By Gabrielle.

When Leah first sent me photos of her home, she almost didn’t include any photos of her kitchen. It’s a huge work in progress, you see, and still reflects the 90s almond craze in appliances! But she figured there are others living with some big sections of their homes far from magazine worthy and not exactly the way they want them to look, so she submitted it all. Somewhere along the way, she found a lesson in that room’s cramped configuration and dated colors, armed only with a positive attitude and some chalkboard paint!

It’s life, isn’t it?

I’m so proud to share Leah with you, and I just know you’ll find some inspiration in her home and words. Welcome, Leah!

Q: Tell us about this family of yours!

A: Our family is a happy little family that I wake up every day thankful to be a part of! My husband and I have been married for nearly seven years, and we have two little girls: Ida (two and a half years) and Amy (seven months). Andy is a high school teacher and soccer coach at a classical Christian school, while I get to stay home with the girls and help them grow up.

Ida is an observant, thoughtful, and high-spirited girl who loves books more than anything. At the moment she is busily paging through a Latin and English dictionary that caught her eye on the bookshelf. Amy is our beacon of joy; she is always scanning the room just waiting for someone to catch her eye so she can smile at them. She throws herself wholeheartedly into every moment, like when she grabs my cheeks and bites my nose just to say “I love you.”

Q: Where do you live, and how did your house become your home?

A: We moved to the northern suburbs of Cincinnati from Philadelphia four years ago. I loved Philly itself, but found life there to be lonely, temporary, and harried, and we were ready to start a family. We had some trouble finding the right home and had what we thought was our dream home slip through our fingers. One day, we were driving around some neighborhoods in our favorite part of town and stumbled across a cul-de-sac street of red brick, three-level townhouses surrounded by tree lines. And one was for sale!

A day or two later, I walked into an empty house, all old oak, seashell sinks, almond and black appliances, and painted for sale in a flat beige/green/gray horrible paint. There was little natural light and no yard. And I fell in love. It felt like home, so we immediately put in an offer and it became home. I still catch my breath a bit when I turn onto our street, so thankful to live here.

We’ve loved townhouse life and plan on making this house work for us for years to come. We’ve been able to overcome some of the superficial downsides to our home. For example, while we’d like to have a yard someday, the deck has been a great space for us to enjoy and the lack of a yard pushes us to frequently explore nearby nature walks and the neighborhood parks.

As for the gloomy interior of the townhouse, I just decided to embrace it. I went with deep colors on the walls on the main living level and bright colors for the decor in order to make the space homey and warm. I do love airy, bright homes, but I also love where I live and wanted to create an aesthetic that maximizes its potential.

The deeper tones also complement the antiques we’ve inherited through the years. The dining table, antique and vintage chairs, stools, bookshelves, and other items from family members’ homes came with their own vibrant shades, and rather than go to the expense of reupholstering everything (I did repaint a few things), we’ve just enjoyed the unusual colors and patterns. We love having those memories mixed in with all of our new ones.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: I cannot imagine a better place to raise a family. Our suburb is actually an old place with a cute little historic downtown, surrounded by a well-planned, community-centered residential area. So much thought went into designing it, with bike and walking paths everywhere, great parks, attractive public landscaping, and a wonderful community center. So, of course, it is filled with families. And there are big city amenities just a short drive away – Ida’s favorite is the zoo!

Q: You mentioned your kitchen is not your happy place right now. How does it affect your daily mood to have an unfinished room in your home? Especially one where you spend the most time?

A: Our kitchen, in addition to being out-dated, is not well laid out. There’s a lot of empty, unusable space and it feels cut off from the rest of the open living area. I’ve tried a lot of different configurations for the space and none has been particularly functional, so I’ve come to realize that without a full scale renovation and floor plan makeover that probably would include taking down a wall, it’s going to remain isolated and inefficient.

When we moved in, we painted the walls and cabinets and replaced the hardware. However, due to having two babies and a limited budget, any serious renovations of the kitchen are not possible anytime soon. It has been a good exercise for me in contentment and learning about what really matters. We have people into our home a lot, and happy spirits at dinner have never been hampered by mismatched dishes clustered on a stained countertop, and the cherry pie tastes just as good from a 20-year-old almond stove.

Our kitchen is the sunniest room in the house so we chase the light in there. Sometimes I turn around from the sink and Ida is at her desk coloring, Andy has spread a blanket on the floor to play with Amy, and there’s absolutely no way for me to get to the pantry to grab the pasta for dinner but I still can’t help but smile because almond counters or no almond counters, my family is together in the sunshine.

Q: What are your plans for that space? Are there any little, affordable ways you make it more stylish?

A: As the girls get older and more independent, I would like to refinish the existing countertops, floors, and cabinets (again) myself, as well as tile a backsplash, replace the appliances, and find a way to put a banquette into the empty wall.

In the meantime, we’ve focused on simple updates. I painted the almond fridge with chalkboard paint, and its smudged, messy exterior fits in well with the worn rest of the kitchen. We added the inexpensive kitchen island to create more prep and storage space. The stools were from my parents‘ first apartment, and I refinished them in a bright yellow DIY chalk paint. I also went a little crazy adding inexpensive or homemade colorful decorative touches. Color makes me happy, and helps the kitchen feel loved, worn, and lived-in…and not neglected.

Q: When does your home work best? What time of day is most enjoyable with you and your family?

A: Our home works best when it’s filled with people, for meals or overnights. We’ve done our best to make it family-friendly and comfortable. But when it’s just us, we really love the hour between dinner and bedtime. Daddy and Ida turn the living room into a big gymnastics space while Amy cheers them on from her exer-saucer (from a safe distance, of course) and I can be in and out of the fun while cleaning up the table. That’s when it’s great to have a sturdy, durable couch and a padded ottoman!

Q: What are your goals as a mother, day to day? How do you make sure your home support these goals?

A: My biggest goal as a mother is to help my girls grow in grace. I want to nourish their mental, physical, and most importantly their spiritual development. Thus, a favorite decorating theme in our house is trees, to reference the Psalms where it says “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”

With such tiny girls, home is the place right now where they do every bit of their growing and learning. So we keep books of all reading levels everywhere, including touch-and-feel books for little Amy to explore and chew on and chapter books for Ida to page through. We also try to encourage independent and imaginative play, so we keep careful limits on how many toys are available at one time and try to fill our home with toys that require creativity, like blocks and puppets.

I love to hear Ida’s chatter as she plays or reads on her own – it really gives me a window into her little mind and heart.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? Is there a development stage that’s long gone that you miss?

A: I love seeing how different they are, even at such young ages, and imagining how these little personality traits will grow into confident ladies. I love their wonder at everything in the world, and complete lack of shame at whole-heartedly enjoying what they love. I wish I could be like that.

But I do already miss the sleepy newborn days, where they fit perfectly into your shoulder and need only you. They don’t need me so much anymore, less and less everyday. And it’s bittersweet.

Q: If they could remember just one memory from this childhood home – and you as their mom – what do you hope it would be?

A: I hope they remember having time to just be. Long mornings with nowhere to be and no plans. Long walks with nowhere to go, and long drives with smoothies just to see the green countryside. Being able to take their time and explore, with Mommy always there to help and encourage.

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

A: Well, people told me this, but I wish that I had accepted it earlier. I wish that I had accepted that it is okay to need, as a mom. I went into motherhood thinking that my husband and I needed to do it all, and be everything for our kids and home.

The hardest lesson for me has been learning that it is okay for me to need – to need help, to need friends, to need support, to need prayer, to need a couple of hours away from the house. And that acknowledging that need and letting others fill it helps me to be a better mommy and a better wife, too.

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Thank you, Leah. These words should be on a poster hung in every old kitchen: “Happy spirits at dinner have never been hampered by mismatched dishes clustered on a stained countertop, and the cherry pie tastes just as good from a 20-year-old almond stove.” Such a great reminder.

Friends, she’s right, isn’t she? We all have one or two areas in our home that prompt a cringe every time we pass through it! Until free time and budgets and all the stars in the sky align for the perfectly painless remodel, how are you feeling love for those spaces?

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.