Living With Kids: Amy Dolgin

August 12, 2014

By Gabrielle. Photos by Maris Garcia.

The Dolgin’s Chicago apartment is as hard-working as they come. Scanning through Amy’s introductory photos, I kept coming back to her hallway and getting more ideas. (Built-ins and a desk nook are now on my wish list!) Somehow, she’s made an apartment feel as wide-open comfortable as a sprawling house! You know I enjoy a good vertical solution as much as anyone, so I was particularly taken with this tour. The window seats, the all-white with vibrant accent wall colors, a sleek and friendly kitchen — and did I mention the gorgeous built-in storage — all sealed the deal. I like this space.

Please be warned: This tour might make you yearn for a citified life. Friends, please welcome the Dolgins!

Q: Please introduce us to this Chicago clan.

A: There are five of us: me, my husband, Harell, and our three kids. Mischa is six, Romy is four, and Emmett is one. A family of five sounds so big to me when it’s in reference to other families, but doesn’t feel big to me in our home at all. I think that’s part of me still feeling a bit stunned by being a parent to three children! Kind of like how my age doesn’t really match how I feel anymore. I just turned 34, but feel stuck at 28 inside.

Harell is a contractor in a family construction business, so he renovates and builds both residential and commercial spaces. Although I was trained in public health and nursing, I recently started working with him to help during this period of fast-paced growth in the business. I still teach a Women’s Health course at a local university too, but I’ve loved getting involved in construction and design beyond it being a hobby or obsession. Harell is the calmest person I know. I feel so lucky about his general calmness, as he balances out some of my anxious and wanderlust tendencies. He is the eternal optimist, finding the silver lining in any challenging situation.

Our oldest daughter, Mischa, is finishing up her first year at our neighborhood public school as a kindergartner, and our middle daughter, Romy, will start kindergarten there in the fall. Mischa is determined and driven, but also silly and musical. She literally sings her way through each day. Romy cares deeply about clothing, colors, sparkles, and things being just the way she envisions them. She idolizes her big sister, but is also the only one in our family that Emmett kisses – and he does so about a hundred times a day! Having two girls so close in age (18 months apart) has been both exciting and exhausting, but we’re coming out the other end of those early years with girls who love each other endlessly and keep good company together. We waited a while longer before having our third child, Emmett. He is such a funny combination of cuddly and reckless, and we are loving every minute of his baby stage since we know how short it really is. I like to think that growing up with two big sisters will help him learn to be a respectful man.

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

A: We live in an apartment in the East Lakeview neighborhood in Chicago. Our building is a vintage 1920s graystone, fairly typical of Chicago’s lakefront. Our path to this home was meandering and full of unexpected twists and turns that I may have cursed along the way, but it feels like we have landed in a place more special and wonderful that we thought possible. Just two years ago, we were living in our first home, a 1950s brick ranch on the northwest side of Chicago. We loved that little house of only 800 square feet, and we have such fond memories of bringing our first two babies home there. But, it was in a neighborhood that really didn’t have a good public elementary school option, which we knew was important to us.

We found an unusual and huge (2400 square foot) vintage rental in another northside neighborhood, Ravenswood Manor, and wonderful tenants for our own little home, and took the plunge in preparation for Mischa entering kindergarten one year later. Just eight months after moving into that great apartment, we were pregnant with number three and our landlord began hoarding cats in the unfinished apartment on the ground floor. I realize this sounds crazy – it was! We begged and pleaded for two months, desperate to make it work in this rental, both to avoid moving again and because we had truly fallen in love with the home. Alas, she could not be reasoned with. I could not leave quickly enough. You can imagine our serious concerns about the health of our family – and those poor cats! We made the difficult decision to leave our new home, and move in with my parents in nearby East Lakeview. We had no idea how long we’d be there or where we’d live next, but we were driven to fix this mess, and quickly! I was four months pregnant when we moved in with my parents.

Thankfully, this period at their home was wonderful. They took care of us when we were truly in need of comfort and help. It was a pleasure and great fun to experience living in a multi-generational home during this tricky time. Harell and I hurriedly explored rentals and apartments for sale in a couple of neighborhoods that had elementary schools we liked. When we walked into an apartment just five blocks from my parents’ home, on the lakefront, in a beautiful vintage building, near a wonderful fine and performing arts school that was listed for a steal because it was floor to ceiling full of junk and in need of a full renovation, we knew this was the place for us! There were several other couples at the showing when we first saw the apartment, but they didn’t make it past the front doorway because it needed SO MUCH WORK. Despite our tight timeline, we bought the apartment and started a major renovation right away. We moved in about two months after Emmett was born, exactly one year ago. Harell and I are still in disbelief that we get to live here. It is far beyond what we thought possible!

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: We joke that living in Lakeview feels a little like living in a small town; you see people you know every time you walk to the park. We walk to school most mornings, and the kids feel like it’s a parade on Broadway Street with all the neighborhood kids in their sweet navy and white uniforms walking and scootering to school. We know the local hairdressers, restaurant owners, ice cream and bookstore owners, and we can walk to practically anything we might need. But at the same time, we are in the middle of Chicago! We have access to everything there is in the city: great restaurants, amazing museums, performances, stunning architecture, incredible lakefront parks, and beaches…the list goes on. I am so pleased to be raising our family here.

Q: Your style seems very modern one minute, but very cozy, too. How would you describe your aesthetic? Did it change with the addition of kids?

A: I have a strong feeling that beauty enhances our lives. Living in a home that I find beautiful and inspiring makes me happy and energized, and I think it does the same for my family. Prioritizing good design, beauty, and balance is something I know my children notice, and I’m glad because it’s important to love your home! We really wanted to balance beauty with comfort and durability in this home. At 1800 square feet, the home feels spacious but works hard. We certainly fill it up

I think my aesthetic is a mix of many styles, but what is consistent is that I try to only bring things into the house that I either love or that serve an important purpose or both! I don’t think this has changed since having kids; if anything, I’ve only become a more relentless purger of household junk and clutter.

Q: When does your home work best?

A: We opened up many walls during the renovation to create one huge living space containing the kitchen, dining and living rooms (and play space, homework space, drawing space, reading space, etc.). Our home works best when all five of us are home after school, and everyone is happily coexisting in the same room. Often this means I am getting dinner ready, Harell is either finishing up work or hanging with the kiddos, the girls are either enacting some elaborate make believe scene or playing with Emmett, and Emmett is…being reckless

Q: Talk about balance, whether it’s how you prep for your family time or how you juggle work or even how you juggle time with each member of your family.

A: My version of balance focuses on happiness and not feeling rushed. I’ve slowly learned that these two factors determine how our family and home feel on a daily basis. This includes getting the help I need to be able to do my best at both parenting and other work – think lots of family support from all grandparents, aunts, and uncles, an amazing babysitter, and wonderful school teachers.

In a more traditional sense, though, our family balance has meant that over the past two years, I’ve slowly cut back my work outside of the house. These days I work approximately 20-25 hours a week, and that feels just about right. Harell works full time but his job is wonderfully flexible, so he and I truly tag-team with carpooling and other logistics. My work has been all over the place since we started our family: consulting on public health projects, clinical nursing, teaching university students, and now helping with a family construction business. While I’m not thrilled with my lack of focus and career wanderlust, I realize that this has afforded me the ability to both work and be home to walk my kids to and from school and spend those few afternoon hours with them after school, which I am so grateful for.

Q: It sounds like your career has been ever-changing to meet your needs as your family grows. What are you dreaming about lately?

A: Right now, in addition to the teaching and construction administration work I’m doing, I’m thinking a lot about two other things: interior design, and baking granola. I recently have had some informal requests for both design help and weekly granola supplies – I’m not sure how or if either of these interests will develop. But I love baking my granola (and think it tastes better than any other I’ve tasted) and I love decorating interiors, and hope to see one or both of these passions grow organically into something more than a hobby!

Q: Do you ever think you’ll outgrow this home? If so, what would be the next adventure? Suburbs or still city living?

A: This is tricky to answer because we love this home and our neighborhood. Given Harell’s profession and my secret dream of doing interior design work, we are pretty sure we’ll be moving again – although not right now! We have loved the process of renovating together. Ideally, our next move will be to another vintage apartment in the same neighborhood with similar or slightly more square footage, that we can live in while doing the renovation gradually, one project at a time.

I grew up in the city and Harell in the suburbs. While we plan to stay in the city, we’ll never say never about moving to the ‘burbs.

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: My favorite part about living with my kids is just how delicious they are! I want to eat them up. Emmett is at one of the most edible stages right now, toddling around and getting into everything, but always with a smile that makes it impossible to get mad at his recklessness. I love watching the girls grow and develop into their own strong personalities. This makes me daydream about their adult lives while wanting them to stop growing at the same time!

I love being pregnant and the short but sweet and simple newborn stage. While our family may be complete, Harell and I both have a glimmer of want for a fourth pregnancy and a fourth child. The idea of not ever being pregnant again and not ever having an itty bitty newborn again makes me ache. One of my major surprises about motherhood is how much I’ve grown and evolved as a mother over the past six years. I am much more proud of myself as a mom today than I was at the beginning. I guess this is probably not unusual, but I’m so pleased to be able to say that.

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 that they remember how we worked passionately to create a warm and beautiful space for our family to enjoy, and that the beauty came both from the comfort found and fun had inside as well as the design details.  Also, I can only wish that my children know and feel my love, admiration, and excitement for them, always. I hope they have fond memories of us having fun together – laughing, being silly, dancing and singing – these are my very favorite parts of parenting!

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

A: …how important it is to love yourself and find your own way. Showing your children that you love yourself is one of the most important lessons for them to learn, and for me, one of the hardest to teach. Similarly, trusting your instincts as a parent and finding a way that works for you and your family is one of the hardest and most satisfying learning processes I’ve ever gone through.

Also, I wish someone had told me that what works for me at one point in my life may not work at another, whether personally or career-wise or parenting…and that is OKAY!

–-

Thank you, Amy! And let me be the first to chime in that a fourth child is a lovely, lovely thing. I’m sure we can work out a Growing A Family feature for you! Ha!

For those readers who live in the suburbs, do you ever want to try living city-style? What holds you back? I’d love a good discussion about suburbs vs. city, especially those aspects that keep you exactly where you are.

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.

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

1 katie August 12, 2014 at 10:48 am

I’m going to have to come back and give this a full read later, but just scrolling through the pictures had to stop and comment on all of the built-in storage. Seriously, so smart and beautifully done.

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2 Laura @ Rather Square August 12, 2014 at 10:54 am

Loved reading this. Our blog is about our house and life in the suburbs of Chicago, but for many years I lived in the Lakeview neighborhood myself, and loved it! My husband and I both grew up in the suburbs. I moved to Chicago in early adulthood and never thought I’d go back to the burbs, but having kids made us want to put down roots in a small community with good schools. We’re just a few blocks from Chicago’s border, though… so we feel like we get the best of both worlds. It’s a good compromise!

http://www.rathersquare.com

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3 Betsy August 12, 2014 at 11:04 am

I moved from East Lakeview to Ravenswood Manor this spring and miss living so close to the lake. Amy’s house is so beautiful and her children are so fortunate to live in such a vibrant community so close to the lake!

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4 Tamara August 12, 2014 at 11:17 am

Amy made 2 comments I really love!

I am much more proud of myself as a mom today than I was at the beginning.

…how important it is to love yourself and find your own way. Showing your children that you love yourself is one of the most important lessons for them to learn, and for me, one of the hardest to teach.

Both comments are so important. I love that you brought them up. Well done and what a beautiful home.

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5 Azra August 12, 2014 at 12:07 pm

This home is beautiful and very functional. Great job Amy!
I love your comment about importance of loving yourself and finding your own way. So true!
We live in suburbs (schools are great and a cost of housing is much cheaper) but I am yearning for the city life. One day!

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6 Tina August 12, 2014 at 12:10 pm

Okay, this makes me want to move back into the city and into that apartment, specifically.

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7 Laura August 12, 2014 at 12:16 pm

This home is amazing! Hard to believe it is 1800 sq ft. It looks much larger and the built ins are great. Truly no wasted space.

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8 Kristin Argueta August 12, 2014 at 12:38 pm

I grew up in an ivy league town and would have loved to raise my family in that atmosphere, but alas, I live in the ultimate suburbia of Houston, TX. Quite a difference from the where I was raised. Our family does love city life, but we live very comfortably and inexpensively here in the suburbs. I believe that Suburbia doesn’t offer a lot of diversity economically or culturally, however, our family is a racially mixed family and my son is quite aware of diversity based on his family heritage and the economic and educational differences within our own extended family. If that weren’t the case I would be concerned about my son believing the whole world is provided a good education and many creature comforts.

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9 Summer August 12, 2014 at 3:19 pm

I love your comment. :) I don’t have kids, but just the idea of where to live…I worry about the same things. I like that you say they’re learning diversity just from different family members (I have those too, for sure). Thank you for sharing!

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10 JUlie August 12, 2014 at 12:57 pm

Love this whole apartment! Where did you get that gorgeous runner in the hallway? I am moving to a new home next week and need lots of rugs. I want this!

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11 Amy August 17, 2014 at 9:40 pm

The runner is made of FLOR carpet tiles.

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12 Nikki August 12, 2014 at 1:23 pm

I love this apartment!! I really love the walls:)
My husband grew up minutes from Downtown Dallas, I grew up 2 miles outside of DC. I grew up exploring DC with my family. And later with friends.
We live 30 minutes outside of the city in a suburb. It’s a very culturally diverse area, so that is great, but the suburbs are so boring;). We are looking at houses with land, which will put us an hour outside of DC:(. But I can have fresh eggs every morning!! I still want to live in downtown DC and I just wish I could figure out how to have a country house and a city apartment!!!!
That would be just perfect!!!

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13 sally August 12, 2014 at 1:28 pm

The beautiful floors and crisp white walls look amazing. Well done!
I love a good granola recipe! Would you mind sharing?

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14 Joan August 12, 2014 at 1:55 pm

Amy -
What a gorgeous home. I love love love your dining table. Did you make it yourself or could you tell where you found it?

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15 Carolyn August 13, 2014 at 5:10 pm

I agree- love the table! Please pass on your sources! :)

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16 Pam G August 12, 2014 at 1:56 pm

Wow! What a happy and gorgeous home! I loved how Amy and her family found their home. It doesn’t sound like it was the easiest time, but they were strengthened by such great support from their families and from one another. That’s a lovely gift and it seems their home was looking for them as much as they were looking for it. This story gives me hope that my family and I will find the right home for ourselves, too. Thanks for sharing.

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17 Nathalie August 12, 2014 at 1:57 pm

I grew up in a suburb/village and now live in the centre of Toronto. The big city invigorates both my husband and I and despite the expense and chaos of city life we are certain that our daughter will benefit from seeing how amazingly diverse the world is and having a million experiences at her doorstep. The schools thing is important but I’m hoping that with strong family support she will thrive and grow. So many teachers in “bad” schools are passionate and dedicated and we want our daughter to live life without middle-class blinders.

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18 Kat Sutton August 12, 2014 at 2:13 pm

I LOVE this series – always such wonderful stories and beautiful homes too.

Kat x
http://thelondonplaybook.wordpress.com

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19 Christie August 12, 2014 at 4:34 pm

What a gorgeous home – all that storage, and so artfully put together!

I really liked to hear that Amy enjoyed renovating with her husband. All too often you hear about couples who hated it and would never renovate again, it has scared me off the idea altogether. I’m glad it worked out for them. :)

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20 Ellie August 12, 2014 at 6:00 pm

I love Tuesdays and opening the new Living with Kids. Today did not disappoint. What a beautiful home! Amy’s comment that she is 34 but feels 28 inside struck a chord with me. I am 53, and I’ve always said that I feel 28 inside. It’s a good age!

As someone who stayed home with her children, went back to school when they were teens, and now has a wonderful teaching career, I can assure you that there is plenty of time to live the different chapters of your life. My children are all in their early 20s now, and I can honestly say their childhood years went by in a flash. Enjoy every minute! (And the granola recipe???)

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21 amyks August 12, 2014 at 6:54 pm

We live in Charlestown, a neighborhood of Boston and even though my husband and I considered moving to the ‘burbs before we bought our first house, I will never leave the city. My husband owns several brewery restaurants throughout Massachusetts, but his corporate office is a 10 minute walk from our house. My 3 kids started out at the local neighborhood public school and now my 2 oldest will be attending BLS (Boston Latin School) a prestigious public exam school(yay for awesome free education) I grew up in a small town in the Midwest and before my husband and I bought and renovated an 1840′s brick semi attached whenever my dad came to visit he wanted to know when we were moving out of the city! The kids needed a yard according to him, why, when we have a plethora of public parks, museums and adventures right outside our door!!! He has since conceded ;)

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22 Anjali August 13, 2014 at 8:43 am

We live in Central Lakeview (just a few blocks west of Broadway) and have given up space for the perks of city living. I know there are many positives to living in the suburbs, but I can’t give up the closeness to the zoo, lake, architecture, and museums that living in the city affords us. We probably know a lot of the same shopkeepers, librarians, and neighbors by sight as the Dolgin family from our daily walks in the neighborhood!

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23 Constance August 14, 2014 at 8:42 am

1) How surprising to find an old colleague and friend featured on this site – go Amy (she truly is wonderful).
2) AMAZING APARTMENT. Well, well done.

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24 Carly August 14, 2014 at 4:13 pm

What a beautiful home. I’m so envious of the built-ins and just how neat and organized everything is. How awesome that husband and wife did this together with 3 little ones and enjoyed it too!

My question is – what is the white thing hanging on the wall on the left side of the piano? I’m so curious about it!

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25 Amy August 16, 2014 at 7:04 pm

Thank you all for the positive feedback! It was so fun to share our home for DesignMom.

Carly- The white squares near the piano are shallow IKEA cabinets that house toys (from the Besta line).

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26 Amy August 16, 2014 at 9:08 pm

The table is a discontinued style from world Market.

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27 Shannon August 23, 2014 at 11:03 pm

Amy! Beautiful. I’m looking for some bench cushions like that in my home. Did you buy them somewhere or have them custom made?

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28 Amy August 28, 2014 at 9:17 pm

The bench cushions on the long window seat are from IKEA. They are meant to be outdoor cushions for their chairs, but I bought them at the end of the season on clearance when I realized the measurements were perfect!

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29 Shannon September 14, 2014 at 4:24 pm

Amy!

Thank you! I ended up getting 5 similar chair cushions from Cost Plus for my window sill bench area. Thanks for the inspiration. This area, with the cushions, are my new favorite part of my house. My son wakes up and heads straight there to slowly wake up, when it was otherwise an ignored space! Thanks! Wahooo

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30 Pepper August 23, 2014 at 11:40 pm

Amy,

We are closing on a house next week and I am in the middle of picking paint colors. I am thinking about lots of white and REALLY enjoyed so much about your home. Would you mind sharing the color/brand of paint you used in your home? Did you paint the ceilings and trim the same color? It appears to be all the same, but sometimes pictures can be deceiving. Thanks so much for sharing your home.

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31 Amy August 28, 2014 at 9:19 pm

Hello Pepper,

We used Decorator’s White by Benjamin Moore. It is all in an eggshell finish. The ceiling is Classic White 04, also BM. The trim is BM White, semigloss.

Hope that helps!

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