Elise Morris has a super cute son, so it’s kind of fitting that she has made him a home to match! It’s fresh, bright, rugged inside and out, and mostly uncluttered, except for beautiful treasures and fun bits, and airy enough to hold a young boy’s ideas. All of them. To add more cool to the mix, Elise is an artist. Her work is so soothing that I found myself zooming in for minutes on end at the art in her living room. (I think you will, too!) For some unknown reason, I couldn’t help but think that she must be a patient and wonderful mom to Jonah…simply from her brilliant use of color and talented brushstrokes! I’m sure there’s a connection, right? While we discuss that, let’s welcome Elise and her little guy. Enjoy the tour, Friends.
Q: Please tell us who makes this sweet house a home.
A: I live here in the Bay Area with my four-year-old son Jonah, two cats, and an involuntary bug collection that varies from day to day. I am a single mom with primary custody, and a full-time working artist. I am also a crazy project planner, organizer, and multi-tasker! Jonah is a very curious and suddenly talkative preschooler who keeps me on my toes.
Q: How did this home come to be yours?
A: After going through an unexpected divorce, I had to move out of our condo and sort everything out. Jonah was two years old. I wanted a fresh start, so I considered locations a bit further east where I already have some good friends. The goal was moving to an area where Jonah could have space to play and be able to attend good schools. I never would have pictured myself living in a suburb, but as it goes, having a child makes the priorities clear.
When I first saw this property I knew that the location was going to be right for us. The house, built in 1950, had some serious plumbing issues as well as dingy carpet and dark brown walls. But it also had character. On my second visit I pulled up the carpet in a corner and saw red oak floors! I knew at that point that I could make this little house pretty again.
It also has a ridiculously big yard, on a wonderful rural-feeling street, with big trees and lots of families. A nice grocery store is a short walk away, and there are open spaces and trails to explore close by. Since the house was listed as a short sale, the process was painful and took almost a year, but I kept my faith that it was the right one.
Before moving in, I spent a month painting all the walls, had the floors refinished, and changed every light fixture and doorknob. I hired a demolition crew to take out a ton of concrete in the yard. I then added a deck, a bluestone walkway, the front steps, and built Jonah a gravel pit to play in. It’s been quite the transformation!
Q: What makes you love the place you live?
A: We live in the East Bay in a wonderful town that has good schools and lot of resources for families. It is surprisingly peaceful here. Frogs sing at night, and we have an amazing variety of songbirds that fly through our yard every morning. We planted a garden with raised beds, and some fruit trees. I have huge rose bushes in the front. It feels miraculous to be here amidst this precious beauty every day. Jonah just revels in all the space.
Being in the Bay Area is of course fantastic. It has so much to offer. Every other weekend I coordinate with my moms’ group to meet up at a different park. Now that Jonah is four, I know all the parks and fun spots. There are also amazing museums, art galleries, and interesting events and diverse neighborhoods to explore.
Q: You’re an artist! A full-time one, at that, which means you must be pretty awesome and brave. Tell us all about your work.
A: Wow, thanks! Yes, bravery is a big deal to me right now. Walking into my studio every day takes a good deal of courage. I have to face those blank canvases and come up with new work constantly. I am so driven by my vision that the possibilities are endless. I am lucky to be able to finally paint full time, and I am also blessed with a pretty fierce work ethic.
I have shown my work in galleries for more than ten years since before completing my MFA. It has been a very gradual process of building my career. In the past few years it finally became clear that I needed to dedicate more time to my artwork.
Finally, a year and a half ago, I left my day job to pursue my art and paint in my studio full time. I work with amazing galleries who really believe in what I do, which makes all the difference. I have work in collections across the US, and have worked on commissions internationally as well. Very recently I had a painting featured in the DC Design House.
Q: As a single mom, how do you balance home and work?
A: I have very strong boundaries around my work and home life. I go to my studio every weekday. Jonah is in preschool four days a week and with his Papa one day, so I have a regular workweek. I think part of my ability to be a full-time artist is that I show up. I am so stubborn about it! Even when I lack inspiration or am waiting on materials to arrive, I go to my studio and make something happen.
Being a single mom is of course challenging! Once I simplified our lifestyle a bit, it became manageable. I cook food in large batches and fill my freezer. I clean the house throughout the week and do errands in between outings. In the evenings you will find us gardening and playing outside or hosting friends for dinner. I am very dedicated to our free time, and fill that up with the fun stuff.
Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? As an artist, do you feel like your color and style preferences inform your space and you can’t get away from it, or is your home more of a blank palate that can be changed up on a whim?
A: I enjoy lots of colors, textures, and pattern and that definitely shows up in our home. I tend to make changes with the seasons, bringing in new colors. I also love integrating natural objects that tend to inform my paintings after a while. I have several of my own paintings at home, which I sometimes change out depending on what I am working on in the studio. Right now I am interested in cyanotypes (sun prints), so I have them pinned up around the house for inspiration.
Q: How do you merge your style with your son’s style?
A: Jonah definitely gives his input! I made all of his bedding, so he was involved in the process and helped pick out colors and theme (dinosaurs, of course!). That was my first big quilt, and I had fun painting the pillows with hand-cut dinosaur stencils. As for decor, I collect objects and furniture that I really love, and will wait for the right one to come along. I have become much pickier about what I bring home. It has finally occurred to me that less is more.
Q: How intentional are you at living with your child?
A: Although it might not seem like my house revolves around Jonah, it does! There are baskets for toys in every room, and the lowest shelves are full of his books. Art supplies of all kinds are always available. Any surface can be used for playtime. He can very easily pull out what he wants to play with, which means he can also put it away without much effort. I change out the contents of the baskets occasionally. I love that we can put all of the toys in their baskets and then I have a grown up looking house again.
Q: What do you think your home’s decor is teaching your son about your family’s personality and life in general? What traditions do you hope he carries with him?
A: I have made a lot of the objects in our house, from pillows to artwork to quilts. Jonah also contributes his “treasures” to the mantel, particularly from his bone collection. I have a growing art collection, usually as a lucky result of trades with other artists or when received as gifts. For Jonah’s birthdays, I purchase a small piece of art for the collection in his room. I also framed a big painting that he did for me one day, and he is so proud of it hanging on our wall alongside my painting!
I hope that I am instilling in him a sense of possibility. You can do anything if you put your mind to it. When we drive by an interesting construction zone, or are looking at a museum exhibit, he will say “Momma, I want to make this when I get home!” So later on we pull out the play-doh, legos, or blocks and start building.
It is also important to me that our house is a place for living, not just for show. This house will be our home base for some time to come. Jonah will grow up in this house, and we will fill it with memories of all kinds.
Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your son? What do you already miss? And were you surprised at all about what it would be like to be a mom?
A: Since it’s just the two of us, I can make plans (or not make plans) on my whims. I make adventures out of our outings, and we dance to loud music in the mornings sometimes. I can start projects and leave them out on the table for days on end if I like! We are a team in everything we do. I do miss his babyhood, but I am also so excited about what is to come.
I think I am surprised that motherhood doesn’t mean becoming someone else. It has inspired me to actually become more of who I am and to embrace my interests and talents alongside my son’s.
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…
A: I wish someone had told me that you will never really be ready to have a child, and then even when you think you are, a huge curveball comes along and changes everything. That it is really the process of becoming a parent that brings true priorities into focus.
Thank you, Elise! Your rugged yet art-filled home moves me, especially knowing that you made it for you and Jonah all on your own. Bravo! I look forward to seeing your art more and more.
Friends, are any of you making a home for you and your kids as a single parent? Talk to us about your struggles and wins, will you? How do you manage it all?