Design Mom » Home Tours The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Thu, 28 Aug 2014 22:09:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Living With Kids: Elle Rowley Tue, 26 Aug 2014 16:00:29 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Jylare Smith Photography.

No matter how many times I read Elle’s words, they still make my heart lose a few pounds of worry and stress. If you’re feeling like you’ve not enough space in your home or too much chaos in your life or even too much fear creeping into your parenting style, read this. I promise you’ll feel the warmth, gratitude, and sincerity with which she tries hard to surround herself daily.

In short, I really like Elle. I hope you do, too.

Q: Tell us all about your family.

A: My husband, Jared, is a surfer boy from Southern California. Half of my childhood was spent in the swamplands of Texas and the other half in the mountains of Utah. We married while we were still just babies eight years ago. We finished our degrees together, have had three children (Lucy is five, Solomon is three, and Frances is three months) and run a baby carrier business called Solly Baby from our 740 square foot home on 3/4 of an acre in North County San Diego. Somehow, we’re still pretty crazy about each other. Or maybe we’re just crazy. Either way, I think we’ve got a good thing going.

Lucy is our fiercely independent, creative spirit. She can be found thinking of sad things just so she can watch herself cry in a mirror, carrying around her chicken “Cloudy” like she is a doll, and scrambling eggs for lunch for herself and her little brother. At her dance recital this year, she told me she “enjoyed being on the stage, but next year would rather do something ‘freer’ and maybe even a little bit ‘wild.’” Yeah, she’s amazing.

Solomon is pure energy and laughs. He was almost kicked off of his soccer team this year for repeatedly spanking the coach’s bum as well as gymnastics for coming up with (what I would call “creative”) alternative uses for the apparatuses. He can be found kissing his baby sister every. waking. minute. He’s always telling me to not be so “serwius” and he’s got a thing for superheroes, being strong, and the music from Les Mis.

Frances is three months old, but of course we already think she’s a baby genius and we’re positive she is literally the sweetest thing you’ve ever seen.

Jared and I are your average dreamers. We’re all about happiness and trying to be good people.

Q: How did this beach cottage become your home?

A: Jared and I have always imagined that we’d raise our kids on land, so when we found ourselves living in a condo in a super suburban area, something I had sworn we’d never do, I started searching for a rental property on land every day. One day I saw the listing pop up on Craigslist. It was on land and by the beach, with the option to buy. It was perfect.

We immediately drove out to the vacant house and peeked in all the windows. We could tell it was going to take a lot of work, and the 740 square feet was just as small as we had feared it would be. No dining room, one and a half bedrooms, one bathroom, a mini-sized washer and dryer…Jared and I sat on the steps to talk about it, but instead watched our kids run.

And run.

And run.

We had to have it.

I begged, bartered, and cried until the owner said yes. As small business owners (read: high risk) with two little ones and one on the way (read: we’d use and possibly destroy every square inch of the home) we were not the ideal candidates. But the owner, who turned out to be a fellow dreamer who couldn’t convince his wife to take the leap from the mountains with their little ones, went for it anyway.

A year later, we are in the process of purchasing it and we couldn’t be more excited, although reality has definitely set it that it’s going to be quite the project.

Q: What makes you love the place you live? Persuade us to move!

A: It feels a little trite to list all the good things about one of the most popular vacation spots in the world, but I’ll do it anyway. We are 10 minutes from the beach, 30 minutes from downtown San Diego, an hour from Disneyland, an hour and a half from downtown LA, we’re surrounded by little farms including an organic produce farm where we buy most of our produce, and five minutes from a Target. Do you really need anything else?

It’s no secret the cost of living is bonkers in Southern California, but if you’re willing to get a fixer-upper and live in an area that isn’t quite so cookie-cutter, then you really can find pretty good deals. Since we work from home, we are able to avoid driving during rush hour traffic, which is the other list-topping complaint people have with the area.

It goes without saying that the weather is always nice and we really take it for granted. I’ll even complain sometimes that I miss rain, which I realize verges on audacious.

For me, though, the littlest details of daily life have become the things I’ve enjoyed the most. There is a little creek that runs through our property, covered in blackberry vines, where each night a chorus of frogs croak away. In the morning it feels like a menagerie; we’ll eat breakfast outside and watch the birds fly from tree to tree and the mockingbird poke the red-tailed hawk to get off his branch.

Fires in the old, smoky, wood-burning stove on cold mornings in the winter. Being close enough to hear Lucy and Solomon talk to each other in bed about scary dreams and water bottle negotiations. Peeking in the coop to see if the hens have laid an egg that day. Saying goodbye to Jared as he sneaks out at dawn for a quick surf. Late nights talking and dreaming on the deck under strands of globe lights while the kids are in bed.

Of course I didn’t mention how my three year old starts running in circles around the house when he’s in trouble or the stinky diaper pile we always seem to have going or the myth of work/life balance when you have a business run out of your home or the constant line outside the one bathroom. (Seriously, who makes a bathroom with no storage or counters? Can you even call that a bathroom?) But we choose not to focus on those things.

Q: What was the one design element that you wanted to be sure your family home included as it relates to living well with your kids?

A: Kids need space to create. Instead of using the dining room as an eating area, we turned it into a playroom. It’s the room that leads into our kids’ bedroom, so it makes sense to use it as an extension of their room.

It’s filled with books, art supplies, puzzles, and educational tools like science kits and curriculum books. I feel inspired to teach and to play when I’m in the room with them and they feel inspired to create. It’s the most important room in our home.

Q: How would you describe your family’s aesthetic?

A: There is beauty in utility. We love things that are functional and aesthetically pleasing. If it has meaning on top of all that, then it’s made it to the celestial, Platonic ideal level. Not many things make it there.

My favorite “decorative” pieces are things like a well-made table, a nicely woven basket to hold Frances’ clothes, a perfectly designed reading lamp, leather-bound books, pretty soap dispensers…the list goes on. If I could find a beautiful toilet bowl brush, I’d be over the moon.

And less is almost always more.

Q: You run one of the most successful babywrap companies in the US. Tell us about how and why it all began and where it is now.

A: I’m a fabric junkie and so I knew I could make a wrap that was lighter, more breathable, and from a higher quality fabric. The transition to parenthood is an intense one for most people, so I was, and still am, very inspired by the idea of making parenthood reflect the wearer’s personal aesthetic.

Like most mothers, I’m also a big multi-tasker so the idea of being able to bond with my baby while reading a book to my toddler or doing the dishes or running a company was like music to my ears.

I made my first wrap carrier right after having Solomon (hence Solly Baby) three years ago while my husband was still in school. Encouraged by friends that I was on to something and with the help of a small loan from my in-laws for the fabric, I turned our home in Salt Lake City into a factory, pushing all of the tables and chairs aside and rolling bolts of fabric back and forth over a taped pattern on the ground. I worked and worked any time my babies were sleeping, and started a shop on Etsy.

Somehow it’s expanded into this beautiful, huge thing that is so much bigger than I ever imagined it would be. We are worn by thousands of parents and celebrities around the globe, and have won numerous awards for our product. My husband and I both work on the business as our sole income, as well as a handful of other people as well.

The business has grown primarily through social media and word of mouth. I always say that I will forever be grateful to the babies born to fashion and lifestyle bloggers and Instagrammers in 2011. It’s hard to not get emotional about it because the kindness of bloggers like Naomi Davis and others literally put food in my babies’ mouths at a time when we had nothing but hope. We had hundreds of pre-orders before Solly Baby even officially launched thanks to those babies and their very generous mamas. I now try to pay it forward by helping other small businesses whenever possible.

Q: And you’ve just written a book! What were your goals with it? And what’s next on your list of goals?

A: Carrying Baby has been on my bucket list for quite a while. I love writing, babywearing, children’s books, and great collaborations, so the idea of a lift-the-flap board book about animals wearing their babies came pretty easily. I’ve always been a fan of Ashley Mae Hoiland‘s watercolor prints so it was a natural fit and to have her and one of my favorite designers, Amanda Jane Jones, design the book. It’s been a really fun project to work on, and the fact that it helps spread the babywearing love just makes me happy.

Next, we’re working on more limited edition prints for Solly Baby where we collaborate with our favorite designers, baby doll wraps, as well as a few other products. We are also partners with Christy Turlington’s organization Every Mother Counts, so we are excited about some campaigns in the future to help raise money and spread the word about what they’re doing to improve maternal health globally.

Q: And you do it all from your cottage! Tell us how you divide your home and company when they live in the same place! How does your decor contribute to this harmony?

A: The only way we are able to make this space work is thanks to our detached work shed turned studio office next to the house. When we moved in, it was like a haunted house with blacked-out windows, patches of dry wall, and garbage bags on the walls to keep moisture from coming in.

Jared ripped everything out, wired it, put up new drywall, made a beautiful wood wall, and painted everything. It’s not perfect, but there’s nowhere I’d rather work. Jared and I work side by side, and the view from each window is so lovely. We’ve had photo and video shoots in it almost weekly since it was finished, and even a few parties.

We try to keep the room simple and clean. I’ve found that when my space is disorganized, then that’s how my brain feels, too. We also try to keep all things work-related in it. We don’t even bring mail into the house. That physical distance used to not feel quite so necessary, but it has become increasingly so. Phones are distracting enough as a parent, so the fewer distractions the better so I can focus totally on my little ones when I’m in our home and feel somewhat of a separation between work time and family time.

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

A: I hope this house will represent the feeling of being free. Of being able to run and run and run like the whole world was theirs for the taking. I hope that feeling will sink so deeply into their hearts that they’ll carry that feeling with them always.

I hope they remember that I wasn’t afraid. A lot of my life has been spent living with fear. Fearing rejection, fearing failure, fearing how others perceive me, even fearing greatness. But when I became a mother, something slowly changed and they have inspired me to be brave. I feel sad that it has taken me this long to learn this, but so endlessly grateful for their part in the process of becoming.

And I hope they remember that I always said sorry. I am not perfect, but at least I never pretended to be.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? Is there a development stage that’s long gone that you miss?

A: Children live very much in the present and so they notice all of the little details. A few years ago, we were at a park playing when an airplane flew overhead. I looked around and every single child there was looking straight up, silently watching the plane fly past like it was the first thing they’d ever seen in the sky, while all of the parents continued to talk, not one of them noticing the plane.

There was something about that scene that was unforgettable. I feel that way with my children just about every day. Sometimes it’s frustrating because even walking to the car is like a field trip, but it’s also quite magical.

I’ve been surprised by how impatient I am! I’ll think I’ve finally licked it and then we have another baby and I have to learn it all over again. It’s pretty humbling. We’ll have 500 backorders that are late being shipped out because of some production problem and I’m just fine, and yet I can’t figure out how to keep my cool when my son tries to flush a roll of toilet paper down the toilet. Being a mother is nuts.

I miss every stage and age after it passes. I always feel a little heartbroken each birthday. Even though my little ones are still practically babies, I can already feel how quickly the time goes, and I worry I’ll blink and it will all feel like a dream.

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

A: That I’m a much better mother when I just let my children be. When I control and push, something ugly happens that makes it hard for me to see them for who they are, but when I let go and just love then something miraculously beautiful happens. I am still trying to figure out how to balance that with getting teeth brushed and shoes tied, but hopefully I can find that balance sooner rather than later.


She should write a book, shouldn’t she? (She did!) Thank you so much, Elle, for adding your sweet honesty to our day.

Friends, wasn’t it poignant to read Elle’s description of keeping her cool pretty effortlessly during work-related crises, and working hard not to lose it amid a family-related hullabaloo? I so get it, don’t you? Maybe it’s because we’re freer with our emotions in a personal setting, or maybe we hold ourselves better in check when we’re wearing our professional goggles…but either way, it’s a great reminder to bring a bit of professionalism into our personal lives, right?

Oh, and my newest goal is to look up when a plane flies overhead, and remember to marvel at all the dailies that have become ho-hum unnoticeable. Who’s with me?

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: Kirsty Gungor, Revisited Tue, 19 Aug 2014 13:00:30 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

When we last visited Kirsty, she was outnumbered as the only female in a male-generous family. That ratio certainly didn’t show, however, in the family home’s decor. There was an abundance of white-not-scared-of-dirt-one-bit, a lacy tablecloth or two, and an elegant settee and white leather chair that just didn’t seem conducive to trampolining. I loved her style.

I still do, in fact. Especially since the family has added another member, and considerably more shades of pink to their surroundings. Friends, please welcome Kirsty one more  time!

Q: You’ve got a new addition to your family! 

A: Yes we do! Since you last visited our home, we welcomed the sweetest little girl into our all boy family. Her name is Scarlet Evangeline and she has her brothers’ whole hearts. She turned one in May, and is an absolute beauty who loves to tumble around with the boys and gets us all giggling with her scrunch nose, eyes closed smile. I have a little taste of every personality with my four kids: laid back and serious, daredevil and go-getter, goofball and best friend, and sweet little love. Scarlet is such a wonderful gift to our family.

Q: The last time we toured your home, you were living with four males, three of whom were under eight. How has this little lady made her mark on your aesthetic?

A: Well, I’ve always had a romantic style and aesthetic. For example, I love vintage chairs with tufting, quilts on all the beds, and fresh flowers around the house. And I’ve not necessarily shied from those inclinations even when my home was filled with boys. But the opportunity to decorate a room devoted entirely to a girl was just about the most fun I’ve ever had.

I wanted it to feel like a page from a fairytale. And funnily enough, I think that the chance to have a space where I could create beautiful vignettes with lots of feminine details helped me let out a long held breath. So while my style remains the same, I try to achieve that quintessential blend of modern with vintage – hopefully keeping the home cool enough for the guys!

Q: What other changes have you made in terms of making this home even more enjoyable for your kids?

A: We are blessed to have a large extended family that lives in town, so that’s actually an important detail to us – having a home that is welcoming and kid friendly. My sister lives just a few minutes away and also has four children, and my parents are here, too. We were separated for a while; we all emigrated from South Africa in 1993 to Tulsa, Oklahoma, but for the first five years of my marriage I was in Green Bay, Wisconsin while they remained in Tulsa.

Now that we’re all in the same city, the cousins spend time together virtually every day. I cherish this! And these past six months in particular we have been inseparable, as my sister was diagnosed with B-cell Lymphoma. She underwent chemotherapy at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, and I’m thrilled to share that she is cancer free today! Right now, every day is a party to celebrate that!

But in years like this – when you experience complete and utter joy and also crippling fear – your perspective changes dramatically and you appreciate every single moment. Even the ordinary moments become dazzlingly beautiful.

While I love great design and am awed and inspired by the spaces I see on Instagram and Pinterest, it is impossible for me and my jelly-fingered family to have a place that is similarly pristine and perfect. I’ve just learned to chill out on those expectations a lot and to have fun with what we have. The old hand me down furniture, the overseas treasures, and the colorful kids pieces. I’ve allowed the music, art, and toys to become a part of the decor…always ready and waiting for something beautiful to happen.

And since you last saw our home, we also added a large chalkboard wall below the chair rail in our dining room. And for the summer months, thick watercolor paper on a bare wall so a painted mural can come to life. Living creatively is my fuel for life, so I hope to encourage the kids to be creatively inspired too.

Q: Tell us how your career is going, and exciting projects on the horizon. Any secrets on balancing as best you can your time with your family and your time working?

A: There have been a few exciting additions to my career over these past two years. I now work as a freelance writer and photographer for a local women’s magazine, contributing fashion articles each month. And that has led to a growing photography business which has been amazing, as I am absolutely photo obsessed.

I write a lifestyle and fashion blog called Lovelies in My Life and it has begun to gather a fair amount of local readers through the magazine and, in turn, some really cool opportunities to connect with like minds in our community. One is a fun DIY workshop that I’m working on for this summer – something along the lines of a flower crowns and mimosas event.

I’m a bit of a shy person in real life, so these opportunities to meet other artistic people and make new friends has been really lovely. It’s a good stretch for me.

And then I’m also a dance teacher. Dance was my very first love. I have a dance program with about 60 students which I’ve kept intentionally small as I’ve just not been ready to give up too much time with my kids quite yet.

I have no fantastic secret to balancing time, other than my rockstar husband. He and I have maneuvered a perfect work schedule between the two of us, so when I teach or do a photo session, he is home with the kids.

Q: Please finish the sentence: If I could have one wish granted to my family, it would be…

A: …for us to live a long, happy, healthy life. But that’s three! So let’s narrow it down: If I could have one wish granted to my family, it would be to live an abundant life!


Kirsty, I loved this revisit. Thank you so much for keeping in touch, and a giant congratulations on Scarlet!

Two things stood out for me among your words. One, how you’re awed and inspired by online design, but realize that it’s not in the cards for your current family scene. I think that’s a difficult but utterly healthy point to reach! Well done. No matter how picture perfect our homes may be, there will always be another idea – perfectly executed and then photographed and pinned! – that makes us second-guess our choices. But also this: “I’m a bit of a shy person in real life…” I’m so shocked! I have to tell you that this doesn’t show in your bold decorating decisions and confident words, Kirsty. Again, thanks for stretching yourself for us!

Friends, this brings up a fun topic: For those of you with online lives, do you feel braver and more confident than in real life, face to  face? Has there been a moment when your two worlds collided?

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: Amy Dolgin Tue, 12 Aug 2014 16:00:17 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Maris Garcia.

The Dolgin’s Chicago apartment is as hard-working as they come. Scanning through Amy’s introductory photos, I kept coming back to her hallway and getting more ideas. (Built-ins and a desk nook are now on my wish list!) Somehow, she’s made an apartment feel as wide-open comfortable as a sprawling house! You know I enjoy a good vertical solution as much as anyone, so I was particularly taken with this tour. The window seats, the all-white with vibrant accent wall colors, a sleek and friendly kitchen — and did I mention the gorgeous built-in storage — all sealed the deal. I like this space.

Please be warned: This tour might make you yearn for a citified life. Friends, please welcome the Dolgins!

Q: Please introduce us to this Chicago clan.

A: There are five of us: me, my husband, Harell, and our three kids. Mischa is six, Romy is four, and Emmett is one. A family of five sounds so big to me when it’s in reference to other families, but doesn’t feel big to me in our home at all. I think that’s part of me still feeling a bit stunned by being a parent to three children! Kind of like how my age doesn’t really match how I feel anymore. I just turned 34, but feel stuck at 28 inside.

Harell is a contractor in a family construction business, so he renovates and builds both residential and commercial spaces. Although I was trained in public health and nursing, I recently started working with him to help during this period of fast-paced growth in the business. I still teach a Women’s Health course at a local university too, but I’ve loved getting involved in construction and design beyond it being a hobby or obsession. Harell is the calmest person I know. I feel so lucky about his general calmness, as he balances out some of my anxious and wanderlust tendencies. He is the eternal optimist, finding the silver lining in any challenging situation.

Our oldest daughter, Mischa, is finishing up her first year at our neighborhood public school as a kindergartner, and our middle daughter, Romy, will start kindergarten there in the fall. Mischa is determined and driven, but also silly and musical. She literally sings her way through each day. Romy cares deeply about clothing, colors, sparkles, and things being just the way she envisions them. She idolizes her big sister, but is also the only one in our family that Emmett kisses – and he does so about a hundred times a day! Having two girls so close in age (18 months apart) has been both exciting and exhausting, but we’re coming out the other end of those early years with girls who love each other endlessly and keep good company together. We waited a while longer before having our third child, Emmett. He is such a funny combination of cuddly and reckless, and we are loving every minute of his baby stage since we know how short it really is. I like to think that growing up with two big sisters will help him learn to be a respectful man.

Q: Where do you live, and how did your house become your home?

A: We live in an apartment in the East Lakeview neighborhood in Chicago. Our building is a vintage 1920s graystone, fairly typical of Chicago’s lakefront. Our path to this home was meandering and full of unexpected twists and turns that I may have cursed along the way, but it feels like we have landed in a place more special and wonderful that we thought possible. Just two years ago, we were living in our first home, a 1950s brick ranch on the northwest side of Chicago. We loved that little house of only 800 square feet, and we have such fond memories of bringing our first two babies home there. But, it was in a neighborhood that really didn’t have a good public elementary school option, which we knew was important to us.

We found an unusual and huge (2400 square foot) vintage rental in another northside neighborhood, Ravenswood Manor, and wonderful tenants for our own little home, and took the plunge in preparation for Mischa entering kindergarten one year later. Just eight months after moving into that great apartment, we were pregnant with number three and our landlord began hoarding cats in the unfinished apartment on the ground floor. I realize this sounds crazy – it was! We begged and pleaded for two months, desperate to make it work in this rental, both to avoid moving again and because we had truly fallen in love with the home. Alas, she could not be reasoned with. I could not leave quickly enough. You can imagine our serious concerns about the health of our family – and those poor cats! We made the difficult decision to leave our new home, and move in with my parents in nearby East Lakeview. We had no idea how long we’d be there or where we’d live next, but we were driven to fix this mess, and quickly! I was four months pregnant when we moved in with my parents.

Thankfully, this period at their home was wonderful. They took care of us when we were truly in need of comfort and help. It was a pleasure and great fun to experience living in a multi-generational home during this tricky time. Harell and I hurriedly explored rentals and apartments for sale in a couple of neighborhoods that had elementary schools we liked. When we walked into an apartment just five blocks from my parents’ home, on the lakefront, in a beautiful vintage building, near a wonderful fine and performing arts school that was listed for a steal because it was floor to ceiling full of junk and in need of a full renovation, we knew this was the place for us! There were several other couples at the showing when we first saw the apartment, but they didn’t make it past the front doorway because it needed SO MUCH WORK. Despite our tight timeline, we bought the apartment and started a major renovation right away. We moved in about two months after Emmett was born, exactly one year ago. Harell and I are still in disbelief that we get to live here. It is far beyond what we thought possible!

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: We joke that living in Lakeview feels a little like living in a small town; you see people you know every time you walk to the park. We walk to school most mornings, and the kids feel like it’s a parade on Broadway Street with all the neighborhood kids in their sweet navy and white uniforms walking and scootering to school. We know the local hairdressers, restaurant owners, ice cream and bookstore owners, and we can walk to practically anything we might need. But at the same time, we are in the middle of Chicago! We have access to everything there is in the city: great restaurants, amazing museums, performances, stunning architecture, incredible lakefront parks, and beaches…the list goes on. I am so pleased to be raising our family here.

Q: Your style seems very modern one minute, but very cozy, too. How would you describe your aesthetic? Did it change with the addition of kids?

A: I have a strong feeling that beauty enhances our lives. Living in a home that I find beautiful and inspiring makes me happy and energized, and I think it does the same for my family. Prioritizing good design, beauty, and balance is something I know my children notice, and I’m glad because it’s important to love your home! We really wanted to balance beauty with comfort and durability in this home. At 1800 square feet, the home feels spacious but works hard. We certainly fill it up

I think my aesthetic is a mix of many styles, but what is consistent is that I try to only bring things into the house that I either love or that serve an important purpose or both! I don’t think this has changed since having kids; if anything, I’ve only become a more relentless purger of household junk and clutter.

Q: When does your home work best?

A: We opened up many walls during the renovation to create one huge living space containing the kitchen, dining and living rooms (and play space, homework space, drawing space, reading space, etc.). Our home works best when all five of us are home after school, and everyone is happily coexisting in the same room. Often this means I am getting dinner ready, Harell is either finishing up work or hanging with the kiddos, the girls are either enacting some elaborate make believe scene or playing with Emmett, and Emmett is…being reckless

Q: Talk about balance, whether it’s how you prep for your family time or how you juggle work or even how you juggle time with each member of your family.

A: My version of balance focuses on happiness and not feeling rushed. I’ve slowly learned that these two factors determine how our family and home feel on a daily basis. This includes getting the help I need to be able to do my best at both parenting and other work – think lots of family support from all grandparents, aunts, and uncles, an amazing babysitter, and wonderful school teachers.

In a more traditional sense, though, our family balance has meant that over the past two years, I’ve slowly cut back my work outside of the house. These days I work approximately 20-25 hours a week, and that feels just about right. Harell works full time but his job is wonderfully flexible, so he and I truly tag-team with carpooling and other logistics. My work has been all over the place since we started our family: consulting on public health projects, clinical nursing, teaching university students, and now helping with a family construction business. While I’m not thrilled with my lack of focus and career wanderlust, I realize that this has afforded me the ability to both work and be home to walk my kids to and from school and spend those few afternoon hours with them after school, which I am so grateful for.

Q: It sounds like your career has been ever-changing to meet your needs as your family grows. What are you dreaming about lately?

A: Right now, in addition to the teaching and construction administration work I’m doing, I’m thinking a lot about two other things: interior design, and baking granola. I recently have had some informal requests for both design help and weekly granola supplies – I’m not sure how or if either of these interests will develop. But I love baking my granola (and think it tastes better than any other I’ve tasted) and I love decorating interiors, and hope to see one or both of these passions grow organically into something more than a hobby!

Q: Do you ever think you’ll outgrow this home? If so, what would be the next adventure? Suburbs or still city living?

A: This is tricky to answer because we love this home and our neighborhood. Given Harell’s profession and my secret dream of doing interior design work, we are pretty sure we’ll be moving again – although not right now! We have loved the process of renovating together. Ideally, our next move will be to another vintage apartment in the same neighborhood with similar or slightly more square footage, that we can live in while doing the renovation gradually, one project at a time.

I grew up in the city and Harell in the suburbs. While we plan to stay in the city, we’ll never say never about moving to the ‘burbs.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? Is there a development stage that’s long gone that you miss?

A: My favorite part about living with my kids is just how delicious they are! I want to eat them up. Emmett is at one of the most edible stages right now, toddling around and getting into everything, but always with a smile that makes it impossible to get mad at his recklessness. I love watching the girls grow and develop into their own strong personalities. This makes me daydream about their adult lives while wanting them to stop growing at the same time!

I love being pregnant and the short but sweet and simple newborn stage. While our family may be complete, Harell and I both have a glimmer of want for a fourth pregnancy and a fourth child. The idea of not ever being pregnant again and not ever having an itty bitty newborn again makes me ache. One of my major surprises about motherhood is how much I’ve grown and evolved as a mother over the past six years. I am much more proud of myself as a mom today than I was at the beginning. I guess this is probably not unusual, but I’m so pleased to be able to say that.

Q: If they could remember just one memory from this childhood home – and you as their mom – what do you hope it would be?

A: I hope that they remember how we worked passionately to create a warm and beautiful space for our family to enjoy, and that the beauty came both from the comfort found and fun had inside as well as the design details.  Also, I can only wish that my children know and feel my love, admiration, and excitement for them, always. I hope they have fond memories of us having fun together – laughing, being silly, dancing and singing – these are my very favorite parts of parenting!

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

A: …how important it is to love yourself and find your own way. Showing your children that you love yourself is one of the most important lessons for them to learn, and for me, one of the hardest to teach. Similarly, trusting your instincts as a parent and finding a way that works for you and your family is one of the hardest and most satisfying learning processes I’ve ever gone through.

Also, I wish someone had told me that what works for me at one point in my life may not work at another, whether personally or career-wise or parenting…and that is OKAY!


Thank you, Amy! And let me be the first to chime in that a fourth child is a lovely, lovely thing. I’m sure we can work out a Growing A Family feature for you! Ha!

For those readers who live in the suburbs, do you ever want to try living city-style? What holds you back? I’d love a good discussion about suburbs vs. city, especially those aspects that keep you exactly where you are.

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: Lindsay Emerson Tue, 05 Aug 2014 16:00:11 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

With a blog called Less Than Perfect Mama, you can bet that Lindsay has a good grasp on this whole living with kids thing! The day before Hurricane Sandy flooded her home, she packed all of the family’s important stuff: toys, clothes, the family’s favorite books, and photos. I love that she chose much comfort over more costly items, don’t you?

Please join me in welcoming Lindsay. I know you’re going to enjoy touring her home and reading her words. (If only there was an option for this former pastry chef to bake a little something for us!)

Q: Please tell us about you and yours!

A: I live with my husband, Michael, in a tiny house in a small beach town on Long Island. We have two kids: Luke (7) and Madeleine (4). I’m a stay-at-home mom these days, and I try to nurture my creativity by writing a blog about the ridiculous nonsense that goes on around here in addition to anything food-related. I was a professional pastry chef before I had the kids and I still love, love, love to bake. Michael is an arborist, which means that often he spends his day dangling from a tree with a chainsaw in hand. I try not to think about that!

Luke is an old soul. While he has all the silliness of a typical kid, he also has a serious, intense side to his personality and can be quite focused when he wants to be. He’s an unyielding Thomas the Train enthusiast and says he’d like to drive trains when he grows up and also have a model train shop on the weekends.

Madeleine has a twinkle in her eye. If she’s not giggling it’s because she’s asleep. And she’s always scheming to get something she wants when I’ve told her no several times. When she’s very quiet I know she’s up to no good! There’s plenty of sibling shenanigans at our house, but when Luke asks if he can sit with Madeleine at bedtime and read to her I just melt.

Q: How did this house become your home?

A: We bought our house in 2005 when the real estate market was inflated to an all-time high. This was the only house we looked at and it was a total dive! In this area, the original homes are true beach bungalows. They were never intended for year-round living when they were built years ago.

Our house only had two bedrooms, a kitchen decked out in shabby cabinets and linoleum tile that had seen better days, and an equally creepy bathroom. There was water damage, wall-to-wall astro-turf-green carpet, and a back yard that looked like the land that time forgot. We were hasty and very…young.

I’d never make such an impulsive decision these days, but that’s what two kids and nearly a decade of marriage teaches you! Now all our decisions affect four people instead of two. But the house did have a certain coziness about it, and when I step out the door each morning I can look down to the water and see boats passing by. Not a bad deal.

Q: Tell us about living through Hurricane Sandy! How scary was it?

A: Foolishly, we didn’t take the evacuation warnings seriously at first so we didn’t prepare very much. Then the day before Sandy hit, we scrambled to pack up essentials so we could evacuate to my in-laws’ house further inland. The things I felt were most important to bring along were as many of the kids’ toys and clothes as we could fit into suitcases and garbage bags. Classy! I knew that as long as Luke and Madeleine had their belongings, the things that bring them comfort, I’d have peace of mind. And of course we packed up our photo albums, hard drives, and favorite books. Cookbooks, for me.

I remember vividly the night that the hurricane was in full swing because the wind was crazy. We were at my in-laws’ house by then. Michael and the kids had passed out from the exhaustion of the day, but I was wound up and couldn’t sleep. The house felt like it was going to lift up and fly away. Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? I was frightened that night, more so of the possibility of a tornado than of the flooding. No flood waters reached my in-laws’ home, thankfully.

The next day Michael went down to check on our house, and when he came back the look on his face was one of utter defeat and shock. I’d never seen him in that state before, since he’s such an emotionally strong person. He looked truly heartbroken.

The house had been flooded with about four feet of water, its contents destroyed and covered in black sludge. My reaction was very calm in relation to what had actually happened, and it wasn’t until a couple of months later that I began to feel the effects of everything.

Q: Where did you stay temporarily while renovating? How did you make it home for your kids?

A: We moved into the house that had belonged to my grandmother, Nonna. She had passed away two years earlier and my family had not yet been able to sort through her things or move any of her furniture out of the house, so it was basically set up and ready for us to move into. It’s strange how things work out sometimes. My entire family came over to help us move in and to clean up the house, which had been closed up for a long time. My older sister even flew up from Florida just to lend a hand.

Everyone brought something – books for the kids, towels, toiletries. My mom stocked the kitchen with all the kids’ favorite things to eat. We set up one of the bedrooms for the kids and it looked so cute with all of their toys and stuffed animals. There was new life in the house. I felt blessed. My family and my husband’s surrounded us with love and support.

I told the kids that we were safe because Nonna was watching over us. Luke was five at the time and had a little trouble with the idea that the water would come back. He seemed to feel reassured that we were in a familiar place, a house that he’d spent so much time in from the time he was born. I was reassured, too, but it was harder for Michael to be in someone else’s home without our own belongings.

The next eight months were emotionally challenging. The stress of dealing with the insurance company and of not knowing when we’d get to move home was difficult.

Q: Describe the first time you felt at home again. Are your kids still nervous about the weather whenever the news predicts hurricanes? How do you help them cope?

A: I had never thought of this town as my home for all those years before Hurricane Sandy. I had thought of it as a temporary situation until we saved more money and figured out where we really wanted to live. So imagine my surprise when we moved back to our town and I actually felt like I was home. There was a beautiful camaraderie in our town in the months that followed. When the schools finally opened again, Luke’s teacher hugged him with tears in her eyes. Everyone was so glad to be together.

That’s something I’ll always remember…how much these people care about where they live.

There are times when Luke will watch the news with me and the forecast is for lots of rain and he’ll ask if we’re going to be flooded again. I remind him that we’re able to prepare for hurricanes, and that as long as everyone is safe that that’s the important thing. We can always buy new toys and clothes. Luckily, Madeleine is younger and more la-dee-dah by nature, so these things don’t seem to phase her.

Q: What makes you love where you live?

A: Living by the beach is wonderful. The air smells salty, there’s always a breeze, and at night we can hear the ocean. In the summer we pack up the red wagon with buckets and sunscreen and snacks, and walk down to the beach with the kids. There’s a farmer’s market twice a week from spring to fall, and the town also has several playgrounds to choose from.

We’re only a half hour drive from Manhattan – although traffic can add an hour to that drive! – and we take advantage of that by feeling out our relatives to see if they want to babysit our kids so we can go to dinner. The kids love going to the city, too. But mostly it’s the laid back vibe down here. People slow down and enjoy the surroundings.

Q: What changes did you make to your home that made it better-suited for your family? Was this a chance for a do-over, in some ways?

A: Yes! The silver lining was that we were able to make changes so that the house works much better than ever. My fantastic brother-in-law stepped in as our contractor and reduced the size of our living room (which we had added when we bought the house) so that we’d have a a master bedroom with a walk-in closet. Now Luke and Madeleine have their own rooms, which has been life-saving.

We were able to create a large closet that contains the washer/dryer and also serves as a pantry. In a small home like this, these changes have added efficiency. Now that the master bedroom is on the opposite side of the house from the kids, we have more privacy. (Insert sound of angels singing!)

Q: What traditions do you hope your kids remember from this home? What do you hope they remember about their time with you? (The good and the not-so-awesome!)

A: I hope they remember lazy summer days in the backyard or at the beach, and what a gift it is to live so close to the ocean. There’s an ice cream stand down the road from our house, and we go there all the time once the weather is warm. I pull the hatch up in back of the car and we sit on this big, red blanket my mom gave me and eat ice cream cones. The kids always ask “Did you bring the red blanket, Mom?”

Just that half hour or so that we’re there, removed from the distractions of being home, is a chance to chat about our day. They have my undivided attention and I see how much they enjoy that. Will they remember doing that once they’ve grown up?

I hope they remember that my husband and I savor them every single day. Hearing them laugh, watching them learn something new, or listening to them talk about things they think are cool – it’s all interesting to us. We eat it up! That their parents are endlessly infatuated with them and we think they’re both amazing people…that’s what I hope they remember.

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

A: What’s not to love about your child’s breath against your cheek as you lay together so your little one will drift off to sleep? Those are the easy things to love about being a parent. I’ve adored each stage of raising them so far, even while braving sleepless nights and poopie diapers. My favorite thing, though? Luke and Madeleine have taught me so much about myself. They challenge me like crazy. What better test of a person’s patience, generosity, or creativity than to be faced with tiny humans who will not take no for an answer. Believe me, some days I don’t have any of those qualities and then there are days when I surprise myself by being a better mom than the day before. They give me the desire to strive for being a great mom.

I never had any preconceived of motherhood because I didn’t think I’d ever have kids. Michael and I said we were going to travel the world and be the fun, cool uncle and aunt who always brought presents. Then my uterus woke up and I knew I wanted to be a mom. Motherhood is hard, though. That’s what I tell friends and family who don’t have kids and are thinking of starting a family. Thankfully, there’s so much wonderful in parenting that the moments that bring me to my knees are kind of a blur.

I do have days when the kids are in the yard blowing bubbles and throwing mud at each other (seriously), and I feel a little lump in my throat. Stay little, I want to say. Being a mom of young children is enchanting in so many ways. They think everything is exciting and mystical and fun. And while Luke is certainly getting wise to things he once thought of as magical, I’m not too worried. He can’t be that old if he wears his blue blankie like a cape as he runs naked through the house.

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

A: I wish someone had told me that it’s ok to let my husband do things his way. I’m admittedly a bit of a control freak when it comes to the kids (and in many other areas of life!). Michael puts complete trust in me that I’ll make the best decisions for our kids, great and small. But that sometimes allows me to forget that he’s their parent, too!

I don’t need to worry if he walks the kids down to the pizza place on a Saturday afternoon. He’ll look both ways before crossing streets and watch that Madeleine doesn’t dart into the street if she sees a dog. It’s a daily process for me, remembering that I need to let go of the myriad of worries in my mind and just let him take over. Our kids hit the jackpot with their wonderful, devoted father.

I also wish someone would tell me, like right now please, that it’s okay if the house is messy and dinner isn’t on the table until late. I don’t want to spend my time with my kids worrying about to-dos, but that’s something I find hard to let go. There will always be mess, there will always be laundry, and there will always be errands and dishes and beds to make. Kids grow quickly, so if you come over and it looks like a giant picked up our house and shook it all around, just know it’s all part of my plan to enjoy my kids.


Oh, Lindsay! I love your honesty. I know I’ve swallowed those two little words so, so often…stay little. Thank you for sharing your story with us; I can’t imagine living through such a devastating natural disaster like Hurricane Sandy, so I truly admire your bravery and positive attitude.

Friends, we’ve talked about the co-parenting issue before – remember Emily Henderson’s advice for new moms? – but I’m always curious how you handle it in your own home. Are your parenting duties equal, or as equal as they can be? Do you leave the house confident in your partner’s parenting skills? Or do you die a little every time your partner takes the kids somewhere, refraining (hopefully!) from shouting a “Please keep them alive, honey!” warning as they walk out the door? Your stories and experiences always make me smile.

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: Sharon Miller Tue, 29 Jul 2014 16:00:20 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

When Sharon‘s friend, Chedva, contacted me to inquire about a home tour for her pal, it was an easy, easy yes. All she had to do was mention Israel, the Maharal Valley, and Paper Bella. Then there were the photos of Sharon’s home. And then there was the view.

I was hooked. And I was curious, especially, to see how Israel’s ever-changing and charged political climate affects the entire process. Turns out, that’s not even a factor – or, at least, not in the way I imagined. The view, however, is. Enjoy the tour!

Q: Tell us all about this sweet family in Israel.

A: Are you ready? We’re quite a group! I’m the artistic type, which means I’m constantly losing my glasses and then finding them in the fridge. Everyone is used to it by now and try to make up for it. My husband Alon is a businessman which should mean that he’s the grown-up in this relationship, but actually he’s a kid at heart who goes to flea markets on Saturdays at 5 am to collect old transistor radios and antiques, and rides an off-road motorbike.

Yahli, our 10 year old daughter, follows in my footsteps, which means she’s very musical and extremely messy. And then there are Ben and Daria, our twins. Ben’s highest goal in life is being Messi (as in the football player). We call him our Mowgli because he just loves being outdoors as much as possible. Daria is in charge of our family; at just seven years old, she is amazingly responsible and together.

The kids love watching TV with Alon, but their other favorite pastime with their dad is being outside in nature. With me, we spend hours on crafting websites, downloading patterns for paper-cutting projects, and things like that. As a family, we love taking trips, hikes and mini-journeys, and going anywhere where there’s water – like trips to lakes or going to the beach.

And I can’t really describe our family without mentioning our animal family! There’s Chikita the dog, who puts her life at risk every night fighting pigs and foxes. There’s Alfred, a cat who is absolutely positive he’s human. Oh, and we have five more cats who live outside on the porch or in the yard, two guinea pigs, and five bunnies.

Q: Describe your house to us. What makes it home?

A: After studying and living in NYC for a while, I knew I wanted my home to reflect the coastal style I fell in love with when we’d go on vacation and stay in charming B&Bs upstate and in Martha’s Vineyard. It was a big leap for me as an eternal city girl to move to a pretty rural area where my husband grew up. As a son of the moshav, Alon won the lottery – which meant we could choose which land we’d get – and we chose the last plot on the moshav with a forest on the north, pasture behind the house, and the Maharal Valley in front of the house.

It was clear from the starting point that the outside was going to play a huge role in the architecture of our house. We raised the whole structure so the porch would be high enough for us to enjoy the view even when we’re inside, installed ceiling fans so we can stay outside even in the Israeli summer heat, and it all paid off.

We brought a lot of home decor accessories from the States – I’m still a fan of William Sonoma and Pottery Barn – and I even ran eight blocks to Pier 1 when our apartment in NY was already all packedto get a lamp I couldn’t get out of my mind. We have a lot of thrift shop and flea market finds, but most of the furniture is inexpensive; it’s the accessories and the art that tell the story and add personality. I really think what makes our house a home is the mixture of the people and pets that live in it, the amazing feeling of being on vacation even when we’re home, and the unique area where we live.

The funniest thing is that I’d never imagined I’d live so far away from the city! I grew up in Tel Aviv and also lived in London and NYC, and always saw myself as the ultimate city girl. When we moved to Kerem Maharal, I insisted we install a top notch alarm system because I was terrified! Well, suffice it to say, the alarms only worked for two weeks and then I completely forgot about my fear and frequently even leave the front door open…

Q: What makes you love where you live?

A: As someone who has lived in places all over the world, I can say that Israelis have a really unique connection to their environment. I don’t really think it has a lot to do with Zionism; we just have this amazingly strong connection to our roots, and the history just pulls us there.

There’s something about Israel – whether it’s the political situation or the fact it’s a young state or the Middle-Eastern temperament – that makes life in it very intense. Yeah, it can be stressful at times, but somehow it just makes you feel and experience every little thing in the most extreme and palpable way, including joy and happiness and friendships, or just enjoying the view. You should definitely visit and see for yourself.

Q: How does Israel’s political unpredictability and proximity to countries in turmoil affect your daily life? Are there any safety precautions you take at home and while traveling?

A: Life in Israel teaches us to make the most of each day and Carpe Diem! We’re much more likely to jump at risks, and that helps a lot of people make their dreams come true…or at least try. There are a lot of Arab families in our area, and it’s a beautiful example of co-existence. The person who helps us to get ready for all the trade fairs and sales Paper Bella participates in is Safian, an amazing guy from a nearby Arab village who has become one of our closest friends and essentially a part of our family. And hey, the other day we got a message on Etsy from a girl in Libya who wants to purchase one of our rugs! Turns out, there’s no way to ship from Israel to Libya, but we found a way around it.

Otherwise, life in Israel is pretty normal, safety wise, and we don’t need to take any precautions normally.

Q: How would you define your style? Did it change when you added kids to the mix? 

A: My style is inspired by American coastal living and based on a very easy-going lifestyle. I learned a lot from the American building style, which unlike the local building, dedicates a lot of the space to vast shared rooms rather than dedicating most of it to private rooms like bedrooms. Merging the inside and the outside is a huge part of our house. The kids’ rooms are all on the ground level, and almost all the rooms look out to the porch and the yard.

Q: You’ve got a gorgeous company! Tell us what you do! 

A: Thank you so much! Ever since I was a really young student at Oxford, I used to spend the little money I had on old books and catalogues and technical brochures or science charts. No one was really interested in those at the time, and they cost mere pennies. I didn’t really collect them with an intention in mind; I just enjoyed the aesthetic side of it.

When I moved to NYC to study at Pratt, I continued to scour flea markets in search of what I now know is called “paper ephemera.” We returned to Israel after I left a career in high tech, and I started taking on decorating clients. I soon discovered that I always got stuck on the last step of the process when the time comes to add that layer of personality – all those things that actually tell the story of who lives there. A house can be perfectly designed, decorated, and styled, but as long as the walls are bare it’s lacking something. That’s how I feel.

Anyway, it was hard to find affordable art that doesn’t look cheap, and so I found myself getting back to my vintage collection. I looked at the magazines and catalogs, and added my own interpretation and design point of view to the mix. I had them printed and then used them in my home, in clients’ homes, and even in stores I’d style for photo shoots. At one point almost two years ago, my house was photographed and published in a design book and I started getting a lot of questions and requests for those prints, first from the employees at the publishers’ and then from other people.

Around that time I met Tal, whose twins attended the same school as mine, and she brought a whole new perspective of finding exciting and innovative ways to print my designs on self-adhesive murals, rugs, and more. Thanks to our partnership, we were able to take Paper Bella to the next level. What’s really important to us is the constant search for solutions and products that are attainable and easy to use but not flat – something that would really add a depth and a story and help make a house a home.

Q: Tell us about how starting your business affected your family.

A: Paper Bella is actually a family that consists of four parents, two couples, and six kids…including two pairs of twins! My business partner, Tal, and I only met because our twins go to the same school. Our work is divided between two houses and two families, and that means not only assigning tasks for work but also carpooling, babysitting, trips together, and clothes swapping. (Tal just dropped of a huge bag of clothes for Daria). We also go on trips together every summer; this year it’s going to be Greece! I don’t know if it’s the fact that we have similar views or that we’re just in the same stage and place in life right now, but we have an amazing symbiosis.

Q: How do you try to merge motherhood and running your home with your design life? What tricks keep you sane even when your schedules get crazy?

A: It’s impossible. The guilt is constant. I have no doubt that merging motherhood and work is a huge part of my life story. When I had the twins, I stopped working and only got back to work when they were five years old. My tip for newly working mothers is that I was amazed to discover how the shift from me being only with them resulted in a newfound independence on their part.

How do I actually make it work? I work at home so I’m always there. I do work very long hours but I’m always present. The hours do become pretty bizarre because I’m known for being a night owl. Yeah, one of my eyes is always on the kids while my ear is in the phone and my fingers on the keyboard, but they know I always stop everything else if they need anything.

It’s like the command chain in the army! I oversee everything but I don’t have to have a lot to do with every little detail. And I’m always there with a hot meal and to help with homework or just talk and hang out.

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

A: I already know I’ll miss our bedtime rituals, when the kids tell me I’m the best mommy in the whole world. I was single for quite a time before settling down, and so I know how it is to feel alone. Something about having kids, even more than being in a loving relationship, makes you feel like you’ll never ever be alone again.

Q: What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned as a mother? What’s the one part of parenting you adore…and the one you don’t?

A: What really surprised me is that I can be the type of mother I wanted to be. I think as young kids we all say to ourselves “When I’m a parent I’ll never do that” but somehow you always end up raising your kids just as you were raised. I was really surprised by how I managed to stick to my values and beliefs in parenting, and how it really works. As a very sheltered city kid, I now raise a free-spirited, country clan, and I’m discovering that both ways are great.

My favorite part of parenting is having in-depth discussions with my kids and hearing some mind blowing insights from them. My less favorite part is the logistics of it all…You already know that I’m not the tidiest person.

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

A: I wish someone had told me that I’m responsible enough to be a mother of three! Sometimes I wonder how it’s possible that I have a 10 year old daughter. Maybe it’s because I never gave up my kid spirit and I’m still living with my dreams.

Also: It’s possible to raise twins. I did it!


Sharon, thank you so much for letting us peek into your life! And a special thanks to Chedva for nominating her friend! It was fascinating. I love how you describe life in Israel somehow giving everyone the speed to chase their dreams, no matter how great the risk!

Friends, wouldn’t you kind of love to have a company with a good friend? Or would you be scared of ruining the friendship? To me, there’s something so fun about working with friends and family, so I know where I stand on this one! How about 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.


[ Update: As you can read in the comments, some thought the post was ill-timed, others felt like it was more than appropriate. A big enough variety of opinions have been shared that I think it's best to close the comments now, as I'm afraid I won't be able to monitor them appropriately this week. Thank you to all who participated in the discussion. If you have a compliment for Sharon or her home, feel free to email it to me and I'll add it to the post! ]

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]]> 73
Living With Kids: Kat Hertzler Tue, 22 Jul 2014 16:00:50 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I definitely wouldn’t look at Kat‘s home and think to myself “I’ll bet they did all this debt-free!” No, that would not be my first, second, or even tenth thought. Because there’s so much else to think about in this tour! Like the rustic kitchen island or that gorgeous countertop, the ceiling in the nursery and that insanely lush carpet, the leather couch that looks like it was plucked from a London pub…I could go on. Wait! One more: her master bedroom and bath was once a two-car garage.

But back to the debt-free part. Yes, the renovations and decorating took far longer than if they had sped along their wish list and borrowed the funds and bought new. But where would the fun be in that? Friends, I hope you’re inspired by Kat today. (I know I’m off to check Craigslist!)

Q: Tell us about this family of BOYS!

A: It’s true…we have three little guys who are our world: Ryder (6), Bryce (4), and Finn (18 months). Plus there’s Mitch, my better half, whom I met in high school. We went to college together too, but were just buds then. We didn’t start dating until after we graduated. We’ve been married almost nine years! And I’m Kat, the momma of this all-boy household.

Q: Where do you live, and how did your house become your home?

A: We live in Lancaster County, PA, in a little white rancher. From the first time we saw our no-frills little box of a house, we knew it had potential. Mitch bought the house before we were engaged, but I put my touch on it right away by picking out crazy paint colors and going to town. We literally had a yellow kitchen, red living room, bright green bathroom and a purple spare bedroom; I cringe when I think about it.

Right from the get-go we ripped up carpet, painted, scraped off wallpaper border, and did pretty much whatever we needed to make this house more us. We weren’t afraid to roll up our sleeves and apply a little elbow grease to our little two bedroom rancher.

As time went on and babies started making their appearances, we knew we had to do something…we were quickly running out of room. Our bathroom, which didn’t even have a bathtub in it, wasn’t going to cut it for much longer.

The first thing we did to make our house larger was to finish our basement. It’s so nice to have another space in which to relax, watch movies, play together, or simply send the boys to get out of my hair for a bit. Then about three years ago, we decided to make our house even larger by converting our attached two-car garage into a master bedroom/bathroom, mud/laundry room, and dining area. We did this by tearing down a wall that separated the two spaces and opening our kitchen up to that space.

At that time, we decided to redo our kitchen – since everything else was a mess, why not? And now we have a three bedroom/two bath house with a lot more living space. Every room in our little house has undergone a transformation (some more than one), and we’re really proud of all the work and character that went into those remodels.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: Both Mitch and I have very fond memories of our childhood towns in which we grew up, hence the name of our blog, Maple Leaves & Sycamore Trees: Maple Leaves because Mitch grew up in Alberta, Canada, and Sycamore Trees after the street on which I grew up in a small town in South Jersey. I always pictured raising a family in a small town, but alas, we’re in the country and are loving raising our boys here.

We have so many different farms that we frequent. We buy our milk from a farm that is literally right down the road. There’s a cheese farm where our favorite cheese is made. I even have an “upholstery farm” where I’m currently getting two chairs reupholstered. I can’t forget about the “paint farm” where I recently bought two gallons of paint to redo our family room. Even our kitchen cabinets were made by a local farmer. These farms are literally just that – farms that have side businesses. And the farmers are local Mennonites that do great work and are really affordable.

Lancaster County is the home of the roadside stand, where you can find local in-season produce, local honey, fresh-cut flowers, and even baked goods (shoe-fly pie, anybody?). I’m so thankful that I can feed my family fresh, local homegrown food. There’s also a lot of discount grocery stores here where I can get good organic foods at a serious discount. I just bought organic grass-fed chicken for 99 cents a pound!

Plus, it’s just beautiful here. A country sunset is hard to beat. We have horses and buggies that go past our house every day. The view out our master bedroom is just stunning.

Q: Your home underwent serious renovations. What were the the hardest parts – and the most fun?

A: Probably the hardest part of our renovation when we converted our garage into living space was the amount of time it took us to complete it. Because we did all the work ourselves with help from friends, we had to rely on evenings and weekends to chip away at it. It wasn’t an easy task, especially with two little boys at the time vying for our attention as well. We would let Ryder and Bryce “help” when they wanted to, and would have several breaks that we took from it to focus on family.

Obviously the funnest part was when everything was done. It’s so fulfilling looking around a room knowing that you did the work and that it actually looks good! The toilet actually flushes, the pipes aren’t leaking, and the lights go on when you flick the switch. Mitch learned a lot through the whole process. Prior to the remodel, he really didn’t know the first thing about electric, pluming, etc., but now he can lay pipes, wire lighting, and tile like nobody’s business. If he didn’t know how to do a particular thing, he’d ask a friend to show him or he would look it up on YouTube. It’s amazing what you can learn by watching videos!

Q: What was the one design element at you wanted to be sure your family home included after the renovations, as it relates to living well with your kids?

A: Well, the biggest thing we wanted to include was a bathtub. It’s not all that practical to bathe a kid in the kitchen sink – after a while it kinda gets tight in there! – or in the shower. So we definitely wanted a nice big tub for not only the kids, but for Momma too! That was one of the first purchases we made; we found a garden tub on Craigslist and snatched it up.

Q: You mentioned that most of the renovations in your home were completed debt-free. Tell us your secrets to staying within a budget.

A: I mentioned that we found our bathtub on Craigslist. That’s pretty much where we would turn to when we needed something. We found our toilet (yes, our toilet), bathroom vanity, kitchen island, and a ton of smaller things like the Moravian star pendant light that’s over our tub on Craigslist.

We even found things on Craigslist that we didn’t necessarily need. For example, one day I was checking out the free section and noticed that someone was tearing down a barn and all the wood was being given away. “Just come and take what you want,” the ad said. So Mitch and a couple of his buddies went and filled a truck bed with barn wood that we then used on the ceiling of our stairwell.

At the same time, Mitch discovered a huge piece of slate in the barn. He told his buddies, “I gotta get this for my wife…she’d LOVE it!” So they hauled the slate onto the truck bed as well and later Mitch made a frame for it and it’s now on our dining room wall. The boys enjoy doodling and I love being able to write Bible verses on it. And you can’t beat free, right?

Craig is definitely our buddy and the first “person” we turned to when we needed something for our house. I’m also a big thrifter, so I found a lot of little things at thrift/antique stores in the area. I also hit up some outlets I found the chrome etagere that’s in our bathroom at the Restoration Hardware Outlet for $20.

People are always asking me, “How do you find these things?” I don’t know…I guess I’m at the right place at the right time? I thrift consistently – less these days since we don’t really need anything – so that helps to find some good stuff and I’m not afraid to take a chance on something. Things that people might totally pass over because it’s ugly, I’m more apt to see the potential in and buy and transform it. I did that to a funny-looking console table that I found at Goodwill. We chopped off part of the legs and upholstered it and turned it into the perfect-sized ottoman for our living room. So one little tip I like to give people – look for the potential in something that has otherwise seen better days.

Q: With three boys, do you find yourself gravitating toward more rugged, durable furnishings?

A: I’ve always loved a more masculine-looking room…there’s just something so not-fussy about that look. So we have a lot of antlers in our rooms as well as durable surfaces. I just had couch cushions recovered in kid-friendly outdoor fabric. Also, when Mitch made the top to our dining room table, he made it out of old barn wood that had lots of character in it so that the boys couldn’t really destroy it.

While planning out our master bedroom space, I definitely wanted it to be a mix of both his and hers. And I think I achieved that look. There are botanical prints on one wall and an Audubon bird print (which reads masculine to me) on another. Our wardrobes are a charcoal color but there are feminine touches in accessories like antique lamps, pillows, etc. It’s been fun collecting items over the years that I know will fit in with our style. Thankfully this momma doesn’t love pink, but I guess I get my feminine fix with flowers – I love having fresh-cut flowers on our table.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? Is there a development stage that’s long gone that you miss?

A: We have special nights where we camp in. This usually includes a movie, indoor s’mores, some singing around the campfire, and a sleepover in Mommy and Daddy’s room. We have an electric fireplace on our bedroom wall that we all snuggle around, lay out the blankets and pile on the pillows. I know that’s something the boys really enjoy and it’s something that we’ll look back at and reminisce about, I’m sure.

One thing that kind of surprised me about being a mom is that sometimes I can be really short with my boys. I’ve always loved being around little kids – I used to be a teacher and I loved my little fourth graders – but being a stay-at-home mom definitely has its challenges. There’s no break. I know that sounds like a “duh” statement, but parenting is a full-time job. On days that I just want the boys to play together nicely, they fight. Imagine that. Then I get frustrated. Being a parent isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. Sometimes you gotta lay down the law and that’s not an easy task, especially when you’re sick of telling them for the 27th time that day, ”Don’t hit your brother!” This too shall pass, I’ve been told.

I try to savor each stage of my boys’ childhood. Some stages are easier to enjoy than others (um…hello, terrible twos!) but I know their childhood is so short and before you know it they’ll be all grown up. So the more time we can spend together as a family, the better in my opinion.

Q: If they could remember just one memory from this childhood home – and you as their mom – what do you hope it would be?

A: It’s funny because we were just talking about that the other day. I was dreaming out loud about our forever home and both Ryder and Bryce said, “But I want to stay here. This is our home.” They love their little house, and I think that’s because Mitch and I (and them!) have put so much into it. Whenever we pull out of our driveway we all say, “Good bye, house!” so there’s already that attachment to this place that warms my heart. Playing in the yard, having a camp-out in the playhouse, breakfast on Saturdays together as a family – all these things! Family times are what I’m hoping they remember from their childhood home.

Great, now you’ve got me thinking I never want to leave!

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

A: You can’t do it all. I think a lot of moms these days have so much pressure put on them to be Super Mom. Doesn’t take but two minutes perusing Pinterest that you soon see your inadequacies and start to feel insecure, telling yourself that you don’t measure up to the mom who apparently has it all together. Whether it be a squeaky-clean house, or having a hot meal on the table every evening, blogging, to staying in shape – I’ve realized that I can’t do it all without help.

I’m trying to focus my attention on what really matters: my family. Because at the end of the day, loving relationships are what count the most – not that we were able to juggle it all. I’m trying to live a less busy life and really enjoy the times we’re all together.

That being said, I need breaks too. Mitch and I really enjoy our time together going out on dates. We need that. I think every mom needs that. That time apart from my kids recharges those parental batteries and makes me refreshed and ready to go another round because, you know, this raising kids thing isn’t for the faint of heart. But I love it, am so thankful for my family, and wouldn’t change it for the world.


Yes, yes, yes to dates! Thank you, Kat, for the lovely reminder. I’m so proud of you for completing so much of your home (and so well, I might add!) on a budget. It’s inspiring.

Friends, could you ever tackle a renovation project like Kat and Mitch took on, or would it be worth a little debt to have it done by someone else on a much faster timeline? (I think I’m good with making tables and installing concrete floors and whitewashing bricks, but turning a garage into these lovely spaces? Not too sure!)

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: Leah Stapleton Tue, 15 Jul 2014 13:00:31 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

When Leah first sent me photos of her home, she almost didn’t include any photos of her kitchen. It’s a huge work in progress, you see, and still reflects the 90s almond craze in appliances! But she figured there are others living with some big sections of their homes far from magazine worthy and not exactly the way they want them to look, so she submitted it all. Somewhere along the way, she found a lesson in that room’s cramped configuration and dated colors, armed only with a positive attitude and some chalkboard paint!

It’s life, isn’t it?

I’m so proud to share Leah with you, and I just know you’ll find some inspiration in her home and words. Welcome, Leah!

Q: Tell us about this family of yours!

A: Our family is a happy little family that I wake up every day thankful to be a part of! My husband and I have been married for nearly seven years, and we have two little girls: Ida (two and a half years) and Amy (seven months). Andy is a high school teacher and soccer coach at a classical Christian school, while I get to stay home with the girls and help them grow up.

Ida is an observant, thoughtful, and high-spirited girl who loves books more than anything. At the moment she is busily paging through a Latin and English dictionary that caught her eye on the bookshelf. Amy is our beacon of joy; she is always scanning the room just waiting for someone to catch her eye so she can smile at them. She throws herself wholeheartedly into every moment, like when she grabs my cheeks and bites my nose just to say “I love you.”

Q: Where do you live, and how did your house become your home?

A: We moved to the northern suburbs of Cincinnati from Philadelphia four years ago. I loved Philly itself, but found life there to be lonely, temporary, and harried, and we were ready to start a family. We had some trouble finding the right home and had what we thought was our dream home slip through our fingers. One day, we were driving around some neighborhoods in our favorite part of town and stumbled across a cul-de-sac street of red brick, three-level townhouses surrounded by tree lines. And one was for sale!

A day or two later, I walked into an empty house, all old oak, seashell sinks, almond and black appliances, and painted for sale in a flat beige/green/gray horrible paint. There was little natural light and no yard. And I fell in love. It felt like home, so we immediately put in an offer and it became home. I still catch my breath a bit when I turn onto our street, so thankful to live here.

We’ve loved townhouse life and plan on making this house work for us for years to come. We’ve been able to overcome some of the superficial downsides to our home. For example, while we’d like to have a yard someday, the deck has been a great space for us to enjoy and the lack of a yard pushes us to frequently explore nearby nature walks and the neighborhood parks.

As for the gloomy interior of the townhouse, I just decided to embrace it. I went with deep colors on the walls on the main living level and bright colors for the decor in order to make the space homey and warm. I do love airy, bright homes, but I also love where I live and wanted to create an aesthetic that maximizes its potential.

The deeper tones also complement the antiques we’ve inherited through the years. The dining table, antique and vintage chairs, stools, bookshelves, and other items from family members’ homes came with their own vibrant shades, and rather than go to the expense of reupholstering everything (I did repaint a few things), we’ve just enjoyed the unusual colors and patterns. We love having those memories mixed in with all of our new ones.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: I cannot imagine a better place to raise a family. Our suburb is actually an old place with a cute little historic downtown, surrounded by a well-planned, community-centered residential area. So much thought went into designing it, with bike and walking paths everywhere, great parks, attractive public landscaping, and a wonderful community center. So, of course, it is filled with families. And there are big city amenities just a short drive away – Ida’s favorite is the zoo!

Q: You mentioned your kitchen is not your happy place right now. How does it affect your daily mood to have an unfinished room in your home? Especially one where you spend the most time?

A: Our kitchen, in addition to being out-dated, is not well laid out. There’s a lot of empty, unusable space and it feels cut off from the rest of the open living area. I’ve tried a lot of different configurations for the space and none has been particularly functional, so I’ve come to realize that without a full scale renovation and floor plan makeover that probably would include taking down a wall, it’s going to remain isolated and inefficient.

When we moved in, we painted the walls and cabinets and replaced the hardware. However, due to having two babies and a limited budget, any serious renovations of the kitchen are not possible anytime soon. It has been a good exercise for me in contentment and learning about what really matters. We have people into our home a lot, and happy spirits at dinner have never been hampered by mismatched dishes clustered on a stained countertop, and the cherry pie tastes just as good from a 20-year-old almond stove.

Our kitchen is the sunniest room in the house so we chase the light in there. Sometimes I turn around from the sink and Ida is at her desk coloring, Andy has spread a blanket on the floor to play with Amy, and there’s absolutely no way for me to get to the pantry to grab the pasta for dinner but I still can’t help but smile because almond counters or no almond counters, my family is together in the sunshine.

Q: What are your plans for that space? Are there any little, affordable ways you make it more stylish?

A: As the girls get older and more independent, I would like to refinish the existing countertops, floors, and cabinets (again) myself, as well as tile a backsplash, replace the appliances, and find a way to put a banquette into the empty wall.

In the meantime, we’ve focused on simple updates. I painted the almond fridge with chalkboard paint, and its smudged, messy exterior fits in well with the worn rest of the kitchen. We added the inexpensive kitchen island to create more prep and storage space. The stools were from my parents‘ first apartment, and I refinished them in a bright yellow DIY chalk paint. I also went a little crazy adding inexpensive or homemade colorful decorative touches. Color makes me happy, and helps the kitchen feel loved, worn, and lived-in…and not neglected.

Q: When does your home work best? What time of day is most enjoyable with you and your family?

A: Our home works best when it’s filled with people, for meals or overnights. We’ve done our best to make it family-friendly and comfortable. But when it’s just us, we really love the hour between dinner and bedtime. Daddy and Ida turn the living room into a big gymnastics space while Amy cheers them on from her exer-saucer (from a safe distance, of course) and I can be in and out of the fun while cleaning up the table. That’s when it’s great to have a sturdy, durable couch and a padded ottoman!

Q: What are your goals as a mother, day to day? How do you make sure your home support these goals?

A: My biggest goal as a mother is to help my girls grow in grace. I want to nourish their mental, physical, and most importantly their spiritual development. Thus, a favorite decorating theme in our house is trees, to reference the Psalms where it says “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”

With such tiny girls, home is the place right now where they do every bit of their growing and learning. So we keep books of all reading levels everywhere, including touch-and-feel books for little Amy to explore and chew on and chapter books for Ida to page through. We also try to encourage independent and imaginative play, so we keep careful limits on how many toys are available at one time and try to fill our home with toys that require creativity, like blocks and puppets.

I love to hear Ida’s chatter as she plays or reads on her own – it really gives me a window into her little mind and heart.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? Is there a development stage that’s long gone that you miss?

A: I love seeing how different they are, even at such young ages, and imagining how these little personality traits will grow into confident ladies. I love their wonder at everything in the world, and complete lack of shame at whole-heartedly enjoying what they love. I wish I could be like that.

But I do already miss the sleepy newborn days, where they fit perfectly into your shoulder and need only you. They don’t need me so much anymore, less and less everyday. And it’s bittersweet.

Q: If they could remember just one memory from this childhood home – and you as their mom – what do you hope it would be?

A: I hope they remember having time to just be. Long mornings with nowhere to be and no plans. Long walks with nowhere to go, and long drives with smoothies just to see the green countryside. Being able to take their time and explore, with Mommy always there to help and encourage.

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

A: Well, people told me this, but I wish that I had accepted it earlier. I wish that I had accepted that it is okay to need, as a mom. I went into motherhood thinking that my husband and I needed to do it all, and be everything for our kids and home.

The hardest lesson for me has been learning that it is okay for me to need – to need help, to need friends, to need support, to need prayer, to need a couple of hours away from the house. And that acknowledging that need and letting others fill it helps me to be a better mommy and a better wife, too.


Thank you, Leah. These words should be on a poster hung in every old kitchen: “Happy spirits at dinner have never been hampered by mismatched dishes clustered on a stained countertop, and the cherry pie tastes just as good from a 20-year-old almond stove.” Such a great reminder.

Friends, she’s right, isn’t she? We all have one or two areas in our home that prompt a cringe every time we pass through it! Until free time and budgets and all the stars in the sky align for the perfectly painless remodel, how are you feeling love for those spaces?

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: Lesli Gresholdt Tue, 08 Jul 2014 16:00:30 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I think it would be so therapeutic to live near a lake, don’t you? There’s something calming about that indescribable shade of blues and greys and the dance of the tiny ripples. Having a rotten day? Just grab a fishing rod and cast away mindlessly. Need a break from homeschooling or that looming deadline? Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream. Plus, a lake makes for a killer kitchen sink view.

Yes, Lesli and her family are lucky ones, living the good life on a lake just outside of Chicago and enjoying it to the fullest. Yes, she is ever on the lookout for lake dangers — especially since her kids are five and two — but I’d say she’s ready for pretty much anything. You’ll see. Friends, please welcome the Gresholdt family!

Q: Tell us about this lakeside family.

A: Our family includes my husband, Mark, and our five-year-old daughter Adelaide and two-year-old son Oliver. My husband is an operations coordinator for a communications company, and I am currently a regional manager for Bella Baby Photography, a nationwide company providing in-hospital newborn photography.

Adelaide is affectionate, stylish, and stubborn – and takes after her social butterfly father. Oliver is easy-going and much more independent, with a great sense of humor and the ability to quote movies just like his mom.

Years ago in college, I had a strong urge to learn sign language. I took a few elective classes, learned a little bit, and kept up practicing through the years. Little did I know that five years later, I would say yes to a date with a deaf guy I knew in college and we would end up where we are now! Life as a bilingual family is sometimes challenging, especially since the kids are still learning how to sign. Of course, we don’t know it any other way.

We also have a very old farm cat, Sasha, and our new love, Mae, a Norwegian Forest Cat rescue. I don’t really think of our beta fish, Eric, as a pet, but he lives here, too, and requires daily feeding so I guess he’s part of the family.

Q: You’ve recently purchased a lake home. Tell us all about it choosing it!

A: We were finally in the market to buy a home but at the time, Mark was commuting by train to Chicago, so we had to be within 15 minutes of a train stop. This house was in a neighboring town, close enough to the train station, and we had seen it online many times. We both liked the layout, the hardwood floors, and the price, but I would write it off immediately due to the lake. After all, families with young kids don’t live on the water, right? But one night, in an attempt to be open-minded (and maybe out of desperation to find a house!) I emailed a list of houses to our realtor to see the next day and included this one. Not ten minutes later, my fear got the best of me, and I wrote him again and asked him to take that lake house off the list.

The next day, he either forgot or never got my message, because this house was the third one we saw. It felt like home immediately. Our former home had been so dark, and this one was filled with light with such a peaceful backyard and an open floor plan that is a must-have for families with a deaf family member. Being able to see each other (when you can’t hear!) is crucial.

The ironic thing is that the year before, I had been traveling home from a baby shower with my mother-in-law and then six-month-old son in the car. It was late and a long drive and he was having the mother of all meltdowns. We pulled into what is now our neighborhood so that he could nurse and calm down. I had never been there before, but I distinctly remember looking around and thinking, “If we lived here, we would be home by now.”

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: Oswego is a smaller suburb about an hour outside of Chicago. It has a quaint downtown, lots of local businesses, and many bike paths and parks. We love the summer movies at the park, the free splash pad and the libraries, but my favorite is the Friday night Antique Market downtown. They close the streets, have live music, and people shop local vendors all night. The Fox River runs through town, so we have access to great fishing, bird watching, and hiking paths. The population here has more than doubled in the past ten years as more and more people move westward, away from the chaos and cost of the city. It’s still expensive, especially those darn Illinois property taxes, but the value for the money is definitely better. We still have all the modern conveniences and major stores, but with a bit more of a small-town feel.

Q: Living by a lake must be beautiful, but also a challenge with two little ones. Talk about what the lake offers – or any home near water – both beautiful and not-so-safe!

A: I will be honest…this is still a daily struggle for me, and I imagine it will be until my kids are older and can fully understand the dangers of water. My whole life I have had recurring drowning dreams, and I don’t know if it means anything or not, but I don’t want to find out! Luckily, we have a pretty large yard and it’s partially fenced, so we typically stay in that area when we go outside. They also know that mom is pretty crazy about them not getting near the water or going on the dock without a life jacket!

But aside from the potential danger, being here adds such fun to our life – my husband has taken up fishing, we have a paddleboat and kayaks, and the wildlife is abundant. The lake just lends itself to a more relaxed lifestyle and mood. It’s very peaceful. I wouldn’t have thought we could have a place like this in the suburbs.

Q: After you purchased it, you made your home your own, inside and out. What were the hardest parts, as well as the most fun?

A; I have always been drawn to older farmhouses, craftsmans, and colonials. I love their character and history. What I got was a traditional Midwestern two-story! I still love it, but I needed it to feel less cookie-cutter. We started by painting the front door chartreuse, and taking off the traditional black shutters and replacing with DIY board and batten navy ones. Just that alone helped it to feel more youthful and stand out from all the tan, gray and white in the neighborhood.

We changed out all the light fixtures for schoolhouse style, painted the wood stairs for a farmhouse feel, and took the door fronts off the builder’s grade cabinets. For me, the hardest part about home design is not always having the money to do what you want to do when you want to do it. We follow a popular cash-budget financial program and it tests our patience often, but the rewards are great. I’ve learned to do what I can with inexpensive things – paint, décor, art – and the rest will happen someday. When that happens, a new deck and renovated bathrooms are first on my list!

Q: What was the one design element that you wanted to be sure your family home included, as it relates to living well with your kids?

A: The most important thing for me was to have no wasted space in this house. I wanted each and every space to have a unique purpose and also be kid-friendly with fabrics and furniture. We lived in a small townhome for many years, and I couldn’t stand the thought of not maximizing what we now had.

We are not formal dining room kind of people, so it became a playroom. The kids use it every day and it keeps most of the toys out of the smaller bedrooms. They feel more comfortable playing when they are still close to all the action of everyday life. We also have the traditional front room, which for most families is filled with fancy furniture that is used only for guests or holidays. Again, being a very informal family, we relocated our cable connection, moved in a flat screen TV and a big comfy sectional, and it’s now the most popular room in the house.

My next kid-centered project is to make the fenced part of our backyard much more interactive and fun with a natural play area and DIY playhouse.

Q: You mentioned that most of the furnishings in your home were free and ultimately repurposed by you. What’s your greatest refurbishing triumph?

A: I knew it was going to be a huge challenge to furnish the space on a budget. I started picking – driving around on garbage day to see what was set out that was salvageable and responding to free offers on Freecycle. It was eye-opening to see what people throw out just for the sheer convenience of getting rid of it quickly. Thrift stores also became my best friend for smaller items and accessories.

I am pretty sure people were questioning my sanity, but I was a woman on a mission. I learned the art of chalk painting and transformed so many pieces that would have just seen the landfill. Some of my favorite free finds are a mid-century sewing table, mismatched kitchen chairs, a coffee table we topped with barn wood, a mid-century glass front cabinet, a vintage school desk and antique bed frame for my son, and a drop leaf nightstand and dollhouse shaped bookshelf for my daughter. Some of my larger pieces I did pay for, but only if extremely reasonable…a vintage hutch for $60, a roll top desk for $20, an early 1900s Empire dresser for $40, and recently a huge antique buffet on original casters for just $40!

I love the feel of an eclectic home, with items collected over time from all different styles and eras. Just a warning, however: After you start picking, you can’t stop. But now I just make a little extra money on the side by selling the things I find!

Q: You’re a photographer who works from home while homeschooling. Any unique tips your family uses to make the most of your time together (and working)?

A: Each day, I am doing something well and failing at something else. I am trying to be okay with that. (Most days I fail at that, too!) If we have a homeschool activity, then the house is most likely a wreck and dinner won’t be made. If I was on a work conference call or responding to photographer emails, then my kids are probably still in their pajamas while watching “Frozen” for the millionth time. If we spend the morning at the park or cleaning the house, then you can bet we will still be doing math lessons at 8 p.m.

I would like to have a more set routine, but any attempt to create structure has failed. It just doesn’t jive with our personalities. We do try to keep life simple, have an uncluttered home, and limit social activities and weekly commitments to free up time.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? Is there a development stage that’s long gone that you miss?

A: I love seeing my children change and grow. Babies are adorable, but I much prefer having a full-on conversation with my kids over baby talk and poopy diapers. I’m a much different mom than I expected…never in a million years did I think I’d breastfeed both past the age of two, and co-sleep until they were ready to sleep alone. I gave them everything I had during their first years, so I welcome the ages and stages that they are in now and look back with no sadness (yet).

It’s exhausting and demanding and never-ending – the messes, the crying, the fighting – but they are also filled with so much good and so much love. They have given me a confidence to not care what anyone else thinks, but just to do what works best for us. I don’t think I had that before I had kids.

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

A: How challenging parenthood is for introverts. I miss my alone time so much. I grew up on a farm, the nearest neighbor a mile away and friends nowhere to be found. I loved the seclusion and privacy and independence of life there. I still wish for those things, but now they are nowhere to be found!


Thank you, Lesli! We share the same experience on balance! If one thing is rocking my world, you can bet there are one or two things rolling away. And your chalkboard wall in your bathroom is one of the best spots, I bet, to jot down reminders while you’re brushing your teeth!

I also loved how you described motherhood, especially when you wrote “I’m a much different mom than I expected…” I wonder if that’s true for all of us? Tell me, Friends, are you different moms than you expected?

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: Jennifer Whiteford Tue, 01 Jul 2014 16:00:01 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

When Jennifer casually mentioned her home was an in-fill in Ottawa, I casually wondered “What is an in-fill?” And it happened again when she told me it had earned Platinum LEED certification. Oh, I just love when these tours give me new dinner party conversation starters!

Truly, this family’s life sounds very intentional. They think about the food they eat, the music that fills their rooms, and the health of their home materials. I loved reading about their life in Canada, and I hope you enjoy Jennifer’s words, as well. Welcome, Jennifer!

Q: Please tell us all about your family!

A: I met my husband, David, in 2006 via an online dating profile that a friend forced me to sign up for. I was about to delete my profile when I saw his, and we immediately started corresponding. I liked that he was a vegetarian (I’m vegan) and that he had two cats and two dogs (I had one cat and one dog) and that he made me laugh a lot, which he still does. We have very similar values, but very different ideas of what constitutes a good time. He has no interest in music, where as I like to collect records and go to see live bands. I have little patience for board games or computer games, but he loves them. Luckily we both like to read, so before our son was born we spent many weekends sitting in cafes together reading the newspapers or fiction or graphic novels. We got married in Las Vegas by an Elvis impersonator! David planned the whole thing as a surprise for me, which was perfect because I am not the wedding planning type.

Our son Milo was born in October 2012. He also loves books and animals and music, is generally very cheerful and fun to be around, and amazes us on a regular basis.

We also live with our close friend Meghan who has her own space in our basement. She is helpful and silly and creative.

We have four roommates of the furry variety: a sweet lab-shepherd mix named Sacha, a wiley husky-border collie mix named Catie, a very waggy border collie-terrier mix named Oreo, and an ancient tabby cat named Potter. All the animals were rescues, which is something we feel very passionate about. Unfortunately they are all senior citizens, and we are now dealing with the new challenges and heartbreaks that come with older animals.

Q: How did you end up in this home?

A: Two years into our relationship I moved into David’s house, which was over a hundred years old and really falling apart. It was entirely heated by a small gas fireplace in the living room, so living there through our Canadian winters felt a bit like rustic living in the middle of the city. He’d bought the house because it had a big back yard and was centrally located, but the house itself was a total mess. It had been renovated without much thought or skill at some point in the 1980s. Any charm had been taken out of it, but nothing practical or useful had been put back in. The floor were splintering, there was mold in the basement, the wiring was bad, and the kitchen was the worst designed kitchen I’d ever been in.

I knew David had some plans to either heavily renovate or build a new house, but I really had no concept of what that all would entail. We started meeting with architects and builders, and eventually moved out for a year so they could take down the existing house and build a whole new one on the same property. It’s what is often referred to as an “in-fill” and is happening more and more in Ottawa because people want to live downtown but don’t want to go through the stress of renovating an older home – especially one like ours that was in terrible condition.

The construction itself ended up going very smoothly…until it didn’t. Towards the end of the project, the contractors hired a millworker to do the cabinetry who had grossly overestimated his ability to get the job done well and on time. He stopped showing up, delaying many of the other sub-contractors. We were supposed to move in June, but ended up finally moving in late September. Milo was due in mid-October and I just hoped and hoped that he wouldn’t be early. As it was, there were workers in our home for almost every day of my entire eight-month maternity leave. It was not ideal. The delay also affected our mortgage significantly, so we’ve been operating on a very tight budget since then. It’s a good thing neither of us are big spenders in general.

Q: What does it mean to you to have your home earn Platinum LEED certification?

A: I was really excited initially about having a healthy home. I knew that traditional carpets and paints, etc. would potentially release harmful chemicals into my home. After living in a moldy house for a few years, I just wanted clean air to breathe indoors! I really wanted to make sure that the materials we used in our home were healthy ones. As we went through the process of designing the house with the certification in mind, I became more interested in the LEED criteria and how it relates not just to the materials used in a home but to how we live there. For example, we got LEED points for being within walking distance to things like grocery stores and libraries. I am an enthusiastic vegetable gardener, so our landscaping was done with that in mind and that got us LEED points, too. It was primarily the architect who kept track of how the home would be rated, so thankfully he was the one who paid attention to the tiny details. It was all very intricate.

Q: What do you love about where you live?

A: I find that Ottawa suits me very well. I’ve always found it easy to do whatever I was interested in, because in a smaller city the competition is not as big. Want to start a band? Sure, we’ll give you a gig! Feel like writing an article for the newspaper? They’ll probably publish it, and if they don’t you can start your own paper and people will probably read it!

I have a really close, really supportive group of friends here and I wouldn’t want to be without them. I love the music scene, which caters well to my interest in punk and garage rock, and I also love how many things there are for families to do in the city. Within walking distance from our home is the Museum of Nature which is where the dinosaur bones are (major excitement for Milo) and numerous parks, playgrounds, walking paths, and restaurants. In the summer there are outdoor festivals happening constantly, and I am really excited to nurture Milo’s interest in music by taking him to see as many live bands as possible this year.

The economy in Ottawa is fairly stable because it is the capital of Canada and, therefore, a huge portion of the population works for the government. Those jobs have become less stable in recent years, but I wouldn’t say we’re at a point yet where unemployment is rampant. Houses aren’t cheap, but it’s not impossible to find something downtown if you are patient. Most people I know own their own homes at this point. We never would have been able to afford to build a house like we did in a larger city.

Ottawa also seems to be enjoying an explosion of locally owned small businesses that are making the city much more interesting than it has even been before. These range from clothing shops to florists to bakeries to restaurants. It gives the city a lot of character and people seem very supportive of each other, even when they may be competing for local dollars.

Q: Conversely, what do you wish could be a little different?

A: I love Ottawa, but David does not. He moved here from his beloved city of San Francisco when he was offered a job after he finished his PhD at Stanford. He can’t help but compare it to San Francisco and often talks about how much easier it was was to be a vegetarian there, how many more things to do there were, and how much more interesting the city itself was. Ottawa is a tightly knit, smaller community, and I think he misses the easy anonymity of a larger place. He is fairly self-sufficient and likes to be left alone to do his own thing.

My social life takes place in kind of a bubble of like-minded people who live in the downtown core, so I tend to forget that a lot of the city is populated by people with conservative views. Every so often I end up in a conversation with someone in my office who lets me know how weird it is that I don’t eat meat or watch hockey games and then I remember, oh yeah, not everyone spends their weekends cooking tofu for their kid while dancing to Blondie records.

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

A: We were lucky to have designed the house specifically for our own needs. I was pregnant while the house was being built, so we were clearly thinking of having a young child in the home. Milo has the run of the ground floor, which is very open concept. His toys are kept in large baskets in a custom built shelf in our living room, and he can access them and his giant book collection as he sees fit. He also has a play kitchen and a very beloved vintage Sesame Street playhouse that stay in our dining room/kitchen area. This is the space where we all spend most of our time, and I like the independence Milo has been able to foster as he plays close enough to be supervised but far enough to be on his own a bit.

I was very adamant about keeping the TV out of our main living room, so that room is more about playing, listening to records, and relaxing in front of the fire. We have a TV in a cosy basement media room where we sometimes watch movies or TV after Milo is in bed.

The second floor of the house is almost completely open, with Milo’s bedroom and bathroom being the only closed rooms. There is a sewing space on that floor and a long built-in desk where David’s computer and papers are kept. There’s also a chair on the landing by a big window which is a good place to sit and read. If we have another child, we can close off the sewing room easily to create another bedroom, but for now it’s nice that everything is open.

Our bedroom takes up the whole top floor of the house and I was fairly intent on keeping it as serene as possible. There is virtually no clutter  in there, just our comfortable bed, night stands stacked with books, and a bed on the floor for our dogs. It is such an easy room to be in. We have a good sized closet to one side and a really beautiful en suite bathroom to the other, plus a long bank of windows overlooking the park across the street.

I can see the sunrise from bed in the morning if I’m lucky enough to get to stay there that long! We also have a deck off the bedroom that is currently underused, but there are grand plans to have leisurely breakfasts out there when we have children old enough to entertain themselves on weekend mornings.

Q: You have a friend living in your home, too. Does she have a separate area or is there overlap? Is that ever a challenge?

A: When we designed our home, we put in a basement “suite” with a bedroom, kitchenette, and bathroom. We were thinking that it would mostly be used for David’s parents who were living in Australia at the time, and would come for long visits and appreciate having their own space. But before the house was built they moved back to Ontario, so we started thinking of taking in a long-term boarder instead. Our friend Meghan was moving back to Ottawa from some time away, and we decided she’d move in and we’d try it out for six months. That was a year and a half ago, and the arrangement is still working really well for all concerned.

Milo was born on October 17th and Meghan moved in November 1st, so she has been around for his entire life. Early on we joked that a 3:1 ratio of adults to infant was really ideal. She helped me out all the time when I was on maternity leave and really became part of our family. She eats a lot of meals with us (she’s vegetarian, too) and takes care of Milo a lot as well. She shares our kitchen space and the sewing room a lot, and also spends time occasionally in the TV room or living room. I think it helps that she has her very own space that she can shut herself away in whenever the chaos of our little family gets to be too much.

There have been occasional challenges, but I think we’ve weathered them well. Meghan is a hairdresser and for a while when she was between salons she did all of her haircuts in our kitchen or in our yard. That was a challenge for my slightly anti-social husband who was on parental leave at home with Milo at the time and was not used to all these new people coming through his house!

Meghan also has celiac disease, which means that I have to try not to poison her when I’m making a mess in the kitchen with flour or breadcrumbs. But it’s meant we eat a lot of gluten-free meals all together, which I think has been good for us all.

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

A: I hope he remembers his home as a place full of wonderful people and animals. Our doors are always open to friends and family, so we have a lot of guests for meals and socializing and I feel like that will show him what a kind and caring community he was born into. I know that he already feels lots of freedom within our home. He climbs on everything and delights in opening our heavy kitchen pantry doors with all his strength. I try not to cut off his explorations unless he’s about to do something dangerous. If he is making a mess, so what? I’ll clean it up later.

I think he’ll remember me as a mom who was always either cooking or listening to music or reading. Those are my favourite activities and I involve him in them at every oppourtunity. I think a lot about how he’ll feel about food as he grows up especially, since cooking is a major passion of mine and we think a lot about what we eat. He already has his own play kitchen and serves us lots of pretend dishes every evening.

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

A: My favourite part of living with Milo is how he adds a huge new dimension to our life as a family. David and I are a loving, happy pair, and it is so surreal and lovely to have a third person who we both adore added to the mix. I love the look of Milo’s toys all over our home; they bring a sense of whimsy that might be missing otherwise in our fairly minimalist, cleanly styled space.

What has surprised me about being a mom is the community I’ve found among other mothers in Ottawa. When I was pregnant I felt like I hardly knew anyone who was going to have a baby at the same time as me, but suddenly I was absorbed into this amazing group of women who I actually came to love as friends, not just as people to lean on as we all navigated sleep deprivation and diaper explosions.

I honestly don’t miss much about Milo’s infancy, I love the stage he’s at now where he can communicate and show his personality in bigger ways. But I do sometimes think wistfully about how portable he was when he was a tiny baby. We could just wear him in a carrier and he’d fall asleep anywhere, so we were able to go out to eat or see friends without worrying about what he’ll have to eat or how we’ll get home in time for his nap.

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

A: You just have to surrender. I spent a lot of my early motherhood stressing about what was going to happen. Would he sleep well? Would I get time to relax? Would he be okay at home with my husband while I went to run an errand? None of that worrying helped me in the slightest.

I slowly came around to realizing that parenting often doesn’t feel fair. You look forward to a few quiet hours to yourself and then your baby gets sick and can’t go to daycare. You have a big work presentation one day and your baby grabs your dress with oatmeal-covered hands before you even leave the house. You stay out late at a concert one night and your baby decides to rise at 5 AM the next day.

There’s no use getting frustrated, you just have to surrender and try to enjoy it. Or drink a lot of tea and text your mom friends in all caps.


Thank you, Jennifer. I giggled at how overjoyed you are to have added such a likable third member to your family! I distinctly remember feeling the same way back in the days of me, Ben Blair, and Ralph. It is surprising when babies merge so seamlessly when, as new parents, you’re worried that they won’t! Thank you for that sweet reminder and for your thoughtful home. (Also! Congratulations on your baby news! Friends, the Whitefords are welcoming another baby in November!)

Friends, do you think about the health of your home? To what lengths do you go to ensure that your space is taking the best care of you? I’m interested in hearing all your tricks, from big to small!

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: Nadine Mellor Tue, 24 Jun 2014 15:00:29 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Nadine Mellor has believed in adventure – at least once a month – for most of her adult life, and that didn’t change when two kids were added to the equation. While it seems to be a much easier proposition to just stay at home with young ones, she lays out a pretty convincing argument of why we should just pack a carryon and go! I like her style.

Traveling with kids is, admittedly, a huge part of Nadine’s life. She is the London-based editor of i-escape Kids Collection, which features over 850 stylish family-friendly hotels, B&Bs, city apartments, and house rentals spanning 45 countries worldwide. I can’t wait to take you on a tour of her life! Friends, please welcome the Mellor family!

Q: Tell us about this jet-setting family.

A: Hi, I’m Nadine and my lovely Irish husband, Colman, and I have two charming and articulate children: our daughter Esme, almost seven, and son Cormac, who will be three in a couple of months. We currently live and work in London, but two years ago we returned home to this great city after five and a half wonderful years in San Francisco – and yes, we definitely left our hearts there! Both kids were born there so they have American citizenship (as well as British, Irish, and Australian nationalities).

Q: You’ve lived and travelled a lot of places with your family. Tell us why you’ve settled in North London.

A: I am actually from Islington, which is where I still live and my parents are 15 minutes’ walk away, which is super now we have kids. I was born and raised in this village. When I met Colman, he was living in South London, which is a great part of town but just not my village, so he did the gallant thing and moved to my area when we decided this was for life. And then just a year later, we had the opportunity to move to San Francisco, which I resisted to start with as I couldn’t imagine uprooting to live abroad again – I had already lived in Australia for seven years in three different stints – but once I was there I fell in love with it and we very nearly stayed in the States.

However, it is the right decision to return to London, closer to family and friends, and being in Europe speaks to us. Ultimately, we are from the British Isles. And Europe is such a fab place to live – so many different languages and cultures in a relatively small and accessible area – so we will never run out of great places to visit!

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: I know I’m extremely biased, but I love my neck of the woods. Islington is a 1000-year-old village which was swallowed up by London as it expanded in the 19th Century, so it still retains its own character and has a heart and hub to it (with more theatres and venues than any other borough in London bar Westminster). We live in the North of the Borough, between Arsenal and Finsbury Park tube stations, and are blessed with some of the best transport links in Zone 2. We have bus, tube, rail, and taxis on our doorstep, so that makes getting about so much easier. We are two stops from the Eurostar, an hour from Stansted, and just over an hour to Heathrow. We don’t need or have a car, which is a great saving, and we use Zipcar when we need to drive anywhere.

We are also very close to two large parks, a small nature reserve in our road, and the handsome Highbury Fields with swimming pool. All are great for getting the kids outdoors and active. We are all keen Arsenal supporters, naturally, and like the energy a world-class football club brings to the area.

The area defines modern multiculturalism as demonstrated by nearby eateries devoted to Turkish, Ethiopian, Algerian, Italian, and Somali cuisine – among many others – and there is a mosque at the top of our road, an Irish pub opposite, and a vibrant church at the other end. I like the fact that nearly all the retail and food outlets are not chains, so some real character is to be had.

We get our groceries from a locally run box scheme, which only sources from local farmers and artisan producers and delivers great produce. They go the extra mile for personal service. And we have a friendly milkman!

I have lived here since 2000 and the area is changing a lot, too, for the better (mostly apart from the ridiculous house price inflation in London) as the streets are greener with more planting schemes. You do notice that London is getting busier and busier – everybody seems to want to move here! We have a small garden which backs on to a former railway embankment (the trains still run but further back), and so are pretty sheltered and private to the rear of the property.

Q: After you purchased it, your home underwent serious renovations, inside and out. What were the the hardest parts – and the most fun?

A: The three story, four bedroom house had been rented out for many years prior to me buying it, and needed a great deal of work. It is a classic London terrace, so not very wide, and the back extension had been a bit of a botch job when done originally. I didn’t bargain on it having to be knocked down and rebuilt, which was actually a great outcome but definitely unwelcome in terms of my cash-flow!

I was lucky in that I was able not to live in the property when the major renovations were underway, moving in when it got to the painting and decorating stage. The hardest part was doing it by myself. It was before I met my husband, and I did make some mistakes along the way without a sounding board/partner to workshop things with, mostly rather minor. But it was a major operation. Everything was rewired, replastered, and replumbed, a brand new kitchen and a bathroom created in the rebuilt rear extension, plus a downstairs loo carved out between the kitchen and back living room.

I didn’t manage my money as well as I should have done, especially towards the end when I was running on empty. Some good decisions were made such as creating a small laundry room on the first floor landing beside the large bathroom, so garments aren’t far from the bedrooms or cluttering up the kitchen. And I was thrilled to discover original features hidden away under the wallpaper, fitted carpets, boarded up fireplaces, painted over plasterwork, boxed in banisters and doors.

The house has five original fireplaces, and the sixth had been replaced by a 1950s/1960s tiled affair, but I got that removed. This fantastic iron stove, previously on the first floor landing outside the bathroom, was restored and now graces the space that the original fireplace was in. Recently someone told me that in fact that stove is older than the house, so whoever built it in the 1880s must have salvaged it and had it added to this house, a detail I like because I love vintage items. I only buy second-hand clothes, and my family heirlooms and inheritances are my favourite possessions.

The biggest mistake was not doing what we call the side return, which is incorporating the side passage beside the property into a full width kitchen/diner. I just thought the kitchen felt huge (without any units in) and that it was more important to have more garden space, but in reality, of course, we are very social and always have people over and the kitchen is too narrow. This will be our next project, hopefully later this year.

Q: What was the one design element that you wanted to be sure your family home included after the second round of renovations, as it relates to living well with your kids?

A: When we came back two years ago, we had so much to sort out. It had to become a family home overnight as we had had kids while living abroad and the house had always been full of party people up until then! All the rooms were redecorated and revamped, and we had to amalgamate the stuff we left behind in the house, the stuff we had stored in the loft, the stuff we brought back from San Francisco, and the stuff that the tenants had left behind. I counted 15 chopping boards and six double beds at one point! We had boxes and furniture piled up everywhere. So it was a huge task.

I had a baby of eight months just about to start crawling and still on the breast and no stair gates, I was about to get back to work, and my husband was looking for a job so didn’t take kindly to me nagging him to hang pictures, and my four year old was homesick for San Francisco. I just got my head down and went for it, and after two months hard slog we had made huge progress.

I decided that we each should have our own bedroom so all our individual items are in our own space, and that each room should be able to take multiple occupants as we are very keen to have our family come and stay as much as possible. I also decided that the kids’ rooms should have a colour scheme of lime green, blue, and orange, but I knew that I wanted them to be able to interchange items between the rooms if they wanted and didn’t want to go very girly or very boyish as I’m a little suspicious of these gender-assigned colour schemes!

We also decided that we weren’t going to toys strewn everywhere, especially in the adult spaces. We do have a box of toys in the kitchen for my son to play with, and there are the usual items affixed to the fridge for them to play with, the bathroom has a box of bath toys, and their DVDs and CDs are in the living room, but I don’t like wading through plastic.

I am not a minimalist person – I long to be so but can’t resist adding to the house all the time! – and so keeping things as tidy as possible is how I try to work it. One book in, one out is the rule for the shelves, for example. The big project that has just been completed to everybody’s great satisfaction is the Nature Hut in the garden, which is for the kids. I wanted them to have a space which is just theirs as we don’t have a playroom, and it means they can spend more time outside over the year. We bought it as a two story wooden playhouse, had the raised platform at the rear reconfigured and relandscaped, and I had it decorated in a Scandinavian style.

It has Scandi cushions and horse, and painted wooden plates inside along with a collection of shells, feathers, and a large piece of driftwood which we just bought back from our last trip to Italy. The furniture is all wooden, made by a local craftsman. I created a reading corner which has all their nature books in it, and added a poster all about UK wildlife. The kids love it and spend a lot of time in there especially when their friends come over. My daughter is planning to sleep in it one night this summer to raise money for wildlife conservation.

Q: What’s your favorite time of day in your home? When does it work for everyone best?

A: I guess early evening after work and bath and en route to bed. I try to get us to all sit down around 6:30 pm so we can eat together. It can be challenging to come up with dishes that work for us all, as my son eats only protein and carbohydrate and is very firm when he’s finished that he gets down and disappears, but it is a good time to hang out and bond. Bath times are fun – my daughter currently tries to be a dolphin, so inevitably there’s a lot of splashing – and I love reading books to the kids. My husband is terrific with them both. Of course weekends are always to be treasured. We love our weekends.

Q: Your unique parenting style – an adventure every month – has given way to an amazing company. Please explain what i-escape is all about.

A: I’ve had an adventure every month for my whole adult life. These don’t have to be big travels – just a day trip out of London would count. My definition is that it is getting away from the city I live in for a time.

Once, when living in Sydney, I realized I hadn’t an adventure sorted for that month and my flatmate suggested taking a mystery flight, which I had never heard of. Apparently Qantas did them as a way of getting rid of unsold tickets. So I bought one, and didn’t know where I was going for the day until I showed up at the airport! It was Brisbane, so I went to the casino with an artist friend of mine, a big one off for me as I don’t gamble. Naturally, I lost money while he won.

So after having kids the adventures carried on, although I do concede that the actual months they were born I didn’t go anywhere, thinking giving birth enough of an adventure!

i-escape is an online travel agent and guide to wonderful places to stay around the world. We have nearly 1500 places in over 60 territories. The places to stay which we promote are all small, stylish, and characterful, with no chain hotels. We work with hotels, guesthouses, B&Bs, and rentals. Every one is hand-picked and we visit them all to review in depth. Every property has nine pages of review with highs and lows about the property, rooms, eating, activities, location, rates, etc., and lots of photographs. If something doesn’t make the grade, then we don’t add it, and if somewhere goes downhill then it is removed from the site.

We have our own booking engine – the price is the same as going direct or through another channel – and clients get a gift from the hotel for booking through i-escape. I have worked for the company for 10 years now so have seen it grow and grow, which is very heartwarming. It wins awards regularly – we just won Best Website at the Telegraph Travel Awards before Christmas – and gets very good press in the UK, and has a successful social media profile.

My main role now, which is perfect for me, is the Editor of the Kids Collection, which was launched two and a half years ago dedicated to the properties which are most family-friendly in the portfolio. Last count, there were over 850 of them! We have detailed search functions so you can find a property in the right destination exactly for the age range of your children plus the amenities and facilities you want.

Q:  Why do you feel it’s so important to travel with kids? What are the best lessons they’ve learned while racking up miles?

A: Gosh, there are so many benefits, not least is the fact that if you don’t bring them with you, you end up travelling less! And vacation times or weekends away are, for me, the stuff that bonds us, the anecdotes that we share. Even a day trip is an adventure when kids come along, so the kids are excited to travel and it gives them a wider perspective.

We went to Myanmar over Christmas and my daughter gave away some of the books we had with us to a school which was teaching the local kids English. She has a greater understanding about the way the world works, different cultures, different ways of doing things. We travelled in South America for two months on the way back to Britain, and she was more adventurous with Brazilian and Argentinian food than she was with our own fare sometimes. We like looking at nature and wildlife, which is often in greater abundance outside the UK.

It has also taught them some patience, that you need to take time to reach a destination. And that living out of a small wheelie suitcase is just fine.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? Is there a development stage that’s long gone that you miss?

A: I think the thing that kids teach you is to be in the present more, which is a great life lesson. And I have surprised myself that I had much deeper reserves of patience than I thought (which does run out sometimes without warning!). I am not a natural baby person. I’ve always found small children more interesting because they can talk and they look at the world with such fresh eyes that they always provide a cute or interesting alternative view. What wonderful imaginations!

But I do miss being able to strap the baby in the carrier and head on out; now it takes longer to get going sometimes! My daughter is starting to get self-conscious about kissing and cuddling me in front of others, and I shall miss that enormously when they both get too cool for school.

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

A: I wish someone had told me that parenting can sometimes be a little boring. I knew to expect it being frustrating, relentless, joyful, emotional. Having to repeat everything again and again to get children to do the right thing – whether brushing teeth or manners or homework or not hitting me with a stick – is the only bit I don’t like.


Thank you so much, Nadine! I’m sure you’ve inspired many readers to dream about where they should head this weekend.

What do you think? Is one adventure a month too ambitious with your family’s schedule or budget? Or do you think it’s a worthwhile investment to get some fresh air every once in a while? (And if you’re traveling near or far, check out i-escape for some wanderlust inspiration and thoughtful reviews.)

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: Hannah Carpenter Tue, 17 Jun 2014 16:00:47 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Cassie Jones.

When I put together a Living With Kids tour, I try to mix in at least one photo of the family – or just one small member of it who happens to be running through a gorgeous glimpse of a room! But never have I posted a home tour where every photo includes a family living in it. This week is different, then. And instead of distracting from the interiors and bright ideas, the Carpenters added something decidedly sweet to our peek. The home came alive. You’ll see. (And you’ll also probably laugh out loud when you read Hannah’s response to when her home works best!)

Welcome, Carpenter family!

Q: Please tell us all about this adorable family.

A: We are the Carpenters. My husband, Heath, is a writer, college English professor, and is currently getting his doctorate in Heritage Studies. His most loved authors range from the greats like NT Wright and William Faulkner to the equally great Andre 3000 and Johnny Cash. Needless to say, Heath has diverse interests…which keeps things fresh around here.

I am a freelance illustrator and, like many moms, I enjoy blogging. Between my illustration work, blogging, and homeschooling our kids, I have a full plate and a full life. Heath and I spend our lives learning the balance; the balance of home and work, of family and friends, necessity and want, of us and others, and the ultimate balance of the secular and the spiritual. We’re a good team, Heath and I.

We have four kids: Tristin (11), Silas (seven), Enid (five), and Tom (almost two). Tristin is your classic first child, responsible to a fault. She is a second mother to my other children. She loves Anne of Green Gables, Harry Potter, and manatees.

Silas is my creative child. While he can’t focus on a task like cleaning his room for longer than, oh, 30 seconds, he can sit and draw for hours. His little brain is always creating, and he can make up a killer joke:  ”Why wouldn’t the wheel turn at night? It was notturnal.”

Enid is emotional and excitable and skips everywhere she goes, even from one room to the next in our little home. She loves koalas and sucking her thumb and has the power to simultaneously make you feel like the best person ever and the worst.

Tom. Oh, Tom. Tom has rocked our world. He is unlike any of the others: busy, destructive, fearless, needy, and just sweet enough that we love him anyway. We all live together in a little home in a little city just north of Little Rock.

Q: How did you end up in this home?

A: When we bought this house, we had just had our third child and were moving from a 1000 square foot condo. So moving into 1900 square feet seemed quite luxurious. Another child later, and the other kids getting bigger, these 1900 square feet are feeling smaller and smaller. Having said that, I LOVE my house. I really do.

It’s an older home, which offers character and charm, and is located among other homes that were lived in from the 1920s through the 50s by some of the leaders of our little town of Searcy, Arkansas. Before we bought our house, it suffered a fire. A local builder bought it and, while preserving the character of the home, updated and revamped it.

Because Heath and I are NOT fixer-uppers, happening upon an older home that had been updated was the perfect match for us. I only wish we could have gotten involved before certain aesthetic choices were made. There are little cosmetic things that I despise, like wall colors, tiles, and light fixtures, and if I had the time, energy, and/or money, I could change them. But for now, I am making the best of the dreadful khaki walls and am trying to focus on what goes on within these walls rather than the aesthetic perfection of each space.

Having said that, I certainly care about how my house looks and feels. We are here a LOT of the time, after all. And we aren’t wealthy, so it’s kind of a game, creating a cozy home with nickels and dimes. Most of the furniture in our house is hand-me-down or thrifted. And I like that. At least this way, when Tom takes a Sharpie to the couch, I don’t feel too sad about it.

Do I dream of painting our walls and buying new furniture or redoing our bathrooms? Of course. And do I dream of a larger space with bigger closets? Uh, yeah. Our house was built in the 1950s. It has two living areas, one of which we are using as a master bedroom, and while it’s cool to have a fireplace in our bedroom (albeit not functioning), there is no closet. But again, it’s kind of a game, moving things around, trying to decide where you’ll put your clothes or one of your kids, even.

Q: What do you love about where you live? Conversely, what do you wish could be a little different?

A: I have lived in Arkansas all my life, and every hot and humid July I declare I won’t spend another summer here. But, alas, here I am, once again looking at summer quickly approaching. While the summers are miserable, the springs and falls make up for it. I swear I could accomplish anything during an Arkansas spring.

We live in Searcy which is 45 minutes from Little Rock. Searcy is an interesting place. There is a church on every corner, literally, and the county is dry. Think Mayberry with a Chick-Fil-A. Our house is located in the oldest portion of Searcy, just down the road from the pre-Civil War era courthouse and a century old drug store, in which you can buy a bottled coke and get a prescription filled, billing both to your account because they know you. There’s a local dinner theater downtown where you will see friends and coworkers, doctors and judges, children and people of all ages, all acting together, putting on shows, applauding one another.  Also downtown is The Rialto Theater, built in 1923, where you can see a movie for $2. It functions daily, and while it is in dire need of repair, it’s pretty cool that it’s still kicking.

My family and I can walk to the county fair parade which happens once a year around the court square. And what a parade it is! I can’t help but find it endearing: school bands, peewee football teams, monster trucks, beauty queens, and candy thrown at over-eager kids. It’s kind of the quintessential southern small-town American experience.

Now, there’s not much to do in Searcy. There’s nowhere to take your kids for an outing (except Chick-Fil-A) which makes homeschooling frustrating. And for people like Heath and myself, people who love to be pushed and inspired, Searcy can be a tough place to exist. But, like the summers, the bad is overshadowed by the good. Heath and I grew up in Searcy. We’ve known each other since we were kids. It’s pretty cool to share so much history with your spouse, and we take that for granted sometimes – the fact we have each known the same people through the years. Our parents are in Searcy. My sister and her family are in Searcy. Heath’s job is in Searcy, and because it is a college town, there are some perks here that other small towns might not have: renowned speakers, musicians, orchestras, and the like.

And even though we homeschool now, the public schools here are great. Tristin attended the public schools and had a very positive experience. Not to mention, our house is less than a mile from an elementary school, the middle school, the junior high, and the high school. If we decided to put the kids back in school, it would be an understatement to say we would have a short commute.

Another perk of living in small town Arkansas is I can stay home with my kids. If we lived in a bigger, more expensive city, I couldn’t illustrate part time. I would have to work a full-time job for sure. It’s cheap here. It’s safe. It’s Mayberryish.

If we had the opportunity to live somewhere more exciting, would we? Eh, maybe (probably), if I could take our parents and other family along. But I am a firm believer that happiness and contentment come from within. We can be and will be happy with or without a Target. The good, the love, and the support that gleam from Searcy’s citizens certainly help make up for Searcy’s deficits. And, we’re close to Little Rock. I truly love Little Rock. There are some cool people there doing some cool things; diverse food, eclectic art, talented local music – a vibrant culture and community.  Arkansas, as a whole, is worth knowing.

Q: You’re a blogger and part-time illustrator! Tell us about your work, and what it adds to your daily life and schedule.

A: I have been a freelance illustrator for the last decade and some. I’ve worked with ad agencies and magazines and businesses – locally, regionally, and nationally – but am most excited about my most recent illustrating venture. It’s called Little-Biscuits Printable Portraits. I create illustrated portraits of kids and pets that can be printed from home (or professionally). The portraits come with several fun printable templates like bookplates, party invitations, gift tags, and even paper dolls, each template incorporating the portrait. It’s exciting! And fun! And busy.

I love to blog, like a lot of moms, but finding the time to blog, illustrate, and homeschool is difficult and sometimes impossible. There don’t seem to be enough hours in the day for me to do all the things I want to do. I’m also working of a blogging project focused on Arkansas which I’m excited about. That is in the works and will hopefully happen soon, but, in the mean time, something has to be neglected, and let’s be honest, it’s usually the laundry.  Oh the laundry!

Q: How has the internet friendships and connections you’ve made changed your lifestyle? For example, are you inspired by other bloggers or sites in your day to day life with your kids? Tell us about your screen time rules for your family.

A: I am so thankful for the internet! In fact, it irritates me when people dog the internet and blogging. While there are obvious down sides to the internet, you can’t disregard the positive outlet the internet can provide, especially for those of us living in a small town and working from home. Being a creative person, I crave inspiration. Always have. The internet and blogging and Instagramming allow me to connect with people all over the world: to share, to inspire, to be creative and, as contrary to perception as this may be, to connect with people. People like me. I have online friends! Good friends I’ve never met face to face. And, yes, that is possible.

My kids are just starting to get to the age when the internet and an online presence is appealing to them. While I want my kids to enjoy the internet and all it has to offer, I obviously can’t set them loose to peruse the web for endless hours throughout the day. What has worked for us, as far as limiting their screen time, is an app called Chore Monster. I love Chore Monster. It’s an app that let’s you create a chore list for your kids. They earn points for each chore, and you have to earn a certain number of points to obtain a reward. Oh, and they can spin to win monsters. It’s really cool.

So for us, if Silas gets enough points and does his chores, he can have 30 minutes on the iPad. Now, we’ve sort of fallen off the Chore Monster wagon as of late, but we’re working to get back on. I should probably work on limiting my own screen time, but that’s tough when your online presence is so closely linked to your work.

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

A: I’m often thinking about what will and won’t work for our family in our house. What will survive Tom?  Can Tom pull the bookshelf off the wall? Should I put a rug under the dining room table? (Of course, the answer to that is no because it would be disgusting.) Will that antique mirror fall off the wall onto my kid’s head if I hang it over their bed? Where can I store Tom’s toys that will be out of the way and still look attractive?  Can I have white walls or will they be covered in little hand prints? Where can I store all the homeschool stuff without my home looking like a classroom?

I don’t even know how to make design choices in this house without considering if it will work for the entire family. We’re a family. We have a smallish house. We’re together a lot. I want my kids to feel comfortable, while at the same time, respecting what we have. Most things we have are old, so they have learned not to jump on the furniture or it will break. They know that certain drawers require a special gentle touch to open or WD40.

And as for house rules or areas specifically set up for a certain activity, our dining room, my room, and our itty bitty kitchen are where the kids think all the “good” stuff happens. It seems my kids want to be with me at all times of the day, and while it’s really sweet, and I cherish all the jumping on my bed and dancing on my bed and snuggling on my bed, I have been known to say the words, “No one is allowed in my room unless you’re invited!” (Typically in an elevated tone.) Or, “Go play on the other end of the house!”

I like my personal space. I don’t like people in my business, which, as you can imagine, is hilarious considering I don’t go to the bathroom alone. Having said that, some of my happiest mothering memories will include uncontrollable laughter, pillow fights, and dance parties, all held in my room, on my bed, in my personal space.

Q: When does your home work best?

A: My home works best when Tom is asleep.

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

A: When I talked with my friend Cassie about coming to our home and taking pictures, I really wanted to portray our life as it is at its best. I wanted to show the happiness that exists within these walls. It’s not always happy. And it’s not always (ever) clean, but I want to remember the happiness. I hope my kids will remember our family, our home, and their childhoods exactly how these photos portray them. These photos will forever be how I remember this time of our lives. The good will overshadow the bad.

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

A: I enjoy seeing my kids’ relationships with one another form and grow. I love when Enid tells on Silas for something and then begs for me to show him mercy. I love when Tom reaches for Tristin when he gets hurt. I love that nine out of 10 nights, the older three sleep in the same room.

What has surprised me the most about being a mom is how hard it is! It is CRAZY HARD! I had no idea. There is no room for selfishness, that is for sure.

You know, kids are exhausting. They require a lot of work, but they are so cool. I wish I could be as cool as most kids I meet. Kids have this quality that only exists in childhood – a joy, an optimism, a confidence, a genius that we lose as we age. I love their carefree disposition. I love the crazy outfits Enid wants to wear and with such confidence! It makes me sad when I see that start to fade as they get older. I’m gonna miss that for sure.

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

A: I wish someone had told me not to be afraid. I feel like I come at parenting from a very fearful place, and I hate that. I want my kids to be brave and strong and daring and always on the lookout for a challenge. I want them to travel and learn, to push themselves and live without fear. Fear is such a crippling thing, and when it starts to creep in, I start to become a bad parent, a bad friend, a bad person.

It’s a spiritual strength to be brave…one I crave and am continually working toward.


You laughed, didn’t you? Oh, Tom! Hannah, thank you so much for the tour and introduction to Searcy. It sounds like a pretty nice place to raise a family.

Friends, what is your approach to parenting? Is it fear-based, too? How do you overcome your natural worry and panic? I know there’s so many of us in the same mindset, so words of wisdom are really welcome!

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Just send me a note! It’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Living With Kids: Anne McGraw Tue, 10 Jun 2014 16:00:51 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle. Some photos by Sarah-Marie Photography.

There’s often a little internal struggle when all of our life’s dreams don’t look exactly like they did with our eyes closed. Even if the reality is just as wonderful and just as ideal, it takes a moment or two of growing pains to adjust! It happens, doesn’t it? So I completely understand when Anne talks about her reticence to fully embrace suburban life for a while. Homes all on top of each other and neighbors knowing when you’re leaving and when you’re coming home wasn’t how she envisioned her life, but their location and all the lovely friends they’ve made in their neighborhood turned out to be a huge factor in the happiness levels of her family! Eyes closed or open, that is just heavenly.

Friends, I hope you enjoy the bright colors and bright ideas in this tour. I sure did! Welcome, McGraw family!

Q: Please introduce us to your sweet family!

A: My husband, Ryan, and I have been married for eight years and have two vivacious daughters. Cora is six, and is wickedly smart and all the fun things that come with that: strong willed, independent, and determined to eek every second out of every day. She actually says, “Today was the best day of my entire life” at the end of most days. She’s my mini-me and my teacher in so many ways.

Greta is four, and is literally the happiest child you’ve ever met and always has been – even as a baby. She’s full of sweet sass and loves to sing and perform and make everyone laugh.

Ryan is a technology consultant and works out of the house when he’s not traveling to visit clients. We met in Atlanta where we went to college together, and moved to New York City and Minneapolis before settling down in Nashville almost seven years ago. I work at a very large and well known global organization, which is what brought about our move to the suburbs in order to reduce my commuting time. I’m also producing Nashville’s first Listen To Your Mother show this April!

Q: How did this house become yours?

A: When we first moved here, we rushed into buying a house and it happened to be at the peak of the market. While I loved our huge, wooded lot in a very old and established neighborhood close to all the fun parts of Nashville, we quickly outgrew it and knew another 1950s ranch house was not in our future. We spent many, many weekends driving around new developments just south of town and stumbled upon this one and knew it checked all the boxes for our young family. We were able to pick our lot and wait until we were really ready to build, which gave us a full year of time to plan and customize.

The good and bad part about working three minutes from our new home site was that I was a woman obsessed during the building process. I was here every day at lunch, if not also doing a drive-through before and after work. We nitpicked details and finishes and were so involved in the process that I can honestly say I wouldn’t change a thing with how the house turned out. We only encountered minor issues, and I believe it’s because we took so much time to plan and set expectations with the builder.

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

A: Nashville is definitely having an “It Town” moment right now as people are discovering this amazing city and the quality of life here. I couldn’t imagine a better place to raise children, honestly. We live about 20 minutes south of town, literally on the edge of horse country with a Civil War-era main street and historic city center.

It’s just easy here. The schools are fantastic, the area is beautiful and green and lush with rolling hills, we’re 15 minutes away from pristine lakes where we boat in the summers, and have more great restaurants and live music options and festivals than we can possibly keep up with.

Our neighborhood itself has been the biggest surprise – and adjustment – for me. We’re surrounded by so many young families, which is incredible for the kids especially…but learning to navigate the unspoken rules and social expectations of kids running from house to house and yard to yard was crazy difficult for me for some reason. I’m an extroverted introvert, and had a really hard time figuring out how this system worked.

I’ve oftentimes felt very claustrophobic with the homes on top of each other and everyone knowing what each other is up to just due to proximity. But the upside is definitely the tight friendships we quickly made with our neighbors, and they’ve become like family since our own families are four hours away. We rely on each other and are truly a village with our children. I often pine for in-town living again, but have made peace with where we are, knowing this is what our family needs right now: a mom with a short commute and a kid-friendly neighborhood where they can play to their heart’s content.

Q: What were the non-negotiables you pushed for when you were building? Were there battles you won, and some you lost?

A: With no family here in town, we have visitors quite often and having a separate guest suite was critical. We want our family and friends to feel comfortable here, which isn’t always easy when there are small kids running around the house! Finding a floor plan that would accommodate that space wasn’t as easy as it should have been.

I had to fight a fairly massive battle to get the kitchen nook designed the way I’d envisioned, and had to literally move walls and doors and resize windows to make it happen. It’s now the center of our home as we make family dinners a priority during the busy weeks.

We wanted to make our outdoor living space a lot larger but couldn’t due to the lot lines. There were signs like that here and there telling us we should pony up for a more private lot to build on, but I didn’t listen to my gut on it and it’s my only true regret.

Q: How did you settle on decor and colors and materials? What were your inspirations, and how did you narrow all the options down?

A: I can’t even count the number of hours we spent touring half-built houses or model homes all over town, taking notes and discovering ways to tweak our floor plan to best fit our family. Pinterest was just picking up steam at that point, and I think I was one of the site’s first power users. I had a board for every room in our new house and collected our inspirations in one place, which was immensely helpful.

The fantastic part about new construction is you’re working with a clean slate. We have great natural light and wanted the house to feel bright and welcoming, not stuffy and traditional. The most important decision was always “Can this be lived in?” because I don’t believe in having areas or even items that are off limits to the girls. If something can’t get dirty, it doesn’t belong in our house. If I’m going to cry if it breaks, it’s my fault for putting it in an at-risk place.

We’ve learned to spend our money on things like furniture that will last, and not on fabrics or even rugs that will be put through the paces. When the bench cushions and pillows in our kitchen nook get dirty, I don’t have a heart attack. We’re living here and I refuse to be held hostage by our things.

Q: You and your husband both work full time, but your husband works from home and takes care of a lot of the day-to-day duties. How wonderful! Has it been difficult along the way to kind of “give up” some of those traditional “mom duties”?

A: My husband is truly the engine in this household. I’m absolutely convinced I couldn’t have the demanding but rewarding career I do if I wasn’t married to someone who parents 50/50 with me. Usually he’s doing more of the parenting than I am these days. He’s home when Cora gets off the bus so we don’t have to send her to aftercare, and he’s the one making dinners most nights and shuttling the girls around to their activities when I’m stuck in late meetings. He makes lunches and cleans the kitchen and does the laundry. This shouldn’t be that noteworthy, but I know it’s not always the case with husbands and thank the stars every day that I have him in my life.

We both get incredibly stressed out sometimes. There’s a lot of pressure on us both, but giving up “mom duties” has never been a part of it for me. I’m so thankful that my girls have such an amazing role model as to how involved a dad should be in their every day lives, and I think it’s going to shape them in more ways than I can even imagine right now.

The downside is that when Ryan does travel for work, I am FLOORED by how hard it is to do solo! My saving grace has been living so close to work, and I actually can go to the grocery store on a lunch break or come home and do a few things around the house in order to make the evenings easier on us all.  But I travel quite a bit, too, so we’re just taking turns and trying to make this dual-working parents thing work for everyone.

Q: You’ve been in your house for almost two years, right? Is there anything you feel like it needs that you didn’t know when you built it?

A: Our only real regret is the lot we chose, because I think we both underestimated how much we’d miss a private backyard with lots of trees. However, we have a great open backyard for the kids, and have built a fire pit and covered patio that we basically use most months of the year.

And storage! How we wish we had some inside storage space for some of our bins and boxes instead of having them clutter up our garage. It’s making us purge, though, so maybe it’s a blessing in disguise.

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

A: I’m trying my best to be a free range parent with them, but it’s not always easy. I want the girls to be confidant and adventurous, always, but know they have a safe place to land when they need it. We try to travel as much as possible and know they may not remember these trips except for the pictures they have, but it’s mostly a way for us to experience new things together and share the sense of excitement for exploring and discovering that I think is so vital in life.

I hope someday that they remember these years as having a mom who is present when she’s present. Not being with them during the days has made the weekends and evenings extra sacred, and I try so hard to make them moments of connection as a family.

I work full time because it’s rewarding for me to do so, and I think it’s important to have women engaged in running the businesses in this country. I do. If I ever truly thought my daughters were suffering as a result, I’d stop in a heartbeat. But they’re thriving. They’re loved, and they’re happy. And I hope that’s what they always remember…that we’re all so happy when we’re together.

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

A: The constant laughter is absolutely my favorite. My kids are hysterical, and it’s such a simple kind of joy to laugh so often. And they’re so sweet to each other as sisters (most of the time), and watching them together makes my heart just about burst.

I’m always amazed and surprised by how completely different our kids are, when they come from the same parents! Our girls have extremely different personalities, and it’s astounding to realize that everything you learned as a parent the first time around doesn’t work at ALL with your second kid.

This will sound strange, but I’m already starting to miss their dependence on me for the little things. Having my oldest come downstairs in the morning dressed for school and fixing herself a bowl of cereal for breakfast makes me feel a little sad…and I don’t know why! Luckily my youngest is still very much a Mama’s girl and I can baby her as much as I’d like for the time being.

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

A: …that making compromises in the way you’d envisioned your life isn’t a sign of failure, it just means you’re now a parent and not always first in line.

I have struggled for so long with this new life of ours after the move, because I felt like I had a dress on that didn’t quite fit and wasn’t quite me. I’ve been fighting so hard against this new rhythm of school days and domestic routines and suburbia, feeling like I’m living in The Truman Show at times.

But I recently realized – belatedly – that this isn’t about me. That this is where our family belongs right now, and this is what works for us. I walk around our house and think every day that I couldn’t possibly love any house or the people who live in it more than I do. I’ve had to reframe what I pictured our life looking like, and being appreciative for how good we have it.

I’ve finally been able to find contentment in the present instead of constantly wondering what the future version of us looks like.


Anne, I love the way you describe your decision to work full time: “I think it’s important to have women engaged in running the businesses in this country.” I like that idea, too. Thank you so much for providing your perspective and sweet home!

Friends, have you found yourself in a somewhat similar situation? Wishing for a downtown life but finding happiness in suburbia? Learning how to navigate neighborhood rules? Knowing that your neighbor stayed out until 11:30 last night? Ha! Tell us about where you live and the way things are in your neck of the woods, 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: Emma Freedman Tue, 03 Jun 2014 13:00:20 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Confession: I kind of harassed Emma to participate in my Living With Kids series. Truer confession: I kind of harassed and begged. And then emailed her over and over to ask if she had finished her questions yet, and could she please send more photos. Because even though I had more than enough, I simply wanted to see more of her life. It’s pretty remarkable.

The problem is that Emma was kind of busy. You see, she’s 15. I should’ve known that she was probably super occupied with all that average ordinary teen stuff, right? Not right. Not even close.

Emma is a change-maker. She has a blog, a nonprofit, and travels a lot with her family. And the reason she was a little late in sending her finished interview was, well, she had just won her county science fair, competed in the state science fair, unexpectedly getting in to the international science fair, which resulted in a crazy flurry of getting everything together for that. It ended up being an incredible experience, and she won a big special award grant from China and placed second in her category of the top 90 high school studies in the field of Environmental Management. Oh, and she is fearless, especially when it comes to ziplines.

Friends, I am so proud to present my first teen house tour, starring the very awesome Emma.

Q: Please introduce us to you and your family!

A: I’m Emma and I’m 15 years old. I’m a passionate young change-maker, conservationist, blogger, photographer, writer, leader, and adventurer. I love bright colors, wilderness, funky design, hard work, good writing, close friendships, and engaging learning. My blog has been a journey, as many are. I (usually) like blogging every Sunday with my favorite photography moments from the week. I also enjoy backpacking, ballet, science, swimming, planning parties, and cleaning the fridge.

My brother Max is 13. He’s an apprentice beekeeper and a pretty good shot at archery. He’s on a fencing team and plays way too much Minecraft. He loves being outside more than anything.

My mom is a multi-tasker. Mostly she drives us around, but she’s also an event coordinator, baker, infographic designer, and teacher. My dad has a nonprofit to help people and organizations with “emotional intelligence,” or EQ. Basically he helps people become better leaders to make positive change. He’s always talking about things like “noble goals” and saying stuff like “when people feel pushed, they resist.” Sometimes it’s annoying but I’m beginning to realize how great it is to be in a family that talks about emotions and emotional intelligence a lot.

Because my dad travels for his work, we go along too and have been to some amazing places. My family and I have been traveling internationally for the last five years on adventures. When we are home, we live in Corralitos CA (near Santa Cruz).

Q: Tell us about your home, and the part you played in making it your own.

A: We moved to this house five years ago when we had grown out of our last house and were pretty rough on it! My brother and I used to share a room; we ripped the wallpaper in the bathroom and scratched the hardwood floors (we were little kids!). My mom laughs about it now and said it was our practice house.

Now we live on the top of a hill looking out over fields of apple orchards. We have a big boxy house that we totally remodeled when we moved here. My parents thought it would be a good idea for us to do the work, so Max and I (we were eight and 10 then) learned how to install wood floors, do electrical outlets, sheetrock, and paint. Learning how much work it is to build a house has made me appreciate it even more. Max and I have our own rooms now, and I love knowing that had a big part in making this special space for myself.

We also love our house because both Max and I love being outdoors, and here we have 12 acres to explore. I like climbing to the top of my 50 foot tall redwood tree in the front yard and watching the birds. Recently as a family project we built a 170 foot zipline! We have 10 chickens and a couple hives of bees.

Q: You mention that your parents encouraged you to help with the remodel, which is the coolest. What is the one piece of advice you’d give parents when they’re teaching their kids? (There’s always the eye-rolling and the “I KNOW how to do it!” What made your experience remarkable?)

A: My brother is the really impulsive one who usually cuts first and measures later. I am the opposite. I think and think and plan things out. I visualize how something will look. I mull over things. In our remodel, because it was my first time working on painting and building, sometimes things didn’t turn out perfectly and it was very frustrating.

Perfectionism is a real burden. It can keep you from trying to new things or expanding yourself. I’ve had to wrestle with my own perfectionism. I like things to have the right answer and have beautiful results. But learning is really about making mistakes and getting better. If you don’t ever make mistakes, are you giving yourself enough challenge to grow?

So my advice to parents, if you have an impulsive kid, help them slow down to plan and think ahead. And if you have a cautious kid, encourage them to practice opening up to new experiences.

Q: I usually ask moms how they hope their kids will remember them, but now I get to ask you! What will you remember most about your mom and dad from your childhood?

A: I think what I’m going to remember most is going for family walks on the beach and planning birthday parties together, my parent’s involvement in any projects I asked for help on (and sometimes those I didn’t). I already know that they are great parents, but if I have my own kids I’m sure I’ll remember times when they had to deal with my brother and I being annoying or troublesome, and realize how awesome they are for putting up with us.

Some of my best memories are not about the perfect birthday parties or the fun days at the beach though. Some of the experiences I remember the most are when things didn’t turn out. For example, once we were out on a bike ride and a huge rainstorm came up. It was kind of scary, we were slipping on the road, getting drenched in seconds but still had to ride home, splashing and laughing and breathless.  Another time we were stuck in a huge traffic jam for hours. When it finally cleared up and we pulled off the road at a vista, we did crazy dancing to celebrate. I think my parents really help me reframe adversity. Life can be hard, but you have to keep going. And those hard times make me savor the great moments even more.

Q: What is your favorite space in your home? What makes it special?

A: My favorite place in my home is my bedroom, with its two big windows looking to the southwest out over the hills. Every morning I can watch the sun rise. All the furniture in my room is very old (over 100 years!) and passed down from family. I love it, and when I was younger it made me feel like a princess. When I was 10 years old and designing my room, I wanted to build in lots of special details like a chandelier and a hidden compartment in the wall. I did put up a chandelier but luckily I didn’t follow through with the secret-compartment construction.

I have special things all around my room. The big wall spaces are filled with galleries of my photography, including a big print by my bed that I took in Vermont, one of my favorite places. I feel like I’m seeing through a window to there when I look at it.

I have other things on my walls like a little antique kimono from a thrift store in Japan, and my first pair of pointe shoes. My clothes drawers are organized in rainbow order (I swear I’m not a neat freak) and my closet is also pretty unique. There’s a shelf devoted to science fair awards and a drawer just for teapots and cups. There’s also a fake cake and a typewriter. Among the tidy shelves and bright colors, there’s also my axe leaning against the wall, showing the more outdoor loving, badass part of my personality.

I love being in my room with the windows open, listening to the wind chimes and smelling the wisteria coming in on the breeze. I feel like my room really represents me because it has things that represent so many different passions of mine. I feel so comfortable there and I always love coming back to it from any travels or adventures.

Q: How do you feel about chores? What is your family’s system? And how can we, as parents, approach tasks like this better?

A: My parents don’t have assigned chores for us, and we don’t have an allowance either. My parents think we shouldn’t get paid for doing our share of the family work. They say we all have community responsibilities and individual responsibilities. So my brother and I both do our part.

We each have jobs we prefer: Max does laundry and I clean the refrigerator. He takes care of the bees and I manage the compost. I can’t stand wasting food so I take it upon myself to make sure the refrigerator stays tidy to prevent anyone from buying extra produce in the confusion, and manage food scraps so they all end up in the compost or the chicken coop.

Typically we all clean up the house on Sunday and get set for the week. We also almost always have family dinners on Sunday, and my grandma often comes for dinner. When I was younger (and not as busy with homework) I often planned, shopped, cooked, photographed, and blogged about our Sunday suppers.

Q: You mentioned you travel quite a bit. Very cool! What has been your favorite destination? Most surprising? Most moving?

A: It’s hard to pick a favorite place, as I’ve been to over 30 countries now, but I really love Japan. Recently we’ve been going there once a year. I am such a fan of Japan, sushi, tiny food, washi tape, temples, mochi sweets, sakura blossoms, the subway, everything!  I’m studying Japanese language and have friends in Tokyo. When the time comes I’m going to look into going to university there.

One of our most emotionally challenging trips was to Cambodia. We traveled out to a floating village where families lived in houses on stilts above the water. The hardest part was meeting land mine victims, many of them children, from the war. It was the first time I’d seen the damage of conflict like that.

The most moving adventure was the first time I went to Borneo, when I was 10 years old. There, I witnessed the destruction of the rainforest firsthand and drove through kilometers and kilometers of palm oil plantations in place of forest. I visited an orangutan rehabilitation center where I saw baby orphan orangutans who wake up at night crying from nightmares because they remember losing their mothers.

I learned there that as a consumer of products that contain palm oil (50% of products in a grocery store) I am part of the problem. I realized for the first time the role I play in our planet’s destruction, and this led me to start my nonprofit to raise awareness about these issues. It has become a very significant theme in my life. Now instead of being part of the problem, I am part of the solution.

Q: How does your family handle travel? (Emma’s mom has a great post about traveling with teens!)

A: Our family travel has changed as my brother and I have gotten older, but the two best things we do – eat really good food and take turns leading – have been a common thread.

Eating is really one of the most important parts of our trips. My mom does tons of research about local foods, or special things we can hunt for. We always go to markets because that’s where local people live and work. I love markets because they are fantastic places for photography. When we travel I love to go on food quests, hunting through cities, countries, or even continents for the best of the best. Some of my food quests have included ones for chocolate, cheese, pastry, butter, and bread.

Food unites us, and simultaneously differentiates us. For example, I had no idea how many different kinds of bread existed! I’ve tasted a lot – from the thinnest dosa in Malaysia to dense black rye in the forest of Lithuania.  I love our chewy sourdough from San Francisco best, because it’s the bread of my home. Food is a reflection of your culture and where you come from, and eating around the world has helped me see the world in a new way and realize how we have much in common.

We take turns leading our adventures, deciding where to go and what to do.  By letting my brother and I lead, we get to do things we want and get our parents to go to new places. I’ve also learned a lot about how many details are involved in getting places, reading reviews, budgeting our resources and keeping in mind everyone’s interests.

It’s not easy to plan a day for the whole family! To prepare for a new destination, I love to look at photographs from travel books. My brother prefers to listen to stories, movies, or histories about the place. Getting ready for a trip involves making lists of things we want to see and learn about. Then my mom takes our ideas and finds great places and experiences for all of us.

Q: Homeschooling our kids probably crosses every parent’s mind at some point! What do you love about it? What is difficult about it?

A: Homeschooling has been great for me. I was in a private school until fourth grade. Then we designed our own homeschool program, traveling and learning with online school and tutors at home. One of the best things about this kind of learning is that I am able to devote a lot of time on things I really love, like my project

I’ve been able to travel internationally, speaking to and holding in-person workshops with over 10,000 students in countries around the world including the USA, Japan, India, and Singapore. I’ve also been able to pursue my passion for science in the field of orangutan and rainforest conservation to high levels. I just got back from the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, winning a top award for my project. Homeschooling has allowed me to devote hours of time to projects like these for multiple years, and it has been monumental in helping me become the person I am now.

It’s not all beneficial though. When people learn that I’ve been homeschooled, they often assume I have no social life, or I’m academically challenged. In the past few years, especially in my area, there has been more alternative education, but homeschooler is still a label and stereotype, which I don’t like and doesn’t align with who I am.

Q:  What has been your favorite part about living with your parents and brother? What will you remember most about this home? 

A: This is a great question because I am preparing to leave home for boarding school next fall. How do I make a home for myself? I’ve realized that home is not just the furnishings or pictures on the walls, it’s the memories you make there with people you love. So I am planning to bring my bedroom rug, some of my photography, and my quilt.  Although I won’t be home with my family, I take a little bit of them with me wherever I go.

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

A: I wish someone had told me not to be afraid of change. I generally really dislike change, but I’m beginning to realize, as I get excited for school next year, that sometimes it can be really good. I don’t have very many regrets and those I do have are more about things I wish I could have discovered sooner for myself like self-confidence, that no one could have just told me about.


Emma, I loved getting the chance to share your perspective. Your mom and dad sound so thoughtful, and I know their parenting style will influence many readers today! All our best on your continued success and a wonderful life at boarding school and beyond. We will remember your name.

Wasn’t this fun? We always see these home tours from a parent’s point of view, but hearing from this exceptional teen really powered the thought that all of this we’re doing for our families really does matter and have an effect. Friends, do you have any advice for Emma as she embarks on her boarding school adventure? I’m sure she’d love your wisdom!

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Living With Kids: Hallie Burton Tue, 27 May 2014 16:00:32 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Hallie Burton‘s energy and joy for life is completely contagious. It’s refreshing to find someone so equally enamored with her family life, professional life, and the city she calls home. (Ahhh, New York! It has that effect!)

And it’s a fabulous reminder that falling in love with your day-to-day doesn’t necessarily mean over the top gestures, jam-packed schedules, and excess. Sometimes, it means scootering to school, having a daily uniform, and simplifying the aesthetics that surround us. Yes, simplicity is a very good friend to Hallie and her sweet family. How inspiring! Friends, I hope you love this tour as much as I do.

Q: Tell us about this stylish family.

A: We are an Australian (me), a Canadian (George), one loud New Yorker (Pompie), and one Shoodle (Maxi)! I’m a working Lifestyle photographer whose clients include Target, Crate and Barrel, Jonathan Adler, Martha Stewart, Club 21 Global, and Como Hotels and resorts. George is a partner in a contracting business. Pompie is a student and a passionate ballet dancer already! Maxi is an international dog of Mystery, and we are all dedicated Roger Federer fans!

Together we ride, scoot, dance, skate, and sing through our days! We really are the “family that plays together stays together!” We are a one-child family by choice and love every minute of it…we are the three musketeers of our own destiny. As three individuals and as a family we fit, and we knew our family was complete the minute Pompie came out.

We love the idea of equally shared parenting, and the concept really drives us to be better individuals and keep our lives and careers going and, of course, being the best parents possible. Equally being in her life and not one out doing the other really is creating such a beautiful independent child. We travel a lot coming from other countries, so we try hard to keep this side of our life moving for the grandparents. We love bringing up a child in New York; it’s exciting daily and what’s on offer is amazing. We actually try and stay in town in summer so we have a better chance of discovering the city without so many crowds…

Q: New York! Please tell us all the ways you’re living well there with your daughter.

A: We are sandwiched between two heavenly parks, which are our playgrounds! On one side, we have the beautiful Riverside Park which overlooks the Hudson river, so in summer it’s like we live on water and feel the fantastic breeze. We spend evenings there with the scooter and the dog and the local park restaurant. In winter we use Central Park to learn ice skating which is beyond magical, and in summer we also use the pools there.

I always feel like we are in some kind of movie. It’s an almost eccentric way to grow up, yet it’s our neighborhood. Bikes are our main mode of transport and scooters, as well, and of course foot and subways. We rarely use cabs because we all get motion sick! It’s so easy to get anywhere and we love the all care/no responsibility lifestyle.

Pompie got into an amazing school which is a block away, so usually she rides her scooter to school and at the moment she’s heavily into her balance bike. We usually take her to school as a family – even the dog – and she loves that feeling. Plus it’s a great feeling seeing your friends on the sidewalk and riding with them and chatting to the parents.

MOMA and the Museum of Natural History are our playrooms away from home. We visit weekly. Just the feeling of being in the museums is fantastic, and Pompie never gets bored of the big blue whale! Never!

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: New York has the world on offer daily. It’s like nothing else. We love walking out the front door and just being in the world…moving with it and being totally anonymous in it.

For kids I find the city amazing. You have the best of everything on offer and you can learn at the best schools for prices that are insane. Our daughter was lucky enough to get into the yearly ballet course at Alvin Ailey – one of the best ballet schools ever – and I think we pay $800 for an entire year, where our local ballet studio is $900 for a term. It’s more than just fun; they’re learning properly from the start.

Things like that really fascinate me in the city. It’s all available, so you really can give kids so much opportunity.

Q: Your home recently underwent serious renovations. What were the the hardest parts – and the most fun?

A: We really loved the feel of our apt when we bought it. It was a wreck, though. So we gutted it!

It was an interesting process. Our architect was really clever and transformed the space in to something that flowed beautifully. My husband said, “You can do whatever you want, but these are my requirements: I need a king size bed with a Tempurpedic mattress, and a work space. Don’t mess it up!” (To be honest, the thing we regret most is the Tempurpedic! )

I relate renovating to child birth: everyone has something to say about it, or they have a friend of a friend who’s had a terrible experience they feel uncensored to pass on. Renovation is a beast of its own, and until you open those walls up, you have no idea what’s there! We really built a home for ourselves and how we wanted to live, and worried about our needs as a family. We didn’t get caught up in the “You have to have a bath tub for resale value and you need two sinks” and all of the so called other renovating “rules” we avoided. We were not making our apartment for someone else in maybe five or 10 years. We were making our home.

For example, our daughter refuses to take baths. Our bathroom is small, so why would we want the inconvenience to have to step in and out of something? A walk-in shower was perfect and suited us all! Especially living in smaller spaces in the city, you have to really make your space work for you. And that’s what I recommend: get your space working for you and love it wholly. When we walk through our door, it’s our own oasis. We love being home!

(Our contractor was so great! No scary stories at all, and my husband even went into business with him!)

Q: What was the one design element that you wanted to be sure your family home included after the renovations, as it relates to living well with your daughter?

A: I grew up in a beautiful house. My parents were very into design, and my mother drummed it into my head that “a child will learn to live around it” so we have never had anything truly child-friendly. When we designed this apartment, we felt we really wanted to live the way we wanted to at our age and Pompie would learn to live around it. And she has!

We did leave quite a big space for kid things, like her table and house, knowing once she grows out of them we will regain that space as a sitting area. Our apartment is only 1300 sq. ft., so we had to make all areas work. Essentially, the space was designed to fold up so everything is hidden – I think the bathroom is the best testament to that, as well as the kitchen, which is a fabulous Leicht system – and it’s saved me! It’s great looking into the bathroom and just seeing beauty (and no toilet!), and my actual office  lives in the floating credenza on the bedroom wall. Nothing is out and offensive; like Smokks, the house is its own uniform. The piece that works best for me though is the bed head…it’s love! That’s the thing that makes me happy and explode with joy when i see it!

Q: What’s your favorite time of day in your home? When does it work for everyone best?

A: Our apartment really lends itself to low key lighting, so the nights are beautiful and relaxing. George goes to his work nook, and Pompie and I read books on the sofa. It’s also her time when she is determined for Maxi to lie on her. She just loves the dog lying on her at story time. “Mum, put Maxi on me!”

Q: Working full-time – as well as finding a solution to your husband’s daughter-dressing skills! – gave way to an amazing company. Please explain what Smokks is all about.

A: “I just need clothes I can handle!” OH! My husband’s famous last words. Such a dramatic statement was born from me being away and receiving a video of our daughter at her ballet graduation wearing her pajamas! OMG! I almost died! I almost cried!

Mothers would do a hundred buttons daily without question if it meant their daughters looked beautiful! But dads?

Frantically I called home from Australia, not even caring about the time difference, to find out what went wrong! “She looked so cute,” he said. “How would i even know they were pajamas?”

“Because have you ever seen her in a chocolate brown outfit with a pink cat on the front?!”

That’s really how Smokks began! Little did he know then and there that our ”family” project (so to speak) would be creating a line of fun stylish and effortless girls clothing!

Soon after that can of worms was opened we set sail on our journey to launch a creative dressing system for families who, like us, need ”clothes they can handle” all year round. I do say this loosely as it’s really for fathers, grandparents, and care takers to dress these little ladies so “suddenly” they don’t look like nobody owns them when mummy is not present!

So Smokks is a dressing system of mix and match and everything you will need and everything works alone as well. You can get your basics – leggings that are adjustable, the turtleneck dress which is made to wear alone and layer, and the three Smokks for summer, dressy, and the all year round Winnie. It’s all you need and now that’s all George has to choose from! We go over two sizes, and they grow with you. So both our requests are filled: our daughter looks divine daily and loves wearing her clothes, and George is hassle-free and doesn’t need to make clothing choices!

We did a women’s version because friends keep asking, and now it’s all they wear. My husband does not like work out clothes as “fashion,” so I get dressed for my barre classes and put my Smokk on top, and I’m covered and I feel great and pretty and dressed. Perfect! The uniform!

Q: How do you try to best balance working and motherhood? What are your tricks and policies related to making sure you get enough time with your family?

A: We are a well oiled machine! Ha! With a house so simple and no room for “junk” as I love to call it, we have only what we need. It makes life simple.

And we dress that way. We all have a uniform of  sorts. Pompie and i wear Smokks daily. We have one Smokk five ways down to a fine art, and George has 10 navy t-shirts and five pairs of the same jeans, and we all switch our jackets and shoes out. We live light and travel light, and it’s really changed our lives!

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your daughter? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? Is there a development stage that’s long gone that you miss?

A: There’s never a dull moment living with kids…a man and a dog! So far, I think four is the most challenging year we’ve had and we are still in it. Our little baby is now a girl, developing her owns ways and desires. Kids are very black and white; they say what they think and that’s it!

I never knew I would feel so much rejection as a mother…in many ways parenting is about resolving. I think mothers are so sensitive to their children they they take the rejections to heart, and not enough mothers really talk about this. They think they need to keep be strong and keep going, when sometimes you need to sit, have a cup of tea, resolve and breathe, and keep the dialogue really honest and open.

I miss the size when they just sleep on your chest and make little peeping noises. We are at the why stage! So I say “Pompie…would you like a cup of tea with mummy and we can discuss big feelings?” It’s important that her dialogue is always open as well.

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

A: My honest response is…I never thought parenting would be so painful emotionally. And I never thought I would feel so judged, especially about only having one child. People have a lot to say about that. I think my parents and my husband are just so honest about one child families and it’s so refreshing…so refreshing. It’s a choice that people really judge you on and it’s something that should be beautifully celebrated, because as my dear friend Teymara has said, “Sometimes children come in to this world just needing to be one.” And we have that child.

I really feel it’s such a great time for women as well; having a child at 40, having a career, a great home life, fitness, and just feeling excited and alive. There’s many of us, and I salute you all! We really can have everything!


Oh, Hallie! Your aesthetic is enviable. I love how you’ve hidden the necessities, giving yourself a visual treat no matter where your eyes land. Genius. And your uniforms are so brilliant, and have got me thinking of paring back even more! Thank you for sharing your family with us.

I can imagine how infuriating it must be to hear comments about having one child. (It also happens to those of us with a few more kids!) Friends, how do you feel when others offer opinions about your personal choices, whether it’s the amount of kids you have or renovation woes? Your stories are always pretty wonderful!

Oh! One more thing. Hallie is generously offering Design Mom readers 30% off a Smokks purchase! Simply enter the code designmom30 in the discount box when checking out. You’re going to look so cute! Thanks, Hallie.

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: Becca Garber Tue, 20 May 2014 16:00:43 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I’m not sure what’s most visually stunning in this tour: Mount Etna or the fireplace! (That shot above is the kitchen window view. Gulp.) But then there’s Becca‘s super intentional style of parenting and innate gratitude for her life, and the views somehow become secondary.

The Garbers are an American family on a military tour that ends this summer, so I’m glad we have the chance to tour their home before they head off on another adventure. Just one look out that kitchen window, and I’m sure it’s going to be incredibly difficult to say goodbye to this space and pace of living with their kids in Southern Italy. Friends, welcome to the Garber home!

Q: Please tell us all about this family living in Sicily.

A: This family started in Boston in 2008 with a blue-eyed, bearded veterinary student and a determined young nurse. Even before we started dating, we knew we’d marry each other….and we were right! We got married in a surprise snowstorm in 2010. Shortly after our wedding, Elliott left for a 12-month deployment with the U.S. Army, an experience that challenged us but also gave our new marriage a unique texture and fortitude.

Now we are the stretched-but-grateful parents of vivacious Lena (three) and curly-haired Gil (one). We also have an opportunistic Maine Coon cat named Siena.

We live in a yellow house on the edge of a cliff in Sicily. Elliott is a veterinarian in the Army, where he cares for military working dogs and runs a vet clinic on base. I’m taking time off from my career as a nurse to stay at home with our children, and in the meantime I’m pursuing my creative side with blogging, knitting, and photography.

Q: How did you end up living overseas?

A: After Elliott’s yearlong deployment away from his new bride, the Army gave him his choice of assignment. Starry-eyed, I chose Italy. The rural, quiet beauty of southern Italy appealed to us because of our love for the outdoors and our desire to live a simple life.

We arrived in July 2011 with three-month-old Lena. A few days later, I was looking at photos of potential houses, and I saw one with a spectacular view of Mount Etna, exposed brick, dark wood trim, a rustic fireplace, and a balcony overlooking a green valley. Right outside the front door was a Norman castle from the 12th Century. “I just found our house!” I said.

We signed our contract a few weeks later, but only after an agonizing, cross-cultural, bilingual exchange about our kitchen. Italians typically move their kitchen appliances and cabinetry with them, and so this house had nothing. In the end, we went to IKEA and designed our kitchen with our landlady. Now it’s our favorite room in the house. I’m especially smitten with the above-sink drying rack. We don’t have a dishwasher, so I use that rack all day long. When I design my dream home, I’m going to add this Italian feature to my kitchen.

Q: What makes you love where you live?

A: Honestly, living in this beautiful house hasn’t always been easy. It leaks, it floods, there’s mold, and the parking situation is literally medieval. The electricity for our heating and air conditioning is extremely expensive, so we have learned to use the bare minimum of both.

For all that, though, we love this house. One of my favorite moments of every day is walking into the kitchen in the morning to see Mount Etna sparkling in the sunrise. We can hear sheep and cowbells as shepherds herd their flocks through the valley below. In the winter we read books in front of the fire all weekend. In the summer we open all the windows and put the kids in an inflatable pool on the balcony.

Best of all, our cliff-side home is really in the heart of town. We can open our front door and walk out into the neighborhood, where the cobblestone streets were intended for donkeys instead of our Fiat. In the summer we escape the hot house for a passeggiata (evening walk) to the gelateria; we walk home licking our cones and greeting our neighbors. Every Wednesday I push my stroller to the town market, where I stock up on super-local produce, fresh seafood, marinated artichokes, and the most delicious wine that costs two euros per bottle!

Q: Do you get to bring all your belongings with you when you move?

A: Before Sicily, we lived in a tiny apartment on Capitol Hill in D.C., so it still feels novel to spread out in a three-bedroom house. We brought everything with us and found a way to make it work in the layout of our Sicilian villa. The living room was particularly challenging.

Honestly, the piece of furniture I love most in our house doesn’t even belong to us. It’s the huge table and benches in the dining room. Our landlords told us that the table was custom-made for that room from olive wood. I look for every excuse to fill the seats at that table.

Because we live far from family, our friends here are our family, and we stick together around the holidays. So Christmas and Thanksgiving are always at our house! Some of my favorite memories of Sicily involve conversations, laughter, and good food shared around that beautiful table.

Q: What are your favorite parts about living overseas? When is it tough?

A: Living overseas with my kids is a dream come true for me because I did the same as a child. My dad worked for an oil company, so I was born in Egypt and lived in Australia, Singapore, Pakistan, India, and Brazil all before I went to college. Those countries gave me flexibility, openness, and memories that influence me every day.

Living overseas as a mom is different than as a child, though. I have come to appreciate two things most of all: the value of community and the beauty of quiet.

Because we are so far from home, and because this military community is so small, we really need our friends. We have learned the importance of showing up consistently week after week at church, book club, a playgroup, etc. Our presence and dedication makes a big difference in whether these communities succeed or fail. “Success” means they bring our friends together to support and invest in each other.

I really learned the value of that when my little sister died in a car accident a year into our assignment here. I went back to the States for a few weeks to grieve with my family, but then I had to come back to life overseas. Having my Sicilian community love me, feed me, and pray for me made such a difference in carrying on with grace while far from home.

We’ve also loved how quiet our life is in Sicily. We feel less distracted here than we did in the States because there are a lot fewer commercial options. If you want to eat out in our town, you can have pasta, pizza, or gelato. If you want to shop, you can go to the pharmacy, bakery, or general store. I love that.

We’ve chosen not to have a TV, and so we all read books all the time. Since moving here, I’ve read an average of 50 books a year. With Lena and Gil, we fill our days with baking, reading, building block towers, and going for walks around town and into the valley.

Q: When does your home work best?

A: I love my home when it’s full of people – family from the States, friends for a game night, Elliott’s veterinary staff for our annual Christmas party – it doesn’t matter. We have overnight (or over-week!) visitors every month, and we wish even more would come!

On the flip side, weekends are beautiful here. Sometimes we go on day trips with friends, but generally weekends are life in slow motion. Elliott and I take turns with the kids so the other person can sleep in. We make a big pancake breakfast. We almost always go on some kind of hike – usually with a picnic lunch – into the valley below our house.

During the kids’ nap time in the afternoon, Elliott and I talk, write, and read together. On winter evenings, Elliott and Lena build a fire, and after the kids are in bed we’ll pop popcorn and watch a movie on our laptop in front of the hearth.

Q: Describe Sicily from a mom’s perspective. How easy is it to live there with kids?

A: When Lena was a few months old, I read a book that changed my life. It’s called “Simplicity Parenting,” and it inspired me to create a home for my children where they can play, create, learn, and sleep in a structured, peaceful environment.

Of course, in the real world, life is anything but structured and peaceful! Our ideal everyday life goes something like this: we’re up around 7am to eat breakfast and send Elliott off to work. Gil naps in the morning, and then both kids nap in the afternoon, which is bliss. We eat dinner when Elliott gets home or soon thereafter, and both kids are in bed by 7:30.

In between, there’s not a lot of structure, but there are a lot of crayons, books, blocks, and free, imaginative play. The kids also “help” me around the house with laundry or washing windows, and we cook together a lot. We don’t let our kids have any screen time…well, except when I trim their nails, because that is the only way I can get them to sit still!

Every day around lunchtime we get out of the house, whether it’s on a walk to the playground in our town, to run errands on base, or to go exploring with another mom and her kids. I love these adventures the most! We choose a destination – like visiting a nearby town or market – and head out with our passel of kids in search of Italian beauty, delicious food, and some crazy memories.

Q: How do you hope your kids will remember this childhood home? How do you hope they remember you as their mom?

A: Our assignment ends this summer, so we’ll move when Lena is three-and-a-half. Sadly, my kids will probably not remember Sicily and our life here.

So I write. I take pictures. I journal. I work hard to tell a story of our family now that will be consistent through all the years of their life, a story where these things are valued: honest books, real food, faithful friendships, big windows, cozy fireplaces, green plants, and open arms. I strive to create a home in which there is peace – with God, with each other, with reality – and an attitude of thankfulness.

That said, these are aspirations! In fact, I’ve been convicted lately about my attitude of entitlement and tendency to whine or complain when I don’t get whatever I feel entitled to receive. So much for peace and thankfulness!

Realizing this has helped me gain some perspective on how blessed I am to live in Sicily, stay at home with my kids, and cultivate hobbies like blogging, knitting, and cooking. It’s easy to lose perspective in the daily slog with little ones, as I’m sure most moms know. I hope that my children will remember me as a joyful person, grateful for so many things.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your kids? What do you already miss as they get older? 

A: I love being at home. In my childhood, with the transition from country to country, home was always a stable, familiar place. My siblings and I were homeschooled because we moved so much, and home was a place to learn, grow, thrive, and rest.

I feel the same now. I love being at home with Gil and Lena – love it – even when the days are long and sometimes monotonous. I get great joy out of making our home an inviting, peaceful place, a place where my children can flourish, where visitors feel welcomed, where Elliott and I can rest. I love being there to introduce my children to my favorite things, like dancing to music in the living room, eating fresh bread hot out of the oven, reading picture books in bed together, or watching the sun rise from our balcony after some little person woke up too early. This life is a gift.

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

A: …to make room for people in our lives. I wish I had learned this earlier. I spent too many years keeping up appearances, especially in college, and knew so many people at such a superficial level.

Life with my husband and children, though, has challenged that. I am invested in them, and that requires a complete restructuring of priorities. For our children, the hours we choose to walk more slowly so we can talk, to cook more slowly so we can teach, to read more slowly so we can explain, to live more slowly so we can love – these are investments in life now and life forever.

Equally so, our investments in family, friends, and strangers-becoming-friends will reap rewards both for us and for our children. The Skype dates with aunts and uncles that always seem to happen when the kids get fussy, the frantic cleaning of the guest room sometimes after the guests have arrived, the dinners with friends even with whining kids and half-finished conversations – these decisions show love and prioritize people.

That is the goal of my life: making room – welcoming – people into my heart and home, in Sicily, and wherever life takes us next.


Becca, I found myself nodding vehemently when you wrote “This life is a gift.” Good to remember. Equally moving is your reminder to make room for people. We just can’t live without a community, can we? Thank you for showing us around your lovely Italian life! (And, is that your dryer on the balcony?!)

The story of the family’s kitchen brings back a lot of Europe-specific memories. Every country has a different way of living — in the United States, it’s almost unheard of to take your entire kitchen (built in cupboards, too!) with you to your next home. For those of you living in other parts of the world, what’s the one real estate-related quirk that surprised you the first time you learned of it?

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Just send me a note! It’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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Living With Kids: Michelle Arnold Tue, 13 May 2014 16:00:51 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

We’ve got another family who has moved away from the hustle and bustle of New York City, this time to South Dakota. That’s interesting in itself, but then add the wide range in ages of the children and I’m completely hooked to the story!

With all boys and one lovely little girl and a husband who travels quite a bit, Michelle has created a home that fits them all. And don’t even think for one second that Lily, the youngest and only girl, has to live in a boyishly decorated space! Her bed is dreamy, dreamy, dreamy. You’ll see.

Welcome, Arnold family!

Q: Please tell us all about this cute family.

A: Hi there! Our family consists of my husband Rod and me, our boys – Ben, Bo, and Jackson – and our daughter, Lily. And I have to add our beloved family dog, Gracie, because she will feel rejected if I don’t include her.

Rod and I met and married in college 25 years ago. Can’t believe we’re old enough to say that! We have lived all over the place, which my kids have said is both awesome and not awesome, depending on the point they are trying to make with me at the time.

Rod works with a Marketing agency based in Montreal and NYC. But right now, it still works for us to live here in South Dakota. He does have to travel quite a bit, and we get the chance to go with him from time to time which is always fun. Rod is the smartest man I know and I could not ask for a better life partner. He supports my dreams just as much as he supports his own. He’s my favorite person in the whole world. I’m happy we get to grow old together.

Ben is our oldest and is 22 years old. He was born while we were living in Peru (which is a whole other story that involves earthquakes and terrorist groups.) He’s moving out on his own across the country next month after all these years. He’s thrilled, of course! And I fluctuate between being so happy for him and having a lump in my throat about it all. Ben is super smart, a tad quiet, and one of the kindest people I know. On a daily basis, he reminds me of my sweet father who passed away last year. Ben seems to possess many of my father’s best qualities.

Bo is 18 and is attending college (and running track) at SDSU. But he’s home quite a bit since the college he chose is only an hour away. Yay for me! Bo has a wicked sense of humor and can cause us to double over with laughter when he tells a story. He’s an entrepreneur at heart and likes to send me his latest ideas via texts. But he does not appreciate when I respond to his texts with hashtags. #SorryBo

Jackson is our third son. He’s 15 and is a creative. He shares my love of documentaries and is super excited about attending a Film Making camp in NYC this summer. Truth be told, I’m quite jealous of this! Maybe he’ll let me go with him.

Lily is our ten year old. She was born in China and changed our lives forever. I’m inspired by her ability to create something beautiful out of anything. It’s really quite amazing to watch her creativity in action, even when that means I find out she’s chopped up some nice jewelry because she wanted to make something else with it.

Q: How did you end up in this home?

A: We bought this home about three years ago. There were not a lot of options on the Lake when we were house hunting. And we actually passed on this house the first few times we saw it because the master bedroom wasn’t facing the lake. But after a few weeks of hunting, we came back to it when my mother-in-law, Judy suggested we install a large window in the bedroom. Light bulb moment! Thanks Judy!

I think it might be my favorite house we’ve ever lived in. I just feel like it really suits us. It’s the perfect size for us and we use every inch of it.

Q: NYC to a lake in South Dakota! That must have been a little change of pace, at least in terms of traffic, yes?

A: We moved to SD from NYC. The city we live in now is only about 20,000 people. It was a big change of pace for us. We left the hustle and bustle of NYC city life to be closer to family, which means nights out on the lake, family dinners, and hometown football games. Think Friday Night Lights.

It also means more square footage to live in, which is a nice plus! Truth be told, I miss a lot about the city. I love the food, the culture, and the diversity there. But with Rod’s job, I’m back and forth enough to make me feel like I get the best of both worlds.

Q: What do you love about where you live?

A: The best part about living here is that my kids are getting a great school experience and we live close to family now. The town really revolves around the school activities, so there’s great support for sports and programs that go on. People are kind and are always willing to lend a hand, too. Especially when your car gets stuck in a snow drift, which is a possibility almost six months out of the year.

This trait in the people here has benefited me greatly (three times this winter!) since I’m a southern girl who grew up in Nashville and should have no business driving in the horrid snow storms up here!

Q: You’ve got kids aged 10 to 22 living with you! How intentional are you in making sure each space in your home works for your entire family? Any house rules or areas specifically set up for a certain activity?

A: I’ve always believed that one should make his or her home the house where your own kids and their friends want to hang out. And it really has more to do with a family attitude than the actual space. We even accomplished this in our tiny NYC apartment, which believe me, was very low on space.

We’ve just made this a priority in every house we’ve lived in.

Our downstairs family room is set up as a great hangout spot for the kids. We haven’t really had to make any rules about who gets to use it and when. The kids seem to work this out by themselves. I think there’s a built-in pecking order. When Bo went to college last fall, Jackson just kind of took his spot.

I also think it’s important that you make each child’s room a place that they love to be in. It should reflect them and what they like. Even if this means your daughter wants to use a shoe as decoration on her desk.

Q: You’re a photographer! Tell us about your speciality and what you love to photograph most. How do you balance home life and professional life?

A: I love being a photographer and creating fine art portraits for my clients.

It’s my passion. Part of my training was in fashion photography, so my style tends to lean that way – even when I’m photographing children…or cows!

I’m not really sure that it’s possible to balance home life and professional. To me, that implies that things get equal time. It’s an ebb and flow for me. At times, work is really busy and I feel like I’m not giving enough to my family. But other times, I’m giving so much to my family that I don’t have enough hours in the day to devote to work.

As I get older, I try not to sweat it and take it all one day at a time. I enjoy both working and being a mom, so I’m always trying to figure out ways to do both as easily as possible.

We have a guest house on our property that doubles as my office space. This has been a huge help. I like not having a space inside the house for work because I tend to get easily distracted. The guest house is just a walk up the hill and I’m in my own creative bubble. I love it. But I’m close enough to run back down the hill to make dinner or to help Lily with something if she needs it while I’m working.

Q: You mentioned you believe art should be in every room…what are your best tips for making that happen easily?

A: I’m really trying to instill in my kids a love for art. Whatever kind of art they like. Living in NYC really exposed us to a lot of different types of art and we just loved that.

A few years ago, I started the tradition of giving each of my children a piece of art for Christmas. The goal being, when they moved away from home they could fill their first place with all the pieces they acquired. I really wasn’t sure how they’d respond to this when I started it, but they’ve loved it. And its fun each year to hunt for something special that reflects them.

Our house is also filled with paintings painted by both my grandmothers and my Aunt Kathy. I cherish the fact that I come from a family of artists.

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

A: Moving so much (about every three years) means my children have had many childhood bedrooms, backyards, and kitchens. It’s my hope that this has helped engrain in them that it’s not where you live or what you live in that makes a home. It’s the people you live with that make a house a home.

I also hope they remember family dance parties at dinner time – even though the only ones who will still dance with me are Rod and Lily!

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

A: I love watching my kids grow into independent thinking young adults. It’s amazing to me to watch how their minds grow and develop.

Each of my kids are so unique and different from each other. I think that’s so amazing. I love that as they get older, we can have conversations about religion, politics, and life. I’m learning that we don’t have to always agree, and I want them to know this as well.

Truth be told, it’s more enjoyable for me to parent my kids as they get older than it was for me when they were younger. I have a feeling that this is more about who I am now as a person, rather than how old they are. But, I’m not willing to have another baby in order to test this theory. Ha Ha!

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

A: That somehow time moves really slow and really fast at the same time. I don’t know how this works, but it does.

One minute you feel overwhelmed because you think you will forever be chasing little ones all around the house, and the next minute you’re watching your kids grab the car keys and head out the door.


Oh, Michelle. That last line of yours is probably responsible for a few lumps in my readers’ throats this morning! Also, it was lovely to see a family home that’s holding older ones and a little one, too.

I have to say, I love Michelle’s idea of gifting art to her kids every year. It’s brilliant, isn’t it? Meaningful and practical and utterly decadent. Who’s inspired?

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: Nell O’Leary Tue, 06 May 2014 16:00:57 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

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

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

Q: Please tell us about you and yours!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What makes you love where you live?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Just send me a note! It’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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

By Gabrielle.

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

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

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

Q: Please introduce us to your sweet family!

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

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

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

Q: How did this house become yours?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Just send me a note! It’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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

By Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Just send me a note! It’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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

By Gabrielle.

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

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

Q: Please tell us all about your family!

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

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

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

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

Q: How did you end up in this home?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What do you love about where you live?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: When does your home work best?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Just send me a note! It’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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