try to display my favorites and rotate them regularly.

Q: How do you incorporate yours and theirs without losing your style?

A: I think a wonderful home for kids is kid-friendly without being overly childish. We have three really great “kid rooms” in our house: the girls’ bedrooms and our playroom. Their toys and books are well organized and well displayed in those rooms, so they don’t need to be all over the rest of the house. We do have toys and games in other rooms, but they are hidden in baskets, and drawers where you don’t see them even though they are still easily accessible. This way, the adult rooms feel adult and the kid rooms feel kid-friendly.

We don’t have any rooms in our house that are off-limits to the girls but we do have few things that they can’t touch or play with. It’s definitely a comfortable home for everyone who lives in it and that’s the way I think it should be. You don’t want anyone to feel excluded from a part of their home.

At the same time, though, there are rules and everyone needs to understand and follow those rules to make the house work. It’s a compromise. Everyone needs to respect everyone else’s things and work together to take good care of the home we all share, so everyone can enjoy it and love living in it together.


Q: When does your home work best? Both when your family is all together and when you feel like being a little separate?

A: My home works best the day my cleaning lady comes! And then 30 minutes later it’s a mess again and I feel like a mess, too. I love when my house is clean and organized. With the kids, I’m usually in one room straightening up while they are playing in another room, taking everything out and leaving it all over everywhere! But now that they are four, they are much better about cleaning up and putting everything back where it goes, and that helps a lot.

Sundays are the worst for my house because everything is out and I haven’t had any time alone to straighten up. Then my girls go to school on Monday and Tuesday mornings and my husband goes back to work, and things get put away and organized. And I breathe a big sigh of relief!


This is not to say that I mind my kids playing and making a mess! It’s just that at the end of the day or start of the week, I like to have a clean slate and have the house feel structured so we can be prepared as well. I think it helps to start the week feeling organized and put together.

The girls are allowed to take out and play with pretty much whatever they want, whenever they want, but I encourage them to put away one thing before taking out another thing. That just doesn’t always happen. I think children in general enjoy their toys, and books more when they are neat and well displayed and they can see what they have to play with. When everything is all over the house, no one wants to play with anything because it looks like a mess and you feel like a mess and crabbiness, whininess, and boredom ensue! Same goes for adults!


Q: How do you think your decor choices (and clean-up philosophy!) affects your kids?

A: As I said, I am a neat freak, and I can see that in them sometimes as well…but I also see times when they hate it. I know most kids do this, but sometimes I wonder if it’s because I stress it too much? I try not to. I let them have their fun and play with their toys all day long, but there are times when every single toy is out and there is no room to do anything anywhere and then things just have to be cleaned up. And at the end of the day things need to be put away. Those are two things I am a stickler about. One of them is usually fine with it, but the other one usually gets upset about it. She probably gets that from her dad!


My girls are so funny when it comes to decor! They definitely notice and appreciate the changes we make. One weekend the girls and I went away and my husband stayed at home, so I gave him a list of projects to work on. When we came home, he had reupholstered the dining table chairs. The girls noticed immediately and raved and carried on about them! That was six months ago and they still talk about those chairs like they are brand new.

We had a pantry added to our kitchen and they talked about our carpenter like he was a super hero! They notice and appreciate and comment on everything! It is so sweet.


My girls definitely have a voice when it comes to decorating their bedrooms. Their favorite colors, animals, and objects were taken into consideration when picking out their furnishings and accessories.

When we hang photos of them on the wall, we have them help us select which ones they like and wouldn’t use photos they didn’t like. When we gave the girls a dollhouse for Christmas we assumed it would go in Lauren’s pink bedroom because she had an empty corner, but for some reason she adamantly did not want it in there. So Avery said she would happily take it. And now Lauren has two dollhouse bookcases and Avery has the dollhouse.

We want them to like where they live, just like we do. It’s our home together, and we all should be comfortable and happy in it.

Q: What is your favorite part about living with your own kids? What do you already miss?

A: I’m not sure I have a favorite part! There are so many things I love about living with my kids…

I love their energy, their enthusiasm, their conversations when they are playing in a different room and don’t know I’m listening, seeing things through their eyes, the questions they ask, the statements they make, they way they make me laugh even when I’m upset, watching them interact with each other and my husband and our dog…so many things!


The majority of the time I don’t miss things that already happened with them because I’m enjoying where they are at now or looking forward to the way things will be in the future. Having twins is hard! At least these two have been. And now that they are getting older, things are getting easier and more fun and I appreciate that.

Plus, we recently found out we are having another one (surprise!), so we will get to enjoy all those baby moments again with this next little one. I feel like I get to have my cake and eat it too!

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

A: Oh, so much! We walked into this house and immediately fell in love with the finishes and new things the flippers had installed. We didn’t notice or didn’t care that there were things about this house that were old and would need work! I think with every house, and even every big purchase you make, you learn things that you want to think about with your next big purchase. There are things this house doesn’t have that we will make sure our next house does have, and there are things we love about this house that we hope our next house will have. But if we didn’t have the issues we have had we wouldn’t know to look for them in the next house. It’s a learning experience.

—-

Thank you, Sara! I can see the modernist in you with your affinity for clean lines, but I bet your style throws off those who expect modern to feel cold and sleek and more uncomfortable than your home seems to feel. What about you, Friends? Does your home showcase your deep-down style? Does it feel to others how it feels to you?

And I’d love to hear from those of you whose kids’ bedrooms are on a different level than yours! I know people have strong feelings about this both ways, from the pro-separation side and the “They must be in the next room so I can hear them breathing!” camp. Tell me: Where are your kids sleeping?

P.S. — Take a peek at 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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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tiffany February 12, 2013 at 10:47 am

I LOVE everything in your house. May I move in, please??

One question: where is your television cabinet from? We are upgrading and looking for one similar to yours.

Lovely home and thank you for sharing.

Best – Tiffany

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2 Sara February 12, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Tiffany – our TV cabinet is from IKEA. It has lots of storage spaces with two bookshelves on the sides and large drawers at the bottom. And being from IKEA it was a great price!

So happy you like our home!

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3 Shannon { A Mom's Year } February 12, 2013 at 11:25 am

You have a beautiful home, Sara! And I’m with you on how nice it feels to get the house back in order when everyone’s gone off to their own things.

When we first built our house, the hallway between our bedroom and the kids’ bedrooms seemed much too long. But now that they’re older, I sometimes wish they were on a different floor! Privacy can be tricky, if you know what I mean.

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4 Amy February 12, 2013 at 11:58 am

We have a main floor master and the 3 kids bedrooms are upstairs. I find it works, but mostly because we have creaky floors and I can hear when they’re up and moving around. But they are still young and I’d prefer they were not up there alone until they’re 4 or so….however, the younger ones just wake up the oldest (age 8) to get help during the night.

I know what you mean about knowing this isn’t your “forever” home. We have been living like that for the past 8 years and finally decided to do something about it. and you know what? It feels awesome to have that imaginary limitation lifted. We are moving into our “forever” home in about a month and I didn’t know how much this “not quite right” house was holding me back mentally.

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5 Amy February 12, 2013 at 12:25 pm

Your house looks beautiful, Sara, as always!

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6 Heather Craw February 12, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Great use of space. Love the kitchen, too. Since we’re on the verge of actively househunting I’m looking to steal ideas!

I’m wondering if the idea of a “forever home” is a myth. People change careers and move so much these days it’s hard to say you’ll be any one place for more than five years.

Thinking of resale value when designing your living space is so depressing and limiting. Even if you have to pay to repaint later, I think it’s important to enjoy every room of your house and every day that you’re in it.

I can see that’s what you’re doing!

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7 Joy February 12, 2013 at 2:13 pm

I love this series! Getting to peek in someone else’s house is the best. Even more so when they have kids and show how these pint-sized people are leaving their footprint in the design. Thanks for sharing!

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8 Summer February 12, 2013 at 2:49 pm

This might be my favorite yet! I can relate to the traditionalist/modern dilemma; I consider myself modern, but for instance, tan-ish interiors are big here, and I reaaaally don’t want to have to repaint the entire house when I move out, so I can live with some beige in the common areas.

Also, I’ve never been a neat freak, but mess used to not bother me. Now, I need to have it somewhat clean (like, “I can clean it within 30 minutes if someone drops by” kind of clean). I’ve never thought about it from this angle before, but it’s so true! When everything is all over the house, no one wants to play with anything because it looks like a mess and you feel like a mess and crabbiness, whininess, and boredom ensue! Same goes for adults!

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9 Pamela Balabuszko-Reay February 12, 2013 at 4:04 pm

I figured with a pup named Wrigley that you must be from Chicagoland. :) So am I….from Palatine….but now I am a Minnesotan.
I love that Lauren has squares in her room and Avery has circles. Those little details make my heart sing!
Nice work Chicagoland!

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10 Missy February 12, 2013 at 5:57 pm

Love seeing how others live with kids! I’m a neat freak too, so I can definitely relate to many of Sara’s comments. I am happiest right after the cleaners leave and agree that my family appreciates having a place for everything and everything in its place. Our bedroom is on a seperate level. We took two bedrooms on the top floor of our 1960s multi-level home and made a master suite. It works great for us now (with our 5 year old daughter about 8 steps away on the next level down) the but I wonder if I’ll feel the same when she’s older… or maybe I was the only one sneaking out as a teen! :)

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11 kelleyn February 12, 2013 at 7:06 pm

I would love for you to share your favorite French recipe since moving to France you have learned how to make either from a dinner invite, neighbor, etc that you will be taking home and keeping in your recipe box once you move back. Yum!

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12 Cath February 13, 2013 at 6:54 am

Lovely house! I have 3 year old twins and an older son. At the moment the twins share (despite protests) but we would like to get a bigger place. Just wondered if you are going to make the study into a nursery or are the twins going to share again?

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13 Sara February 13, 2013 at 12:13 pm

I love all these “Living With Kids” segments… love seeing all the rooms and cute designs, but how come my “living with kids” looks so much more cluttered with papers, dishes, and toys though? How do all these creative people keep their homes from looking like kids actually live there?

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14 Stephanie February 13, 2013 at 1:11 pm

What a nice home and space for your lovelies. In our house we slept downstairs right next to the nursery until our son was old enough for his own big boy bed-thus a big boy room, we combined his new room (our old room) with his toy room and made the nursery my home office. Now our room is upstairs and I tell you those first few weeks I slept ever so lightly-it was weird not being close by and all the way upstairs…now that he is almost 3 we are used to this arrangement and it’s working just perfect! Thank you for sharing your home.

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15 Angela DeMuro February 14, 2013 at 6:29 pm

Sara,
Your home is terrific! I completely relate to your affinity to being neat tidy and all in it’s place…and when it is not you feel off kilter; me too.
before I can go into my studio/play area that i share with our four year old, I have to tidy up so that I can think.
And to answer Gabrielle’s question to what do people think of the bedrooms being on different levels; Our master bedroom and bath are on the first level of our home with the children’s bedrooms and shared bath on the second level. It was weird at first when we began living in our home. But fortunately one son is now 19 and the youngest is four. We still use a baby monitor for our four year old. And it makes me grateful that our little farmhouse is little…so we are not really very far the stairs that lead to their landing. xo

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