By Gabrielle.

I know of two people who live in Lake Como, Italy: George Clooney and Cristina Cavallari. Lucky for us, one of them is with us today to take us on a tour of her family’s unique home: a monastery built in the 1400s that’s been modernized, transformed, and constantly reconfigured to hold lots of family.

There’s so much that’s interesting to me about this tour, from the idyllic location to Cristina’s commitment to ethical and organic products, the grace with which she’s preparing for her eldest’s move away from home, to a tragic circumstance that has changed her life in the past year. And when I read her thought about how she is raising her kids – “More real friendships, less internet” – my heart sang! It’s inspiring stuff, all of it, and I’m so grateful to be able to share it with you today. Friends, please give a rousing Benvenuto to Cristina! (And just as soon as Mr. Clooney has some babies, we’ll hit him up for a tour, too!)

Q: Please tell us all about this Italian family!

A: Hello! My name is Cristina Cavallari, and I live with my husband Paolo and our three kids: Miriana (19), Noa (14), Zoe (seven), plus two crazy cats called Matisse and Piggy.

Miriana is a strong creative young woman trying to determine her role in this family. Noa is a young man mad about sport, ironic, and sweet. Zoe is only seven, but she is smart and perceptive. She is practicing artistic gymnastic, always jumping, and draws with passion.

Paolo and I used to live close by in Italy when we were young, but never met before. Then one day we both decided to move to London to work and learn English. Paolo spent three years abroad moving from London to USA to Canada to Asia to Australia and back to London, working as a chef and many other jobs, while I was living in London and traveling to Europe to discover as much as possible. We met each other one day at Victoria Station where I was waiting for my friend to visit me…he helped her to reach me, we connected, and everything started from there. This year we celebrate 25 years together!

He is now an electronic engineer and I try to do my best juggling family and work. My main job was as a graphic designer, which I still do sometimes, but after three kids I’ve tried to follow my passions of becoming a crafter. I work with different materials, especially felt and fabrics, and lately I’ve started shooting weddings! Of course I can’t compete with professional photographers, but I try my best to see beauty though the lens.

We love to travel all together when possible with our motorhome around Europe. It’s a great experience for kids to visit different countries, meet interesting people, and discover new art and interesting food.

Q: How did you find your current home?

A: Our family was growing, so we started looking around for a bigger home. Our needs, though, were that we really needed an unconventional home with space for large family reunions – Paolo has eight brothers and sisters! – and it had to be kid friendly. We found this one in our local newspaper. It was love at first sight. We made an offer and it was immediately accepted! We’ve noticed that these thick 1400 era walls with big stones inside are keeping warm temperature in winter and refreshing in summer, so it’s very eco-friendly!

Q: What makes you love where you live?

A: We live in a small town, and our home is situated in the middle. We have mountains reachable in just 30 minutes, Lake Como is 15 minutes away, and the river is behind us. The fantastic natural environment is one of the reasons that makes us want to live here, but if we need a city vibe, we have Milan and Bergamo just a 30 minute drive.

The cost of life now is quite high, and it’s not easy to find a job because of the recession. We have free health care at least. We buy at local organic farmers where we can find good quality products, so we know who makes our pasta, flours, Parmesan cheese, vegetables, and even detergents. Nowadays, this is not taken for granted! More and more people discover this different way to do their shopping which is cheap but also ethical and fair.

Q: Describe your daily life in Lake Como.

A: We live 15 minutes from the lake. It’s such a quiet place. Our day revolves around going to school, cooking meals, playing sport, meeting with friends, eating at least two meals together. At dinner time, we love to talk about our day. In the warm seasons we go by bikes to the beautiful parks around us.

We try to make our kids appreciate nature, respect the environment, have more real friendship and less internet, help them follow their passions. We are not conventional or conformist at all, so sometimes that makes you feel like an outsider living in a small village, but still we try to raise our kids with open minds.

We used to travel every time we could, but life has changed so much lately. Last year, my mum had a bad stroke that left her disabled so I have to help her in her daily routine. I have to struggle every day to feel positive. When I’m able to, I find myself cooking bread, sewing curtains or clothes, knitting some wool blankets, painting old chairs, taking pictures of the world around us, and trying to remember to laugh. I try to do something creative that allows my best to come out, to help me feel alive and needful.

Q: How do you decorate and make it your own? Do you specifically decorate with your kids’ taste and joy in mind?

A: Our house started out as a white canvas when we found it. We knew we wanted a warm place to find ourselves with friends and kids around without worrying too much or feeling intimidated about overly stylish surroundings. I’m into everything creative – I literally love to get dirty – so it gave me satisfaction to deal with decoration, painting walls, choosing furniture, while staying on a small budget.

We brought our old furniture and gave vintage pieces a new home. I added family pictures and plants, a beautiful old mirror from the 1800s, our books, and a few mid-century furniture pieces found at the flea market. Usually the items I choose are not expensive but have a sentimental value.

During the years nothing stays the same: our needs are always changing, and so are our rooms. As kids are growing, they need more organized storage that saves me from the mess! I let my kids paint the wall and display their creations in their rooms to make them feel it’s their nest. It’s a pleasure when we hear them singing and playing guitar with friends.

Q: You’re a designer and crafter – what’s your favorite thing about being a maker?

A: I remember when they were children playing with my stuff: simple pieces of fabric or felt with scissors in their hands turned into magical creations. Now two of them are 19 and 14 years old, and they often make gifts with their hands. Miriana is going to graduate this year in design.

Art makes life more fun. And I believe creativity helps us to see colors even where it is dark black.

Q: When does your home work best?

A: We like our house full of people. We are not afraid to have kids playing, jumping, and singing. As I don’t want to spend all my time cleaning up, I’ve become more and more minimal in my style preferences; removing the unnecessary helps my housework, so “less is more” is my motto.

We are thankful for the opportunity to have plenty of nice warm space to share with others, otherwise it would be a nice place without a soul. Our house reflects who we are. Our best places in it is without a doubt the kitchen and living room open space where we spend more time, and the kids’ room with  plenty of light and enough space to play.

Q: What has been the absolute best thing about living with your kids? What do you already miss as they get older?

A: My kids have taught me what is important in life, to question myself on a daily basis, to be able to say sorry, enjoy the small things, and rely on each other.

Miriana wants to move to London next year, so I’m working on myself to remind me how fast time flies. I must convince myself not to look behind, but to be strong and let her find her way…sigh. Of course I still try to cuddle them as much as I can.

Q: What do you hope your kids remember about this home? Their childhood? And you as their mom? 

A: Our home should be a safe place to come back to and always find a friendly family. It shouldn’t matter how many square meters has the house, but the people living in it; that’s what makes a true home. They are aware we have always tried to be our best and to be good parents, and that we fail sometimes but it’s okay. I have established a good dialogue with each of them, although during these teenage years we had hard times discussing each other’s point of view!

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

A: Nothing remain the same forever, so we need to live fully with optimism each day…even though sometimes it is so difficult.

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Thank you, Cristina. I’m with you on the definition of a lovely home; it doesn’t matter the size, but it is all about the people living in it. Sometimes, I think that’s a forgotten idea, especially in the midst of pinning our ideal kitchens and dream bedrooms, so it’s a welcome reminder today. And this: “Art makes life more fun. And I believe creativity helps us to see colors even where it is dark black.” Goosebumps.

Friends, weren’t you moved by Cristina’s words? “I have to struggle every day to feel positive. When I’m able to, I find myself cooking bread, sewing curtains or clothes, knitting some wool blankets, painting old chairs, taking pictures of the world around us, and trying to remember to laugh. I try to do something creative that allows my best to come out, to help me feel alive and needful.” I’d love to know how you force yourselves to find the joy in your days when life throws an unexpected bit of sadness at you. If you would like to share your own secrets, I’m sure we’d all benefit!

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Just send me a note! It’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.