When Mary first contacted me about a possible tour, she was sweetly hesitant and sent along a few photographs to share the space she and her husband are living with their four daughters. As I always do, I asked for a few more and added a lot of exclamation points to my request.
And when she sent me many, many dozens scenes from her daily life, I spent a good afternoon poring over them. I had to beg Mary to edit them down for me because I simply could not! This tour would have included at least 750 photos! Because, Friends, this life of the Heffernans is pretty lovely. And busy. And thoughtful. And supremely well-designed. I love it all, and I hope it just makes your day, too.
(Just maybe, there will be a follow-up post this summer with all the photos I couldn’t use this time around! I’m keeping my fingers crossed, because I would really, really love a tour of the family businesses!)
Q: Please introduce us to your sweet family!
A: Hello! I’m Mary Heffernan, a mom and small town business owner and a country girl at heart. My husband Brian is a manly mountain man who is surrounded by a crazy wife and four independent, strong-willed little girls. Luckily, they tend to be tomboys and are out there hunting and fishing with him, so he couldn’t be happier. Brian and I met in 2006 at a charity event, where he was on the board and I was volunteering. Eight years later, we have four daughters and a fun and crazy life together, running a range of small businesses in Los Altos, California.
All four of our girls are named Mary, which makes traveling interesting! They are all named after different grandmothers, as we are both from big Catholic families with a lot of Marys! Our eldest, MaryFrances or Francie, is six and the leader of the pack. MaryMarjorie or Maisie, is four and a sweet, maternal soul. MaryJane or JJ is the wild child at three and full of personality and outfit changes. MaryTeresa, Tessa, is one year old and packs a punch to keep up with those big sisters! We have a chocolate lab named Moose, and three Navajo Churro rams on our ranch named Chief Big Horn, Geronimo, and Eugene.
My husband and I are both native Californians – my girls are 7th generation stock to Northern California! – and love the outdoors and wide open spaces. We live in the city, but our roots are in agriculture and farming on both sides. We escape to our ranch in Siskiyou County as often as possible to raise free range kids and – soon! – free range cattle and chickens to serve in our restaurants.
Q: How did this house become yours?
A: We feel very lucky to be stewards of this old house full of history. It was built in 1910 by a Southern Pacific Railroad executive for his wife, Rose Shoup, to raise their children when the area was nothing but apricot orchards and railroad tracks. Only three other families have lived here since then, so we are the fourth! The house was meticulously restored by the last family, the Jennings and their four children, to bring it back to life. We actually lived right next door while they restored it and got to watch the progress.
I grew up in a 100-year old house that my parents restored, so when the Jennings moved, we knew we had to raise our kids in that house. Now, my husband and I are slowly working on a big old house project on our ranch: fixing up an 1868 farm home built before electricity and running water. I guess you could say we are drawn to old houses and their stories. This house is on the historic registry, and we just hope to do it justice by filling it with family memories and lots of noise.
Q: What are the things that make you love where you live?
A: We love Los Altos! We live six blocks from our little downtown where my husband and I run our family-centric businesses. It’s a small town feel, but also close to so many great places: 45 minutes to San Francisco and just a few miles from Stanford, Palo Alto, and all the Silicon Valley hot spots. Our house backs up to Redwood Grove Nature Preserve and a great park, both with a creek running through. It’s a place which means hours of entertainment for my kids and where I also have many memories playing as a child.
The downtown has really seen a transformation over the past several years and we love being a part of it. There are so many families with young children in the area, and it’s a really great community to live and do business in. The weather is great, and we walk to town for work and school most days.
Q: Speaking of your family businesses, what sort of companies do you and your husband run?
A: Our businesses are built around family. We know people value good services and good food and try to offer both! Twelve years ago I started my first business, a tutoring company called Academic Trainers, and I met my husband when he was a lawyer in the area.
Since then, we have opened two restaurants, Bumble and Forest on First, that center around locally grown, healthy ingredients and a welcoming environment for families to feel comfortable bringing kids out to eat. We have a playroom in Bumble staffed with attendants to entertain kids while parents finish their meal in peace, and Forest on First has a gorgeous redwood and natural eucalyptus treehouse play structure with more casual cafe fare and an all-natural juice bar.
We also have a creative DIY supply and class shop called The Makery that is really fun and my happy place to craft and be inspired by the latest, coolest stuff made by our vendors and in-house staff! The Botanist is for all things beautifully botanical, like succulents and home decor and flea market finds galore. There’s a throwback arcade called Area 151, and an old school hobby shop called Red Racer, and a children’s drop-in class space called PLAY.
We are working on another restaurant to open this summer called The Alley with a local Michelin star chef, Marty Cattaneo – who I grew up with – to do really awesome burgers and locally produced fare.
And yes I know this seems a little insane – some days it is! But since most of the businesses are in the same town, it’s more like running one big business for our very loyal customers. Instead of taking one good idea and doing it multiple places, we found a captive audience hungry for good businesses and did multiple ideas in one place. It’s a great town for business!
Q: How do you divide professional and family duties, and also keep your relationship separate?
A: My husband and I certainly spend a lot of time together, so we try to balance it without driving each other crazy! He is the morning bird and wakes up early every day to get things prepared for the day. My downtime is staying under my down comforter a little longer!
We both walk the girls to school in the morning, then head to work. We are very fortunate my sweet cousin Emmy watches the babies and brings them to music class or for a snack at the restaurants, so we get to see them a bit during the day. My husband and I start our work day with breakfast together and our laptops at Bumble, then head to various meetings or dealings with employee issues and pow wows for what’s up next.
We wind down with a house full of kids to feed and sit down as a family for dinner every night if we can, even if we end up having to order in pizza or clean out the fridge for kid snacks! Our girls are night owls like I am, so I usually wrangle bath time and talk them into going to sleep. Working together was a bit of an adjustment for sure, but once you get used to seeing each other ALL day, it’s hard to imagine going back!
Q: You’ve got some really dark and moody rooms, and one very bright white kitchen! I love it all! Tell us your color philosophy and whether you feel the need to stay true to the original style of this home? Any changes you wish you could make?
A: The house has a lot of period specific style. We try to stay true to the craftsman style and work with a lot of beautiful, dark woodwork. The kitchen is a bright white open space for gathering and family chaos.
When the house was built, the kitchen was very small and mostly used for the staff to prepare meals for the first owners, the Shoups. My, how times have changed! Now it is the gathering place for entertaining our family and friends.
My husband is the cook in the family and we love to wind down in the kitchen with the girls, usually throwing food around or dancing half-dressed around the island. It’s never quiet in our house!
Many of the colors were here in the house when we moved in, but I painted a few rooms a little more neutral. But I am a big fan of color and saturation! I think the house needs some deep color to compliment the beautiful dark wood that has all been stripped back to original wood after being painted white at one point! It works here.
Any changes? Maybe picking this house up and moving it to the country with wide open spaces around it!
Q: How do you manage your collections? What are your favorite things to collect, and how do you decide when or if to cull?
A: My mom, aunts, and grandmother were big antique collectors, and I have inherited many of their pieces. I went to college in Virginia and found some neat stuff there to fill my little college house I shared with seven friends. Now, I love to scour flea markets and collectible sales!
Alameda Antique Fair is always a good bet, and last year we took a trip to Canton, Texas for First Monday Trade Days to fill a U-Haul for The Botanist. We found some really amazing stuff and the prices couldn’t be beat.
Right now my favorite collection is vintage kilim rugs. I have them in almost every room in the ranch cabin, and somehow still feel the need for more! I am not very good at cutting myself off from a collection; I like to repurpose and put the old ones someplace new to make room for new ones. Sometimes they even end up for sale at one of the businesses!
Q: What memories do you hope with all your heart that your girls take from this home and from their childhoods? What do you hope they remember specifically about the kind of mom you’re trying to be for them?
A: I hope they remember playing with each other, cementing those long-lasting, sisterly bonds outdoors and in the sunny windows of our home. We don’t have a working TV – it’s been too complicated to set up since we moved in, so we gave up and got used to it! – so they spend a lot of time creating games and forts or stirring up a ruckus with the neighbor girls, who also have four girls under the age of seven!
I only hope I can be half the mom to my girls that my mom was to me! The get-on-the-floor-to-play-board-games kinda mom. I hope technology hasn’t interfered too much so they remember me with an iPhone in my hand…but technology does allow me to work a lot and be a present mom during the day or when we travel, which I am very grateful for.
Q: What has been your favorite part of living with your own girls? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? What do you already miss as they get older?
A: Living with four girls, each with their own distinct and strong personality is a new adventure everyday! I love when they all crowd around me to tell me about their day or latest discovery. It’s chaos and crazy, but I know I will miss these days and try to savor them. We entertain a lot, but my favorite days are hanging out at home, just our family, sitting on the front porch while the girls run around in the yard.
I am most surprised about how much of myself I see in them, especially Francie, the eldest, and how she knows just how to push my buttons! You can’t get much past her and I see so much of myself in her. She reminds me to find some patience, and it takes a lot of mental work to best figure out how to discipline or encourage her…I guess the oldest is usually the guinea pig on this front anyway, and she’s very tolerant of it!
I already miss so much about having a squishy newborn and all those baby stages! Now that Tessa is a growing toddler, I am missing the baby phase and all that comes with it…well MOST of what comes with it! I think we are good for now with four, but maybe a surprise baby down the road wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…
A: I wish someone had told me to slow down and soak it in. I am trying to remember that, but life is so busy and crazy that I know I will look back and think I should have been more present for these early years.
They are very special times and I try to be there as much as I can, but working and life sure do get in the way. When we can escape to the ranch, life is so different and a much slower pace. It really makes me look at our busy life at home and want to press pause!
Mary, I am the same way about about technology! I want my kids to remember me as present, but the fact is that I can be present more often with technology at my fingertips wherever I may be. Thank you for the tour; your home and life are dizzyingly delightful!
Friends, do any of you work with your partners, either in the same space, in the same business, or the same industry? How do you separate your personal relationship from your professional connection? Is that even possible? (For me, I consider it such a gift that I get the chance to work alongside Ben Blair on a daily basis. He is the very best partner-in-crime for me!)