From the category archives:

The Treehouse

A shared bedroom for FOUR sisters.

By Gabrielle. Photos by Kristen Loken for Design Mom.

Would you like to see my daughters’ bedroom? If yes, this is the post for you. I have tons of photos and lots of details to share. This room came together slowly. There was lots of sketching of floor plans, moving of walls, trying furniture in different configurations, and pondering about closet space. We eventually took it down to a 14.5′ x 22.5′ blank canvas and created from there.

But all the work and patience paid off. The room is terrific! The girls love it. It meets their needs easily and it looks fabulous as well.

A shared bedroom for FOUR sisters. A shared bedroom for FOUR sisters.

As you may remember, all four of our daughters share the same room. That wasn’t the original plan when we moved in. But we hadn’t actually seen this house in person until after we’d purchased it, so we didn’t really have a true sense of the dimensions of the rooms and the best way to use the space.

I receive quite a bit of email asking me about this shared room situation, so I thought I would start this post with a few FAQs, then, you can click through if you want to see all the details and the thinking behind the design decisions. At the end of the post, I included four shots of the room taken from each corner, so that you can get a good sense of the overall space.

A shared bedroom for FOUR sisters.

Why Four Kids in One Room?
While doing renovations on this space, we could see that the bedroom in question was originally two bedrooms, and we weren’t surprised at all. Without knowing the history of the house, we considered doing the same thing — splitting the bedroom into two.

Interestingly, Maude, who has the strongest feelings among our kids about room-sharing, much preferred the idea of four people in one room, instead of two people in two rooms. When I thought about it, I felt like I understood where she was coming from. When there are two of you sharing a room, and you’re irritated about something, it’s easy to direct that irritation at your roommate. And those recurring negative experiences can make for a tense relationship. But if there are four of you in the room, the irritation gets dissipated. It’s easier to see that 3 people aren’t intentionally bugging you, that you are simply bugged and it has nothing to do with the people in the room.

That’s an oversimplification, but hopefully you understand what I mean. : )

A shared bedroom for FOUR sisters. Including freestanding closets.

Anyway, that’s how we ended up putting all 4 girls in one room, instead of splitting the room into two or trying some other household configuration. We also tested it out for many months before we jumped in and started renovating. By that time, it was easy to see the four-sister-in-one-room situation was working well for everybody.

A shared bedroom for FOUR sisters.

But how does it work? Do the different ages make bedtime difficult?

Good question. So far, bedtime hasn’t been an issue at all. The younger two go to bed around 8:00. They go through their bedtime routines (bath, pjs, etc.), we read a book, and then they’re off to dream land. By the time the older kids come into the room the younger ones are already fast asleep.

I would say it also works for us, because we have a specific theory about kid bedrooms. We set aside bedrooms for sleeping and dressing only. We have other spaces in the house for homework and toys — even other places for reading. It’s not a strict rule — we do keep a shelf of books in the bedrooms, and the youngest ones like to have a stuffed animal or two around. But in general, our bedrooms are only used for sleeping and getting dressed/ready for the day. I realize that not every house works like this — if you have a tiny apartment, the bedroom and playroom are likely the same room!

A shared bedroom for FOUR sisters. Freestanding closets create a dressing area.

Don’t kids need their own space as they get older?

Yes. I think they do. And we work hard to make sure the kids have personal time as needed. But I don’t think that means every child needs their own room. For most families in the world, the idea of each person getting their own space is simply not possible, and for big families like ours, sharing bedrooms is a no-brainer. In fact, I’ve shared a bedroom my whole life — with siblings, with college roommates, and with my husband. But I always figured out ways to get alone time when I craved it.

For our girls, since the bedrooms are generally empty of people during waking hours, if someone wants to be solo, their bedroom is usually the go-to option. But they can also use the reading loft, or one of our decks, or the family office, or even the master bedroom.

A shared bedroom for FOUR sisters. Freestanding closets separate the sleeping and dressing areas.

I suppose sharing a room is not for everyone, but it’s also not out of the ordinary in any way. And I’m confident the alternative, a sprawling house with 7 or 8 bedrooms, would not be a good fit for our family at all.

So if the idea of 4 kids in a bedroom is stressing you out, just know that you don’t have to do it. Hah! Also know that it’s working for us, and that if it stops working for us, we’ll try another solution. Simple as that.

Ready for the design tour now? Keep reading!


Bathroom Refresh2

Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is sponsored by Target. Shop Home Décor for modern luxury made easy.

Target reached out about working on a “refresh” project to celebrate the new year, something simple that I could do in a day. I thought and thought about different projects and was narrowing down my ideas, but then I saw my sister’s bathroom refresh and I had one of the OF COURSE! moments. Outside of cleaning them, I have systematically ignored our bathrooms since we moved in, and they definitely need attention.

Oh the bathrooms! They are truly due for a full overhaul. If you’ve been following along on our Treehouse renovations, you know we’ve been going room by room, moving walls, updating flooring and electricity, and giving the walls a fresh coat of paint. But we’ve been here for a year and a half, and until this little refresh, we hadn’t touched the bathrooms at all! I’m totally intimidated by the bathrooms. I feel like there are a million options, and that the budget for a project like a bathroom overhaul can skyrocket super fast. Plus, knowing our big family will be without access to one of the bathrooms while it’s being renovated is not something I’m looking forward to.

So it’s no surprise the bathrooms keep falling to the bottom of my list of home projects. Who knows, it probably won’t be that big of a deal, but as you can see, I’ve built it up in my head as a super hard project, and I’ve completely put it off.

That said, when I saw my sister’s mini-update, I knew I wanted to do something to improve the kids’ bathroom as it stands right now. So I gave myself a budget of $100, and I made a trip to Target. It was fast and easy and the little changes made a big difference. I wish I had done it the week we moved in!

The biggest thing I did was go all-white with anything I had control of, meaning anything not permanently installed. It went a long way in making the bathroom feel more intentional. The kids’ bathroom has white counter tile, a cream colored ceramic sink, an off-white bathtub, and bath tile leaning toward light tan. Nothing about the surfaces is unified at all. So my goal was to use white to make the space feel a little less hodge podge. And it worked!

Bathroom Refresh1

We started with fresh towels in all-white. This made the biggest difference by far. With six kids sharing the bathroom, we use a whole bunch of towels, and whether they’re stacked or hanging on hooks, they take up a lot of visual space. The kids had been using a random set of towels that came with the house in various colors and patterns, so switching them out for all-matching, all-white made a big impact. Plus, fresh, fluffy towels are wonderful no matter what — I would say switching out towels is for sure the easiest way to refresh a bathroom.

Bathroom Refresh6

Next, I updated the soap dispenser. I went with this good-looking “oil-can” version. Our soap dispensers get used so frequently that they tend to get grimy — old soap residue gets caked on the spout and the label starts to flake off. Even after a good-scrubbing, they can look tired and a bit depressing. So replacing the soap dispenser was an instant refresh for sure. Plus, because the dispenser is clear and label-less, it keeps the bathroom visually simpler — which was my goal.

Bathroom Refresh7

I also added some handsome glass containers — this short one, and this tall one. These did a good job of adding something pretty to the room, plus they’re practical. They opened up precious drawer space by moving the cotton rounds and q-tips to the counter.

Bathroom Refresh3

Then, I added a basket to hold the towels. This one is lined with canvas, and the inside of the canvas has a wax-like coating that makes it ideal for dealing with wet stuff. So smart for the bathroom! Though I intended this basket to hold fresh towels, I think I might turn it into a bathroom hamper instead — a place to throw used washcloths and hand towels. We’ll see. Whatever we end up using it for, it makes a good-looking addition to the space.

Lastly, I got rid of the horrible, grimy wastebasket which was in the room since we moved in, and which I had been meaning to replace from the first day we arrived! I chose this simple frosted version.

Bathroom Refresh5

Much better! I feel like the bathroom is so much more civilized now, and that it’s much more livable while we consider a full bathroom renovation.

Have you ever renovated a bathroom? Am I right to be intimidated, or did you find it to be easier than expected? And what’s the state of your bathroom? Is it already awesome? Would a simple refresh like this improve it? Or does it need a major overhaul? I’d love to hear!


This post is sponsored by Target.


photo 1 (1)

Images and text by Gabrielle.

Here’s a little update on the Girls Room Remodel. I’m excited to tell you about the progress we’ve made! We’re essentially at blank canvas status, which feels fantastic. This is what we’ve marked off the list: updated electric work throughout — including a new full electric panel/breaker box. It’s one of those tasks that requires a hefty chunk of budget, but isn’t fun to show off. : )

We solved the ceiling issue I mentioned here. And we solved the beam and post issue as well. More on those below. The drywall was patched and repaired. New baseboard and ceiling trim was installed. And there’s a fresh coat of paint on the walls and ceiling (Origami White by Sherwin-Williams). Even spray-painted the floor vents white. Like I said: Clean Slate!

Photos and details below!


The Treehouse: Music Corner

October 27, 2014

Design Mom Music Nook 3

By Gabrielle. Images by Kristen Loken for Design Mom.

Pieces of The Treehouse are coming together, and it makes me super happy! This little corner is in our family room. It takes up the space right below the be reading loft. I love it! Obviously, it’s all about music.

Remember our green piano? We painted it when we lived in Colorado. It’s for sure the hero of this space. Our instruments can look very formal and traditional, so centering them around the bright green piano keeps the whole area more fun. We want music, and our music area to be totally approachable and kid-friendly. I think the green piano nails it!

Design Mom Music Nook 2

The instruments that are hanging around the chalkboard include: an acoustic guitar, a kid-size guitar, an electric guitar, a mandolin, a ukelele, a trumpet, a tiny violin, and two very small cellos. Ben Blair plays the mandolin and guitar. Maude takes guitar lessons, and plays the ukelele for fun. Oscar is studying the trumpet and piano. Betty is taking piano lessons too. (Ralph and Olive are taking a break from music lessons while they’re in France.) Music books and sheet music go in file organizers on the wall.

The tiny violin and little cellos were played by a tiny Maude an little Ralph when we lived in New York. They haven’t been really played in ages, though June likes to use them during family jam sessions.

Design Mom Music Nook 1

The family room overall isn’t done yet. But it’s getting there. The play area needs some tweaking. And the couch is a problem. We inherited the couch with the house and it’s not the right shape for the space. Also, rugs. We need an excellent area rug in front of the sofa, and possibly one in the play area as well. But otherwise, I feel like we’re so close!

As has been typical for this house, I’m trying not to go too fast. But man oh man. Sometimes, allowing myself to take my time with decisions, means that I put off making decisions altogether. Apparently, I have not found the right balance between going slow enough to make good decisions, and going fast enough to finish the room in a reasonable time frame. : )

How do you like our little music corner? And where do you do music at your house? Living room? Family room? On an iPod? Are your kids taking lessons? If yes, how serious is music study at your house? Are you going for “good enough to get a university scholarship”, or do you keep it pretty casual?


Olive Us: Tree Climbing

October 27, 2014

Olive Us Tree Climbing

Images and text by Gabrielle.

Would you like a peek of our backyard? In this video, you’ll see our oldest three climbing the giant trees that surround our house. This is a different sort of tree-climbing than the casual kind I did as kid — it involves harnesses, helmets and some specialized equipment!

Tree Climbing in Design Mom's backyard. Tree Climbing in Design Mom's backyard. Tree Climbing in Design Mom's backyard. Tree Climbing in Design Mom's backyard.

I hope it will encourage your family to get outside and enjoy the fall weather! And yes, I have also climbed these trees. I’ve only done it twice, but it always feels like such an accomplishment. Hah!

Also, Olive, Maude and Ralph do a lot of talking in this one — which I know some of you have asked for (more talking, please!), so I hope you enjoy that as well.

Tree Climbing in Design Mom's backyard. Tree Climbing in Design Mom's backyard. Tree Climbing in Design Mom's backyard.

P.S. — Here’s a fun fact: I’ve mentioned before that ulive commissioned 20 Olive Us episodes, and this is the twentieth! If you’re curious, since Olive Us launched, we’ve made 44 episodes total. You can find them all here. Subscribe to the newsletter to be the first to see upcoming episodes — the next one is so good. I think it might be my favorite!


olive and june

Photos and text by Gabrielle.

This is a photo of Olive and June. Which reminds me, I really need to write a post about how Olive and Ralph are doing in France!

But really, this photo is here, just so I can have something pretty at the top of this post. Because after the jump, I’m showing lots of photos of the girls’ room pre-remodel, and the photos are not pretty. They’re not pretty because I snapped them with my phone in low light. And they’re not pretty, because, it’s just not a very pretty space. Yet.

But it will be! I’m confident of that.

We started the remodel on Tuesday. Want to see what we’re up to?

Photos and sketches ahead!


pumpkins on the porch

This post is sponsored by Target. Shop Home Décor for modern luxury made easy.

Images and text by Gabrielle.

Over the weekend, I spent a lovely afternoon autumn-izing our front entry. Last year at this time, I was barely functioning, and I only have a vague memory of putting a pumpkin on the porch. And if I remember correctly, the squirrels ate that pumpkin! Not my best October for sure. Hah!

pumpkins on the porch

So this year, it was fun to put some thought and effort into it. I have loved the simple colors in our living room — whites, woods, pale textures and a bit of metal — so I thought it would be fun to extend the same color palette to the entry decorations — with the hope that it makes a pretty transition from outside to in.

pumpkins on the porch

First, I moved our cement planters full of succulents, and filled in the space with pumpkins. Instead of the traditional orange-y-orange pumpkins, I picked out Cinderella pumpkins in a muted, dusty orange, and white pumpkins as well. I wanted big impact, so I went with lots of pumpkins.

pumpkins on the porch

Next, I swapped out the summery pillow on the porch chair, for some fresh ones. The gold adds just a touch of glamour! A nice contrast to the home-y textures. I chose two pillows from Target — one in metallic chevron, and the other in an embroidered pattern.

I also added a throw blanket from our linen closet (it’s a super-cozy traditional wool picked up in Ireland), to make the porch chair inviting on cool evenings.

handwoven basket with leather handle

Then, I brought a favorite stool outside to act as a side table — the perfect spot for a cup of tea. And I included a woven basket to hold magazines. The basket is easy to move indoors if the weather gets iffy. (I wish the weather was iffy! California needs some rain!!)

I love a project like this! It didn’t take long to pull it together, but it makes a big difference. The entry feels like fall, even if the weather here hasn’t caught up yet, and it’s so cheery to come home to. I also like that I mixed it up this year and tried something new with the colors, instead of going with our usual orange and black. I like classic orange and black, but it was fun to experiment. And assuming the squirrels don’t eat the pumpkins, I think this look will keep the porch looking gorgeous through Thanksgiving!

Tell me, Friends: Do you decorate your entry in the fall? Maybe put up a wreath or a bouquet of leaves? Or do you like to keep it spooky in October? We have loved spooky stuff over the years, but The Treehouse isn’t on a trick-or-treating street, so I’m finding it’s easier to focus on “fall” for our decor, instead of Halloween. How about you?

P.S. — Some of our favorite good-looking, but spooky Halloween Decor DIYs. And the coolest scarecrow!


Olive Us: Oscar’s Project

September 25, 2014

Oscar with tools

Images and text by Gabrielle.

Oh my goodness. Watch this one with your kids! They will love it, I promise. And I think you’ll like it too. In fact, maybe it will get you excited for a weekend project. : )

Every time we share a new Olive Us video, I think to myself: this is my favorite one yet! But this time, I think I mean it even more than usual. Hah! The idea in this new video is simple as can be, but I hope it will inspire kids everywhere to get out there and tackle their own projects.

Take a look:

I have to say, this was a really fun episode to film. It was the first one we filmed here at our house in Oakland, and we loved putting our new backyard to work. Honestly, it was the first time we started day dreaming about what we’d like to do with the backyard, and this episode ending up having a lot of influence on this particular installation.

Oscar at work OscarBlair

I hope you enjoy the video! And if you have a child, or grandchild, or niece, or nephew that would enjoy it, I hope you get a chance to share it with them as well. Yay for the satisfaction of a job well done!

P.S. — Would you like to know more about Olive Us? Here you go:

- Find the official Olive Us website here.
- Find all the posts I’ve written about Olive Us — including every episode — here.
- We’ve made 44 episodes so far and ulive commissioned 20 of them! You can find the Olive Us page on ulive here.


Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

Images and text by Gabrielle.  |  This post is brought to you by Lowe’s Home Improvement — they have everything you need to refresh your own front door, so your home can make a welcoming first impression.


I love a good front porch makeover! It’s one of those projects where small changes can make a big impact, and make any house look like it’s loved and up-to-date.

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

Way back in the day (2007), when we lived in a rental house in New York, I did my first porch makeover. It made such a difference. Instead of being bummed out as I drove up to the house, I grinned! I’ve been a big believer in making your front door a happy place ever since.

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

In this particular instance, we replaced the front door, which can be expensive. But if you can keep your current door, a Front Porch Makeover can actually be a bargain project and can be tackled over a weekend.

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

If you’re thinking about your own Front Porch Makeover, the key elements are:

1) A fresh coat of paint on the door. A fun new color is ideal! You’ll only need a quart of paint, so this isn’t a big expense.

2) A new light fixture. There are great looking options in every price range. My first porch makeover included a light that was $30.

3) Fresh pots and plants. If you’re willing to DIY, you can create something awesome for a bargain.

4) Updated house numbers. There’s something about shiny, new house numbers that communicate this house is loved and cared for.

5) An extra detail with a pop of color. It could be a red mailbox, or a blue chair, or a yellow bird feeder. Something pretty that brings an out-of-the-ordinary feel to your entry.

I’m telling you, for less than $150, you can give your house a facelift that will make a huge difference in how your feel about your residence.

Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom Front Porch Makeover. Give your house a major facelift in 5 easy steps!   |   Design Mom

I’d love to tell you all about the decisions I made on our front porch — the door, the light, the chair. All of it. It was such a fun project!

Click here for detail photos plus before pics.



July 14, 2014

Family Room Bare Floor

Image and text by Gabrielle.

What a day! I don’t think I sat still for more than a few minutes today. I’m looking at the clock (11:20 PM) and laughing that it could be this late.

We leave on our epic 3-week road trip on Wednesday morning, and I feel like I’m somehow nesting before the big event. Today was filled with big projects like clearing out the garage, little things like putting house plants outside (we have someone who will be coming by to water plants and collect mail and check on the house in our absence), and lots of laundry. Then this evening, when I was supposed to start packing, I rallied all the kids and we cleared out the family room furniture and pulled up the carpet! Hah!

The carpet was already badly worn and stained when we bought the house and I’ve wanted to pull it up all year (can you believe this week marks one whole year in California?), so I’m happy as a clam that it’s gone! But it’s such a random thing to do before a big trip. I hope it means we’ll get home from the trip and get right to work on the new flooring. I’m really excited to put the family room together — that space has felt halfway finished since we moved in.

I’ve been thinking back to past family trips to see if I have a habit of nesting before I travel, or if this is really just me procrastinating the packing. How about you? Have you ever surprised yourself before a trip by taking on a new project? Or maybe you have another pre-trip habit you’ve noticed? I’d love to hear!

The Genet Scar by fashionABLE. A collaboration between Alt Summit and

Shifting gears: Totally unrelated to the trip, but I wanted to make sure you heard about the new scarf design contest Alt Summit is hosting with fashionABLE. The open call for designs was announced today. And the prize is big — worth over $1000! The winner will receive a pass to the Alt Summit conference of their choice, plus a $500 gift certificate to fashionABLE. Nice. The last time we ran this contest, the winning scarf was the Genet. It’s my favorite. I truly never travel without it! Entries are due on July 24th, which is coming up fast. That’s why I wanted to mention it right away — I want you to have plenty of time to submit a design. Find contest details here.

Well. That was a random post for a random Monday. I hope your week is off to a wonderful start! Wish me luck on the packing. : )


A Few Things

July 11, 2014

Studio Floor

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! I hope it was a good week for you. We have some fun stuff going on at our house. 1) Ralph, Maude and our French exchange student, Charles, are all on a Pioneer Trek this weekend. 2) On Saturday, we’re adding another exchange student to the mix — one of Ralph’s friends from England, Chris, will be joining us for several weeks. Yay!

3) We’re prepping for an epic roadtrip. All 10 of us (8 Blairs + 2 exchange students) will be driving around the Western U.S., visiting National Parks and other sites for almost 3 weeks. We leave next Wednesday!  4) We installed flooring in the studio/home office this week. The floor looks great (see above) and we need to move everything back in today. 5) Yesterday, we had a new front door installed. Hooray! I’ll share photos as soon as I paint it up and add some details to the porch. 6) I’ve been shooting the cover of my book this week. It feels like progress. And also makes me nervous. I want the book to be so good.

And 7), tonight we’re hoping to meet up with friends at Point Reyes. I’ve never been, but the photos look amazing. I love how this summer is turning out! How about you? Anything fun going on at your house?

While I go work on putting the studio back together, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share:

- ONE just launched their Girls & Women Initiative! Meet Phiona Mutesi, their first guest curator.

- Penny In Your Pants.

- Related, something called Bicycle Face was once a medical condition. Hah!

- What happens when LeVar Burton gets pulled over.

- The New Yorker’s hilarious take on Eloise, at 46Thanks, Dani.

Mater Mea — a bimonthly online magazine that celebrates the lives of women of color as they balance work and motherhood.

Taryn Brumfitt’s story has me thinking.

- Free paper crafting class for Bay Area readers — or you can access it online from anywhere!

- Is parenting in crisis?

- This story is great: The letter that kicked of a radio career. (Proof that there’s never any harm in asking. The worst that can happen is someone says no.)

- Everything you need to know to host an Outdoor Movie Party.

- The music is the best part!

I hope it’s a wonderful weekend for you and yours. I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.


P.S. — You can follow along to all of our summer activities, like Pioneer treks and new front doors, on Instagram.


Kitchen Stools

July 10, 2014

Barstool Treehouse3

Images and text by Gabrielle.

Way back when I shared the Living Room tour, I received several emails asking about our barstools — they peek out of the corner in a photo or two in the tour. All this time, I’ve been meaning to share, and I finally prepped some photographs.

The stools look so simple, but it took me a ridiculous amount of searching before I figured out what would work best here. The parameters I had in mind:

1) We needed stools that could be both counter height and bar height — most of the family prefers counter height, but Oscar and June like something taller. I considered stools that were available in the same design at two different heights, but decided I wanted stools that were adjustable — so that if in the future we decide we want them all at counter height, we won’t need to replace the bar height stools.

Barstool Treehouse4

2) I wanted the stool seats to spin. Because the stools are right in between the kitchen and living room, people sitting on the stools end up taking part in conversations happening in both places, and I wanted people to be able to easily spin from one direction to another without getting off the stool.

3) I wanted something that didn’t have a huge footprint. The counter is not that wide, and I was hoping to fit five stools. Along the same lines, I also wanted backless stools — chair backs would block the view to the kitchen when sitting on the sofa.

4) Since the whole space is done in light colors, I wanted the same thing for the stools. It they were dark, I knew they would be the first thing people would see in the space because they would draw the eye — and I wanted the stool to be more functional instead of a centerpiece.

Barstool Treehouse1

5) Lastly, the stools needed to be within my price range.

So, I hunted and hunted — in brick and mortar shops, and online as well. I found lots of options that were close, but not quite right. Some were out of my budget, others were the right look, but didn’t offer two height options.

And then I found these. They were (almost) perfect! I ordered one to test out in the space, and concluded that if I recovered the tops, they would be just right. The stool seats spin. There are two different heights in the same stool. The footprint is small. Bingo!

Barstool Treehouse2

To recover the stools, I chose Crypton fabric. It’s designed for kids and pets and is super durable. I used the same brand on the toddler beds we built years ago and it held up beautifully! The fabric feels like normal soft fabric against the skin, but it wipes totally clean. I love this stuff! In fact, if you’re concerned about stains on your sofas, Crypton would be a smart choice for upholstery. The shade I used is a grey/blue called Herringbone Loon. It’s really lovely.

Though I take on simple upholstery projects from time to time, I hired this one out — I wanted welt along the top edges, and the last time I tried welt it was a total fail. Hah! Also, this was the only time I’ve ever had a brand new piece of furniture recovered, and I confess, it felt odd to do so. If it had been anything bigger than a stool, I don’t think I would have been willing!

Tell me friends, how picky are you about searching out the ideal furniture? I feel like I’ve turned up the pickiness factor as I make design decisions for The Treehouse, because I feel like we’re going to own this home for a long, long time. So I’ve been going slowly and trying to choose carefully. I’d also love to hear: have you ever recovered a new piece of furniture?


Family Portrait in Swings   |   Design Mom

Text and how-to images by Gabrielle. Family portraits by Sarah of Modern Kids. | This post is brought to you by Lowe’s Home Improvement — they have everything you need to tackle your own weekend projects, just in time for Memorial Day!  #springiscalling


There are 3 reasons I’m super excited to share this project with you. 1) It’s awesome! I thought of it last fall, and the whole idea still makes me grin. 2) I’ve been sharing behind the scenes peeks on the Lowe’s Instagram stream for the last few days and it’s fun to get to finally share the finished photos. And 3) We haven’t had family photos taken since the Vintage Car photo shoot in France — 3 Christmases ago! We were long overdue and this was a great excuse/opportunity.

Sarah of Modern Kids did the portraits. She also did our French Greys portraits back in the day. She lives here in the Bay Area and it’s been wonderful to be able to work with her again!

Blair Family Portrait in Swings   |   Betty Family Portrait in Swings   |   Design Mom

The idea for The Family Swing Project came to me last fall. We had just started to get to know our yard, and Ben Blair pointed out how pretty the view of the stream was from under this particular tree. He mentioned we should hang a swing so someone could relax and take in the view.

I loved that idea and looked up to consider where a swing should go. And when I looked up, it hit me that there were a ton of options — ten or more branches growing horizontally.

There was a lightbulb moment and all of a sudden I could picture our whole family spending a warm, lazy evening under the tree — each child in their own swing, and Ben Blair and I sharing a bench swing. We could sway and chat and listen to the stream, and just be together.

Blair Family Portrait in Swings   |   Oscar Family Portrait in Swings   |   Design Mom

This vision has been stuck in my head for all these months, and this last weekend, we decided to bring the vision to life!

Ben Blair was the how-to master mind. He figured out how to build the swings and get them to swing properly. I’ve included a complete photo tutorial when you click through, so you can see what he came up with (and in case you’d like to build your own swings!).

Blair Family Portrait in Swings   |   Ralph Family Portrait in Swings   |   Design Mom

They’ve only been hanging for a few days so far, but they are already a major draw for the kids, for their friends and for the cousins. It’s easy to see they are going to provide hours of entertainment, and a bucket full of memories for our family.

Blair Family Portrait in Swings   |   Maude Family Portrait in Swings   |   Design Mom Blair Family Portrait in Swings   |   Flora June Family Portrait in Swings   |   Design Mom

We hung the swings at different heights — one particularly low swing was hung especially for June. And all but two hang from their own branch. The bench hangs from the sturdiest branch and we tried to sort of center it — with the other swings hanging around it.

The project turned out wonderfully, and it feels good to have made a bit more progress in the yard. I already said this, but the whole thing still makes me grin!

Blair Family Portrait in Swings   |   Olive Family Portrait in Swings   |   Design Mom Family Portrait in Swings   |   Design Mom

Man oh man, I like those kids.

Would you like to learn how we built the swings? Keep reading.

Click here for the full tutorial.


Garden Hideaway   |   Design Mom

Images and text by Gabrielle (some of the photos were by Ben Blair too!). This project is brought to you by Lowe’s. Find everything you need to bring sunshine to your Mother’s Day in the Lowe’s garden department. #springiscalling


I prefer a really low-key Mother’s Day, with my big request being that I get to sleep in. : ) But this year, I thought it would be fun to use Mother’s Day as an excuse to get a project done in the yard. I know I’ve been sharing lots of photos of the interior of our house over the last few weeks. But wrapping up the living room details marked a break in the interior work for awhile. Spring is here, and we’ve turned out attention to the yard. And the yard definitely needs attention!

Garden Hideaway   |   Design Mom Transform a corner of your yard into a garden hideaway.   |   Design Mom Transform a corner of your yard into a garden hideaway.   |   Design Mom

It is a wild, wild place. Last summer, just days after we moved in, we had a consultation from a tree expert and his landscaping crew. He told us that based on the layer of accumulation on the ground, he thought the yard hadn’t been touched for 20 years! I can totally understand that. The previous owners were in their 90′s, and it’s overwhelming to take care of. Plus, the wildness has its own beauty, and it can be appreciated simply by sitting on the decks that surround the house and taking in the view.

I confess, I am very intimidated by our yard. Tackling the interior is doable for me, but making a master plan for the yard requires a skill set I don’t have. So we intend to contact a landscape architect who will help us draw up a garden design — some thing that incorporates our ideas, plus the realities of the landscape and climate. We’d like the design to be something we can implement over a few years so we can budget accordingly.

Transform a corner of your yard into a garden hideaway.   |   Design Mom Transform a corner of your yard into a garden hideaway.   |   Design Mom Transform a corner of your yard into a garden hideaway.   |   Design Mom

But in the meantime, we don’t want to ignore the yard, so we’ve been slowly, but surely cleaning up the thick layer of sticks and leaves and nature, and adding it to the community compost. And as we clean up, we get to know the property a little better, and get ideas of how we can make the most of it.

Off to one corner is a little shady grove that we thought had potential as a sort of hideaway — a place that’s off the main paths of the yard, where we could go to get a break from the sometimes-chaos that is life with a big family.

Transform a corner of your yard into a garden hideaway.   |   Design Mom Transform a corner of your yard into a garden hideaway.   |   Design Mom Transform a corner of your yard into a garden hideaway.   |   Design Mom

So we started clearing it out. The whole family helped. We dragged fallen branches and lopped off dead ones. We raked and shoveled leaves. We climbed into the trees to shake down the fallen Eucalyptus bark that was caught in the branches overhead. The castoff pile grew and grew until it was about 6 feet high and 8 feet long and five feet wide. It was an impressive pile! And proof of the work we’d done. We we’re proud of it! But only for a couple of days — and then we hired a team to come clear that pile out. It was a bigger job than we could do ourselves.

Once it was cleared out, the little grove was really shaping up! With the old growth gone, the sunlight could filter through the leaves, and there were now pathways to access the clearing.

Transform a corner of your yard into a garden hideaway.   |   Design Mom

Now it was time to make it pretty.

Click through for more photos and details.


DIY Crate Shelving - Make a set of 15 for $125

Images and text by Gabrielle.

As promised, here is a tutorial for the crate shelves we have in the Reading Loft. As you may remember, the inspiration for the shelves was this image. I liked that you can see through them and get a glimpse of the wall color behind. And I liked that there were various sizes.

DIY Crate Shelving - Make a set of 15 for $125

At first, I did a search to see if I could find a similar product to purchase — and these shelves from Design Within Reach seemed to be the closest thing. They’re gorgeous! But the price really added up fast when I considered how many I needed. Plus, I wanted more control of the exact dimensions of each box. So finally, I concluded making them was the way to go.

DIY Crate Shelving - Make a set of 15 for $125

We work with a handyman named Alex for some of the small projects around the house, and I hired him to help me with these as soon as I knew I wanted to make them. Alex is actually a sculptor (with an impressive portfolio) who does home projects on the side. It’s a huge bonus to me that he’s a sculptor, because it means he has an excellent eye for detail, and he’ll brainstorm solutions with me thinking as both an artist and a builder. And brainstorm we did!

I determined I wanted to use 3/8 inch thick plywood, but Alex was concerned because that was thin enough that the boards could split if we screwed them together. So I considered the thicker plywood, but it just didn’t look right — the proportions were off — too heavy looking. So we discussed ways to make the 3/8 inch plywood work. We looked at metal brackets and all sorts of fasteners. Then happily, Alex came up with this smart format.

DIY Crate Shelving - Make a set of 15 for $125

Notches were cut out of opposite corners of each box piece, then the pieces were fit together. Simple and brilliant! Interlocking the cubes this way adds stability.

DIY Crate Shelving - Make a set of 15 for $125

And I love that we don’t have to mess with the simple profiles of the boxes by adding protruding hardware.

DIY Crate Shelving - Make a set of 15 for $125 DIY Crate Shelving - Make a set of 15 for $125

Want to make some shelves of your own? Then, let’s get started.

Click here for the full tutorial.


The Treehouse Living Room  |  Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Images by Sarah Hebenstreit. Photo styling by Rosy Strazerri-Fridman

You guys. You guys! Two happy things: 1) The Treehouse Living Room Tour is ready to share. And 2) the Joss & Main Sale — the sale based on the living room — starts today!

JM-Logo-RGB_125px The sale theme is Modern Nature, and some of the exact pieces you see in our living room are available in the sale — some at a (cha-ching!) discount. What does it mean to have a sale inspired by the living room? Well, it means that I sourced over 100 items that seemed like they would fit really well in this space, then I sent them all to the Joss & Main team, and they took those items as a starting point, and as inspiration, and created a sale. So you can think of the items in this sale as hand-picked by me!

The sale ends next Tuesday, May 6th. I hope you check it out. And maybe find something you love.

The Treehouse Living Room   |   Design Mom The Treehouse Living Room  |  Design Mom The Treehouse Living Room  |  Design Mom

Now, let’s talk about the living room!

I am straight up in love with our living room. I love sitting on the twin sofas. I love the windows. I love the white-washed floors and the white-washed bricks. I love the long row of 3 benches that provide extra seating and give easy access to the views. I love the accordion pendant lamps. I love that the living room, dining nook, entry, hallway and kitchen are one open space. I love that I can sit with a magazine, and chat with Olive while she bakes a cake, or with Ralph while he makes a quesadilla. It’s a very comfortable, inviting, useable space. I’m excited to tell you all about it!

The Treehouse Living Room  |  Design Mom

The sofas are my favorite. Their profile is handsome (see the image at top), and they’re a wonderful size — not as small as a love seat, and not as wide as a full couch. I searched and searched for something that would fit this space in just the right way. I wanted to create a sitting area around the fireplace and still leave room for a pathway between the benches and the sofas. (If you’re curious, the sofa is also available in teal, almond and mink — we chose almond.)

The Treehouse Living Room   |   Design Mom

The coffee table is by Blu Dot. Isn’t it fantastic? It looks sort of airy and sculptural, but the marble makes it so substantial — it’s quite heavy!

The Treehouse Living Room   |   Design Mom The Treehouse Living Room   |   Design Mom

We didn’t photograph the kitchen, because it’s still the nondescript space we inherited when we moved in, but you can see a peek of the kitchen island and our barstools — they face the sitting area. (The stools are great! I’ll tell you more about them in a later post.)

I bought the fringe-y throw blanket on the sofa when I was visiting Ethiopia.

The Treehouse Dining Nook   |   Design Mom

The living room leads to the dining nook. The Thonet chairs are vintage, purchased from Book/Shop here in Oakland. The reproduction table we bought when we lived in Colorado. And we’ve had the chandelier since New York. It’s a remarkable fixture — you can read more about it here.

The Treehouse Living Room  |  Design Mom

The benches! I Instagrammed the benches a few weeks ago and they received lots of ooohs and aaahs. And I’m not surprised. They’re made of reclaimed wood, the proportions are excellent, and they’re simply handsome. The benches come in two finishes, I chose lime wash. (The benches are discounted in the sale!)

I love the benches as is, but I’m also hatching some plans for these. I’d love to have long cushions made for them, to make them even more inviting. I really want the family to actively enjoy the windows and I love imagining the kids curled up on cushioned benches watching the bluejays make their nests. I’m also considering adding a shelf to legs beneath the seat of each bench. The shelves would be a place where we could store more coffee table books.

The Treehouse Living Room  |  Design Mom

We don’t have a full shot of it, but I also wanted to point out the tripod lamp by the fireplace. I splurged on this piece, but I’m glad I did. It’s really distinctive and adds some weight and gravitas to the room.

The Treehouse Living Room  |  Design Mom

The rug is by Allen & Roth. It’s 8 x 10 feet, 100% wool, and wasn’t too expensive. That was important to me, because the rug is a bit of an experiment. I really like the plain wood floors in the room and I go back and forth on wanting a rug at all. So far, I’m a fan of this one. It adds warmth and comfort to the space and it’s easy to vacuum. But I may decide to go back to bare floors as the weather warms.

The whole room has a light/neutral palette with natural touches of wood and green. My intention was to use the light colors to help the space feel open, and to reflect the sunlight when it finds it way through the trees. And I wanted to use the natural accents to connect the living room with the forest that surrounds The Treehouse. I’m really happy with how it turned out!

Okay. That’s essentially the full tour. But I do have a few more detail shots + sources if you’d like to see.

Click here for more photos and sources — plus before pics!


The Treehouse: A Bedroom for Two Brothers   |   Design Mom The Treehouse: A Bedroom for Two Brothers   |   Design Mom The Treehouse: A Bedroom for Two Brothers   |   Design Mom

Images and text by Gabrielle. I had such a great time working with Lowe’s on this room — it’s one of 4 projects I’ll be sharing over the next few weeks! #springiscalling


Friends, I hope you are in the mood for some home-focused posts this week. Because I’ve got a bunch! This post is all about the Boys’ Bedroom. Tomorrow, I’ll be sharing a tour of our Living Room (plus, a Living With Kids post as well). And on Wednesday, I’m going to share a DIY about the shelves in the Reading Loft. Lots of good stuff! So let’s get right to it.

The Treehouse: A Bedroom for Two Brothers   |   Design Mom The Treehouse: A Bedroom for Two Brothers   |   Design Mom

We started work on the boys’ bedroom last fall. I said to Ben Blair something like, “We’ll just knock down this wall, do the sheetrock, throw up some paint. It’ll be a good weekend project.”


It is the very end of April — 6 months later! — and I’m still fussing around with it. So you can imagine how excited I am to finally share some photos. I’m so happy with how this room has come together!

The Treehouse: A Bedroom for Two Brothers   |   Design Mom

A little back story: Back in September, when I started talking about bedroom makeover plans for The Treehouse, I mentioned I wanted to expand the boys’ bedroom by a couple of feet, by taking over some unused closets in the girls room. The previous owners had used this small room as a den and it wasn’t quite big enough for 2 twin beds. We thought a bunkbed might work, but we tried our old set out and it took over the whole room and made the space seem even smaller. Plus, my boys are old enough that bunk beds have lost their appeal.

We lived with our move-the-wall plan for a few months, until we were sure that was what we wanted to do, then we got to work.

I’m happy to report, moving the wall was a great decision! The room now fits two twin beds comfortably and even though it’s small, it feels plenty big for two people.

The room is north facing and gets no direct sunlight, and it can feel quite dark in there. So I went with white walls to keep it feeling as bright and open as possible (and as I mentioned here, I’m craving mostly white walls these days anyway.)

The Treehouse: A Bedroom for Two Brothers   |   Design Mom The Treehouse: A Bedroom for Two Brothers   |   Design Mom

This room is shared by 16-year-old Ralph and 9-year-old Oscar. They have different interests and a big age difference, so I thought hard about what a room might look like that would appeal to both of them. As I started gathering items for the space, I had in mind a loose color scheme of navy and grey and mustard yellow — there are little touches of yellow in lots of places — like the trim on a quilt and a duvet cover. I wanted the room to have a masculine feel without being forced and or overly rugged.

But let’s get on to the tour! There are lots of great finds and great ideas to share.

Click for the full tour and a before photo as well.


Turn a small, unused space into an inviting Reading Nook   |   Design Mom

Images and text by Gabrielle. A huge thank you to Serena & Lily for partnering with me on this space.

Oh man. I am so excited to share this photo tour with you! This was months and months in the making. When we first moved into The Treehouse, and explored the house for the first time, we imagined this space as a reading loft right away. In my head, it was going to be weekend project — throw down some flooring, paint it up, add comfy chair. Done and done. But as I actually started working on the space, I found that I wanted to take my time with decisions and really put thought into what would work best.

Turn a small, unused space into an inviting Reading Nook   |   Design Mom Turn a small, unused space into an inviting Reading Nook   |   Design Mom Turn a small, unused space into an inviting Reading Nook   |   Design Mom

Back in September, I thought I wanted wall to wall carpet in the loft. Then, I decided to experiment with a concrete overlay on the floors (which has held up wonderfully by the way). Then, I spent weeks and weeks figuring out what I wanted to do for shelves, and eventually decided on a DIY approach (tutorial coming!). Then, I ordered a chair with custom upholstery — which is a 6 week wait. Then, the room was 95% finished, and I realized I wanted one wall to be blue.

Turn a small, unused space into an inviting Reading Nook   |   Design Mom Turn a small, unused space into an inviting Reading Nook   |   Design Mom Turn a small, unused space into an inviting Reading Nook   |   Design Mom

It’s a tiny space, only 7 x 9.5 feet, but I really wanted to make the most of it, and to make it completely inviting and appealing for all the kids, both little and big. It took me quite awhile to get it just right.

So let’s get to the tour!

Click here for the full tour.


Paint Colors

April 4, 2014

blue paint chips

Image and text by Gabrielle.

I’ve kind of surprised myself as I’ve picked paint for The Treehouse, because throughout 85% of the house, I’ve chosen white. In other houses we’ve lived in over the years, I loved putting color on the walls! I painted our first nursery in the perfect shade of sky blue. For years I was obsessed with a certain Dove Grey that had blues and pinks and purples in it — it went in the living room of the first house we bought. I remember in our initial New York rental, I painted the family room a dark blue. I’ve done a basement entirely in yellow. And I’ve painted Napoleon Dynamite in a bedroom.

But in this house, I’ve mostly craved white. Origami White by Sherwin-Williams to be exact. I love it so much! It hits that sweet spot between warm and cool and everything looks good against it. On the main floor, I used it on walls, ceiling and trim — everything in semi-gloss. In the upstairs, I chose a brighter white for the ceilings, but stuck with Origami White for the walls and trim.

There are only 2 other colors I’ve used so far: a medium grey on the woodwork in the lofts (you’ll see it when I share the reading loft tour), and the beautiful grey/green in the hallway makeover — I used it on the lower walls. Other than that, it’s Origami White all the way!

But. Over the last week, I’m feeling like there are a few places I might want to work in more color. There’s a wall in the boys’ bedroom that could use a dark shade of paint, or maybe wallpaper. And I’m almost done with the Reading Loft and feel like the wall behind the bookshelves could use a shade of blue. Something not too light and not too dark.

So I picked up paint chips the other day and have been studying them in the loft. I still haven’t decided on a color — or even if I’ll paint the wall at all. But I’m having fun thinking about it.

I’d love to hear: Do you prefer white walls in your home? Or do you long for a different color in every room? And do you pick out colors quickly? Or do you labor over the decision for weeks? Are you a white is white is white person? Or do have a particular shade of white that you know you love? What’s your take?

P.S. — This isn’t a sponsored post, but I met the folks from Sherwin-Williams at Alt Summit and have been working with them as I paint the house. We’ve done some of the painting ourselves, and hired out some rooms as well. The painter we hired is a young sculptor who paints houses and does handyman jobs on the side. After a couple days of painting with Sherwin-Williams paint, he was raving about how good the coverage was! And that he needed much less paint than when he used other brands. I’m no paint expert, but I was glad to hear it.: )


Show Us Your Wall!

April 1, 2014

Switches and Outlets "Before" and "After" on Design Mom

Images and text by Gabrielle. This post is brought to you by the Adorne line by Legrand. Win $500 in in Adorne products in the Show Us Your Wall Giveaway!


Today I’ve got a before-and-after reveal to share with you. It features something I hadn’t really given much thought to until we started getting heavy into renovations. The topic? Light switches and outlets!

Prior to these renovations, my knowledge of outlets was that A) you could pick between white and that sort-of 80′s creamy color, or B) if you’re really fancy, you might wallpaper or paint or otherwise customize your switchplate to help it blend into the wall. When I actually saw the available options these days, it was one of those we’ve-come-a-long-way-baby moments!

Switches and Outlets "Before" and "After" on Design Mom

Friends, this might be old news to you, but there are outlets that are USB ports instead of plugs. You can get switches that have nightlights that pop out so you can carry them down the hall with you. There are outlets that disappear into the wall, and then POOF! provide 3 spots for plugs at the push of a button. You can choose wallplates in every color under the sun, and in really gorgeous natural materials like walnut, and bronze and mirror. The options are remarkable!

Switches and Outlets "Before" and "After" on Design Mom

Essentially, what I deduced is that for the last century, we’ve sort of ignored wall plates and switches — blending them into the room, trying to strategically hide them or make them as un-noticeable as possible. But there seems to be a realization that outlets and electricity are indeed here to stay. : ) So instead of ignoring them, builders, architects and designers have embraced them, and are now making them a key part of the room decor in the same way they might consider the light fixture itself. Outlets and switches can now add to the style of the room instead of detract from it.

I love the new trend!

Click for the before shots and to hear more about how we chose these plates.

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