Design Mom » Home Tours The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Mon, 02 Mar 2015 20:21:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Living With Kids: Caryn Schafer Tue, 24 Feb 2015 18:30:11 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Choosing to downsize from a large home in the suburbs to a much tinier space is probably not as difficult to handle when the much tinier space is in huge by anyone’s standards New York City! I think it would be the best kind of challenge, right? Keeping only what you love, organizing vertically by use, and ruthlessly overthinking every purchase. And the minute you feel a bit claustrophobic, Central Park is one block away. Marvelous.

I love this peek into Caryn’s small space and big thoughts. I’ve read it three times, and I find something new with each read. I hope you do, too. Welcome, Caryn!

Q: Please introduce us to your family!

A: Hello! We are a family of four. Mark is the solitary male of our home, who is actually quite fond of hot pink. He is a designer for a tech company, and has a passion for beautifully designed things ranging from type and furniture to letter openers, and salt and pepper shakers.

Our older daughter is almost three. She has a zest for life and would dance through it if opportunity allowed. Her height and vocabulary often fool people into thinking she is older, and she lives for social activities, working her charms on every person she can get near.

Our younger daughter is nearly one and is still quite a mystery to us. She has the biggest blue eyes anyone has ever seen and is already incredibly active, risky, and vocal. She is a snuggler and has a smile always at the ready. She is just beginning to walk, determined to figure everything out and taste it along the way too.

Finally there is me, Caryn. I am the wife, the mom, the cook, the book addict, the blogger, and the illustrator. I firmly believe bookstores are my Kryptonite, and I have an unhealthy obsession with stripes, polka dots, picture books, and French food philosophy.

Q: How did your house become your home?

A: We live in New York City on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The short version of this story is that we rented our apartment sight unseen. After about a year of feeling the desire to downsize from our house in the suburbs and convert to city life, Mark chased down a fantastic job change, pushing us to sell, pack, and move within two months. The short timeline, a month of training for Mark across the country, and me being in the third trimester with our second, resulted in us relying heavily on a broker to hunt down the perfect place for our family in a completely new city. We only saw a handful of pictures, but it had the most potential in its location and layout and we were running out of time for our move and my pregnancy, so we grabbed it.

It was a weird feeling walking into it for the first time knowing we had to make it work. It was better than I was expecting, and it has turned out to be exactly what we had hoped for. It is a one-bedroom, about 450 sq. ft. apartment on the fifth floor of a lovely brownstone. We are at the top of the building which means it is quiet, we get tons of light, and no one passes our door unless they are looking for us.

There are four flights of stairs, 77 steps to be exact, to get to us. That could be considered a downside, but every flight saves us money and serves the dual purpose of exercise. We have been here almost exactly a year and I do actually feel a marvelous sense of relief and joy when I enter our home. Perhaps it is only the effect of being winded from the stairs. Really though, I am overwhelmingly satisfied with how our hopes and vision have panned out.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: You know the gorgeous scenes and streets from You’ve Got Mail where brownstones abound, streets converge in cool places, hot dogs are singing, and Starbucks are on every corner? That’s where we live.

I probably should have mentioned my deep love for You’ve Got Mail in the intro. My joy, memorization, and watch-count verge on lunacy. Which makes our great move to the Upper West Side even more fitting. By some bizarre stroke of luck, we landed smack dab inside that picturesque world of Nora Ephron. Even 17 years after filming, this neighborhood is charming. Every day I walk down the streets to run some errand, quite possibly in Zabar’s, I hear The Cranberries singing in my head and ponder picking up some more daisies at the corner bodega. I desperately love this city and am always looking for the beauty.

I am realistic, though. We are a family of four living in a small, one-bedroom apartment in an ever-changing city. Thankfully we had been hoping to downsize because it is quite the necessity in Manhattan. Rent is pretty astronomical. But we were thrilled to sell our car and offload the carseats. Our transportation costs plummeted now that we get to walk and bike most everywhere. We hop the subway, bus, or taxi if time won’t allow walking, and we have the most lovely stroll across Central Park to get to church every week.

It takes Mark the same amount of time to either take the subway or bike to work each day. We live around the corner from a subway stop, half a street away from Central Park, and four avenues from Riverside Park. Central Park is a great escape from crowded city life and the best backyard we could have ever dreamed of. Mark celebrates every time he doesn’t have to mow. My oldest and I have made it our goal to visit every playground in NYC, starting with the 21 located in Central Park. There are hundreds of incredible restaurants to be experienced, shows to see, classes to take, free activities everywhere, and a museum for every possible interest.

As far as everything else goes, yes it does seem to cost more, but not in the way I thought. Groceries are basically the same as what I was paying back in the South, unless you make the mistake of forgetting something and have to pick it up at a corner store. You can get just about everything delivered, and I happily tip anyone who will carry things up to me.

I think the real change I’ve noticed is the pressure to spend to fit culturally. You don’t need as much or have room for as much, but you need and want nicer things in NYC. And you are expected to go out to expensive places, and see costly shows, wear the right kind of clothing, and have a nanny.

But, I’m so thankful for the downsizing as it has made us more mindful consumers and made us invest in more quality pieces rather than quantity. Instead of cleaning and caring for a big house, we spend our time exploring the city, visiting museums and parks, and just having fun together.

Oh, I love Manhattan! I feel like to some extent we are still in the honeymoon phase with NYC; but I don’t think there is anything better than being somewhere you know you are supposed to be. I once heard a quote somewhere that NYC has a tendency to embrace you at one moment and then slap you in the face the next. We have definitely felt those moments, but our years of desiring to be here seem to have given us a better chance of laughing at the hard blows.

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? Has it changed since you moved to a smaller home?

A: I do feel like my aesthetic has changed, but I think the move is a reflection of that rather than a cause. If I met my newlywed self now, I don’t think we would recognize each other. I have gone very modern, thanks to my husband’s design influence for sure; but also due to culling what I really want around me.

When we were feeling our desire to move, we started purging as some sort of preparation. Mark wrote the words, “Edit ruthlessly” on the chalkboard wall of our house inspired by a TED talk from Graham Hill. Living daily with those words had great affect.

It took us a year to actually have a reason to move, but in that time we focused heavily on getting rid of things that we didn’t need. We searched for better solutions to our essentials. We re-evaluated every item we owned, harshly critiquing whether we really wanted to give it real estate wherever we ended up. We sold our television and suddenly realized we never had time for it anyway. I said goodbye to things I thought had sentimental value, figuring out ways to remember them outside of the space they took up. It was an immensely helpful time, not only paring down our possessions, but preparing us emotionally for big changes.

Now, I would describe my current aesthetic as mid-century modern, a little obsessed with gray, and with an emphasis on displaying our favorite things – mainly books and art. We long for things that are both beautiful and functional. And there isn’t room for singular-purposed items here anyway!

Q: You mention the chaos in making sure everyone fits, but you seem to solve any space issues vertically! Tell us your best tips for turning a smaller space into a big enough home.

A: It has been an odd experience designing the space Mark and I want, while keeping in mind that the girls have to live here, too. Bins for toys sound like a great idea, but finding ones that fit perfectly, are easy to play with, and meet our design taste is not an easy task. We created a no-electronic toys policy before our oldest was born and I am so grateful in our tiny space. We focus on toys that are beautifully made so that we don’t mind having them visible.

Both Mark and I have a deep love for books, and we had to be incredibly creative to make it all fit. It took us a couple of weeks to design the solution we wanted and make it work within our budget. We walked through stores, scoured catalogs, and brainstormed exactly what we wanted while we slept on an air mattress in the middle of piles upon piles of books. And yes, I was very pregnant during this time. We wisely got rid of most of our furniture before moving, giving us a mostly blank slate to work with and a bit more cash to start fresh.

Thankfully, we do have tall ceilings which aids in space and in light. We also have NYC’s fantastic Craigslist which helped us sell a few pieces we shouldn’t have brought and get pieces that work so much better. There are only a couple of antique pieces we feel strongly attached to, and that gave us freedom to rethink it all.

Our wall bed was probably one of the biggest puzzle pieces to help everything else fall into place. Have you ever thought about how much space a bed takes? Once I gave up my need for a picturesque duvet cover and took delight in a beautiful, functional rug; life became much more spacious. I sincerely love our carpet tile rug. It functions as a room divider, the area where toys must remain, a soft ground for somersaults and learning to walk, and a cushion for my feet when getting out of bed. And I don’t have to feel precious about it since a tile can be picked up, cleaned, and put right back down.

Going vertical was a necessity, but also helps section things off. The girls’ books are easily accessible in their room or in toy bins in our main room; while our books are high up, but request-able. I organize items vertically by frequency of use in every room, and we bought a beautiful wooden ladder that we delight in having out in the open all the time.

We only have two closets total, so there isn’t that space to just hide things as easily. I ended up hanging the girls’ lovely dresses out in the open in their room and I’m so thrilled with that decision! It works as an excellent divider between their beds while it saves us closet space for the storage we do need.

Little things like that seem to be the key. We have closed shelf space behind the sofa, a toy box that functions as extra seating when we have company, and a rolling unit with drawers and bins to move away from our bed at night. Some of these solutions came quickly and others we agonized over, starring Pinterest photos and dog-earring catalogs until we found the right thing. In the end, we have an apartment that is fully customized to our family with a unique juxtaposition of brands and price tags. The key now seems to be blocking any more catalogs from coming in as we just don’t need anything else!

Q: Tell us about your work.

A: I am still on the steep learning curve of carving out work time for myself. I was a graphic designer for a couple of years before our oldest was born, but my passion has always been for picture book illustration. Shortly after my oldest was born, I began my picture book blog as an outlet for me to talk about books as much as I wanted. It has been a great source of inspiration and forced me to find space to think about books and my own illustration dreams.

As I hinted earlier, it seems to be the expected norm on the Upper West Side to have a nanny or at the very least have your kids in classes and preschool. But we just aren’t there yet, and I’m not sure we ever will be. The nanny culture is fascinating, but also expensive and not what we envision for our family. I honestly don’t know what we’ll do in the future, but if I’ve learned anything from motherhood so far, it is essential to stay overly flexible.

As our baby edges closer to her first birthday, I feel more time being given back to me. I am trying to have a goal of at least sketching something every day, even if my sketches aren’t worth anyone seeing. It is beneficial for me to do even a tiny bit of work each day rather than try to find large chunks of free time, which are pretty elusive when you have toddlers. I review picture books whenever inspiration and time allow. I’m constantly making lists and notes about books, and also jotting down ideas for illustrations and plots.

I have also realized that I require deadlines in my life. I can go months without really creating any paintings or even drawings, and then something comes up that I want work for and suddenly I am pounding out the pieces. I hope to find a more fluid way to make myself work amidst the daily tasks, but for now I am learning to create deadlines even when it is simply for the pleasure of creating something.

Q: Do you ever imagine you’ll outgrow this home? Or is New York City more than big enough?

A: We have already been told many times that we’ll outgrow this apartment, but our minds are open to whatever needs to happen. We truly love it here and already envision several room solutions we could make as the girls grow. A lot of this will depend on our rent, but this location is perfect for us. I like that the small square footage makes me overthink every purchase (except books, unfortunately) and I feel the need to purge every corner almost weekly.

I’ll gladly take the flights of stairs when I can walk around the corner to Central Park, down a couple of streets to the Ballet, Opera, and Theater, up a couple blocks to museums, and I am surrounded by gobs of fabulous restaurants and grocery stores. We tend to take life one year at a time and are focusing our energy on just loving all NYC has to offer. We would love to live overseas if opportunity ever allows as we strongly desire to share other cultures and world views with our girls, as well as continue to expand our own. New York is definitely big enough, but we’ll always be open to what’s next and strive to be content wherever we land.

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 finally having a visible excuse to read as many picture books as I want. There is a children’s book or poem for just about everything and every stage, and we are always on the hunt to find them. I love when my oldest quotes a book as a way to express something. Stories can give words to emotions when you don’t quite know how to process them yet.

I also love sharing new experiences with them. The joy of doing things for the first time is something I had forgotten. Experiencing those moments with my kids is like doing them for the first time again myself, but this time having the insight to realize how special it truly is.

One of the most surprising things to me about being a mom is realizing that I have to choose to love my kids every day. That feels so wrong to say, but I think it is true, at least for me.

When we married seven years ago, our minister counseled about love being something you don’t always feel, but promise to choose. I guess I always assumed that when it is your child, it comes naturally. There is something to that, of course, but they are still separate people from me. They are unique personalities that I have to learn and respect and choose to love as well. I will always feel love for them simply because they are my babies and I am their mama. But they grow up, and in those moments of attitudes or annoyance, I have to choose to love all of them even when it is different from me.

In all honesty, I’m still in a bit of mourning for the relationship I lost with our oldest daughter when we moved and the youngest came. It was such a crazy intense time of change and I tried very hard to make it as smooth as possible for her; but I didn’t really realize how different she and I would be after it was all over.

It is quite different the second time around. I don’t feel as panicky about rough nights or weird stages. I actually kind of miss the sweet, squishy newborn phase, but I’m thankful to be beyond the insane hormones and constant nursing. I think having our second daughter helped me slow down and enjoy it as it comes, knowing that everything passes.

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: Oh, I hope they remember how much we danced! Both Mark and I love music and we are all taking turns getting obsessed over one song or another. One of our oldest’s first phrases was, “I need music.” We try to dance for everything: a new day, cleaning up, making food, painting, venting frustration, and especially celebrating things like Daddy coming home.

I know it is supposed to be one thing to remember, but that second part about what they remember about me as their mom longs to be separate. While I sincerely hope they forget my impatience, angry moments, and occasional meal disappointments; I am desperately praying that I can pass on to my children a healthy body image. I despise all the back-handed comments we make about our bodies, the airbrushed women the media surrounds us with, and the guilt and binges of food. I hope to teach my girls that they have value because of who they are and that their minds are just as important as their bodies. And I want to teach them a healthy view of food, that isn’t related to rewards or punishments. I hope they remember their mama ate cake in celebration and didn’t joke about the ramifications.

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

A: I wish someone had told me that motherhood would be very, very hard, but that hard can be really, really good.

I had no idea how lonely it is to be a mom. No one really understands all the hormones, emotions, fears, worries, and intense hours you expend on your child. And yet, every other mom is experiencing her own version of that. Motherhood has revealed so many selfish and ugly parts of me that I find myself having to take my own parenting words to heart every time I say them. I, too, need to be kind, have patience, and express myself appropriately.

I just pray that somehow, through all my faults and inadequacies and especially how I deal with them, my daughters will see that we are all broken people who need love and grace.


Oh, Caryn! There is so much goodness in your interview that I resisted the urge to bold all your wisdom. But this is wonderful, and deserves to be repeated as many times as needed: “I hope they remember their mama ate cake in celebration and didn’t joke about the ramifications.” Yes.

From the nanny culture around you to not recognizing your newlywed-self’s style (so true!) to choosing to love your kids every day, it’s all incredibly thought-provoking. I really hope Caryn’s words added to your day! And, tell me: Did you find their bed?

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Let me know! 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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Living With Kids: Sara Davis Tue, 17 Feb 2015 17:00:11 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Melody Carpenter.

Meet Sara. If you’ve got a chalkboard in your house and you’ve scoured Pinterest for cute ideas on how to get it looking like…well…the cute ones on Pinterest, chances are you’ve already met her! I asked her a few questions and she answered them all perfectly, but I sensed that there was more content in her than charming chalkboards and fabulous DIYs. The only problem was that Sara didn’t really know it! It took some convincing and more begging for a few more words and honesty, which resulted in a lot of hard work on Sara’s part to open up. I am thrilled to say that one of my last emails to her read, “THERE YOU ARE!”

And so, here she is: the brave Sara who took a leap outside her comfort zone to share herself with us. I really hope you enjoy her.

Q: Please introduce us to your family!

A: Hi there! I’m Sara, and I live in “the middle” with my amazing husband Steve and our three children: Bryant is nine, Benson is seven, and Lena is three. I’m originally from Illinois, but I came to Indiana for college where I studied marketing and art & design. It was in college that I met and fell in love with Steve, and I have been here ever since!

Steve and I have completely different interests, but we work well together. Well, most of the time! He is an attorney and thinks carefully and thoughtfully through everything that comes out of his mouth. I, on the other hand, just tend to blurt things out. Steve is extremely social, loves spreadsheets and sports, and hates being hot. I prefer small groups of people, I love creating anything and shopping, and could sit in the sun all day.

Bryant is inquisitive and prefers book club over sports. He avoids confrontation and will walk away when the youngest two begin to fight. He’s incredibly sensitive and is basically an old soul. Benson, my middle, is incredibly obsessed with fairness. He’s loud, energetic, and extremely loving. He’s artistic, and my biggest creative cheerleader. Lena is the youngest and is obsessed with the color pink. She loves to wear my heels and play with my makeup. She also loves to dance and thoroughly enjoys life. She does not want to wear pants. Ever.

Q: How did your house become your home, and what makes it perfect for you?

A: We live just outside of Indianapolis, and we moved into our current home about a year ago. My husband switched jobs and that required us to move to a different town. I was in love with our home the minute I found it online. Then, when we actually walked though the door, Steve knew he had lost all bargaining power…

It is a two-story cream painted brick home on a hill. And it is symmetrical. Although I consider myself a creative person, I also need order. I describe myself as middle-brained because I’m not sure where I belong. If you look, you’ll notice my decor is always balanced – almost to a fault.

Our home’s layout is very traditional, and I’m one of the few holdouts that still has a formal dining room. I think this is hilarious since I am horrible in the kitchen. Our home also has lots of light and the first floor has transoms above many of the windows and doorways. I need light.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: I complain about the Midwest all winter long. I love sunshine and warmth and hate our gray and cold winters. However, when it comes down to it, I love the Midwest in spite of its weather flaws. I love the people, the community, and values we have here. I love raising my children here. The town we moved to is small and quaint.

We’re also within four hours of our entire immediate family, which is wonderful. My kids are growing up really knowing their grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins. Plus, a lot of us have the luxury of large yards in the Midwest, and the cost of living is also amazing here!

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? You mention on your blog that this home was a blank slate; has it been more difficult or easier to find your style when there are no cues or restrictions leading you in another direction?

A: I have a hard time describing my aesthetic. I like sophisticated traditional with a twist of fun. I try not to be too serious, and most of my pieces have a story. I love frequenting antique shops, flea markets, and yard sales. I also love giving outdated or worn furniture a new chance at life! My house is filled with a variety of items that fit this decor.

Q: You’re truly a DIY huge talent, and you share your skills with your readers. Tell us why you started your blog and your someday hopes for it.

A: After college, I worked as an art director at a greeting card company and absolutely loved my job. Once Bryant came along, we decided it was best if I stayed home. Steve was working crazy long hours, and I had a ridiculous commute. I’m thankful I was able to stay at home, but I also went a little crazy with three little ones. My walls became my creative outlet (and sanity) from the kids. I would paint and repaint and stencil and freehand – my art was in every room.

Looking back, I did some crazy things to those walls. But, it was paint and could be repainted, which I’m sure has been done now that that house has new owners. And I have an amazing husband who let me do what I needed to do. His only complaint was that we were losing square footage because of how often I painted the walls! I really do feel I was created to create, and how I create has evolved over time. However, the need has always been there.

My parents are big DIYers, and as a result, my two sisters and I do the same. It’s just what we know. We hang our own light fixtures, install our own faucets, and do all kinds of other things that many people hire out.

I grew up with the assumption that you attempt whatever project you have on your list before you call someone. I have had many successes with this philosophy as well as many (big time) fails.

Once we moved into our new home, I decided to start a blog as a creative outlet and as a way to help others. I realize that not everyone has my mind set, and I want to give my readers the confidence to just go for it. I want to equip them with the knowledge they need to create a pretty space where they can feel satisfaction that they accomplished it themselves AND without a lot of money.

Over the course of the past year, I have loved getting to know my readers. If you had told me one year ago that my blog would be where it is today, I would be overjoyed. I love blogging, and I know it’s what I’m supposed to be doing right now. I have some of the most supportive and encouraging readers and have received lots of sweet emails and compliments.

And I do have a super fan. I send out a weekly email recapping my blog posts from the week. My father-in-law always replies to that email with an encouraging note. It’s not just a generic note of encouragement. It’s obvious that he has read each and every one of my posts.

Q: What project started it all? And what has been your most popular, home-changing project so far?

A: Moving to our new home is what really drove me to blog. Also, my two oldest are in school, and I’ve been given the gift of time with just my three year old home.

I wanted to document my DIY home decor endeavors. I have a love affair with chalkboards, and I am sure I overuse them throughout my home! However, they’re versatile, useful, and just fun. My most popular tutorial on my blog is my perfect chalkboard lettering. For a while, almost 75% of my traffic was coming from this post. I was excited to see so much interest over one tutorial, but it also worried me once everyone on Pinterest learned my secrets!

But I honestly don’t stress about giving away too many secrets. I stress more about if I can discover enough secrets and come up with enough projects to sustain my blog. Pinterest drives the majority of my traffic to my blog, so I need to create content and images that bring people to me. I go through cycles of high creativity and tons of ideas. And then, I’ll go through a dry spell. The creative process is exhilarating and exhausting.

Q: How do you involve your family in deciding on the decor of your home? Are they just happy to be on the receiving end, or do they really want to help with the decisions and execution of it all?

A: My husband is amazing. I will ask for his advice, but he usually tells me to go for it. After being married for almost 14 years, he says he trusts me.

For example, I went to a local antique store and found the mail sorter that I have since then turned into a shoe cubby. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it at the time, but I knew I had to have it. And the price was amazing. I couldn’t fit it in my car, so the seller offered to deliver it to my house.

Steve was home with the kids and here I come driving home with a strange van in tow painted with the words Mystery Machine. Steve helped unload the piece, and it was in terrible shape with a thick layer of dirt and tons of wasp nests. I’m sure he doubted me at the time, but was incredibly supportive even if didn’t see my vision.

The kids have some opinions, but they’re still young and don’t weigh in a lot. Lena’s only request for her room was that it was pink, and the boys wanted to share a room while having their own spaces. They get excited when they see a new project, and Benson says he loves that our home is “constantly changing.”

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? 

A: Like all moms, I think my kids are awesome. Steve and I have parented the same way with three COMPLETELY different outcomes. They are all special in their own way.

As amazing as being a mom is, it’s also the hardest and most exhausting thing I’ve ever done. When the kids were younger and I was home with all three, I would run away evenings to have me time. Maybe that meant going to the grocery store, but I just need to be alone to recharge.

I have really enjoyed the kids getting older. I miss not having a baby on my hip, but there are so many new adventures we can have with the kids now that they’re getting older. Life is getting easier in many ways – and I need fewer and fewer run away evenings – but at the same time, new challenges arise as the kids get older.

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 my kids remember me being there. I’m a list checker, and I always have a million things I need to do. Whether that’s laundry, cleaning, cooking, working on my blog, DIY projects – I have trouble slowing down and just being with them. I’m here physically, but I struggle to pull myself away from my tasks and just be.

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

A: I wish someone had told me to not worry about what others think or say about my parenting. My first year of being a mom was extra tough because I was insecure in my new role. It’s amazing how many people (and strangers) voice their opinions on what’s best for my children.

I try to be the best mom I can be in spite of all my flaws, and I often wish the mom community would be more supportive of each other. We’re all trying our best. I succeed at many things as a mother and fail miserably at others. However, through the years, I’ve gained confidence as a parent in spite of being fully aware that I’m not perfect.

I am incredibly impatient and have an overwhelming need to do everything NOW. Whether that’s preparing for a blog post or folding the laundry, I have trouble stepping away from my to-do list. Unfortunately I’m not good at just being with my kids – playing, coloring, or reading with them.

My mind is always thinking about something else I need to do. I have a quote hanging in my kitchen: “Enjoy the little things in life, for someday you will realize they were the big things.” It is SO hard for me to do this. Unfortunately, blogging has fed my need to do things – especially now that I have blog post deadlines. However, my kids have so much grace. They think I’m awesome (and famous!) because I have a blog.  They are so forgiving of me, even when I fail with them.

My husband and I are trying to do the best we can to raise three joyful and loving adults. In our mind, you don’t raise kids; you raise adults. We also find it important to step back from the kids once in a while and focus on each other. Date nights are so important for us! They give us renewed love bursts for each other and provide the sanity we need to come back to the kids and happily step back into our role as parents.


Sara, I smile so hard when I compare your first responses to the ones above. Your candor is a jolt a lot of us may need today. It is hard to tear ourselves away from our lists – they carry such urgency with them, don’t they? I can’t help but think that chalkboards are the perfect decor item to describe our less than perfect moments as parents and people: easily erased and waiting for new artwork tomorrow. Thank you for taking this project so seriously for me.

One thing I wanted to discuss was Sara’s point about was the stress of sharing our ideas with each other; do you ever feel like you shouldn’t give it all away for fear that you won’t have any content tomorrow? Are you scared of dry spells? How do you step away from the Pinterest and recharge? I’d love to hear your thoughts. I always do!

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Let me know! 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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Living With Kids: Christy Casimiro Tue, 10 Feb 2015 17:00:21 +0000 Design Mom

Photo Oct 11, 3 34 59 PM

By Gabrielle.

If you needed a dose of unbridled happiness today, here it is. Between her rainbow decor and kids really do live here style and her vigor for life, Christy’s joy is easy to spot from a mile away. There’s so much in her interview, too, that will inspire all of us to stop overthinking it all and not be so hard on ourselves and get off the couch. She is so persuasive about loving life right this very minute and doing things that you can’t imagine you could ever accomplish that I found myself considering joining a triathlon club.


Friends, please welcome Christy. You’re going to adore her.

Q: Tell us all about the family who lives here!

A: Hi! I’m Christy Casimiro. I’m a wife, mother, and triathlete. I also have recently launched my own side business selling Younique cosmetics and have been hired by some friends to assist them in their interior design dilemmas. After six and a half years of not making any money, it’s an absolute thrill to contribute to the household a tiny bit doing two things I love!

My husband, Matt, is a fabulous Welshman and my best friend. He’s a breast cancer researcher at a university in Philadelphia, and a completely devoted and active father. We met on an online dating service 12 years ago. He contacted me on a Friday, our first date was a Monday, and within a week we’d taken down our profiles and were a couple. One year later we got married in a castle near his hometown in Wales, and the rest, as they say, is history!

We have three wonderfully wild little kids: Fiona is almost seven and the best big sister you could dream of, Callum is almost five and has a wonderful imagination whilst being a silent mischief maker, and then there’s Beckett, a real love bug whirling dervish.

Q: How did this house become your home?

A: We live in what was the first post office in our region. The house was built in 1883. Can you believe that? I can’t. Anyway, we moved to this very small town of Mickleton after living in Cherry Hill, a crazy-busy suburb of Philadelphia, for almost eight years. I grew up in a busy suburb of Washington DC, and Matt grew up in small town Wales. Last year we decided it was time for a change; our yard was minuscule, we could smell cigarette smoke from our neighbors’ houses when we opened our windows, and we wanted a different life for our kids. So, we searched and we searched and we literally stumbled upon this old farmhouse situated on 1.25 acres right on the main street of a quaint little town. It wasn’t in our price-range – it was well below it, because it required SO MUCH WORK – but we took a gamble and immediately put in an offer.

And then, the next morning, we panicked and took it back! I mean, the house needed EVERY room updated. The kitchen was teeny tiny and we LOVE to cook and eat. It didn’t have a dishwasher! AND there was no AC and our summers are HOT here in South Jersey. The previous owners had moved into the farmhouse in the 1940s and hadn’t done that much to it since then. The wallpaper! The fixtures! The wall-to-wall carpeting covering GORGEOUS hardwood floors though out! Oh, and I did I mention it was COVERED in wallpaper?

So, we slept on the idea of renovating this great old home another night, then resubmitted our offer the next day. Lo and behold we got the house. The sellers had rejected something like 12 other offers, but we wrote a letter and might have even sent a picture of our darling kids. The end result? The house was ours.


We have three very active little kids and NOT a lot of time, so we decided to hire a general contractor to oversee the renovation. Best decision ever. There’s no way I could have done all of this on my own. I know some stuff about renovating – I mean, I AM HGTV-obsessed – but the day-to-day stuff was best handled by the pros.

Q: Tell us why you love the place you live.

A: We live in a wonderful little town called Mickleton, and can walk to our kids schools, the bank, the salon, and even our local pork shop. We’re in the heart of rural Gloucester County, and Mullica Hill, the town where my triathlon club (Mullica Hill Women’s Triathlon Club) is based, is right down the road. We have horses and sheep and goats for neighbors, and a small private airfield right past our backyard. I grew up the daughter of a private pilot, so we get a real kick out of seeing the small planes take off and land literally right over our heads!

Oh, and have I mentioned the local farmers markets and shops and wineries and restaurants? Out of this world delicious, and run by our friends, or people who WILL become our friends, because that’s what people do in this small town atmosphere. I LOVE it here!

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? What are the must-haves in your home that make you crazy happy every time you catch sight of them?

A: I would say my style is bright and eclectic. HAPPY! I love to mix colors and patterns, and surround myself with things that make me smile.

I absolutely adore our farmhouse table in our kitchen. I discovered the craftsman on Facebook, and reached out to him. He made the table to our specifications and was just awesome to work with.

Our fireplace is surrounded by these gorgeous bookshelves that took me literally weeks to get exactly right. I have all of our favorite books arranged in them, (by color of course!), and have my most favorite possessions there, too. Matt and I were fortunate enough to take a long European honeymoon, and some of our treasures from there grace our mantel. I also cherish a gift made just for us: a super-delicate painting of a momma and papa bird, snuggling their three little chicks. It was given to me after the birth of our last child by one of my dearest friends who I don’t get to see nearly enough, as she lives in Utah and has three children of her own. But every time I see the painting I think of Chrisy and smile.

I also have a collection of five brightly colored vases scattered amongst the shelves that make me ridiculously happy. I purchased them on my 40th birthday girls shopping spree in the quaint town of Charlottesville, Virginia last year with one of my best friends in the world. And one shelf of my books contains books written by my friends. I love that my friends have published books! Gives me hope that one day I may do the same!

And then there’s our bedroom. It’s like my dream-come-true-room. The wall color, the brightly colored duvets, the art of our favorite cities – London, Stockholm and Amsterdam – over my dresser, the inspiring wall quotes, and my triathlon medals. It’s ME.

Q: You are done renovating! Tell us what you’ve learned about reinventing a house. The good, bad, and the just plain awful!

A: OH MY GOODNESS. We are done! FINALLY! When we bought the house, the kitchen was teeny-tiny, there were only two bathrooms, and the third floor attic, while HUGE, was totally unusable. But the house had oodles and oodles of charm and a massive yard. There are beautiful archways between rooms, old leaded windows (with killer storm windows so there’s no draft! Yay!)  and these beautifully crafted huge moldings even inside the closets.

We sat down with our contractor and established a budget. We decided to do a rather large numbers projects, in a relatively short amount of time. We bought in July and hoped to move in in August. Oh, we were naive. The contractor warned us that might not be realistic, but ever-the-optimist, I believed we could do it! Or THEY could do it if I was persistent enough. Whoops.

In the end we installed central heat and air, switched from oil to gas heat, totally gutted our kitchen, designed and built a new kitchen (with the help of a wonderful interior designer, Ken Endt of Chroma Design, who also helped with paint colors and window treatments throughout our home, changed a tiny existing bedroom to a second floor laundry room/powder room/HVAC closet, and finished off the attic to make it not only usable space, but a kid paradise! We ripped up all the carpets and had runners installed on the stairs. We painted every. single. wall. in. our. house.

Would I do it over it again? In a heartbeat. But I’d be MUCH more conscious of the budget and how things just add up and add up! We started out expecting to spend X dollars, and ended up almost spending X times 2! Majorly over budget! And I’d be much more realistic about how long renovations actually take. I had to give up my entire triathlon season while we were homeless. Oh, I hadn’t mentioned that yet had I? We bought this house on July 27, but didn’t move in until early September. In between we went on vacation, then stayed in friends’ houses, then stayed in hotels, then we freaking CAMPED. The camping was brutal, and I even love to camp! I was the president of the outdoors club in college. But camping out of necessity with three little kids? Not so fun.

Q: You’re a triathlete! Can you share with us what inspires you, how you train, and what this activity adds to your life?

A: Oh my gosh, I love being a triathlete! Triathlon is my passion! Joining Mullica Hill Women’s Triathlon Club is the best thing I’ve done for myself as an adult…aside from marrying my husband and having my children, but you know what I mean! Our club is full of the most wonderfully supportive, loving, caring, inspiring women you could find anywhere. We’re just getting ready to start training again full time in March. During the season, I train 4-6 times a week, or more, depending on what race I’m training for. This year I’m going to do three sprint triathlons on the Jersey Shore.

Sometimes I swim, bike, and run alone, but I much prefer to do so with three girls who have dubbed ourselves Team NOLA after competing in a Half Ironman in New Orleans last year. Those woman inspire me and push me to keep going, as I am naturally a couch potato. With them, I get off the couch and to the gym and to the lake and to running path. We chit and we chat and we make the hours fly by. It’s my ME time. My girlfriend time. My I’m-not-just-a-wife-and-a-mother time. Really, it changed my life. I’m a better wife and mother when I walk in the door from a training session. Ask my husband! Even though it means leaving him home alone with the kids for sometimes hours or days on end, he encourages me to do so. It’s the best thing ever.

Q: What do you hope your children remember from this very moment in their childhoods in this very house? And what do you hope they conveniently forget! (Sometimes, that’s the more important answer, right?)

A: I hope they remember how very much they are loved and cherished by us and by their grandparents who try to visit from Virginia at least once a month. These children are the center of our world, and we do everything for them. I hope they remember playing out in the yard for hours and hours, catching lighting bugs in the summer, and jumping on the trampoline in the winter all bundled up like snowmen. I hope they remember me yelling DINNER for them while ringing my dinner bell. Oh, yes I do. I hope they think of hopscotch and coloring and me encouraging them to play tag indoors. I hope when they think of home, they think love, safety, family, and great big hugs.

I hope they forget that I sometimes have a tendency to yell, and that we’re not always on the schedule that I set and intend to keep for us every day. I hope they don’t remember the mornings when Matt has already left for work before they wake up or is still at work when they go to bed. And I certainly hope they don’t remember my un-parenting days when I just have had it and plop them in front of the TV all day while saying yes to all their requests for fruit snacks and pretzels!

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What is the one thing that has surprised you the most about being a mom?

A: Honestly, the biggest surprise was that I love being a mom. And a stay-at-home-mom, at that! Before having kids I’d never babysat or changed a diaper or really wanted my own children. Marrying Matt brought out my maternal nature, and I just couldn’t wait to have children with him.

Before Fiona was born I honestly expected to hire a nanny and return to the office when my maternity leave was over. I was a corporate communications writer for a Big Four accounting firm. Instead, I immediately fell madly in love with Fiona and we cut corners and changed our budget and did everything in our power to ensure I could stay home and care for her. It was a huge surprise to us when we got pregnant again before she was even a year old! I had gone through years of fertility treatments to get pregnant the first time, and had been warned that I might not be able to. So, surprise! Baby #2 just 20 months after baby #1. Then, guess what? Same thing with Baby #3! All three were born within 39 months of each other! What a blessing!

Each time, I fretted that I might not love the next baby as much as I loved the prior. I needn’t have worried. The love in my heart just multiplied. I had also worried I wouldn’t be able to love our first baby as much as I loved Matt! In retrospect, I find this rather hysterical. I love them all mightily and fiercely!

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

A: Well, they DID tell me, but I didn’t believe them. It gets easier. They don’t all stay in diapers forever. They don’t need you for their every movement and requirement forever. Fiona is already tying her own shoes. Callum pours his orange juice. Beck picks out his own books and sits around reading by himself. They’re all so young but they’re already becoming their own independent little beings and thinkers and they’re just growing up SO FAST.

I look back at baby pictures of all of them and simply cannot fathom that they are no longer in that stage. I will never again nurse a baby. I will never again have to do midnight feedings. In many ways, it’s wonderful, but it also gives me a real pang in the middle of my stomach.

So fellow moms, and women who want to become moms, when they tell you the days are long but the years are short: BELIEVE them. They know what they’re talking about!


See? Don’t you want to get out and run and bike and swim a hundred miles? Or at least paint a wall in your house a candy coated color? Me, too. Thank you, Christy, for adding your joy to this space today. I know we all appreciate it!

Triathlons seem hard. (Is that the biggest understatement of the day?!) Have you ever trained or worked toward a difficult goal like this while trying to juggle everything else in your life? Where did you find your support and how did you fill in the gaps? I’m always curious how everyone else manages, aren’t you?

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Let me know! 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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Living With Kids: Maureen Vazquez Tue, 03 Feb 2015 14:00:27 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Lesley Colvin.

Maureen seems like she would be a great instant friend. You know the one: she invites your kids over for a crafter-noon just when you’re on the verge of a “I can’t glue one more thing to one more thing” moment, delivers a meatloaf just because she made two, and shares all her secrets for making her life easier just in case you need one. She is someone I love sharing with you today, and you’ll soon understand why.

Oh, and her London space isn’t too shabby either! Welcome, Maureen!

Q: Please introduce us to your family!

A: We are a family of five, and are expecting to round our numbers out to six any day now with the arrival of another little girl. Nathan works in finance and has the most impressive design eye of any banker you’ll ever meet. I am a graphic designer and recently launched my own business.

Nathan and I met 12 years ago at my brother’s wedding. My brother was his boss and I was the younger sister, just graduated from college and in town for the wedding. I hate to sound cheesy, but we had a magical connection. We spent the whole reception dancing, and then we talked on the hotel lobby sofa until morning. Though he claims that was it for him, I felt like the world was my oyster and wanted to experience some adulthood before settling down. Four years (and quite a long story) later, we got back in touch just before he was transferred to London. I was in San Francisco, he was in Minneapolis. After spending two months on the phone every night and meeting each other in Chicago for a weekend, he asked me to move to London. And I did! My parents always said “When you know, you KNOW” and I realized – when I was finally ready – I had ALWAYS known. Four years later, and five years ago, Atticus was born.

Atticus is Nathan’s clone: they look alike, they act alike, they sit the same way. He is fearlessly social and happily unaffected when people don’t respond. He is matter of fact and likes rules and directions. He loves legos and craft projects – provided there are instructions to be followed. He loves listening to stories on his radio and quizzing us with facts that he’s learned. He is very curious; when I was pregnant with his little brother two years ago, he asked me whether the baby had used a key to get into my belly.

Eleanor is 16 months younger than Atticus, and reminds us on a regular basis these days that she’ll be four soon. She is funny and dramatic, with a will of steel and the ability to melt your heart. She is an ace negotiator, and moved from the role of little sister to big sister with amazing ease and grace. When she’s in motion, she’s more like me than Nathan. She needs to be doing something most of the time – outside for a walk, baking, drawing, creating. Unlike me, she may be president one day.

And then there’s Ike. At 20 months, he’s right in the middle of things, instigating the dog pile, joining the conversation (pronunciation be damned), and loving everyone with abandon. He’s beloved by all of us, and has absolutely no idea what’s about to come.

Q: How did your house become your home?

A: We live in what used to be an old furniture factory in North London. The owner is an art history professor and created this amazing space after gutting it 15 years ago.

We were transferred to London with Nathan’s company over the summer, and came on a house hunt for four days the month before the move. After seeing lots of other places, ranging from two bedroom flats in central London to houses with grass out back and long commutes, we saw this one. From the outside, it’s just a innocuous garage door on the street. Once inside, however, it leads to a courtyard that feels transplanted from Italy. It is a secret sanctuary. We were gobsmacked the moment we saw it.

It is far bigger than any place we’ve ever lived – so much so that I initially didn’t think we could make it our home. The space has enormous windows, wide open spaces, and details that sing. I thought it was too much – too nice, too big, too MUCH. Everyone told me I was insane; of course it was the perfect place. This was the chance of a lifetime. We are zealous about great design and we would have been crazy not to take advantage of the opportunity.

We signed the lease. Even now, every time we walk through that garage door we do a little dance.

Q: You moved from NYC to London. How would you compare and contrast the two cities in terms of livability and raising a family?

A: We moved to London for Nathan’s job last June. He and I had already lived in London for five years and moved to NYC when Atticus was a baby. Knowing the area made an international move with three kids (while pregnant) less intimidating, but we adored living in New York and missed it fiercely for a few months once we got here.

We lived in SoHo, where people literally stopped to take a picture of me walking down the street with three kids. Virtually nobody has more than two children in Manhattan, and there’s a reason for it. With kids, everything is difficult – a real schlep – hauling groceries and Christmas trees on top of the double stroller. So, in order to live there happily with a family, you have to LOVE it, which we did. Things that seem a challenge to others are just things you deal with in order to reap the family benefits of New York City living: exposure to different kinds of people; the best food in the world (delivered to your door); fantastic play grounds (and a community of people without backyards who forge friendships at their local swing set); and nonstop energy.

Much of that great city life is here in London, too. And, after being here for a while, there’s something to be said for its slower pace. It’s nice not to have to hold the kids’ hands everywhere for fear they’ll be hit by a car or run over by a quick paced pedestrian, and for them to be able to play more freely outside. London is much more spread out, but the tube system is child friendly, and double decker buses are pretty much THE BEST THING EVER to three and five year olds.

New York may be anything you want RIGHT NOW, but London is everything you want in due course.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: I often joke that I could never move to a place where I’m not within a half mile of an authentically French croissant. I’m about 50 yards from them now. New York and London spoil you with these amazing little things that are so accessible. And now, if that pastry isn’t quite up to par, we are only two hours away from Paris on the Eurostar. Everyone travels, with or without kids. You can rent a villa on the Amalfi Coast, a family apartment in Copenhagen, or, ahem, a REAL CASTLE in the English countryside.

The weight of history in London is nowhere to be found in the states. Two blocks away from us, there is a church built a few hundred years ago. Back home, this would be a national treasure. Here in London, someone bought it and turned it into a paint shop.

The attitude toward lifestyle and family here is also completely different. People create separation between their jobs and family life. Families spend Saturdays in the parks when it’s not too rainy, and have leisurely roast lunches at the pub on Sunday. Sometimes the pace – especially in terms of efficiency and customer service – drives us Americans crazy, but there are benefits if you choose to embrace them.

Q: What’s your best advice for making friends – for both you and your kids – straight away in a new environment. Any tricks you’ve learned along the move?

A: Living in large cities means you meet a lot of people who often end up moving far away. Over the years, you develop a network of friends around the world. That’s great, but as a mom at home it’s essential to find support close by – even just one real friend – who will laugh, cry, and pour you a cup of tea or glass of wine when you need it.

My advice? Be fearless. It’s kind of like dating – you have to put yourself out there. Smiling and online mother forums went a long way in NYC. London is a bit tricky in that the English tend to avoid eye contact or smiling at strangers, which makes for very dull bus rides! It’s even hard to engage fellow moms in small talk.

People here usually wait for a mutual acquaintance to introduce them, and it’s not a given that you will strike up a conversation with someone just because you’re both waiting to pick your kids up from the same class. However, as an American in London, I take license and reject these social norms. I find that once I’ve broken the ice, women are eager to connect.

Don’t be afraid to ask for a phone number after a good five minute conversation with someone at the park, on the bus, or in the grocery store line. It’s just a phone number. Kids are a great excuse in the whole making new friends game, so use them.

Our kids seem to follow my lead and then some; they make new friends everywhere we go. Luckily, because of their American accent, their outgoing nature is not frowned upon by the average Brit, however they definitely catch people off guard with their liberal salutations, direct questions, and overuse of the phrase “I love you” to people they’ve just met.

Q: Your New York space was much smaller. Tell us your best tips for turning a smaller space into a big enough home.

A: Every place we’ve lived before has been much smaller, and as our family has grown, we’ve had to make the spaces work in order to stay in the cities we love. First, we cull our belongings regularly. This has been natural with so many moves. We buy what we love, and what we can hand down to the next child.

Smaller spaces can be more efficient. Even in our larger kitchen here, we still hang everything within an arm’s reach of the stove. I’ll never go back to knives in a drawer or pots in a cupboard.

Kids are adaptable and can sleep anywhere. People have the idea that babies need total darkness and quiet to sleep. While these things help, no doubt, they can be achieved with a bassinet or travel crib in a bathroom or a walk in closet.

All three of our kids share a bedroom. In NYC it was a necessity, and though we have the space now to separate them, we wouldn’t think of it. They quickly learn to sleep through the others’ coughing, night terrors, and early waking. It teaches them to be considerate of one another and cements their relationships.

It’s also sweet to overhear their bedtime conversations, efforts to console each other when one of them is upset, and excitement in the morning when their clock turns green and they are allowed to get out of bed!

Small spaces aren’t a problem to be overcome; they are an invitation to create intimate spaces and close relationships. Trying to make a small space big makes it cramped. Don’t try to change the nature of the space; embrace it and make it do what you need it do.

Q: Tell us about Pipsticks, and the story behind it! How do you carve out time to devote to your career?

A: About a year and a half ago, we were invited to join one of those sticker club chain letters. Like all chain letters, it was a bust: loads of time and energy spent to find friends, write letters, enclose stickers, address envelopes, and find stamps. My kids received one measly response. Though maddening for me, they went absolutely bananas crazy over that one sheet of stickers waiting in our mailbox.

As a formerly sticker-obsessed girl of the 80s, I saw an opportunity to combine the simple joy of stickers, my background in design, and the lost art of receiving mail to start a company that could inspire not only sticker lovers and crafters but parents, too.

Motherhood and design inspire this business. Though every sticker pack appeals to all ages, each is designed to be child-friendly. Kids can open it up by themselves and get started on their own without parent involvement. They’re great when you just need to keep the kids happy, occupied, and quiet.

That said, the stickers are fun and cool, which means many of our subscribers are adults who use them for crafting, snail mail, and scrapbooking. I love connecting with other makers, artists, and crafters, finding new and exciting suppliers, and designing each month’s sticker pack.

Part-time childcare and school schedules allow me to work three partial days a week and still spend lots of time with my kids. Being totally pumped about my work (I mean who wouldn’t be ecstatic over a huge box of puffy robot stickers!) is consolation for the challenge of balancing work and family. Both require immense mental energy.

I let my mind wander to new designs and business issues when I’m folding laundry and picking up legos, but when I’m with my kids I’m WITH MY KIDS. I do work most nights after the kids go to bed. Luckily, my awesome and insightful husband is happy to help me washi tape my keyboard for a photo shoot or discuss the merits of Korean sticker design over dinner. I am lucky.

I take a nap every day, which is my secret to success. I’ve been doing it since Atticus was born. Though it’s really difficult to choose sleep over the other thousand things on your to-do list (especially as that time is usually when the kids at home are also asleep), I find that napping lets me roll with the inevitable punches at the end of the day. If I’m happy, everyone else is happier.

Nathan and I love spending time together and we never get enough. We work hard to get one on one time with each child, but I don’t beat myself up when I don’t get everything done. My mother always said “You can do anything you want in your life, but you may not be able to do it all at once.” She’s the best, and she was right.

Q: Speaking of Nathan, any lessons you’ve learned in keeping your relationship a priority through pregnancies, huge move, and career?

A: Though this is quite personal (sorry if you’re reading this, Dad!), it’s particularly relevant as we are expecting another newborn any day now. I wish someone had told me that after you have a baby, your hormones shift, and sometimes your libido disappears. As a society, we grow up with the age-old understanding and assumption that marriage and kids take a progressive toll on a romantic relationship. It’s the subject of sitcom after sitcom. And it can be true – family responsibilities, combined with lack of sleep, definitely change a relationship.

What I didn’t expect was that after I’d had my second baby, and was breastfeeding, I would have absolutely no interest in it whatsoever. It had nothing to do with being exhausted and emotionally drained (though obviously those things would have taken their toll too). I didn’t care if I ever had sex again. And that was scary. Sleep deprivation, busy schedules, and the other obstacles to intimacy can be overcome. But the disappearance of your libido entirely? Frightening.

The good news is that Nathan was amazingly matter-of-fact, understanding, and supportive about it. I think I actually had a harder time with it – consumed by the “what if” scenarios, and imagining myself a frigid, uninterested partner forevermore. The better news was that about two weeks after weaning Ella, I was back to my old self! The hormones behind it are a mystery, as I’m one for three on this post delivery experience. We’ll see how the coin lands this time around.

The lesson: immediate and open communication – with your partner – is key to getting through a dry spell.

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: The degree to which you love your own children so much more than any other child you’ve ever known is unreal. The way they fascinate and entertain you (when they’re doing pretty much the same thing all kids do) is astounding.

Watching our kids interact as siblings is a joy. The things that I remember as a kid growing up with brothers and sisters are so different when I see them from a parent’s perspective. The way they cheer each other on, knock each other down, and just get goofy together is priceless.

We’ve also found that our perspective changed with subsequent children. At first, we took everything about our child personally – the good and the bad. Life experience helped us get a grip. Each child goes through the inevitable ups and downs of development. We aren’t there to fix them all or take them personally. Our job is to stay consistent and help them not get arrested.

As for missed stages, I can’t answer – as soon as I start to notice something is over, I find out I’m pregnant. Get back to me in a few years.

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: The arrival of their new sister!

Nathan and I work hard to foster the relationships between our kids. We try to strike a balance between letting them work things out on their own and having zero tolerance for nastiness toward each other. Our household mantra is: “Your brother/sister is your best friend.”

Because this attitude takes the decision out of their hands, they quickly fall back into being thick as thieves after confrontations and disagreements. I hope that they will remember all the adventures they create together in this house: jumping from “ice berg to ice berg” on our mountain of couch cushions, doing collaborative arts and crafts, and making waffles together every weekend.

As a mom, I think I’m strict but fun. I am no nonsense when it comes to manners, schedules, and sleep. But I do my best to balance that with spontaneous donut runs (selfishly, who am I kidding!) and glow stick baths. I hope they’ll remember me as a consistent and loving mom who always had a goofy side to her.

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

A: In exercising a bit of poetic license, I’ll rephrase the sentence: I wish I could go back and tell my younger self…that as a mom, sometimes all you really want is a nap and a good cup of coffee in peace and quiet. I am ten years younger than my sister, who also happens to be my best friend. She had her first baby when I was 16 and while I did my best to be a great aunt, I was clueless. After college, I lived with her and her husband for the summer to help her with their two young children and baby girl, and make a bit of money as their nanny. I thought I was supportive and sympathetic, but in retrospect, I wish I had understood what only someone who has been through it themselves can.

Had I been able to better relate to her during those first years of motherhood, I would have watched the kids while she took naps, forced her to enjoy long showers, and made her and her husband go out at night. A lot. She does all of those things for me whenever we’re in town – I definitely drew the long straw.


Okay. Who laughed at this one? “Each child goes through the inevitable ups and downs of development. We aren’t there to fix them all or take them personally. Our job is to stay consistent and help them not get arrested.” Yes, a million times over! Thank you for that and all your other gems, Maureen!

On a personal note, I LOVE that your went there about your sex life after kids. I have so much respect and love for women who share their struggles with the rest of us in the hopes that we all do better. Who’s with me?

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Let me know! 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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Living With Kids: Meghann Halfmoon Tue, 27 Jan 2015 13:00:50 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

We caught Meghann just before her family moves from Amsterdam to the island of Saba. (So that you don’t have to disappear to look up Saba, it is a Caribbean island and the smallest special municipality of the Netherlands. It consists largely of the potentially active volcano, Mount Scenery, which at 2,910 feet, is the highest point within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Thank you, Wikipedia!) I was instantly intrigued when she described her life in her 700 sq. ft. home, using terms like “micro dwelling” and “huge bathroom to fit even tall Dutch men” and “big love” during our correspondence.

Her enthusiasm is infectious. And I hope it’s the best thing you catch all day. Welcome, Meghann!

Q: Tell us all about the family who lives here!

A: I live in this cosy home with my husband Koen, my six year old son Tipp, and my four year old daughter Loula.

Tipp and Loula are only 20 months apart. For the most part, they are super sweet and loving with each other. They are both quite sensitive little creatures, but at the same time very tough. Tipp says he wants to marry Loula when they grow up. That always melts my heart. They often walk to school hand-in-hand, and are a force to be reckoned with at the playground – which does not always bode well for the other kids, much to my embarrassment!

Tipp is a sweet little boy who is super excited about learning to read and write. He calls me mooie mama, which means beautiful mama, and asks me for one extra big kiss as I walk out of his bedroom at night. Tipp’s favourite band is Kiss, he break-dances, plays a mean air guitar, and loves running and playing soccer. He is nearly certain that he is the real Spiderman, which is something he can discuss at some length. Tipp wants to be a flying doctor who knits when he gets older. He says this does not conflict at all with being the real Spiderman.

Loula is my big-eyed, independent little lady. She wants to try and do everything herself! Loula is analytical and asks amazing questions. She dances ballet, and prefers dresses “because you can’t skip as well in pants.” She makes up her own songs and sometimes sings them with a sort of soprano opera voice, which is hilarious! She calls children “kids” and adults “people” and often asks, “When will I become a person?” I love this question because, when trying to reason with momentarily unreasonable children, I sometimes wonder when these little monsters will become people!

My husband, Koen, is a public health doctor specialized in infectious disease control. Think CDC…but in the Netherlands. He works four days a week with the public health department in Utrecht province and has a side job working as a primary care doctor with street prostitutes. I think I might be the only woman who gives her husband a kiss and says “Have a nice evening, babe” as he walks out the door to go to the prostitutes!

And then there’s me. I’m Meghann. I am a maker. I design, create, photograph, and package my leather and textile products from my in-home atelier. This is a huge change from my past life in which I wrote project proposals to fund projects in developing countries, mainly from EU funding, and where the logical framework was one of my best friends.

I think I’m quite pure, in the sense that what you see is what you get. I think I am also quite honest about who I am, including my shortfalls. My husband calls me one of the most open and honest people he knows. He says I’m an adventurer. I love to laugh out loud, and when I’m sad I cry big tears. I love to cook and try new-to-me recipes with forgotten vegetables. I don’t wear make-up, and never really have. And I believe that bike-riding together with your partner is possibly the key to a good relationship.

Q: You’re an American (now Dutch!) living in Amsterdam! Please tell us how you got here, and how you found your home.

A: Well, the road to Amsterdam was a long one! I met my husband, who is from the Netherlands, while studying abroad in Nantes, France, in Fall 2000, but we only started dating in early 2003. A couple of countries and a couple of years later, we married after both graduating from the University of Maastricht in July 2005. And after a couple years in Antwerp, Belgium, we moved to Amsterdam in January 2008.

Moving to the Netherlands, in the legal sense, was really quite easy for me as my husband is Dutch. We have this amazing housing site here where you can see nearly any home available for sale in the country. We bought our home at the very peak of the market in 2008, when I was about five months pregnant. Which, in hindsight, was not an optimal moment to be home shopping. While I would probably do things a bit differently if I could go back in time, I LOVE our neighbourhood and am so happy we ended up here.

That my husband is Dutch was definitely a help when searching out mortgages, energy suppliers, internet, etc. Even though it was a first home-buying experience for both of us, reading the details of the fine print and working with the banks for a mortgage is always easiest in your own native language. Although, thanks to the high level of English most people speak here, most things can almost always be discussed in English.

Q: Tell us why you love the place you live.

A: I can hardly think of a better location to live! I am absolutely head over heels for Amsterdam! This must be one of the best cities in the world in which to raise children. But I may be super biased!

Amsterdam is very easy to get around by bike, public transport, or even on foot. The canals in the center are gorgeous, particularly when lit up at night. And the different neighbourhoods all have their special feel. Amsterdam is also very green for such a dense and compact city, particularly in the area where we live.

My neighbourhood is in the southwest of the city, within the city ring. We are sandwiched between the two biggest parks – the Vondelpark and the Rembrandpark – and spend a huge amount of time in these parks, at any time of year. We go everywhere in town by bike…even in the snow!

Amsterdam has tons to offer for children. On cold or rainy days we spend time at the museums or the children’s cooking cafe where they get to choose what they’d like to cook that day; everything is at their level. It’s run by volunteers and so is very affordable. Nearly all the museums have activities for children, like an orphanage at the Amsterdam City Museum, a Sesame Street tour at the Rijksmuseum, dress up and theatre at the Shipping Museum, and Lego art at the Stedelijk Contemporary Art museum. On warmer days we head out on our bikes to the zoo or to some of the nature parks around town, where the kids get to build huts, bake bread on a fire, pull themselves across the water by rope, or just run around all day.

Prices for many activities can be very high in Amsterdam. For our family, as we live on quite a tight budget, it makes sense to have annual passes. We all have a “museumjaarkaart” which costs about €50 per adult and €25 per child and allows us to enter nearly all the museums in the country for free. We also have annual passes to Artis, the zoo, which is about €140 all together. These are big upfront investments, but we spend very little money the rest of the year apart from this. We pack our lunches everywhere we go, and even bring a thermos of coffee or beer and wine, depending on the season and time of day. We tend not to go to theatre productions, as these can be very costly, but we spend nearly every weekend in the summer at the Vondelpark Open Air Theatre, which is free and offers fabulous theatre, music, dance, and comedy.

While our home is tiny (only 700 sq. ft!) and on the second floor (considered the third floor by US standards), we have a great square out front with a playground for the neighbourhood kids. Kids of all ages play out here and, on warmer days, we often bring out juice and wine and snacks and all hang out with each other. The location on a square and the fact that we have no yard has been a huge plus factor in our social life! It means that my young kids can play outside without me being there because we know a great deal of our neighbours very well. I would say there’s just enough of the “social control” to create a warm, safe, cosy feeling here, without people being nosy.

In a couple of months we’ll be leaving our wonderful life here in Amsterdam for a new adventure on the island of Saba, where we’re pretty sure that, if fairies do exist – and we think they do! – they are likely to live on Saba. While we’re all very excited about our move, I know we’ll miss our home and life here as well. That’s why we’ve decided to rent out our home instead of selling it. I just can’t bear to completely let go of this slice of our life. I like knowing that it’ll be here waiting for us if and when we’re ready to come back.

Q: You describe your space as small but big enough. What are the must haves that make your home fit your family perfectly?

A: This is a small home with big love! Rather than must haves, I think I’d say it’s most important to realize how little you really need. Not to say that I wouldn’t love more space! But I can’t honestly think of any item I’m missing. Sure, a KitchenAid mixer is beautiful and I think it would be really fun to have one someday. But do I miss it? No. In fact, when I bake cookies and cakes with my kids, I use a fork and my arm. It builds great muscles.

I think the most important aspect to living in a small space is layout. Our home is laid out so that we have a living room and dining room in the front of the apartment, and two bedrooms and kitchen in the back of the apartment, and which all lead out to the balcony. I’ve usurped one wall of our dining room to create my atelier. It works amazingly well! While not conducive to work-life balance, I can finish up some work while my kids are snacking after school or playing on the floor in the living room.

We also recently renovated our bathroom, separate toilet, and hallway. Hooray! What was once a hallway closet that offered little space, a toilet that didn’t fit tall Dutch men, and an awful bathroom that housed a tiny shower and our washer and dryer stacked upon each other, is now a spacious hallway closet with space for the washer and dryer next to each other, a toilet fit for tall people, and roomy bathroom with a huge bathtub! Not to mention the penny tiles covering the floor!

And the big love really is important! My parents visit us from the US about twice per year, two weeks each time. The only way they can do this is if they don’t have hotel costs. So, they stay with us! We put them up in our bedroom (it’s nice to be able to shut the door on suitcases), and Koen and I sleep in the living room. When they left us this past November, my husband actually said, “I wish they could stay another week.” Not many husbands out there who would say that about their mother- and father-in-law!

Q: How do you handle clutter? Are you a natural editor, or does it take pure chaos to get you to purge items that are taking up space?

A: Ha! Clutter! The nice thing about “la vie en petit” means that there’s no space for junk or filler furniture. So in that sense, I’m a natural editor. We only buy what we really like. I’d much rather spend more money on a nice piece or item than less money on something that’s just good enough. And, as we have such little space, that’s okay to do!

We also try to have multi-purpose furniture. Our larger couch, for example, is a hide-a-bed. Our smaller couch fits so perfectly in the bay window that it actually makes the room look and feel bigger. The blue bench in our dining room stores my rolled up leather. And we use boxes under our bed to store things that we do need and use, but are more seasonal, like picnic blankets, or an extra comforter for when my parents come visit.

Our home certainly gets cluttered at times! But all houses do. The nice thing about a small home is that, even though it gets cluttered much more quickly and you can’t simply shut the door on it, it also is much quicker to pick up. We just have less stuff.

Q: You’re a talented leather and textile artist. How did you begin this business? What are your goals and biggest accomplishments so far?

A: Thank you so much! As a child, I was very creative. I took nearly every art class possible in school, from painting to pottery to jewellery to photography. At home, my mom and I would bring out our beads after dinner and make bracelets in the evenings. She also taught me how to sew, even from my own designs. I used to dream of living in Paris and being a fashion designer. That all seemed so far away at that age. We didn’t travel as a family, nobody spoke a foreign language, and pretty much every adult in my family was a teacher.

While my parents have always been very supportive of me, they also found practicality to be the most important when going to college. Studying fashion wasn’t really a possibility. So I went to the University of Washington and graduated in 2001 with a BA in Business. And a few years later, I did my Masters in European Public Affairs in Maastricht. Painting was the creative outlet that was most present in my life. But once I had kids, the time for that dwindled.

In 2012, I became emotionally and psychologically ill. I had built up this amazing career in international development, but I couldn’t do it anymore. I was so depressed. At some point I realized that I needed to create again. And also that this amazing job I had simply didn’t fit me anymore. So, I started to create again. And with warm support of my colleagues, I left my job.

While ill, I had posted some photos of things I’d made on Facebook and a friend of mine kept chanting, “ETSY!” So I looked into it and, after a few months, opened my shop. My first sale was a blouse. It was exhilarating and terrifying! But my customer loved it! (I hope she still does!) Anyway, I thought, “If all these other people on Etsy can do it, why not me?”

I’ve been a true business for just over a year now! I would say my biggest accomplishment is simply that I have sales and that, up until now, all of my reviews are glowing! My customers are looking for simple, minimalist essentials, made from high quality and responsible materials, that are versatile in where and when they can be used. They want that understated beauty that comes with age and usage and that stands out because of its simple beauty rather than from flashiness. I would say my leather Tote No.1 epitomizes that.

Another accomplishment, even though I’ve not launched the textile side of my label yet, is a collaboration with Leah Duncan! While I design and will be making the clothing for my label, I don’t design the fabric. I love Leah’s work, so I contacted her some months back and she said she’d love to work with me! We both have Native American background, so we used that a bit as inspiration for the fabric design for the shirt and scarf I’ll be making. (I’ll give you a hint: Tumbleweeds!)

At this point, particularly because we’ll be moving abroad right at the moment that I am meant to launch my Spring/Summer 2015 clothing collection, my goal is to keep myself as structured as possible so that I can keep my business running through the move. And, of course, a huge goal is to sell products from my collection:) Really, more than the money, each and every sale feels like such amazing recognition for the time and love I put into my business.

To be honest, writing about this brings tears to my eyes. I’m still in a very early stage in this new career of mine and it’s been a long and winding road to get here. It might sound silly, but I’m so thankful to my husband for his support, and also very proud of myself for daring to dive off the deep end and just go for it.

Q: Describe a typical day in your world.

A: I’m slowly getting better at balance. Both of my kids are in school now, which gives me from 8:35 to 2:55 to work. I start my day with a nice warm cup of coffee, and sit behind the computer for about a half hour to answer e-mails, check Facebook, Pinterest, and a few blogs. Then I get to work. This can be designing and putting together prototypes of new products, to making a bag that has just been ordered, and getting these out the door. I feel like the orders come and go in waves, which is nice because I have moments where I’m working hard on products that I’m already familiar with, and sometimes a full week to design and try out new products! And the beauty of selling on Etsy is that I don’t have to list anything that I don’t feel I can reasonably make within the shipping time that I’ve defined.

At five minutes to 3:00, I whip on my shoes and jacket and rush out the door to pick up my kids. From then until evening I’m just mommy. Lately I’ve been trying to not work in the evenings anymore. But, when I do, I usually use that time to search for suppliers or other types of info online. I don’t like to sew in the evenings because the lighting is not optimal, and being tired leads to mistakes.

Q: What do you hope your kids remember from this very moment in their childhood in this very house? And what do you hope they conveniently forget!

A: I hope they remember the warmth and love in this house. I honestly can’t think of anything I hope they forget. Well…maybe the fact that they’re not allowed to jump loudly and bang on the floor. We’re not against this in principle, but living on the second floor of a 1930s house means that floor insulation is not at its best.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own children? What has surprised you the most about motherhood?

A: One of my very favourite things is being woken up in the morning (just preferably not before 6:45!) by a warm little body coming to snuggle with me. I love this feeling! Sometimes we just lay there and fall in and out of sleep. Other times we talk and giggle about different things. Those moments are so precious.

What has surprised me most about motherhood is the intense feelings you can have: of success and blissful happiness during the good moments, but also of guilt and failure at difficult moments. It’s that deep awareness of being responsible for somebody else’s life. Luckily, the good outweigh the bad so far!

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

A: I feel like my mom warned me for everything! But I don’t know if any of it really hit home until I became a mom myself. There is just no way to explain exactly how that will feel: from the sheer joy to the utter pain.

I never understood why my parents worried so much. And they would say, “You’ll understand when you have your own kids.” I didn’t know it then, but they were right!

I’m trying hard not to parent through fear. I really don’t want my kids to fall or hurt, but it is all part of growing up. So I’m working on letting go.

Also with marriage. I used to ask my mom how you can love somebody for so long, through thick and thin. And she would say, “It’s a choice. There are times where you’re in love, and times where you stick by because you have deep respect and you love the person, even if you’re not in love at the moment.” I really took that to heart.


Thank you, Meghann! I can’t wait to hear about your new life in Saba, so please let us know if you spot a faerie or two!

I’m so inspired by your small space and how well the entire family – and houseguests – live in it. From experience, it is all about the big love! And I had to laugh about you finding your destined creative career even though your parents prodded you in a more practical direction. I hope in some way you’ve inspired other parents to be open to the paths their children are forging. Love always finds a way, right?

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Let me know! 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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Living With Kids: Barbara Rucci Tue, 20 Jan 2015 17:00:43 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Barbara Rucci’s house is full of lovely clutter. I look over the scenes she’s shared with us, and I can’t help but think that all her keepsakes on display are nowhere near a haphazard situation, and way more of an ever-changing collection of memories made…as well as those still in the making. Yes, Barbara does clutter right!

Also, if any of you are in the throes of comparing your parenting styles or values or incomes to those families around you, please read on. It seems that living in an affluent community brings with it a wonderful yet problematic set of challenges – maybe you’ve experienced the same dilemmas that Barbara worries over while printing out gratitude quotes from Pinterest! (Barbara, I giggled at the realization of how Pinterest can save us at our most frantic parenting moments!)

All this to tell you that you’re going to love more than the gorgeous photos this week; there’s a lot of wisdom and knowledge well-earned over time in this one. Please enjoy it.

Q: Tell us about the family who lives here!

A: We are a family of five. My husband and I have two daughters who are 15 and 12, and an eight-year old son. My kids are very fun, but really loud. My son plays hockey in a room that was originally the formal dining room. Now we call it the hockey room. It has hardwood floors and is in the center of the house. He commentates every move and shot on goal. His imaginary hockey games are literally the soundtrack to our lives.

The girls love to sing and act, so they usually have something loud going on upstairs. When they were little, they would put on nightly shows. I have hours of video footage that we actually dig up and watch from time to time. It is amazing to see that their passions when they were really young are the same as they are now.

My kids are in three different schools with three different start times this year. It’s quite a long morning. My oldest is in high school, which is hard to believe. I feel like she was just standing on a stool in the kitchen singing Annie in her footie pajamas. It’s actually pretty cool because my husband and I both went to the same public high school she’s in now. No, we weren’t high school sweethearts. Now that would be a great story!

Q: How did this house become your home?

A: We sold our beloved first home a year ago. Picture a renovated cape, sort of beachy-modern, on a cul-de-sac teeming with little kids. We lived there for 13 years and had all three kids there. When we sold it, my kids were pretty devastated. Our reasons for selling were varied, but part of it was looking ahead to the future and saving for college. It was also just time for a change.

Since we sold our house quickly, we didn’t have time to find a new purchase. We decided to rent. We heard about this one house that our friends had rented before. It was an old colonial owned by the Historical Society. In fact, it was on the Historical Society property.

We loved the location, about 200 yards from the center of town, but the house was very run down. It was falling apart, mostly because it hadn’t been taken care of from years of turnover. There were broken floorboards, cracked fixtures and plumbing, crumbling plaster walls, and worst of all almost no light switches or lights. We kept walking through the house, over and over again. I could picture us there, but nobody else could. My oldest said “No way.” We had some work to do, but it wasn’t our house so it was hard to justify spending the money.

Then my husband, who is a real estate attorney in town and my hero, talked to the owners and worked out a deal. Whatever money we put into the house, they would take off of our rent over the first year. Can you believe how nice this was? I went to work finding the cheapest ways to fix my problems. We painted floors instead of sanding, we painted walls but not molding, we bought bath fixtures from Home Depot and an electric oven on sale from Best Buy. I was in problem-solving mode, which is one of my best modes.

The challenge was rewiring for the light fixtures and switches. My electrician was not too happy to have to deal with plaster walls. But he did it, and we moved in and I set out to make it as homey and cozy as possible so my kids would be happy. I believe the key ingredient into making a house a home is creating a space that feels loved. I put up all of their artwork, made sure their beds were made with their soft, old sheets, and cooked the food they loved most so the house would smell like theirs again.

Q: Tell us why you love the place you live.

A: Our town is beautiful. I would say that it is the ultimate dreamy New England suburb with all the charm of a picture postcard. We are in the heart of Fairfield County, in a community that is about 40 miles north of New York City. It’s a commuter town that started out in the 1800s as a village of shoemakers. In the 1940s, the “Harvard Five” began creating homes here in a style nobody had ever seen before. So nestled amongst the old colonials and new McMansions are a group of historic modern houses. The most famous being Philip Johnson’s glass house. I love this about our town – that it has such a deep history of makers.

We live here because our parents raised us here and we wanted our kids to grow us with their grandparents close by. They come to all of the recitals, plays, games, and birthdays, giving the gift of extra unconditional love and attention. We also love being close to New York City where we can go to the MoMa or see the penguins at the Central Park Zoo on a whim. Our public school system is exceptional, so it’s nice to take advantage of a top-notch free education. It’s a real community with struggles and triumphs like any other. Our roots here run deep, just like the trees.

But it can be challenging at times, raising our children in such a wealthy town. There is an intensity and competitiveness that permeates the schools and social scenes. The drive for over-achievement sometimes makes me feel like my good-enough parenting style is way out of place. My kids have asked me more times than I can admit if we are poor. We are not, I tell them, and then I go on Pinterest and print out lots of quotes about being grateful and tape them to the walls. Some parents in affluent communities value success more than kindness and decency.

So the task lies in raising our kids to be okay with failure and imperfection, and to encourage them to explore who they are and to nurture their talents rather than be fixated on money and popularity. I think we’re doing a pretty good job so far because our kids are kind of great

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? What are the must-haves in your home that make you crazy happy every time you catch sight of them? (Besides your family, of course!)

A: I would describe my aesthetic as artsy. I have something homemade in every room. Whether it’s garland or paintings or notes that my kids have written, I hang up anything that I love. People who come over to my house always comment on all of the interesting stuff to look at. Sometimes I think maybe that is a nice way of saying that my house resembles a tag sale, and I do get into modes where I need to just throw out because it’s too much even for me. I consider myself a collector, but it can border on cluttered. The key to keeping my home looking fun and artistic is cleaning and organizing.

I have boxes for each of my kids. Big boxes for their artwork, and smaller boxes for their schoolwork. I have a cleaning lady who comes every two weeks which forces me to spend three hours before she comes throwing out and organizing. I moan about it every time, but then at the end of that day of cleansing I have rotated art, found lost items, filed away all of the papers on the floor of my office, and I’m ready to start collecting again for two more weeks! It feels good.

I teach my kids to do the same. They purge often, and are in charge of their own rooms. They decorate them, clean them, and make their beds. I’m starting to teach them to do their own laundry, which will be a game changer for me!

I sometimes envy other homes that are so pristine and uncluttered. Such discipline! I do dream about a fresh, modern space from time to time. But then how could I live in it for very long without draping a pom-pom garland over the doorway, or hanging up that drawing my son made with the penguins that says how much he loves me?

I could not live a happy life without being surrounded by all of the things that my kids have made.

Q: Do you think about utility when you’re designing a space to share with your family? Or is it more important for you to be surrounded by beautiful things? Or are you somewhere in the middle?

A: When I move into a new space, I always draw a floor plan to scale before moving in. I measure every room, I measure all of the furniture that I have, and then I see how I can make it work so that it best suits the needs of my family. Utilizing the space efficiently is very important to me.

There is nothing that bothers me more than non-functional rooms or spaces. That’s why I don’t have a formal living room. I don’t understand the concept of having a room just for occasional fancy guests. First of all, I don’t have fancy guests. And second of all, rooms that aren’t used feel sad and lonely to me.

Nothing in my home is too precious. My hockey player son has shot many pucks into lamps and vases. I try not to be too uptight about my stuff. With that said, I do love beautiful things. I have a few pieces that I cherish and they just make me happy every time I look at them. My dad is an artist and I’m lucky to have a few of his paintings. They are just so stunning and colorful, they make me happy.

And I love my quilts. I have made one for each of my kids from their old clothes. We use them every day. They are perfect for snuggling by the fire.

Q: Tell us about your work, and how it has informed your parenting style.

A: Before I got married, I had my own line of children’s clothes called Saskia that I made by hand and sold in New York boutiques. After I found out I was going to have my first baby, I decided that I wanted to work from home but with an easier job. Working in the garment industry was too stressful. I took some classes in Illustrator and Photoshop and I became a graphic designer. I was a textile design major in college, so being a graphic designer was just another path along the same road.

I did this for 15 years, during all of those long baby and toddler days. I worked during naps, at night, and on weekends. I feel so lucky that I could be there when they were growing up and still build a life for myself.

One day I read an article about blogging. My oldest was around 11 at the time, so this was about four years ago. I was intrigued. I started looking at blogs, Design Mom being one of the first. True story! I decided to try writing so I started a Tumblr blog. After about a year, I took it up a notch and started Art Bar, my current blog and now my life’s work.

When the kids were little, before blogging, I always had an art area or an art room. I would leave out “invitations,” like some play dough and rollers, or watercolors and different shaped paper. They always had an option to be creative. I would hang everything on clotheslines draped around the kitchen and in their rooms.

Now that they are older, they don’t choose to do art that much anymore. My girls love performance art and spend most of their free time playing the guitar, trying to harmonize, and just generally being dramatic. My son plays hockey night and day, but he will draw me a picture if I ask him to. Usually hockey logos or penguins, so not the best blogging material, but I still love them. About a year ago I began to realize that if my kids weren’t doing art, what was I going to blog about? That’s when I decided it was time to teach.

I started teaching four-year olds in my living room. Remember that I said nothing is too precious in my house? Turns out, I’m even okay with paint on my living room sofas. And thankfully, I have a very patient husband who understands me completely and almost never complains. I teach two times a week and it’s something that I find both incredibly challenging and rewarding at the same time.

My teaching philosophy stems from my years of leaving out creative invitations for my own three kids: Expose my students to new materials, teach them new skills, but let them explore their own creativity as much as possible by setting up open-ended art experiences.

Q: Describe a typical work/blog day as it transitions into your home life. How does your space make your life and your family’s life easier within that day?

A: I get up at 6:30 so that I can wake up the first one and get her off to school. I have about 20 minutes in between the first and second to quickly check and reply to emails. Or, more likely, get sucked into the social media vortex. Pinterest is my weakness. By the time they are all off to school, it is 9:15.

My office is my sanctuary. I just love that place. On days when I don’t have art class, I usually make lots of tea and work at the computer until lunchtime. My husband works a block away and often comes home for lunch. We check in about the afternoon of driving ahead and what to do for dinner. It’s really nice to have a partner in crime.

After lunch I try and get away from the computer. I’ll either make something, photograph stuff, exercise, or get new ideas going for art class. This house has such great light, so capturing part of each day on film is very rewarding for me.

Art class days are very different because they basically take up the whole day. The morning is prep, class is at 1:00 for an hour, and then it’s clean up.

By 3:00 I am done working for a few hours. It’s time to pick up kids, drive them places, host play dates, grocery shop, and cook dinner. But I’m so close to my office, it’s hard to stay away! Usually I’m back and forth to the computer throughout the night. I have an extra desk in the office so my kids will come and do homework with me. And honestly, most of the time everyone is huddled around me and my desk anyway. It’s just the way it is!

When you work at home, it’s hard to ever really put work aside. As a blogger, my life and my work are sometimes one and the same. My kids and my husband love my blog, and they are very proud of me. They know I am in work mode all of the time, but they also know that I love it and it makes me happy.

I involve them as much as I can so they don’t feel separated from me ever. It’s why I think blogging is the coolest job because what I’m ultimately doing is documenting my life with my kids, so there is a very deep connection between work and family.

At the actual end of my day, I turn everything off and read books. I love to read. I have to read. Reading is my favorite.

Q: What do you hope your children will remember from this very moment in their childhood in this very house? 

A: I really hope they look back at their time in this house and feel like it was a happy, cozy, fun place to live. It may not be everything that they want but at the same time, they are learning such a valuable life lesson. When you make a big change, try not to look back at what you’ve lost, but rather live in the present and be open to creating new experiences. Something beautiful is on the horizon!

My daughter started high school in this house. School is tough; there is a ton of homework and she misses her childhood. But in another year, she’ll get into her groove and I hope someday she thinks of this house in a nostalgic way. As the place where she got her license, went to her first dance, grew from a girl to a young woman. (Sniff sniff.)

My other daughter will live here most of her middle school years. Actually, she hates school right now. I am working really hard to cultivate her talents and gifts so that maybe, just maybe, her memories will not be of those horrible middle school years, but instead will be of the time she got her first video camera and started her own YouTube channel and made her first movies. I will let you know how that goes in about ten or 20 years.

My youngest, the eight-year old, misses his friends from the old neighborhood. But in this house he gets to have a hockey room! And a huge yard. He gets to walk to town with his sister and buy gum at CVS. I drive him to school every day instead of taking the bus, so I hope that he will remember our funny questions game and the ridiculous car clock that never says the correct time.

This home is the place where I started teaching. My family is so much a part of this new adventure. They always ask me about art class, they know all the names of my students, and we laugh together about funny four-year old questions and sayings. My kids have a cool art space in their living room that they can use whenever they want. Usually it’s to write thank-you notes or work on school projects, but making stuff is part of their lives and I believe it will help them become creative thinkers and problem-solvers. I hope they remember this quirky, original, artsy house as a place where their minds grew and their hearts opened.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your children? What is the one thing that has surprised you most about being a mom?

A: My children have allowed me to live my childhood over again. It sounds cliché but it’s how I really feel about being a mom. I’m creating memories of a home filled with music, books, games, baking, singing, dancing, movie night, cartwheels, fireflies, smoothies, tooth fairies, and lots and lots of arts and crafts. It’s magical for me so I will assume that it is for them, too!

What has surprised me most about being a mom is how culture and where you live play such a huge role in how you parent. My family immigrated to the US when I was five. My parents are Dutch and I was raised in a very simple way. Nothing fancy. Just plain and good and safe and honest.

Now that I’m a mom, I really look to my own mom sometimes and value that simple way of parenting. But it’s almost impossible to pull off when you live in a place where everything is over-the-top and huge. I’ve learned to find a happy medium and I try and practice what I preach to my kids: Comparison is the thief of joy. (Thank you, Teddy Roosevelt.)

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

A: I wish someone had told me that my children would be nothing like me. I think I would have adjusted to parenting that much sooner.

For years, with my first, I kept trying to raise a mini-me and it was kind of frustrating because she wasn’t cooperating. It wasn’t until she was about five and my second one was becoming a toddler that I finally got it.

We were actually all growing up together.

I was growing as much as they were, and we were all becoming our own unique selves.


Thank you, Barbara. This was pure sunshine. I especially loved your description of your own childhood: “Nothing fancy. Just plain and good and safe and honest.” May all of our children enjoy the same.

I wonder how many of you are living in a situation where those around you are unknowingly competing with your style of parenting? Does that make sense? I guess I’m asking if your community adds to the ease with which you live, or somehow makes it all the more difficult? I always love your stories.

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Let me know! 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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Living With Kids: Shira Gill Tue, 13 Jan 2015 15:00:28 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Vivian Johnson.

I promise I’ve got some wonderful homes sitting in chillier locales in the queue, but I’m giving you another California home and sunny interview to warm us all up today. Meet Shira Gill, a sweet mom and wife who turned her 25 house moves into a thriving and much-needed business that edits pretty much an entire life.

Are you hanging on tightly to too much? Do you dread opening your closet in the mornings, not to mention – shudder – your child’s over-crammed wardrobe? Do your afternoons careen into crazy town no matter how well you think you’ve prepared for the chaos? Call Shira. I bet she’s either experienced or seen and solved much worse!

Q: Tell us all about the family who lives here!

A: Hi there! My husband, Jordan, and I both grew up in the SF Bay area a mere ten minutes from each other. Although we had several friends in common, we never met. We met working at Camp Tawonga, a children’s environmental education summer camp near Yosemite, when we were 20 years old. It took several years for him to convince me to date him, probably because I was balancing a busy schedule of dating the wrong people and traveling as much as possible. He works as the director of development for a non-profit in San Francisco, and I run my own business helping busy families streamline their homes and simplify their lives.

I’m so relieved I came to my senses and married him because it was the best decision I ever made. Jordan and I are opposites in many ways, but truly compatible and complimentary. I am creative, energetic, and impatient, while Jordan is grounded, practical, and calm. I help to motivate him when he is feeling a little bit lazy, and he is one of the only people that can calm me down when my mind gets racing. I often get restless and crave adventure and, luckily for me, he is always happy to be along for the ride…

We have two beautiful, funny, strong-willed, rambunctious girls: Chloe is five and Emilie is three. Chloe started talking at nine months and has never stopped. Like, literally. Never. Stopped. She has a mind that runs a mile a minute and a strong sense of herself and how she wants things, so she keeps us on our toes. Emilie is an incredible artist, adventurer, and climber. She is heartbreakingly earnest, so sweet and affectionate, and never stops moving. They are a lively crew that loves singing and dancing around the dining room table, doing art, cooking, and building forts. A typical portrait of our family would include Jordan relaxing on the couch while the girls run in circles playing instruments and I rearrange the furniture.

Q: How did this house become your home?

A: It’s a crazy story, actually. We had been living in a rental in Oakland, which we loved but had outgrown. Emilie had a makeshift nursery in a large utility closet, and we had been pounding the pavement for almost two years trying to purchase our first home. The Bay Area is where we both grew up, and we wanted to stay close to our families, but it became increasingly frustrating to see how impossible it is to buy a home here!

We would drive around with the girls every Sunday, taking turns hopping out of the car to view houses and keeping the girls out of trouble. Every spot we considered received at least ten offers, all well over the asking price. Just when we were starting to give up hope, we got a call from my good friend, Mahnee. It went a little something like this:

Mahnee: “Hey, want to buy my house?”

Me: “Um, yes.”

It turned out that Mahnee and her family were being relocated abroad for a work opportunity and needed to sell their home right away. She didn’t want to work with agents or deal with the drama of stagers, painters, and people traipsing through her house, so they offered to sell the home as a private sale at a price we could afford. We signed papers a few weeks later over wine and cheese and salami.

Life can be full of surprises and unexpected good fortune. We bought the home shortly after my father died, and at the time I wasn’t feeling very hopeful about anything, much less ever finding a house to call our own after our fruitless searching. We closed escrow on my birthday and had a big party to celebrate a few months later. I owe a great deal of gratitude to my friend for changing the course of my life with her incredible act of generosity.

Q: Tell us why you love the place you live.

A: We live right in the heart of sunny Berkeley, California not far from where we both grew up. We are in a very central area, surrounded by amazing galleries, restaurants, farmers markets, yoga studios, and parks. We can walk a few blocks and be at a library, an ice cream parlor, a cafe, or even a climbing gym!

While it is sometimes challenging to confront living in a dense urban setting, I also feel proud that my children are growing up surrounded by so much grit, culture, and diversity. The Bay Area also offers the best weather year round and proximity to the ocean, the mountains, the forest, and the city…really there is something for everyone!

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? What are the must-haves in your home that make you crazy happy every time you catch sight of them? 

A: I would say streamlined, airy, and relaxed. I aspire towards the beauty and simplicity of Scandinavian style, and a real less is more approach. I love to create spaces that feel really comfortable and inviting, but also stylish.

My philosophy is to buy less, and to invest in high quality, thoughtful pieces that we will enjoy for years to come. Although we keep our home fairly minimal, I do love to shop at our amazing local boutiques and indulge in accessories for our space. We recently splurged on a set of Heath Ceramics, which look great in our open cabinets and make me happy every time I eat. (Little tip: we bought “seconds” from the factory in Sausalito and saved a boatload of money).

We also splurged on lighting, which I think is very important, dreamy bedding from Erica Tanov in Berkeley, and Turkish towels and cute dish clothes from Atomic Garden in Oakland. I like to invest in items like beautiful dinnerware, bedding, and towels because you’ll use and enjoy them every single day!

I also think constraints like time and money can be helpful when it comes to creative design. The house we bought was a challenge for me initially because it is a 1916 Craftsman with a ton of dark wood throughout; while certainly beautiful, it just didn’t feel like my style. Also, since we bought our home from a friend we needed to reinvent it to make it feel like our own.

We moved in ten days after we closed escrow and, in that time, we changed all of the lighting, painted the entire interior, and did a fast and furious kitchen remodel. We saved money by buying our own fixtures and hardware, and by removing all of the cabinet doors and spray-painting everything white instead of buying new cabinetry. We also replaced the black and green granite with inexpensive white subway tile, which brightened the room right up!

Q: You’ve moved over 25 times! Tell us what you’ve learned about making a new house a home.

A: Yes! Between being a child of multiple moves and divorces, and a former life working as an actress, I have become an expert mover. Whenever I move, I bring a moving kit stocked with the essentials: bottled water, energy bars and snacks, paper towels, a sponge, and cleaning supplies. The first thing I do when I arrive in a new space is make the bed and set up fresh towels and toiletries so I can collapse at the end of the day. Then, I unpack completely, breakdown boxes, and even hang art if I have energy. I also love to add a few personal touches like fresh flowers, framed pictures, favorite music, and a candle to feel instantly at home and cozy.

The real key to being able to relocate with ease is being fairly well edited to begin with. Of course it’s more challenging to be a minimalist with kids, but I do my best and make it a habit to edit and donate whenever new things come in.

A little trick is that I hang a tote in my closet and do little sweeps of the house that take no more than five minutes. I toss things in the bag like clothing my kids have outgrown and toys that are seldom touched. When the tote is full of donations, I drop off the goods at a local charity. Having less stuff has actually added a sense of great abundance, flexibility, and freedom to our lives. When we want to take a trip, we can just hop in the car and drive to LA with nothing more than a few bags of clothes and essentials!

Q: What inspires you in your career?

A: My difficult childhood probably fueled my desire to create calm, organized spaces. When I was eight, my parents had a bitter divorce and custody battle which triggered my Dad to become severely depressed, an illness he would struggle with on and off until his untimely death a few years ago. There has always been a great deal of heartache in my family, and I think having control over my environment has been a saving grace for me.

As a mother, I also feel there is a tremendous amount of consumer pressure to keep up with trends and buy all of the latest gear and gadgets. I like to provide an alternative, and firmly believe that what helps children thrive has everything to do with feeling loved and nurtured…and nothing to do with physical things. In my own life, I have seen my children play for hours with a cardboard box or a fort made out of pillows from the living room. I think having less inspires great creativity and imaginative play!

Additionally, I find inspiration from the wisdom, insights, and companionship from my close circle of friends, each of whom is figuring it out as they go in their own brilliant and colorful way, and from the stories and images of other mothers who share their lives and style on their blogs and websites. It can be far too easy to get competitive or judgmental, so I have recently launched a new series on my blog where women can share tips from their tool kits with other moms.  We’re all trying to accomplish a bit of sanity and calm amid the chaos of kids and work and life, so why not support each other on the way?

Q: Tell us about Shira Gill Home.

A: I started my company to help women who were feeling overwhelmed in their homes and stressed in their lives. What sets me apart from traditional home organizers is that I really coach my clients to create a space that represents who they are and what they care about. We examine what they use and love, and clear out all of the excess clutter before organizing and styling. I’ve turned offices into nurseries and closets into offices and everything in between! Over the years, my business has grown to include spatial planning and design, project management, and style makeovers.

I love having an opportunity to help my clients transform their spaces, sometimes in as little as a single morning. It’s a terrific fit for me because it’s fast-paced, creative, and always full of interesting new people and locations. Clutter holds people back in all aspects of their lives, from finding a new job to finding love and interpersonal connection. In the past year, I have helped several people purge the remnants of past marriages and remake their spaces to meet their needs as single parents and as single people. I have helped people go from being ashamed of their spaces to hosting holiday meals for their extended families. I have worked with teenagers and their parents to create more functional rooms and study spaces. It has been hugely gratifying to witness personal transformations in my clients once the clutter is gone.

On a typical day, I drop my kids at school and work for three or four hours on site editing, organizing, and styling. I usually bring lunch back to my home office where I do my accounting, blogging, design research, and client calls. My office used to be a porch, and it’s the sunniest room in our house. I always keep it furnished with my favorite design books, fresh flowers, and a glass jug of water. It’s the only room in our house that feels like it’s just mine, so even though it’s where I work, it feels like a relaxing retreat.

I pick my kids up in the afternoon and we usually play for a bit or grab a treat, and then get right to cooking dinner since they go to bed super early. Sometimes the girls tag along with me when I go on donation runs or pick up supplies, and I’ll often head back to the office while my husband reads the girls their books before bed, but mainly I keep a nice separation between work and family time. I prefer it that way!

Q: What do you hope your daughters remember from this very moment in their childhoods in this very house? And what do you hope they conveniently forget?

A: I hope they remember feeling super safe and loved and free to be exactly who they are. I hope they remember being surrounded by an extended family of so many people who love and support them. I hope they remember holidays celebrations, family dinners, birthday parties, doing art on the patio, and running around singing and dancing their little heads off.

I hope they’ll remember their father’s raspberry pancake breakfasts on weekends and my homemade macaroni and cheese, and forget how exhausted we are right now and how often we give up and order Chinese take-out.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own girls?

A: How fun it is! My girls make me laugh harder than anyone, and they are truly my favorite companions. Someone told me when I was pregnant that motherhood would be harder than I ever could have imagined but also more rewarding, and I have found this to be true. Being a mother to girls also feels like a huge responsibility, and motivates me to be as brave, strong, and confident as possible so I can teach them by example. I also love the opportunity to eat ice cream cones and chicken tenders on a regular basis!

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

A: That I would be able to create this little family of my dreams! Growing up as a child surrounded with a lot of struggle and brokenness, I sometimes wondered if that was destined to be my legacy, as well. I have to pinch myself now when I look around at my life, our sunny home, and our beautiful, happy children.

Being an adult has given me the freedom and opportunity to create the kind of home for my children that I always wanted for myself; one filled with love, beauty, warmth, joy, and humor.


Thank you, Shira! I happen to really love being around people who are great life editors – I always learn something just by being next to them! – so feel free to pop by and sit in my living room. I also adore how you overcame a tough childhood and turned it into the basis for a solution for yourself and for others. Well done. I mean that.

Friends, it’s a great point to splurge on the things we use every single day. Do you remember to do that, too? Sometimes I find myself hesitating because of a price tag or a pang about whether we really, really need such a lovely item…but usually I remember that life is too short to be surrounded by things that make you frown!

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Let me know! 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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Living With Kids: Janette Crawford Tue, 06 Jan 2015 15:00:50 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

There’s so much more to Janette than just a pretty home. Sure, she’s Head of Expansion for Homepolish in San Francisco and so we expect her to have a lovely aesthetic. But there’s a reason I’ve saved her to share with you until the first week in January and the month of fresh starts, especially for those of you in the midst of a change that threatens to shake up your life as you know it. Her advice from the other side of her own struggle is pretty wonderful.

So let’s get it started once again, shall we? Welcome, Janette!

Q: Tell us all about the ones who make this house a home.

A: Viv loves singing, coloring with Crayola Pip-Squeaks, dancing, pink, Frozen, leotards, kitties, and definitely not pants or egg salad. She was born in San Francisco (her middle name is Sunshine!), goes to HolaKids Spanish immersion preschool, and wants to be a sister.

I love textiles, fog on the San Francisco landscape, Big Sur, asymmetry, playing guitar, good friends, and heartfelt conversation. I grew up on a wheat farm in the middle of Kansas, studied at the University of Kansas, and now work with the interior design startup Homepolish as Head of SF Expansion. In any extra time I can find, I keep up Lovemade, an events series for families, and Sun + Dotter, a styling service.

Until last year, Viv’s dad lived with us as well, but he chose to leave our marriage. To say the least, it’s been a year of adjustments. But in a true act of redemption, I’ve learned and grown so much from the experience and am now a better role model for Viv than I ever was before. I thank God for the community and support I’ve been surrounded by…including two amazing girls who have moved into our home as roommates since these photos were taken!

(That, and joining my parents’ cell phone plan at age 32 wasn’t what I’d ever expected. But when life hands you lemons…you might as well get two live-in best friends slash babysitters.)

Q: How did this house become yours?

A: In SF, finding a good rental can be a full-time job! I’d had a flexible move-out date from my last place before this, so apartment-hunting was a bit flexible. After six weeks of looking, I knew this place was special as soon as I saw the Craigslist post for it: garage, backyard, fireplace, view of the Full House houses on Alamo Square Park. So I told the owners that I had plans during the open house, and could I possibly come earlier? They said yes, and I was the first to see it, and that’s why they offered it to me first!

I’ve now been here for four years and have become super close to my landlords, a couple who lives above us and really cares for me and Viv.

Q: Tell us why you love the place you live.

A: San Francisco is a beautiful, magical place. Amidst all my favorite city exploits of great food, coffee and shopping, there are stunning surprise views at the top of every hill. And when I need to get away, a short drive north, east, or south is full of endlessly soul-quenching outdoor spaces.

Especially with Viv, I love taking advantage of all the beaches, hiking, backpacking, and camping that I didn’t grow up with in the Midwest.

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? What are the must-haves in your home that make you crazy happy every time you catch sight of them? (Besides your daughter, of course!)

A: I have such a hard time putting my own style into words. But my priority is for the space to be inviting, cozy, meaningful, and not too precious. I love my collection of plants, my varied assortment of textiles from around the world, and how I’ve balanced the Craftsman/Victorian interior with both a freshness and a timelessness.

One of my favorite spots in the house is the rug in front of the fireplace. My front room has enough space for two living areas. On one side is my sofa and sectional with lots of seating, for talking with friends or gathering around a movie.

On the fireplace side I’ve left the area open, which is a perfect play spot for Viv, for dancing or building towers or a tickle fight. The openness has proven great for hosting parties too, with or without kids.

Q: Do you think about utility when you’re designing a space to share? Or is it more important for you to be surrounded by beautiful things? Or are you somewhere in the middle?

A: I land precisely in the middle! Versatility and durability are so important for livability – even if you don’t have kids, in my opinion –but not at the cost of good style.

I get really excited about products that accomplish both, like beautiful flat-weave rugs that never stain, sofas with washable cushion covers, and toys that double as decor. Things that both kids and adults can love. This is the premise of my styling work with Sun + Dotter, and the events we host with Lovemade!

Q: Homepolish sounds like an amazing company! If you could tell us only one favorite thing about the company, what would it be? What is your role in the company? Tell us what your professional life adds to your personal life.

A: Homepolish is democratizing interior design, making it attainable not just for wealthy home-owners, but for anyone who values living or working in a beautiful space, on any budget. That’s my favorite thing about it!

But a close second is how we’re able to catapult the careers of some incredible up-and-coming designers, who would otherwise not be able to work full-time on their own.

My role is Head of San Francisco Expansion, building brand awareness throughout the Bay Area. I get to work on everything from publicity to startup partnerships to interior design. It entertains every part of my brain, which suits me well!

Q: Describe a typical work day as it transitions into your home life. How does your space make your life and your daughter’s life easier within that day?

A: I am fortunate to be able to work from home, because my team is based in New York. I used to have a desk in my bedroom but never used it, always opting to sit in the front of the house instead. So I work from either my dining room table or a vintage school desk-chair that I can place anywhere if I need a change of scenery. Without a set workspace, it keeps me tidier, because I don’t let piles add up!

When Viv comes home from full-time preschool, I do my best to be all about her and stay off my computer until her bedtime. We cook dinner and hang out, with roommates and often other friends around.

After she goes to sleep is when either the wine or the laptop come out – depends on the day!

Q: What do you hope your daughter remembers from this very moment in her childhood in this very house? And what do you hope she conveniently forgets! (Sometimes, that’s the more important answer, right?)

A: I hope she remembers how much she loves to make art, to decorate, to sing, and to dance. And the love, care, and intention I have for her, which is my number one priority these days.

I read once, “Your words become your child’s inner voice,” which I take to heart every day.

I hope she forgets how little I cook!

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your daughter? What is the one thing that has surprised you the most about being a mom?

A: With a three-year-old, every day is a new laugh and a new surprise. That’s the best part. Lately Viv has been singing Elsa’s “Let It Go” and Edward Sharp’s “Home” with ridiculous accuracy, and then launching into Charlie Chaplain-like dance moves. That, and how she loves me so much and never lets me forget it. Her cuddles are irresistible.

Every bit of being a mom has been a beautiful surprise, because I actually dreaded it, fearful of losing myself. It’s hard now to believe how wrong I was. Being a mom has been the most natural and empowering thing I’ve ever done.

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

A: What comes to mind isn’t so much about what I wish I’d heard, as what I’m so glad I did hear. In facing my divorce, some friends told me early on to use the experience to become the kind of woman I want to be, and – maybe even more powerful – the kind of role model I want to be for Viv.

That framed my entire past year, being able to face grief with my chin up, learning to constantly process and grow. To lean into my true identity, not the ones I’d manufactured for myself.

So if there were one thing I wish someone had told me, it would be to be a student, and to be patient with myself. And that in a year…it will all pay off.


Be a student, and be patient. Priceless wisdom, Janette, and much appreciated. I know your words have impact. I sincerely wish we had met you sooner so we could’ve cheered for you through the past year, but we’re here now to root you on!

How is everyone doing on your 2015 goals? Or maybe I should ask how everyone is doing with your lives? Are you using your experiences to become the kind of person you want to be? I hope so. It’s been said that a lot can happen in a year, and it’s my wish that your lot in 2015 is nothing short of remarkable.

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Let me know! 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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Living With Kids: A Look Back at 2014 Tue, 30 Dec 2014 17:00:42 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Entry from Mary Heffernan’s old home. (Don’t worry! I’m begging for a new tour of her ranch house very soon!)

It’s been another year of wonderful home tours and words that made our Tuesdays a little more thoughtful. What a lovely thing it is to be able to peek in on how others are living with their families. I’m so grateful to all of my guides for their bravery and openness, and also to my sweet readers for welcoming them in each week with a supportive comment or even a “What color are your walls?”

Join me in a little walk down memory lane, will you, please?

Are you tired of chalkboards? (I’m not.) To me, that’s like asking if you’re tired of real books. You know, the ones made of paper that smell like…well…paper. I don’t know if I’ll ever catch a whiff of chalk and not think fondly of third grade! I think Jessica would agree.

From kitchen memo board to office to do list and bedroom accent wall, she’s got chalkboard fever. I love it.

Hands down, my favorite answer to the question “When does your home work best?” was from Hannah, when she replied “My home works best when Tom is asleep.”

Oh, Tom!

This is the same tour that captured the girls’ bedroom as exactly how every girls’ bedroom should look at some point on a Saturday afternoon! Cozy, colorful clutter is charming.

There are features in every home tour that stick to us. For whatever reason, we can’t get them out of our brains and they become part of our wish list. For me, it’s often about the view.

Nadine’s street view is inspiring.

But her secret garden must be a wonderland, don’t you think? It slows my heart rate in photos, so I’m sure it’s madly restorative when it sits just out the back door!

Oh! A lush, hushed garden isn’t your thing? Then maybe you preferred Natalie’s house in Nicaragua.


A clear sea, sand that begs you to pitch your shoes, and blue sky for miles? Unofficially added to a Pinterest board called I’ll Send You A Postcard From Paradise After I Hammock.

But we can’t talk about views and not talk about the one from Becca’s kitchen sink, can we?

Yes, that is Mount Etna. And yes, if I lived there I would never ever complain about dish duty.

But do you remember her fireplace?

If you’re interested, her dining room table is equally remarkable.

Speaking of remarkable, Juliana’s lifestyle is not for the faint of height! From thirty floors up in Hong Kong, her interview reminded me that a bay window can double as a backyard, especially when the clouds are within reach.

Through the tours, I’ve loved peeking in on real kitchens. Kathryn’s looked like a party to me.

Cristina’s made me want to spend a sun-drenched morning in it.

Laura’s reinforced the idea that if new cabinets aren’t in your budget, a little color freshens it all up. Also, I love her knife storage.

As well as Cher’s knife storage!

And Alisa’s was jam-packed with solutions for not-so-cute dishwashers and icky cupboards. (You need to pop back into her home if you want the answer to “How do I turn my bedroom wall into a giant mural that is better than anything in my dreams?”)

Some tours, like Michelle’s, gave us a huge hint of the magic ahead just from the front door!

Anne’s tour taught us to embrace color…

…and comfort…

…stylishly and with a healthy sense of humor.

Amy gave us proof that window seats are always a good idea. (And also that hallways make for an awesome office!)

Michelle showed us the joy in saying yes to princess beds and fancy chandeliers. (The same goes for princess castles, riding toys, and other bedroom furnishings that cause you to ask yourself how in the world you landed in this decor moment!)

Katie demonstrated that even hip bachelor pads with exposed brick and ductwork can turn into hip family homes covered with preschool artwork!

Through Lindsay, we discovered that natural disasters destroy every single superficial thought on what truly makes a home. (This one always gets me!)

And LaTonya reminded us that a house doesn’t have to be “The One” to be the one that’s making your little ones happy right this very minute.

But mostly we learned that this whole Living With Kids thing – my goodness! – it all goes so fast. As Susanne says, “It’s such a cliché, but I wish someone had told me how fast it all goes…Every stage has its own lovely moments. But life happens and you enter the next stage in the blink of an eye. I just try to take lots of pictures and – better still – make movies. The voices of our loved ones are so precious!”

So as we welcome 2015, let’s remember all the voices – and all the smudges, all the laundry piles, all the calendars that couldn’t begin to hold all that we do in a day, all the middle of the night cries, and all the Legos we’ve stepped on in our rush to answer those cries – that made 2014 a year we don’t ever want to forget.

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us in 2015? Let me know! 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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Living With Kids: Casey Wiegand Tue, 23 Dec 2014 17:00:13 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

You may recognize Casey’s name from the film American Blogger. Her husband, Christopher, traveled over 15,000 miles to document the stories of those who keep blogs and share themselves with the rest of us. Have you seen it? I’ve heard it’s fascinating!

The Wiegands recently moved into a new-to-them home, and invited us in to see their holiday decorations. It’s all very sweet and mindful – much like Casey herself! – and such a relaxed way to end our tours for the year.

Welcome, Casey!

Q: Tell us all about the family who lives here!

A: My name is Casey Wiegand, wife to Chris Wiegand, and mama to three: Aiden, Ainsleigh, and Apple.

I have an early childhood degree and started off as an art teacher after I graduated from Baylor. Then Chris and I opened an art studio for kids called A Little Artsy. Since then I have become a blogger and started a blog conference called HopeSpoken. My husband is a photographer/filmmaker, and has taught me much about chasing my dreams and our purpose – the things we were made for! It’s been fun sharing our life and our story online so that people can walk with us through it all.

Chris and I met right after I graduated from college, and fell in love quickly. He is creative and sweet, and I knew I was in trouble on our first date because I had literally never met anyone like him before! He told me he loved me after three months, and asked me to be his wife on our one year anniversary. We are both creatives and both work from home. He loves making dreams come true…and he has seriously done that for me.

My oldest, Aiden, is five and started kindergarten this year. He has a heartbeat for all things animals, which has translated into us having 13 pets! Dogs, lizards, snake, bunnies, chickens, and fish. Aiden is my mini me; he’s tender, kind, and precious.

My middle daughter, Ainsleigh, is four. I started blogging around the time of her birth. I had a family blog before that where I blogged at occasionally, but my blog and what it is today came around the time that she did. Ains is independent, brave, and has an infectious joy. She literally can light up a room. I often say she possesses all of the qualities that I wish I had more of. Her confidence and bravery are a beautiful thing. Outgoing and amazing – she’s a ball of light!

My sweet third baby is Apple. She’s two years old and the most gentle, precious babe you have ever been around. Soft and sweet, loves tenderly, speaks softly…she reminds me of Aiden in about 100 ways. Apple is also my rainbow baby because we lost a baby around 12 weeks before she came and then lost another one after her. I have been open on my blog about our losses and the heartbreak involved. When something is the apple of your eye, it means you cherish it and watch over it. Our sweet apple is cherished deeply.

Q: How did this house become your home?

A: We actually just moved into this house last month! The home we were living in before this space is Chris’ childhood home. He had lived in since he was a baby, and then after college he took two years of his life to flip it on his own. He poured his blood, sweat, and tears into that home.

We fell in love in that home, came back to that house after our honeymoon in that home, and brought our three sweet babies home to that house. It holds our memories and our laughter and our tears.

We decided this summer to move. God made it very clear in various ways that this was a good step for us. Years and years of memories to walk away from was hard and emotional, but it has been such a beautiful step for our family.

We found this new home and already love it so much. It is close to family, my son’s school, and already has given much to us in just a month’s time. We are excited to see what journey unfolds in this new space. It already feels like home to us!

Q: Tell us why you love the place you live.

A: I have lived in Dallas my entire life, and adore it here. The area we live in is wonderful! We have great restaurants and parks.

We have the Arboretum, the Dallas Zoo, and the Dallas Aquarium. So many wonderful, affordable opportunities and activities for young families!

Depending on what you are looking for, you can find a huge range of prices and styles and neighborhoods. The area that we just moved into typically has higher price tags, but it’s mostly the land that is so valuable because of the location. The range is big: you can find homes for millions of dollars to $100k.

Occasionally, like we did, you can find a treasure of a home. Most people might consider it a tear-down, but we love it for its character and charm. The house we recently left is near downtown Dallas and was an amazing area for young singles. But once you have kiddos in school and a growing family, it’s a little harder to stay in that area unless you don’t mind driving on the highway all the time.

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? What are the must-haves in your home that make you crazy happy every time you catch sight of them? (Besides your family, of course!)

A: I love a homey feel yet character. Anthropologie is my absolute favorite. I love old family quilts, beautiful colors, and textures. I want it to be a warm happy place for my family to live in.

Q: Tell us about your blog! What do your readers love hearing about?

A: My blog began in a really hard season for me. I just needed a place to process – an outlet – and people started connecting to that. I tend to feel things deeply and my heart is pretty raw, so I just freely wrote about the ups and downs of life.

Over time, as my readership grew, I had the opportunity to turn the blog also into a business. It’s neat to have something that you love become your job; to be able to have a place that is an outlet for me also become something that brings in an income is a true gift. I now have someone that handles advertising for me and we have a media kit and a range of options for businesses to connect with me.

I have connected with so many amazing people during the past four years. People have journeyed with us as my babies have grown, as I have struggled, and we all have changed. My most popular posts revolve around my children or around our losses. I think in motherhood, it’s nice to know that you aren’t alone in your feelings. That someone out in the world is walking a similar story.

My husband and I used to run an art school called A Little Artsy. We recently closed the storefront, but still have the full curriculum for schools and studios to purchase and use! When our storefront was open, we held classes, parties, and mommy & me events. We just stepped into a new season, and know that we can reopen the storefront at any time!

Q: Many of my readers may recognize your name from your husband’s film, American Blogger. Tell us about that journey!

A: American Blogger was a dream my husband had to make a documentary about my journey as a blogger. He was fascinated by the opportunities that had come my way and how I had developed such a sweet, sincere following over the years. He saw me connecting with women around the United States, and even the world, and he wanted to bring this story to the screen.

He traveled the US with his Airstream trailer and interviewed various bloggers, a lot of whom were close friends of mine. He wanted to hear the stories behind how they started and why they did it. He really wanted to tell my story. We learned a lot through the experience. It changed me in a lot of ways.

Q: What is your favorite memory from that period in your family’s life?

A: It was amazing to see him experience all those aspects I know to be so beautiful about the blogging community. So many of my friends welcomed him into their homes; he ate with their families and got to see life through their eyes.

I am so proud of him and know that years from now my kiddos will love having such a beautiful documentation of their mama’s story.

Q: What do you hope your children remember from this very moment in their childhood in this very house?

A: I hope they remember the love. It sounds cliche, but my husband and I work hard to make this a safe, happy place full of the warmth of laughter and love. I want them to hold onto every piece of that as they get older.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your kids? What is the one thing that has surprised you the most about being a mom?

A: I have wanted to be a mama as long as I can remember. I knew that they would forever change my life, but the love that I have for them just completely takes my breath away.

I didn’t expect the struggle with open hands. I am constantly fighting the desire to protect them and hold them so tight…then have to remember how important it is for them to learn to fly. For me to let other people love them. It’s all been a journey for me.

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

A: I wish someone had told me how hard it would be to let them go. To let them grow up and learn things on their own…sometimes even the hard way.


So lovely, Casey! I think the line that got me most was about remembering how important it is to allow others to love our kids. I can see that truth in my own life. (Did I mention my Ralph and Olive are home for the holidays? Be warned: I’ll be mentioning that fact joyfully for awhile!)

And that concludes the 2014 home tours! It’s been a wonderful year, and there’s so much more already on the schedule for next year. I’d love to encourage you – as my P.S. does every Tuesday – to seriously consider opening up your own home to us. And especially for those of you who haven’t seen your story told here, write it yourself! I’ll help you.

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Let me know! 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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Living With Kids: Alison Faulkner Tue, 16 Dec 2014 14:00:14 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Jessica Kettle Photography.

I always love reading people who sound exactly the same on paper as they do in real life, which is why Alison’s tour today makes me grin so hard! I think I edited six hahas and a few triple exclamation points, but I left all her capitalized words for emphasis. Alison’s life has lots of emphasis! You’ll see!

I couldn’t wait to share her with you, especially now as the holidays are racing toward us. Her festive philosophy, as you’ll soon learn, is super timely. I know it will inspire you to do more with what you have this very minute, and open your arms wide to welcome every celebration in your path. (Even the ones you’d like to ignore!)

Welcome, Alison! And Happy Tuesday, Friends!

Q: Tell us all about the family who lives here.

A: Hello! I’m Alison of The Alison Show and I live in this little 1920s house in Provo with my music-producer husband Eric, my tyrannical and adorable 4-year-old Ginger, and my precious overly coddled 1.5-year-old angel boy Rad.

My husband and I both work for ourselves, so our house is in a constant state of disarray. We both prefer to be hustling and working on our projects rather than doing dishes or, like, laundry. Who does laundry? People with clean clothes, I guess.

I have a studio in the home that honestly gives most people an anxiety attack to just look at. I regularly post pictures of it and my desk littered with 32 oz soda cups on Instagram. Once every four months I clean it, but most of the time it looks like a bomb of promotional swag, sprinkles, and party supplies exploded.

Ginger has an army of stuffed animals – she calls them “stuffies” – and they are an integral part of our lives. She lugs them around the house and they are EVERYWHERE. She also creates backstories for them. There’s a monkey named Ellen who is allergic to bananas, I kid you not, and a unicorn named “Uni” that inspired her Unicorn Parade birthday party. The stuffies seem to multiply like gremlins, and Eric and I are fairly sure Ginger is using them to plan a hostile takeover. We’re all just stoked when Rad finally surfaces among the fluff-filled friends.

Q: How did this house become your home?

A: My husband bought our house when he was in college! So I had NOTHING to do with choosing it. Eric lived in it and rented the rooms to friends. It’s zoned for dual family living, so he thought of it as an investment and rental property. The house has two kitchens and two entrances. When we got married he moved into my apartment and we rented out the whole house the first two years of our marriage.

But the zoning regulations specify that the house must be owner occupied to rent, so we finally had to comply with the law and I was DEVASTATED. By the time I moved into the house it had been inhabited by dozens of dirty boys. So naturally I walked in the front door and started sobbing. Yes, I can be a spoiled brat sometimes. The carpet in the family room was horrible. It looked like someone had unearthed a dead body. The college boys had painted every room a different color. One room had purple walls with forest green carpet. There is NO closet space, old junky appliances, and linoleum every which way you turn.

So when we moved in, we did the best we could. We recovered the original hardwood in the family room but didn’t have enough money to do much else. And because I couldn’t do what I wanted with the house, I just kind of ignored it. Yes, yes, I’m an all or nothing kind of girl. Plus we never intended to live in the house this long, so we didn’t really invest in it.

We rented the basement at first, but with the birth of Rad and our burgeoning businesses, we decided to take over the whole house.

So now I have two kitchens and five tiny bedrooms. There’s still pretty bad linoleum in more places than I’d like, and no closet space. But we have a yard, a very low mortgage, lots of living space, and a fantastic neighborhood.

Every time we make some money, we basically put it back into our businesses or pay off any debt we have. So now, after five years of living in the house, we are trying to make it more of a priority and place we are proud of.

Q: Tell us why you love the place you live.

A: I think one reason we didn’t expect to stay in the house is we didn’t expect to love living in Provo, Utah so MUCH! But we are both obsessed! Provo is a fantastic place for families. It also has an awesome music scene that is great for Eric’s business, and it is an amazing place for social media and building my online empire. Students are an excellent labor source, and the creative community is really top notch. Our mortgage is so low that we’ve been able to start our own businesses without taking out business loans.

It really is THE place to be for entrepreneurs.

I also just renovated and am now renting a studio and events space called Club Alison. There’s no way I’d be able to do that in a larger more expensive city.

We feel so fortunate to each be making a career out of our passions. So, really, living in Provo has enabled us to live the life of our dreams – even if we don’t live in the house of our dreams YET!

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? What are the must-haves in your home that make you crazy happy every time you catch sight of them?

A: Even though there are lots of things I don’t love about the actual bones of our house, I’m pretty good at making it festive! Which is why you’re getting a tour of our Christmas decor.

I do my best to make every holiday special. For so many years I had very little money to spend on stuff like that, so I relied heavily on my crafty skills! I’m really good at using garlands to cover up nail holes and paint chips. And now as we make a little more money, and I can spend more money on the house, I look for clean, modern pieces that I can embellish with my festive decor later.

Q: Why does your space work for you? Have you designed spaces that meet your needs, or are you surrounded by your favorite things…or are you in a constant state of chaos?

A: I think we are starting to realize we are in a constant state of chaos because we haven’t taken the time to focus on making our house really work for us. Also, it just hasn’t been a priority as we start our businesses.

But we have enough space and enough creativity to make it work! So I’m excited to start saving some money to problem solve and make our home more joyful to be in.

Q: You and your husband both freelance, right? That’s often a difficult thing to manage – especially in terms of knowing when to start and stop your work and family time. How have you sorted it all out? What works and what doesn’t?

A: My husband Eric has a studio outside of the home, and I plan on getting another office (Club Alison is best for events and photo shoots) outside of the home as soon as possible. After doing the working at home thing for so long, we both see that being able to take our work out of the house helps us live our life more. It’s easier to be focused on the kids and the family when you’re not trying to sneak off to your office in the next room to finish one more thing.

I know lots of people LOVE having a home office, and that’s cool, too! We both just like being able to separate things a bit more, and that took us some time to realize.

Q: You dance. A lot. You make people happy. A lot. And you are really turning those skills into a fabulous career. Tell us about your next steps and bigger dreams!

A: Haha! Well, thank you! My main goal with my business is to enable other people to feel awesome about whatever it is THEY are doing. So I try to do that in a number of ways. Dancing like a fool is one of them, but another way I do that is by going after my dreams.

One thing I’ve wanted to do forever was create and sell an online course about my sugar cookies, which I’ve been making for seven years. So I released that in October. It’s called Alison’s Cookie Party, and it has been going super well! So I’m so relieved and happy.

Another dream of mine was to create a space where I could host events, workshops, and anything else fun! But also a place that I could rent to like-minded creative people so that they could make their projects a reality. Our rental rates are really low so that small business owners, just like us, are able to afford it.

Club Alison was an old door-making warehouse, and the owner of the building has worked with me to turn it into a really fun venue. I found it on the side of the road – there was no “for rent” sign. But I could tell the space was perfect just by looking in the windows. So my husband (can you tell how insanely supportive he is?) and I asked around until we found the owner, drove to his home, and had him show us the space! Then we signed a lease and got started on construction.

Seriously, I’m not even sure what I’m doing. I can’t believe I actually did that. I operate on very little sleep and lots of caffeine so I’m just SO stoked when things work out.

Q: What do you hope your kids remember from this very moment in their childhood in this very house? And what do you hope they conveniently forget!

A: I hope they remember how blessed we are and that we really do have everything. It’s not a house from a magazine – though these pictures aren’t too shabby! – and it’s quite often a mess, but we always have food, fun decorations, and mom and dad are both super happy to be living their dreams. There’s a lot of love in our house. Stress? Yes. Swearing? Cough, occasionally. But more than that they are allowed to be who they are and are loved for that.

Q: What has been your very, very, very favorite part about living with your own kids?

A: My favorite part about living with my own kids is watching them turn into people. They go from being a tiny lump of cuteness – an accessory, really – that you can dress how you want and tote around where you want, to being full fledged humans with opinions. Ginger likes pictures of the family in her room, and special places for her “stuffies.” She also notices when we make her bed, and loves it.

But mostly I’m just constantly amazed at how happy the kids are when you just spend time with them at home, even if you don’t have subway tile in your kitchen. GASP. There is something special about being together within your own walls.

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

A: I wish someone had told me to fully commit to what you have at the present moment. They probably did tell me and I didn’t listen! But I wish I hadn’t spent so many years ignoring my house just because it wasn’t exactly my dream house. Or not working on the house because we planned on moving. I didn’t know we’d end up starting two businesses and that moving wouldn’t be an option for a while. I could have been enjoying this house more!

Then again, I didn’t have any money to change things…so, oh well!

But I think committing to what you have at the present, and doing what you can with what you’re given will always bring happiness and I’m glad I see that now.

Love what ya got, even if it’s not a lot. Is that a country song lyric? It should be.


Is everyone smiling? I sure hope so! Thank you, Alison, for adding your cheer to the day. I told you your interview would probably change a few moods, and I was right: you changed mine.

I had to giggle at this line: “I’m just constantly amazed at how happy the kids are when you just spend time with them at home, even if you don’t have subway tile in your kitchen. GASP.” We often overlook the obvious when all we see is what we don’t have, right?

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Let me know! 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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Living With Kids: Danielle Lindberg Tue, 09 Dec 2014 12:00:19 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

For those of you who still haven’t gotten around to setting up holiday decorations and feel guilty about it, let me introduce you to Danielle. Her calm attitude about enjoying Christmas is certainly contagious, and a sweet reminder that the most beautiful traditions are rarely about perfection or the latest trends or elaborate advent calendars (although this one sure was cute!); they can be as simple as a bowl of oranges on the table.

Sigh. Refreshing, right? Well, just wait until you hear the rest of what Danielle has to say about her holiday decorating. Cheers to reasonable and relaxed traditions. Let’s embrace them with open arms, Friends!

Q: Tell us all about the family who lives here!

A: Our family currently consists of myself, my husband Randy, our 11 year old tender-hearted son Aiden, and feisty nine year old daughter Maia.

I have the wonderful opportunity to stay at home, but I have worked in various positions in health insurance, escrow, and even as a notary public in California. My husband fills his days as a Respiratory Therapist at a local hospital and NICU, along with being the best handyman around. Our house rarely has a broken anything and I so appreciate that!

We have 17 laying hens and one silky rooster, along with three cats. We are in the process of becoming adoptive and foster parents. I am hoping to add one or two more stockings to our mantle next year.

Q: How did this house become your home?

A: We purchased our home two years ago, and to say it was in disrepair is an understatement. Tree limbs were growing back into the ground, nicotine stained the walls, and the septic tank was overflowing, but it sat on an acre of useable flat land in the middle of an urban city.

I think friends and family thought we were crazy, because the home we were selling was a brand new semi-custom beautiful home with all the bells and whistles. While that was a wonderful home, it just wasn’t our home. So we took a plunge and bought a huge fixer. We were not scared or nervous – just determined to see our new disaster evolve to our family home. This house was so bad that we did not even take our kids over to see it until we had done a few projects; we were afraid of their reactions! But, to our surprise, they were on board with the change.

It took a while for this house to feel settled, and we still have a list of projects, but I am so proud of the work we have completed so far. When we are able to share fruit from our apricot, cherry, or apple trees with a neighbor, or run a dozen of our eggs over to a friend, I know how right this house was for us.

That being said, I wouldn’t call this our dream home. In fact, I don’t believe in the concept of a dream home. Each home that we have lived in has special things about it and have served different purposes for us at that time. It might be because I enjoy change, or that I don’t see the need to restrict myself to the notion of the perfect home, but each home we have lived in is my dream home.

Q: Tell us why you love the place you live.

A: Boise is a hidden gem in the United States. We actually moved to Boise six years ago from Southern California; my husband was raised in Fullerton and I was raised in the Bay Area. We love California and always will – we miss the ocean! – but our day-to-day life in Boise is simple. Stores are close, traffic is rare, elementary schools are supported, and we have four seasons.

Our local ski hill is affordable and close and open for night skiing. Summer time mountain camping is a must. The mountains in Idaho are raw and gorgeous and wild. Some of our favorite camping spots are less then two hours away. The DMV is accommodating, and thrift stores are abundant. Plus, Trader Joe’s recently opened in downtown Boise. What more could you want?

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? What are the must-haves in your home that make you crazy happy every time you catch sight of them? (Besides your family, of course!)

A: I would describe our home as an evolving collection that reflects our current needs. For example, this house has more of a farm house/rustic vibe, but our last house had more of a modern aesthetic.

One of my favorite pieces is a large farmhouse dining table that was generously gifted to me from my mother-in-law and mom as a birthday gift. It represents togetherness and warmth. It also represents that a growing active family with kids and pets resides here and uses this table. From kitten scratch marks to glitter glue, this table is well loved and I love it for that reason.

I try to have a more simplified approach to decorating, but the reality is I love depth, texture, and layering!

Q: How does your home work for you? Do you think about utility when you’re designing a space to share with your family? Or is it more important for you to be surrounded by beautiful things?

A: Utility and beauty are both very important to me when I design a space for my family. I don’t separate the two at all.

Any space can be organized and function well while being beautiful. I firmly believe in two things when it comes to designing a space: the motto “a place for everything, and everything in its place” and using what you have in a different way.

For example, we turned a old piece of galvanized roofing tin that was left by previous owners into our headboard. The master bedroom in this house is extremely small, so we had to find a solution for a beautiful, space conscious headboard. I love it!

Q: You mentioned that you’re in the process of becoming licensed foster parents. What does that process involve, specifically? And what led you to that family decision?

A: My husband was adopted as an infant and raised as an only child. As an adult, he had an opportunity to reach out to his biological family, which included two younger siblings. Over the years, we have been able to visit them and even take a family trip to Hawaii, which was amazing. Our kids have ten cousins from his family!

Adoption has always been an option for us as a way to grow our family, and through my husband’s adoption experience has always felt right. We were fortunate to get pregnant very easily with our two children, but I was sick the entire pregnancy up until the moments they were born.

We have chosen to become licensed adoptive and foster parents through the state of Idaho. We are still new in the process, and I can see that being organized and determined are key ingredients to becoming licensed. It is a step by step process through the health and welfare office. So far, everyone that we have worked with has been extremely nice and easy to work with. I try not to look at the whole process, so as not to feel overwhelmed, but rather each completed step as movement forward.

It is exciting, scary, humbling, nerve wracking, and every other emotion one can feel. I am not sure what the end result will be. I am not sure what it will look like for our family, but I do trust that we are doing our best to understand the foster care system better and what our role will be in it. For anyone that is interested, I would suggest referencing your state department of health and welfare online and just start reading about the process.

Q: Describe your holiday decorating philosophy. Do you enlist your kids, or do you prefer to take it on by yourself? What are the traditions that you all look forward to every year?

A: My holiday decorating is pretty relaxed. We all trim the tree, and then I secretly rearrange the branches loaded with ten ornaments. I display oranges on the table and a handful of passed down family treasures. Every year, we gift our kids one new ornament, which is something my mom did for me, and follow the days with a chocolate advent calendar.

I listen to Christmas music like crazy, and usually most of my shopping is done by the time December rolls around. We host Christmas dinner at our house for my mom and in-laws and just fully enjoy Christmas Day. Some years we even make it up to ski on Christmas Eve.

I would love to have a more themed or decorated space, but it just has not been a priority at this point in my life. Truth be told, it probably never will be.

Q: What do you hope your children remember from this very moment in their childhood in this very house?

A: I know my kids will appreciate our house as a warm and loving family home. I know that me and my husband have always created a safe place for them. What I really hope they remember is that we were quick to love, quick to forgive, and quick to apologize. I truly hope they remember that we were not perfect parents, but we always did our best to accept mistakes and move on. I want them to not only visualize a comfortable home, but feel it. So when they go on to create and lead their own families, they do it with kindness and love and a warm spirit.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own children? What do you already miss?

A: My absolute favorite part of living with my kids is seeing holidays, birthdays, and family trips through their eyes with their excitement. It makes all events so joyous and exciting! I love seeing them look for Elfie, which is our family version of Elf On The Shelf.

I love seeing joy on their face when they collect unusual eggs from our chicken coop. I love seeing them proudly display a school award. I love seeing them show off a new fort they have constructed in our pasture with random wood and beach blankets.

Those are the things I will miss the most; the simple everyday excitement of having kids around.

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

A: I wish someone had told me not to take that toy away from my 14 month old to share with another baby in the effort to teach him the concept of sharing. What was I thinking?! I still feel guilty about that.

I also wish someone had told me that I am an introvert. It would have made it way easier to say no to some of life’s social commitments!


Thank you, Danielle, and our best wishes on your foster parent/adoption journey! May it be as wonderful as you’re dreaming it will be. (On a personal note, thank you for your words about being an introvert! You know I love that!)

I have to tell you I laughed out loud at your secret rearranging of the ten ornaments on one branch! I’m pretty sure we’ve all resisted micro-managing the tree trimming at one point or another, too! I’d love to hear all of your best and worst moments of holiday decorating, so please share with the rest of us if you’ve got a minute.

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Let me know! 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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Living With Kids: Revisiting Julie Thomas Tue, 02 Dec 2014 13:00:13 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Remember Julie? She was the lovely one who moved to the country – 30 minutes outside of Seattle – with her family, and enthusiastically embraced all that the outskirts has to offer. Like relishing any opportunity to mention that someone or something is “in the barn.” That still makes me smile! One year later, I wondered how life had settled into itself and changed. Julie was kind enough to respond, and Mother Nature sweetly sprinkled some snow to accessorize her holiday photos. Welcome back, Julie!

Q: One year later, how is country living suiting you and your family?

A: Our family is really enjoying country living! It’s been amazing to have the extra space (a little over two acres) for our boys to play and explore, the ability to have more animals, room for a garden, more outdoor entertaining area, and the general sense of privacy and freedom we have here.

Q: What do you miss the most about the convenience of city life? What have you learned to adore about the country?

A: Since we live just past the city limits, we still have easy access to most city amenities, though we are further from a grocery store. I think what we miss most would be the sense of community we felt in our last neighborhood. We have wonderful neighbors here; we just don’t see them as often.

We actually went back to our old neighborhood to trick-or-treat this year!

It’s similar with Christmas lights. Our old neighborhood was lit up like a Christmas tree. Think Griswold Christmas vacation! Where we live now, you don’t see as many…but we’re trying to change that!

We miss those little things that city living brings. And yet, there are so many things we have come to adore about the country. There is a lot of natural beauty here that is very life-giving and refreshing to us.

Our family seemed ready for the room to breathe. With three active boys, we’re not exactly a quiet family. It’s nice to have a place to spread out and not worry so much about disrupting the neighbors.

We’ve enjoyed having family and friends over, having campfires, picking blackberries in our yard, gathering eggs from the chicken coop, taking our dog for walks…the simple things you think of when you imagine country living.

Q: How has your daily life changed? Have you learned more about yourself in this process?

A: One reason we wanted to move to a country setting was so that there would be more reasons to be home, together. And there are! We rarely get stir crazy at home anymore.

However, we are finding that the simple country life turns out to be a lot of work! Though we love our animals, I think we underestimated the amount of time they require. In addition, between the extra land (mowing!), garden areas, barn, and chicken coop, it seems there is always something that needs to be done. That being said, we love it here, so all of the work becomes a labor of love.

We have also learned that at this busy stage of life, raising our three young sons, our little farmstead will not be perfectly manicured…and that’s okay.

So far, we have had one foot in the country when we are home, and one foot in the city  with school, church, sports, etc. We haven’t had to give one up for the other, and that’s been a blessing. On the other hand, it can be overwhelming at times to juggle the number of activities we are involved in and also keep everything going on the home front.

As a friend of mine said, “You can have it all, just not all at the same time!” So, we’re learning to evaluate new commitments and the impact they will have on our day-to-day family life as we try to figure out what balance looks like for us here.

Though, truthfully, I don’t know that we’ll ever find it completely. It seems to change weekly, if not daily!

Q: Scariest moment since you moved? And how about the most decision-affirming moment that made you think “We did the right thing!”

A: The most frightening moment of our first year living here was when I looked out of our laundry room window and noticed a bobcat was staring right at me from across the driveway! Unfortunately, the bobcat got to a couple of our chickens.

My husband was out of the country on a business trip, but in a matter of hours, neighbors rallied, a fish and game warden was scouring the perimeter of our property, and our remaining chickens were on coop lockdown. Thankfully, the bobcat was most likely passing through and hasn’t been sighted since.

There have been many moments when the realization has hit us at how thankful we are to have moved here! My husband would say that it happened the moment we moved in, and I know he’s right! We were so ready for this change, and we immediately recognized the blessing this little farmstead was to our family.

I would also add that we realized this place was a good choice for our family as we watched our boys play football in the yard, help care for baby chicks, play capture the flag with their cousins, and pick the first vegetables from the garden that we planted together.

I remember one summer night, after our boys were tucked into bed, my husband called me outside to see the starry sky. We looked across the property, over to the fire pit where we had roasted marshmallows, to our little chicken coop, and to the house that now felt very much like home, and we offered a prayer of thanks.

Q: What’s next for your family? How will you be celebrating the holidays this year?

A: Christmas is our favorite holiday and we’re busy decking the halls! Last year, we had just moved in and were still getting unpacked at this time.

This year, we hung advent buckets from the chicken nesting boxes we use as display shelves in our family room. Inside the buckets will be little treats or an activity we’ll do together that day, as we count down to Christmas. We’re looking forward to having family and friends over. The candlelight Christmas Eve service at our church is always a special time, as we remember the reason we celebrate.

And, some of the best moments are the ones we don’t plan – those times when our family settles in for a Christmas movie and hot chocolate, enjoying the comfort of home and being together.

Inspired in large part from participating in your Living With Kids series last year, I’ve started a blog called Little Farmstead. The blog primarily focuses on farmhouse style decorating, DIY projects, and bits and pieces of our daily life. You’re all welcome anytime!


Thanks for the update, Julie. Honestly, except for the bobcat story, I can’t imagine you and your family anywhere else! And I know I’m not alone in loving your unique advent calendar!

Speaking of December traditions, I’d sure love to see some of yours. If you have time, will you send me a pretty picture or two and a few sentences about how your family customs add to your festivities? Come to think of it, are there any traditions you wish you could edit a bit as your family has changed? I do enjoy your stories! Send me a note!

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Let me know! 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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Living With Kids: Noa Weintraub Tue, 25 Nov 2014 17:00:03 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I hereby declare Noa Weintraub Queen of the Stunning Staircase! She is ruler over two of the most startlingly stylish sets of steps I’ve seen, so I really think she deserves the crown. (There should really be a crown.)

Her home is a fun house, for sure. You would never in a million years think that the force who designed these spaces thought she didn’t want a child! This honesty, this unabashed creativity, and Noa’s great advice — one of her gems is “Life’s too short to wait for a special occasion! — all make this tour a favorite of mine. I hope it’s one of yours, too!

Welcome, Noa!

Q: Tell us all about the family who lives here.

A: Hi! I’m Noa, an artist, illustrator and ceramicist. My partner, Mark, is a photographer, and we live with our six year old daughter, Matisse. Until recently, we also lived with Mark’s son Wyatt who is 20, but we are still lucky to see him frequently — especially when good food is involved.

Sharing our house are Wyatt’s two snakes: Psycho Sy is a King Snake, and Fluffy is a Royal Python. I know, I know! It took me a while to get used to them, but they really are nicer than they sound and conveniently very low maintenance.

Mark and I met while on an advertising job, back in my more glamorous days when I used to be a fashion stylist. These days, I’m more inclined to be wearing flats and wellington boots than high heels and sequins. That’s not to say I don’t try and dress up as much as I can. I’ve always believed life’s too short to wait for a special occasion. Wear the clothes you love as often as possible, even if it means dressing up for the school run! Working as an illustrator and being a mum work well together, I’ve discovered. I have the flexibility of choosing my own hours and I make sure that I work around Matisse’s schedule. (It’s also a really good excuse to buy loads of vintage children’s books, one of my favourite things!)

Mark started out as a graphic designer, became an Art Director, then photographer, regularly featuring in British Vogue and iD magazine and working for clients such as Armani and Clarins. But he is a real nature boy at heart and a lot of his photography now reflects that, which means he’s always out and about in the great British countryside. He’s recently published his third photography book, The Angler Who Fell to Earth, which you could say is about his main passions: landscape and culture, experienced by, say, fishing or through music. His love of the outdoors has definitely rubbed off on me, in spite of being a city girl through and through. Now that I am a mum, I am aware of how important being out in nature is, and how crucial to our children’s development and understanding of the world.

As a family, we drive out of town for walks and woodland adventures as much as we can. Looking for fairies always helps get our six year old in the mood if she’s feeling a little uninspired. Mushroom hunting is definitely one of our favourite things to do in late summer and autumn. We come home and Mark dries them in the oven or makes a proper wild mushroom risotto for us. What’s not to love?

Q: How did this house become your home?

A: Well, here’s the thing…We live in the 1930s house that I grew up in!

I moved in as a student at college while my parents live abroad, and then things just evolved from there. Before I knew it, I was raising my own family here. We never planned it this way, but like someone once said, life never turns out how you think it will.

It’s hard to transform a house where you have so many memories of childhood, but I think I’ve managed it. It’s very rare now that I see it in the same light as before.

When I first lived here, it had the 1970s kitchen with the crazy orange yellow and brown patterned linoleum. The bedrooms upstairs had the most dated built-in wardrobes and the bathroom had a beige wall-to-wall carpet! Ahh, the seventies! Slowly but very surely, I ripped things out and put my own mark on each room. And when I was pregnant, we added the loft extension to gain the extra room and bathroom.

It has always been tricky to decide how much to invest in the decor of the house. With a limited budget and the idea that we’re not going to live here forever, it’s been hard to determine what is worth doing and changing and what we can live with. But sometimes there are itches that need to be scratched, and every now and again I just have to do something about something! We’ve slowly made it our own, and hopefully one day we can start with a blank canvas somewhere else.

Q: Tell us why you love the place you live.

A: I’ve lived in London pretty much most of my life, and I still love it. I love living in a big energetic vibrant city. I love the fact that I have so much culture around me. It’s an endless stream of stimulation with the volume turned up!

We have a membership to the Tate gallery, so the three of us often go and check out the latest art exhibitions there. The best was taking Matisse to see the Matisse exhibition recently. She loved it, and nd of course loved seeing her name in big letters everywhere.

Having said that, the area we live in is the suburbs of North West London, which means we get the best of both worlds. We can tap into the hullabaloo of the city, and then retreat to the green streets of our corner of it all. The fact that we have a garden makes all the difference to us. Mark has slowly turned it back into a wildlife rich habitat, and part vegetable plot. Fourteen species of butterflies are regularly seen, as well as a huge list of birds from sparrow hawks to green parakeets, frogs, foxes, and ample wild flowers in preparation for future bee keeping. If we do want to venture out but not far, the heath is just five minutes away where we can enjoy a quick fix of the trees and ponds there.

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? What are the must-haves in your home that make you crazy happy every time you catch sight of them? (Besides your family, of course!)

A: Ooh! Well..I love the chandelier in Matisse’s room, the tambourine lady lamp that I found in a house clearance shop, and I love the Grayson Perry framed silk scarf hanging in the living room, which was a birthday present from Mark.

But my favourite thing by far about my house are the blue gradient stairs. Every time I go up the stairs it fills my heart with joy and makes me smile inside. I LOVE colour. I think it can make such a difference when things around you are bright and happy.

I’ve always worked in vintage clothes shops since being at art college. Chelsea College of Art used to be across the street from the fabulously famous vintage shop Steinberg and Tolkien, and it was not unusual for me to swap study days with being amongst the most glamorous clothes you could imagine. Later on, I worked closely with the stylist Marianne Cotterill, the most creatively inspiring woman I know. I owe a lot of my aesthetic to her, I think, as far as feeling utterly free to mix and match according to my inner style instinct. Placing modern with antique and everything in between, and adding the most unexpected things just because it makes me smile. Humour is always present, and I try not to take things too seriously when it comes to arranging and rearranging the house. Not being precious about getting things right, and definitely not trying to match things.

When I go shopping at antique fairs or flea markets, if I see something I like I very rarely think if it will go with everything else. If it makes my heart skip a beat, chances are it needs to come home with me. I’ll make sure I find a place for it.

Q: You mentioned in your first letter to me that your home is like an ever-changing mood board for you. I love that. But do you think about utility when you’re designing a space to share with your family? Or is it more important for you to be surrounded by beautiful things?

A: Yes, I often change things around. If I buy something that excites me, it will make me want to readdress the room to accommodate it. I do love being surrounded by objects that inspire me, and often some detail will find a way into what I’m working on at the time. I love looking at the things I’ve collected over the years, or things that have passed down from both my grandmothers. Every object tells a story and provokes memories remembered or fantasized.

Utility is important. I try and take it into consideration, but sometimes passion gets the better of me and it’ll go out the window! The best moments in the house are definitely when practical solutions are made possible by using beautiful objects. It’s almost like a challenge. A puzzle.

And I love it when serendipity steps in to give a helping hand. Quite a few pieces of furniture in the house were items found chucked out in the street! The mirrored cabinet in the living room was found round the corner. The cabinet in Matisse’s room, found on my street. I wanted it for my shoes collection, but she quickly claimed it for herself! She’s already showing signs of interest in home decor. It makes me happy that I’ll have a partner in crime in my future antique hunting travels.

Q: You and your partner both work from home, which is often a difficult thing to manage – especially in terms of knowing when to start and stop your work and family time. How have you sorted it all out? What works and what doesn’t?

A: It took me a while to figure out that you need to treat working from home like you would working from a studio or office away. You need to get dressed for a start!

A good tip is to figure out what times in the day you tend to be most productive in different things. For example, I try and do all my admin like emails first thing in the morning, and then the more creative stuff after that. The fact that both Mark and I work from home…like everything, it has its pros and cons. The downsides are that we can easily get into long conversations about what we’re working on. Before you know it, it’s time to pick Matisse up from school! The upside is that because we’re both here, it’s not as solitary as it could be.

Our studios are next to each other so there’s a work vibe going on. It’s inspiring and can be a positive influence at times when one of us feels lazy. If there’s no deadline to meet, we’re quite good at switching off, and once Matisse is home from school it’s hard to do anything else. I can imagine that will change the older she gets.

Q: You’re a talented artist. Your ceramics take my breath away. What has been your greatest professional accomplishment? How do you hope your career changes down the road? What does your daughter think of what you do?

A: I’ve been illustrating for about eight years now, and my ceramic work is a more recent thing. Once I had Matisse, I took a step back from work, but now that she’s at school I feel I can step things up again. I’d like to take on more illustration work and explore different possibilities within that.

My work is mostly advertising and editorial, and flicking through a magazine and seeing my illustrations printed inside is a great buzz, for sure. Knowing that my work has such a large audience is brilliant.

Once when I was working on an illustration project for a client, Matisse came up to me and said “Mummy, when I grow up I want to do what you do. I want my job to be drawing.” That was definitely one of the nicest things to hear. My heart melted.

I’ve recently joined Instagram, and I love it. It’s great to see people’s instant responses to my thoughts, collection of images, and my work.

At the moment, I sell my ceramic bowls through word of mouth, but I’m ready to take them further. Each bowl is hand painted and treated as an individual piece of work, like a canvas. My background is in fine art, and I guess that’s how I approach my work. After I left college, I used to make handbags and started out in the same way. Each handbag a hand painted one-off piece of work, sold in galleries and boutiques. I like to keep things more personal; the owner of one of my bowls knows there are no two exactly alike.

I’d like to find the time to produce more ceramic work, different functional objects, and also more sculptural and conceptual pieces. My work has strong influences of lace, crochet, and craft. I’m interested in exploring the meeting point of stereotypical female activities such as these and sculptural objects. Questioning ideas of femininity and our role as women in society. As a mother to a daughter, I now think it more relevant than ever.

Q: What do you hope your daughter remembers from this very moment in her childhood in this very house? And what do you hope she conveniently forgets! (Sometimes, that’s the more important answer, right?)

A: I want Matisse to have a childhood memory of a happy, laughter-filled house. I want her to feel a sense of fun associated with this house, a feeling that anything’s possible. A space of nurture. From dressing up, making art, writing stories to planting wild flower seeds, breeding butterflies and sitting round a backyard bonfire eating marshmallows.

I don’t think it necessary to fill her life with loads of after-school activities. She herself is not that keen on them either, which I guess is a good indication of her enjoying just hanging out with us.

I hope she forgets that the house was not always tidy, and that sometimes I was too tired to make an effort to do things perfectly. When I go visit my parents, my mum always makes everything look so pretty. Her dinner table is always so beautifully laid out, and everything is so thought about. I can’t remember if she was always like this, or if it’s only since she has more time to focus on these things. But in my mind, she was always this way, and I love this memory when I think of her.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own child? What do you already miss?

A: I already see how I’ll miss the fun and craziness that comes with living with a child. The reason to do things you wouldn’t normally do, like make pancakes every Saturday morning, or snuggling up on the sofa with hot chocolate and the blanket my mum knitted for her, reading a book. It’s nice to make even the most mundane everyday things seem extra-ordinary.

Every morning for breakfast I make Matisse a glass of pink milk. It’s just strawberries, banana, and milk, but somehow calling it pink milk makes it seem special!

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

A: How much fun and how much love there is involved in parenting. Even though my mum did always tell me, I never really believed her. As far back as I can remember, I knew I didn’t want to have children. I don’t really know why, it was just something that I always felt wasn’t for me. How many successful female artists with kids do we have as role models?

Then one day, something changed in me and I got curious. Before I had time to think too hard about it, I got pregnant! All the cliches of parenting suddenly became a reality, and it really is as hard as they don’t say. The positive side was that I had no expectations to crush.

Weirdly enough, since the age of four, Matisse has said she doesn’t want to have children. That really makes me laugh, but I do hope that I can somehow convince her that it’s not as scary as it may seem.

The other night as I put her to bed, she tucked in to bed her cuddly toy, too. She did it so sweetly and full of maternal care. I said to her, “You know, I know you always say you don’t want to have children, but if one day you change your mind, I know you’ll make the best mummy in the world!” and a sweet little excited smile couldn’t help itself, and appeared as clear as day on her face.

Maybe she won’t be so slow in realizing that it truly is the best thing in the world.


And…tears! It is one of the very best things in the world, isn’t it? Thank you for your wonderful words, Noa. I love your art, but I equally adore your heart.

Also touching was Noa’s memory of her mother always making life look so pretty. I hope that’s one of my kids’ memories, too. What do you remember fondly about your mother? I just smiled, thinking of all the times my mom added loveliness in the littlest ways. I hope you’re smiling, too.

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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Living With Kids: Andrea Duclos Tue, 18 Nov 2014 15:00:33 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Most of us can look around our home and get a sense of what we love, decor wise. Maybe there is a lot of grey with peacock blue accents. Or maybe you’re a yellow kind of a family. Perhaps there are bookshelves nearly fainting with the weight of your books, and baskets hiding all of your plastic, lit up, talking toys. You could be a bring the outside in decorator, or your black thumb may discourage that design concept altogether. And maybe, if you’re anything like Andrea, you own three blue floral couches.

I love that fact about her so much, I think it should be on her calling cards.

But it’s true, isn’t it? All that surrounds you tells the rest of us a whole lot about you. It may surprise us at first – three blue floral couches?! – or it may make perfect sense once we get to know you a little better. In Andrea’s case, it makes perfect sense. In fact, I think she should own four. Please welcome the very lovely Drea, everyone!

Q: Tell us all about the family who lives here!

A: Our family is very much into anything food based, creative and art based, and plant based. I mean plant-based in the  gardening, farm, botanical garden sense, but it also applies to the fact that my daughter and I eat a plant-based diet.

My husband, Alex, is a chef, and I wrote a family cookbook that’s to be published next year, and our daughter, Marlowe, gets so mad at us if we turn down her help in the kitchen. My husband graduated with an art degree. I went to school for Marine Affairs, but pretty much only took art courses when I realized how intensely uninterested I was in cargo boats!

And as for Marlowe? She says she’s going to be a fashion designer and live alone in New York city, which is funny to everyone considering how little effort I put into style and fashion. But hey, the girl has dreams!

When we’re not cooking or eating, we like to spend our time at markets or gardens.  And now that the weather is almost cooling off here in south Florida, we’re spending our time back in our garden doing garden DIY after DIY project to make our backyard space not only capable of feeding us, but also (hopefully!) outdoor party ready. We also have two dogs: a very old man, Jerry the Dog Garcia (he’s 14) and Waylon “dum dum” Jennings, the puppy.

Q: How did this house become your home?

A: A SHORT SALE! Oh, thank goodness for short sales. Six months of waiting surely paid off for this space. I can’t say it enough, but if you’re in any sort of position to purchase a home, it’s worth the investment. Even a small, charming home is better than a large, fancy rental.

I had two or three offers turned down before I found this house on an accidental turn one day. I put my offer in and after three or four months of waiting, I had pretty much given up and packed my daughter for a temporary move to Hawaii. Two months later, I returned back to south Florida. With fear in my head and in my voice, I asked my realtor, “What do you think about the home? Will it happen? What should I do?” and he told me, “Yeah, at this point it’s probably best you start looking for other options.”

Forty five minutes later I received a call from my realtor excitedly proclaiming, “YOU MUST BE PSYCHIC! They JUST called me! You got the house!” And just like that, I was moving out of our rental moving in to our major fixer-upper with my daughter. A few months later, my now husband joined us. It was all absolutely worth the wait.

Q: Tell us why you love the place you live.

A: South Florida is unlike anywhere else in this country. Honestly, most of the time, when I look at other blogs, I feel like my life is just so very opposite to everyone else’s. Our summer is our hibernation period and our winter is our time to escape into the sun-shining outdoors. We many not have seasons or be very up-to-date in trends, but we have mangoes, avocados, and starfruit ten feet out our door.

It’s a bit more expensive and crowded just south of us in Miami, but West Palm Beach is highly affordable and a really easy town to live in as a family. I like our palm trees everywhere, our ocean down the street, and the thick humid air that hits you in the face when you step outside the airport, and back into our warm climate. We could maybe see ourselves living outside of the states one day, but here in the US?, there’s nowhere else I would consider home. We really love it here, and it fits us better than anywhere else.

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? What are the must-haves in your home that make you crazy happy every time you catch sight of them? (Besides your family, of course!)

A: I like things to be pleasing, comfortable, and have just a touch of tropical whimsy and color. Does that make sense?

I feel like I have two very opposing sides to my personality, and my home meets the larger half: not very serious, very colorful, and slightly off-beat. On top of all the colors and patterns, I think the thing that people notice most is my love for all things floral.

I’ve now had five floral couches in my lifetime. I currently have three blue floral couches in my home. THREE! When I asked my mom if that was excessive, she said, “No. Some people only have brown leather couches in their home. You just happen to have blue floral.” She’s right.

While my things and style has only gotten more refined, my tastes and aesthetic has always been the same: colors, patterns, plants/florals, and fun.

Q: Your home isn’t just pretty; it seems to work hard, too. Do you think about utility when you’re designing a space to share with your family? How, specifically?

A: We absolutely think about a utility aspect in design. Not only do we lean more towards arts and creativity, but my husband and I (and our daughter, too) have a strong belief that things function best when organized.

Even in our kitchen, we don’t believe in uni-tasker appliances. We look at everything in a way that can be multifunctional. We want a beautiful yard we can spend time in, but that can also grow our food. Shelves that not only hold our most-loved items, but also store our usable, maybe not as pretty items. A guest room that can double as a work room and art room.

In our heads, it just makes sense to maximize the things we already have. We don’t need a bigger space; we just need to be smart with the space we have.

Q: You’ve chronicled your life along the way on your blog; where you began is so far away from where you seem to be now. Tell us how you’ve changed, and why you’ve loved blogging through it all. What has your blog added to your life?

A: I can very openly say, I think I’ve become a better person somewhere along the way. Not necessarily because of my blog – although I do write constantly about my struggle for balance or my undeniable shyness with strangers, and I feel like those are things I’ve been working on this whole time. And while I’m nowhere near perfect, I have gotten better with my self struggles.

I’ve always been incredibly open on my space. And I’ve always felt that if you can’t be open and honest, then you’re doing something wrong. I’ve shared struggles with single motherhood, with my husband, with self doubts and fears, and I’ve found connections, support, and friendships through it. I can look back at something and say “Wow, that was tough, but here I am now!” and be grateful for every rocky step it took to get me where I am.

My blog has given me the chance to not only support my daughter, but spend time with her. It has also given me an intense creative outlet. I’m not good at long projects – I’m moody with things like that – so blogging matches my personality perfectly. It allows me the opportunity to change, and changes with me. Blogging has also brought me incredible friendships, connections, and opportunities, both for me and my family.

I don’t love every aspect of the internet and blogging, but I wouldn’t trade it, either. I’m lucky to be able to just live my life honestly, and document it after.

Q: You’ve written a cookbook! Tell us all about what led you to this project, and where you’re hoping it will take you next.

A: Yes! I did! I mean, it’s still in that whole editing process. I’ve had it in my mind for about two or three years now that I would love to one day publish a cookbook. Am I a master chef? Totally not. But I think I am a flavor wizard when it comes to a lot of things. And not only that, I’m good at making healthy and/or vegan food approachable.

I do love living off plants, but I in no way believe you have to be pushy or militant to inspire others to do so, too. I wanted to be a good example of that. Alex loves pork, and it’s a running joke that whenever we go out, I order a vegetable dish and he orders a duck entree. But I know he never feels like he’s missing out at home…and I know that, because he would tell me!

Just because something doesn’t have meat doesn’t mean it’s not filling or satisfying; there are lots of ways to please the masses without adding mock-meats to the menu. And I’m excited to show that. It’s all about real food, comforting food, not completely healthy food…approachable food that happens to skip the animals.

I’m not sure where I want to take it next. I have a few more ideas for books, some food based and some not. But I’m not in any rush to accomplish that anytime soon. I like to dabble in everything. I like to explore.

Right now, I just finished up planning a two week retreat to Northern India. The trip focuses on artisans and handicraft making, daily yoga, sight-seeing (of course), the Holi festival, and a big chunk of it revolves around food between markets, and private cooking lessons in restaurants and homes, too. So I guess I see myself potentially doing more of that.

This current trip, set for spring 2015, is pretty much booked, I think we’re opening up two more spaces this week, but I am hoping to follow this current trip with one even more heavily revolving around food and family – from farms to markets – and growing to cooking. And if I could someday combine it all together? Even better.

Q: What do you hope your daughter remembers from this very moment in her childhood in this very house? And what do you hope she conveniently forgets?!

A: I hope Marlowe remembers and loves all our special moments. From french fry dates, to staying up a little bit later than usual, to all our ridiculous art projects. From the very beginning, she’s had special places to create and let her imagination run wild, and I hope she grows up to remember that.

I was never, ever allowed to hang anything on the walls in my childhood home, so it’s pretty much a given that I will happily hand her tape to stick her artwork (almost) anywhere she pleases.

It’s sort of amusing to me sitting here now, but I can’t think of one thing I hope she forgets. She’s got it pretty good. I hope she remembers it all.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own child?

A: Honestly? Art projects. Sometimes I let out a big moan when she’s asking for her eighth art project of the day, but at the same time, it’s been one of my most favorite parts. I love arts and crafts and having an art obsessed little girl has given me a million more excuses to make time for coloring.

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

A: I wish someone had told me…oh, I’m having a hard time finishing this sentence. Really, I don’t think there has been anything that has caught me off guard or been shocking in this whole parenting game. I think going into motherhood as a single mother was really good for me. That’s not to say any of us should hope to be single mothers! But it brought an extra uncertainty in how my life would play out as a parent.

It also forced me to be even more resilient with a lot of things. From the get-go it challenged me to embrace the belief that life could very easily go in all unexpected directions, and I would have to be okay with it.

In life, with parenting or otherwise, you have to sort of be prepared for anything: good and bad. To expect anything will almost always lead to let-downs, so you have to just move forward into the unexpected, with a positive perspective, hoping for the best. I’m good with the “should have’s” and I’m grateful for all the nice surprises we’ve had along the way.


Thank you, Andrea! I have to say, I’m most inspired by your attention to utility among the beautiful. I think your words bear repeating: “We don’t believe in uni-tasker appliances. We look at everything in a way that can be multifunctional. We want a beautiful yard we can spend time in, but that can also grow our food. Shelves that not only hold our most-loved items, but also store our usable, maybe not as pretty items. A guest room that can double as a work room and art room. In our heads, it just makes sense to maximize the things we already have. We don’t need a bigger space; we just need to be smart with the space we have.” Yes to all.

I’m excited to read Drea’s cookbook; she makes living off plants sound kind of romantic! Especially if such a lifestyle still includes french fry dates. For those of you who are vegetarian or vegan, do you ever miss a food that you’ve eliminated from your diet? Do you ever “cheat,” and is that even the right term? I love to hear about your lifestyles!

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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Living With Kids: Susan McMurray Tue, 11 Nov 2014 17:00:47 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

When Susan wrote and expressed interest in participating in a Living With Kids tour, she mentioned that she lives in Tulsa, that she teaches at a University, that she has two teen girls and a son, and that she strives to make her home a place to teach her kids the importance of hospitality.

Hospitality? That goal made me think and think and think some more, and I love it more each time. It is a learned skill for a lot of families, don’t you think? Inviting others into your space and making them feel like…well…mi casa es su casa. Easier said in Spanish than done! Perhaps Susan’s words will inspire you to open up your life a little, which I think would be a very lovely development. Welcome, Susan! I’m so glad you’re here!

Q: Introduce us to your favorite people.

A: I am so blessed to get live with my wonderful husband, Brian, and my three children. I am originally from Colorado, and currently work as a faculty member at a University here in Tulsa. Although I don’t have a lot of free time, decorating and being creative with my home is a true love of mine.

Brian and I met in college and have been married for 22 years. Brian develops and manages cancer treatment facilities throughout the Southwest.  He is an amazing husband and father and very involved in the kids’ lives. He rarely misses one of their events. He keeps us laughing and sets the tone for the fun in our family.

I have two teenage daughters in high school. Ashlyn is 16 and Madelyn is 14. Although close in age, I love how different my daughters are from each other, both comfortable in their unique personalities. If I had one word to describe each, Ashlyn, is sugar and our younger daughter Madelyn is spice.  Ashlyn is sweet, responsible, and super organized. She actually likes organizing junk drawers and closets! What an utter relief to delegate these tasks to her! She is a great sounding board for design and has her own flair for decorating. Madelyn is witty, independent, and quite adventurous. She has a competitive streak which makes her a great athlete, but don’t underestimate her love of all things girly. She also has a passion for shopping. In fact, I recently put her on an allowance to teach her the importance of saving, budgeting, and patience when it comes to her love of shopping malls.

Then there’s our son Dylan. He’s ten and all boy. Dylan was a surprise addition to our family, but we’re so glad he’s here. Sometimes things have a way of working out just as they should, as my husband and I were really on the fence about having a third child. Dylan loves all things sports. You’ll often find him watching YouTube videos analyzing plays from the great athletes. He’s quite observant and has his own sense of style. He’s definitely the strongest personality of my three, a leader in the making with a few rough edges we’re working through. I never imagined how fun it would be to have a boy, and I’m so glad to experience parenting both genders.

Q: How did this house become your home?

A: We had lived in our previous home for nearly 16 years. My husband and I moved into that home before we even had kids. It was a lovely, one-story home that served us well when we had young children, but we had long outgrown that house as the children were getting older, and knew we needed a house with more space. We needed more areas for the kids to just hang – especially with their friends. I never wanted to discourage my children from having their friends over even though our space was limited. My husband and I distinctly remember times at the old house where we hid out in our bedroom to give our kids space to interact with their friends in the living room.

We looked at existing homes for nearly two years and just couldn’t find a home with a floor plan that worked for our family. We also found many of the existing homes needed a lot of love and remodeling TLC.  We determined that a new construction would actually fit better in our budget, and we wouldn’t need to spend even more money on renovations in addition to the purchase price of the home. We wanted a house with a game room and all three children’s bedrooms upstairs. We also wanted an open downstairs floor plan. So we drew up the plans and found a builder.

Unfortunately the building process was not a smooth one for us. Our builder mismanaged the timeline and budget. The house should have been done in nine months, but a year-and-a-half later it still wasn’t finished and already 25% over budget.  After numerous delays and budget increases, our builder basically walked off the job and left us with an unfinished house. We moved into our filthy, unfinished house the week before Thanksgiving in November 2013. So, moving day wasn’t the day I had been dreaming of for nearly five years. We felt completely ignorant and unequipped to take on the responsibilities of finishing the house, in addition to our full time jobs and raising our family.


But God bless my husband for rolling up his sleeves and doing what it took to get the house finished! We approached a builder who happened to live in our neighborhood and whose kids went to the same school as ours. He was gracious to share contractor names with us. Brian was on the phone daily lining up contractors to finish the guttering, outside painting, dirt work, sod, pool, and endless odds and ends. Finishing this house felt like a never-ending job. It was certainly one of the most taxing and stressful times we have experienced. But nearly one year later, we are on the other side of it. We are starting to breathe again, enjoy the house, and get back to the place of gratitude for this home that we can create to be uniquely ours. How fortunate we are!

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: Considering that I am from Colorado, and my husband from Washington State, we never thought we would settle in Tulsa after college. But what a wonderful city to live in, especially with children! Also known as Green Country, Tulsa is situated on the Arkansas River at the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. The best part of Tulsa is without a doubt the people! Tulsans are kind, friendly, hard-working, and family-oriented.

Between public, private, and home school co-ops, Tulsa provides numerous choices in education. And talk about cost of living! I don’t know that our house would be in our means in many other cities. As far as activities, Tulsa has something for everyone including live music venues, two world-renowned art museums, opera and ballet companies, and even an outstanding zoo and science museum. From enjoying one of Tulsa’s numerous restaurants, to attending a high school football rivalry game, there’s always something to do in our great city. Some choose to live in the trendy parts of town such as Cherry Street, Brookside, and Utica while others prefer the suburbs of South Tulsa. We actually live just 20 minutes outside of Tulsa in a more rural community. Horses and peacock-lined roads make for a fun commute to the grocery store. Tulsa definitely feels like home.

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: The design element that I was going for was creating spaces that would facilitate family time and teenager time with friends. I’m not sure those are design elements, but they were serious considerations when creating our spaces. For example, when thinking about the layout in our downstairs living room, in the back of my mind I was thinking, “Do we all have a comfortable place to sit down and watch a movie?”  So two couches and two recliner chairs became the starting point.

When my children have their friends over I wanted there to be spaces that they could all just hang out and feel comfortable to linger. This took some thought and intention, and we ended up with a game room with a television, large sectional and game area and a large backyard with a pool, trampoline, volleyball court, and fire pit. Teenagers need a safe comfortable place to nurture their friendships. I wanted our house to be that place – and fun, too!

I also had to be mindful of the family budget, so I had to be creative to repurpose what we already had. I’ve spent many hours in the garage sanding, staining or repainting furniture pieces. In terms of art, many of the pieces hanging on our walls are items that are very meaningful to us. We framed special items such as my children’s artwork from school, their baby clothes, or my father-in-law’s letters to his parents when he was eight years old and had to spend eight months in the hospital. We’ve found good deals on art pieces that we almost loved. We’re not afraid to paint over the colors we don’t like, and make our own contributions to the art piece.

Q: What’s your favorite time of day in your home? When does it work for everyone best? How does the room decor contribute to this harmony?

A: Without a doubt, our favorite time of day in our home is the evening. After busy days at school and work, this is our time to regroup and relax. We strive to sit down at the dinner table together as a family and catch up. The open floor plan on the first floor allows us to all be together during the evenings. I can be preparing dinner while the kids are doing homework in the office or watching TV in the living room.

When we moved into our house with a second story game room, we thought our kids would spend a lot of time up there. To our delight, they still spend most of their time in our main living area. Our outdoor living space is also an extension of our main living area and a great place to enjoy family time in the evenings. Be it swimming, sitting out on the patio and watching the sunset, or sitting by the fire pit, evenings have become one of our favorite times in our house to relax, catch-up and recharge. Oh, and as a special surprise we’ve discovered is all the fireflies and hummingbirds that visit us at dusk.

Q: You teach at a university. Tell us all about it!

A: When I’m not at home with my own kids, I head off to work and spend my days with my college kids. I am a faculty member at Oral Roberts University, a Christian university in Tulsa. You know what they say about the best part of teacher’s job don’t you? May, June, and July! Just kidding, although summer vacation is a pretty great part of my job.

I’ve been teaching at ORU for the past 18 years. I feel beyond honored and privileged to be in this position. I’m not sure there’s any job that is more fun then teaching college students; they keep me energized and young, and I really feel I’m walking in my true strengths in this position. I teach for the Communications major and I do my best to invest knowledge and new skill sets into my students’ lives, but I must say that my students do just as much of the teaching as I do. I learn a lot from them, and I always marvel at their excitement and vision to go make a difference in their world.

I also have some of the most wonderful co-workers! This job truly has offered me the best of both worlds. I get to have a fulfilling career that offers much flexibility and margin for the other roles in my life. My schedule affords me the ability to always pick up my kids after school. And, of course, I am off during summer and winter breaks, too. I truly feel so blessed when it comes to my job.

Q: We always love a conversation about working and balancing kids…especially teenagers! How has the transition into the true teens – with more responsibility and shared trust – affected your family life?

A: Although not always easy to keep all my plates spinning, I recognize that this is the season in my life that I fully embrace as organized chaos. This season is not easy, and most days are completely exhausting, but I also know that this season will not last forever. In another decade, my children will be in a whole different place. Soon they will not need their parents as much, and we will not be able to spend as much time together. So I will treasure this time with every ounce of gratitude that I can muster. I love watching my kids grow and mature into young adults, who are working hard and making good decisions.

As far as the transition to the teenage years goes, I wish I could say I was one of those sentimental moms, all teary-eyed when my first-born drove off by herself for the first time. All I remember thinking was, “Woo Hoo! I now have a third driver in the family!” I realized that this might just free me up from several hours of driving each week, taking my kids to and from school and their many activities.

Although I respect my daughter’s privacy, another trick to ease my worries of my newly independent teen is the wonderful little App called Find My iPhone. Let me assure you, this provides much peace of mind for a parent dealing with a new driver. We are able to make sure she arrives safely to her locations – especially at night. But I must commend her for doing an excellent job in communicating and always letting us know where she is.

Q: You mentioned that you strive to teach your kids about hospitality and nurturing friendships in your home. Tell us how you do it and why is that an important life skill to you?

A: I find that hospitality is such a dying art in today’s society. We just don’t seem to invite others into our homes like the generations before us did. I know, personally, I shy away from opening up my house because sometimes life feels chaotic and I’m just too darn busy to make time to have others over. And also, I feel that my house has to be perfect before I invite others in. I realized that I had to let go of both of those excuses. I’m trying to teach my children that one of the most important things in our lives are our relationships. But we must nurture them.  So we have been more diligent to open up our house and invite others in. We never regret it.

When my children ask if they can have friends over, I never want to say no. I may have to suggest an alternate time, but I never want to say no. Teenagers like to be together, and they need somewhere safe to hang out. I’d much rather they be at our house then some of the alternatives. Hospitality is a skill set that can be learned, and I want my kids to learn it while they are young.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? 

A: Although every season of raising kids has its own joys and challenges, I just love the current stage we are in with our kids. Perhaps it was the fact that I had a toddler on my hip for twelve years straight that I was ready to transition out of the baby/toddler phase. Those were some hard years!

I have wholeheartedly embraced parenting my older, more independent children. I am somewhat surprised by how great the middle and teenage years are! Based on what you hear about raising teenagers, I had always braced myself for the challenges of the teenage years. So perhaps I am surprised that I am actually enjoying these teenagers of mine immensely. We have our share of teenage moments with attitudes and drama, but on the whole, they are so much fun! We laugh, we get to do things together, we plan for and dream about the future. But best of all, I don’t have to do their laundry or scrub their toilets anymore!

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

A: I wish someone had told me how caring for my own children would teach me so much about God’s love. Faith is an integral part of my family’s life, and my love for my children is a reminder of God’s love toward me. I love my own children so much. I care about every detail of their lives. I take pride in knowing they are provided for and well cared for. There’s nothing I wouldn’t sacrifice for their well-being.

Through this, I gained a deeper realization that the way I love my own children is the same way that God loves me – except His love is even better, deeper, stronger, complete!


Thank you, Susan! Those of us with teens understand the importance of giving them an area in which they’re comfortable and interactive and safe. I love that even before you had the space, you and Brian were hiding out in the bedroom to afford them that luxury. Oh, the things we parents do!

For those of you with teens, how’s it going? Can you even believe how life is speeding by…especially fast if you’re in the passenger seat with a new driver at the wheel?! Do you have any Find My iPhone-esque apps or tricks that help you keep an eye on them? Please spill!

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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Living With Kids: Amanda Strong Tue, 04 Nov 2014 17:00:39 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I enjoyed Amanda’s candor all the way through her interview, but when I read her answer to the final question…well…I adored her. I know what it feels like to put yourself truthfully out there for all the world to see, and I also know it’s not an easy task. It’s funny, isn’t it? Sharing our truths sounds like the most genuine, most effortless thing to do. But it really is difficult.

So beyond all the pretty scenes in Amanda’s home, I really hope you enjoy the gorgeous beauty that is her honesty. Friends, please welcome Amanda!

Q: We can’t wait to meet you!

A: My name is Amanda, and I share my home with my husband, Chris; our two kids, Quinn and Bennett; our two dogs, Vinnie and Cocoa; and soon to be Strong installment number three – name to be decided!

My daughter, if we are at home, is rarely wearing clothes. She’s even earned her own hashtag among my Instagram friends of #nakedjaybird. And, even though she’d prefer to be running around in underwear, she does love to put together her outfits for leaving the house. Her unofficial motto for dressing is “more is more.” The girl LOVES an accessory…or 15. She’s also shown a creative streak in the last few months with her drawings and coloring pages, which makes me wonder if we aren’t raising another little designer in this house!

My son is obsessed with cars, trucks, planes – if it has wheels and moves, he’s into it. At all times he has at least two cars on his person and takes a whole gang of vehicles to bed. He lines them up along the ledge of his day bed and collects them every morning to bring downstairs to breakfast. He is such a loving, affectionate kid. he has been known to tell my girlfriends, “I love you” and is generous with his hugs and kisses.

I am constantly scheming up the next big home project to work on. I joke about having to move once we’re done in this house because I won’t have anything new to do. It’s either that or just start all over again! I also love to craft, so I have to throw in those projects in between home stuff since we don’t have the budget or time to be constantly doing things at home. And, while I like a plan for the projects we take on, I also have a bad habit of just jumping into things, not knowing what I’m doing and figuring it out as we go along.

With our board and batten wall, I just came home one day and popped the existing base board off the wall so that we had no other choice than to start putting up the new boards. I promised my husband, “Oh, we can totally finish this this weekend.” It took about a month, as we aren’t the fastest workers.

My husband is extremely patient with me and always willing to go along with whatever idea I’ve cooked up. I don’t know if this is a quirky tidbit about him or just a trait for which I am eternally grateful. You have to have one person to go along with crazy schemes in every relationship, right? His nickname is The Robot, and because of that, he has amassed quite the collection of robot figurines over the years. Unfortunately, his enthusiasm for collecting them and dusting them are not the same.

Q: How did you find your home?

A: Oh, Lord. Our old house had been on the market for a year when it finally sold. Never ever EVER buy a home in the Midwest that does not have a basement. We had been waiting so long and didn’t expect to sell, so we weren’t looking for a new home. When we finally sold, though, we were scrambling to find THE house because our buyers wanted to close in 30 days. I was also 32 weeks pregnant with our son, so I was pretty determined!

The home we purchased was actually one of the first ones we looked at, and I remember thinking it was definitely a home we could grown into and located in a great neighborhood, but we wrote it off because it wasn’t in the part of town where we wanted to live.

We looked at so many houses over the next few weeks, and even explored the option of building, but for various reasons, none of those options worked out. W would find a few that we really liked, but they just didn’t work out.

Upon closing our own home, we moved out the last of our items and in with my parents. As my due date approached, I was searching the MLS and noticed that the owners of our house had dropped the price considerably since we first saw it and it was well under what other homes in the neighborhood selling for. When my husband came home from work that night and we started to talk about it, this house met all of our major wants and needs. It wasn’t in our dream neighborhood, but we were willing to forego that want in favor of the other things. I was also pretty eager to be settled when baby arrived, so hormones probably played a big part in my push to buy as well.

Prices in our area vary, but overall Cincinnati is a super affordable city. Homes in our neighborhood are selling for $100k more than what we paid – YAY! – so we’re very happy in our investment here. You can buy a nice home (three bedrooms two and a half baths) in our suburb for as low as $130,000, or you can go up to around $500,000 which would offer more custom features, four to five bedrooms, high-end fixtures and finishes, etc.) The majority of homes are very traditional in design unless you buy in one of the older/historic parts of town, where you can find homes that are a little more unique or with more character.

Q: What makes you love Cincinnati?

A: For our family, we first love Cincinnati because most all of our immediate family is here. Growing up, our closest relatives lived two hours away. So we saw them semi-regularly but mostly at holidays or family events.Since my husband and I started our family, I see how awesome it is to be in the same city as our families. We are so fortunate that the grandmas help out and watch the kids for us a few days a week so that I can have some kid-free time to work on client projects for my design business. They have grandpas who can stop by on the first day of school or in the evenings to visit, aunties and uncles who pick them up on a Saturday or Sunday and take them to the park…they are so fortunate to get to build these close relationships with their family, and I am so thankful for that because I never had that growing up.

Cincinnati is also a great place to raise a family. It’s a mid-sized city with a small town vibe. A lot of people, if they grow up here, stick around and start their adult lives and families here, too. When you meet someone new from the area, the first question is always “Where did you go to high school?” Everyone is so connected.

Over the last five years, the city has also been having a huge renaissance of sorts downtown; areas that were previously the kind where you might feel the urge to roll up your windows and lock the doors if you had to drive through are now coming back to life after such a long period of being closed off. We now have some amazing restaurants and opportunities for entertainment, as well as great shopping, beautiful parks, a wonderful zoo, and museums. We are never short on things to do here!

Q: You mentioned you’re just getting started making your house your own – it looks great! – and I’m curious about how you added your personalities first? What was important to you to change or decorate right away?

A: Since I was very pregnant when we moved in, there wasn’t a ton that I could do to start making the house ours, so I picked the things that I couldn’t get past and made sure we knocked those out right away.

The house was built in the mid 90s, and the previous owners had done zero decorating or updating, so we really had a blank canvas. The entire home, with the exception of the bedrooms, had been painted in gold color satin finish paint. Since I couldn’t paint, I hired painters to paint the rooms we would use right away: foyer, family room, kitchen, bathrooms, the master bedroom, and our daughter’s room.

There was a good amount of wallpaper and borders in the home, too, so I had them go ahead and remove those even if we weren’t painting, so that I wouldn’t have to do it later. We also changed out all of the gold hardware on all of the cabinets right away, and replaced the gold chandelier in the foyer and the gold fixture over the kitchen table.

I wanted to have the house unpacked before our son was born, and my biggest design goal was to finish our daughter’s room, which we managed to do that the weekend before our son arrived!

We have been in our house three years and every few months since, we have picked a room or something that we want to fix or change, and then plug away at that until it’s finished. It’s been a process, for sure, but I really love making this house ours and adding in the little details and touches that reflect our family and our design aesthetic.

Our friends and family have definitely taken notice. Every room now has been painted, we have replaced almost all of the flooring in the house, changed out or had wiring installed to add light fixtures in most every room, painted all of our kitchen cabinets white and our island blue, added a granite top to our island, added board and batten, changed out blinds, ripped out 98% of the landscaping and planted new, installed a new sink in our powder room, gave our master bath and kids bath facelifts…we have learned a lot with this house, and it has been fun to get to try new things

Q: What has been your best DIY so far? What has been the most frustrating project? And if you had all the time, skill, and money in the world, what would you do to change this house to better meet your family’s specific needs?

A: The best has definitely been painting the kitchen cabinets. They were a yellow oak color the same as the floor, and I first tried toning them down by putting a cool white paint in the kitchen. That helped, but it was still a lot of yellow. Also, the colors in our house trended more on the cool side, so it was definitely an eyesore.

In our previous house, we did a major renovation on the kitchen and it was lovely, but we did not make any of that money back when we sold because the market was so bad. This time, I decided that, rather than spend a ton of money on new cabinets, our existing ones were just fine. I could give them a face-lift painting them. It has made a huge difference. Visually, it makes the space seem a lot larger than when they were wood.

This was also the most frustrating project! The process is very labor intensive, and I tend to like projects that are quickly finished. Each section had to be cleaned and required four coats of primer, which then required 24-48 hours of dry time per coat, depending on the weather/humidity, and then four coats of paint and another 24-48 hours of dry time per coat. There were definitely times when I thought this project would never end!

If I had unlimited funds, time, and skill I would bump out the back of our house to make our kitchen and family rooms larger. We spend almost all of our time in those two rooms, and I would love to have some more space. A larger pantry would be nice, as well, and more cabinet and counter space. I love hosting our families in our home, so just having some more room for everyone to spread out would be lovely.

Q: How has your aesthetic changed since having kids? Have they relaxed your style, or prompted you to hold tight to it?

A: My tastes have changed, but I don’t know if it is a result of having kids or just getting older! When we bought our first home, I wanted all of the colors! I wanted really strong colors and a lot of red, and gravitated toward furnishings that were chunky, darker woods, with somewhat of an early American style. After our daughter was born, I started to lean more towards softer colors, neutrals, and a more streamlined design.

I’m definitely not the type to not buy or decorate with certain things that I want in my home because I have kids. I have had friends comment on how I have a lot of breakable things on my tables or at kid height, or how their own kids’ rooms look institutional because they are afraid their kids will destroy things. Every family and every kid is different, but for our family, I wanted my kids to grow up used to having those things around so they were used to it because not every home or place they visit will be free of glass vases or decorative items.

So far, we haven’t had any major incidences with things getting broken or damaged. It’s good because I know I can send them to friends’ and our family’s homes, and not have to worry about them if their homes aren’t kid-proofed.

Q: How are you preparing your home – and family – for your latest project due in November?

A: I’m the resident wall painter, so there were a handful of things we did between November and February knowing we would be trying to conceive in early March. I finished painting our kitchen cabinets, our formal living room, repainted and stenciled our half bath, transitioned our daughter from her old room to her current room, etc. We finished our dining room, got new flooring on our stairs and in our office/formal living room, and dining room. This winter was a big one for us to get stuff done! 

We also recently gave the kids’ bath a facelift. And, of course, I keep finding little ways to tweak things here and there. Our family room was feeling off to me, so I stripped it bare and let it rest a few days. In doing so, I realized that my sofa tables were too dark, my accessories on the tables needing editing and re-styling, and that my blue walls needed some retouching. Since I can’t use primer and latex paint – my usual go-to for painting furniture – I did some research and found that I could safely use Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. I had always wanted to try it, and so I ordered two colors so that I could give the table a distressed look, and went to town!

I was so pleased with how easy it was – no sanding, no priming, just clean your surface and go! – and loved the colors I had chosen, that I decided one Friday afternoon that I should put a coat on our banister in the foyer! I had been planning to paint it but wasn’t sure what color I should use or how I would do it. Lo and behold, it looks awesome now and so much better with our gray patterned carpet going up the stairs.

Baby won’t go into his own room until around six or seven months, but I have been prepping the room here and there. My girlfriend offered to paint the room for me as a baby gift and since that’s been finished, I went in and hung my curtains, put up a few pictures, and arranged what furniture I do have in there. I have a plan drawn up of how I want to put furniture, and while I doubt the room will be finished by November, having a plan definitely satisfies my urge to decorate!

For our kids, we have been working on age appropriate tasks. They each have their own set of chores that they do daily to earn money each week, which has been going well. I have been working to encourage independence in certain areas, realizing that being able to do simple tasks without my help will save time on crazy mornings getting out to preschool or just if my hands are busy with baby. Those little things like getting their own drink, and putting on their own shoes and coats can be game changers!

Q: What do you hope your kids remember about this childhood home and you as their mom? And what do you hope they forget?!

A: I hope they remember this home as a fun place to live and grow up. That it was a home where they could feel comfortable and safe. Where they have their own special spaces to be creative and play.

I hope they remember me as a mom who wasn’t uptight about messes or if things got broken or scuffed. That’s been a huge thing for me to learn to live and be okay with the mess of life that naturally comes with kids. I hope they remember how I decorate for the holidays just for them to try to make them special, and create and keep traditions.

I hope they forget how the house looks like a bomb went off when my client work gets crazy. Or how many consecutive episodes of their favorite shows I will allow if I am under a tight deadline and it isn’t a school day or there isn’t a grandma to pinch-hit for me while I work! 

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What surprised you the most about being a mom?

A: Hands down, I love all holidays and birthdays. I have had so much fun choosing which family traditions to continue from our own childhoods and what new ones we want to add to our own family history.

The most surprising thing about being a mom is how big the love is. It is the biggest, hardest, messiest, most wonderful love I have ever had in my life. From day one of finding out we were expecting and falling madly in love with this little being and then watching them grow and change each day – some days it can be maddening and you’re just counting down the minutes to nap time or bed time, but you can’t remember life without them nor would you even want to imagine it…because life with your children is a million times more full than what I ever imagined it to be.

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

A: This question has been the one holding me up on sending this interview back, but I keep coming back to the same thing so I’m guessing this is what I’m called to write about!

I wish someone had told me about the crushing anxiety.

I am very much a person who likes to be in control of a situation. When you have kids, that sense of controlling anything flies out the window the moment you find our you’re expecting! Parenting lesson one: YOU ARE NOT IN CONTROL!

For the most part, since becoming a parent, I have been able to manage the little anxiety attacks that have crept up from time to time. For some reason, when my kids get sick my brain automatically goes to the worst case scenario – DEATH! – but I have always been able to listen to the rational side of my brain and can nip those thoughts quickly.

Last November, however, we lost a son at 18 weeks gestation to anencephaly. Up until that point, my pregnancy was completely textbook, and it wasn’t until our first ultrasound that we discovered he had the fatal neural tube defect.

You try your best to do everything right. You eat healthy and exercise and attend all prenatal appointments…but sometimes, things just don’t fall into place as you expect them to. Needless to say, getting his diagnosis threw us into a tailspin. From there, my anxiety attacks escalated. If I couldn’t protect and save this baby who wasn’t even on the outside, how in the world could I protect my older children? My husband? Myself?

I had to log off of Facebook for a few months because it felt like every post in my newsfeed was about someone’s child with cancer, which led to middle of the night thoughts like “Do my kids have cancer I don’t know about?” On the eve of my husband’s birthday in December, we laid in bed watching TV and I remember the thoughts creeping in; he was turning a year older…what if he dies before I do? I knew that none of these things were likely to happen but I had no control to stop them if they did.

In February, we discovered that we had mice in our home. Of course, I started Googling every possible thing I could find from getting rid of them to the diseases they carry and every worst case scenario that could come from the situation. WE WERE ALL GOING TO DIE OF HANTA VIRUS! It got to the point where the sun would set in the evening and I would start to panic and my heart would race, and I would usually end in tears at the thought of a mouse coming up from the basement and into our main living space. I wouldn’t let the kids go downstairs to play even though all of their toys were down there, for fear that they would get sick.

I think it was the mice that made me realize that what had gone from infrequent anxiety that I could easy manage had gotten way out of control. I needed to find a way to get myself in check. I was getting better at dealing better with the grief over losing our son and so I started exercising more regularly again, which has always helped me in the past, and being more open with friends and family. I found talking through my fears, even if I knew they were ridiculous, helped a lot. And, more recently I started to try meditation, which has been a HUGE help, especially with this pregnancy. I have spent so much time this pregnancy worried that something was wrong or going to go wrong. It’s been helpful to have another tool to help me quiet my mind when things start to go awry.

As a parent, the love for your children is consuming. You struggle to remember life before them and cannot imagine life without them. I would do absolutely anything for my kids, and the thought of something happening to them is terrifying. It’s that awesome love, I think, that may make me go a little hyper vigilant sometimes. I grew up with a mother who had anxiety and worried over the same things I find myself worrying about now…and I know how that has affected me, so I don’t want to affect my kids with my own worries.


Oh, Amanda. Thank you for sharing your honest experience with us. Do you even know how many readers you just reassured that the way they’re feeling right now is a feeling shared by others? Do you even know the collective sighs of relief that are probably happening because of you? I do know. And I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.

For those of you who experience the same crushing anxiety, how do you cope? Is exercise enough? Does meditation quiet your storm? Solutions, great and small, are always welcome here!

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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Living With Kids: Revisiting Haeley Giambalvo Tue, 21 Oct 2014 15:30:03 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Candice Stringham for and Design Improvised.

You might remember the cute Chicago condo I featured a while back, owned by Haeley and her husband, and adored by their two little girls. She mentioned in her interview that she was moving to San Antonio, and the loveliest thing happened: a few readers reached out to lend their advice, support, and eventual friendship! If ever I needed a burst of positivity to remind me of how lucky I am to be a part of such a nurturing community, this would be it.

So it’s with a huge smile that I welcome back Haeley in her new Texas home. It’s pretty fantastic! Let’s go see.

Q: Tell us all about your family today!

I’ve got two busy preschoolers on my hands now. Stella just turned five and Hazel is now three. They go to a little preschool three mornings a week, which has been a welcomed routine for both kids and mommy alike!

Stella is my little mini-me: she is constantly making something. As soon as she wakes up she heads to her play table and starts pulling out paper, markers, and scissors. Her latest endeavor has been to check out kids’ crafting DVDs at the library and try making the things taught on the show. She always amazes me with what she is able to come up with on her own. Stella is a sweet, sensitive little girl. The night before her fifth birthday, she cried herself to sleep because she had so much fun being four and wanted to stay four forever. She loves anything to do with learning new things. She loves her little sister most of all.

Hazel is my little ball of energy and curiosity who rules the roost and is always a step ahead of the rest of us. We like to call her Hazie, but she prefers to go by Georgie, as in her favorite character Curious George. If you ever introduce her as Hazel, she will be quick to correct you. She never leaves home without her teddy bear, which at this point is hanging together by threads. She loves playing dress up by ransacking my closet, making crafts that involve a lot of messy glue or paint, playing on any type of electronic device, and helping cook in the kitchen as long as the recipe involves sugar. She has a big sweet tooth, and overall is a big sweetheart.

My husband Ross works for the Texas grocery store chain HEB, which is what brought us to San Antonio. Outside of work you can find him at home grilling in the backyard, keeping tabs on his fantasy football team, and playing in a local men’s hockey league (yep, they play hockey in Texas!). He’s in the process of transforming a tiny room off of our laundry room into his man cave – the 80 square feet he can claim as his own. He’s impressed me with his carpentry skills; he built a wall full of industrial style shelves and is in the process of transforming a vintage locker into wine storage.

I devote any kid-free minutes of my day to my blog Design Improvised, where I share DIYs for simple home and holiday crafts that make a big impact. I’m almost four years into blogging and I still love it so much that for better or worse I choose to do it over anything else…like, clean the house!

Q: You’ve moved! Where are you living, and how did you find your home?

A: Yes! We have been in the northwest suburbs of San Antonio since July of last year. We are about 15 miles from downtown. Because we were moving for my husband’s job, we had to make a decision on where to live pretty quickly. We flew down that April for a jam-packed weekend of seeing 20+ homes. Would you believe the home we ended up in was the very first one we saw? Had we known it would turn out that way, we could’ve saved ourselves the trouble and spend the rest of the weekend at the River Walk!

For us, the biggest challenge was getting a grasp for the area and narrowing down what part of the city in which we wanted to live. San Antonio is really spread out, and it was hard to know where to begin. We did our best to pick a few areas to focus our house hunting based on online research, but you just don’t know until you’re there in person.

I had a panic moment after our first day of looking at homes when I realized we had focused the bulk of our search too far out of town. It felt like such a giant leap to go from downtown Chicago to a semi-rural Texas neighborhood where I would’ve had to drive several exits down the highway to get to the grocery store. It was a stressful tear-filled day, but helped us identify what was most important. The home we ended up in is super accessible to restaurants, shopping, and downtown.

Q: What has been the biggest adjustment to your new area?

A: We loved living in Chicago, and for years I scoffed at the idea of moving to the suburbs. Funny enough, once we were here we didn’t think twice about it. I guess we were more suited for the suburbs than we realized. We came to San Antonio with an open mind and a determination to make this next chapter of our lives a good one.

We didn’t know anyone here, so I expected a tough transition from that perspective, but it just didn’t happen. We knocked on doors to introduce ourselves to our neighbors early on and invite them over for a drink. I think we actually know more of our neighbors than some of them that have lived here for 15 years know each other! I got involved in the active San Antonio blogging community and attended as many events as I could to meet people. We made friends with the parents at the girls’ preschool.

But perhaps most of all, I have this blog to thank for helping make the transition so smooth! I had several Design Mom readers in the San Antonio area reach out to me last year after our Chicago condo was featured in Living with Kids. The readers wrote sweet notes to welcome me to their city, tell me about their favorite spots, and offer their help. I was so surprised and touched by their generosity – it honestly meant the world to me.

Since then, two of them have become my closest friends here. One happens to live just down the road from me and introduced me to a mom group she is part of, and the other is a talented photographer and blogger who is now a frequent collaborator on blog projects (and has taken many of the photos in this house tour!). Our transition here could have been a much different story if it wasn’t for YOU all, so I can’t thank you enough.

Q: This new house is much bigger than your condo, right? How did you avoid the whole “Let’s go buy out the furniture store right now to fill this place!” urge? Did you give yourself time to get to know the house and figure out your needs?

A: Yes, it is about twice the size. Like they say, everything is bigger in Texas, and the cost of living here is less than Chicago. Our home is 17 years old and we invested in some updates before moving in: painting the kitchen cabinets and adding a new backsplash, replacing the carpeting upstairs with hardwood floors, and updating the lighting fixtures, etc. It was a big investment but it made a world of difference. It also didn’t leave a ton of money for rushing out and buying furniture. However, it was such a nice clean slate that I actually looked forward to some of the rooms staying empty for awhile so I could take my time thinking about what I wanted them to become. As a DIY blogger, what more could you want? It’s like a years’ worth of blog content, so I was in no rush.

I’ve also had a great partnership with over the past year. They have an amazing selection of home furnishings and I’ve had the opportunity to design several rooms in our house as part of my work with them.  We’ve collaborated on carving out a special kids’ area in our family room with a play table and toy storage, a shared bedroom for Stella and Hazel with twin beds that can convert into bunks and a reading nook, a guest bedroom makeover in time for the holidays, and an outdoor patio that allows us to hang outside together as a family year round. You can find more details of each room in these styleboards.

The process has required me to be more thoughtful and intentional about the design of each room by developing a mood board and testing out different looks for each space, and I feel like I’ve really grown into my own distinct style over the past year as a result.

Q: What did you want to do differently with the decor of this home? What style or pieces did you want to retain?

A: I wanted to take my time and create spaces that I would love for a long time. Unlike in Chicago, where we started furnishing our condo as newlyweds and making it work over time for a family, I approached the design of this house with a family in mind.

Stella and Hazel have the run of the house. They have a special corner of the family room that holds some of their toys, and a play table where they eat their breakfast in the morning and spend much of the day working on crafts or Legos while watching their favorite shows.

I turned a covered balcony into an outdoor playroom for the girls with a kid-sized picnic table, rocking chairs, sensory table, and potted plants for them to dig in the dirt. We grew our first tomatoes and peppers there this summer.

The girls go into my craft room daily and pull out supplies to make something of their own. It can make a huge mess, but our house is messy most of the time (unlike these photos!), and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

As for pieces we retained, I reused nearly all our furniture from Chicago but in different ways. A little dresser that held toiletries in a bathroom in Chicago is now a nightstand in the guest room. The rug that was in our master bedroom is now under the dining table. I love the challenge of finding a new way to use a piece. To me, it is just as exciting as going out and buying something new.

Q: How are your girls adjusting? And you?

A: I think they were at a good age to make a big transition like this. They are just excited for anything new, so if you make a big deal out of it, they will be on board. The fact that there is a Chuck E Cheese across the street from their new school is a good enough reason for them to like San Antonio!

We all really miss my sister Heather and brother-in-law Alan and our little nephew Ollie. They were our family unit in Chicago and were a big part of the girls’ lives there. Stella still says she wishes Uncle Alan could come over and play chase and hide and seek with her like they did in Chicago. We don’t get to see them enough, and it kills me that I don’t get to be around Ollie (now 10 months) and help out like my sister did with my girls. We are in the process of trying to convince them to move to San Antonio.

Q: What do you hope your girls remember about your life in this house?

A: How they loved being at home more than anywhere else. How in these magical preschool years the day stretched before them and they could choose to spend it however they wanted…spending all day in their playroom, playing in the backyard in their pjs, helping me in the kitchen, the three of us making a big mess together in the craft room.

How they always were free to make the house their own…creating their own holiday decorations to display along with mine, coloring endless pictures to hang on their playroom wall.

Finally how they loved spending time together as sisters…waking up in the same bedroom by chatting and singing silly songs together and telling each other “I love you, sis” before going to bed at night.

Q: Tell us the best moving advice you wish you had followed!

A: Purge, purge, purge! Be really diligent about getting rid of stuff you don’t need rather than bringing it with you.

This was especially the case with some flea market pieces I had plans to eventually refurbish. We all have these, right? I realized if I hadn’t been motivated to do them in Chicago, I wasn’t going to ever do it here in San Antonio, and so most have been donated!


So nice to reconnect with you, Haeley! I have to tell you that I misted up a few times! Once at your daughter’s tears on her last night of four, and the other about not being there for your nephew. It’s tough to be far away from family, isn’t it?

Friends, have you recently moved your family to a new spot? Tell us about your transition. Was it easy on your kids? Was it easy on you? If you have secrets to share, please know they are always welcome!

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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Living With Kids: Hillary Barney Tue, 14 Oct 2014 14:00:47 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Sarah Knight Photography.

When Hillary first wrote to me about her home, she mentioned solar panels and I was hooked. Someday I want a home that’s run on solar power, but until then I’ll just have to live vicariously through people like Hillary!

Another draw was her and her husband’s very, very different design preferences. For example, this is a tee shirt available in Hillary’s shop. And this is one from her husband’s shop. I love them both. But how do these different styles merge in the home? You’ll see. Friends, please welcome the Barney family!

Q: Tell us all about your family.

A: Hello! We are a family of four, living in the Salt Lake City, UT area. I am the Creative Director for Petite Lemon, and my husband runs his online shop, Blonde Grizzly.

We have two daughters, Lily and June. Lily is our three year old. She is full of energy, very willful, and our social butterfly. She amazes me every day how smart and creative she is. June is 11 months and I can’t believe how much our hearts have grown having her in our lives. She is all smiles, very mellow, and always on the move.

We also have a little chihuahua mix named Bear Grylls. We got him as a puppy, and I love that my children have grown up with this furry friend of ours. He is a total sweetheart and a true lap dog.

Q: How did this house become your home?

A: We had some ups and downs in selling our previous home and getting into this home. Our previous house went on and off the market a couple times. I went through my first pregnancy and had Lily while trying to sell our house. My nursery was in boxes up until about three weeks before I was due because we were sure we could get our house sold before Lily came. We took the house off the market just before we had Lily and took a break from all the house stuff. When Lily was six months old, we put the house up for the last time. It sold within a month.

Once our house sold, we looked and looked for the perfect house in Salt Lake. We wanted an older home with lots of charm. I pictured us in a bungalow style house with hardwood floors and fruit trees. We looked at lots of homes like this and we liked them, but nothing felt like ours.

I was looking online one day and came across this development we are in now…brand new homes just outside of Salt Lake. I called my agent right away and we met to look at the model home. We fell in love. It was the exact opposite of what we thought we wanted. I actually loved the modern look of the houses and they had solar panels…major bonus! As we were talking to the agent, she told us there was only one lot available. We had to act quickly and decided to lock in. We are so glad we did. The building process went very smoothly and we were in our house about eight weeks after the sale of our other house.

We bought the house with an unfinished basement and went through the process of finishing the basement last summer. My dad helped us frame and sheetrock the whole space. We are very grateful for his help. We love having the extra space, a guest bedroom, and my office in the basement.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: We love the Salt Lake City area. The mountains are gorgeous and we like having four distinct seasons. Although every winter I do ask myself why we don’t move to the beach! The majority of our family lives within a three hour drive from us. We love being close to family.

Our neighborhood is new and we have made great friends within our neighborhood. We have neighborhood parties and everyone looks out for each other. I love the sense of community here. I don’t think I have felt that since I moved out of my childhood home.

I work from home and have a nanny stay with the girls while I am working. Our home is where we live, play, work, etc. I want it to be a place where everyone is comfortable and filled with creative play. We are surrounded by things we love in our home and they have a different memory attached to them.

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: Our previous home was a split level, and I always felt more separated in that home. I love the open spaces in our home and that all of our bedrooms and main living areas are on the main level. The basement is great for entertaining and having guests stay. My husband and I are both collectors and we have our collections displayed throughout our home.

I tried to incorporate some area of play into the design of each space. The play kitchen in the kitchen/dining room area is a favorite spot. We have toys tucked away in drawers throughout the house. Then in the basement, we converted the closet under the stairs to a little playhouse. The girls’ rooms are filled with fun artwork and are set up to encourage play.

Q: What’s your favorite time of day in your home?

A: My favorite time of day right now is the morning. Our nanny comes in at 10 to watch Lily and June. So from about 7 am until 10, it’s just us. Sometimes this time is filled with fits and crying while other times it filled with joy and laughter. These little girls are so unpredictable!

Q: You run a company called Petite Lemon. Tell us all about it!

A: I am the Creative Director at Petite Lemon and it’s so much fun to be a part of. We create joy and fun for little ones through personalized decor and apparel. We believe every occasion should be a memorable one, gift giving should be keepsake giving, and decor should be as colorful and unique as kids themselves.

Q: Your husband’s taste is a little different from your aesthetic. How do you merge styles so seamlessly? How have you influenced each other?

A: My husband is more in to pop culture and “geek” art and I love everything cute. I am not 100% sure how it all merges, but somehow it does. Our styles cross here and there, and I feel we both appreciate what the other one likes.

Although there have been times that I have vetoed some things that he has wanted to put up because they are too scary, and he has vetoed some of my choices because they are too cute. (I didn’t know that was possible!)

Q: What has been the biggest gain from living in a solar powered home? How does it affect your daily life as a family? 

A: We have always tried to be conscious of the environment: recycling when we can, using reusable containers, etc. So having the solar panels on our home was just another step. That was one of the draws for us to buy this house. It cuts our power bill down and it’s fun to see our statement at the end of the month telling us how many trees we have offset.

We don’t have enough panels to run our whole house right now. Eventually we would love to purchase more, but that is down the road a bit.

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 their little personalities. I love seeing them grow, progress, and express themselves. I love listening to Lily talk and seeing how curious June is. She is into everything right now. It’s so much fun and exhausting at the same time. I miss cuddling my babies, but I do not miss those sleepless nights! I loved Lily’s 18 month to two year old phase, and am anxious to see June at this age.

When I was pregnant with June, I wasn’t sure how I could love another child and give them as much attention. I loved being Lily’s mom and loved our time together. When June was born, immediately my heart grew. Somehow, as parents, we find the love and time for each of our kids. Our hearts grow bigger and priorities change.

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

A: I feel like I have gotten a lot of great advice for parenting and just growing up, so I am going to rephrase the question. I wish I had listened to this advice that had been given to me: Slow down, enjoy the moment!

It’s so true and it’s taken me three years of having kids to finally catch on. I still have moments where I just want to go go go and get things done. I am slowly replacing some of those with sit down and play, enjoy the moment.

Our flower beds aren’t perfectly weeded, sometimes we have Little Ceasar’s pizza for dinner, and beds are almost never made, but we are enjoying our family and that is what is important to us.


You know what, Hillary? You’re so right. Some of the best days begin and end with an unmade bed! Somewhere between you and your husband’s shared styles merging somewhat seamlessly and you never imagining that something could be too cute and the smart solar panels, I started smiling and didn’t stop. It was nice to get a little lost in your story. Thank you for your words today.

Friends, are you and your partner at odds in terms of style? Do you cringe at each other’s collections, or have you found a middle ground where everything works together? Ben Blair and I actually gravitate toward the same things – luckily, I know! – but I wonder what happens design-wise when couples don’t!

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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Living With Kids: Megan Schiller Tue, 07 Oct 2014 16:00:23 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

My favorite part of this home tour is Megan‘s answer to my query “How did this house become your home?” I guarantee chills and a smile. The way life works out so often takes my breath away.

There’s some practical goodness in here, too, especially for those of you who may find yourselves on edge whenever the paints come down off the tip top shelf! Megan runs a design company that specializes in helping people set up kids’ art spaces, and she completely understands that not everyone enjoys a Jackson Pollock-esque living room at the end of a creative session. Enjoy the tour, Friends!

Q: Please introduce us to your family.

A: I live in a small cottage in Mill Valley, California with my loving husband, Aaron, our 16-year-old dog Shanti, and  our two little girls, Karuna and Ora. Karuna recently turned six, but could pass for 36 by the way she nurtures her little sister Ora, who is two. Whenever I leave them with a babysitter, Ora says, “Okay, Ra-Ra will be my mommy.” Ora is a spunky little girl, completely opposite of her sister, so they make a great duo!

Aaron and I met in college at a bar. It was the day after I returned from a solo trip through Europe and the Middle East.  According to him, I was emanating a traveller’s cheerful, free-spirited vibe. When I first saw him, he was sitting across the room, smiling at me like we had known each other forever. He had this look in his eye and huge dimples that drew me in. I have been smitten ever since.

Q: How did this house become your home?

A: We live in my grandmother’s old house that we rent from my father. I grew up in Oakland and would come out here often to visit, but I never thought I’d want to live here. I guess I was a city girl and couldn’t imagine settling down in the suburbs. It wasn’t until I got married and started thinking about having kids that Mill Valley suddenly became our dream destination. We begged my dad to rent this house to us – otherwise there was no way we could afford to live here – but he already had a tenant who had looked after my grandmother before she passed away, and he wasn’t about to displace her.

At this time, we were living about an hour north in Santa Rosa, and Aaron was commuting to San Francisco every day. We talked more and more about trying to find an affordable place in Marin County, not only to be closer to his work but also to his brother who lived here with his wife and two kids.

Here’s the crazy part of the story! As we were figuring all of this out, my brother-in-law’s wife tragically passed away after the birth of her third child. We packed up our things and immediately moved to Marin, sleeping on couches, to be with our family and help take care of our new baby nephew and his siblings. Three days later, my dad called and asked me, “Do you believe in serendipity?” I said, “Yes, why?” and he proceeded to tell me that after more than 15 years of living here, his tenant suddenly decided to move to Illinois. She would be moving out in a few weeks and we could finally live in my grandmother’s cottage, only ten minutes from our brother-in-law where we would be spending most of our time for the next year. I can’t help but think my late sister-in-law and maybe even my grandmother had something to do with this turn of events.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: Mill Valley is incredibly unique. It’s ten minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge, nestled at the foot of Mt. Tamalpais, with gorgeous hiking trails and redwood trees, wedged between the beautiful Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Although our little town is starting to become a suburb for the San Francisco tech workforce (with its expensive homes and boutique shops), I still feel it has held on to its old-fashioned quaintness, artsy vibe, and adventurous outdoor lifestyle.

We really lucked out with our neighborhood and the wonderful families that moved in with young kids when Karuna was little. Our kids have grown up together, and we always made it a priority to have a regular moms’ night out or Friday night pizza parties with the whole family. It really is a village when it comes to raising our kids. If Ora is napping when I need to pick up Karuna from school, I just pop my head out of the fence to look for a neighbor who is heading to school for pick up. I’ll yell across the street, “Can you get Karuna for me?” And ten minutes later, she is walking in the door.

From our house, we can walk to our elementary, middle, and high schools, to Whole Foods, to a variety of parks and creeks, to the quaint downtown for a good cup of coffee, or to see a show at the Sweetwater, which is an awesome, intimate venue backed by Bob Weir of The Grateful Dead. It really is a dreamy place!

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: For me, there are a few key design elements for living with young children. The first is an open concept, which we have only been able to achieve in our kitchen and dining space. We remodeled the kitchen when I was pregnant with Karuna, but dream of redoing the rest of the house someday…a perk of being related to the landlord!

The second element is playfulness. The bright colors, hanging hammock chair, ostrich wallpaper, and chalkboard wall are all ways we bring playful design into our home. Making room for creative expression is part of this playfulness, which is why we have turned our sunroom into an art studio for the girls.

The design element that has surprisingly impacted our lives more than anything else is our attempt at minimalism. The kid stuff seems to multiply on a daily basis, and I think I would go crazy if we didn’t have a system for purging and organizing.

Every few months we go through our problem areas like drawers, closets, and toy bins, take everything out, and only put back our favorite or necessary items. I get my kids to do this before birthdays and the holidays so that they have room for all their new toys, which gets them excited about purging.

The first time I tried this, I dumped Karuna’s toy bins into a cardboard box and told her to pick out only what she wanted to keep. I was shocked when she only took out a few of her favorite little figurines and a couple random toys. I found myself saying, “Are you sure you don’t want to keep this My Little Pony? Or what about these Calico Critters?” She knew what she wanted and she was so good at letting go of everything else! Now she’s used to this system, so even though she is more attached to some of her things, she’s okay with this process. I think she would have been a lot more resistant if I had started off by saying, “Pick out what you want to give away.”

Q: What’s your favorite time of day in your home? When does it work for everyone best? How does the room decor contribute to this harmony?

A: My favorite time of day in my home is dinner. I love cooking for my family, and I’ve been trying to recruit my six-year-old to learn alongside me. But most of all, I love sitting down for dinner with everyone, expressing our gratitude and talking about our day. My kids like to hold hands before dinner and say something they are grateful for. They call this ritual family. “Let’s do family,” Ora says, as she reaches her arms out to hold our hands.

One decor item in our dining room that relates to this ritual is our gratitude/manifestation board. Inside the acrylic frame it says, “I’m so grateful for…” We use dry erase markers on the frame and write down things that we are thankful for, as well as things that we would like see to happen, and express gratitude for them as if they have already happened. I am a strong believer in manifestation! Our bedroom also has two small manifestation pin boards that my husband and I make every New Year. It’s so amazing to look at them at the end of the year to see how our hopes and dreams have manifested in our lives.

Q: You run a company called The Art Pantry. Tell us all about it!

A: The Art Pantry is a design studio and resource for kids creative spaces and art exploration. I help people set up kids’ art spaces in homes and schools, and provide tools to keep kids engaged in the creative process. My background is in early childhood art education – I taught at Reggio-inspired preschools and ran a children’s art studio – but I am also in love with design. The Art Pantry is the best of both worlds!

Q: Give us encouragement on setting up a totally free-spirited art space in our homes…even for the neat freaks among us!

A: As much as I wish we could all have a free-spirited art space in our homes, I know it’s not ideal for many families. But this doesn’t mean you can’t have a totally awesome, inspiring space. That’s why I love my work! I like the challenge of finding ways for families to have the idea of a free-spirited art space, while still making it work for their particular children and their lifestyle. This might mean limiting messier activities to the outdoors or creating a messy art bin that only comes out when everyone is willing to deal with the aftermath.

I will say that messy art gets a bad rap in terms of effort and cleanup, but it doesn’t have to be so scary. My go-to item for keeping messy art projects under control is a large, sturdy tray. My favorite one is the Ikea SMULA tray, which sells for around $1.99! It’s made of super sturdy plastic and is a translucent-whitish color that doesn’t compete with the colors of the art materials. When my girls are done with a messy project, I just throw everything on the tray, do a quick wipe-down of the table, and carry the tray over to my kitchen sink. If I have time, I will wash the tools and wipe down the tray. If I don’t have time, I just soak the tools in a cup on the tray and leave it for later.

The reason I started my art studio and my design services is because I strongly believe in teaching children at a young age how to use tools and materials to explore their world. I also believe in giving them autonomy in their creative process by making familiar supplies easily accessible. If you start kids young enough – ideally between 18 months to three years – all kids can learn how to experiment and respect the materials, learn to self-regulate, fall in love with the creative process, and gain important skills that will serve them throughout their lives. If you miss this age window, it becomes harder to get the non-artistic kids to feel comfortable and confident with these creative tools.

Q: What has been the biggest gain from working on this project? What is the most difficult part of balancing work and home? Any tips or tricks or shortcuts that save your life on a daily basis?

A: Wow, the biggest gain? I’m not sure I can boil it down to one thing. I love that I have been able to stay at home with my girls and follow my passions at the same time. I love that my daughters are watching me run a business and be creative and they get to be a huge part of that.

The most difficult part is finding a perfect balance. If I’m working a lot, I feel guilty that I’m not with the girls. If I’m with the girls a lot, I feel like I’m not getting anything done at work.

Meal planning has been important in this whole work/life balance. I used to scramble at dinnertime to figure out what to make. Then someone introduced us to The Fresh 20, a meal planning service, and it changed our lives. I don’t even use it very often anymore, but it gave me a foundation to do my own weekly meal planning. I try to plan out simple meals, shop ahead of time, and prep ingredients ahead of time. This makes our dinners easier, healthier, and so much more enjoyable.

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

A: My favorite part about living with kids is their unconditional optimism. They wake up every day with their little faces beaming with joy and excitement for life. What age does this go away? I hope not any time soon!

I love the toddler stage where the personality really comes out, but they still have the simple, snuggly qualities of a baby. I also love the newborn stage. The smell of a newborn’s head as it sleeps, curled up on your shoulder…irresistible!

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

A: …that once you introduce TV into kids’ lives, it becomes an addiction. Not for them! For me!

Of course I knew that kids could get addicted to TV, but I didn’t realize that I would get addicted to letting them watch TV.  Working from home while being my children’s primary caregiver means that I rely far too much on the television. There are so many hours in the day and even if just one of them is filled with TV, the guilt sets in. Maybe one day I’ll be brave and just ban it for all of us!


Ahh, yes. I think we’ve all relied on the television a time or two…hundred! Megan, thank you so much for telling us your story.

Friends, I’m particularly taken with Megan’s manifestation and gratitude board. Do you engage in a similar practice in your own homes? I’m all in when it comes to making family goals, but Megan’s simple dry erase markers and acrylic frame makes the process so simple and attainable, doesn’t it?

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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