By Gabrielle.

This home tour feels a little romantic to me. It’s got all the makings of a perfect story. There’s the storyteller herself, the serendipitous discovery of the perfect forever home after a series of inspiring wanderings, a painful separation of lovers, an in-house bakery and creative studio (which basically translates – to me, at least! – to a 24-hour access to gorgeous cakes and big ideas), and lots and lots of bikes. I’m not sure the bicycles add anything to the story, but they sure add fun to the Young family’s afternoons! We all want our homes to work for our families, but the Young house truly works with them. And after a lovely glimpse of this home, I think it deserves a raise. Friends, please meet the Young family and their delightful home. I just know you’re going to fall in love!

Q: Please introduce us to the family.

A: Our current crew is Tommy (2), Moses (5), me, and Ryan. Here’s a quick character rundown: Tommy has an imaginary baby gorilla he carries in the palm of his hand, rolls him in the dirt, feeds him Chicken Tikka Masala, and naps him in silky blankets when he’s cranky. Moses is a collector, digger, woods runner, bike racer, number counter, word lover, sleeper, and justice seeker. He also buzzes his hair and wants to be a soldier like his dad. Ryan was a soldier, but now he drives a big truck, fixes hospital equipment, entertains us with spontaneous song, loves his motorcycle, and adores the rest of us.

When I was little, I wore a pin on my coat that said, “Upwardly Mobile.” Apparently, I couldn’t get enough of cartwheels and hanging upside down. I still love flipping things around as a creative philosophy, now, more than my body! And I love being outside, writing stories, driving in the sun, and making a meal while the boys are shooting Nerf guns and running commando.

Q: You’ve had a few interesting homes pre-kids, and you currently live in a pretty swell home in Cincinnati. Tell us what made you love each of your homes, but why this one takes the cake!

A: Our first two homes were night and day! We went from a shoebox, furnished, flea-ridden apartment in Virginia (where Ryan was stationed for six months with the Army), to a sprawling home in Italy with marble floors and oversized doors and persimmon trees dropping fruit at our front door. The contrast left us reeling. I can’t say I loved anything about the Virginia apartment, other than the woods around it and the man inside it, but in Italy I fell in LOVE with splendor and squalor.

Our home was co-habited by a multigenerational Italian family – we each had our own large floor of the home – and we shared a driveway, a gate, fat ducks, and wine. For four years we rented this home, while Ryan did his first military assignment in Vicenza, Italy, and then we hopped back to Chicago so I could go to art school. Our home there was another shoebox, attic apartment where we bumped our heads a lot (we’re both really tall), and tried to grow orchids (fail), and ate a lot of Dunkin Donuts on a small bed while our eccentric landlord refurbished street signs on the floor below us. We had at least eight bicycles stacked into that apartment – some beautiful racing bikes and lots of rickety granny bikes we brought back from Italy – so when I picture Home Three, it’s got a lot of wheels.

Ryan found our current home in Cincinnati, and when I first walked through the aqua front door, I cried. The seller was inside, an elderly artist, and she asked what I thought of her mid-century house. I said, incredulously, “I don’t know what to say…other than I feel like I’m back in Carmel, California.” With a surprised look, the seller handed me a glass of Chardonnay and responded, “But that’s exactly where I’m headed…Carmel.” Lovely, lovely fate. And then, when you bring your new babies into a home, it cements it as the best place ever.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: Cincinnati is the cat’s meow. It’s small enough to feel manageable for a girl who’s terrible with directions, but it’s progressive and getting wonderfully confident in itself. Fantastic new restaurants, cool stores, the whole gamut of schools, and farmsteads. We’re also a city who’s doing something revolutionary to fight poverty with a place called CityLink Center. So, there’s a heartbeat in this city that’s very sacrificial and others-centered.

But the hands-down win is that most of our family is here. My sister and her family of seven are actually our neighbors, so it’s a circus of bike and stroller rides up and down the street, porch parties, driveway games. My grandmother lived next door to her sister, and my other two sisters are also neighbors to each other, so we’re all just repeating a fun cycle started by Marie and Ethel.

Q: You work from your home, too! Your bakery/studio sounds like a dream come true.

A: Our dreams are made of sketchbooks and fondants, although it’s totally chaotic and exhausting at times. Last year, after lots of pro/con lists, we realized this house could really work FOR us. We have a kitchen that’s suited for an in-home bakery, and lots of open space for my writing and creative pursuits. We don’t want a brick-and-mortar store, yet, because our kids are little and we’re kind of homebodies. So now, as Haven, we’re doing things like baking big cakes, styling photo shoots, and producing small books – all the while getting to work with kindred, creative friends.

Q: How do you separate work and home? 

A: Honestly, I don’t separate them too much. When we lived in Italy, I ended up working in the same office as Ryan, and one of the best things I learned is that when you can include your spouse in what you do and love, it’s just good, and simpler, and more meaningful. With Haven, a lot of the beauty comes from how much I get to share with Ryan and now the boys. Tommy goes on deliveries, we visit the screen printer as a family, Ryan helps me with big projects and is the constant sounding board. The less I compartmentalize work from home, even in my head, the more at peace I feel. (Of course, sometimes I have the desperate need for solitude, and I run for the hills.)

Q: When your husband was away for a year, how did your sense of home change without him in it?

A: Even the thought of that time makes my heart drop. Ryan was deployed for 17 months, I only saw him a couple times, and the shift was dramatic. Home changed significantly because I lived with my parents. I wanted the comfort of being with them in a home I knew well, which was salvation at the time. I stayed incredibly busy with grad school, writing a book, teaching, friends, and sisters. While Ryan was away, I wasn’t comfortable with solo downtime because I felt so unmoored without him. When Ryan came home, I was home again, too.

Q: Do you feel like you decorate with your kids’ needs in mind? Do your decor choices affect them in tangible ways?

A: Best design decision for our family to date: overhauled landscaping. Our house used to be cocooned by ridiculous amounts of ivy, overgrown trees, mismatched hardscaping, deer, and raccoon parades. It was a super long process, but scraping our yard clean, grading it for a nearly flat slope and laying down sod brought the biggest joy. We wanted space for baseball and bocce.

We also keep things uncluttered and pretty cheap. We don’t want to cringe every time our boys spill apple juice so staying a little shabby feels right. And the less you have, the less you have to put away at night! I also love keeping things in the home that I want to tell the boys stories about: photographs and ashtrays from their great-grandparents, old government chairs my dad salvaged, my mom’s button collection. I want them to always know their family is big and present and generous.

Q: What traditions and ideals do you hope your boys are learning in your home? What do you hope they carry with them always?

A: Imagination and love and togetherness. A few months ago, I gathered Mo and three of his young cousins together and we set out for an adventure. We were making believe that we were those resourceful and wonderful Boxcar Children and had to literally walk three miles to find food. So we heroically and dramatically trudged from our neighborhood out to the main roads, through strangers’ yards, alongside heavy traffic, until, finally, we found our destination: Wendy’s. After french fries and grand retellings of the walk, Ryan picked us up – two four-year-olds on a street hike starts to fall apart – but the spirit of imagination and love was so beautiful that I’d call it a near-perfect day. If our boys walk in and out of our home with those kinds of memories, I think we’ll be set.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? Has motherhood surprised you?

A: I remember a moment in grad school – I was sitting around a table with a bunch of brilliant creators and artists, and the professor asked what we all wanted in life. One by one, students shared these high ideas of art installations they’d build, plays they’d write, book tours they’d take. When my turn came, I opened my mouth to talk about writerly dreams…but instead, I confessed that all I wanted was to be a mom.

Living with kids is like having heaven and semi-hell all mixed together. It can be so hard in the grind of the day, but nothing – nothing – has been sweeter. When we’re all sitting on the counter in the kitchen making baby gorilla pancakes, or running laps around the couch, or singing funny prayers, I know there’s a part of my soul…the part that longs to be a caretaker, a lover, a provider, a teacher…that’s getting filled to the brim.

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A: …that our mistakes don’t need to define us. I’m sure someone told me this, but I never accepted it until a few years ago. It’s easy to get trapped in a cycle of guilt, performance, fear, approval-seeking. No freedom in that. I’m pretty sure the best stuff in life happens with forgiveness and sincerity. And espresso. And great cocktails. And Becky’s cake. Seriously, you’ve got to try one.

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See? I told you this was a good story. Thank you, Liz, for being such a wonderful storyteller. Best of luck to you on writing the rest of yours! (Also, this: “Living with kids is like having heaven and semi-hell all mixed together.” That made me giggle for a full minute, at least!)

Friends, do you ever dream of opening up a business inside your home? If money wasn’t an issue and the only factor was your dreams, what would that business be? (I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately! Send me your inspiration!)

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!