By Gabrielle.

I’m just going to say it: I wish Katie would be more active on social media. Her Instagram stream is gorgeous, her paintings are ethereal, and, judging from this interview, I could use a dose of her on the daily. But when she explains her absence so sweetly and eloquently, I have to understand.

Still, I’m pleased as punch she’s here with us today! I hope you are, too. Welcome, Katie!

Hi everyone! My name is Katie Stratton. I’m a native Ohioan and painter living in Dayton with my partner Matt and our two kids. Max is 11, and Phoebe, who we call Bee, is three. We’ve also got a pit bull puppy named Wilbur.

Matt and I have been together almost seven years now. We originally met through business. At the time I was painting murals and he was a muralist turned tattoo artist who had old clients he was looking to pass on to another painter. We met for coffee, I was so nervous that forgot to bring my portfolio, and we ended up closing down the coffee shop talking about art and business and life. Instant friends!

I was going through a divorce from Max’s dad at the time and was bobbing in and out of sadness and hope. Matt gave himself up to be this constant well of support and inspiration and friendship to me that I wholeheartedly needed and was definitely too stubborn to admit! But maybe most importantly, he taught me how to love and support and encourage myself.

Months and months later I finally told him I loved him over a gas station hot dog, and we haven’t gone a day since without each other! We got engaged three years ago and started to plan a wedding, but it looks like we’re going for the wildly more romantic common law marriage option. Ha!

A blended family and a baby girl later, I work from home doing commissioned paintings and running my online print shop. Matt is an entrepreneur and also helps oversee a tattoo shop in Dayton. He specializes in portrait and realism tattoos, and recently started working with plastic surgeons helping to add realistic details to reconstructive breast surgery after cancer.

We live about five minutes north of downtown Dayton in a community called Northridge. It’s a commercial area, really close to the interstate, so lots of gas stations and fast food restaurants and factories on the main roads. But tucked behind all of that are some small, quiet neighborhoods. Our street has a lot of elderly people that have lived here most of their lives. One of our next door neighbors used to own our house and raised her family here! She has lots of sweet and funny stories about it…always telling me about how proud she was of the cabinets in the kitchen and how her husband installed the furnace himself — which is still alive and kicking and heating the house today!

We definitely don’t live in a sought-after area. We’ve got lots of run-down or abandoned homes, and the average house goes for around $30,000-$50,000. But at its heart are good and decent people and some really beautiful homes ready to be fixed up!

We’ve tried to make the most of the area as a family: bike rides to the Korean grocery store or trips to the old-school Dixie drive-in theater down the street. I grew up in a pretty idyllic small town and there are times when I feel bad for the kids that our neighborhood is less so. But the payoff to living where we do is seeing them grow up in a diverse place, both socially and economically. It feels important!

Dayton as a whole is an amazing city! So much history and culture and things to do and see. Come for the Wright Brothers Aviation Museum and stay for a vintage baseball game in the park, bike rides by the river, and shopping at the 2nd St. Market.

Matt bought this house while he was still a single guy. It was a run-down foreclosure close to the studio where he was working at the time, and his hope was to fix it up with the right person one day. He’s told me stories of bringing other gals over to see the house and how much they hated it. But the first time I came over I was able to see it for what it could be.

It has so many of the great details of an older home. It definitely comes with the challenges of a house almost 100 years old, with its small rooms and sloping floors, but we’ve slowly made it our own and have turned it into something comfortable and functional for all four of us.

My mom is a really talented artist. My sisters and I grew up with her doing pencil sketches of us at the kitchen table. I remember telling my first grade teacher that I was going to be an artist when I grew up and was never able to shake it. The year I started college I had a friend, who was an interior designer, ask if I could paint a mural in her home. And after that, in a few more homes. I ended up starting to mural and paint decorative finishes full time, quit school, got married, and had Max!

My work has evolved quite a bit but I’ve always been really shy about it, mostly because of being self-taught. I thought for a long time that having no formal training or degree meant that I didn’t have much of a claim to the title of artist or painter. It’s taken me a while to be able to stand confident in what I do, although admittedly I’m still pretty reserved about it! I have a studio in the loft at home and fit in work when I can, but my main focus these days in being present with the kids.

My paintings have been published in Kinfolk Magazine — I did the painting spreads in Issues two-13 — and I’ve been really lucky to get to work on branding and packaging with different companies. Opening the print shop and doing custom pieces for people have been the most rewarding, though. For a girl who hasn’t traveled much in her life, getting to send my work out to Europe or Australia or even Wisconsin is a real treat!

Matt and I have totally different styles, both in our work and what we like in design. But there is a common thread in there; we both love old and vintage things, art, textures, books, and trying really hard not to kill our plants. We also are both more relaxed with the things we have. Nothing is too precious. We have bouncy balls in the house and allow a little jumping on the couches. We’re all a little too comfortable with a mess. It’s a balance of taking care of what we have, but really trying to create a sense of ease for everybody living here and for the people we have over.

Making decisions together as we’ve remodeled the house has been easier than you would think with two strong opinions. I think the key has been keeping each other and the kids in mind for all of it. Being intentional and thoughtful to everyone.

When we raised the ceiling into the attic of our downstairs room, our plan was to vault the entire room. Matt surprised me by keeping half of the attic and turning it into a loft because he knew I liked to climb up into trees when I was little and hide away. We gave up our dining room for a play space for Phoebe and an attic space upstairs in Max’s room turned into an art room/hideout for him. It’s a small house, but it’s been important to carve out space for each of us.

Growing up, my sister Amy and I shared a room. And a bed! I remember coming home from school one day and our mom had rearranged our room and bought new bedding for our bed with matching curtains. The comforter was cream with pastel flowers all over it. Our whole room looked and smelled new. We probably wouldn’t have picked out any of that stuff given the chance, but our mom never discouraged us from making the room our own. She knew enough to not let us make decisions on the more long-term, expensive stuff.

I think about that when I’m doing my kids’ rooms. We help them with the bones of the room and then let them make it theirs. All ugly toys are welcomed, but we made sure to give them plenty of storage space to hide it all away.

When Max’s dad and I first separated, I was determined to stay a family. To co-parent and remain friends, and to really just choose the good that remained over everything else. I had no idea how that was going to work, but I knew that whoever we both ended up with would be integral to it. When Matt and I started dating, I was really up front about my hopes for Max and our family. My resolve became his. And he and Max’s stepmom Sara, have really been the key to the loving family we’ve been able to patch together.

It hasn’t been perfect or easy at all, but we’ve been able to give Max a big and wild family unit: four parents at teacher’s conferences, a gaggle of family sitting together at his baseball games, joint birthday parties and summer vacations, and the whole thing is a gift that I don’t take for granted.

Max’s dad and I both come from homes with parents still married after 30+ years. Neither of us could relate to the things that Max was going through. Matt comes from a split home and he was able to take our guy under his wing and connect with him on a level that the rest of us couldn’t. Max now has two dads who have a lot of respect for each other and realize that each of them has a powerful role to play in his life that doesn’t take away from the other. Max’s stepmom and I share the same!

There isn’t much room for ego or pride or jealousy when you’re filling a space with love. Or anyways, it’s just a conscious choice you have to make every day.

I’m not as active on social media these days. Oh dear, I could get stuck on my soap-box with this one! Haha!

I have a lot of thoughts on what aspirational blogging and Instagramming has done to the authenticity of sharing our lives with each other. The long and short of it is that I started feeling conflicted about the content being put out and the lives we’re selling to those following along. Creating and designing content about my family and our life started to feel like a weird priority and brought less and less joy.

I remember one day I started feeling anxious when Max wanted to wear hole-y sweatpants out to the farmer’s market where I was planning on taking my camera along. Anxiety over sweatpants! I decided to take a step back, and once you take a step back it’s really hard to want to step back in.

Someday, though! I still love good design and taking pictures and having a place to share them. Only this time it will be of Taco Bell tacos next to my Kinfolk magazines next to a pile of bills. Real life!

I hope my kids remember that we had fun here! That as much as we bicker with them about picking up after themselves or leaving the back door open, that this was their happy and safe place to be.

I’ll tell them stories about the rose bushes Matt planted in the backyard the year I was pregnant with Bee, and how I caught him ordering them over the phone from QVC in the middle of the night.

I hope they remember that the best hiding spot in the house was in Dada’s closet…and the horrors and comedy that come along with having one bathroom!

But if they could forget that I never get around to washing the silverware or the fact that the air outside smells like Waffle House most days, I would be okay with that!

My kids bring a certain zest and life to the house that I hope never ever leaves! Everything is made shinier by them. There is a lot of singing and dancing and scaring the dog with both. For all the drama and fighting and clutter, I know for a fact that I miss it all when they’re away. Kids know how to live…really live. It’s nice to be reminded of that on a daily. And live it along with them.

I wish someone had told me how much of yourself gets lost when you become a parent…but how much you get to rediscover along the way.

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Katie, this was such a lovely read. I’m so glad I found you and was able to share you. It was such a mood-changer when you told us “There isn’t much room for ego or pride or jealousy when you’re filling a space with love. Or anyways, it’s just a conscious choice you have to make every day.” Thank you for it all.

Also interesting is Katie’s thought about home decor and design choices, including being comfortable with the all-too-occasional mess: “It’s a balance of taking care of what we have, but really trying to create a sense of ease for everybody living here and for the people we have over.” Yes, yes, yes.

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! I should also mention, I have a goal to bring more diverse points of view to Design Mom this year. So if you don’t see yourself or your community reflected here, let’s make it happen — send in your details, or recommend a friend! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.