Design Mom » Home Tours The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Fri, 14 Mar 2014 04:58:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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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Living With Kids: Candice Stringham Tue, 10 Dec 2013 15:30:45 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Usually, I try to remove all time stamps from these home tours. That means cropping out Halloween decorations when possible and trying not to post summer tours in the middle of December. But Candice is good at decorating for the holidays. Like, really good. (Do you remember her Winter Wishes craft? She’s also the brilliant photographer who helped us with our Central Park family photos.) And so I threw out all the rules and begged her to share her holiday home. Her inspired Christmas decor reinforces the idea that simple is stunning, especially in excess. (Candice calls this the Anthro rule, which made me laugh. But it’s so true, isn’t it?) I hope this installment of Living With Kids offers a little inspiration, and maybe even an afternoon of cutting a billion glittery stars. Enjoy the tour, Friends!

Q: Please tell us all about this festive family.

A: Hi! Our family consists of Mark, Candice, Grant, Nicholas, Sebastian and a prideful little scotty dog named Dickens. I met Mark when I moved across the country the day before my senior year of high school started. I wish I could say it was love at first sight but really due to a rather large miscommunication when we first met it was more of a Pride and Prejudice situation. To say we barely tolerated each other is an understatement. It wasn’t until the end of the year when we were cast as husband and wife in the high school play that we stopped trying to avoid each other completely.

He moved away after high school and it wasn’t until he came back when I was a junior in college getting my BFA in photography that we knew we were in love. We were married just a few months later. We have been married for almost 15 years now and I’ve loved him every minute of it. (There is a lot more to the story including the time I set him up with my best friend…but we will just leave it at this!)

Mark is currently a Theatre Professor at a University here in San Antonio, and I teach photography online.

Grant is a new teenager and is everything Mark and I are not: brilliant at math and science with a deep love of rules and organization. I’m very grateful that there is someone in this house who loves that stuff.

Nicholas, formerly known as Cole, has decided that at the age of ten his nickname is too young for him. He also changes his name from Cole to Nicholas every Christmas season. He is charming, funny, and can make friends with anyone.

Sebastian is two. That means that you can see that there is an eight year gap between his brother and him. We waited for him to join our family for a long time and it was well worth it. He’s super smart and full of life. He pretty much rules the rest of us with his adorable demands.

Q: How did this house become your home?

A: We moved to San Antonio from Brooklyn, New York. Mark was working as an actor and I was working for a major camera company teaching and shooting. We enjoyed life there so I really didn’t think that we would leave anytime soon, and had made my peace with apartment living. In a surprise life twist, Mark came into contact with an old professor where he went to undergrad. They offered him a job, and we decided that it would be a better choice for our family at that time. It would mean that Mark would have more consistent hours. The life of a theater actor is a hard one in many ways; one of which is the fact that you are leaving for work around the time your children get home from school so you miss out on a lot. We felt like this would give us a chance to be together more.

How we found our home is a funny story, I am notoriously bad at making choices when it comes to housing. I can spend months looking for an apartment to rent. So Mark was so scared that I would never be able to choose a home to buy.

I’ve always dreamed of living in an old victorian or something with a ton of character, and there just isn’t anything like that in our price range and area of town here. I knew that we were going to be in something new and in a suburb. It was hard for me to accept that because it just wasn’t the life I imagined for myself. But once I did I made a list of things that I really wanted.

The number one thing? A house with tons of light and northern windows in the family room. Our realtor thought that was super weird but it was important to me. I found our house online. I never saw it in real life before we bought it. I just felt like it was right. I wasn’t able to go to San Antonio because of work so Mark flew down and looked at it. He liked it so we put in an offer and it became ours just a short two months later. That’s not to say owning this home has been perfect or easy! Our moving company got in an accident on the way down here, and when they opened the truck at our home most of our belongings were ruined. Then a year later our house was hit by a small tornado and it took off half of the roof, flooding the house with rain so we had to redo a lot of it. Why it wasn’t the half with the kitchen that I actually want to redo I’ll never know. It’s becoming a running joke that the one house I picked quickly and felt good about is the house that the most has gone wrong with. But, what can you do?

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: This is a hard question because even after four years I’m still  learning to love it here. There are so many good things about San Antonio, though, so I try to remember that when I wish that I’m living in a bigger city or when I miss living near my parents and siblings in my hometown. San Antonio is a wonderful city for families.  There are tons of things for children to do, including Sea World, Six Flags, a great zoo, and a children’s museum. There is history in the form of the Alamo and the other missions, and the world famous McNay Art Museum is right down the street from Mark’s work.

Q: You’re so good at decorating, but especially good at celebrating the holidays! What are your top three decor tips when it comes to styling your home?

A: I think anything in multiples looks good. My Mom and I call it the Anthropologie theory. You know how Anthro can take even the simplest item (like a piece of plastic) that seems super cheap and not that great on its own, but then use it 500 times in a display and suddenly it’s stunning and you just love it?  I feel that way about decorating, too. Paper stars are so simple, but throw a few hundred on a golden branch over your table and it’s a major statement without spending much money.

I love having fresh greens or living things in each room. I just feel like it makes the space feel alive. Around Christmas, it’s not hard to gather up branches and items around your yard to do that. We have cedars everywhere here in San Antonio, so I just cut a few and used them around the house.

I don’t know if it looks like a lot or not but I actually only have a few boxes of “Christmas” decorations. I like to change things up each year instead of keeping everything the same, so I make a lot of things and I use a lot of things that are more generic and just move things around to make displays.

Q: Everything looks so perfect! How do you involve your kids in the Christmas decorating?

A: Well, I do have three boys: a teenager, a ten year old, and a toddler. So, for the most part, they aren’t interested at all in helping me decorate. In fact, I’ve even asked myself why I do it! But I grew up with a Mom who is an amazing decorator and made the holidays feel like magic every year. I think it’s just a part of me to do the same. In fact, I know it’s because my sisters are exactly the same way; even though we all have different styles, each of our homes are winter wonderlands.

This year I actually told the boys that I was thinking about not really decorating and much to my surprise they all were sad and asked me to do it. They both told me that it just wouldn’t be the same without the decorations and that they loved it. Then they started to talk about all their favorite things we had done over the years for Christmas and it made me realize that, even though they complain when I start pulling it all out or I make them come and help me pick out the perfect tree, they secretly love it.

The only thing I really make them help with is decorating the tree and setting up the nativity. They actually seem to enjoy it. It helps that the older two can help out Sebastian. For some reason, even last year when he was one he liked looked at the tree and not touching it. Believe me, I know how lucky I am.

Q: What has been your best holiday decor idea?

A: Our advent calendar, for sure. My sister, Stephanie Ford,  actually made it for me out of linen for Christmas one year and then I stamped the numbers on in different fonts. Instead of candy, we do an activity or service for each day. It is so much fun, and even through they are older they still look forward to it.

I don’t typically decorate with figurines and images of Santa because I really like the focus to be on the spiritual/giving side of Christmas, but I really, really love the painting of Santa Claus I have in our entry because it isn’t actually Santa Claus. It’s a painting my Grandma painted of my Grandpa. It’s from a photograph that I took of him dressed as Santa one year to illustrate the Night Before Christmas when I was in school. He has since passed away but my Grandpa was as close to a real Santa Claus as there could be. All kindness and joy with a quiet smile in his eyes all the time. We all miss him and I hope this painting stays in my family forever.

Q: Tell us the idea on your wish list every year that still hasn’t happened.

A: My grandparents have a cabin at Lake Tahoe, and I’ve always tried to get my whole family to go there for Christmas. I picture all of my siblings, their spouses, my parents, and all of our children showing up a week before Christmas and cutting down a tree and decorating it with popcorn, cranberries, and homemade ornaments.

In my dreams we get snowed in right after loading up on groceries and we spend the whole week cooking, watching old movies, and building snowmen with the kids. Someday I WILL make this happen.

Q: What do you hope your kids will remember about your holiday decorating and this home? What traditions do you hope they’ll keep forever?

A: I hope they remember the holidays as magic. That there is something about serving others, and there is power when the focus during the holidays is on love. I hope they feel like Scrooge at the end of a Christmas Carol when he says, “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

We have a lot of Christmas traditions in our family so I don’t expect them to keep them all, but I do hope they will choose a few to take with them to their future families. That would be lovely.

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

A: My favorite part about getting to live with my children is that I feel like I “get to” live with them. They are all amazing little people who teach me so much. I really, really love our time together as a family and I am extremely protective over it. I have learned to say no to extra activities more and more often because I just really enjoy being with my husband and children at home more then anything else.

I am surprised by so many things about my children, but mainly, how much of us are in them and yet how different they each are.

I read an article once that talked about how we always know when a first is happening, but we never know when a last is happening until we look back on it. I get so sad sometimes that there are lasts; a last time they hold your hand on the way to school, a last time asking for an extra bedtime song, a last time they believe you know all the answers. I miss every last, but at least it is usually followed by a new first.

I try to remember this. I love that I can have real in depth conversations with my teenager now as he tries to figure out the world.

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

A: I wish someone had told me that I CAN’T do it all; not that I don’t have the ability, but that time and energy prevent it from happening. Even though I know people are trying to be nice when I’ve heard myself being referenced as someone that does do it all, they should know that I do what I do because I have chosen not to do something else. I can’t do it all. No one can.

Every time I choose to do something, I’m giving up doing something else. Life is a balancing act, and to think that I don’t have to give up on some smaller goals so that others can thrive is just wrong. What I love most and what I value most gets the most effort, and things fall down the list from there.

I guess I just wish that someone had told me that the things that I thought were so, so important when I was young would change  as I got older. And that it was not just okay, but it would be an important part of growing up – a sign of maturity and knowing truly who I am as a person. I think this is universal. We can’t do it all, but we choose what we want to do. It’s the choices between one thing or the other that defines us in the end.


Candice, I’m so grateful for the holiday cheer you sprinkled all over your tour, plus your wise, wise reminder: “…we always know when a first is happening, but we never know when a last is happening until we look back on it.” I always seem to forget this, no matter how much I try to keep a close eye out for lasts.

Truly, between Candice and my sister, I feel like I really need a black room in The Treehouse! Would you ever?

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

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Living With Kids: Myla Lopez Tue, 03 Dec 2013 17:00:38 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

This tour takes us on a sweet journey through a home that lovingly embraces two cultures. From traditions and tiny travel souvenirs to a giant world map in a little girl’s bedroom, Myla and her family’s home is a subtle study in world geography. The most important lesson? That it’s a small, small place.

The Lopez family lives in the perfect spot – just a 40 minute commute outside of New York City – which was one of my family’s favorite homes on our growing list of hometowns. To further illustrate my point (and Walt Disney’s!) of how tiny this world of ours truly is, Myla’s family and mine are neighbors. Sort of. She has a cottage in Normandy, too!

It’s the most fun when paths overlap, isn’t it? For those of you with culturally blended families, or even those of you with your passports at the ready, I really hope you enjoy this tour!

Q: Please tell us all about you and yours.

A: I’ll try to simplify our story! There’s me, my husband, Richard, and my daughters, Chiara and Ines.

I spent my childhood in the Manila, Philippines while my husband spent his in Brittany, France. We now live in northern New Jersey and spend summers in our little cottage in Normandy, France. We met in our late teens and dated long-distance prior to the days of email and Internet. The great thing is that we still have actual hard copies of our correspondence that we can show our daughters, and hopefully our grandkids one day. I can’t believe it but we actually have been married for 17 years!

I recently started a blog to record the simple pleasures and beauty that I encounter in my daily life as well as travel. Other than the blog, I spend a big portion of my time volunteering in my kids’ school, as well as taking advantage of the rich cultural offerings that the New York metro area brings.

Q: How did your home become yours?

A: We live in Montville, New Jersey. Prior to purchasing our house, we lived in Brooklyn Heights and Carroll Gardens when it was on the verge of becoming really popular. We decided to move to the suburbs when we were about to start a family because we wanted to have more space and a wider school selection. We felt that we would have been limited to private schools and highly competitive public schools in New York if we had stayed there.

Montville is about 40 minutes away from New York City, which is good and bad. We have easy access to the city so we can take advantage of its close proximity, but the cost of living is still pretty high in NYC suburbs.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: We love our town because we feel close to nature here. There’s a hiking trail on Pyramid Mountain, which is about ten minutes from our house. There’s also a horse stable about two minutes away from us that we used to stop at when the girls were little so they can look at the horses. Montville has a pretty aggressive Open Space Committee that does not allow for too much commercial development, so you do not see a lot of big box stores here. Our town is also very family-centric and offers many different recreational programs for children of all ages.

I love that the girls’ schools are within walking distance so I don’t always have to be in a car.

Q: What effect does your home decor and design have on your daily family life?

A: Even though the house was built in 1966, the house has a pretty open layout. I like that all the rooms in our house gets used. There is no formal area that is completely off limits to our kids. The kitchen is pretty much the main hub where everything happens.

Since our house is pretty moderate in size, I can easily make dinner while the girls are doing their homework or practicing piano. I do most of my work on one of tables in the kitchen area. On the weekends, the girls do some crafting projects here.

Q: Do you decorate with your girls and husband in mind?

A: My husband and I both have equal input in decorating our house. He’s actually got a pretty good eye for mid-century furniture and art, whereas I am drawn to the more bohemian stuff. We do think about our girls when we decorate, choosing artwork that is visually stimulating, rich in texture, and accessible to them.

We wanted them to grow up with real furniture and not to use things that are only child-appropriate – hence, the two white couches in family room and living room! I think that our children learned how to respect and care for our furniture by not having anything completely off-limits to them.

That said, I do ask them to clean up their toys and bring them back to the playroom when they are done playing.

Q: You’re a culturally diverse family. How do you hold tight to your specific traditions while trying to blend them together, too?

A: We try to expose the girls to their French and Filipino sides whenever we can. As I mentioned earlier, our summers are usually spent in France so the girls have a pretty deep understanding of the French culture and way of life. Last summer, we visited the Philippines where I got to show them where I was born and where I grew up. There’s actually a bit of overlap between the two cultures. Since the Philippines was a Spanish colony, my family’s traditions closely resemble those of Richard’s family. And, of course, there’s the food from the two countries that I often make at home.

Q: How do your pieces from faraway lands inspire you on a daily basis?

A: The pieces from faraway places have a way of grounding me and sometimes anchoring me to my past. Most of the time, it just brings back a bit of nostalgia and traveler’s high that becomes an impetus to plan the next travel adventure.

Q: What do you hope your girls take away from this home in terms of memories and the traditions they will someday build?

A: It’s funny that you ask this question. I saw a New York Times’ travel supplement today that says “At Home in the World” on the cover, and that’s basically how I want my daughters to remember their childhood and their home.

We have traveled with them in many different places since they were babies and would like to continue to do so until they start rebelling and preferring their friends’ company to ours! We want to instill them an openness to all cultures through travel. Hopefully, the artifacts we bring from our travels and have in our house will reinforce this attitude.

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

A: My absolute favorite part is just seeing the changes in them over the years. As they start forming their own opinions, their take on things can be refreshing. What surprised me most about motherhood is how different my daughters’ personalities are. Chiara is analytical and serious, while Ines is social and loves attention.

No matter how much parental guidance and genetics come into play, they just become their own selves with their personal quirks and all. I love the stages my girls are now as I get a glimpse of the young adults they may become.

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

A: …that parenting means having to let go. There are so many moments when we need to give them room and let go so that they learn and grow. It’s always a bit of a heartache when we realize that they don’t need us for certain things. I suppose we just simply need to trust that we have done the work to prepare them for whatever challenges life brings when they leave home.


Thank you, Myla! You’ve given us such an interesting perspective today. You mentioned in our correspondence that your daughter has almost outgrown her map bedroom; please let us know how you redecorate it!

Friends, I wonder at what age kids stop going on family vacations and start preferring their friends’ company? (I’m hoping it’s 27, but I’ll be happy to hear your own experiences with this!)

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

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Living With Kids: Trina McNeilly Tue, 26 Nov 2013 18:00:24 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

There are stunning homes that look like they should sit on a magazine page or ten, and there are homes that look like – whoa – a lot of little children live there! And then there is Trina’s home, which is a splendid mix of beauty and beast! There’s not one space in her home that’s too precious or too perfect for her four children, but there’s also not one space in her home that doesn’t look absolutely precious and utterly perfect, either. I’m happy she’s achieved this magical blend, and I couldn’t wait to show it all to you.

Also! She is one of the lucky ones who get to relive her childhood all over again in her family home. You’ll love that part of her story. (There’s a line or two about one decorating regret that will make you misty, I bet. Tell me if you find it and have to wave off a few tears like I did!)

Friends, please welcome the McNeilly family. This is such a fun tour.

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

A: I live with my husband, Stephen, who I met at age 15 (crazy!), and our four children.

My oldest, and only girl is Ella, age ten. I prayed for a girl and am even more grateful for her today than the day I first laid eyes upon her big baby blues.

Next is Luke, my sports loving eight year old who gives new meaning to the word sweetheart.

The last two, Liam Brave, almost four, and Rocco Royal, age two, are really close in age and are great little playmates. Liam is an old soul who keeps me company with his great conversation skills. And sweet Rocco is the best surprise I’ve ever had. He is so much of a honey that he sometimes tricks me into wanting another one.

I never expected to have four children – especially three boys – but it is better than I could have ever imagined. I call these littles of mine my brood. And as you might suspect, our house is noisy and very active. Someone is always jumping off of a couch, racing down our very long hallway with a dump truck, or singing at the top of their lungs, usually all at the same time.

Q: You live in your childhood home! How cool! Please tell us the story of how it came to be yours (again).

A: I would have never have imagined moving back into the home I grew up in. My parents considered moving but just couldn’t find a new home that they loved as much, so they made a decision to stay and chose to remodel the kitchen. Before the new kitchen was ever completed, a realtor friend took my parents through a home that wasn’t even on the market yet, and almost in an instant they decided to buy it. Our family home sat empty for about a year and the new kitchen was never used.

One day, my dad suggested we consider buying the home. My reply was “No way.” However, my husband was intrigued by the idea. At the time, we were living about 50 minutes away and about to have our second baby, with no intention  to move. I loved the home that I grew up in, probably more than most do, but I couldn’t imagine moving back to my hometown and back into my childhood home.

However, the thought of another family moving into our beloved family home made me pretty melancholy. I suppose it was mix of sentiment, my husband’s persuasive powers, and the fact that I was pregnant and exhausted and only had the will to just go with the flow and embrace returning home that landed me back where I started.

Q: Do you have a difficult time making big changes to the home? Are there ever times when the past holds you back?

A: I did have difficulty making changes and was slow at doing so. I was apprehensive about making changes as I was still finding my very own style, and also because when I did make a change some of my family members were a little opinionated! They didn’t say too much, but it was enough to make me question my decisions and even my style. I started out by decorating around the house and after about a year realized I needed to just forget that concept and go with what I love.

(Living room photographed by White Shutter Photography)

I’ve seen almost all of the rooms transform, many times over, so I’m somewhat used to that. But there is one room that I wish would have stayed frozen in time. We used to have a Mexican cantina bar in the basement (thank you, 1976) that my husband cleared out and turned into a workout room. Although we didn’t really use the bar, that change really makes me sad if I think about it too much. It had such a distinct look and carries many vivid memories of playing store, post office, and restaurant. I really would have liked to play restaurant a second time around, this time as the customer.

(Living room photographed by White Shutter Photography)

Q: You definitely decorate with your kids in mind, don’t you? What are your goals for your decor in terms of how it affects them?

A: I do try to keep my children in mind when I decorate. I want our house to be a fun, lived in home. I kind of feel like that is the soul of this particular home. Growing up, our house was a favorite to hang out at and I hope that continues with my children and their friends.

I think the best change that we have made, although temporary, was changing our dining room into a playroom. We have a playroom in the basement, but toddlers don’t really like to go down to a basement unless a grown up or older sibling is with them. It was important to me to have a space that they could play in all by themselves. I’m able to cook dinner or tidy up and keep an eye on them at the same time. It’s been a great change.

Q: Where do you find the best design inspiration?

A: Online, of course. Blogs have been a huge inspiration to me over the years, and have helped me refine my ideas and style. However, my most favorite way to find inspiration is through travel. After traveling to England a few years ago, I came home and painted my door bright blue…which is now yellow. Either way, I’ve adapted to colorful doors as the English do so well.

Q: You’re a blogger who is really going beyond the lines of traditional blogging, planning parties for The Land of Nod, etc. What are your work goals, and how do they merge with a young family?

A: I am still a little surprised by the opportunities that have come through blogging. When I started six years ago, it was really just a creative outlet for me to write and share lovely finds. I am happy to say that is still what I love to do and why I continue to blog. I have a few goals tucked away, but what I am finding works for me is to continue to blog about what inspires me and to work with brands that I truly love.

I am grateful that opportunities have come my way after many years of hard work, but I’ve also learned to reach out and go after opportunities when an idea strikes. This is hard for my personality, but pushing myself has been a really good thing.

Because I have four children, two of whom are toddlers, I’m finally accepting that I can’t do it all. Surprise, surprise! And so I have to choose wisely. I’m learning to define what type of work I enjoy most and to take on those types of projects and not worry about the other things. I’ve heard people say, “I can do anything but I can’t do everything.” So true!

In terms of balance, I think it is kind of a myth. For me, when I try to balance I start thinking I can manage it all and I can’t. However, when you get to a point where you surrender to the thought that you can’t do it all or even juggle it all, than that is a great beginning. It’s where we start to accept ourselves and realize that an imperfect life is really the perfect thing.

When I’m in the middle of a huge project, it’s likely my laundry room is a disaster and my floors are caked in crumbs and the leftovers of life. It still bothers me but I’m starting to soften to the rhythm and the truth that my floors won’t look like this forever and, probably, I’ll have time next week to tidy up!

I’m also learning to ask for help. There is no way I could do any of what I do without the help of my husband (who is very hands on) and mom (she is an angel). And I am a big believer in hiring help, if you can. Sometimes there is just no other way to really be able to concentrate or get things done; nap times are getting shorter and shorter around here!

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 my children will have warm memories of their home being a safe and loving place. A place that was fun, imaginative, and straight out magical. I hope they attach memories and stories to each and every room of this home (as I know I have) and that they go on telling them over and over again to each other and to their children one day.

My greatest hope is that they will come to know that there is no place like home.  Not in a way that they never want to leave or always feel they must return…but that their tie to it would be strong because it was the very place where they were equipped with courage and encouragement to go out into this great world and be the very person they were made to be.

I hope they take the tradition of creating a fun home for their families one day. That they will help their children stay children just a little longer than most. Everyone grows up too quickly these days.

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

A: My biggest advice would be to decorate with what you love and don’t take your space too seriously.

Use colors that make you happy (for me, that is a lot of white), incorporate items that have meaning either from travel or your own childhood, make your space comfortable, and always, always add a touch of fun. Whatever you do, make your home your favorite place to be.

Sometimes this takes time, but that is okay. I think decorating a home should be something that is done over time and not all at once. Your home should tell the story of your family and the life that you have lived together.

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

A: I love the laughter. The sounds of baby giggles have fueled me through many days that have followed sleepless nights. I think the thing that surprised me most about becoming a mom was how naturally some things came. I never really babysat or was a real baby person, so I was a little nervous about it all.

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

A: I wish had known how crazy I would feel at times. Parenting is full of highs and lows. It can bring out your very best and your very worst.

Some days everything goes wrong, and something like spilled milk completely puts me over the edge and I feel like having a meltdown myself. And sometimes I do, so obviously there is usually more going on beyond the spilled milk!

Within five minutes you catch a glimpse of your three-year old comforting your two-year old, and you’re instantly transported out of the hustling and bustling and baby blues. It’s like your soul takes a deep breath, and you wish you could live in that moment of time forever, or at least keep the image before your tired eyes, always.

And just as quickly as you caught that moment, a hug turns to a shove and – poof! – it passes.

Some days I wonder if I will feel more steady and stable. I worry if my ups and downs affect my little ones. They likely do. I’m quick to apologize and admit when I’m wrong. And I’ve learned I have to forgive myself, too.

It’s humbling, this parenting business.  All we can do is carry on, love each other, and offer grace to another and accept it ourselves.


Oh, Trina. So, so, la la lovely! Thank you for your honestly and the beauty you share every day.

Friends, did you find the line that flew straight to my heart? “I really would have liked to play restaurant a second time around, this time as the customer.” So bittersweet, isn’t it? Please tell me if you’ve moved back into your family home and had the chance to revisit your childhood all over again. I love to hear your stories!

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

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Living With Kids: The Wolf Family Tue, 19 Nov 2013 18:00:34 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Alex Wolf.

Jay Wolf first contacted me to share a link showing his family’s incredible journey back from a devastating circumstance, and I was floored for a few days. And soon enough, my awe was pushed aside by a little wonder. When your life is turned upside down, how do you right it again? When all your definitions change – of motherhood and wife and husband and home – how do you write a new and improved dictionary?

Oh, I wanted to see more of the Wolf family’s life, and I wanted to show you, too. Because all through this tour and their story, there’s hope. And there’s nothing better on a Tuesday morning than a little hope, right? Please sit a while with this home and this special, special family, Friends. I know it will improve your day. Welcome, Wolf family! (Is this the first time a dad has written the interview? I think it is! Welcome, Jay!)

Q: Please introduce us to your family!

A: Hi, we’re the Wolfs: Jay, Katherine, and James. We’re originally from the deep South, but after marrying at 22, we moved to Los Angeles to pursue our dreams in the entertainment industry and law school (for me, Jay) at Pepperdine. Little did we know that decision would not only change the course of our lives, but it would also save Katherine’s life just over three years later.

Those early years were idyllic, living in a Malibu married housing apartment with a view of the ocean, loving our church community and the creative energy that is electric in the City of Angels. Our son James came along quite unexpectedly, but we relished our new calling as young parents.

On April 21, 2008, an ordinary day, three weeks from law school graduation, Katherine (age 26) collapsed in our kitchen, while six-month old James slept in the other room. By the grace of God, I had come home to get some papers for a final presentation, and I was able to call an ambulance. They rushed her to the amazing UCLA Medical Center where a courageous doctor took on her hopeless case. Katherine was near death as the result of a massive brain stem stroke due to the rupture of an AVM, a congenital defect in her brain that she never knew she had until that day.

Against all odds, she survived the 16 hour surgery. Perhaps even more miraculously, she has recovered and continues to recover her life, finding the gratitude to celebrate this gift though it looks very different than any of us thought it would.

After leaving that Malibu apartment, we were displaced from our lives, our expectations of the future, our community, and literally, our home as we lived in hospitals and neuro-rehab centers for two years. We finally returned to Los Angeles in 2010, but the experience of home now has an entirely deeper meaning to us. We’ve been in our 1,000 square foot 1920 California bungalow for almost four years now. For us, it is a place of safety, a place of re-finding what it means to be a family of three again, a place of celebrating a second chance at life as we gather friends around our dinner table, and a place that truly embodies both the words HOME and HOPE.

Q: You’ve spent the better part of a few years creating a safe and comfortable home for your wife and son. Can you tell us about your specific goals with your house?

A: Following Katherine’s stroke, I knew that our future home would be a place where we would spend the majority of our time. I wanted it to be a place where we could all find healing for the years of hurt we had experienced and where we could be empowered to move forward in hope into our new life ahead. I wanted our home to be a place where Katherine, in particular, could completely re-engage her new life: a place of comfort, safety (given her physical limitations post-stroke), beauty, hospitality, and hope.

I desire not to surround us with stuff but to surround us with reminders of hope and meaning, whether it be in a photograph tucked in a mirror, a pattern that reminds us of a favorite Bible verse, a tattered oil painting literally found by a dumpster, or a lamp at our bedside that once sat next to our grandparents’ bedside. C.S. Lewis says “let your mind run up the sunbeam to the sun.” Our homes should be places that draw us toward greater places.

Q: With only a good eye for design and no design interest, where did you find the best inspiration along the way?

A: I am very interested in design now, but previously, I had no real interest in home design specifically. One of my best design inspirations have always been thrift stores and flea markets. In fact, well over half the items in our home are from thrift stores. Seeing items from bygone eras, the craftsmanship, the styles, have all been an incredible design education for me.

Strangely, near our current home, there are about three or four really great thrift stores. For some reason, this treasure hunt of sorts became a very cathartic experience for me, a respite from that very emotionally weighty time in my life. In a way, I was mindlessly rifling through other people’s junk looking for something that was valuable in my eyes. But more than that, what I was embodying was an incredibly poignant metaphor for my own life and my family’s…looking for a second chance, finding the thing that once was lost but was now found.

Also, as you may notice scattered around our home, there are some symbols that are daily encouragement and reminders of hope.  Some of these symbols include…the starburst, the fig leaf, flowers, the ocean, and the anchor.  To see these and live with these beautiful symbols make our home deeply personal and give layered meaning to the everyday things in our lives. All five of those symbols are found in the painting done for us by artist Lulie Wallace for our “Hope It Forward” Movement project, “Hope Heals Art.”

Q: Describe your new normal daily life now and how your home works with that.

A: Katherine and I both work full-time for our faith-based non-profit, Hope Heals. We work together and we work from home, which both present some interesting challenges, but we could not be more grateful to be doing something that we love and feel called to do. We do a good deal of traveling and speaking, getting to share hope all over the country, but there is truly nothing like coming back home.

I have continued rearranging the layout, organization, and accessibility of our home as our son has gotten older and as Katherine has progressed in her recovery, and as we continue to learn how our home works best in the context of our lives. For me, home is directly reflective of the people and relationships there, so it should be a more fluid, dynamic thing, rather than something immovable and set in stone. We love how our home works for us now, but we appreciate change too.

Getting stuck in any rut always prevents growth. For us, home should provide stability but should also provide adaptabililty to meet us where we are and more importantly to empower us to go where we desire to be go.

Q: Art is EVERYWHERE! How do you choose the pieces that hang on your wall?

A: For me, art is one of the most important things in our home. Those simple moments of beauty serve as poignant reminders of the fleeting beauty of life itself. Art adds life to any space, and it’s transcendent as it takes on new meaning over time. Almost all of our art is vintage art, which only adds to the meaning.

We ran out of wall space long ago, so I started suspending art by black chains from the ceiling in front of walls of windows. I also think a mix, a thoughtful juxtaposition, always makes for the most interesting design as it helps your mind engage the different elements more fully. For instance, a modern lamp on a country French chest of drawers or a hand-written piece of art above a 1960′s chair.

One of my favorite sights in our home is the wall of vintage seascapes in our living room that I’ve collected over the years. They are reminders of our first home together by the water in Malibu, and they are reminders of the healing properties of water that often come thru the storms, the immersion and the gasping re-entry into a new way life. It gets me every time.

Q: What has been your shining moment so far living with your son? What has surprised you the most about being a dad?

A: Largely my shining moments in fatherhood have always been in conjunction with my wife’s shining moments in motherhood. We are inextricably linked together in life and marriage and parenthood, so when she struggles, I feel it too. When I celebrate, she is my biggest cheerleader.

The loss of being an active mother to our son was one of the hardest parts of her stroke for both of us. Correspondingly, the process of re-gaining independence and motherhood has been one of the most shining experiences of her life, as well as mine. Parenting a child is certainly one of the most challenging and thus rewarding experiences we can take on, but getting the chance to do it when you really shouldn’t (ie. you shouldn’t even be here because you should have died) make that, and all other experiences, that much more precious.

Q: Your life and your plans for it completely changed after your wife’s stroke. What has surprised you the most about the changes? Both in yourself and in your life? What makes you the most proud?

A: We all have gotten or will get that phone call one day that changes everything, creating a line of demarcation in our lives after which nothing will ever be the same. We think we have control over many things in life, but it really is an illusion. Just about the only thing we can control is our response to our circumstances, and even that seems hard to reign in at times.

We have failed at responding in the best way quite often, but I have been so proud that the foundation of our lives, one that was there for a very long time, proved itself reliable when we needed it the most. Thus we have been able to respond to our pain in ways that have not only helped heal our own hearts but also those who have encountered our story. Our overflow of hope has been a very natural progression for us, but it occurred because we sought out real hope and continue to do so.

Q: Is there a time you think back on and wonder “How did we survive that moment?” What helped you endure? What still gives you nightmares?

A: We were all made for community, not to experience life in isolation. For us, that community, specifically our families and our church community in LA, helped us survive the darkest moments. Both of those communities share the thread of faith, the source of true hope, and that has undeniably made the difference in our survival, recovery, and flourishing after having experienced some of life’s greatest pains. There are still lingering fears of loss and pain that may lie ahead, but we have found it so true that perfect love casts out fear, and we are clinging to that!

Q: What memories do you hope your son carries with him from this time in your life? What traditions are you trying to build for him and his future family?

A: For years, we have prayed that our son may survive this experience, though scarred, with a heart of courage, resilience, compassion, and hope. I pray that he will ultimately see in the example of our lives, not some sort of idealized model of perfection, but a picture of parents who are real people with struggles and pain but who have found hope thru their hardship to look outward from ourselves to the needs of others and to love sacrificially.

Our lives are still kind of crazy and without a great schedule, but one thing we do nearly every night is to tuck James into bed, holding him, praying truth and love over him, instilling gratitude for his family, his life, and the gift of another day. Those moments are precious – even if they are interrupted by a Spiderman flying thru the air or a little jumping on the bed – and I believe the intention and consistency of those nightly moments have and will create a deep change in his heart, one that he will someday give to his family.

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

A: I wish someone had told me that the greatest balance to achieve in life is to live into each moment with your whole heart while simultaneously holding it all with open hands. This is such a difficult balance. But when we live in this way, the story of our lives will transcend our emotions and circumstances and end up being immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine.


Jay, I’m so glad you agreed to be more than one of my Friday links! We needed your story, and I’m grateful to you for sharing it. We talk a lot on Design Mom about work-life balance, but you took it to a whole new level with this: “The greatest balance to achieve in life is to live into each moment with your whole heart while simultaneously holding it all with open hands.” Beautiful.

Friends, when Jay mentions a phone call that changes everything, that moment that draws a line in our lives between what used to be and how things will be from now on, it made me think. And think. And think. And worry. And worry a little more. Have you gotten that phone call? What got you through it? Your stories always ease my mind and inspire. Thank you for that!

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

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Living With Kids: Tina Fussell Tue, 12 Nov 2013 19:45:33 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I devour Tina’s blog. (Truth be told, her husband’s site is gorgeous, too.) Tina is an information sharer, through and through. From Vitamin D deficiency to posts detailing how it truly feels like to move abroad to talking about sugar, almost every post feeds questions I didn’t even know I had. I love that. And I adore how her writing style is as calm as her home’s decor. Would you like to see the Fussell home? Let’s do it, then! Friends, please enjoy the tour.

Q: Please tell us who lives in this dreamy home!

A: We are Jack and Tina Fussell and we are Americans living in Copenhagen, Denmark with our three kids, Hailey (12), Parker (8), and Landon (5). Many people know our Traveling Tribe through our blog, Flying House by Traveling Mama where we write about our living abroad with kids, our favorite places to stay, eat, and shop when we travel and also what it is like to create a new home in a new country! We have lived in Copenhagen for three years, but we also lived in Morocco for three years and Spain for two prior to our move here.

Q: How did this house turn into your home?

A: It’s funny because we didn’t even know we were going to move until a month before we moved into our current home with a camera crew from House Hunters International along for the ride to document our 20th move! Our landlord suddenly contacted us asking for his apartment back so we immediately started looking for a new place to live. Even before walking into our town home I knew it was the perfect place for us. Situated in a beautiful neighborhood not far from the city center, with white walls and floors, and loads of light… I was sold! The fact that it had a small terrace and a quiet street for the kids to play on was just icing on the cake.

After saying yes to the house I started to worry a little about how all of our furniture was going to fit into a house with so many angled ceilings, but we made it work and we have loved being here!

Q: You’re American, but you’ve lived all over the world. Morocco! Spain! Please tell us your favorite things about the places you’ve lived. Would you ever go back?

A: Truthfully, I find it difficult to not get emotional when someone asks me this question because I could picture us living out all of our days in all the places we have been. We absolutely loved living in Spain and Morocco, and really struggled through our decision to leave. We loved the Spanish food, the gorgeous architecture, the lively people, and the fact that while living in Barcelona we were sounded by mountains yet lived within walking distance to the beach.

Our time in Morocco was life changing. While learning oral Arabic was one of the hardest things we have ever done, and having to dress so modestly was an adjustment for me, we fell in love with the people. They were precious beyond words, taking us into the hearts and their lives as if we were their own flesh and blood. I loved eating couscous with our friends on Fridays, sipping mint tea and eating homemade butter cookies while chatting about everything from world peace to getting our kids to sleep better at night.

We would happily go back to either place in a heart beat, but for now we know we are meant to be in Denmark, a bittersweet realization for sure.

Q: How do you remake your home every time you move?

A: We have never been the type to sell everything we own and carry nothing to the next place except a change of clothes and a toothbrush. Instead, we are the ones who will research our luggage allowance and max it out with as many little creature comforts as possible ranging from a box of Cheese-Its to scented candles. Not all of our moves have been long term, but we have always brought special artwork and family photos so that we could quickly put something on the walls that felt familiar.

For our kids, we always placed emphasis on their one special bag that they could put anything they wanted in, which always included their favorite blanket and toys. Sometimes that meant bringing along things that I did not necessarily see any value in, such as the cheap plastic Christmas water globe that my daughter insisted on bringing to Morocco, but every year since she tells me how much it means to her to have it with her and I kind of love that.

Q: Why do you love the place you live?

A: I could go on and on for days about all the things I love about Copenhagen. Even though housing, living costs, and taxes are insanely expensive, the trade off is that schooling is free as well as medical care. The architecture is gorgeous with quaint little tree lined streets and colorful historical buildings still very much a part of daily life. Kids are free to roam the streets and there is, at many times, a feeling of almost untouched innocence to life here. (One of the reasons so many moms leave their babies in their prams outside to nap while they enjoy a cup of coffee in a cafe or even shop with a friend!)

Copenhagen is a big city with a small town feel, located on the water and filled with wonderful people who are happy, open minded, and just a little sarcastic. We love it!

Q: Your aesthetic is so pure. And just when I think of you as a white wall decorator, I see your jet black kitchen wall! How do you define your style? 

A: Our time in Denmark has been enlightening for me from a design perspective. Even though my style is very much a blend of all the places we have visited and lived, I have learned to bring everything back to my personal love of modern elegance and simple femininity while being respectful to the fact that my husband and boys have to live here alongside my daughter and me. I love spaces that feel a little dramatic and unexpected, but cozy and inviting, too.

We did not always have the same design perspective, and every month I nearly devour every design magazine I can get my hands on. I’m a total design junkie! Prior to moving to Denmark, I never once thought about painting my walls white, but now I love the staggering simplicity it brings to a space and the beauty of thoughtfully placed items in a room.

Q: How do your kids play a part in your aesthetic? Do you design with their needs in mind? Do they ever ask for a decor change that you can’t say yes to?

A: There is nothing in this world that we love more than being a family, so every room is designed with what each of us needs from the room. I have always tried to purchase toys that our kids will love playing with but will also look fabulous displayed on a shelf. I believe in teaching kids about good design from a young age, but I am not totally against the occasional plastic toy (we just choose to put those things in boxes or cabinets!)

I always consult my kids about their rooms, and after moving so many times I feel it especially important for them to feel at home in their space. My daughter and I shopped together for her new tween room, talking about the colors and how they would play off each other and how she would feel in the space. My older son, Parker, fell in love with his London themed bedding while we were walking through Harrods on vacation and I could not refuse him. I designed the rest of the room around his choice, bringing in his and his brother’s favorite artwork, toys, and books.

Q: Every time I see those brilliant white floors, I wonder about the cleaning of them. Do they mark up easily?

A: The painted white wood floors are a blessing and a curse. I wouldn’t have anything else, but they do demand more cleaning and they scratch and get dinged up pretty easily. I prefer to think of it as patina, and a sign that we don’t take life too seriously. They are brilliant for our photography work and reflect light during the dark months of winter.

Q: What traditions or values do you hope your children carry with them from your life in this home?

A: I hope that they will go into the world always remembering that they are loved beyond comprehension, and that all around them is a world of wonderful and beautiful people who may not all look the same, but are not so different in the things of this life that really matter. I hope they will understand that if they extend love and kindness to others that it will always come back, so sow it freely and wholeheartedly.

I also hope that they will never take for granted the freedom they have, and live with unhindered recklessness to the belief in their own possibilities.

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

A: Soon after having my daughter, as I held her and looked down at her beautiful little chubby face, I was suddenly terrified by the realization that she was always going to be with me. I know it sounds somewhat obvious since kids do not normally come with return policies, but for a moment I was scared to death by the idea that there would always be someone there, waiting for my love and attention.

Then in the next moment I was washed over by the powerful realization that I would never be alone. I was hers and she was mine and even death could never separate our hearts. We were bound in the deepest love humanly possible, and I was humbled by the magnitude of something so incomprehensible.

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

A: I wish someone could have convinced me that moving abroad would be harder than anything I could have ever imagined. I wish they could have made me understand that I would be torn apart in every way imaginable while facing illness and heartache and oppression and humility. But I am also kind of glad that they could not convince me because if they had, I would never have appreciated the freedom I have or the kindness of strangers.

I might not have realized how wonderful and perfectly suited my husband and I are for each other, and despite all of the craziness of living abroad with three kids, that we would come to love each other more than we ever thought possible. I would have missed so many victories, so many smiling faces, so many hugs and greetings in so many different languages if I had stayed in my places of comfort, but now I can tell my own children to boldly and courageously live out their dreams, knowing that the path less taken can be tricky and even painful at times, but the reward is ever so sweet.


Thank you, Tina! I have to tell you that your answer to my question about which values you hope your children carry with them was absolutely stunning. “All around them is a world of wonderful and beautiful people who may not all look the same, but are not so different in the things of this life that really matter.”  And then there’s this about your daughter: “I was hers and she was mine and even death could never separate our hearts.” Tina, you should really consider keeping a blog and doing this for a living. Oh, right. You already do!

Friends, have you ever lived overseas? What was the most difficult part about it? And what experience made the biggest impact on you and your world view? I love your traveling stories!

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

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Living With Kids: Liz Young Tue, 05 Nov 2013 17:00:55 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

This home tour feels a little romantic to me. It’s got all the makings of a perfect story. There’s the storyteller herself, the serendipitous discovery of the perfect forever home after a series of inspiring wanderings, a painful separation of lovers, an in-house bakery and creative studio (which basically translates – to me, at least! – to a 24-hour access to gorgeous cakes and big ideas), and lots and lots of bikes. I’m not sure the bicycles add anything to the story, but they sure add fun to the Young family’s afternoons! We all want our homes to work for our families, but the Young house truly works with them. And after a lovely glimpse of this home, I think it deserves a raise. Friends, please meet the Young family and their delightful home. I just know you’re going to fall in love!

Q: Please introduce us to the family.

A: Our current crew is Tommy (2), Moses (5), me, and Ryan. Here’s a quick character rundown: Tommy has an imaginary baby gorilla he carries in the palm of his hand, rolls him in the dirt, feeds him Chicken Tikka Masala, and naps him in silky blankets when he’s cranky. Moses is a collector, digger, woods runner, bike racer, number counter, word lover, sleeper, and justice seeker. He also buzzes his hair and wants to be a soldier like his dad. Ryan was a soldier, but now he drives a big truck, fixes hospital equipment, entertains us with spontaneous song, loves his motorcycle, and adores the rest of us.

When I was little, I wore a pin on my coat that said, “Upwardly Mobile.” Apparently, I couldn’t get enough of cartwheels and hanging upside down. I still love flipping things around as a creative philosophy, now, more than my body! And I love being outside, writing stories, driving in the sun, and making a meal while the boys are shooting Nerf guns and running commando.

Q: You’ve had a few interesting homes pre-kids, and you currently live in a pretty swell home in Cincinnati. Tell us what made you love each of your homes, but why this one takes the cake!

A: Our first two homes were night and day! We went from a shoebox, furnished, flea-ridden apartment in Virginia (where Ryan was stationed for six months with the Army), to a sprawling home in Italy with marble floors and oversized doors and persimmon trees dropping fruit at our front door. The contrast left us reeling. I can’t say I loved anything about the Virginia apartment, other than the woods around it and the man inside it, but in Italy I fell in LOVE with splendor and squalor.

Our home was co-habited by a multigenerational Italian family – we each had our own large floor of the home – and we shared a driveway, a gate, fat ducks, and wine. For four years we rented this home, while Ryan did his first military assignment in Vicenza, Italy, and then we hopped back to Chicago so I could go to art school. Our home there was another shoebox, attic apartment where we bumped our heads a lot (we’re both really tall), and tried to grow orchids (fail), and ate a lot of Dunkin Donuts on a small bed while our eccentric landlord refurbished street signs on the floor below us. We had at least eight bicycles stacked into that apartment – some beautiful racing bikes and lots of rickety granny bikes we brought back from Italy – so when I picture Home Three, it’s got a lot of wheels.

Ryan found our current home in Cincinnati, and when I first walked through the aqua front door, I cried. The seller was inside, an elderly artist, and she asked what I thought of her mid-century house. I said, incredulously, “I don’t know what to say…other than I feel like I’m back in Carmel, California.” With a surprised look, the seller handed me a glass of Chardonnay and responded, “But that’s exactly where I’m headed…Carmel.” Lovely, lovely fate. And then, when you bring your new babies into a home, it cements it as the best place ever.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: Cincinnati is the cat’s meow. It’s small enough to feel manageable for a girl who’s terrible with directions, but it’s progressive and getting wonderfully confident in itself. Fantastic new restaurants, cool stores, the whole gamut of schools, and farmsteads. We’re also a city who’s doing something revolutionary to fight poverty with a place called CityLink Center. So, there’s a heartbeat in this city that’s very sacrificial and others-centered.

But the hands-down win is that most of our family is here. My sister and her family of seven are actually our neighbors, so it’s a circus of bike and stroller rides up and down the street, porch parties, driveway games. My grandmother lived next door to her sister, and my other two sisters are also neighbors to each other, so we’re all just repeating a fun cycle started by Marie and Ethel.

Q: You work from your home, too! Your bakery/studio sounds like a dream come true.

A: Our dreams are made of sketchbooks and fondants, although it’s totally chaotic and exhausting at times. Last year, after lots of pro/con lists, we realized this house could really work FOR us. We have a kitchen that’s suited for an in-home bakery, and lots of open space for my writing and creative pursuits. We don’t want a brick-and-mortar store, yet, because our kids are little and we’re kind of homebodies. So now, as Haven, we’re doing things like baking big cakes, styling photo shoots, and producing small books – all the while getting to work with kindred, creative friends.

Q: How do you separate work and home? 

A: Honestly, I don’t separate them too much. When we lived in Italy, I ended up working in the same office as Ryan, and one of the best things I learned is that when you can include your spouse in what you do and love, it’s just good, and simpler, and more meaningful. With Haven, a lot of the beauty comes from how much I get to share with Ryan and now the boys. Tommy goes on deliveries, we visit the screen printer as a family, Ryan helps me with big projects and is the constant sounding board. The less I compartmentalize work from home, even in my head, the more at peace I feel. (Of course, sometimes I have the desperate need for solitude, and I run for the hills.)

Q: When your husband was away for a year, how did your sense of home change without him in it?

A: Even the thought of that time makes my heart drop. Ryan was deployed for 17 months, I only saw him a couple times, and the shift was dramatic. Home changed significantly because I lived with my parents. I wanted the comfort of being with them in a home I knew well, which was salvation at the time. I stayed incredibly busy with grad school, writing a book, teaching, friends, and sisters. While Ryan was away, I wasn’t comfortable with solo downtime because I felt so unmoored without him. When Ryan came home, I was home again, too.

Q: Do you feel like you decorate with your kids’ needs in mind? Do your decor choices affect them in tangible ways?

A: Best design decision for our family to date: overhauled landscaping. Our house used to be cocooned by ridiculous amounts of ivy, overgrown trees, mismatched hardscaping, deer, and raccoon parades. It was a super long process, but scraping our yard clean, grading it for a nearly flat slope and laying down sod brought the biggest joy. We wanted space for baseball and bocce.

We also keep things uncluttered and pretty cheap. We don’t want to cringe every time our boys spill apple juice so staying a little shabby feels right. And the less you have, the less you have to put away at night! I also love keeping things in the home that I want to tell the boys stories about: photographs and ashtrays from their great-grandparents, old government chairs my dad salvaged, my mom’s button collection. I want them to always know their family is big and present and generous.

Q: What traditions and ideals do you hope your boys are learning in your home? What do you hope they carry with them always?

A: Imagination and love and togetherness. A few months ago, I gathered Mo and three of his young cousins together and we set out for an adventure. We were making believe that we were those resourceful and wonderful Boxcar Children and had to literally walk three miles to find food. So we heroically and dramatically trudged from our neighborhood out to the main roads, through strangers’ yards, alongside heavy traffic, until, finally, we found our destination: Wendy’s. After french fries and grand retellings of the walk, Ryan picked us up – two four-year-olds on a street hike starts to fall apart – but the spirit of imagination and love was so beautiful that I’d call it a near-perfect day. If our boys walk in and out of our home with those kinds of memories, I think we’ll be set.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? Has motherhood surprised you?

A: I remember a moment in grad school – I was sitting around a table with a bunch of brilliant creators and artists, and the professor asked what we all wanted in life. One by one, students shared these high ideas of art installations they’d build, plays they’d write, book tours they’d take. When my turn came, I opened my mouth to talk about writerly dreams…but instead, I confessed that all I wanted was to be a mom.

Living with kids is like having heaven and semi-hell all mixed together. It can be so hard in the grind of the day, but nothing – nothing – has been sweeter. When we’re all sitting on the counter in the kitchen making baby gorilla pancakes, or running laps around the couch, or singing funny prayers, I know there’s a part of my soul…the part that longs to be a caretaker, a lover, a provider, a teacher…that’s getting filled to the brim.

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

A: …that our mistakes don’t need to define us. I’m sure someone told me this, but I never accepted it until a few years ago. It’s easy to get trapped in a cycle of guilt, performance, fear, approval-seeking. No freedom in that. I’m pretty sure the best stuff in life happens with forgiveness and sincerity. And espresso. And great cocktails. And Becky’s cake. Seriously, you’ve got to try one.


See? I told you this was a good story. Thank you, Liz, for being such a wonderful storyteller. Best of luck to you on writing the rest of yours! (Also, this: “Living with kids is like having heaven and semi-hell all mixed together.” That made me giggle for a full minute, at least!)

Friends, do you ever dream of opening up a business inside your home? If money wasn’t an issue and the only factor was your dreams, what would that business be? (I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately! Send me your inspiration!)

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

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Living With Kids: Meta Coleman Tue, 22 Oct 2013 16:00:01 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

At first glance, I would’ve sworn Meta‘s home was somewhere in Sweden. Denmark, possibly. Or Norway. It’s got all the markings of a home from that corner of the world, with its crisp white walls, heady bursts of brights, and edited knickknacks that look like they traveled a long way to get there. But, no…the Coleman home can be found in Utah!

This home tour isn’t all about pretty things and fresh decor. The Colemans endured a devastating loss earlier this year, and part of what inspired me most about Meta is the way she’s finding her way through the sadness to happy again. I wanted to share her story with you because I know there are many others trying to find that way, too. I hope this helps. And I truly hope you enjoy this tour. Friends, please welcome the Coleman family!

Q: Please tell us all about the family who lives in this crisp and cozy home!

A: Hello! We are the Colemans: Nicholas, Meta, Henrik, and Maja. My husband and I met when we were three years old carpooling to preschool. We have been friends ever since and have been married ten years. We have a six year old son Henrik, who loves to work on claymation figures (literally every waking moment). And a two and a half year old girl Maja, who loves her brother “Haek” and tries to boss him around and do everything he does. My husband is a an artist and I am an Interior designer, a furniture designer, and have a blog called One More Mushroom. We like to be together as a family, swimming, hiking, camping, visiting museums, and especially traveling.

My mother is German, so growing up I had the wonderful opportunity to spend all my summers in Germany visiting my family. During those summers we would take small trips to Italy, Denmark, England, Holland, and other countries. This opportunity broadened my understanding and appreciation for other cultures and sparked my fascination with how other people live.

My husband and I hope to provide similar travel opportunities for our children. We want them to know that there is more to the world than what is in our small community.

Q: I was shocked to learn your home is in Utah! What makes it the perfect state for you?

A: Ha! Both my husband and I are from Utah and have so many wonderful family and friends that make living here ideal for us. Nick also paints the landscape and wildlife of the west, which is still so well preserved in Utah. He and I both love to travel as well, and have been able to visit many countries together during our marriage. We like to think we have the best of both worlds.

Q: How did this home come to be yours?

A: My husband bought our property before we were married; he was a very responsible bachelor! After a couple of years of marriage we decided to build. Looking back, it was a steep learning curve for us, especially being newly married! We joke that if you can survive building a house together, you can survive anything in your marriage.

I have a BFA in photography, but when we built our house I discovered another passion for interior design.

Q: How intentional are you with the design of your home in terms of how it affects your kids?

A: I believe that a home should reflect the personality of the family living in it and only be filled with the things you love. My children are the most important part of our home, and I want their furniture and toys to be a part of our every day life.

When designing their spaces and our shared spaces, I try to incorporated their interests and make it a fun environment where they can freely express and be creative. My daughter is still too young to notice, but my son loves it when I hang or display his artwork or clay figures. It makes him feel like he is contributing to the home, and he is.

Q: A furniture designer? How did that come about? What were your influences?

A: Over a year ago I was shopping around for a twin bed for my son and I couldn’t find exactly what I wanted, so I decided to design one. I was so happy with the quality and look of the bed, but I never thought that others might be as well.

In January of this year, we lost our third child. A baby boy. Dealing with that loss has been the hardest thing I have ever gone through (and am still going through). Ever since our loss I have felt a strong desire to make something beautiful and positive come from my heartache. The production of the Henrik bed is a start in that direction, and is a tribute to my beautiful children.

Q: You’ve experienced such loss in the making of your family. You mention the act of making something being very therapeutic for you. Do you feel it’s important during rough times to express yourself creatively, especially in your surroundings? How has this process manifested itself in your home?

A: In January, my life became a living nightmare. I was six months pregnant. We were so excited and felt so lucky (especially with our difficult infertility journey) to be able to welcome another child into this world. I went to my O.B. appointment on the 18th for a routine check-up. But, after digging around with the heart-rate monitor for what felt like an eternity, my doctor couldn’t find a heartbeat.

I had to wait 20 agonizing minutes for the ultrasound tech to come and confirm my worst fears. My baby boy was dead.

That night I went into labor. Each contraction a painful reminder of how different my labor was. The next day I delivered a tiny perfect lifeless baby boy. The doctor required that I stay in the hospital 12 hours, which was bittersweet. We got to hold our baby in the hospital and say our goodbyes. My son Henrik even got to hold his brother. He was so sad and distraught to hear his brother had died that I thought it would help him gain some closure. And it did help. I’m very glad we let him see his brother.

This was the most surreal experience of my life, and yet it’s more real than anything I’ve ever experienced. I experienced postpartum depression with an intensity and pain unlike anything in my life. I literally felt like there was a dark cloud hovering over me controlling my thoughts and emotions. And I didn’t get to have a sweet baby to help get me through it. My heart was broken and my arms were empty.

I discovered that what was most helpful for me was to give myself rules. Positive things I had to do everyday to help myself move in a positive direction. For example, taking my kids out on a small activity, laughing with them, and making craft projects for them.

I am a person who likes to make things with my hands. To me, there’s something therapeutic in the act of creating. So, in the beginning, I forced myself to make projects. I found once I was in the process of creating, my mood would change and I would start to feel more optimistic and excited about the project…and life in general.

I think my coping skills manifest themselves in our home perhaps by the amount of projects I have going on. I keep myself busy with creative projects, which keeps me happy.

Q: For those going through IVF, any words of advice when it feels like nothing will ever work?

A: This is a tough one. My heart aches so much for the many women who must endure the pain and heartache of infertility and all the invasive procedures such as IVF. I do believe that women have a special intuition and will be guided to the right path for them in growing their family. I learned that once I let go of how it had to look and when it had to happen, that’s when things started working for us.

But everyone’s infertility journey is different and unique and personal to them. Even the failures can become an experience that will make you even greater. If nothing else it will give you more empathy and understanding for others. I am who I am because of my unique experiences…and that makes me beautiful.

Q: What are the rules you try to follow when working from home? How do you ensure that your online time doesn’t get out of control?

A: I don’t want my children growing up thinking that electronics are more important than they are, so I give myself rules (which are sometimes very hard to follow). Most days I try to work while my daughter is napping and my son is in school. I also work at night – sometimes till very late. There are, of course, times when this is not possible.

Thankfully I have a very helpful supportive husband, who also works from home.

Q: What has the online community added to your life?

A: It has been wonderful to get to know and make friends and collaborate with people across the world I would never normally meet. I think it is so important to surround yourself with those who will build you up and those for whom you want to do the same.

Q: What do you hope your children remember about this home?

A: I want them to remember that this was a home of love and happiness. I want them to feel like they can be themselves and feel comfortable in our home. I want them to always know they are more important than stuff.

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

A: I am not much of a morning person, but seeing my children in the morning always makes me happy and excited to start my day. Also, I love reading to them before bedtime. I think I’m surprised that I love being a mother as much as I do. It has brought me more joy and fulfillment than anything else I could ever do.

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

A: That I would learn so much more from my children than I could ever teach them. That when you think you’ve given all you can, there is always more to give. That the most powerful lessons come from the hardest experiences. Most importantly, how these little human beings would change who I am and how I love.


Meta, I can’t thank you enough for your candor. I’m quite sure you’ve helped someone today. Myself included.

Friends, I was struck by one of Meta’s thoughts: “I think it is so important to surround yourself with those who will build you up and those for whom you want to do the same.” So many people dismiss online friendships as malarky, but I strongly disagree! I’ve found some of my best friends online. How about you? Do you have any virtual friendships that evolved into professional meet-ups or business partners? Do you find them easier to maintain than a friendship that exists in your neighborhood? I’d love to hear your experiences!

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

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Living With Kids: Leslie Burket Tue, 15 Oct 2013 16:00:46 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

It’s got to be difficult to follow last week’s out-of-this-world tour, but the Burket family is up for the challenge! Theirs is a home – and life – edited for their specific needs. Nothing more, nothing less. Not in their home design, not in the sweet product they make, not in their social media plan, and not even with their family calendar. If you’re on the verge of considering paring down your family’s day-to-night events, I think Leslie can offer some guidance and inspire all of the over-scheduled readers in the crowd. Friends, I am pleased to welcome Leslie and her family!

Q: Please tell us how the Burket family came to be!

A: We are now a family of four. But this all started 15 years ago with a high school crush on a boy named Tom. We dated briefly as teenagers – I even joined the golf team, no experience required, to try to get to know him! – and then he called me out of the blue in college and took me to see Napoleon Dynamite. He snuck a bottle of champagne in the movie theatre, held my hand, and made me laugh like no other. I was done.

We got married a few years later and then had two kids. Trent, six, is our Lego-loving, deep thinker. His heart is as big as his imagination. Lila, four, is a spunky, loud talking, little lady. Bless her heart. She loves to help and she adores her big brother.

Throw in two dogs, five chickens, building a house, and starting a company together, and I’d say we just really enjoy working together. And that’s just it.

This isn’t perfect, we certainly don’t get it all right, but we are dedicated and have found much joy in making this family work. I am thankful for everyday I get to share with our silly crew.

Q: What makes you love where you live?

A: As Tom and I are writing this, our kids are riding bikes and climbing trees at one of our waterfront parks. We are sprawled out on a blanket and the weather is just dreamy. The sun shines an average 361 days a year in St. Petersburg, which has earned us “The Sunshine City” name. If that’s not enough to convince you, we have the World’s Largest Shuffleboard Courts and some of the best beaches in the country. People just don’t move away once they come here.

Q: Building your home sounds like a dream, but I’m sure it had its moments! What were the biggest lessons learned along the way, and what would you do differently if you had to do it all over again?

A: We had a great time building our house. We agree that it was certainly one of our most favorite adventures together. However, Tom was the builder, and I am certain we got preferential treatment from all of the sub contractors. We stayed on track by setting our budget and timeline and not straying from it. We made choices quickly and didn’t second guess them.

Q: Are there any elements or features of your home that still make you pat yourselves on the back and say “That was an awesome idea!”

A: Our house isn’t big, but it is smart. Vaulted ceilings, big windows, great storage, an open floor plan, and wrap-around porch lend to our home’s clean feel.

To be environmentally and financially friendly, we used Hardy board siding, spray foam insulation, metal roof panels, and insulated windows.

But the best choice we made was to build our home on a lot directly behind my parents’ house. It’s like we have built-in babysitters!

Q:You’ve truly embraced a fun decor in your home; has your aesthetic always been so vibrant, or have your children added their influence?

A: The kids certainly have their influence. We display a lot of their work. Their drawings, school projects, Lego creations. We love to see the things their minds and little hands create. We want them to look around and know this house is a place for them too.

There are some design choices that are not what I would have picked, but its important that our home reflects everyone who lives here.

Q: Your company, Lilapops, is a favorite. Tell us the story of how it came to be.

A: Just two years ago we were on a family road trip, both kiddos were in their car seats sick and coughing. I dreamed of a product that would naturally soothe their coughs and cheer them up.

Within months we created Lilapops, all-natural cough drop lollipops with honey and marshmallow root. We love Lilapops ourselves; I can’t tell you how often I go into the office to open a bag for us. We get lots of love mail from our customers, other Moms and Dads, grandparents, school nurses, all professing their love and gratitude. That never gets old.

Q: How has your company philosophy informed your life with kids, how you design your life, and the choices you make daily with them?

A: Our lives changed in so many ways when we had our first baby. He had food allergies and we chose to reevaluate everything we put into our home and bodies. It was a bit trying at first but turned out to be such an incredible blessing.

Eliminating things was cleansing and established a new simpler way of work for our family. We realized not only do we not need much, but we actually prefer to have less. Living naturally means living simply for us.

Q: How do you balance working and parenting? And do you believe there ever can be a balance?

A: We both work outside of the home. Tom is a commercial general contractor and I am a kindergarten teacher. We share Lilapops duties when we can.

We are continually assessing and shifting our time around to make things work. This year we decided to cut out all the extras. No little league. No ballet. No cub scouts.

We are taking a year to establish the routines we feel are most important in our family, and once those are in place – faith and family night, bedtime routines, family dinners, etc. – we will add a bit at a time. But I have to say, no one is complaining about missing out. Our weekdays feel much more like the weekends now.

Also, I know it might seem crazy, but I do not forward anything to my phone. I have just a couple set times a day I check in with e-mail and Facebook and the like.

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

A: I have always wanted to be a mom. I know I was made for this! I still sniff the skin on their foreheads and nuzzle their necks like they are my newborns. We go in and look at them sleeping every night.

I thought I would be much more emotional about them growing up, but the truth is, I am enjoying each stage more than the last. Every year their personalities develop more and our relationships evolve. They are growing and changing, and it is a blessing of a gift to witness.

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

A: I had to sleep on this question! I wish I had known that it was okay for things to be a bit messy. I used to really fear messing up, making mistakes, and imperfections. I’ve learned mistakes are certain, necessary, and totally okay.

The more I acknowledge them, share them, and accept them, the easier it is to move on and grow in a positive way.

No one is expecting perfection from me…including myself.


Leslie, thank you so much for sharing a glimpse into your life. Your thought that “our weekdays feel much more like the weekends now” left me with a new goal. I want to make that happen in my own family. Most weeks, we look so forward to Friday that poor Monday and Tuesday don’t get the love they deserve!

Friends, what about you? Are you ever tempted to opt out for a year or two of all extra-curriculars, or are you and your kids too entrenched to even think about such a thing?

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

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