Design Mom » Home Tours The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Mon, 12 May 2014 18:42:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Living With Kids: Nell O’Leary Tue, 06 May 2014 16:00:57 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Never before have I asked a Living With Kids tour guide about her family and received a response like Nell‘s. It’s beyond lovely and lucky and all those words we use when someone is exactly where they should be in life!

And this house! Oh, what a house. In my imagination, Nell’s family home is just like the one in the game of Clue, come to life. (My best guess is James in the Music Room with a cello!) All of it is so interesting to me, from the family input into decor to the incredible sense of deja vu that must happen on a daily basis. Please, please enjoy this tour and help me welcome this sweet – and growing – family!

Q: Please tell us about you and yours!

A: My whole family includes this clan of our parents, beloved four siblings, their partners, and their kiddos. We’re Irish Catholic and were raised to be fiercely loyal, and very much involved in one another’s lives. My parents have been together for 40 years this year! Both are doctors – dad a gastrointerologist and mom a psychologist. My eldest sister and her partner live in Minneapolis and are true urban farmers. My second eldest sister is a social worker who specializes in older adults and little kiddos, her nieces and nephews benefitting from her proximity of living in the Twin Cities as well; she’s the auntie who teaches them about the periodic table and splatter paint! The sister right above me is our New York star, a graphic designer turned herbalist whose organic skincare line is fabulous. Her husband has opened two successful bar/gastro-pubs in Manhattan and is burgeoning on his third. Their toddler daughter and baby girl are perpetually on our FaceTime feed chatting it up with my kiddos. Our little brother is an officer in the Army, though he’s a world traveler and adventurer (and still our baby brother) behind all that ordered life. He and his wonderful wife have a nine month old whom we all wish we could gobble up, but can’t as they live in Tennessee.

There’s me, the fourth, the creative writing major-turned-lawyer who married her law school love, and we have James who is almost four, Maureen who is two, and a little baby boy due to join us in early May. I’m haphazard about cleaning but love to tidy, my husband is a poet who’s an insurance coverage lawyer, and our children are obsessed with all things church and baseball related. We eat as healthfully as possible but also indulge on my mom’s homemade and certainly unhealthy caramels. Despite our children’s screen-free life, my husband and I love to curl up with fatty fatty ice cream and watch Netflix once the kids have gone down for the night!

Q: You’re living in your childhood home! Tell us about why you wanted to buy it from your parents, and any difficulties or second-guesses along the way.

A: All of us siblings had agreed growing up: somebody had to buy the house someday. I feel so lucky it ended up being us! We were the first to get married and have children, and once our careers had lined up so that it was financially feasible, we made the leap. The house has so much character and personality. It’s roomy but intimate, majestic but practical, stunning but humble. It had never really occurred to me that another family could raise their children in it, unless that family were one of ours.

It’s a strange phenomena, to have your first home be your forever home, and many of our peers thought we were a little insane for taking on such a big bite for the first go at the home hunting. But it always felt right and made complete sense.

Every day something strikes me as a deja vu. Watching my children eat in our Dining Room, in the same chairs I used to squirm in. Watching my husband stoke the fire in the Library, the same fire my dad stoked for years. Playing hide and go seek with the kids in the Music Room and seeing them squirrel under the silk taffeta curtains just as my siblings and I did! Amazing.

Q: It’s 100 years old, which seems like a design challenge in itself, but there’s also the whole dilemma about making changes to your family home. How do you handle this? is there ever resistance from your siblings or parents about making changes? Do you feel hindered by your past in the home? Or is it all positive and inspiring to you?

A: Yes, the age of the house makes it a design challenge in that rooms are who they are, and beyond a facelift, on the first floor at least, there’s very little wiggle room for redesign. My mom redid the kitchen about 17 years ago and completely gutted it to the studs. She’s a designer at heart, and it worked flawlessly to have a modern kitchen in an old home. The rest of the front of the house, the Music Room, Library, Entrance Hall, Breeze Way, Dining Room, and even the little guest bath off the first floor called the Powder Room, needs furnishings, window treatments, and paint colors that are symbiotic to the room itself and the era of the house. The wooden paneling in most of those rooms leaves only artwork as an option for the walls.

Recently we purchased a Stickly Brothers coffee table and a chair for the library. I literally texted the pictures of the options to my siblings and asked “Are these okay for the Library?” We do feel that any significant changes to the house would need to go through the group as it’s still a family house, and always will be. That being said, no one has ever criticized or been crazy attached to a wall hanging or whatnot.

The second floor has gone through several facelifts with wallpaper up and down, paint on and over, and bath appliances swapping out. Those rooms I don’t feel as protective of as they morph with the needs of the family. We needed to refurnish and paint the guest room, making it a place for any of my siblings to come and be comfortable. The kids rooms we redid, as well as the Main Bathroom, which is primarily theirs but also used by us, too.

When redesigning I’ll think “What did I want in my room when I was a child in here?” Or “Can I strip this wallpaper and be okay with losing these memories?” Luckily I don’t feel like changing the bedrooms is replacing those memories I had with my own siblings, but rather carving space for my children to make their own with theirs.

Q: What makes you love where you live?

A: Saint Paul, Minnesota always ranks highly on livability and beauty and in one recent article, romance! Tucked into the hills of Saint Paul are many neighborhoods with old houses that range in affordability from $200,000 to $2,000,000. The beauty of the city is that you can have a mansion next to a modest home, and both enjoy large yards and are a hop, skip, and jump from local farmer’s markets, retail, and delightful eats. It boasts a range of charter schools, private schools, solid public schools, and a bustling homeschooling/unschooling community if that’s your bend. Taxes are higher than other cities because you enjoy so many great amenities and wonderful programs for those in need.

We’re literally touching Minneapolis, hence the term “Twin Cities,” and between the two of them there’s a ton of culture, art, nature, music, food, and genuine diversity. I can’t encourage people enough to give this wonderful Midwest town a try.

Q: You’re taking time off from your career as an attorney, and running a Whole Parenting Family blog as well as other Etsy projects. Tell us about it all.

A: Even though I’m a lawyer, I’ve been on hiatus since our second and I’m loving this time at home with the kiddos. I never knew how busy and full life could be as an at-home mom. My blog, Whole Parenting Family, sprung from my love of writing, sharing, community, and all that I was discovering along this journey of family building. Somedays I write from my gut about challenges, other days I share recipes or point to interesting happenings online. I’m connected with the birth and parenting community here, and many of those wonderful organizations are sponsors and muses for me!

I write about how I handle parenting and partnering challenges often. It’s a trope I return to: exhibit A is my dilemma, exhibit B is my solution. What works for other moms? It’s a linear and logical approach to our struggles, but without a dogmatic “this is the only right way” approach. Parenting small children feels like trial and error. All the time.

My little Etsy shop, Whole Parenting Goods, was a surprise for me as well. Loving sewing and knitting as a little girl, I revisited it as a new mother. Suddenly a whole world of design and fabric and creativity erupted! I hand craft everything in my home studio, and sell to retailers and online on Etsy. It’s been a blessing for my creative side, for gifts to give to friends and family, and for that little extra to spend on my children and godchildren. My shop has a number of bandana bibs, contoured burp cloths, large crib blankets, little girl skirts, and flaxseed heating/cooling packs, all with an emphasis on sourcing locally and organically as much as possible.

Q: What was your inspiration in starting Whole Parenting, and what has it given back to you professionally and personally?

A: My inspiration in starting Whole Parenting was to connect with other women encountering the same challenges and joys as me. New motherhood is incredibly isolating and fortifying, all at once. To write about it, to create hand sewn items to make it a little easier to clean up spit up, both gave me a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment.

I’m an extrovert! The blog gives me a chance to interact with small business owner sponsors I know and love, promote and support educational experiences for my readership, and the joy of knowing my writing might make one mom’s day a little easier. Yes, because my child too pitched the world’s biggest tantrum at the playdate I hosted!

Q: When does your home work best for your family?

A: We are all at our best in the morning. Breakfast is a humming, dancing, oatmeal affair followed by lots of creative play or out and about in the world with friends or activities. I cherish our mornings at home with the sun bursting through the windows, the music up, the kids choosing their own adventure whether it is water coloring with our hands, building sky scrapers, or curling up in the Library reading.

The house functions best when it’s slightly disheveled, teeming with voices, and has something in the oven. That’s how I remember my childhood in the house – all the kids running around, finding hiding and reading spots, my mom calling, “All hands on deck!” when it was time to snack or eat. The kitchen has always been the heart of the home.

Predictably, these bopping mornings are followed by his mid-morn quiet time in his room and her morning nap which is when order is restored to the chaos and I step into my own world for a little peace time. So mornings contain the best of all worlds!

Q: What has been the absolute best thing about living with your kids? What do you already miss as they get older?

A: The best thing about living with my kids is all that they teach me. Their vision of the world is more interesting, real, and flush with vitality than anyone else I know! Their observations about people, nature, food, you name it, refreshes me and my own tired adult eyes on a daily basis.

I already miss the snuggly baby stage! The more independent they become, the more they engage with the world, the more interested and interesting they become. But they also need their mama in a new and less physical way, which makes me so glad we’re having more babies!

Q: What do you hope your kids remember about this home? Their childhood? And you as their mom?

A: I hope they remember feeling enveloped in love and support in the walls of this beautiful old house. I hope they remember their childhood as filled with beauty, but not the fragile kind you can only admire…the real kind you can embrace in a bear hug. I hope they remember the joy of sharing space with a space that has its own flaws and foibles. And I hope they remember me as attentive without helicoptering, present without smothering, and always a listening ear.

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

A: That some days you just don’t want to parent. And that’s normal! And what family & friends are for: to give you a breather so you can plunge back in!


Nell, this was one of my favorite reads. I am a big fan of families who support each other wholeheartedly in every endeavor and daily moment, and yours is one of the loveliest to meet. Thank you for sharing yourself today!

Friends, I was totally charmed by Nell’s description of her entire family in her introduction, especially as she identifies herself as the fourth! Do you ever still view yourself as you once were in your original family? Has your childhood role stuck with you and shaped your path?  (I have a friend who explains away her carefree attitude – “Oh, I’m the youngest in my family.” – even though she’s a grown woman with kids of her own!)

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: Mary Heffernan Tue, 29 Apr 2014 18:15:28 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

When Mary first contacted me about a possible tour, she was sweetly hesitant and sent along a few photographs to share the space she and her husband are living with their four daughters. As I always do, I asked for a few more and added a lot of exclamation points to my request.

And when she sent me many, many dozens scenes from her daily life, I spent a good afternoon poring over them. I had to beg Mary to edit them down for me because I simply could not! This tour would have included at least 750 photos! Because, Friends, this life of the Heffernans is pretty lovely. And busy. And thoughtful. And supremely well-designed. I love it all, and I hope it just makes your day, too.

(Just maybe, there will be a follow-up post this summer with all the photos I couldn’t use this time around! I’m keeping my fingers crossed, because I would really, really love a tour of the family businesses!)

Q: Please introduce us to your sweet family!

A: Hello! I’m Mary Heffernan, a mom and small town business owner and a country girl at heart. My husband Brian is a manly mountain man who is surrounded by a crazy wife and four independent, strong-willed little girls. Luckily, they tend to be tomboys and are out there hunting and fishing with him, so he couldn’t be happier. Brian and I met in 2006 at a charity event, where he was on the board and I was volunteering. Eight years later, we have four daughters and a fun and crazy life together, running a range of small businesses in Los Altos, California.

All four of our girls are named Mary, which makes traveling interesting! They are all named after different grandmothers, as we are both from big Catholic families with a lot of Marys! Our eldest, MaryFrances or Francie, is six and the leader of the pack. MaryMarjorie or Maisie, is four and a sweet, maternal soul. MaryJane or JJ is the wild child at three and full of personality and outfit changes. MaryTeresa, Tessa, is one year old and packs a punch to keep up with those big sisters! We have a chocolate lab named Moose, and three Navajo Churro rams on our ranch named Chief Big Horn, Geronimo, and Eugene.

My husband and I are both native Californians – my girls are 7th generation stock to Northern California! – and love the outdoors and wide open spaces. We live in the city, but our roots are in agriculture and farming on both sides. We escape to our ranch in Siskiyou County as often as possible to raise free range kids and – soon! – free range cattle and chickens to serve in our restaurants.

Q: How did this house become yours?

A: We feel very lucky to be stewards of this old house full of history. It was built in 1910 by a Southern Pacific Railroad executive for his wife, Rose Shoup, to raise their children when the area was nothing but apricot orchards and railroad tracks. Only three other families have lived here since then, so we are the fourth! The house was meticulously restored by the last family, the Jennings and their four children, to bring it back to life. We actually lived right next door while they restored it and got to watch the progress.

I grew up in a 100-year old house that my parents restored, so when the Jennings moved, we knew we had to raise our kids in that house. Now, my husband and I are slowly working on a big old house project on our ranch: fixing up an 1868 farm home built before electricity and running water. I guess you could say we are drawn to old houses and their stories. This house is on the historic registry, and we just hope to do it justice by filling it with family memories and lots of noise.

Q: What are the things that make you love where you live?

A: We love Los Altos! We live six blocks from our little downtown where my husband and I run our family-centric businesses. It’s a small town feel, but also close to so many great places: 45 minutes to San Francisco and just a few miles from Stanford, Palo Alto, and all the Silicon Valley hot spots. Our house backs up to Redwood Grove Nature Preserve and a great park, both with a creek running through. It’s a place which means hours of entertainment for my kids and where I also have many memories playing as a child.

The downtown has really seen a transformation over the past several years and we love being a part of it. There are so many families with young children in the area, and it’s a really great community to live and do business in. The weather is great, and we walk to town for work and school most days.

Q: Speaking of your family businesses, what sort of companies do you and your husband run?

A: Our businesses are built around family. We know people value good services and good food and try to offer both! Twelve years ago I started my first business, a tutoring company called Academic Trainers, and I met my husband when he was a lawyer in the area.

Since then, we have opened two restaurants, Bumble and Forest on First, that center around locally grown, healthy ingredients and a welcoming environment for families to feel comfortable bringing kids out to eat. We have a playroom in Bumble staffed with attendants to entertain kids while parents finish their meal in peace, and Forest on First has a gorgeous redwood and natural eucalyptus treehouse play structure with more casual cafe fare and an all-natural juice bar.

We also have a creative DIY supply and class shop called The Makery that is really fun and my happy place to craft and be inspired by the latest, coolest stuff made by our vendors and in-house staff! The Botanist is for all things beautifully botanical, like succulents and home decor and flea market finds galore. There’s a throwback arcade called Area 151, and an old school hobby shop called Red Racer, and a children’s drop-in class space called PLAY.

We are working on another restaurant to open this summer called The Alley with a local Michelin star chef, Marty Cattaneo – who I grew up with – to do really awesome burgers and locally produced fare.

And yes I know this seems a little insane – some days it is! But since most of the businesses are in the same town, it’s more like running one big business for our very loyal customers. Instead of taking one good idea and doing it multiple places, we found a captive audience hungry for good businesses and did multiple ideas in one place. It’s a great town for business!

Q: How do you divide professional and family duties, and also keep your relationship separate?

A: My husband and I certainly spend a lot of time together, so we try to balance it without driving each other crazy! He is the morning bird and wakes up early every day to get things prepared for the day. My downtime is staying under my down comforter a little longer!

We both walk the girls to school in the morning, then head to work. We are very fortunate my sweet cousin Emmy watches the babies and brings them to music class or for a snack at the restaurants, so we get to see them a bit during the day. My husband and I start our work day with breakfast together and our laptops at Bumble, then head to various meetings or dealings with employee issues and pow wows for what’s up next.

We wind down with a house full of kids to feed and sit down as a family for dinner every night if we can, even if we end up having to order in pizza or clean out the fridge for kid snacks! Our girls are night owls like I am, so I usually wrangle bath time and talk them into going to sleep. Working together was a bit of an adjustment for sure, but once you get used to seeing each other ALL day, it’s hard to imagine going back!

Q: You’ve got some really dark and moody rooms, and one very bright white kitchen! I love it all! Tell us your color philosophy and whether you feel the need to stay true to the original style of this home? Any changes you wish you could make?

A: The house has a lot of period specific style. We try to stay true to the craftsman style and work with a lot of beautiful, dark woodwork. The kitchen is a bright white open space for gathering and family chaos.

When the house was built, the kitchen was very small and mostly used for the staff to prepare meals for the first owners, the Shoups. My, how times have changed! Now it is the gathering place for entertaining our family and friends.

My husband is the cook in the family and we love to wind down in the kitchen with the girls, usually throwing food around or dancing half-dressed around the island. It’s never quiet in our house!

Many of the colors were here in the house when we moved in, but I painted a few rooms a little more neutral. But I am a big fan of color and saturation! I think the house needs some deep color to compliment the beautiful dark wood that has all been stripped back to original wood after being painted white at one point! It works here.

Any changes? Maybe picking this house up and moving it to the country with wide open spaces around it!

Q: How do you manage your collections? What are your favorite things to collect, and how do you decide when or if to cull?

A: My mom, aunts, and grandmother were big antique collectors, and I have inherited many of their pieces. I went to college in Virginia and found some neat stuff there to fill my little college house I shared with seven friends. Now, I love to scour flea markets and collectible sales!

Alameda Antique Fair is always a good bet, and last year we took a trip to Canton, Texas for First Monday Trade Days to fill a U-Haul for The Botanist. We found some really amazing stuff and the prices couldn’t be beat.

Right now my favorite collection is vintage kilim rugs. I have them in almost every room in the ranch cabin, and somehow still feel the need for more! I am not very good at cutting myself off from a collection; I like to repurpose and put the old ones someplace new to make room for new ones. Sometimes they even end up for sale at one of the businesses!

Q: What memories do you hope with all your heart that your girls take from this home and from their childhoods? What do you hope they remember specifically about the kind of mom you’re trying to be for them?

A: I hope they remember playing with each other, cementing those long-lasting, sisterly bonds outdoors and in the sunny windows of our home. We don’t have a working TV – it’s been too complicated to set up since we moved in, so we gave up and got used to it! – so they spend a lot of time creating games and forts or stirring up a ruckus with the neighbor girls, who also have four girls under the age of seven!

I only hope I can be half the mom to my girls that my mom was to me! The get-on-the-floor-to-play-board-games kinda mom. I hope technology hasn’t interfered too much so they remember me with an iPhone in my hand…but technology does allow me to work a lot and be a present mom during the day or when we travel, which I am very grateful for.

Q: What has been your favorite part of living with your own girls? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? What do you already miss as they get older?

A: Living with four girls, each with their own distinct and strong personality is a new adventure everyday! I love when they all crowd around me to tell me about their day or latest discovery. It’s chaos and crazy, but I know I will miss these days and try to savor them. We entertain a lot, but my favorite days are hanging out at home, just our family, sitting on the front porch while the girls run around in the yard.

I am most surprised about how much of myself I see in them, especially Francie, the eldest, and how she knows just how to push my buttons! You can’t get much past her and I see so much of myself in her. She reminds me to find some patience, and it takes a lot of mental work to best figure out how to discipline or encourage her…I guess the oldest is usually the guinea pig on this front anyway, and she’s very tolerant of it!

I already miss so much about having a squishy newborn and all those baby stages! Now that Tessa is a growing toddler, I am missing the baby phase and all that comes with it…well MOST of what comes with it! I think we are good for now with four, but maybe a surprise baby down the road wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

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

A: I wish someone had told me to slow down and soak it in. I am trying to remember that, but life is so busy and crazy that I know I will look back and think I should have been more present for these early years.

They are very special times and I try to be there as much as I can, but working and life sure do get in the way. When we can escape to the ranch, life is so different and a much slower pace. It really makes me look at our busy life at home and want to press pause!


Mary, I am the same way about about technology! I want my kids to remember me as present, but the fact is that I can be present more often with technology at my fingertips wherever I may be. Thank you for the tour; your home and life are dizzyingly delightful!

Friends, do any of you work with your partners, either in the same space, in the same business, or the same industry? How do you separate your personal relationship from your professional connection? Is that even possible? (For me, I consider it such a gift that I get the chance to work alongside Ben Blair on a daily basis. He is the very best partner-in-crime for me!)

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: Jessica Glorieux Mon, 21 Apr 2014 16:00:13 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

[ Note: House Tour are always, always posted on Tuesday. Except this time. It's an odd week at my house, which makes for an odd posting schedule. : ) ]

Imagine relocating from Brooklyn to Austin. The different paces of life and even language would shock even the best of us, right? But a drastic move was exactly what Jessica and her kids needed after a devastating loss. When she told me her story, I lost my words for more than a few moments, but when I found them again all I could think was “Jessica, you are brave, brave, brave.” And that didn’t even begin to cover it.

I know you’ll be inspired by Jessica’s hunt for happiness, and join me in hoping for an easier life for her in the sunshine days to come. Please, enjoy this tour. Welcome, Jessica!

Q: Please tell us all about your East Coast family living in the heart of Texas!

A: It’s been an adjustment for sure! The first couple weeks I was here, when I talked to people they would ask me to slow down! The driving thing has been rough, too, but we’ve adjusted nicely.

Most of the reason we picked Austin was that it’s pretty hip! They have a great recycling program, farmers markets, our lovely food coop Wheatsville, and we can even find a decent baguette!

I’m an active tennis loving, book reading, know-it-all with a propensity towards over-friendliness. After nine years in various marketing positions, I started my own business! I’m a ENTJ and – according to The Tipping Point – a connector. I really love putting people in touch with great products and services, so running an expectant parent expo and parents group have been perfect avenues for my personality.

Emilia Emanuele, my nearly five year old princess, only wears pink and purple, loves My Little Pony and Littlest Pet Shop, but has no issue with stripping down to play in a mud puddle at the drop of a hat. She’s insanely smart. Not much is lost on her, a trait she gets from her dad. She walked just before she turned nine months, and I’ll forever associate her with that fierce determination she had on her face as she got up and walked to me.

Lucien Michel wasn’t supposed to have a very French name at all but somehow does! Lulu, as we call him, is our little oddity. Despite being half-French, he doesn’t kiss anyone. He only licks people! But he’s so kind and sweet to his core. He loves anything with wheels.

Samson is our eight-month old shoe chewing, people-loving terrier mutt!

Q: You’ve recently relocated to Texas after a decade living in New York. What’s the greatest difference between your previous home and this one? What do you miss the most?

A: Brooklyn is so wonderful, but Austin is, too. I would say I miss friends, snow, and my local haunts and restaurants in NYC the most. I miss dropping off laundry and food delivery! But in terms of our literal home, I miss nothing. I don’t miss stairs with children and groceries and strollers. I don’t miss having to go to three different grocery stores to get what I need!

I live in Rosedale, an incredibly charming neighborhood in Central Austin. It’s near one of my favorite places on earth: Central Market. The neighborhood is wonderful mix of retirees and families, and we have two lending libraries on our street.

Q: Your move was precipitated by a tragic family event. Can you tell us a little about that?

A: Last April, my husband passed away. He was a gem of a man: kind, generous, big love, and big heart, but he also suffered from a personality disorder. He could swing from amazing to downright demonic and cruel. Living with someone who had borderline personality disorder was very hard. It’s incredibly hard to love someone so much and have that cause so much pain.

He adored and worshiped his children, but there was the a lot stress in his life and job and he created impossible ideals. He stopped being happy, he stopped talking to a therapist, and turned into a workaholic. I know at the end of the day, what Nicolas chose to do was for us. I know that may sound odd but in my heart I know he truly believed he was giving us a better life – a life that didn’t include him and his illness. I think he just couldn’t fight himself anymore and he was too scared to try.

Q: Was a major move part of the healing process?

A: Absolutely. I didn’t want to leave Brooklyn. We were part of this amazing birth cohort and community of parents in my neighborhood. I had been writing and starting two local businesses, and yet I kept waking up with this deep feeling that it was time for me to go. I fought it for awhile, but Austin kept coming up in my mind. Having gone to college here, I knew what a great city it was for families. I knew it had an international community, which is paramount, so I started real estate shopping. I figured if we were meant to live in Austin, we would find a great place to live.

And it was meant to be. I really needed Austin. I need the chill vibe, I needed to be able to commune with nature on a daily basis, get lost, be alone, and have some space to reflect on my decade in NYC. Boy, did I need and miss that huge open sky, too. The amazing year-round weather doesn’t hurt either. The kids go to an amazing school where they learn French and Spanish.

It was so hard to leave Brooklyn, but I feel now it was the best decision I could have made for all of us. I needed some space from everything I’d been through so I could understand it, heal, and parent my kids from a stronger place.

Q: What were your goals with this home, decor-wise and making it a lovely refuge for your loves?

A: I did want it to be a refuge: a calm and peaceful place for myself and for the kids. I’m always partial to modern, but it had to be playful and very kid-friendly. Plus it needed to be something that reflected the kids’ French heritage and their father and his favorite items, while paying respect to my favorite things like Mexican folklore…and especially respectful of where we are! Austin is really about funky personalized style, whatever might be in your heart. It has this rebel against the cookie cutter vibe going that I tried to capture with vintage pieces and unusual combinations. I had a lot why the heck not moments.

Like you, I bought this house sight unseen! I loved it online, and after a friend gave me the go-ahead, I made an offer. When I finally got to the house, I realized it needed a bit of work to achieve its full glory. We tore down the walls between the living rooms, took out the wood paneling, added crown molding, and a front deck. I can’t help but feel the space is perfection now. Sunny and bright all day, and there are lots of little areas to play in and plenty of stuff to do outside.

Q: Tell us about your career – do you work from home?

A: I do! I really love it. After years of doing events and blogging on the side, I took the leap and created the Brooklyn BabyFEST, which is an expectant parent expo in Brooklyn. I really loved learning everything about pregnancy and thought it’d be a great idea to have all sorts of information in one place with all the amazing people I’d met through doing Motherburg, a local parenting blog.

I was also in the process of starting a catch-all resource website for Brooklyn parents called WillyPoint Kids before Nico passed. WillyPoint Kids puts out a fabulously large daycare and preschool guide, summer camp guide, and birthday party guide so parents have everything they need at their fingertips. I was fortunate enough to find a wonderful woman to take that project on and run it while I sit back and do the administrative aspect. I’m also working on two other little projects in Austin, so my plate is very full these days!

At present I’m working on a summer adventure. We’re going to escape for a few weeks and head to one of my favorite places on earth: Fair Harbor, Fire Island and then over to France see grandparents. I’m trying to sneak in a weekend in Barcelona, so fingers crossed.

One thing I recently started doing is renting my house out while we’re away, and I was lucky enough to learn about Kid & Coe last year. Kid & Coe do kid friendly rentals all over the world, and I get to be the first Texas house on the site! So far, it’s been a really wonderful experience!

Q: How do you spend your days and how do you make it work as a single mom?

A: I don’t have a typical day other than I drop kids off by 8:30 on weekdays. I’ve been trying to have more of a schedule, but the truth is I’m having a lot of issues with handling everything on my plate. First it was handling all the administrative aspects of Nico’s passing. Then it was selling our house in Brooklyn. Then it was house renovations in Austin.

And there’s still mourning and healing in there. Days where you don’t want to do anything or want to take a nap and hide out. So I’m still learning and slowly getting back on my new single mom feet! It’s not without its challenges or 2:00 am worrying spells.

Q: What’s been the biggest comfort for you in the past year? What decision has helped you get through this time more than anything else?

A: I would say friends and family have been the most helpful in the past year. I listened to a lot of sad music, binged on TV through Netflix, read a lot of SARK and Anna Quinlan. It was really nice to get out of my head.

One thing that I really appreciated was friends bringing over food in the weeks following Nico’s passing. It was such a gentle gesture of caring without being in my space. It took that burden of feeding myself and the children off my shoulders. Other times, friends would come over and we’d split a bottle of wine. There were hugs and people letting me know if I needed anything, they’d be there. Most of the time I had no idea what I needed and wasn’t sure I needed anything at all, but there was comfort in knowing they were there.

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

A: I would say how they keep my eyes new and keep me on my toes! They say and do the weirdest, funniest, and most awesome things on a daily basis. I was surprised how much I like being a mother and how sobering it was. It felt like that moment the pee stick had double lines, my life was altered.

But man, I miss stroller naps! When my daughter was a baby, we were never home. We didn’t have to be! We had a Cadillac of a stroller and everything we could ever need inside!

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish I had known…

A: I wish I had known that it was okay to ask for help. I should have asked for more help.

I wish I had known it all starts with me. You see those momma ain’t happy memes – those are the truth. My worst parenting moments come when I’m not fulfilled or taking care of myself.

I wish I had relaxed more about everything. Seriously, people have been having babies for eternity. Deep breaths.

Mostly now I like to remind myself: Life is short and sweet and there’s so much magic. Look for and relish the magic.

And because I’ve been there, I have to make sure your family has life insurance.Please make sure your will is up-to-date. Sign up for free reminders and templates right here. It’s so important to take care of all that heavy stuff today. It’s peace of mind.


Jessica, I’ll say it again: You are brave, brave, brave. I’m so happy to have made your acquaintance. The way you’ve respected and continue to carry on your husband’s legacy is admirable. When you assign lovely attributes like intelligence and a strong will to your children, and tell them they’re like their dad in wonderful ways, it must heal them in so many ways. I will root for you always.

Friends, are you prepared for the unexpected? Have you done all the grown-up stuff, like make sure you’ve got up-to-date wills and documents? If you haven’t, does the very thought of it stress you out? And if you have, tell everyone how easy and reassuring it is! (Remember: If you’re ever visiting Austin, check out Jessica’s house to rent. We heard about Kid & Coe here first on Laura’s Living With Kids tour!)

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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]]> 15
Living With Kids: Katie Gnau Tue, 15 Apr 2014 16:00:58 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Wouldn’t it be neat to live in an arty loft? No walls to obstruct views, maybe some exposed ductwork and a few brick walls, with city lights twinkling all around. Oh, it seems to me like the design possibilities in one would be as endless as the ceiling height! But then reality sets in, and I wonder how I would divide space for six kids and one Ben Blair and also one me! It would have to be a pretty long loft, wouldn’t it?

Katie, however, is living the loft dream. What began as her husband’s super cool bachelor pad and spent many years being thought of as the wrong sort of house for the Gnau family, suddenly turned into the perfect home for one daughter and one Tony and also one Katie. Isn’t it funny how a simple change of mindset can make all the difference in how well you’re living? Friends, please join me in welcoming this loft-loving Chicago family!

Q: Please tell us all about your family!

A: Our family includes my husband Tony, our two year old daughter B, our two cats Maggie and Hermione, and countless dolls and stuffed animals.

Tony is an Emmy-award winning journalist and writer who runs our family business, T60 Productions. Lucky for B and I, he also uses his creative talent to document much of our personal life; our home videos are amazing! He’s athletic, creative, kind, successful, and good looking. I still feel like I hit the jackpot every time I remember I’m actually married to him.

B is often described as pragmatic. She’s an aspiring ballerina who loves the color pink. She loves to bury herself in a pile of books. She has the gift of gab, and can entertain herself all day long playing with dolls and stuffed animals.

I’m absolutely addicted to spending time with my family, and I have the hardest time leaving the house without them. I currently teach at the college level part time, and do the vast majority of my work while B sleeps so I don’t have to miss a thing. In the past, I’ve worked as a preschool teacher and a zoo educator. During B’s preschool years, I have plans for combining my professional interests with my family life through homeschooling. I’m counting down the days and getting excited about being both mom and teacher.

Q: How did you end up in this home?

A: The story of our home begins with a bachelor pad. My husband was living here when we met, and at the time, it was mostly a big empty box with a black leather recliner, a huge TV, and his home office.

When I moved in, we began adding and changing furniture and decor and, let’s say…softening the space a bit. We weren’t sure how long we’d stay, so we were somewhat committed to making it ours but didn’t want to spend any money. It never really felt like home to me during that time.

While pregnant with my daughter, I had a bit of a crisis about our home. We considered selling, we considered renting somewhere else, but we eventually brought my daughter home to the loft before even creating a nursery! Soon after her birth, my husband found office space a few blocks away and we eventually decorated a sweet room for her. In the meantime, we kept meeting with realtors about selling our place and looking at homes in our neighborhood in hopes the numbers would work and we could find something in our price range that was more family friendly. That didn’t happen, and we just kept staying put.

This past summer we came to a realization: our house is working! We love the neighborhood, it has plenty of space to meet our needs, and loft living offers some awesome advantages. Suddenly, I started comparing all of the other homes we looked at to our own loft, rather than to some abstract ideal house. After living here for over four years, it has finally started to feel like home to me. It’s the perfect home for our family.

We recently did some long overdue renovations to the bathroom and added a life-changing in-unit washer dryer. We’ve begun to make more small but meaningful changes, and we’ve started talking about longer term plans for the space that will allow this home to function even better for our family.

Q: Was your husband ever resistant about making changes to his bachelor pad?

A: Not at all! He’s been encouraging all along that we need to make the place ours and has been open to my ideas about how to do so. Although I’m still hearing about that black leather recliner. I guess those are really comfortable?

Q: What do you love about where you live?

A: We LOVE our neighborhood. The bars and restaurants attracted Tony to the neighborhood in his bachelor years, along with its proximity to Wrigley Field. When B joined our family, we realized that many of those late night hot spots also serve great food at 6:00 pm, and some even offer stroller valet to make it easier on neighborhood families!

There are a half-dozen playgrounds within walking distance, which means B can run around and I can chat with other adults anytime the weather allows. There are a multitude of school options public, private and parochial – it’s both overwhelming and exiting to think about where B might attend in a few years.

Our neighborhood overall is truly walkable. Throughout the week we walk to the grocery store, the fish market, the butcher, the bakery, the bank, the dry cleaner, etc. The employees at all of these places are quick to recognize B and to say hello. Although we’re in a big city, it’s truly a city of neighborhoods, and we feel very much a part of our little community.

When we decide to leave the neighborhood, it’s a short walk to the El or a bus stop, which then takes us to the zoo, countless museums, Millennium Park, concerts, sporting events, etc., etc., etc. in no time.

Q: Conversely, what do you wish could be a little different? What are the hard parts about living in a city with a toddler? Do you ever dream about giving her the traditional back garden, no traffic neighborhood life?

A: City living certainly has challenges at times. School, park district, and library programs often have wait lists. Story times are loud and crowded, and there’s sometimes a line to use the swings at the park. Condo living means we sometimes hear our neighbors (and they hear us).  My daughter has touched some very questionable things on the El. I get a gray hair each time she starts skipping or hopping near a busy street. But I’d choose it again despite all of this.

There are times when I consider what we’re missing out on, but ultimately I remember there’s a tradeoff. My sister can send her kids into the backyard while she’s cooking in her kitchen, but she misses out on the adult socialization that I enjoy so much while B and I are the playground. Nothing is perfect, but our family is thriving right where we are.

Q: How intentional are you in making sure each space in your home works for your entire family? Any house rules or areas specifically set up for a certain activity?

A: Our home is only four rooms, and they’re all open to each other. We all need to be respectful about keeping things neat and sharing space and materials.  B has, so far, just followed our lead on this so there’s been no need for official rules for her. We clean up throughout the day, and after dinner the whole family cleans up any messes that have accumulated. It’s routine at this point.

I can’t think of a single space in our home that isn’t asked to multi-task!  Although we don’t have a ton of square footage, volume abides and we’ve found that very practical. The increased storage needs and child proofing that have come with adding B to our family are often solved by looking up. This really helps the spaces in our home to work for a variety of different purposes.

Tony and I do adhere to one big rule: don’t wake the baby! Our home is a loft and all of the rooms are at least partially open, so light and sound travel freely throughout. Tony and I keep things quiet and dark while B is sleeping. This means using task lighting to read and work, headphones to watch TV or movies, and meeting friends out rather than hosting them in our home in the evenings.

Before living in this house with B I would have said it’s important to teach children to sleep through the noise of normal life. That just isn’t realistic in this home with this child. The current version of myself is happy to tiptoe around after 8:00 pm so I can have a well-rested child…and I’m obviously rolling my eyes at my former, childless self!

Q: When does your home work best?

A: Much to our surprise, we’ve found that (in the daytime, anyway) a loft space works great for family living. As we go about our day-to-day life, we can’t help but spend time as a family. A typical morning might find me grading papers at the desk in our bedroom, while Tony cooks a big batch of gravy using his Italian grandmother’s recipe, and B floats between helping him, checking on me, and mixing things up in her play kitchen. We can all hear and see each other and chit chat easily or do our own thing with awareness of what the others are up to.

We also love hosting play dates and brunches with friends. The openness of our space means we can host a crowd even without a ton of square footage. Parents can gather in the kitchen or around the dining room table while the kiddos take over the living room area and everyone can interact freely.

Q: What memories do you hope with all your heart that your daughter takes from this home and from her childhood? What do you hope she remembers specifically about the kind of mom you’re trying to be for her?

A: I hope B sees herself as an integral part of our home life and our daily family routine. We don’t have dedicated kid spaces or adult spaces, so B is as enmeshed in the space as we are. I see our small, open home as an asset; Tony and I genuinely like being with B, and this home allows us to do that easily and often. I hope she realizes that Tony and I genuinely enjoy her company and that we’re genuinely happy to share this space – and our lives – with her. I guess it follows that I hope I’m the kind of mom who is intimately involved in my child’s life, and who shares my life with my family openly.

Q: What has been your favorite part of living with your own daughter? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? What do you already miss as she gets older?

A: I honestly just love everything about living with B! Her personality is a mix of Tony and I, with pieces that are completely different from either of us. She can be demanding (she gets that from me) but always strives for politeness (she gets that from Tony), and does it all with a baby doll under her arm and wearing a tutu. It’s fascinating to watch how she approaches the world.

I like all the baking and cooking that happens in our kitchen now that B is part of the family. Suddenly, making biscuits from scratch while homemade soup simmers on the stove feels like both a fun activity and a healthy example for our daughter instead of an indulgence or a chore.

I also really like the way having B around has slowed the pace of our life and forced us to focus on what’s really important. Completing a long list of home improvement projects in a single weekend is impossible with the help of a two year old!

I already miss all the time we get to spend together just going about our day. I’m not sure how I’ll deal with the quiet hours once she starts elementary school, and I can’t even think beyond that or I’ll tear up.

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

A: Photos and videos, even thousands of photos and videos, can’t preserve all those tiny little moments, the mannerisms, the smells, or the way your child feels when you hold her. It doesn’t stop me from trying to capture each moment, and hoping that maybe it will somehow slow the growing and changing.

I just hope my memory is strong enough to hold everything that the camera hasn’t been able to capture.


Katie, one of the loveliest things parents can tell their children is this: “Tony and I genuinely enjoy her company and that we’re genuinely happy to share this space – and our lives – with her.” Even better is when your home clearly illustrates that point no matter where you look. Well done!

Friends, could you ever live the loft life? It’s tempting, isn’t it? For those of you who are raising your family in a somewhat unconditional family home, I’d love to hear from you!

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: Kathryn Humphreys Tue, 08 Apr 2014 17:30:48 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

You’re going to giggle here and there throughout this tour, especially when Kathryn describes her family’s home, pre-remodel. She’s got a great sense of humor, a trait that carries over throughout her home design. On top of that, her authenticity is refreshing. If you’re already participating in her Instagram project called #myrealhouse, you knew this already!

Would you like one more reason to adore Kathryn? Okay, then. Just look at her kitchen, which looks like the absolute sparkliest place to make meals, doesn’t it? I thought so, too. Friends, please enjoy this lovely, lovely Chicago home!

Q: Please tell us about you and yours.

A: By day I’m the Director of Youth, Education & Community Programs for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. In the evening I move furniture around and plot home improvement projects. My husband and I have been married for 14 years and have two children: a daughter, age 11, and a son, age seven.

Emm is in traditional public middle school, and we home school Roan. They are both constantly creating new projects; Emm usually by writing, sewing, felting, and painting. Roan is a little engineer, building new robots all the time. He’s promised a house cleaning robot someday. I imagine by then my house will look much like the one in Wallace and Grommit. Neither of them ever uses materials or toys as expected, so it’s always interesting to see what they’ve decided to do with things they find in the house. They’re going downstairs right now with a sheet of aluminum foil, plastic baggies, and sunglasses…

Q: How did this house become your home? Was it love at first sight?

A: Did we love it at first sight? No. I actually ran out of our house the first time we saw it, or at least ran out of the upstairs. It was weird and creepy and run down. And, as it turns out, affordable and the only home in our price range that was structurally sound. So we bought it, naively thinking we could live with the ugly and slowly renovate. Turns out, living with ugly makes both of us cranky, but we managed.

When we bought the house every interior surface was covered in deep stucco texture. The stucco texture had glitter in it. It had been sprayed on all the walls, the trim, the outlets – everywhere. Any surface that had not received this treatment had been painted a deep rose pink. My daughter, who was 18 months old at the time, loved it. I did not. There were also some fancy chandeliers and exotic mirrored bifold doors scattered around to add to the atmosphere. Oh, and a hot tub. In the middle of the basement.

The only way to remove the texture was to knock down the old plaster walls, which were crumbling anyway. While we were gutting things, we also decided to get rid of the kitchen. It was tiny – about 6’ x 6’ with the fridge in the adjoining finished porch – and nothing in it worked. So we knocked out the wall between the porch and kitchen, had someone from Craigslist put in a header, leveled the floor, knocked the plaster and lathe off all the walls, and put up new drywall. By ourselves. With two full time jobs, a teeny budget, an 18 month old, and no idea what we were doing. That was dumb. But it worked.

Later on we removed the layers of asphalt and concrete that covered the entire backyard, and created a garden, removed the fake rock façade, insulated and covered the crumbling Pepto Pink stucco, reworked the attic space slightly to accommodate three bedrooms, and cleared the hot tub and bar from the basement to create a playroom and maker space. Both the attic and the basement have low ceilings, but ignoring that and thinking of how we could use the space anyway has made the house much more livable. There are only two very small bedrooms, the living room, and the kitchen downstairs; it would be quite crowded if we hadn’t found a way to use the space we had on hand.

We’ve had to do some hiring since to fix what we didn’t know or didn’t pay enough for to get quality, but overall, while I would never do it again knowing what we know now, that energy and naïveté got us where we are now. We’ve been here ten years and it took us six to get phase one of the house basics finished. We’ve been finishing the more decorative details (trim, paint, etc.) since then. There are still several spots that are unfinished, mostly because we want to make larger changes eventually, so we’re not investing a lot of money in making them perfect right now. They’ll have to wait a bit, because we have to fix the unsexy things next, like a new roof and furnace. And the 70” of snow we’ve had this winter has made me quite determined to figure out how to finally build a garage.

Q: What makes you love where you live?

A: Our community is a fabulous place to raise a family. There are kids everywhere here. We both grew up elsewhere in places that didn’t have the same sense of community, and really enjoy the fact that we know all our neighbors, have great schools (even if we’re not using them), and are so close to a major city. We’re ten minutes from downtown Chicago and all that it has to offer. Our kids think going to world-class museums, zoos, and performances is just what you do; they have no idea how lucky we are to have all these resources. There are so many great parks within walking distance and the Lake Michigan beaches are beautiful. It’s a lovely place to live.

So despite the fact that housing prices are challenging, we’re too far from family, and we’d like a larger yard, right now we’re very happy here.

Q: Tell us about the challenges of your older home, and the best ways you’ve solved them.

A: I like to think our home was built by drunken squirrels, but in truth it’s probably the result of years of DIY folks owning the place. We’re doing our best to correct crazy wiring, a complete lack of level and square, and too many random oddities to name. There’s no requirement in our Village that a home be brought up to code before it’s sold, so I’m quite sure ours never has been. So, slowly, with each project, we correct what we can.

There are some things, like the 10” of concrete we found under that bathroom that holds pipes running up instead of down, that are extremely challenging. Others, like the complete lack of closets, are an easier fix. We now know that everything will take longer and cost more than we originally thought, and that at some point in the project I will totally lose my mind and threaten to move out. And then it will all come together.

Q: If you could do it all over again, would you choose an older home or go more modern? 

A: I wouldn’t mind having an older home that had been more taken care of, but I think my husband is much more interested in just building our own and knowing exactly what went into everything. We certainly are much more knowledgeable about what to look for if we did buy an older home.

Q: Tell us about your Instagram theme of showing the real moments around your home. What has been the response? Why do you think a true look is important?

A: The #myrealhouse project gathered a lot of interest when it was announced, but I think ultimately people find the idea intimidating. It’s hard to put everything out there and even more difficult to find beauty in what we often consider mess.

I created the project for two reasons. First, because I think there is a perception that the photographs I (and any other blog) show are how a home looks all the time, which we all know isn’t true. And secondly, I was finding myself irritated when my home didn’t look good…when it looked like we lived there! I wanted to find a way to document and find beauty in this phase of our life; the one where there are Legos everywhere and art projects taking up the dining table and laundry on the floor. It’s a way for me to see my home in new ways. And while I hope others participate, because it’s nice to feel community, I’m really just publicly documenting our memories.

Q: When does your home work best?

A: How our home works best completely depends on the day. We’ve tried to create communal spaces with zones we can escape to as needed, which feeds my need for organization. Some days having created that school room makes everything easier. On others, having a large basement play area means that the kids can be loud and crazy while we cook or entertain with everyone having enough space. And some days nothing seems to work and we’re all on top of each other.

I like that we don’t have a lot of doors or walls, most of the time. It creates a sense of togetherness.

Q: What traditions do you hope your kids remember from this home? What do you hope they remember about their time with you?

A: I’m horrible with traditions, although I try. I hope they remember smashing gingerbread houses in the backyard for boxing day. I hope they remember reading together. I hope they remember how much they played. I hope they remember how we encouraged creativity (even though just yesterday Emm told me I ruin all her best ideas after I think I told her we didn’t have enough duct tape on hand for a project), and that they were given space and time to find themselves.

We purposely don’t fill their time with structured activities, giving them as much time as possible for independent play. We’re entering a new stage with our oldest, though, so we’ll see where that takes us.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? How is motherhood different than what you once imagined it would be? What do you already miss about this time in your family’s life?

A: I love seeing their personalities and interests develop. They are so very much themselves, in ways that I have to remember to make space for because they bring things that never would occur to me.

Motherhood…well…I have two special needs children, each in different ways: one relatively high functioning on the spectrum, and one who is gifted. No one predicts that, and it has changed me profoundly. I loathe conflict, but have learned to actively advocate for my children.

I think before children, we all have a tendency to judge others’ parenting, and even after, as well. When we meet other parents, there is that tendency to see how your child compares to peers. Being the parent whose child has unpredictable, uncontrollable public meltdowns has been humbling. Having a child who is both ahead of and behind his peers in ways no one understands is educational. Knowing my children are on their own path makes it both easier and more difficult when looking at their peers. Setting ourselves outside the system by homeschooling creates both opportunities and challenges. Learning with them how to navigate each of their gifts and challenges, watching my eldest’s amazing confidence and bravery grow as she deals with hers, brings me to tears. Knowing that while they stand out sometimes now, as adults they will be interesting and quirky and so very much themselves. Qualities that are challenging to parent – strong will, independent thinking, and sensitivity – are all qualities that create amazing adults.

I will miss our togetherness as they inevitably grow into themselves. I will miss the constant projects. I will miss the chaos, maybe. But I know it will all be replaced with something equally amazing, and possibly more peaceful.

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

A: That it will be okay. That they will be okay. Better than okay, they’re going to be amazing. And isn’t that what every parent wants to know?

It wasn’t something anyone could really tell us for a long time, or at least tell us in a way that made sense. It might actually all work out. We’ve made some unconventional decisions for our children – “weird” private school, home school, low activities, therapies, etc. – and we, of course, questioned every decision. Still do. So far, though, listening to the idea that we know these children and what they need seems to be working out. Progress is being made. Progress we couldn’t have dreamed up even two years ago.


Kathryn, thank you so much for your honesty about your parenting challenges. It’s amazing how our children and all they come with have the ability to impact us and change us completely…but always for the better. And then this: “Knowing that while they stand out sometimes now, as adults they will be interesting and quirky and so very much themselves. Qualities that are challenging to parent – strong will, independent thinking, and sensitivity – are all qualities that create amazing adults.” True, true, true. I loved walking through your life and home.

Friends, have you ever been guilty of that whole judging other parents scenario? What opened your eyes and showed you how we’re all in this together, erasing your judgement once and for all? (I remember seeing a mom with a toddler and baby in the doctor’s office, and the baby was wearing only a diaper. Inside, I remember thinking “Oh, goodness. I don’t think I’d ever bring my baby out without clothes!” And then I overheard her telling the receptionist that the baby had just gone through two outfits on the drive to the office. I immediately felt awful for even judging her a little! She was so together that she had an extra change of clothes, something that I’ve forgotten to pack along a million times! Ha!)

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: Susanne van der Lee Tue, 01 Apr 2014 14:30:06 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I think living with kids in Holland would be pretty wonderful. Traffic exams for children to make sure they’re safe bicycle riders, tulips on every table, a generous parental leave, and “Come on, Mom! Van Gogh, again?” Yes, I would say that Susanne van der Lee and her family are living very well together, and smiling a lot along the way. Just one look at their home shows us the family’s style: equal parts humor and good design.

Friends, please help me welcome the van der Lee family, all the way from Holland!

Q: Tell us all about this family living in Holland!

A: Hello everyone! My name is Susanne, and I am an interior designer (or interieurarchitect in Dutch). We live in Holland, in Nieuw-Vennep, a town in the middle of the Randstad, which is basically one big metropolitan area connecting Amsterdam, Haarlem, The Hague, and Rotterdam.

I am married to Hans, who has his own business as a creative writer, journalist, and interim publisher. Let’s just say he is good with words.

We have two sons: Ard, age 10, and Joost, who is seven. Ard plays field hockey and is the dreamer of the two, and Joost is crazy about soccer and playing outside, climbing trees, and much more of a wild child. They both love swimming, as well.

I work outside the home at a design studio in Zaandam four days a week, and my husband works partly from home and partly from an office.

Q: How did this house become yours?

A: When I met Hans, I lived in Rotterdam and was working in Amsterdam, and he was living and working in The Hague. We decided to move in together in my tiny studio apartment in Rotterdam and commute to our jobs. This worked well: we could work late when necessary, we would meet after work in the city to go to the theatre, or meet friends at a restaurant. Ah yes…Living Without Kids!

But after a while, I got pregnant – happy surprise! – and we wanted to buy a house closer to our jobs. Hans worked in Amsterdam as well by then, so that seemed the place to be for us. The problem with Amsterdam is that it is quite expensive (read: impossible) to buy a house that is big enough for a growing family and maybe have a garden and a parking space, etc.

Yes, we had quite a wish list! So, we decided to look for a house in Haarlem. One day we rented bikes there and rode around the town to see where the nice areas were. Well, buying a house with a garden in Haarlem proved to be impossible with our budget, too. We had just made the currency switch from Guilders to the Euro at that time, and all the prices seemed to have doubled!

After this humbling experience, we expanded our search area. By now I was six months into my pregnancy! We finally found a nice family home within our budget, with four bedrooms, a garden, and a school at the end of the street. Not our dream house, but it proved a perfect place for raising kids.

So, we were moving house two weeks after the birth of our first son, and I will say this: Don’t do that if not absolutely necessary! Fortunately we had a lot of help with painting walls and putting up shelves and stuff.

Q: What makes you love where you live?

A: Well, I love that we live in a safe village, where we can send our oldest son to field hockey practice on his bike with no real worries. They make the kids take traffic exams on their bikes here. Our house is very close to school so I can walk them, and on some days my oldest son can walk or bike home from school by himself.

I work outside the home for four days a week. Part-time jobs are common here, and usually there are no problems with the employer. I also took up something called parental leave, which means in certain situations a parent can take a leave of absence from their job if they have children under the age of eight. In my case, it means having two extra days off per month until the end of the year to take care of our family.

What I like about the area is that we live close to cities like Amsterdam, Haarlem, and The Hague, which are all great for visiting museums, going to restaurants, and shopping, but also we live close to the beach, where we go a lot in all seasons. And of course, in Spring we can enjoy all the flowers here in the Bollenstreek, which everyone knows as the tulip bulb area.

Other destinations are relatively close as well. We decided on a whim last December to drive to Paris the weekend before Christmas. There was a perfect spot in our agenda, so on Wednesday night we booked a family room close to the Jardin du Luxembourg. That Friday we had the day off from work, picked up the kids from school at 12.30, packed sandwiches and snacks, and drove off!

I found driving in Paris nerve-wrecking, but Hans was a cool customer and we made it to the parking garage without a scratch! We explored Paris with the kids, with all the Christmas decorations and lights. It was a magical time, and the boys loved it! You can fly there in an hour from here of course, but that requires another budget…

Also, living in Holland is rather comfortable for English-speaking people, because most Dutch people speak English, as is the case in most Northern European/Scandinavian countries.

Q: Your home definitely has a sense of humor. What are your favorite ways to let your playful side come out in your decor? How involved are the boys in creating their space?

A: I love designs and art and colour combinations that surprise you and put a smile on your face. The kids have a say in the choice of colour and furniture, and Joost is also really thinking about where to put what and what would work best.

Ard is not really interested in those kind of things. When I asked him what colour he would like on his bedroom walls, he shrugged and said, “Oh, I don’t know…maybe yellow.”

But Joost really loves helping out painting his room, picking colours at the home store, and helping with DIY stuff. Funny how different they all are.

Q: You work outside the home. Can you describe your job and what it adds to your life as a mom?

A: I work as an interior designer. Mostly I design office spaces and work environments, but also sometimes restaurants and school interiors.

I advise companies about how to implement the economic and sociological developments that are transforming the way people work and live: the mix of office and home, new technologies, and mobile information that makes for flexible work hours. The combination of all those things requires a new kind of workspace. More meeting place, less office.

How that affects me as a mom, I can’t really say. I do know that work, school, and fun are really mixed up in our home in a good way, I think. Other than that, I have a certain style/signature as a designer and that style is definitely reflected in our home. But I do not make big decisions on my own.

Q: How do you balance work and home life? Do you have any electronics rules at home? How do you stay connected to each other?

A: Balancing home life and work is different every week. Hans works at home on Mondays and Fridays, so he can be there for the kids after school is out to take them to hockey practice and swimming lessons. I am home on Wednesdays and also some Fridays, so I can be there for school stuff and soccer practice. In all, we are around pretty much. The other days, they go to an after-school childcare center.

With all the laptops and smartphones, it also means we answer some e-mails and take some phone calls from colleagues during our days off. I have no problems with that. I am strict about television and gameboys on school days: Never TV before school, and an hour maximum at night on school days only after homework.

Weekends are mostly purely family and we do lots of different stuff. On Saturday morning there are field hockey and soccer games. Hans coaches Ard’s team. Sometimes we go to the Amsterdam Zoo where we have membership cards, some days I drag the kids to see Van Gogh’s paintings to try to expose them to culture (ha ha), or we stay at home on Sundays in our sweatpants and play games, listen to music and, yes, the kids play on their iPad or Wii.

Q: When does your home work best? What does it still need to be absolutely perfect?

A: For me, my home works best on Saturday late afternoons, when all the grocery shopping is done, field hockey and soccer matches are played, and there is time to relax with a board game. Joost is crazy about Monopoly right now. We enjoy listening to music, having friends over with their kids, eating homemade snacks, and having a glass of wine…it’s what we call borrelen here in Holland.

To make the house perfect, I would love to have a playroom for the kids to goof around in with a swing and lots of cushions, all their Lego and Playmobil. And of course a TV for movies and Wii. But for now, the living room will have to do. They still want to be around the grown-ups!

Q: What traditions have you made in this home? What do you hope your boys will remember most about their childhood…and most about you?

A: I am a strong believer in making new traditions as a family. Mostly they are simple rituals, but for children that’s really okay.

On birthdays, the family member whose birthday it is gets breakfast in bed and may choose what we have for dinner. There is no skipping that!

We also have a strong tradition with breakfast at Christmas. (Presents are given at Saint-Nicholas, December 5th.) It’s really my mother’s parents’ family tradition. As long as I can remember, we eat a special dish at breakfast – kind of a Christmas roast – and without it, it’s just not Christmas. Everyone that is introduced into our family has to try it, but eventually they grow to love it just as much and look forward to it. We used to eat it at Opa and Oma’s house. Sadly, my parents passed away a few years back, so now I am the one who keeps the tradition alive. I love doing that.

I remember my childhood as a happy and loving time, with endless summers, camping trips in France, playing outside with my friends, and ice skating in winter. Life without a care in the world is what I hope to give my children, as well.

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

A: My favourite part of living with my kids is that they amaze and surprise me every day with things they make, things they say, or things they ask! I love that.

What surprises me is that you also are crisis manager, police officer, catering person, party planner, half nurse, cleaning lady, friend, and wife all in one day! Talk about multitasking!

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

A: Well, it has been said before and 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!

But really, these things were told to me by my mom and dad, brothers, friends, you name it, about being a mom and having kids, and now I wish sometimes I listened more carefully. But that’s just it…you just have to find out for yourself and experience it.


Susanne, you really brightened up the day with your home. Designing a space where you’re able to live well together is hard enough, but you’ve managed to do so while adding hefty doses of humor and happiness. Thank you for showing us around!

Friends, weren’t you inspired by Susanne’s last-minute Christmas trip to Paris? No matter where you live, there’s probably somewhere super interesting and unique within driving distance. If you feel like playing the wanderlust game, tell us all where you’d drive on a last-minute trip. Maybe for Spring Break?

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: Michelle Turchini Tue, 25 Mar 2014 16:00:44 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

As Michelle describes it, she’s been living a semi-permanent life for the past eight years. Since she and her husband have added three daughters – four year old twins and a two-and-a-half year old – they’ve moved country three times to Hong Kong, Australia, and California, moved house five times, and completely remodeled their new home that we’re touring today. Whew!

Luckily, it looks like Michelle and her family have finally found home. And oh my…it’s a gorgeous spot. Please enjoy the beauty, Friends!

Q: Let’s meet your sweet family!

A: There’s my husband and I, who met as design students 16 years ago in Sydney, and our three little girls, twins aged four, and their little sister who’s two-and-a-half. That’s right: we went from a happy couple to a family of five in 18 months!

I’m a freelance creative director, blogger, and full-time mom (no URL for this one!). My husband also works in the design industry, which is great as we have a lot of shared interests, and not so great as it means we have to display his vintage appliance collection around the house.

Q: How did this house become yours?

A: Over the last eight years we have lived a semi-permanent life, following jobs in Hong Kong, Australia, and now San Francisco, which is both thrilling and unsettling. My heart gets confused as to where ‘home’ really is.

When we relocated to San Francisco we were both itching to create a real home and buy some furniture. We saw this house three times, each time with an emphatic ‘No,’ and possibly some folded arms, eye rolling, and huffing from me, as it needed a lot of work. With a new job for my husband and three kids under age of two crawling around our feet, a big remodeling job just didn’t sound like something we could take on.

But after living in temporary accommodation for eight months we just wanted to settle in, so we decided it would be worth it to make this house truly ours. The house had great bones, was perfectly located and really, as weird as it sounds, we do love renovating. However, living upstairs with three babies with major work going on downstairs is not something I’d recommend unless you really, really love renovating!

Q: What are the things that make you love where you live?

A: I feel like I landed in the most delightfully perfect suburban setting. We often joke that we live on the set of The Wonder Years. It’s sunny nearly every day, we can walk or bike to everything we need and more, there are lots of parks and open spaces, and there’s even a tiny farm with a cow and behind our house. Yet we’re 25 minutes from San Francisco. But the best parts of my neighborhood are my neighbors. I am constantly amazed at how welcoming and friendly people are.

Q: Tell us about the other places you lived and what you loved about each of them in terms of how kid-friendly they were.

A: For five years we lived in a small apartment on the 67 floor near Hong Kong Harbor. That’s pretty high up! I still miss the energy and excitement of living right in the middle of the city, and there’s no other place in the world quite like it. Whilst Hong Kong high-rises don’t exactly conjure ideas of kid-friendly spaces, in fact, it felt like kids are very welcome everywhere. It’s very normal to see a large family eating lunch and hanging out in a restaurant, with babies sleeping and toddlers playing. However, it was very hard getting a double stroller down the crowded street! I always needed someone else to come with me so we could carry the twins in Baby Bjorns.

Australia has these amazing designated wide parking spaces for parents with strollers; it’s a little thing, but so thoughtful, practical, and much safer. Yes, Australia has a lot of beautiful scenery, great lifestyle, and wonderful people, but the parking spaces! Man, I miss those!

Q: You completely remodeled since moving in your home. Tell us about that. How did you settle on decor and colors and materials during your remodel? What were your inspirations, and how did you narrow all the options down?

A: After living in small apartments where I stuck to neutral colour schemes to try and make spaces seem larger, I knew I wanted a colourful house that seemed bright, happy, and fun. I also knew I wanted to use white as my background colour, so we have a white kitchen and a white sofa, white walls, etc. I know people think white is impractical with kids but I’m so glad I didn’t listen. Instead I have been careful with my material choices. There’s not much that can’t be wiped down, so it’s actually all very kid friendly.

I think it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed by choices when remodeling and decorating. I like to form a strong vision in my head and then measure every choice against that. Does this fit into the ultimate vision? If the answer isn’t an absolute yes, then it’s not right.

My husband is also big on building prototypes. He’ll make a cardboard dining table or masking-tape light fixture to see the dimensions in the space. Once we had taped up an aluminum foil mock-up of a mirror we were thinking of purchasing, and friends came over and assumed it was an art piece…uh-huh!

Q: Three girls in three countries in three years! Can you tell us about your experience with other countries’ pre-natal and delivery practices?

A: I am a major fan of mangoes, and during the years we lived in Hong Kong I made it my mission to eat as many mangoes as I could, just because I could! But according to traditional Chinese medicine, mangoes are a bit ‘heaty’ so pregnant women shouldn’t eat them. After giving up soft cheeses, deli meats, wine, salads, seafood, blah, blah, blah on the endless list, there was no way I was going to ditch my mango habit. I would sit at my desk at work and try to look as inconspicuous as a very tall, massively pregnant western woman in a room full of petite, slender Chinese people could possibly look, and surreptitiously slurp mango spears. My work colleagues must have thought I was so weird.

We were in Australia when I found out I was pregnant with my third, and we thought we were moving to San Francisco within a few months so the baby would be born in the USA. In Sydney you need to book your place in hospital as soon as you’re pregnant to ensure there’s space for you when the time comes. I didn’t make a booking, and then our move to the USA was pushed back, and I had a huge FREAK OUT over the thought of not being able to go to any hospital nearby and having a baby on the sidewalk outside. Possibly in the Parents with Prams parking space.

I find basic organization of paperwork both tedious and stressful at most times, but getting all the paperwork in place for citizenship, passports, visas, vaccinations, finding new doctors, and learning new healthcare and insurance systems was very time consuming and overwhelming. I don’t know how parents who move internationally often manage to do it. Not many people are impressed by other’s knowledge of bureaucracy, but I am! There’s a special place in my heart for people who go on forums and share what they know.

Q: When does your home work best?

A: Without a doubt the room that gets the most use is our open kitchen/living room. It has three skylights, windows on all walls, and is always a lovely light-filled space, plus it opens out to our sunny backyard. Although I had originally planned to have a separate office, instead I have a built-in desk for my computer so I can work and watch the girls play.

There are also no fewer than five different dining spaces, which should give you an indication of what we like to do the most: cook and eat! We have a lot of houseguests, so our home is often full of people, and there’s nothing we love more than hosting an impromptu dinner for friends.

I also love our big open rooms. For parties it’s so fun to move the furniture around to create a giant dining area, or make new play spaces for kids, or clustering all the armchairs around the TV and trying to get our American friends to watch Australian Rules Football. They love it when we do that…I think.

Q: What memories do you hope with all your heart that your girls take from this home and from their childhoods? What do you hope they remember specifically about the kind of mom you’re trying to be for them?

A: Being a mom has made me realize how much of my parenting mimics my own childhood, and that I’m using the skills I learnt from my mother, that she learnt from her mother, who learnt from her mother and all the mothers that came before. And so, I would be hugely flattered if at some point in their grown-up lives my children rolled their eyes, groaned, and complained that they were turning into me!

Q: What has been your favorite part of living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? What do you already miss as they get older?

A: I love the cuddles and kisses, I hope they never dry up. I love it when they climb onto my lap. I love the chubby thighs and round bellies. I miss rocking a baby to sleep in the peace of the early morning when it feels like we’re the only people awake. I love being able to make things better with a kiss. I also love it when they can remember where they put their other shoe.

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

A: That when you’re a mother, you suddenly have a camaraderie with other mothers. I feel like being a mum has suddenly gained me access to an insiders’ club. I can talk to any woman of any age who has a child, and know that she too feels that depth of emotion, and that is enough of a shared bond to put us on the same team.

There should be some kind of super-hero League of Moms, innocuous in their mom-jeans and mini-vans by day, and pulling out some fierce lioness skills by night. They would be a force to be reckoned with!

Also, Mother’s Day has changed from a stupid commercialized day that I didn’t really pay much attention to, to suddenly being a profoundly moving day. Actually, I find many things suddenly profoundly moving…there are tears during ads for fabric softener! It doesn’t take much!


Michelle, you are so right: adding kids to the mix makes everything a little more profound and tear-worthy. Who doesn’t cry during the P&G Olympic commercials? Thank you so much for escorting us gorgeously around your home.

Friends, there are some pretty inspiring and rather daring color ideas in Michelle’s home, but it all looks subtle and quiet amid the strength of the white backdrop. Which color or which room is tempting you to the paint store? Mine might very well be the master bedroom blue with those vibrant pops of red. Or maybe the inky dining room. Or maybe…

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: Laura George Tue, 18 Mar 2014 13:00:42 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

More than a few of Laura’s photos sent for inclusion in her tour had the word sun in the name. Those three little letters made me like her so much. I guess people looking for the bright side have always been my favorites.

There’s so much sunshine in this tour, Friends. From the very first description of her kids to how she describes her home to her final answer about the way our children honestly see us, it’s all real and refreshing. (Neville sounds like a hoot!) Please enjoy it!

Q: Introduce us to your sweet family!

A: The seven of us are my husband Cylon, myself, and our five kids: Taye, Arri, Micah, Neville, and Imogen. I work part-time as a night nurse at a local hospital, and the rest of the time I am home, caring for and teaching our kids. My husband, Cylon, is a college chaplain and music minister. We met at the wedding of mutual friends and got married two months later, and have never looked back!

Taye, an active 11-year-old, enjoys cooking and is an old soul. Arrietty is seven. She likes to be in charge, and she has a rich, throaty voice. We often hear her singing Broadway-style about what’s going on in her life. Micah is five. She is kind and caring, and a willing helper. She has a great eye for color. Neville, our two and a half year old, has been a little out of sorts since the day he was born, but as he grows, his quirky sense of humor is coming out, and he is a gentle big brother to our youngest, Imogen, who will be a year old this April. She is an easy, happy baby who only complains under the most difficult circumstances.

Q: How did this house become yours?

A: This was first home we saw together as a family when we started house hunting. The photos in the listing looked promising, but there were none of the exterior, and when we went to see it, we saw why. The original cedar shakes were peeling and rotten and it was a real eyesore. But walking inside was like coming home. The layout of the house is almost identical to the one I grew up in, the closets are enormous, and it had beautiful wood floors.

The house is only a couple of miles from downtown, but the backyard is huge for a city lot. When we asked about putting an offer in, the agent suddenly said there were two other buyers who also had offers in as well. The house had been on the market for months, so I think they created an artificial bidding war to get a better price. At the time, we were inexperienced first-time home buyers and caught up in the emotion of it, and we probably offered more than we should have. We put the offer in on a Friday and had to wait until Monday to find out if it had been accepted. It was one of the longest weekends of our lives!

Q: What are the things that make you love where you live?

A: In a small city like Albany, we get to enjoy the benefits of city living – parks, libraries, convenient amenities, and great takeout – but we’re also just 20 minutes away from apple and strawberry picking and close enough for day trips to Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York City, or Vermont. There are a number of bike paths nearby, and great places to camp. Albany is really rich in history; it’s been around since the 1600s. I love taking the kids for walks just to look at the houses.

Q: With five kids in 1900 square feet while homeschooling, your house has to work for you, doesn’t it? Tell us your tricks to finding space when you need it.

A: An open floor plan works well for a lot of families, but I really like our rabbit warren! The many little rooms allow us to give specific jobs to the rooms, like having a dedicated schoolroom. It also allows us to get away from each other when we need to.

Our dining room is probably the most-used room in our home. Since we don’t have an eat-in kitchen, we have all our meals at the dining room table, which is where I do my sewing projects, and we also congregate there for schoolwork at times.

Using our generous closet space means keeping out only clothes and toys that are fitting just right and are age-appropriate. Anything that isn’t working gets donated or stored away until someone else needs it.

My best trick for finding space is trash day! Because we live in an urban area, anything of value left at the curb on trash day is gone long before the garbage truck comes by the next morning.

Q: Tell us more about working part-time and homeschooling. How do you balance all that and a one year old?

A: There are days when I feel like I’m Super Mom, and we can get schoolwork done and have a home cooked meal and read before bed. Other days, we are working on school until 6 p.m., and we have pancakes or Chinese takeout for dinner!

Having a daily afternoon quiet time for everyone, including the big kids, gives us all a break. For an hour and forty minutes (if the babies cooperate), I can sit and read, eat my lunch, or watch a BBC historical drama. When that works out, it’s a great chance to recharge for the rest of the day.

It took several years of tinkering with my work schedule to get to a place where I didn’t always feel like I was being run ragged both at home and at work. When I found out we were pregnant with number five, I actually handed in my letter of resignation after asking a number of times in the past for a schedule that worked better for our family. When they realized I was serious about quitting, my boss called and offered me what I had been asking for: fewer hours and the freedom to self-schedule. I usually work a night shift every other Friday. Cylon takes care of the kids the next day so that I can sleep. He’s a great partner in crime and we work well as a team.

Q: How did you decide to homeschool? What’s the easiest and most difficult thing about taking charge of your kids’ education?

A: I’m a second generation homeschooler. My mom homeschooled me and my siblings. It really nurtured my creativity and imagination, gave me lots of outdoor time, and taught me how to learn and to love reading. That’s what I want for my kids.

With homeschooling, if something isn’t working for us, we can try different things until we find our pocket, and I can tailor to each child’s needs. That is also the hardest part, trying to find the thing that really works for each of your kids. I found that out with kindergarten. I am doing kindergarten for the third time, and it has never been the same twice.

Q: What memories do you hope with all your heart that your kids take from this home and from their childhoods? What do you hope they remember specifically about the kind of mom you’re trying to be for them?

A: I want them to remember playing outside and getting really dirty, making and buildings things together and pretending. I want them to remember the smell of clothes fresh off the clothesline and the aroma of their favorite foods. I want them to remember a nook where they loved to sneak away to read, and dancing in the kitchen to soca and reggae streaming online from Trinidad and Tobago, where Cylon was born and grew up.

I love to read with the kids, dance with them, and to fix things with them and for them. I hope that my kids remember being taken care of, and that love fills in the times when I didn’t get things right.

Q: What has been your favorite part of living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? What do you already miss as they get older?

A: My favorite part of living with my kids is their world view. When you’re a grown up, your responsibilities can sometimes make you immune to things that are very obvious to a child, and they are good at pointing those things out and helping you see the world differently. I also like the detective work involved in trying to find out what they really want to know when they ask a question. A lot of times it’s nowhere near what you initially think of when they ask.

The thing that surprised me is that part no one can explain – the selflessness and personal growth parenting requires. My kids make life so much richer because they are a constant reminder of all that is going on in the world outside my own head. Teaching them and learning from them is so hard, but so good.

I already miss the friendly openness of my oldest, who is about to enter the uncertain world of his teens, and the pudgy starfish hands of the baby, and that soft, soft skin of a baby’s neck.

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

A: That your kids don’t see you the way you see yourself.

We were driving somewhere recently, and Taye was talking to me while I was trying to negotiate a traffic light during afternoon rush hour traffic. Someone had just honked because I was sitting while the light turned green trying to listen to what Taye was saying. As I pulled into the intersection, I said in frustration, ‘Taye, you have to stop talking! Some moms can talk with their kids while they’re driving. I’m not that mom!’

There was silence for a moment, then I heard a quiet voice of my daughter Micah from the backseat, ‘But you’re the cool Mom. And you’re the good Mom.’

When we’re wrapped up in parenting and trying to get through the next moment, it’s so easy to forget that the broken, failing person that one feels like at times is not the person your child sees. On nights when I’m laying in bed staring at the ceiling and telling Cylon how it feels like I did a terrible job that day, my kids aren’t laying in their beds thinking about what a horrible mom I was. Every day we have to trust that grace is going to give us a chance to do it again and fix the rough edges.


Laura, I could read your last  thought over and over and over again, and it would still move me every single time. Thank you so much for sharing your rabbit warren with us. Oh…and pudgy starfish baby hands! I miss those, too.

Friends, this was a lovely one, wasn’t it? And Laura’s conversation with her kids in the car got me thinking about all the awesome chats that happen while navigating traffic! Do your kids tend to open up in the car? What’s the best spot outside of your home to get them talking?

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: Carla Macklin Tue, 11 Mar 2014 15:00:56 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Carla sent me the most stunning photos of her home, and I loved every single one. But then she wrote back right away and asked “Did I erase too much of my kids in those photos?” That was something she didn’t want to do, no matter how gorgeous the pictures. I assured her we would understand, especially since there are a lot of good ideas to take from this tour.

Like the large table just behind the couch, perfect for projects and so much more useful with kids than a simple sofa table, right? Or the floor-length tablecloth on the dining table; how many instant forts do you think Evelyn and Wren enjoy on a daily basis? Oh, and the master tub. Yes, I believe living with kids would be so much fun – especially at bath time – in a home like the Macklin’s. You’ll see, I hope! Friends, please enjoy the tour!

Q: Please tell us all about this pattern-perfect family!

A: Our family includes my husband, Craig, six-year old Evelyn, three-year old Wren, and Cali the mutt. Craig works for a thriving manufacturing company here in Cleveland selling vibrators of the industrial sort. He is an ever-faithful supporter of the Cleveland Browns and is dreaming of summertime when the golf course isn’t covered by deep snow. I’m continually amazed at his puzzle proficiency and his willingness to try the most unusual foods. I’ve known Craig since we were 15 and both competitive swimmers, a hobby both of us have happily dropped after too many years breathing chlorine.

Evelyn is absorbing every bit of information she can in Kindergarten and loves ice skating, swimming, and crafts. Wren is into puzzles like her dad and is begging for gymnastic lessons. The girls are usually great friends when they aren’t bickering over who is the kid in the make believe game they call “Kid.” Cali, the chocolate lab mix, is our neglected first-born, adopted immediately after leaving San Francisco eight years ago.

As for me, I spend my time running after the girls and growing an indie clothing pattern company, Clever Charlotte, that my partner Erin and I started three years ago. You can find me most evenings after the girls go to bed in my sewing room, working on a project for Clever Charlotte or making something fun for myself to wear. I really consider my sewing more of an obsession than a hobby or career.

Q:  How did you find your current home?

A: Last summer, we moved from a neighboring community to Shaker Heights, the century-old suburb of Cleveland where both Craig and I spent our childhoods. Our previous home – a traditional brick, center hall Colonial – lacked casual family spaces, so we were drawn to this relaxed open-concept home built in 1959. When our old house sold quickly, we had to scramble to find something we could put our mark on and would work for our kids. After looking at some serious fixer-upper houses with soaked basements and crumbling walls, we chose one that basically just needed cosmetic work. This allowed us to get our kids settled without too much disruption.

Our renovations included a full gut of the master bath, and replacing or refinishing all the floors on the first floor. We also painted, built cabinets, and laid carpets. The kids rolled with it and were very entertained by the wonderful contractors we had working on our home. Our most exciting moment in our renovations was uncovering original terrazzo flooring beneath disgusting pet-stained carpeting in our TV room. While I wasn’t certain I wanted to keep the terrazzo, Craig talked me into making the floors work with our design plan. Once refinished, they shine like a mirror and provide a nice dappled texture to the room. They are also great for dance parties.

Q:  What were your goals aesthetically with this home? Where did you find the most inspiration?

A: Our last home was so much more traditional that I felt like I was holding my breath when I attempted to make a change to it. No matter what I did to it, the layout was never right for us. Our subterranean family room never had any natural light, and our formal living room was hardly used. When we moved into our current house it was like taking a big exhalation! Finally we had a comfortable layout that was open and welcoming with all the practical necessities like large closets and a mudroom/laundry off the kitchen.

I think houses built in the mid-century are much more accommodating to change and really contribute to family interaction. With the open concept, I never feel too far from the kids.

As for inspiration, Craig and I love visiting the terrific local antique stores and thrift shops. There’s nothing more inspiring than finding an old cast-off gem that fits a purpose in your home.  Every room in the house contains things that are vintage, thrifted, cast off by a relative, or picked up from the side of the road. I also adore all the online and print design resources for inspiration including Lonny, houzz, Apartment Therapy, Elle Décor, House Beautiful, and all my back issues from Domino Magazine.

Q: Do you specifically decorate with your kids’ taste and joy in mind?

A: Absolutely, especially when it comes to their rooms. I worked their favorite colors – pink and purple – into their bedrooms at their request. There is plenty of storage in each of their rooms for all the knickknacks they accumulate, and mirrors and hooks are hung low for easy access.

Across the hall they have a playroom that is intended to contain most of their toys and is the perfect space to build a fort. I like that this house has dedicated spaces for them but the rest of the house is very kid-friendly, too, without being pink and purple. That’s where I draw the line. I think we have created a colorful, functional space on the first floor that is comfortable for them without being a fairy princess wonderland.

Occasionally the girls offer a great design perspective. On a recent thrifting expedition, Evelyn found a great cactus-themed oil painting for her room, and Wren a little mid-century chrome child’s chair that needed just a tad bit polishing and some new fabric to make it shine. The chrome seat now has a place of honor in our TV room.

Q:  What makes you love where you live?

A: I think Cleveland is the perfect place to raise kids. As I mentioned, both Craig and I were born and raised here. After moving away for college, we spent five years in San Francisco. We absolutely adore SF but it wasn’t a place either of us could envision having our children grow up. We moved back eight years ago and are finding the city has everything we could need: amazing restaurants, museums, farmers markets, an orchestra, sports teams, and architectural history.

I love how every day I leave my house and bump into people I know. I am convinced all Clevelanders operate within two degrees of separation from one another. This area is full of educated and interesting people, many of whom are boomerangers like us, having left Cleveland at one point in their lives but returned to raise children or enjoy the city’s amenities.

Cleveland is also very accessible in price and layout, and there is hardly any traffic! The cost of living in Cleveland is so much less than other cities that it allows us to own a beautiful home while leaving some room in the budget to travel to warmer parts when the weather acts up like it has this winter!

Q: Tell us about Clever Charlotte. What was your inspiration in starting the company, and what has it given back to you professionally and personally?

A: Right after Wren was born, Erin approached me with the idea of starting a clothing pattern company geared to making sewing patterns for modern children. Despite being in the throes of Wren’s infancy, I still needed outlets for creative energy. I had been designing toddler clothes for Evelyn and figured that if this business didn’t work out, at least I’d have fun making clothes for the two cutest girls I know. What I didn’t realize until later was how important the business was to my psyche. I feel strongly that being a mother should not be my only definition, and I’m not happy unless my fingers are moving.

Over the past three years it has been exciting to watch our patterns go global. Who knew that the Aussies were such huge sewers? Clever Charlotte has a portfolio of 14 clothing patterns with two more in the works. I’ve had to learn a new set of skills with this business and have realized many new strengths. I’ve also uncovered many of my own weaknesses as well! Luckily Clever Charlotte is a partnership, and Erin and I can count on each other to fill in the other’s gaps. We hope that the business continues to thrive for the foreseeable future.

Q:  When does your home work best?

A: The home works best when it’s full of people. We had several gatherings over the holidays, and it was so nice to see people congregating in multiple areas on the first floor without being too far from other conversation groups. The large picture windows are my favorite part of the home, allowing light to stream into all the living areas at the back of the house. Because of the South-facing orientation, they act as anti-depressants in the winter! And in the summer, we will keep the sliding door open most of the time allowing the backyard to feel like an extension of the living areas.

Q: What has been the absolute best thing about living with your kids? What do you already miss as they get older?

A: We are so lucky to have such sweet and thoughtful girls. I love hearing the questions they ask (when the question isn’t “Are we there yet?”) and it’s amazing to watch them play happily together. I love story time when we all pile into our bed and take turns reading. They are just joyous children that are so easy to live with.

While sometimes they wake us earlier than we’d like, the best thing part of my day is hearing them pitter-patter down the hall to our room and seeing their faces first thing in the morning. They wake up so excited and ready to start the day. I hope that youthful excitement continues forever.

Q: What do you hope your kids remember about this home? Their childhood? And you as their mom?

A: I hope that they remember the games they play together using the home as a prop, like when they play camping in the dark closets with glowing flashlights as the campfire, or using the terrazzo floor as a stage for an original production. I want them to remember having a cozy fire and roasting marshmallows indoors. I want the vegetable patch we plan to plant this summer to hook them on tending a garden. I want them to be able to close their eyes when they are 45 years old and picture the Christmas tree in the corner of the living room.

I hope all their friends want to hang out at our house when they reach the teen years. I hope the home makes them feel safe and loved and inspires them to be creative. I hope they remember me as a better mom than I am. I hope they will someday understand how much love a mother can have for her children.

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

A: I wish someone had told me about how massive love is for a child. Well, I’m sure someone did tell me, but it really means nothing until you are a parent and totally engulfed in the feeling. It continues to surprise me how that massive love morphs into fear and tears and worries, but it really is the most wonderful thing to love and be loved by your children.


Oh, Carla. Thank you so much. All that you hope your girls remember about you and your home, but especially you, just melts me. It’s all so wonderful. Especially “I hope they remember me as a better mom than I am.”

Friends, do you ever worry that your décor choices are erasing all signs of kids living in your house? Or is it the complete opposite situation, with your children’s belongings overtaking every room? Tell us your secrets on merging your styles and stuff, will you?

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: Rachel Shingleton Tue, 04 Mar 2014 16:30:44 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

One of Rachel‘s mottos is “I’ve never met a color I didn’t love.” With one peek of her home, I know she’s not kidding. It’s a bright, cheerful space that makes me smile, and I know it must have the same effect on her family. And at the risk of getting too deep, I imagine it helps her stay positive when life doesn’t exactly go the way she’s been dreaming. Does your home do that, too? I hope it does.

There were a few times when I found myself pointing to something in her photos that I thought was super cute, only to find that it’s available in her shop! How wonderful and empowering it must be to live among your own art and makes. Friends, I’m so happy to introduce you to Rachel and her color-burst home!

Q: Please tell us all about your family.

A: There’s three humans and two canines in our little family. I’m Rachel Shingleton, and I’m a blogger/designer/shopkeeper at Pencil Shavings Studio. My husband is Simon, and he’s a realtor here in OKC. Our son Jude is a six year old kindergartener, and we like to say that he’s running for mayor of life. He’s never met a stranger, and is the absolute joy of our lives. And rounding out the craziness are two chihuahua puppies that we just added to the family back in October.

We’ve always lived in Oklahoma City (with a yearlong stint in California for me in college), and we grew up together in the same school starting in first grade. We didn’t start dating until our senior year of college at the University of Oklahoma.

Q: How did you find your current home?

A: Our house was built in the late 1960s and has four bedrooms, two and a half baths on a cul de sac with tons of mature trees. We’ve been here now for almost six years. I walked into this house on a dark night in February of 2008 and I knew immediately it was the one for us. It had been purchased by a house flipper who was working on some jaw-dropping homes in the fancier part of town, and had picked this home to be their own. I knew her taste level and the amazing work she’d done on those million dollar houses, and so with a gutted kitchen and bathrooms, no electricity, and a ripped out master bedroom, I was in love.

Now that being said, it took Simon a solid three months before he caught the vision, too; he needed to see the final product. On Mother’s Day of that year, we decided to make an offer which was quickly accepted. Even now when I pull into the driveway, I’m amazed that I actually get to live here. The neighborhood is wonderful with some really fantastic people (not to mention some fun events, too), and being situated on a cul de sac with practically no traffic is ideal with Jude. I have zero qualms about him playing in the front yard – a far cry from our first house that seemed like it was the busiest street corner in town.

We moved in when he was nine months old, and in my stupidity I decided that it was a brilliant idea to throw my girlfriend a bridal shower the following week. That was one way to get motivated to unpack! We still chuckle about how dumb of an idea that was. (Spoiler alert: the bridal shower went off fine, but still. Don’t do what I did.)

Q: What are your goals aesthetically with this home? Where do you find the most inspiration?

A: In the beginning, we were still kind of newlyweds and figuring out our style. In the past couple of years we’ve been able to hone in on how we want to live aesthetically, and have been taking steps to make that happen. In our first house, we went kind of crazy with paint and color, which I don’t regret at all. But this house has been about refining that sense of color and style in many ways. I grew up in a crazy colorful house, and I can’t live without it now. Luckily Simon feels the same way…mostly.

We find inspiration in travel, and I’m a total magazine junkie. I was reading House Beautiful when I was 14 and begging my mom to let me redesign the house. Her sage response: “When you grow up and have a house, then you can decorate it however you want.”

The biggest struggle I have as a designer (not just for interiors) is reining in my design ADD. By deciding what elements of style are absolutely essential to us, we’re able to better choose things for the long run. Over the years I’m learning to make less impulse purchases – Hello, Target and all your cute accessories! – and picking things that we truly love and can’t live without.

We also have had to switch up some of the more traditional elements that the previous owner put in place. The paint and cabinetry in the kitchen, while beautiful, was very French country, and wasn’t us at all. And the entire house was painted builder beige, which drove me bonkers. I’m on a personal mission to banish the beige from our lives! I want the house to feel polished, colorful, but still somewhat casual.

Q: Do you specifically decorate with your child’s taste and joy in mind? Does it ever drive you batty to see all his stuff in an otherwise gorgeous room, or are you good with this stage in your life?

A: Absolutely, I decorate with him in mind. I want to have everything be kid-friendly but without sacrificing our sense of style. To some extent, you can’t avoid the plastic kid toys and junk, but I don’t think you have to give in to those foam square mats on the floor and letting the kid stuff overrun your lives. I don’t want anything in our house to be too precious that we can’t enjoy it. I remember as a kid, playing at the neighbor kid’s house and not being allowed to sit on her bed. That kind of blew my mind – and I don’t want Jude to feel that way about our house.

Right now our big toy issue is Legos. They are EVERYWHERE. But again, I can’t get too upset about them. Jude loves them and it thrills my creative heart to see him come up with some really amazing designs all on his own.

Q: What makes you love where you live?

A: Oklahoma City has evolved significantly in the past ten years. I’m in an ever-growing love affair with this town, and I can’t wait to see how it continues to develop. Design is starting to really matter to Oklahomans and we have a fantastic thriving community of fellow creatives. I’m amazed how many fellow design bloggers there are here!

It’s inexpensive to live here and you can have a really nice house for what seems like a steal compared to other cities. That being said, the public schools in OKC proper aren’t all that great, so we see many people moving to the suburbs for the better schools or choosing private education. I don’t see us ever moving to the ‘burbs — we love city living far too much, and if it weren’t for how close and great Jude’s school is now, we’d probably move further downtown because we love how it’s developing into this thriving, exciting community.

I have this dream of living in a cute little downtown building that we’ve converted into a live/work space and riding my bike everywhere. Maybe someday?

Q: Do you work from home? How do you balance your life as a mom and your time for yourself? What tricks or decor solutions have you implemented to help you in that area?

A: All I’ve ever known is home-based business. Once I graduated from the graphic design program at the University of Oklahoma, I went to work for a small apparel company as an in-house graphic designer. And it was literally in-house: in MY house.

From there I went on to build my own graphic design business. When Jude was born, I put the halt on all work because I literally had no idea how I would work and be a mom, too. But creative passion kind of won out in the end. I discovered design blogs, and that’s how Pencil Shavings Studio was born. I began to hone in on designing paper goods and things that really lit my fire, and less corporate work. From there, it’s evolved to opening my shop and designing a line of paper goods, tech accessories, and home decor.

I’m far more organized in my business than I ever was pre-Jude, simply because I have to be. In the beginning, I structured my days around his sleep schedule, and luckily he was always a good napper. Now that he’s in school full time, it’s far easier to be structured about it, but I still struggle with shutting everything off once school gets out at 3:00 pm.

The other thing that’s helped me stay structured was to get my business out of the kitchen and living room. The holiday season in 2012 was my breaking point because the business had taken over everything. There were zero life/work boundaries there, and we were swimming in Pencil Shavings Studio products being shipped out the door in the holiday rush. I vowed to get it out of our main traffic areas, and moved everything into the upstairs bonus room and one of the spare bedrooms.

I also feel more in my work and creative zone when I go upstairs as opposed to when I just plopped down at the kitchen table. It was far too easy to get distracted by housework or dishes.

Q: When does your home work best? Do you love it most when it’s pristine or lived-in at the end of the day?

A: With the amount of hours I work, I simply have to have help with keeping up the housework. My housekeeper comes once a week and she’s an absolute jewel. I find I’m becoming more of a clean fanatic.

I love how much light we get in this house. The windows are enormous, and it’s especially beautiful early in the morning and in that golden hour of the evening. I love laying out on a blanket in the backyard reading a book while Jude swings on the swing set.

Q: What has been the absolute best thing about living with your son? What do you already miss as he gets older?

A: Every stage of his life seems to be my favorite. But I do miss his babyhood. We were watching videos of him the other night on my iPhone, and Simon and I realized that little squeaky Mickey Mouse voice has already changed in just a year or two. Little turns of phrases and funny statements make us smile. Things like, “Last one outside is a deviled egg!”

But one of the best things is getting to show him things and take him places. He never ceases to under-react to things, and it’s thrilling to see life through his eyes.

Q: What do you hope he remembers about this home? His childhood? And you as his mom?

A: I hope he remembers how much fun we have had here. The days when we hang out in the window seat upstairs and read books with big bowls of popcorn, and chase the dogs in the backyard. I hope he remembers  how beautiful the snow is when it falls on the house, and how good it feels to snuggle in the big bed watching cartoons.

Oh goodness, now I’m tearing up.

Wrestling with his daddy, chatting with the neighbor friends over the back fence, swimming in the neighborhood pool. The golden hour of early summer evenings when everything is awash with Oklahoma sunsets.  The time we found chickens in the front yard, or when we rode bicycles down the street.

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

A: I wish I would’ve known how strongly I felt about his early childhood passing once he started kindergarten. It occurred to me almost instantly as I took him to school that first day that his babyhood was totally over. I know it sounds obvious, but those lazy mornings of watching cartoons in the big bed or leisurely going to the zoo because we had all that free, unstructured time is over. We are now totally locked into the school system, and there are days when I wish I could just keep him home with me because I miss that time.

It went by in a flash. It’s just like they say: The days are long but the years are short.

I think I’ve been a little emotional about it all too since we’ve struggled with infertility over the past couple of years. When Jude was a baby, I had to have my colon removed due to ulcerative colitis, and we knew that my fertility had a 50/50 change of being impacted. After several miscarriages now, I’m kind of on the fence about how far to pursue getting pregnant again. I envisioned this house’s four bedrooms full of little ones when we first bought it, and so part of me mourns the loss of that dream, too.

So I’m learning to take every single day with my precious boy as an absolute gift. He is the miracle in our lives.


Rachel, thank you so much for this bright tour. I choked up at your last answer. Please know I’m sending you all the good thoughts I have, and know my sweet readers are doing the same. Hang in there.

Friends, hands down one of my favorite things about Rachel’s home is her blue island in her kitchen. BLUE! Have you ever been tempted to go off the all-white or wood path when it comes to major sections of your home? Inspire us with your adventuresome decision, please!

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: Cristina Cavallari Tue, 25 Feb 2014 15:30:54 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I know of two people who live in Lake Como, Italy: George Clooney and Cristina Cavallari. Lucky for us, one of them is with us today to take us on a tour of her family’s unique home: a monastery built in the 1400s that’s been modernized, transformed, and constantly reconfigured to hold lots of family.

There’s so much that’s interesting to me about this tour, from the idyllic location to Cristina’s commitment to ethical and organic products, the grace with which she’s preparing for her eldest’s move away from home, to a tragic circumstance that has changed her life in the past year. And when I read her thought about how she is raising her kids – “More real friendships, less internet” – my heart sang! It’s inspiring stuff, all of it, and I’m so grateful to be able to share it with you today. Friends, please give a rousing Benvenuto to Cristina! (And just as soon as Mr. Clooney has some babies, we’ll hit him up for a tour, too!)

Q: Please tell us all about this Italian family!

A: Hello! My name is Cristina Cavallari, and I live with my husband Paolo and our three kids: Miriana (19), Noa (14), Zoe (seven), plus two crazy cats called Matisse and Piggy.

Miriana is a strong creative young woman trying to determine her role in this family. Noa is a young man mad about sport, ironic, and sweet. Zoe is only seven, but she is smart and perceptive. She is practicing artistic gymnastic, always jumping, and draws with passion.

Paolo and I used to live close by in Italy when we were young, but never met before. Then one day we both decided to move to London to work and learn English. Paolo spent three years abroad moving from London to USA to Canada to Asia to Australia and back to London, working as a chef and many other jobs, while I was living in London and traveling to Europe to discover as much as possible. We met each other one day at Victoria Station where I was waiting for my friend to visit me…he helped her to reach me, we connected, and everything started from there. This year we celebrate 25 years together!

He is now an electronic engineer and I try to do my best juggling family and work. My main job was as a graphic designer, which I still do sometimes, but after three kids I’ve tried to follow my passions of becoming a crafter. I work with different materials, especially felt and fabrics, and lately I’ve started shooting weddings! Of course I can’t compete with professional photographers, but I try my best to see beauty though the lens.

We love to travel all together when possible with our motorhome around Europe. It’s a great experience for kids to visit different countries, meet interesting people, and discover new art and interesting food.

Q: How did you find your current home?

A: Our family was growing, so we started looking around for a bigger home. Our needs, though, were that we really needed an unconventional home with space for large family reunions – Paolo has eight brothers and sisters! – and it had to be kid friendly. We found this one in our local newspaper. It was love at first sight. We made an offer and it was immediately accepted! We’ve noticed that these thick 1400 era walls with big stones inside are keeping warm temperature in winter and refreshing in summer, so it’s very eco-friendly!

Q: What makes you love where you live?

A: We live in a small town, and our home is situated in the middle. We have mountains reachable in just 30 minutes, Lake Como is 15 minutes away, and the river is behind us. The fantastic natural environment is one of the reasons that makes us want to live here, but if we need a city vibe, we have Milan and Bergamo just a 30 minute drive.

The cost of life now is quite high, and it’s not easy to find a job because of the recession. We have free health care at least. We buy at local organic farmers where we can find good quality products, so we know who makes our pasta, flours, Parmesan cheese, vegetables, and even detergents. Nowadays, this is not taken for granted! More and more people discover this different way to do their shopping which is cheap but also ethical and fair.

Q: Describe your daily life in Lake Como.

A: We live 15 minutes from the lake. It’s such a quiet place. Our day revolves around going to school, cooking meals, playing sport, meeting with friends, eating at least two meals together. At dinner time, we love to talk about our day. In the warm seasons we go by bikes to the beautiful parks around us.

We try to make our kids appreciate nature, respect the environment, have more real friendship and less internet, help them follow their passions. We are not conventional or conformist at all, so sometimes that makes you feel like an outsider living in a small village, but still we try to raise our kids with open minds.

We used to travel every time we could, but life has changed so much lately. Last year, my mum had a bad stroke that left her disabled so I have to help her in her daily routine. I have to struggle every day to feel positive. When I’m able to, I find myself cooking bread, sewing curtains or clothes, knitting some wool blankets, painting old chairs, taking pictures of the world around us, and trying to remember to laugh. I try to do something creative that allows my best to come out, to help me feel alive and needful.

Q: How do you decorate and make it your own? Do you specifically decorate with your kids’ taste and joy in mind?

A: Our house started out as a white canvas when we found it. We knew we wanted a warm place to find ourselves with friends and kids around without worrying too much or feeling intimidated about overly stylish surroundings. I’m into everything creative – I literally love to get dirty – so it gave me satisfaction to deal with decoration, painting walls, choosing furniture, while staying on a small budget.

We brought our old furniture and gave vintage pieces a new home. I added family pictures and plants, a beautiful old mirror from the 1800s, our books, and a few mid-century furniture pieces found at the flea market. Usually the items I choose are not expensive but have a sentimental value.

During the years nothing stays the same: our needs are always changing, and so are our rooms. As kids are growing, they need more organized storage that saves me from the mess! I let my kids paint the wall and display their creations in their rooms to make them feel it’s their nest. It’s a pleasure when we hear them singing and playing guitar with friends.

Q: You’re a designer and crafter – what’s your favorite thing about being a maker?

A: I remember when they were children playing with my stuff: simple pieces of fabric or felt with scissors in their hands turned into magical creations. Now two of them are 19 and 14 years old, and they often make gifts with their hands. Miriana is going to graduate this year in design.

Art makes life more fun. And I believe creativity helps us to see colors even where it is dark black.

Q: When does your home work best?

A: We like our house full of people. We are not afraid to have kids playing, jumping, and singing. As I don’t want to spend all my time cleaning up, I’ve become more and more minimal in my style preferences; removing the unnecessary helps my housework, so “less is more” is my motto.

We are thankful for the opportunity to have plenty of nice warm space to share with others, otherwise it would be a nice place without a soul. Our house reflects who we are. Our best places in it is without a doubt the kitchen and living room open space where we spend more time, and the kids’ room with  plenty of light and enough space to play.

Q: What has been the absolute best thing about living with your kids? What do you already miss as they get older?

A: My kids have taught me what is important in life, to question myself on a daily basis, to be able to say sorry, enjoy the small things, and rely on each other.

Miriana wants to move to London next year, so I’m working on myself to remind me how fast time flies. I must convince myself not to look behind, but to be strong and let her find her way…sigh. Of course I still try to cuddle them as much as I can.

Q: What do you hope your kids remember about this home? Their childhood? And you as their mom? 

A: Our home should be a safe place to come back to and always find a friendly family. It shouldn’t matter how many square meters has the house, but the people living in it; that’s what makes a true home. They are aware we have always tried to be our best and to be good parents, and that we fail sometimes but it’s okay. I have established a good dialogue with each of them, although during these teenage years we had hard times discussing each other’s point of view!

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

A: Nothing remain the same forever, so we need to live fully with optimism each day…even though sometimes it is so difficult.


Thank you, Cristina. I’m with you on the definition of a lovely home; it doesn’t matter the size, but it is all about the people living in it. Sometimes, I think that’s a forgotten idea, especially in the midst of pinning our ideal kitchens and dream bedrooms, so it’s a welcome reminder today. And this: “Art makes life more fun. And I believe creativity helps us to see colors even where it is dark black.” Goosebumps.

Friends, weren’t you moved by Cristina’s words? “I have to struggle every day to feel positive. When I’m able to, I find myself cooking bread, sewing curtains or clothes, knitting some wool blankets, painting old chairs, taking pictures of the world around us, and trying to remember to laugh. I try to do something creative that allows my best to come out, to help me feel alive and needful.” I’d love to know how you force yourselves to find the joy in your days when life throws an unexpected bit of sadness at you. If you would like to share your own secrets, I’m sure we’d all benefit!

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: Sarah Wallace Tue, 18 Feb 2014 17:00:46 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Sarah Wallace decided to submit her home for a Living With Kids tour for a pretty unique reason: she wanted to fall just as in love with her home as the ones she’s been pinning and ogling online. She felt frustrated when her gaze shifted from the clutter-free, design perfect scenes on her monitor to her own less than idyllic space, clutter-filled most days. And she didn’t enjoy that feeling at all. None of us do, right?

So she decided to put a little lipstick on her home, straighten its skirt a bit, and let it shine for us…and for her. (Full disclosure: Sarah would like you to know what it looked like just outside of the frame of most of the pictures. Piles of paper and clutter were removed from her kitchen counters, there may be dirty dishes hiding in the sink, and all the craft supplies from the dining room table were shifted to the stairs during the photo shoot! Thanks for keeping it real, Sarah!)

Friends, I hope you enjoy the dressed up version of the Wallace family home. More importantly, I hope you take away a little bit of reassurance that pictures aren’t always worth a thousand words and all our attention; sometimes, it’s all the stuff that we try to edit that tells us the most about our lives. Welcome Sarah!

Q: Please tell us all about your family.

A: Our family consists of four people and two animals: myself, my husband Joey, our sons Oscar and Archie, our dog Lucy, and our chinchilla Matthias.

My personality is an odd cross between type A planner/organizer/perfectionist and lazy couch-surfer. I have a degree in historic preservation of architecture, and currently work in the field of search engine marketing. My husband Joey shares many of my type A sensibilities, but where my brain tends to favor the creative side, he is an engineer and therefore innately logical. He also has an energy that continues to perplex me over ten years since our first meeting; he seems to be in constant motion, and he gets uncomfortable when he doesn’t have a job to do. This has led to his picking up several hobbies, including gardening and beer brewing. He’s also a fantastic cook, making me one of the luckiest women I know.

Oscar is our almost-four year old, and is an inquisitive, approval-seeking, affectionate, sensitive ball of energy. He enjoys anything that allows him to throw his body around, run, or jump, and then he surprises us by revealing apprehension at the strangest moments. Archie is our roly-poly, silly, determined, artistic, daredevil of an 18 month old. So different from his brother, but just as joyful. Lucy is our six year old mutt and our first baby, and Matthias is the old man of the house – 13 years old, we think.

Q: How did you find your current home?

A: We moved to Indianapolis in the fall of 2010. Joey had gone through the rigors of searching for and finding a job in academia – not an easy task! – and Oscar was just six months old. The move meant that both of us were leaving old jobs and starting new ones, finding a place to live in a new city with a young child, and as I was born and raised in our previous city, we were also moving away from my family. It was stressful.

We moved into an apartment at first, intending to stay there for a year as we searched for a home. I lasted about five months before my nesting instincts started craving a more permanent situation and more space. We told our realtor exactly what we wanted in a home: at least three bedrooms, space for guests and a home office, a basement, and ugly kitchens and bathrooms. We knew that we would want to make the home our own, didn’t want to pay for someone else’s renovations, and were hoping to find a home that was undervalued for aesthetic reasons.

Our realtor had a house come to mind immediately, but as it was her listing she made sure to show us plenty of other homes first. In the end her instincts were right, and we found ourselves gravitating towards the house she thought of during our first discussion. We came back to it multiple times, and I even had my mom tour it with me during one of her visits. I was hesitant because it wasn’t the style or type of house I thought I’d end up buying. It was so…traditional. I really love sprawling, open ranch houses and mid-century style, and this was a two-story 1960s colonial with walls everywhere. But it felt more like home than any other house we looked at.

We’ve done quite a few renovations since moving in! We’ve torn down a wall between the kitchen and living room, punched the doorway in the wall between the dining room and playroom, completely gutted and re-did the kitchen, and have painted nearly every wall in the house. There’s still plenty on our list of future renovations, though…

Q: What are your goals aesthetically with this home? Where do you find the most inspiration?

A: My main goals are for my home to be comfortable, functional, and beautiful, but not precious or too matchy. I’d like to have pieces and spaces that look nice, but in a way that we can use them and live in them. A lot of my inspiration comes from blogs and other online resources, although lately I’ve been tuned in more to my own sense of sentimentality and comfort.

One of the toughest things to happen this year – or ever, really – was the unexpected death of my mom last summer. It sounds cliche, but large and meaningful events like that really do change one’s perspective and priorities. I’ve started valuing things more for how they make me feel than for how they look. For example, I absolutely love the mid-century coffee table and side tables in my hearth room. They originally belonged to my grandparents, and so have a lot of sentimental value in addition to fitting in perfectly with my preferred aesthetic. We bought an adorable mid-century style sofa to go with them, and the set looked really nice.

After my mom’s passing, one of the things I brought home with me was her living room couch. It’s a supremely comfortable white Pottery Barn couch in a more traditional style that I probably wouldn’t have purchased on my own. I remembered how much she loved that couch, though, and how excited she was when she bought it. We thought about selling our older, more worn playroom couch and replacing it with my mom’s, but soon realized that the playroom couch was perfect for the playroom – that space needs something that’s worn-in (and certainly not white, like my mom’s piece). But we never used the newer mid-century couch, and it wasn’t terribly comfortable. We ended up selling it and putting my mom’s couch alongside her parent’s side and coffee tables. The styles may not match, but that room feels and looks better to me now than it ever did before.

Q: Do you specifically decorate with your kids’ taste and joy in mind?

A: I do, although the portion of me that likes having control over these things is still enjoying this age…neither child is really old enough to have voiced much in the way of style preference. We moved Oscar’s bedroom furniture around recently, and allowed him to have some say in where things went. He had become afraid of a particular corner of his room, and didn’t like being right by a window while he slept, and so we all collaborated to find a better arrangement for him.

Mostly I do what I can to optimize the boys’ independence. In the playroom we use low shelving so that their toys are accessible. In their bedrooms I’ve placed books at a height where they can get to them easily (and also put them away). Both of their rooms has a chalkboard wall for fun, and I like to put things that they’ve made on display in various places.

The biggest thing we did design-wise, though, was to dedicate an entire room to being just a playroom. Their playroom used to also be the main TV room, but when you have to shush your kid to hear a news story while he’s trying to play you know that something has to change. So we took the never-used formal living room and turned it into the more grown-up TV/relaxing space. That way toys and kid-stuff can stay (mostly) contained to the large play space, and when we want to unwind after the kids go to bed we have a separate area in which to do that.

All this being said, I have about a million projects floating around in my head to make the house more kid-friendly: revamp the entry with hooks at their level; turn an old closet in the playroom into toy storage and a reading nook; hang wires with hooks in various places around the house for rotating art displays, etc.

Q: What makes you love where you live?

A: Our city is extremely affordable. It was the first thing that struck me upon moving here. We’re also very fond of our neighborhood. It’s the kind of community that has neighborhood 4th of July parades, holiday parties, and fall picnics. There are always kids playing outside when it’s warm, people jogging or walking their dogs, and neighbors wave at one another when passing, regardless of whether they know one another. Although it took me a little while to get used to Indy, I’ve really come to love what the city has to offer.

The Children’s Museum is unbelievable, you won’t find a better city for sports (we’re the amateur sports capitol of the world!), and there always seems to be some kind of fair, festival, or cultural event to check out. Above all else, I’ve found the people here to be very kind and welcoming.

Q: How do you balance your life as a mom and your time for yourself?

A: I’m a hybrid: I’m a mom who’s home all day, but still employed full-time. I’m a remote employee for a regular company, and so I have a mostly normal work day. I say mostly because my commute is great and I don’t have to wear real pants. Part of having a normal work day, however, is that my kids are in full-time childcare as is required by my employer. (I should point out here that I love my employer, and this requirement really does make sense – I have busy days and am tied to my phone and computer, and if my kids were at home I wouldn’t be a good employee or a good mom.)

The major upsides to my situation are that my schedule tends to be more flexible for things like doctor’s appointments or days when my kids are home sick. Balancing is still really hard, though. It’s easy to assume that the person who’s home all day can handle things like snow days or school holidays, but having my kids at home for extended periods makes work very challenging. My husband has been great, and we work really hard to split time and ensure that both of us are able to do what we need to do.

As far as time for myself vs. time as a mom, I’d have to say that another huge benefit of working remotely is the time I have by myself at home during the day. Of course I’m busy, but the house is quiet and I’m able to take bathroom breaks without the company of tiny people. My office is its own room in the far corner of our upstairs, meaning that it’s my personal space, and can be separated and closed-off. I also do the morning drop-off for both kids, and the afternoon pick-up for Archie (Joey gets Oscar), which is a great way to delineate my work day from my family time.

When my kids come home in the evenings, and when we hang out on weekends, my husband and I are diligent about keeping one another off of our phones and email and we focus on the kids. We never have many activities scheduled, since our preference is for maintaining our routines and the little traditions that crop up – like grabbing donuts on the way to Target every Saturday morning – and just being together as a family.

Q: When does your home work best?

A: My home works best every evening, when Joey is cooking dinner and we can sit at the dining room table for snacks or coloring. Or when I have the kids going crazy in the playroom before we sit down to eat. It works perfectly as Oscar and Archie climb the bathroom stool to wash their hands, and Oscar gathers the plates we’ve put on low shelves to set the table (however grudgingly). Then while I clean up after dinner and my kids chase one another through every room on the first floor, laughing maniacally, and the dog joins the chase, and finally Joey, I just have to smile to myself about how it all comes together.

Although I will say that when the living room is bathed in the most perfect light in the early afternoon, which usually coincides with nap time, spending those few quiet moments doing anything in there – even folding laundry – feels like a treat.

Q: What has been the absolute best thing about living with your kids? What do you already miss as they get older?

A: The best thing about living with my kids is just how much fun they are. They have a huge amount of enthusiasm for everything, and want to have dance parties and build forts every day. Sometimes it’s hard to give in to fun like that when you’re tired and it’s the end of a long day, but I’ve found that if you can just let go and devote your attention to jumping, crawling, and dancing around your house with them, it’s one of the best stress relievers there is. They’ve also taught me how to loosen up. That it’s okay to have piles of paper on the counter or odds and ends stacked on the stairs because we just don’t have time to put it all away at the moment.

I’m hugely sentimental, and so I miss absolutely everything as they get older. It’s a serious problem for me. I’ll start thinking about what things will be like in a few years and find myself missing things that I’m still experiencing. I have to force myself to cut it out and be in the moment, to enjoy it while it’s still here. Lately my husband and I have been talking about how much we miss their baby words. The words that they don’t say quite right as they learn to talk. Like for Oscar ‘balloon’ was ‘boony,’ among lots of other adorable word variations. With each word he began using correctly I found myself unexpectedly mourning the loss of the baby version. Archie is starting to talk now, so my hope is that we catch more of the baby words on video.

Q: What do you hope your kids remember about this home? Their childhood? And you as their mom? (The good, the bad, and the not-so-cute!)

A: I hope they remember their home, childhood, and parents as being  uniquely theirs. This usually translates to it all being wonderfully imperfect. I’d like for them to remember this house as being comfortable, safe, and an easy and fun place to be a kid. For them to remember their childhood as being happy, but also not without challenges. For their mom to be a person who was unconditionally loving and supportive, who never underestimated them, but who made mistakes, and knew how and when to apologize.

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

A: That perfection and having it all together is not healthy, attainable, nor ideal. I used to think that I could try and be the mom who rolled with the punches, and knew how to handle everything. How stressful, right?! As it turns out, this type of mom isn’t very easy to relate to. I think you have to freak out every once in a while, not only for yourself, but also to reduce what I like to think of as parental isolation.

Occasionally freaking out openly about the FIFTH snow day in a row, the red lipstick now adorning your kitchen cabinets, or the diaper pail your dog tore into helps you and other parents have that oh-thank-god-it’s-not-just-me! moment. Not to mention the break you give yourself.


Sarah, I will always be a fan of keeping it as real and as beautiful as possible! Your tour was a lovely blend of both. And I really liked hearing about your interesting work set-up; working from home while wrangling little ones is so difficult, and it’s wonderful how your company supports such a workable working scenario for you.

Friends, do any of you enjoy the same work set-up? A remote employee who balances working from home with little ones? And, if so, how do you handle those mom moments that always seem to creep in when we least expect them? Hello, snow days!

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: Juliana Rotmeyer Tue, 11 Feb 2014 17:00:38 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I am utterly fascinated by high-rise family living. I think of all the little things, like getting groceries up 30 floors – which is an entirely different dilemma if the elevators aren’t running! Or, do dwellers in the sky ever miss having a backyard just outside the door? They probably have far less mud in their foyers. And how do you create that sense of indoor-outdoor childhood freedom when getting outside from the super-elevated inside involves a bit of planning? Today’s high up home shows us that it can be done.

Juliana‘s place in Hong Kong, with its endless views and unique space considerations, reminds me of a nest. I love the thought she put into creating a warm and workable family home in what was once a plain white box of an apartment. Friends, I know you’re going to enjoy this very different, very citified Living With Kids tour. Welcome, Juliana!

Q: Tell us all about this family living up high in Hong Kong!

A: We are myself, my husband Jeff, and our three year old daughter Ella. When we arrived eight years ago, I thought we’d be here three years max…but life plants roots even 30+ floors up in the sky!

Jeff is a teacher. He has his own football (soccer) charity for Down Syndrome children. He’s very passionate about life and definitely a giver. He’s a family man and our rock. I’m an Architect with a practice in HK doing both commercial and residential projects. I love designing and making things. It’s a part of my mind that doesn’t want to rest. Ella hasn’t started school yet, but she takes dance, does lots of art, loves exploring around HK, and of course plays football. She’s a really good mix of us.

Jeff loves to write and I’m very visual, so a few months ago we began a blog called The Guest Room in which we both contribute weekly blogs along with some friends about life in HK. It’s our way of bringing our worlds together targeting designers, parents, thinkers, and everything in between.

Q: How did this apartment come to be yours?

A: I’m lucky enough to work from home, and Jeff has been commuting from various parts of the city about 30-45 mins each day over the years to work. Last spring we decided to focus more on quality of life. A short four min walk from Jeff’s school is a beautiful park with fountains and a large playground, long waterfront promenade, and lush green mountains. We’d been living in the heart of Hong kong Island for many years and decided it was time for a change.

We found our flat in a modern building next to the waterfront with stunning views of both mountain and sea and something just sort of pulled us in. We knew it was right for us. The location was great for Jeff to walk to work, there were great outdoor spaces for Ella, the flat had great natural lighting and high ceilings. I quickly began designing the spaces, and within one week I’d taken an empty space with all white walls, completely painted it, hung hooks, art, all new lighting, and revamped some of the kitchen to transform it into our place.

Each room is painted a different color, and there are lots of Ella places within each space. For example, I work from home so next to my desk she has a ladder that she painted yellow that holds her puzzles and building magnets. She spends hours building in the window. I had to be very clever with storage; before we moved in, there wasn’t any storage. It’s a challenge to create more storage than would appear to the eye. Designing in HK, you must think compact. It’s about function and flexibility.

Q: What makes you love where you live?

A: Although it’s HOT in August and September, it’s similar to east coast summers in The States. We don’t have snow in winter, but it’s just cold enough to enjoy wearing layers about six months out of the year without freezing. Shopping is…well…it’s the Asia NYC! Maybe even better! There’s every kind of food and it’s real and tasty.

I love being on the Island. Hong Kong is only 20% buildable land area, so it’s one of the densest cities in the world. I love having everything at my fingertips. The layered infrastructure is extremely efficient. You have the density of the city on the North side and in contrast, the South side has great beaches with mountainous shore lines and lots of hiking and walking trails. You can hop on a flight and be in Phuket, Tokyo, Bali, Siem Reap, or Hanoi, to name a few, within a couple of hours! It’s really a city with everything to offer.

Q: Tell us about the decorative considerations you must make living in a high rise in a city that has a typhoon season.

A: We do get typhoons! One summer I think we had eight within eight weeks. It was intense, but it’s a dense city built like a concrete jungle. Structures are not made with wood; it’s all concrete buildings that are designed to withstand high winds. So I don’t stress over typhoon season.

Q: You’re a collector! How do you manage your love of stuff in a smaller shared space?

A: It’s a challenge. I’ve learned to collect small things that can sometimes be functional. For example, I collect spoons. I can’t even remember when this began, but at least 20+ years ago. I have spoons from all over the world. It’s not about being a collector’s item, it’s as simple as the shape, weight of the handle, or proportions of the spoon. I love interesting small boxes as well. Again, functional, as I put jewelry or various things in them, stack them, etc. I also collect rocks. My luggage always weighs more going home!

In Asian cities, I’m always drawn to little unexpected things, like the hand painted 1″ tall vintage wooden Kokeshi doll I found recently in Tokyo. Not something I need, but beautiful and small enough to share a space amongst the other little things I’ve found over the years. We travel a lot and one way to remember places was to pick up a magnet. It’s sort of became a collection for the family.

Q: Do you ever crave more space? If you could add one more room, what would it contain?

A: Good question! I used to crave more space and maybe I still do, but now my comfort zone seems to rest at this scale of space. I feel like I might be overwhelmed by typical North American square footage. If we had one more room, I guess it would be roof terrace or large balcony. We used to have this and that was excellent for dinners with friends and BBQs, growing herbs, and plants. It would be a great space for Ella to play as well.

Q: Tell us how you merge motherhood and design in your career?

A: Ha! Well I worked right through giving birth practically! In a good way, though. I love my work. It’s creative, I’m blessed with amazing clients, and it’s enjoyable. I sometimes have a hard time shutting off.

When Ella was younger, I would schedule my work day around her nap schedule until napping reduced to one to two hours a day. Then suddenly and unexpectedly, she stopped napping and my world changed. It was as if I missed that chapter in the book that told you one day they will stop napping. Now, I love to take her sourcing with me when I can. She loves to bring her camera when I’m doing a photo shoot and click her own pics! I do work weird hours. It’s never set in stone. It’s all on a need basis. I still organize my day around Ella, but next year she will start school and my world will change all over again! So for now, I’ll work very late one evening for a deadline and then play with Ella at Disney the next afternoon. It’s a very blessed life style.

Q: What do you hope your daughter will remember about this childhood home?

A: Gosh! I hope that she will always continue to be creative. That’s something we love together. She has a very creative and clever mind. I love watching how she thinks. We put a lot of love and creative thought into our small living space.  Like people, I wanted each room to be its own place and sort of have its own voice.

I hope she’ll remember her places around the flat. I tried to create Ella places in various ways throughout for her to enjoy. I love watching her build things in the window bay next to my desk, dancing to music, drawing pictures on her chalkboard wall, playing in her own kitchen, seeing her excitement to watch the sunset from her window together at night. It’s a small flat, but there is actually a lot of Ella everywhere you look without it being just about toys. It’s a happy place for her to grow up and I love that she and I can spend so much quality time together everyday.

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

A: I’m still fascinated that she was once in my tummy (as we say!). She’s growing up SO fast. I was so excited for her to start talking and I think among many favorites about Ella, I love the amazing things she says. She remembers things that I’m amazed by. She’s very clever and getting cheeky! I always knew being a mom would be the best part of my life, but Ella has surpassed my expectations. I’m very blessed to have her in my life.

In the past six months, I’ve gone from being called mommy, to just mom (which I expected much later), to mama. It’s a funny process, and I’m learning to just be and go with it. That’s not always easy for me, but it’s about growing together.

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish I would have known…

A: I wish I would have known they just suddenly stop napping!

I wish I would have known how fast it goes in the beginning. When you’re in those early stages of their life it’s easy to just get the routine going and before you know it they’re nearly four! I give Ella loads of hugs everyday. Maybe too many, but I’ll never get enough hugs!


Thank you so much, Juliana! You’re so right: If there’s one thing I could go back and enjoy a little more, it just might be the very last nap my kids took!

Friends, Juliana’s line about what Ella calls her – “I’ve gone from being called mommy, to just mom, to mama.” – touched me so much. What do your kids call you? What did they used to call you? For those of you with older ones, do you miss being called Mommy? And isn’t the day they find out your real name one of the funniest moments? It’s as though they’re understanding for the first time that you’re a real person with a real name!

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: Julie Thomas Tue, 04 Feb 2014 17:00:18 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Goodness, but I adore Julie. She seems like the sort of person who’s incredibly happy with her everyday; that friend who pinches herself during even the littlest of mundane moments. Like loving any excuse to say that something or someone is “in the barn.” Isn’t that the cutest? And then there’s her mixed feelings when her youngest pops up in the middle of the night; we’ve all wished for a good night’s sleep, but when it’s almost nearing reality…sleepless doesn’t seem so bad, does it?

Friends, I think you’re going to be quite taken with this tour – with both the open spaces and the open answers. Welcome, Thomas Family!

Q: Please tell us about the family who lives on this gorgeous piece of land.

A: Hello, and welcome! I live with my husband, who also happens to be my college sweetheart, and our three full-of-life sons.

Hudson, ten, has a big heart, is a passionate football and basketball player, plays the guitar, enjoys the outdoors, is a great big brother, and a fun all-around guy. Noah, seven, is our resident comedian, creative and thoughtful, loves to whittle (yes you read that right), wows us with his Lego building and video gaming skills, and plays the piano with gusto. Lincoln, four, is a sweet, happy little boy who stays busy keeping up with his brothers, is crazy about sports, and has daily make-believe football and baseball games – all in which he is undefeated.

Q: How did this house turn into your home?

A: For many years we dreamed of a country home with property where our boys could have some wide open spaces to play and explore. My husband would imagine late summer nights, catching up with our sons around a bonfire. I dreamt of a place where the boys could play freely without me yelling, “Car!” every few minutes. (The last road we lived on had become increasingly busy!) We hoped for a mini-farm where we could learn together the joy and responsibility of caring for some animals. While our house was spacious, we had outgrown the yard. We were looking for a place with additional outdoor space that would be welcoming for our extended family and friends.

Over the years, we looked at many houses, but the doors always seemed to close due to possible job relocation, finances, timing, didn’t quite feel right, etc. During this time, I struggled because I knew I had so much to be thankful for and didn’t want to be materialistic…yet the dream for a change in lifestyle for our family was so strong, I could almost taste it. The challenge was to continue to hope, dream, and trust without becoming discouraged or discontent.

When our real estate agent showed us this home – with over two acres of mostly fenced, flat land, a charming country house, a barn, and a chicken coop – we knew that this was it. It was all that we had ever been looking for. And can I tell you how glad we were that none of those other places had worked out? It was truly worth the wait. Though I know happiness is not a place, not a day has gone by that I haven’t whispered a prayer of thanks.

Q: What makes you love where you live?

A: I love that my parents and my sister and her family live close by; we have a wonderful support system here. I love that each time we drive home down the long gravel driveway, we can exhale and breathe more freely in our own space without worrying that we are too loud or are bothering the neighbors. We are not a quiet family. I love watching the boys run through the yard with their new puppy, Charlie. (They had asked for a dog each Christmas for years… and we were so happy to be able to give them one this year.)

I love any excuse to say that something or someone is “in the barn.” Kind of ridiculous I know, but that phrase just makes me want to pinch myself! I also love all of the windows in the house: we get a lot of natural light, and living in the Seattle area, I can’t underestimate the importance of this!

Although the Seattle area is not inexpensive, it is more reasonable to live here than Orange County, California where we moved after getting married in 2000. I don’t think living at a place like this would have been possible financially for us there. Like, ever!

I love that there can always be more dreams here…for special gatherings, additional animals, and home projects.

Q: When does your home work best for your family?

A: Besides when everyone is sleeping peacefully in their beds (ha!) I think our home works best on the Saturday mornings when we’re in no hurry to get dressed and gone. Whether we are eating breakfast as a family or each doing something different that we enjoy, we are home and happy to be greeting the new day together!

Another time our home works well is when the boys’ cousins come over and a great big game of Capture The Flag ensues. They take off running, laughing, and screaming through the barn and pastures, and we are reminded how happy we are to be here.

Q: How intentional are you in making sure each living area adds to your boys’ lives (and yours, too!) Have you edited at all so far to make a room more livable for you all?

A: When I decorate, I like to think about how a room or a home looks and feels. Is it warm and inviting? With my boys, I ask a different question: what will they DO in here? As their Great-Grandpa says, “Busy boys are good boys!”

And it’s true. They are active and most times need to be busy doing something. With that in mind, Hudson’s room has a whole wall turned chalkboard for him to draw football and basketball plays and to keep score for darts. In Noah’s room, he has a Lego table, with buckets of Legos stored beneath.

In Lincoln’s room, he has a football and baseball field mats for his train table that he can play games with his mini sports figures.

In our last house, we hardly used our formal living room. I didn’t want that to happen again. So, in this house our living room is used for many things from piano and guitar practicing to video gaming.

I am thankful to have a large laundry/mud room. Since I spend a fair amount of time there, we dedicated the bottom large built-in drawer for small toys like cars, planes, and animals that can easily be accessed and quickly put away. There is also a small basketball hoop that the boys enjoy when not shooting hoops out in the barn.

We use the hayloft portion of the barn for a rec room. There’s a ping pong table and foosball table up there, and we imagine this space will get increasingly used as the boys get older and have their friends over!

Q: With so much space, what are the rules your boys must follow when out exploring? Any danger preparedness happening?

A: One of the first things we did was nail the hay loft door shut. It had a scary drop to the cement below. We also had a security system installed in the house, which chimes each time a door is opened or closed. I love this feature! Keeping track of everyone became a lot easier.

I can check on the boys easily from the many windows that look out to the yard and pastures. But, since Lincoln is only four, I am usually still with him while he is outside, especially when his brothers are in school.

Q: What do you love most about living on so much land, and what scares you, too?

A: Although we enjoy the country feel, we are under 15 minutes drive to the boys’ school and our church, and 30 minutes from Seattle. So, we are not what you would call remote.

But I will say that we are far enough out that the darkness at night was an adjustment. We were used to streetlights and neighbors close by, which lit up our street at night. Here, it is very dark at night and I felt a little lonely once the sun went down – especially the first few weeks. Now we are used to it and on clear nights the starry sky is incredible!

So far, I haven’t been frightened by any critters…but come spring, we will see! I have traded my high heels in for Muck boots, which seem to give me an added sense of security should anything try to attack my ankles!

We are just far enough from a grocery store that I think twice about going. I try to tie in shopping while I am already taking a trip into town.

Q: What do you hope your boys remember about their home and especially you during this time in their childhoods? The good, the bad, and the sometimes not-so-cute!

A: I hope my boys remember childhood with a sense of wonder. I hope they think of home as a warm place they always felt wanted, accepted, and loved. I hope they remember being celebrated each birthday.

I hope they know they are my heart and the very best part of me. I hope they remember how much joy they brought their Dad and me. I hope they remember how we loved being with them. I hope they don’t remember how busy and tired I sometimes feel…just striving for balance in the carpool lane! If they do, I hope they remember me through the filter of how much I love them.

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

A: My favorite part of living with my own children is the deep love and connection we share, along with comfort and the freedom to be ourselves.

I also love the energy and life that our boys bring to our family. We may be exhausted, but we are never bored or lonely these days! I am always surprised that the pace of life rarely slows down – school projects, sports practices, music lessons, art docent, and on!

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

A: I wish someone had told me to remember to be in the moment and to look forward to each new stage in my children’s lives.

I have had seasons of motherhood where I have really struggled with mourning the passing of babyhood, toddlerhood, and various childhood milestones. I think it is fueled by the realization that my children are growing up so quickly. It’s also that I love these days of togetherness and childhood “magic” so much. It’s hard to imagine any other time in life will be quite so wonderful (though let’s keep it real – there are some VERY hard days and nights mixed into these wonderful years!).

I woke up the other night hearing the patter of little feet and saw the sweet mop of bed-head coming around to my side of the bed. As I reached down a hand to help our four-year-old up, I thought how we are on the tail-end of these days. For so many years I have dreamed of a good night’s sleep and we’re almost there…I got so sad.

I think it’s natural for these realizations to hit us as moms. What I don’t think is inspiring is when I let myself park there for too long. I certainly don’t want to waste the time I have with my children now!

One way that I’ve found that seems to slow down the clock is to be emotionally present in the moment. Sounds easy, but is hard to do as a busy mom. When I choose not to let my mind multi-task and do something like play a short baseball game with my sons in the front yard, I can soak up their cheers, their stride as they run the bases, and all the details I would have missed had my mind been wandering. These are the moments that become memories.

So while it can be hard to watch my babies growing up, the truth is I love who my sons are becoming.


Oh, Julie! Yes to filters on our kids’ recollections of us – here’s hoping Valencia is still around to add even more magic to their memories! Thank you so much for adding your sweetness to our day.

Friends, I’d love to hear if an out-of-the-way home thrills you or scares you. Would you miss the streetlights and the glow of your neighbors’ houses at night? Do you dream of your own wide open space, or do you prefer living close to others? Personally, I think Julie’s set-up is just right: not too far and not too close! Oh! And since some of you expressed an interest in seeing the family behind the home tour, here is the very cute Thomas family over the holidays!

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: Felicitas Von Richthofen Tue, 28 Jan 2014 17:00:10 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

This home makes my heart jump a little. There’s a garden that reminds me of La Cressonnière, and stone walls and gorgeous beams that sweep me straight back to France. Boy, I miss that place. But Felicitas’ home is the perfect antidote for Europe-sickness! It’s a wonderfully balanced mix of old and new, austere and cozy. A place that lives in her childhood memories, but will also take center stage in her own daughters’ memories, too.

Probably, that red garden door will, too. Friends, please welcome the Von Richthofens and enjoy the tour of their haus!

Q: Please tell us all about the family who makes this house a home!

A: Our little family is made up of me, Felicitas, and my husband, Raphael. We are both 33 years old and have two children: Viola is three years old, and Elenor is one. We live in a small village called Sondermuehlen in Germany. Raphael and I have been together since we met at school.

I am an art historian working for the Kunsthalle Bielefeld. Raphael is director of the family enterprise, Stock Mode, which specializes in fashion. We own four stores in our town and neighborhood.

I love being outside in the countryside with my two girls. We live door to door to my parents who are madly in love with their granddaughters, and vice versa. My personal guilty pleasures during my baby break from work are interior design, Jane Austen books and films as well as any adaptions, and following several Internet blogs of interesting women and mothers.

Q: How did this house become yours?

A: The oldest part of our house dates back to the 14th Century. It belongs to the estate of my parents who live very close to us. It had been a total ruin until my parents renovated it in 2006. During that time I finished my exams at university and was looking for a job around in order to be able to live together with Raphael. I was lucky to find the job as assistant curator at Kunsthalle Bielefeld.

When we decided to move in, we started with just our stuff from our student digs. I always knew I wanted to stay at home, and this was the perfect solution for us all.

Q: What makes you love where you live?

A: I love to live here in this old building! There’s so much charisma because everywhere you look there is history. It is actually my childhood home and I am blessed to be able to inherit it.

I love to live here because we are here in the deepest countryside but also close to the cities around for a little escape once in a while. I love the autumn in this part of Germany with its golden light and wuthering winds. I love the sound of shouting ducks in autumn, and cracking ice around the house in winter when the moat is frozen while I’m sitting in front of the fireplace.

Q: How would you describe your style? Has your house made it easy to reflect your aesthetic, or more difficult?

A: Our style is not static. We have both inherited several antique pieces of furniture and pictures from our families that we cherish. Those pieces fit very well in this old building, but it is sometimes hard to place pictures because of the stonework and woodwork in the house.

There is indeed a whole lot of stonework and woodwork that we had to work around. We ultimately decided to combine the antique style with modern aspects. Like my favorite Egg Chair by Arne Jacobsen in my study.

I love the light and minimal style of the Scandinavian designers. My favorite brand at the moment is HAY from Denmark.

Q: What rooms work the best for your family? What details have you added that make your life better, more fun, and happier?

A: When Viola began to crawl, we spend most of the time with her in our smaller living room. It is very cozy and has a very smooth carpet from Hay. When Elenor was born, we began to spend more time in the dining room next to the kitchen. The big Scandinavian stove was built and we moved a sofa to the room. It has become more of a living room for us now. As the rooms of the two girls are upstairs, we arranged a corner of the room with a carpet and big cushions for crawling and playing. Viola has a little table where she can draw and play picnic with her teddies and dolls. In the kitchen we have also a little doll kitchen that the girls love to take apart.

Every night I am crawling around the rooms to put things in order again. The destiny of moms, I suppose. Once a very good friend of mine sent me an email with this nice quote saying “Good moms have sticky floors, dirty ovens, and happy kids.” I always try to remember this quote when I’m tired of cleaning and tidying up.

A typical day with our two girls begins with a little singing while waking both one after another up. Some reading and playing follows, and then the battle of getting dressed. Breakfast for all and then I get the kitchen in order. We then go outside regardless how the weather is unless it pours cats and dogs. Elenor takes a nap in the stroller and Viola plays in her sandpit or we take a little walk with the trainer bike around the house.

We often visit a little dwarf that lives in a big stump in the woods or go to the neighbor farmer who has many cows and calfs. Often, Grandpa or Grandma join us with their dog Finley. After lunch both girls take a nap. This is my precious time where I have a moment for myself. In the afternoon we spent time outside or visit girlfriends with children. We go to music class or the kindergarten or do our weekly shopping. After dinner Viola watches a little television series called The Sandman. We play and read books together and when Raphael comes home in time, we go bathing with the two muddy girls and then bring them both to bed by 8.00 pm. Not every day is the same…and of course not always happy, for sure!

Q: Do you decorate with an emphasis on your daughters’ needs?

A: I have to admit that my view of the world changed drastically when I became a mother! Before that I never thought of any nursery stuff or children’s books. I could not understand that people got mad talking about their children. I told myself I would never be that mom who is constantly thinking about their children and also talking about them with friends and even strangers at dinner parties…But I actually became this kind of mother!

There is something happening with you when you become a mother. It changes your inner self drastically. In fact, your inner self is replaced and filled up by your children and their needs. Nowadays I start crying watching advertising where babies are on screen or when I see my younger daughter sleeping so peacefully in her stroller. I feel so touched when Viola is playing with little nothings, talking to her dolls and teddies, or when she comes running to me with no reason hugging and kissing me heartily. I never thought that such small people could already express such emotions and even touch my emotions.

So before I became a mother, I was interested in interior design for adults. When I was pregnant, I focused on children’s rooms and baby clothes. In Germany you call it a kind of nesting instinct that kicks in. Amazing. You cannot stop until everything is perfect.

I decorate mostly what I personally like and what fits to our house. We had to install several grilles in front of the stairs when our children started to get mobile. I removed all dangerous things from small hooks or tables. My children have their areas within the house, which are decorated with rugs, furs, books, and toys, but I do not rearrange my personal interior for their needs in particular. I think when they grow older and autonomous, their belongings will more and more move to their rooms upstairs.

Q: I see a studio! How do you incorporate art and crafts and design into your daily life? And how do you balance work and home life?

A: I have a little studio and my husband does, too, but we normally do not work from home. We just organize family life from here. I often spent hours when the girls are sleeping at my desk and checking emails, writing to friends, or just checking on my favorite blogs.

We arranged a big studio under the roof. I intend to spend there more time in the future and be creative there when the kids are older. At the moment, scissors, modeling clay, etc. are not used very often with a little baby around. When I start working again I will probably work from home, but not very often and only in the evening.

Q: What do you hope your girls remember most from this home? What traditions are you trying to build in their memories?

I hope they will remember a warm and cosy atmosphere where they will always love to come back to when they are grown up. We are living several traditions given to us by our families, and we will also create our own when the kids get older. For example, my whole family is still mad about searching for eggs in the garden on Easter. It is a funny sight to watch ten adults, a dog, and two little ones running around the garden shouting to announce what they have found!

I hope they will remember great summers outside with lots of time and freedom, and great winters with a lot of snow, sleighing, and ice-skating around the house. Rainy days spent inside playing with great childhood friends, baking cookies, or making popcorn for a cosy evening in front of the fireplace reading books or watching a film. I hope they will remember a carefree childhood with a lot of security and freedom giving them the basis to be able to develop and live their dreams independently. I hope that our girls will always appreciate the distinctiveness of their home and try to preserve it.

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

A: I am very thankful that nobody told me that when you become a mother you will never be without fear and sorrow anymore. You’ve just been given something that would be the most terrible to lose. You will not be free anymore. You will have to say goodbye every day, to let go every second.

This is sad and also wonderful, because in return you will receive unconditional love and moments where your heart overflows.


Yes, Felicitas, I am so glad no one told me that, either. It’s so true that the process of being a parent can be summed up like this: “You’ve just been given something that would be the most terrible to lose.” Thank you so much for sharing your gorgeous home with us. I simply love the fact that your girls are outside every day, no matter the temperature. Fresh air – especially cold, fresh air – somehow keeps everyone in a good mood, don’t you think?

As someone who is now surrounded by lots of family – as opposed to friends who turned into family in France – I realize the luck of being close to relatives. Sometimes, I think that’s one of the most important considerations in settling down on a location. Do you see it like this, too? I’d love to know!

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: Jacey Prupas Tue, 21 Jan 2014 15:30:01 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I know you’re going to enjoy Jacey’s story. She’s a mom working as an attorney, trying hard to reconcile her innate style and decor leanings with the reality of living with tiny stain machines! Her family is also living in a home affected by the burst of the Reno housing bubble, but they’re just fine staying put. With their family close-by and their children attending the very same preschool as Jacey did, they’re certainly not stuck. Such a wonderful way to view an often stressful situation, isn’t it?

Friends, please help me welcome Jacey and please enjoy this tour around her home.

Q: Please tell us all about the family who lives here!

A: My husband and I live in this home with our two children, Lauren (5) and Cooper (3). We are missing our dog, Edna, an English bulldog, who is now enjoying life up in the clouds according to the children.

Lauren has two speeds: all out and asleep. She loves to talk, do arts and crafts, swim, and bike…really, anything and everything. She is a real pistol. She is currently obsessed with salons, so every Saturday she sets up a manicure station, a hair station, etc. throughout the house. My husband and I then text relatives and friends asking (more like begging) them to come over to get beautified. My son Cooper constantly has painted toenails and fingernails. Just when we thought Lauren had tired of the salon business she recently added a photo-booth in the laundry room to document everyone’s makeover. When I recently asked her why she was working so hard at the salon business she replied, “I am earning money so we can buy a new couch…the ones we have now are really dirty.”

Cooper is my little love bug, but now that he is three he has turned into a real rascal. He is generally relaxed, quiet, and perfectly content playing alone. He is never shy to tell anyone how much he loves them. He is an absolute gem.

My husband and I have been married for seven years. We are both attorneys and met while clerking for the same judge here in Reno. The judge saw the spark between us, set us up, and eventually married us at a wonderful ceremony in Napa, California. When my mom asked if he was the one, I said, “Yes, he’s perfect.” Indeed, my husband is perfect in so many ways, partly because he is nothing like me. He is patient, forgiving, soft spoken, and relaxed. All in all, the four of us make a great family.

Q: How did this house turn into your home?

A: We purchased this semi-custom home at the height of the housing market. We never expected that six years later it would be worth nearly half of what we bought it for. Thankfully, it is a wonderful home we can live in for the next 20 years and raise our family. I think just in the last few years (right after our son was born) my husband and I really started to embrace this home. Probably because we knew our family was now complete. We started to invest in more furniture, window coverings, and art. We knew we were going to be here for the long haul.

Q: What makes you love where you live?

A: Reno, Nevada is a bit of a hidden hot spot. Both my husband and I were raised in Reno (and both of our parents are still here) and we knew we wanted to raise our family here as well. Reno is a close knit community; my son goes to the same preschool I attended, and our children play with the children of our childhood friends. A lot of people come back to Reno after college to raise their families.

Our home is only 20 minutes from Lake Tahoe – which provides hiking and waterskiing in the summer, and snow skiing in the winter – Donner Lake, and only three hours from the Bay Area. Needless to say, we love taking advantage of all of that. We also enjoy taking advantage of the university’s free music concerts in the summer, the annual hot balloon air race, the rodeo, and the annual rib cook off.

Q: How do you describe your aesthetic? Do you decorate with your kids in mind?

A: To be frank, I really don’t decorate with my kids in mind, but my husband constantly gets in the way and brings me back to reality. Currently, we are engrossed in a lengthy discussion about new couches. I have found several couches I love (the current ones have so much chocolate milk, Oreo frosting, and peanut butter stuck to them that it’s actually difficult to find a clean spot of fabric on them), but my husband stands in the way.

The discussion goes something like this: Me, “Look at this fantastic comfy couch!” My husband, “The couch only has one seat cushion which means only one flip-over after a stain…that is not practical.” Thus, I am still looking for a great couch with my aesthetic, but reality is slowly setting in and I’m coming to terms with the fact that my husband will only let me buy a couch that is vinyl or plastic. Needless to say, my aesthetic is not exactly kid friendly. I like a lot of white, glass, and and clean lines.

Q: Tell us about your work, and describe a typical day merging work with home life.

A: Both my husband and I are attorneys and we both work full time. Our life is hectic. We both constantly rely on each other, our loyal nanny who has been with us since Lauren was born, and all of the family we have in town, especially my mother who has the children once a week. Unless one of us is traveling for work, both my husband and I leave the house around 8 am and don’t come home until 5:30 or 6pm.

We have dinner together almost every night. We both try to fit in as much as we can during the day so when we come home for dinner, we can give the kids 100% of our attention. We do rely on the nanny a lot to get certain errands done and to start (or actually cook) most dinners. We usually get a few texts from the nanny sending us pictures of what the kids are up to during the day, which we both really enjoy because it keeps us clued in as to how the kids are spending their time. Although we are both exhausted by the time we get home from work, those two hours before bedtime are precious. We talk about our day at dinner, take baths, we might play a game or two, watch a little television, read books, brush teeth, and go to bed.

Q: Is it difficult to find balance? How do you manage on the best days?

A: Yes. Yes. Yes! We manage by not taking things too seriously, by relying on the nanny and family, relying on a lot of coffee, and a good episode of Homeland every once and awhile to finish the day.

Q: What traditions and memories do you hope your children will carry with them from their childhood house and how you’ve set up their home?

A: I hope they learn that family and love is the most important thing in life. My husband and I try to enforce that with nightly dinners while talking about the highlights of our day. I also have pictures of family all over the house to remind them of everyone who loves them. I want them to reflect on their childhood home with loving memories.

Our kids also love to ride their bikes in the cul-de-sac, have water fights with the neighbors, set up lemonade stands, bake cookies, and do crafts. In fact, on the weekends the kids rarely like to leave the house, which can be a bit overwhelming for both my husband and I since it sometimes makes us feel like prisoners in our own home. I am grateful, however, that my children love their home and feel so comfortable there.

Q: If you could give other families style and decor advice, what would it be?

A: Inspiration and great ideas are everywhere nowadays. It seems every magazine, newspaper, television show, and blog has great ideas about style and decor advice. Seek them out and gather ideas that work for you. Although it’s difficult to do sometimes, especially for me, make as much of the home as kid friendly as possible. Spills are easier to clean up on hardwood floors, vinyl or leather furniture is easier to clean than fabric, printed sheets and towels hide more stains and dirt.

With that said, I think it’s important for children to have a space in their home that they can claim as their own and where they feel the most safe. My daughter’s room is her sanctuary. It is a place where she uses her imagination, keeps her most sacred pictures and toys, and a place where she always belongs.

Q: What is your absolute favorite thing about living with your own kids? What surprised you most about becoming a mom?

A: My absolute favorite thing about living with my children is having them come into our room in the morning all groggy, and cuddling in our bed with me before the day begins. We get to talk about their dreams, what’s in store for the day, and what we want for dinner when Mom and Dad come home.

I also love the things they say. Recently, my son just started calling the coat hooks at his school “hookers.”

What surprised me most about becoming a mom is how my children constantly teach me patience and to really live in the moment. I never expected to know how relaxing and enjoyable it is to build a lego castle with your kids. They really make you pay attention to the little things.

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish I had known…

A: I wish I had known so many things….How much I would love my children so unconditionally, how tiring parenthood really is, and how difficult it would be to be a mom with a full-time career. If I had known these things, however, I might have had a second thought about becoming a parent. I am glad I didn’t hesitate and jumped in eyes closed, feet first.

I’ve come to understand that being a parent is a journey that is supposed to teach you patience, unconditional love, and loyalty. These are things that no one can tell you or teach you; you have to experience them for yourself to fully understand it….and to cherish it.


Jacey, thank you so much for showing us around your home; your views in Reno are divine, and your thoughts are just as lovely.

Friends, I’m curious to hear from those of you who work long hours outside of your home. Do you have a difficult time reconnecting when you come home at night – maybe find yourself cleaning up from the day you’ve been away, and always feeling like you’re playing catch-up with your kids –  or do you have hard and fast rules like Jacey and her husband for the hours your family is able to spend together? I always love your perspective.

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: Natalie Hastings Tue, 14 Jan 2014 14:00:58 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Oh, you’re going to love this tour! It’s a holiday from our regular peeks into our everyday homes as we venture to a vacation home in Nicaragua. Certainly, there’s much less clutter and personal items – good thing Legos can fit well into carry-ons – but there are still signs that this is a wonderful home to fill with family memories. Like naps in hammocks. Crashing waves. Sand castles for days. Surfaces that get dirty and wet, but just need a good sweep every so often. Even better when those good sweeps are performed by a caretaker!

One of the greatest things about Natalie and Jeff’s tour is that it comes to life with one click over to House Hunters International. (Consider this tour a spoiler if you haven’t seen their episode yet! Sorry!) So, Friends, please enjoy a little trip south of the border. Way south!

Q: Tell us about the family who vacations in this incredible beachfront home!

A: We are a family of four. My husband, Jeff, is a VP of Risk for a large regional bank  – nothing like Along Came Polly! I am the communications director for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which is a museum of conscience that enables modern abolition through the lessons of the Underground Railroad. Our son, Colin, seven, is a sweet, gentle soul who nurtures an obsession with birds when he is not building Legos. Our son, Graham, four, is full of energy, loves to be the center of attention, and is always afraid he is missing something. His favorite question right now is, “Is it tomorrow?”

Jeff and I met at a Christmas party right after I graduated from college. He had just come home from several years in South Africa, and I had just moved to Cincinnati. We discovered we both attended Vanderbilt University but he’d graduated right before I began. Despite the connections through school, we did not hit it off until several months later when we ran into each other through volunteering at our church. Once we did connect, we discovered a mutual love of travel and discovering other cultures. This eventually led to a wedding filled with lots of lime green and a solo bridal dance to the song “Brick House” by the Commodores.

Even though they are both sons, Jeff and I can both claim we each have a carbon copy in our children. Jeff is cautious and introspective, as is Colin. I am impulsive and led by emotion, just like Graham.

Q: How did this home come to be yours? (It sounds like you searched for a while!)

A: Jeff and I separately read the same article in the New York Times in 2006 called “The Rediscovery of Nicaragua” and then I brought it up at dinner. The gist was, get to Nicaragua before it becomes developed like Costa Rica. Back then, the roads were just getting finished after years of disrepair. The electricity was sometimes spotty. Few people spoke English. We could travel in old school buses with chickens. It sounded like a great adventure. Not long after, we decided to check it out. it was all we hoped for, plus lots more. But I thought it was probably once-in-a-lifetime.

Instead, we made Nicaragua our annual-ish couple vacation, thanks to the generosity of our parents’ childcare. But we wanted to share it with our kids, so a few years ago, we brought the boys and rented a beach house in the little town where we now own. I immediately knew we had found a forever kind of place for our family.

We love Las Penitas because it’s an authentic fishing village of maybe 1,000 people, with a smattering of small hotels, hostels, and restaurants. The only time it’s very busy is on Sundays when the locals come out from the town to hang out by the bocana – an area with massive tidal pools that lead into an estuary and nature preserve. It feels like a real Nicaraguan town first, and a tourist destination second.

Plus, it’s only 15 minutes from colonial Leon, the second-largest city in Nicaragua. It was established in the 16th century and boasts several UNESCO World Heritage sites, including the largest cathedral in Central America. Leon is the university town where the revolution began. It has several grocery stores and a huge local market, which is where we get fresh produce. The fish we eat we get right on the beach.

But most of all, we’ve fallen in love with the people.

We live in a regular suburban neighborhood. Jeff is pretty thrifty. We buy most of our clothes at Target, and we buy groceries at Aldi. We’re not the most likely candidates for a second home. But eventually, looking at real estate listings turned into looking at real houses. It wasn’t an easy process, as our first choice fell through, and it required another trip. But we ended up with a better house in the end.

Q: We’re able to see your journey on House Hunters International! Tell us about your experience on the show.

A: You can’t say brand names on the show. Do you know how hard it is to tell a three-year old that he can’t say “Lego,” he can only say “brick?” And then Colin is correcting him, “It’s not even a brick, that’s a plate!”

Filming the show was a lot of time but ultimately a lot of fun. The crews they sent for our Cincinnati and Las Penitas segments were family friendly, and my kids still talk about “Mr. Dan” who taught them a new version of high-five’ing.

I spent a lot of time standing on bricks for our interviews, so that Jeff and I could be in the same shot; he’s a foot taller than I am.

I’m glad we did the show because it’s a great memento for the kids of that time in their lives.

Q: You decorated the house from afar, which was made a little easier by Pinterest and the help of your realtor’s wife. Tell us how that worked out for you, and what you would do differently if you had to do it all over again.

A: Our realtor’s wife, Brooke, is a designer based in Nicaragua, and she helped us source everything for the house. With the exception of a few Ikea bed linens, we furnished the house locally; everything was either hand-made for the house or was recycled from the previous owner and made new.

I created a Pinterest board and shared ideas with Brooke, and I also got opinions from a few other friend with great style. We had hiccups: some communication with the carpenter was lost in translation, the yarn for some of our blankets was held up due to a customs strike in Honduras.

Nicaragua is known for high-quality furniture and hammocks. There are different little towns known for different types of handicrafts, mostly near the town of Masaya.

I love everything about the house, but if I had to do it over again, I’d add a little more lime green.

Q: What were your goals with the overall decor in this house? How different is the aesthetic from your “real” home?

A: I love lime green. No, like really love it. That is evident in either house you might visit. In Cincinnati, our kitchen walls are called “Limeade” and honestly they look like the green screen in a recording studio.

Our Cincinnati house has more clutter, and other than a lot of color, it doesn’t have a streamlined feel. When we bought our first home I was 25 and was not far removed from the college dorm aesthetic. I hadn’t developed home style. My favorite pieces are our mid-century modern tables in the living room that we got from Jeff’s grandparent’s basement.

For the beach house, the house needed to feel like us, but it also needed to leave an opening for others to feel at home there, too. Being on the beach and in Latin America gave us leverage to use a really bright color palette, but we also drew upon the simplicity of the white cedar plank walls and stone floors.

We also had to think about other practicalities you don’t usually consider. Nearly all of the living spaces are outdoors, so furniture has to weather the weather. We put cane on the chairs for the dining room table so that wet bathing suits wouldn’t wear them down too soon. We needed screen for the windows, but it had to be light enough so it didn’t obstruct the views.

It’s hard to think about strangers using our furniture and worrying about what could happen, but I have to remind myself that it’s more like we are sharing our home with them.

Q: Describe what it means to you to have this escape from your daily life. Did you ever think you’d have a holiday home?

A: I’m originally from Eastern Kentucky, but going to Nicaragua feels like going home in a way that is hard to explain. We only speak English to our kids, otherwise, it’s Spanish. It’s always warm (well, hot), the ocean is always warm, and it’s almost always sunny. We sleep with the windows open and listen to the waves crash. The kids play with local boys and they practice speaking each other’s languages.

We don’t have a TV at the house, and we use pre-paid internet, which forces us to be intentional about being online. I tell work colleagues if they have an emergency to message me through Facebook, so I am really able to disconnect from work email, and my husband does, too.

We’ve also established many meaningful relationships with the people who live there, which has resulted in many a meal of fresh fish or shellfish caught for us by friends who are fishermen! Mary, the caretaker of the house (caretakers are common, especially for rental properties), cooks the meals and cleans up, so that’s another nice disconnect.

We have friends show up at our house on their horse, I’ve rescued a cow stuck in a neighbor’s yard, we buy ice cream from a little cart that walks up and down the street, and the waves crashing right outside our yard were just part of an international surf tournament. It’s a world away from our normal life. I always wanted to live on the beach some day, but I can’t say I really thought we’d have a beach house in our 30s.

Our house is a vacation rental that is managed by a local real estate agency. We are actively engaged in communicating with prospective guests, but our agent manages everything on the ground, which is a huge relief. They also help to stay on top of the maintenance needed to keep a beachfront house looking new. Let’s just say it involves a lot of painting. And then more painting.

Q: We all wonder how our kids will remember their childhoods and our role in them as their mom; how do you hope they’ll remember you from this time in their lives? The good, the bad, and the ugly!

A: I hope they’ll remember having a picnic in front of the TV and staying up on a school night to watch the movie “The Hobbit,” to celebrate finishing the book. I hope they will remember our night-night time before bed when Mom and Dad switch off between kids in their bunks. I hope they will remember socials at the swim club. And joy and imagination and laughter. I hope they will forget that manic 20-minute period before the school bus arrives in the morning and that Mom always made Dad trim their fingernails.

Q: What do you think this holiday home has added to your family’s life together? What do you hope will stick the most to your kids’ memories?

A: The home has meant so much for relationships on many levels – the local friends we’ve made whom the boys now call family, and the family and friends who have shared the house with us on their own trips and enhanced our love for the home. Since we started them young, I hope they will remember us as always having this place. I hope they become lifelong friends with the kids we’ve met, and that even as they grow up, going back to Las Penitas will be like a family reunion.

The local children we hang out with are very poor. Their parents cut wood in mangroves or catch conch, mussels, and fish everyday to live. So, the cross-cultural experience extends beyond language and culture to a socio-economic sharing of experiences that the boys haven’t yet noticed, except to ask why the other kids swim in their clothes. But I hope as they grow knowing these kids will deepen their empathy for and understanding of others.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What surprised you the most about being a mother? And what do you feel yourself already missing?

A: My favorite part about being a mom is showing the boys affection. I have two great cuddlers, and they think I’m their princess. We love to cuddle and read stories or watch a movie. And dance parties. I love dance parties. What surprised me the most about being a mom is how much I’ve learned to love my own parents in new ways and appreciate them.

I don’t feel I’m missing anything – I’ve never been one to look back with sadness or regret. I eagerly anticipate every phase as it comes along and think things keep getting better.

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

A: I wish someone had told me earlier not to strive for balance. What is balance, anyway? The most frustrating times I’ve had as a mom have been related to trying for balance. I like to do everything full-throttle, and any other pace just seems, well, out of balance.


Natalie, your very first note to me mentioned that your Cincinnati house wasn’t so special, but your holiday home could be of interest. You were right about the last part, for sure! Thanks so much for sharing it with us.

Friends, if you had asked me if I would ever have a second home, I would have answered “Maybe in my dreams!” So it was nice hearing Natalie’s take on it, too. It’s possible! Financially and emotionally. (Didn’t you love when she said she feels like Nicaragua is home? I am anxiously awaiting that same feeling when our cottage is finished.) And it could all begin with an article shared at dinner! So let me ask you: Will you ever own a second home? If yes, where will it be?

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: Jessica Doll Tue, 07 Jan 2014 15:00:19 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Hooray for a fresh start to our Living With Kids tours! Let’s start 2014 with a home I could’ve probably photographed myself as Jessica and her family live in my neck of the woods. They’re renting in the gorgeous area of Cupertino in a Mackay-designed home, which seems to mean that the sunlight slides in so wonderfully throughout the day.

Still, for all the sunshine there’s a tiny bit of rain in the Doll family’s life. But Jessica’s attitude turns those rainy days into another reason to cozy up on the couch with her boys and recognize that there’s beauty in downpours. Great windows and an even greater outlook on life are such gifts, don’t you think? Friends, I’m happy to welcome you to the Doll house! I hope you enjoy it.

Q: Please tell us all about the lovely family who lives in the Doll house!

A: We are a family of four, residing in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. I’m a professional photographer and blogger, and my husband is a Creative Director who loves to build and fly RC helicopters.

We have two sons, Aiden and Søren. Aiden is ten and we just recently found out he is on the autistic spectrum. He’s very focused on robotics and inventions and has a heart of gold. Søren is a very strong-willed and spirited 18 month old. His favorite hobbies include playing with anything that is not a toy, and attempting to fix the TV. Don’t worry! It’s tethered to the studs! We also have a few furry friends: a Pug named Yoda, a Pomeranian named Lily, and an oversized rescue cat named Ellie.

Q: How did this house turn into your home?

A: We are just renting this house, but stumbled across it by way of a photo-less ad on Craigslist. When I came to view the place the first time I immediately started to imagine us living our life together there. The owner is a retired architect and I’m so happy that he’s left the original architectural details of the home in place. I’m a big fan of mid-century modern design and have been let down in the past when owners buy a mid-century modern home and remove things like the large windows or open beams.

Although this home was designed by John Mackay, it has multiple qualities that make it similar to the Eichler homes all over California. We’re very much in love with the inside-outside feel of it and one of our favorite pastimes is to sit and watch the rain through the windows. At night when we’re cozied up on the couch we can also watch the moon rise and make its way across the windows that face west.

The gated courtyard makes a whimsical and safe place for the kids to play. We keep a seasonal garden in the west side yard and I’ve built the kids a sandbox on that side as well. We also added a stock tank pool in the back corner for less than desirable summer days which are gladly few and far between.

Q: What makes you love where you live?

A: We live in Cupertino, California. Its reputation for having great public schools precedes itself. Three of the top five schools in California are here in Cupertino, along with Apple Computers! They are really great for our older son since he receives a lot of help through the public school system.

I love that we are centrally located, too. It takes about 45 minutes by car to get to Santa Cruz, Half Moon Bay, Oakland, and San Francisco. Our specific neighborhood is very walkable, so most of my errands are completed by walking to places nearby. We are at home here, and it makes a nice base to retreat to when we are not on the go.

Q: How do you describe your aesthetic? Do you decorate with your kids in mind? 

A: I don’t feel like I have a specific style. I love mid-century modern, and being of Danish descent, I am in love with Scandinavian design. I try to blend the two in our home and prefer minimal and less cluttered looking rooms. I usually like a nice neutral and sometimes monochromatic palette, but have been known to include more bold clean prints as well.

I try to include items in our home that are meaningful to us. We all have vintage mason jars that store some of our most precious keepsakes and memories. Some corners of our home have been added out of necessity, like the play nook in our office. It is supposed to keep our toddler busy in case I need to answer an e-mail or get any sort of work done while he is awake. It doesn’t always work.

Our house isn’t large, so I don’t do a lot of decorating around the kids as much as I do try to best utilize the space for all of us. The kids don’t have a play room but I’ve got little corners and nooks around to store their toys or art supplies.

The credenza in the dining room hosts all of their art supplies, as well as party supplies, pet food, and candles. It seems like a really odd mix but it works for us in the space. Since Søren still sleeps with us, his clothes and other baby items are stored in half of the hallway closet. His crib is in our room and our older son has their room to himself for now.

When Søren is ready to sleep in a regular bed, I have been thinking about trading rooms with the boys so they can have the larger master suite. We don’t need a lot of space in our bedroom and it would give them a nice big room to play in so we could migrate some of the toys from around the rest of the house.

Q: Where do you find the best design inspiration?

A: Pinterest! Certain design blogs. I also like Apartment Therapy. It’s hard to find something that I feel like is the same as my style since I feel like my style is a blend of a few different styles. It’s easier for me to take elements from an inspirational image and try to work x and y into my home instead of x,y, and z.

Q: You’re a blogger who shares a lot of photos about your kids and daily life together (like a lot of us!). Are you ever concerned about their privacy? Where do you draw the lines?

A: I have been blogging for a very long time, since 1999! The blog that I had from 1999-2005 was much more personal and open than the one that I have now. I used to blog about my daily life in general and was young and dealt with quite a bit of negative feedback from the internet, so I’d like to think that I learned a lot in my early blogging years.

The blog that I have now was created as a way for us to share photos with our far-away families but it has evolved to include our interests as well. Since one of our favorite hobbies is travel, I’ve recently focused it on our adventures in California and beyond. Sometimes I throw in a little bit about our personal lives, but I don’t give day-to-day details and am very careful not to reveal personal information like what school my son goes to or where my husband works.

When we travel I don’t reveal where we are staying or going right at the moment, only after so others can enjoy it as well. I try to keep my blog mostly light-hearted and focused on being more editorial with my photos, instead of with words.

Q: What traditions and memories do you hope your children will carry with them from their childhood house and how you’ve set up their home?

A: I think aside from the obvious cleanliness factor, I hope that my boys always remember that minimalism in the home keeps your mind at peace.

We don’t watch television during the week and always make it a point to eat dinner every night at the table together as a family. It’s important to be able to reconnect with each other at the end of a long day. I feel like it helps to remind you what is most important in life.

Q: If you could give other families style and decor advice, what would it be?

A: Take your time and do what works for your family. Make a list for each room that helps to define what its function is and what the essentials are. Start with those and build your decor around them.

I have spent a lot of time decorating our house with setups that were inspired by something I saw on Pinterest or some quick idea that I had, and sometimes they just don’t work out in the long run. I always end up going back to what works best for our family, and considering our needs in the space.

I think our entry way has changed looks about five times since we moved in. I always get a big idea about what it’s supposed to look like and when it finally does look like my vision, it just doesn’t work out for us. I think how we have it set up right now will work best for awhile since there is space to put the stroller, coats, and shoes.

Q: What is your absolute favorite thing about living with your own kids? What surprised you most about becoming a mom?

A: The constant entertainment factor. One or both of the kids are always doing something to make us smile or laugh. It is just so infectious that you can’t help but join in.

Just the other day our 18 month old learned how to snort like a pig, and probably on the same day our older son got into this mesh tunnel while standing up and was shuffling around like a walking stick. There is never a dull moment when you have as many tiny bodies in a house as we do.

Growing up I always felt like I had a motherly instinct, and now as a professional photographer I feel it as well. I have always felt at ease around kids and often I feel like I’m the type of person who attracts them. I think it has worked out to my advantage; being confident around babies and kids is half the battle.

The stuff that I thought was going to be hard is easy, and the hard stuff is twice as hard as I thought it would be.

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish I had known…

A: That my kids would be so different. You always hear that kids are all different, but it really takes having two of them to realize just how different they can be. It has been a real struggle to parent a child who needs lots of love and support and who isn’t very outgoing and a child who is very persistent and spirited.

I always thought that since my kids are so far apart in age that it would be a cake-walk to have two, and I can fully admit now that I was so wrong. We’re getting better at it as time goes on, but it has been a definite reality check and a learning experience for our little family.


Oh, Jessica. It’s always that way, isn’t it? This parenting job surprises me at every corner, and just when I think I have it down there’s a new stage ready to jump out and surprise me!

After brainstorming ways to make The Treehouse bedrooms work for our family, I’m always buoyed when I hear of other creative solutions! I believe you’re the second or third family to switch up the master and the kids’ rooms. Please let us know if you follow through and tell us how it’s working out.

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: I Wish Someone Had Told Me… Tue, 31 Dec 2013 14:00:30 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

One of my favorite questions to ask my Living With Kids tour guides has nothing to do with decoration, and everything to do with parenting and the lessons we wish we’d learned just one day sooner. I always tell my interviewees, “Please have fun with these questions…and don’t be scared to be honest!” It’s those honest answers that move us the most, and I wanted to be sure to spend some time with a few of them before we begin another year of tours. I hope you enjoy the look back as much as I have.

I wish someone had told me…

From Andrea: This will sound completely silly, but I wish I had known newborns aren’t newborns for a year. I wish someone had told me that period only lasts six weeks max. I wish I had gotten that through my head the first time round and just sat down, cuddled, and pressed my cheek to the top of their fuzzy heads more. And I also wish that I had known it would be hard to stop having babies. They are intoxicating and addictive little things! I would have started so much sooner…

From Kate: How completely natural it feels to be a mother. I was so worried when I was pregnant that I would somehow get it wrong. I remember feeling astonished that the hospital was prepared to let me take Harry home the next day without a handbook or a test or anything! But Harry and I learned together, and becoming a mum is the most amazing and natural thing I’ve ever done.

From Haeley: To use semi-gloss instead of flat paint on walls in reach of little sticky fingers and crayons! That, and to not buy a really expensive couch when our first daughter turned one. Three years later that poor couch has done a lot of time as a bounce house.

From Kendra: That comparison is the thief of joy. I remember hearing this and thinking how true this was for me – not just with my kids but with other parts of my life as well.

From Julie: To go slow to go fast. Kids sure do rebel against a rush! Going slow solves most of my problems these days.

From Ruth: That the concept of ‘mercies new every morning’ (Lamentations 3:22-23) applies especially to mothers of little children! Well, to this mother, at least. Through experience I now know that a bad day does not make a bad life, and that tomorrow we get to start afresh. God forgives my mistakes and my children do, too!

From Camilla: To enjoy my parents while they’re still young. I focused so much attention on my children, everything else just fell away. I suddenly turned around to notice my parents had grown older and weren’t the same people anymore.

From Karin: That kids are resilient and you cannot ruin them for life by making one parenting mistake.

From Karey: How heartbreaking it would be to have a family. It’s not even these years that are the heartbreaking ones. Everyone said the teenage years would be gut-wrenchers, but they’re not. They’re actually pretty wonderful. It’s the ones coming. I can feel it. I am going to have to let these girls go someday and hope they want to come back and see me sometime.

I mean, imagine it. Someone gives you the best gifts you could ever dream up. Three of them. And every day is like Christmas, with the waking up and seeing those same happy gifts every single day. Over and over and over again. Except if they’re at a sleepover. And then one day, it all turns into Casimir Pulaski Day. Which could be a very fine day, but I don’t think you get the same sort of presents. If any. I’m going to have to figure out how to celebrate it. And no matter how awesome a day it may be, I know I’ll always miss the never-ending Christmas.

From Chelsey: Not to judge a woman whose house is messy or cluttered. You never know who’s in their first trimester of a pregnancy, who is dealing with depression or an autoimmune disease, who’s struggling in their marriage, who’s overworked in some other area, or who hasn’t had a good night’s sleep in a long, long time. It can and does happen to the best of us!

I wish someone had told me that when I see someone who doesn’t seem to have it 100% together to love first – and then try to help, if I can.

From Linda: That having kids doesn’t stifle your creativity; it just challenges you to think outside the box. And also this simple rule of happiness: “Do more of what makes you happy and fulfills you, do less of what doesn’t.” It relates to our home decor, our families, our free time…and yet we seem to spend so much of our time doing the opposite.

From Lynne: I wish someone had told me that life would go by so fast. It was only yesterday that the kids were crawling and now they are in University.

I would have played more games. I would have been goofier. I would have laid on the ground and looked at more stars with them. I would have taken more moments to just sit and BE with them in the moment. Those quiet moments are beautiful and I always want more.

From Julie: To appreciate my mom and dad more. They both died young. You don’t know how much you appreciate them until you’re an adult doing what they did.

I think about how one Christmas when I was about ten, I told my mom I hated everything she’d gotten me. And there were nine of us, so I can’t even fathom how she even pulled Christmas off, only to have it followed by a moment like that. I so get it now. Just wish I could tell her.


Oh, they get me every time. If you’d like, you may add your own answer to this post for the rest of us to ponder. We are all better when we’re sharing, don’t you think?

Friends, I want to wish you the most beautiful beginning to the New Year! Cheers to 2014! May it be full of beautiful life lessons, generosity and compassion for each other, and much, much love.

P.S. — To see all the homes in my Living With Kids series, just click here. And if you’d ever like to share your own home and words of wisdom with us, just send me a note! It’s a lot of fun…I promise!

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Living With Kids: Looking Back Tue, 24 Dec 2013 17:00:54 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Hasn’t it been such a joy to peek into other families’ homes? Now that we’re working on The Treehouse (and The French Cottage!), I even more fully appreciate all the thought and care and decision-making that goes into turning a house into a home. I say it a lot, but it’s so much more than paint colors and couch positions.

It’s slipcovers even though you dream of suede. It’s crazy-bold patterned throw rugs instead of your favorite shade of white. It’s realizing your favorite color has suddenly turned into the same color your kids love, which is on the complete other side of the spectrum as your favorite shade of white. It’s baskets full of nonsense that you fill back up every night before you head to bed. It’s dirty dishes. So many dirty dishes. It’s trying to pick out paint colors and returning home with seventy square samples of pink. It’s night lights in the hallway, toothpaste in the sink, and a swing in the living room. It’s turning the couch to face the window because the forecast is snow tomorrow. It’s make do when all you really want is make new. It’s planning for the someday while enjoying the right now.

And to think, it all began with a pink couch and an orange chair! From that fun jumping off point, I’ve learned something new every Tuesday…

Like foyers can be fabulous. And those gorgeous coats of yours don’t have to be hidden away in a closet.

Sinks with a stellar view might make the never-ending dishes a little less miserable! (And hidden televisions are the best.)

As a matter of fact, stellar views can really turn a day around. Especially if you ever find yourself 250 miles above the surface of the Earth. As you do.

Round dining tables positioned close to a chalkboard wall inspire sweet conversations and maybe a few adorable drawings of food. Laundry rooms equipped with a chalkboard somehow have the same effect. (And in the same tour, we also learned the importance of having an Art Barn. Sigh. On my wish list, for sure.)

Speaking of dining rooms, they’re even better when they double as a library, craft station, and homework hub. Plus sewing station. Phew. That is one hard-working room!

There is always room for art. And there’s always a space that can be carved out just for the one who needs it most.

Family collections don’t have to cost a million bucks, but they should bring back a million wonderful memories every time you catch sight of it.

Stairs can take your breath away on your way up to bed. They can even teach you math.

And the space underneath a staircase is simply magic, no matter how you add it up. For a tiny Harry Potter room or even a cozy nook in which to nap.

Turns out, you have mixed feelings about taxidermy…but you do love a good all-white aesthetic with generous and well-collected pops of color. (And sometimes, you don’t even notice the taxidermy with a final answer like hers.)

Often, it’s the wild location of these tours that steal the show. Backyards as far as the eye can see, with a tree house that makes the main house jealous, and a heart-wrenching story that makes us hug our families a little harder at the end of the day.

In the end, it’s all about the family who lives in these homes. Families that grow quickly, families that grow preciously, and families that grow up and head off to college. Sniff.

The New Year will undoubtedly bring many more inspiring families with lovely living styles, but I sure won’t forget the ones who shared themselves with us already. Special thanks to all of you, and a hearty invitation to the rest of you to show us how you’re living with kids, too! Just send me a note! It’s a lot of fun…I promise!

P.S. — Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here

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