By Gabrielle. Photos by Jylare Smith Photography.
No matter how many times I read Elle’s words, they still make my heart lose a few pounds of worry and stress. If you’re feeling like you’ve not enough space in your home or too much chaos in your life or even too much fear creeping into your parenting style, read this. I promise you’ll feel the warmth, gratitude, and sincerity with which she tries hard to surround herself daily.
In short, I really like Elle. I hope you do, too.
Q: Tell us all about your family.
A: My husband, Jared, is a surfer boy from Southern California. Half of my childhood was spent in the swamplands of Texas and the other half in the mountains of Utah. We married while we were still just babies eight years ago. We finished our degrees together, have had three children (Lucy is five, Solomon is three, and Frances is three months) and run a baby carrier business called Solly Baby from our 740 square foot home on 3/4 of an acre in North County San Diego. Somehow, we’re still pretty crazy about each other. Or maybe we’re just crazy. Either way, I think we’ve got a good thing going.
Lucy is our fiercely independent, creative spirit. She can be found thinking of sad things just so she can watch herself cry in a mirror, carrying around her chicken “Cloudy” like she is a doll, and scrambling eggs for lunch for herself and her little brother. At her dance recital this year, she told me she “enjoyed being on the stage, but next year would rather do something ‘freer’ and maybe even a little bit ‘wild.’” Yeah, she’s amazing.
Solomon is pure energy and laughs. He was almost kicked off of his soccer team this year for repeatedly spanking the coach’s bum as well as gymnastics for coming up with (what I would call “creative”) alternative uses for the apparatuses. He can be found kissing his baby sister every. waking. minute. He’s always telling me to not be so “serwius” and he’s got a thing for superheroes, being strong, and the music from Les Mis.
Frances is three months old, but of course we already think she’s a baby genius and we’re positive she is literally the sweetest thing you’ve ever seen.
Jared and I are your average dreamers. We’re all about happiness and trying to be good people.
Q: How did this beach cottage become your home?
A: Jared and I have always imagined that we’d raise our kids on land, so when we found ourselves living in a condo in a super suburban area, something I had sworn we’d never do, I started searching for a rental property on land every day. One day I saw the listing pop up on Craigslist. It was on land and by the beach, with the option to buy. It was perfect.
We immediately drove out to the vacant house and peeked in all the windows. We could tell it was going to take a lot of work, and the 740 square feet was just as small as we had feared it would be. No dining room, one and a half bedrooms, one bathroom, a mini-sized washer and dryer…Jared and I sat on the steps to talk about it, but instead watched our kids run.
We had to have it.
I begged, bartered, and cried until the owner said yes. As small business owners (read: high risk) with two little ones and one on the way (read: we’d use and possibly destroy every square inch of the home) we were not the ideal candidates. But the owner, who turned out to be a fellow dreamer who couldn’t convince his wife to take the leap from the mountains with their little ones, went for it anyway.
A year later, we are in the process of purchasing it and we couldn’t be more excited, although reality has definitely set it that it’s going to be quite the project.
Q: What makes you love the place you live? Persuade us to move!
A: It feels a little trite to list all the good things about one of the most popular vacation spots in the world, but I’ll do it anyway. We are 10 minutes from the beach, 30 minutes from downtown San Diego, an hour from Disneyland, an hour and a half from downtown LA, we’re surrounded by little farms including an organic produce farm where we buy most of our produce, and five minutes from a Target. Do you really need anything else?
It’s no secret the cost of living is bonkers in Southern California, but if you’re willing to get a fixer-upper and live in an area that isn’t quite so cookie-cutter, then you really can find pretty good deals. Since we work from home, we are able to avoid driving during rush hour traffic, which is the other list-topping complaint people have with the area.
It goes without saying that the weather is always nice and we really take it for granted. I’ll even complain sometimes that I miss rain, which I realize verges on audacious.
For me, though, the littlest details of daily life have become the things I’ve enjoyed the most. There is a little creek that runs through our property, covered in blackberry vines, where each night a chorus of frogs croak away. In the morning it feels like a menagerie; we’ll eat breakfast outside and watch the birds fly from tree to tree and the mockingbird poke the red-tailed hawk to get off his branch.
Fires in the old, smoky, wood-burning stove on cold mornings in the winter. Being close enough to hear Lucy and Solomon talk to each other in bed about scary dreams and water bottle negotiations. Peeking in the coop to see if the hens have laid an egg that day. Saying goodbye to Jared as he sneaks out at dawn for a quick surf. Late nights talking and dreaming on the deck under strands of globe lights while the kids are in bed.
Of course I didn’t mention how my three year old starts running in circles around the house when he’s in trouble or the stinky diaper pile we always seem to have going or the myth of work/life balance when you have a business run out of your home or the constant line outside the one bathroom. (Seriously, who makes a bathroom with no storage or counters? Can you even call that a bathroom?) But we choose not to focus on those things.
Q: What was the one design element that you wanted to be sure your family home included as it relates to living well with your kids?
A: Kids need space to create. Instead of using the dining room as an eating area, we turned it into a playroom. It’s the room that leads into our kids’ bedroom, so it makes sense to use it as an extension of their room.
It’s filled with books, art supplies, puzzles, and educational tools like science kits and curriculum books. I feel inspired to teach and to play when I’m in the room with them and they feel inspired to create. It’s the most important room in our home.
Q: How would you describe your family’s aesthetic?
A: There is beauty in utility. We love things that are functional and aesthetically pleasing. If it has meaning on top of all that, then it’s made it to the celestial, Platonic ideal level. Not many things make it there.
My favorite “decorative” pieces are things like a well-made table, a nicely woven basket to hold Frances’ clothes, a perfectly designed reading lamp, leather-bound books, pretty soap dispensers…the list goes on. If I could find a beautiful toilet bowl brush, I’d be over the moon.
And less is almost always more.
Q: You run one of the most successful babywrap companies in the US. Tell us about how and why it all began and where it is now.
A: I’m a fabric junkie and so I knew I could make a wrap that was lighter, more breathable, and from a higher quality fabric. The transition to parenthood is an intense one for most people, so I was, and still am, very inspired by the idea of making parenthood reflect the wearer’s personal aesthetic.
Like most mothers, I’m also a big multi-tasker so the idea of being able to bond with my baby while reading a book to my toddler or doing the dishes or running a company was like music to my ears.
I made my first wrap carrier right after having Solomon (hence Solly Baby) three years ago while my husband was still in school. Encouraged by friends that I was on to something and with the help of a small loan from my in-laws for the fabric, I turned our home in Salt Lake City into a factory, pushing all of the tables and chairs aside and rolling bolts of fabric back and forth over a taped pattern on the ground. I worked and worked any time my babies were sleeping, and started a shop on Etsy.
Somehow it’s expanded into this beautiful, huge thing that is so much bigger than I ever imagined it would be. We are worn by thousands of parents and celebrities around the globe, and have won numerous awards for our product. My husband and I both work on the business as our sole income, as well as a handful of other people as well.
The business has grown primarily through social media and word of mouth. I always say that I will forever be grateful to the babies born to fashion and lifestyle bloggers and Instagrammers in 2011. It’s hard to not get emotional about it because the kindness of bloggers like Naomi Davis and others literally put food in my babies’ mouths at a time when we had nothing but hope. We had hundreds of pre-orders before Solly Baby even officially launched thanks to those babies and their very generous mamas. I now try to pay it forward by helping other small businesses whenever possible.
Q: And you’ve just written a book! What were your goals with it? And what’s next on your list of goals?
A: Carrying Baby has been on my bucket list for quite a while. I love writing, babywearing, children’s books, and great collaborations, so the idea of a lift-the-flap board book about animals wearing their babies came pretty easily. I’ve always been a fan of Ashley Mae Hoiland‘s watercolor prints so it was a natural fit and to have her and one of my favorite designers, Amanda Jane Jones, design the book. It’s been a really fun project to work on, and the fact that it helps spread the babywearing love just makes me happy.
Next, we’re working on more limited edition prints for Solly Baby where we collaborate with our favorite designers, baby doll wraps, as well as a few other products. We are also partners with Christy Turlington’s organization Every Mother Counts, so we are excited about some campaigns in the future to help raise money and spread the word about what they’re doing to improve maternal health globally.
Q: And you do it all from your cottage! Tell us how you divide your home and company when they live in the same place! How does your decor contribute to this harmony?
A: The only way we are able to make this space work is thanks to our detached work shed turned studio office next to the house. When we moved in, it was like a haunted house with blacked-out windows, patches of dry wall, and garbage bags on the walls to keep moisture from coming in.
Jared ripped everything out, wired it, put up new drywall, made a beautiful wood wall, and painted everything. It’s not perfect, but there’s nowhere I’d rather work. Jared and I work side by side, and the view from each window is so lovely. We’ve had photo and video shoots in it almost weekly since it was finished, and even a few parties.
We try to keep the room simple and clean. I’ve found that when my space is disorganized, then that’s how my brain feels, too. We also try to keep all things work-related in it. We don’t even bring mail into the house. That physical distance used to not feel quite so necessary, but it has become increasingly so. Phones are distracting enough as a parent, so the fewer distractions the better so I can focus totally on my little ones when I’m in our home and feel somewhat of a separation between work time and family time.
Q: What do you hope your kids remember about their childhood home? What do you hope they remember about you as their mom?
A: I hope this house will represent the feeling of being free. Of being able to run and run and run like the whole world was theirs for the taking. I hope that feeling will sink so deeply into their hearts that they’ll carry that feeling with them always.
I hope they remember that I wasn’t afraid. A lot of my life has been spent living with fear. Fearing rejection, fearing failure, fearing how others perceive me, even fearing greatness. But when I became a mother, something slowly changed and they have inspired me to be brave. I feel sad that it has taken me this long to learn this, but so endlessly grateful for their part in the process of becoming.
And I hope they remember that I always said sorry. I am not perfect, but at least I never pretended to be.
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: Children live very much in the present and so they notice all of the little details. A few years ago, we were at a park playing when an airplane flew overhead. I looked around and every single child there was looking straight up, silently watching the plane fly past like it was the first thing they’d ever seen in the sky, while all of the parents continued to talk, not one of them noticing the plane.
There was something about that scene that was unforgettable. I feel that way with my children just about every day. Sometimes it’s frustrating because even walking to the car is like a field trip, but it’s also quite magical.
I’ve been surprised by how impatient I am! I’ll think I’ve finally licked it and then we have another baby and I have to learn it all over again. It’s pretty humbling. We’ll have 500 backorders that are late being shipped out because of some production problem and I’m just fine, and yet I can’t figure out how to keep my cool when my son tries to flush a roll of toilet paper down the toilet. Being a mother is nuts.
I miss every stage and age after it passes. I always feel a little heartbroken each birthday. Even though my little ones are still practically babies, I can already feel how quickly the time goes, and I worry I’ll blink and it will all feel like a dream.
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…
A: That I’m a much better mother when I just let my children be. When I control and push, something ugly happens that makes it hard for me to see them for who they are, but when I let go and just love then something miraculously beautiful happens. I am still trying to figure out how to balance that with getting teeth brushed and shoes tied, but hopefully I can find that balance sooner rather than later.
Friends, wasn’t it poignant to read Elle’s description of keeping her cool pretty effortlessly during work-related crises, and working hard not to lose it amid a family-related hullabaloo? I so get it, don’t you? Maybe it’s because we’re freer with our emotions in a personal setting, or maybe we hold ourselves better in check when we’re wearing our professional goggles…but either way, it’s a great reminder to bring a bit of professionalism into our personal lives, right?
Oh, and my newest goal is to look up when a plane flies overhead, and remember to marvel at all the dailies that have become ho-hum unnoticeable. Who’s with me?