By Gabrielle. Most photos by Arlene Bax, Ruth’s talented sister!
If you’ve ever participated in a Living With Kids home tour, you know how much thought goes into one. Which photos to take, which photos to send, which words to write, and how in the world to keep the house clean until all of the above is completed! I definitely appreciate all the hard work and extra thought on top of all of the usual work and thoughts that fill up a day, and I hope you do, too.
Lately, I’ve been thinking more and more about thoughtful environments – both living and working – and Ruth‘s Perth home and philosophy epitomize this idea perfectly. From concept to actual daily use, this is one thoughtful home, work space, and family. It will make you rethink your home office and the size of your dining room table! Also, you will probably want floor-to-Everest-high-ceiling bookshelves. And a ladder. You’ll see. Please enjoy the tour, Friends.
Q: Please tell us who makes this bright house a home.
A: I live here with my husband Phil and our five children. For his day job, Phil is a project manager in the oil and gas industry, and at home he is the house-builder, gardener, caretaker, washing-line maker, story-reader and splinter-remover, and the one who usually tucks most of our children (ages ten, eight, five, three, and eight months) into bed at night. In our four sons and one daughter we are blessed with children who play really well by themselves and all together. No one is ever short of a play mate at our house!
Q: How did this home come to be yours?
A: After carrying out extensive renovations on our first home (while living there), we were excited about building a new home without having to live in building mess. Our first home was lovely, but required a lot of energy to keep it comfortable. One of our main aims was to build a home which maintained a comfortable and constant temperature all year without the help of air conditioners or heating. That would have been much simpler if we didn’t also have a whole range of design elements and principles that we wanted to include, as well. Things like having windows on at least two sides of every room, and having connection between the upstairs and downstairs spaces, to name a few!
During the design phase we continually reminded each other to think outside the square, especially with regard to room shapes, materials, and storage solutions. Inspired by magazines and books, we did all the design work ourselves, including drawing up the plans. Phil even built a to-scale Lego model to help us visualize how it would look. We had a long list of wishes for our house. Designing it took one and a half years, but we managed to include most of our wishes.
We settled on a bedroom wing where we can shut off the bedrooms from the living room noise during the evening, but I can still hear the children in their bedrooms during the night. A dedicated studio was definitely not negotiable. As much as a completely separate studio may sound ideal to many people, I knew I wouldn’t end up spending much time in a studio that was too far removed from the main living space. My studio overlooks the dining room that is the centre of our home, making it an ideal workspace.
We have a fairly steep block, and wanted to work with the slope by keeping the house close to the ground wherever possible. As a result we have many stairs. The kids love telling their friends that we have seven levels in our house!
Being naive, we came up with a house that we love but which wasn’t very straight-forward to build. Building and cladding the roof nearly put Phil’s dad into early retirement! For the rest, we were so fortunate that the process went so smoothly, without major hiccups, which I think had a lot to do with Phil’s methodical organization and planning skills.
Q: What makes Perth awesome for raising a family?
A: We have such a great climate here in Perth, which translates to plenty of outdoor living. We live in one of the southern suburbs, and I love being so close to the regional and national parklands while still being able to enjoy the cultural aspects of city life. We all love a day trip into the city centre, especially to the Art Gallery of Western Australian, the Western Australian Museum, and the nearby Urban Orchard and Wetland. Either that, or we go to the nearby port city of Fremantle to look at the boats and enjoy some of the many little independent shops there.
Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? In what ways did it change when you added kids to the mix?
A: I’ve always loved simple. It’s how I dress, too!. We love the industrial chic style that has become popular: raw timber, concrete, and stainless steel finishes. This all suits a family of children very well. We know that marks and scratches are inevitable, and we try to work with materials and furniture that are enhanced by these marks. Phil built a three meter-long dining table that we have oiled, rather than varnished, to make it easier to maintain. Although we teach our children to treat it with care, we fully expect it to take on several generations worth of marks and scratches.
While I love my home to be mostly free of clutter, I also love having items that have sentimental value. Those are the things that turn a house into a home. I love the play room table, which Phil’s grandfather built as the family dining table many years ago; by lowering the legs, it made it a perfect play table. Other heirlooms I’m glad we have are the lounge suite from Phil’s grandmother and the mirror that used to hang in my parent’s bedroom.
Children add a lot of busyness to a home with all their craft projects and train sets and lego creations, which is another reason why I like to stick with a fairly simple decorating style. Also, when we moved into this home we painted a lot of our old furniture white. I love how this has helped to create a more simple and peaceful home.
Q: Do you consciously decorate a room with your kids in mind?
A: I think that the most important thing about decorating a home full of children is having suitable storage. We’ve made sure that everything has a place in baskets, plastic buckets or cupboards. When the children know that something has a place, they are much better able to keep their things tidy.
In the children’s bedrooms and the play room I often thought about the kind of space I would have loved as a child: cosy corners and hiding spots, artwork down low, interesting nooks, and plenty of places to store things. The kids all have a pin-up board and a shelf for displaying their special work. All the children also have drawers in their bedroom for treasures. When the drawers are too full, it’s time for a major de-clutter, usually during the school holidays.
A favorite storage solution is the set of school lockers in the family room. Each child has a locker for their school bag, which goes straight in there after school. The spare lockers are so handy for picnic blankets, shopping bags, extension cords, and more.
I love featuring beautiful toys as decorative items, like handmade dolls, wooden cars or blocks, or my collection of Schleich animals. Having children provides the perfect excuse for such decor!
We’ve put a lot of thought into the kinds of activities we want to encourage our children to do. That’s why the bookshelves are the centre of our home, and we have consciously created several cosy reading corners. I also like to encourage the children to do creative activities, and keep craft supplies readily accessible. Aside from Lego and Playmobil, we generally avoid plastic toys. Especially large and loud plastic toys! That helps for maintaining a space we all – Mum included – feel happy in!
Our master bedroom have a much more adult feel to them than the rest of the house, even though we used the same materials and finishes as elsewhere. While the rest of the house is decorated with children in mind, they don’t really have free reign in there.
We have a few simple rules that make housekeeping much more manageable: shoes come off when the children come inside, all food and drink is consumed at the dining table, children are most welcome to play in the studio (but only when I am there too), and the lounge is for quiet and mess-free activities only.
Q: You’re an amazing artist! Tell us about your training, your work, and your hopes for it.
A: Thank you, Gabrielle! I’ve always enjoyed sewing, and made my first art quilt as part of my high school art course. It was a perfect complement to all my maths, chemistry, and physics homework! I put the sewing machine away while I went on to study engineering and science at university, but like so many people, I pulled it out again when I was expecting our first child.
I now make art quilts (almost obsessively) by stitching together hundreds of little pieces of fabric to create bold textile paintings. The most valuable thing in my art-making journey is the feedback I have received along the way from everyone who enjoys seeing the quilts. It’s a big part of what inspires me to keep making new artwork! My work over the past few years has focused on little children discovering the awesome world in which we live. And I’m still so excited about making childhood-themed art quilts. After all, little children are what define my life at the moment!
I believe that God has created an awesome world in which we are privileged to live. Children are naturally appreciative of God’s creation, and as I share with them the wonder of our Creator, I am reminded over and over again of the wonderful things He has made; most especially the children who have been entrusted to us to nurture and to teach. I would love it if my artwork were to cause other people to pause and appreciate these same things.
Q: Since your studio is at home, how do you balance working and being present for your family?
A: Ooohhh! That’s the burning question! I’d love to say that I keep a perfect balance, but in reality it’s more a case of regularly wobbling from one side of the centre of balance to the other and back again!
I thrive on a fairly strict daily routine (I wrote about that here), and expect all the children to help out with chores. Having a routine means that I can plan my week a little. The routine is constantly being tweaked. And inevitably, things get in the way of the routine, but at least I know what I’m aiming for.
I love to get up early. That gives me a chance to have a quiet coffee to start the day, as well as tackle the housework and prepare dinner before bringing the older children to school. I’m very strict with myself about doing my housework before touching my artwork – that way I can completely enjoy my studio time without any feelings of guilt.
At the moment, I aim to spend a couple of hours in the studio every afternoon between lunchtime and when I pick up the children from school in the afternoon. The two little boys are supposed to nap during this time. I also regularly spend time drawing or hand-sewing at the dining table while the children are busy with their homework.
Monday mornings are for clearing the inbox and planning some blog posts. That’s when I pull out the play-dough for Daniel, our three year old. Other mornings are for running errands, baking, and doing activities with the children. If I have a spare morning where the housework is complete and there are no errands to run, I try to spend some extra time in the studio. I have studio-only toys for those mornings so that it is a treat for the youngest children to spend time there.
If I’m really caught up in a quilt or have a looming deadline, I take the sewing machine downstairs to the dining table, and stitch away for as much of the day as possible. Sometimes it feels great to let go of the routine for a few days, knowing that I’ll get back to it the next week. Thankfully, my quilt making process is such that much of the work can be done with small children around and the distractions and interruptions that entails.
I often include the children in creative projects like drawing, sewing, and screen-printing. Last year we held our own artists’ retreat during the winter school holidays, and they keep asking to have another one. You can read more about that here and here. They consider this to be a very normal part of family life! It is definitely an ongoing struggle, though, to keep it all in balance. I remind myself regularly that my family is my first priority!
Q: What is your favorite room in the house to spend time with your kids?
A: We spend most of our time around the dining table. We made it extra large so that we can have projects – sewing machine, jigsaw puzzles, or board games – at one end of the table, and still have room to eat our meals at the other end. And there’s plenty of room for all of us to be busy with art and craft projects. Our table centerpiece is a large pot of color pencils to stimulate all kinds of creativity.
Q: What do you hope your decor choices and the items that surround your family are teaching them about you and their someday ideas about family?
A: We aim to build a positive Christian culture in our home. We try to teach the children to respect the things we have. We remind them that we are privileged to have a home, books, and toys. We also want them to learn to spend their time on wholesome activities. That’s why we have chosen not to have a television. It’s also why we strongly encourage book reading, music, and art and craft. We hope that our children will see our home and our family as a place of refuge as they grow older; a place where they and their friends can relax and be themselves. We designed the living spaces of our home with that in mind, with zones where we can be near each other but not on top of each other.
We also like the children to see that we make things ourselves, or use what we have before going to the shops. Our parents did this because they couldn’t afford to do it any other way. We’d like our children to also learn what it means to make do with what you have, despite the affluent culture in which we live. We try to spend our money on items that are simple but good quality – items that we can enjoy for a long time, which cuts out most of what you can find in the local toy shop!
Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids?
A: I’m finding that the bigger our family gets, the more I am enjoying being a mother. Although I still crave some quiet time to myself! I love being busy at home with the children busy around me. While the children are still little (Marcus still naps two or three times a day) we have the perfect excuse to spend most of every day at home, which I love. I’m fairly certain that once all of the children go to school, my days will look quite different again.
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish I had known…
A: …that the concept of ‘mercies new every morning’ (Lamentations 3:22-23) applies especially to mothers of little children! Well, to this mother, at least. Through experience I now know that a bad day does not make a bad life, and that tomorrow we get to start afresh. God forgives my mistakes and my children do, too!
Mercies new every morning is such a wonderful reminder, isn’t it? Thank you for it, Ruth. And thank you, too, for providing so much artistic and soulful inspiration for us today.
Friends, I’m wondering: Are you as disciplined – or maybe the better term is intentional – with your work-family balance? If you have a designated home office, do you find yourself dreading your time in there or constantly trying to keep your kids out of it? Or do you do everything in your power to make sure it stays a creative, happy space, and include your kids? I’d love to hear your real stories as well as your solutions. I’m sure we all would!