From the category archives:

The Treehouse

mirth hardwood tiles

By Gabrielle.

Holy moly. I finally chose flooring for the bedroom today. It’s getting picked up from a local warehouse tomorrow morning, and the install starts tomorrow too!

I was supposed to choose flooring weeks ago. Actually, months ago. And I did. But then I changed my mind. Like a dozen times. I can’t figure out why, but this was by far the hardest choice I made as far as finish work goes. For anyone who is curious, I’m going to take you through my thought process.

First of all, I had some limitations to work within. There is radiant heat installed throughout the space, and my contractor recommended that I look for a “floating floor” option that would be heat compatible. From what I learned, floating floors are glue-less and nail-less. They click together and “float” on the subfloor, with a simple underlayment between.

If I couldn’t find floating floors, the second option was glue down installation, though my contractor told me that if I ever wanted to pull up the glued surface, it would most likely damage the radiant heat during the demoltion. So if I was going to pick a glue-down option, I should choose something I would love for a very long time. I also had to keep in mind that this flooring would go in our bedroom, our (new!) walk-in closet, and the landing/hallway too — which gets a lot of foot traffic. And of course, there were budget considerations too.

Six different flooring options I considered, straight ahead!



By Gabrielle.

Several times, I have attempted to write a blog post with a full update about the Master Bedroom and Bath remodel, but it’s too long and too rambling and if I keep working on a full post, I’m afraid the remodel will be finished before I ever share an update. : ) So I’ve decided to break it up into much smaller bits. I plan to share a bunch of these because I want to talk to you about lighting and tile and flooring and cabinetry and all sorts of fun stuff.

Today, let’s talk toilets. We needed two for this remodel — one for the powder room and one for the new toilet location in the master bathroom (if you’re not sure what I’m talking about, feel free to check out the before and after plan drawings).

As I toilet shopped, the ones that appealed to me most were wall mount. I like them because they take up less visual space (how? the tank is in the wall!), and they seem like they will be easier to clean (both the toilets themselves and the area around them) because they’re not on the floor.

There are all different sorts for different styles of decor, but I had a modern look in mind and was intent on finding the simplest one I could. Again, thinking of cleaning, I’m hoping the simpler the toilet, the less places for grime to settle in.

Click through to find out which one I chose, and for a note on toilet seats.


Flying to France

June 20, 2016

By Gabrielle.

Waving hello from the Oakland Airport! Our bags are checked. We’ve gone through security. Water bottles are filled. Snacks are at hand. We have about 30 minutes till our flight boards. Then it’s on to Paris, France!

But before we get to France, we have a longish layover in Stockholm, Sweden. Ben Blair and I spent a lovely week in Sweden two summers ago, but our kids have never been, so we’re hoping to take a little adventure while we’re there. Then, we have a short flight to Paris. Our flight arrives around 8:30 in the evening; we’ll rent a car and head straight to a hotel for the night (with a possible fieldtrip to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle). Then, the next morning, we’ll drive to Normandy — it’s about a 3 hour drive to our destination.

That’s a lot of different stops and transitions in a short time — I’ve tried to forewarn the kids that they are very likely going to feel crabby and impatient before we actually get to our destination. But it’s worth it: Two whole months of our family being together. Heaven!

We’re all super excited. Lots of reminiscing and anticipation going on — we’ve been going through our old travel photos and watching some of the Olive Us videos we filmed in France (like Betty in Paris).

Crossing our fingers for smooth travel! Feel free to follow along on Instagram.

P.S. — I did my first Facebook Live video cast just before we left the house today. I gave a little tour of our master bedroom and bath — it’s going to be transformed while we are away! So if you want a peek at the “before” you can check it out.


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Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is brought to you by TargetStyleShop the new Home collection in stores and online.

There is a balcony off of our master bedroom. It’s pretty much level with the rope bridge (which I still haven’t written about — I keep forgetting!), it overlooks the tiny stream that runs through the yard, and it’s completely surrounded by trees. It’s a gem of a spot.

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But. It has been completely empty since we moved in. I’ve had plans for it. I bought some used outdoor furniture for it years ago — a table and some chairs that coordinate with the chair from our front porch. Those pieces have been sitting in the shed, waiting to be de-rusted and painted. Alas, there have just been too many other projects and tasks that needed my attention.

And then, over Mother’s Day weekend, I finally did it! I recruited the whole family to help. We repaired and restored the furniture, then we filled up a shopping cart at Target, and put together a pretty little seating area on the balcony. For anyone who’s curious, here’s a tour and the thinking behind the design decisions.

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In my experience, there are 4 things you need to make an outdoor space inviting: soft/comfortable places to sit, surfaces to set your things (like magazines or sunglasses or lemonade), cups and serving pieces that are outdoor friendly, and lighting.

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We started with the vintage furniture — the round table and 3 chairs. All are metal and all are from an old line called Homecrest. It was widely produced in the middle of the last century, so if you do a search for “vintage homecrest patio furniture”, you’ll likely to find several pieces. I found these on Craig’s List, for sale by owner, about 45 minutes south of here. De-rusted, primed and painted, they’re good as new and will hopefully last another 50 or 60 years.

I knew I wanted seat cushions and throw pillows to soften up the metal. At first I was thinking all the same, and maybe in a sophisticated grey or black. That could definitely have been another good look for this space, but when I got to the store I couldn’t resist the color! I chose a mix of seat cushions in navyteal, and a fun orangey-red pattern.

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Then I added a mix of throw pillows too — a square one with a blue marker pattern, a long one with tiny teal triangles, and a rectangle in teal herringbone. The cushions and throw pillows are all made with outdoor fabrics and should hold up well on the balcony. (And they were total bargains by the way!)

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I also added this shiny silver side table. I love the look! It adds a fun new texture/element to the space, can be moved around as needed, and keeps a cool drink or a good book right at hand.

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Those are all the basics and make up the core of the seating area. And once all of that was in place, I could turn my attention to a mix of fun accessories — items that really make the space inviting, and that I can use indoors or out.

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For the tabletop, I added a low bowl (I love the rattan handles on the side!) and some simple vases in hand-painted stripes and polka dots. They’re looking cheerful on the balcony right now, but I’m sure they’ll make their way to the kitchen soon enough.

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I also included a good-looking acrylic pitcher that came with even better-looking ombre cups. All perfectly unbreakable and safe for outdoors.

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Last of all, I picked up this charming-as-can-be lantern in the same orangey-red as one of the cushions. Sometimes night comes on fast, and it’s nice to have a handy light source — one that’s prettier than a flashlight so I don’t mind having it out and on display.

I admit that even empty, the balcony was pretty inviting. These last years I’ve loved opening up the balcony door and listening to the stream rushing by. I’ve walked out early in the morning to listen to the birds, or late at night to watch a rain storm.

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But I’m so pleased to have this finished! Already, we’ve used the balcony 10 times as much as we were using it before. (Which is no surprise, because: seating.) My goal was to find fresh, modern accessories and cushions that would complement the mid-century furniture and make sense with the rest of the house. I feel great about how it turned out!

The next thing I want to add? A little cupboard where I can keep our electric tea kettle. Wouldn’t it be fun to start the day here, in my pjs and robe, with something warm to drink? Sounds heavenly to me!

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Tell me, Friends, are you working on your outdoor spaces? Maybe getting your yard ready for Memorial Day? Working on our yard and porch and balconies is basically all I want to do these days. Also, what’s your top priority outside at the moment? If you could buy one thing for your outdoor space, what would it be? Furniture? A bike? A trampoline? Plants? Lanterns? I’d love to hear!



By Gabrielle. Drawings by Tierney Conner Design Studio.

I’m super excited to be sharing this post with you today, because it means progress is being made! Last fall, we met an architect, Erin Conner, who is a parent at our elementary school. We loved her work and right away asked her, and her business partner/fellow architect, Anne Tierney, to work with us on our Master Bedroom.

They did the initial drawings (pictured here) right away, because they knew we were hoping to get the remodel done before Christmas. They came over with their awesome laser measuring tool and made a note of every little angle — and they helped me problem solve a couple of instances where I couldn’t quite figure out what I wanted to do. But alas, I couldn’t make the pre-Christmas timing happen on my end. As I mentioned, it’s been tricky finding a contractor! So I’ve been sitting on these drawings, waiting to share them with you until we had a contractor in place and could actually move forward.

But the good news is: We’ve got a contractor! Which means I can finally start talking to you about this awesome Master Bedroom & Bathroom Remodel. And first up, I’m sharing the fabulous drawings.

Above, you can see the floorplan as it exists now, and below is the floorplan as it will be after we’re done (click on the floorplans if you want to see them bigger):


Here is a list of the major changes:

1) The toilet is currently in it’s own room with no sink, accessible from the stairway landing. I’m not sure what to call that. A 1/4 bath? We’re adding a sink, so that it can be an independent half-bath.

2) As it stands now, to access the Master Bathroom, you enter through the stairway landing. We are going to close that landing entrance, and add an entrance from the Master Bedroom instead.

3) In the Master Bedroom, there isn’t a good wall for a queen size bed, so we’re extending one of the current walls. I’m super excited about this! It means that when we wake up, we’ll be facing the giant windows and greet each day with a full view of the trees.

4) Right now, the shower is in one room, and the sink is in another room (and the toilet, as I already mentioned, is in a third room). We are going to reconfigure this in a very different way. The Master Bedroom will have a door that leads to a walk-in closet (which is great, because closet space is very minimal in this house!), and the room that currently has the sink, will now have the sink, the shower, and a toilet. Which means we’ll now have a full bathroom, only accessible from the Master Bedroom. This will be a major improvement! And it means The Treehouse will be have 2 1/2 bathrooms instead of 2 bathrooms.

5) Lastly, we’ll be adding more privacy to the Master Bedroom. You can’t tell from the drawings, but currently, the doorway wall leading into the Master Bedroom doesn’t extend all the way to the ceiling. We’re going to fully separate the space. I know that’s hard to picture — I think I should do a Periscope and give everyone a video tour!

Oh my. These drawings make me unreasonable happy. I’m not totally sure what it is, but I’m guessing it has to do with the fact that I’ve had these changes in my head for ages and ages, and I start and end each day in the Master Bedroom. So I end up thinking about this remodel way too much. And mostly, I can’t wait to see this space transform! When I see the drawings, it starts to feel real!! I love looking at them. In fact, every time I see the Erin the architect, at school pickup or dropoff, I have to hold myself back from hugging her. Hah! I really love working with both Erin and Anne — they have been super easy to communicate with I appreciate that they both understand the realities of family life and can offer insight accordingly.

I’m calling this phase 1, and the next phase will be going back to Tierney Conner to get started on the engineering drawings so we can get a permit from the City of Oakland. While they are working on the engineering drawings, I’ll be picking out tile and faucets and flooring and paint. I’m pretty excited for Phase 2! But I admit, I’m feeling intimidated about picking out the bathroom fixtures — I haven’t worked on a bathroom remodel for 15 years or so!

Okay. I’d love to hear all your remodeling advice. If you’ve been in this phase and have any tips, I’m all ears! Also, do you have a bathroom feature that isn’t common but that you love? If you were taking on something like this, would you want to do the interior design yourself, or would you hire it out or use an in-store design service? Anything else I should be considering at this stage?

P.S. — You can find all the Treehouse posts here.


New luxe mattress for the Guest Loft. Ordered online from Leesa, it arrived in a small box, then magically expanded!

Photos and text by Gabrielle. The post is sponsored by Leesa — get $75 off your purchase. Find the code below!

As I mentioned yesterday, we have lots of company this week, so we wanted to freshen up the guest space. We don’t have a dedicated guest room, but we have a double bed that we keep in the loft in our family office, specifically for guests. But the mattress on the bed came with the house. It’s an old, worn out, beast of a mattress and we promised ourselves we would update it before our guests arrived this month. So we did!

The Guest Loft - just enough room for a bed, nightstand and dresser.

We ordered a new mattress from a company called Leesa which I had never heard of before until last month. I was told that Leesa is like the TOMS Shoes or Warby Parker of mattresses. For every 10 mattresses they sell, they donate one to a shelter! I thought that sounded fantastic, so I looked up their site and I was impressed.

New luxe mattress for the Guest Loft. Ordered online from Leesa, it arrived in a small box, then magically expanded!

After the social good component, I think my favorite thing, is that ordering from Leesa meant I got to skip the awkward mattress showroom experience! Instead, the shopping happened completely online and the mattress shipped for free to my doorstep — it showed up compressed in a box much smaller than I was expecting. You can see from the pictures, but it’s about the size of a mini-fridge. And it’s a no worry purchase! Leesa gives you 100 nights to try your mattress, risk-free!

New luxe mattress for the Guest Loft. Ordered online from Leesa, it arrived in a small box, then magically expanded! New luxe mattress for the Guest Loft. Ordered online from Leesa, it arrived in a small box, then magically expanded!

I want to show you the unboxing, because it was really fun! I enlisted Olive to open the box while I snapped photos. We put the box on the bed and then she opened it, noted the instructions, and slide out the mattress.

New luxe mattress for the Guest Loft. Ordered online from Leesa, it arrived in a small box, then magically expanded!

The mattress looked very thin and was all rolled up.

More photos, plus a discount code straight ahead!



Photos and text by Gabrielle. This post is sponsored by Minted. Don’t miss the $700 Minted Giveaway at the bottom of this post!

I’m super excited to show you today what we’ve done in the entry! Let’s start with some background: When we first moved in, the area right inside the front door was floored with tile, which transitioned to rug. (You can see a peek of the tile in this post.)

Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)

The entry is an open area, with no front closet or storage, and it’s separated from the living room by the brick fireplace. To the left, as you enter the home, there is a hallway — and you may remember, that we transformed that hallway with cubbies and hooks to help with the non-storage in the entry. We also replaced/refinished the floors in the whole area, and whitewashed the brick fireplace with milk paint.

At that point the entry was bright and clean and simple and we’ve kept it that way pretty much ever since. But it’s a big enough space that I knew I wanted to do something more with it. So from time to time I’ve experimented. At one point, I tried a little love seat in front of the bricks, and when I wanted a holiday display in the entry, I would roll the hallway cubbies in and cover them with a tablecloth to act as a temporary console table. Though, really, it’s mostly been empty and waiting patiently for some attention.

Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)

So over the last couple of weeks, I tackled the space and I’m delighted with how it turned out. Here’s a description of my design process:

First, I added a rug. It’s a rug that my sister Jordan picked up on a trip to Morocco and used in her apartment in Paris. I’ve tried the rug in the girls room too. I don’t know if it’s quite the right thing for this space, but I’m testing it out. I like the look here, but may need something more durable with all the foot traffic — I’m thinking I might want to go with a Dash & Albert indoor/outdoor rope rug — they can be scrubbed and hosed down!

Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)

For a table, I wanted something versatile that could display holiday or seasonal decor sometimes, but also function as a desk when needed. I chose this one from West Elm. It has a marble top, but you can also get it with a wood top or a glass top. I though the marble would be a nice mirror of the marble coffee table that resides on the other side of the fireplace.

Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)

Once the table and rug were in place, I turned my attention to artwork. I wanted something neutral that would fit well with the other pale surfaces we have going on in this space, and that I could put other colors nearby or in front of without causing problems.

I love using Minted for artwork, because they source all their prints from independent artists! (In fact, if you’re an artist, you can totally try one of their design challenges.) Many of the prints they offer are limited edition, and everything is available in lots of sizes — so you can go BIG or small. You can also choose a frame right when you’re ordering, which means your artwork will arrive ready to hang in about a week.

Entryway Styled 3 Different Ways (plus "before" pics too!)

The Minted artwork collection is quite big. There are so many good options, it can be hard to choose! So this is how I did it. I first started favoriting everything I liked that was in a neutral palette. If it spoke to me at all, I favorited it. After awhile, I took a look at my collection of favorites and realized I had saved several circles. That gave me an idea — I thought it would be fun to do six prints, two rows of three. And I decided to use circles as a theme. I measured the space and determined what size artwork would work best (I chose the 11″ option).

At that point, I started using search filters (Minted has tons of filters — you can search by editors’ picks, by color, by shape, by artist, etc.) and found all the possible neutral-colored artwork that featured a circle shape in a square. There were 15!

Next, I narrowed down those to my favorite 6 — I had the kids voice their opinions too so that everyone felt invested. We ended up choosing Natural, Mineral 03, Surround Me, Moon Rock, Fox Shadow, and Under The Microscope (in gold foil!). To finish things off, I chose a natural wood frame to mesh with our “treehouse” vibe.

Keep reading to see this space styled in two other ways. Oh! And you’ll find the Minted Giveaway at the bottom of the post.


world map and hanging chair

By Gabrielle. Photos by Kristen Loken for Design Mom.

You know what I’m super excited about? Now that most of my book responsibilities are complete, I’ve been able to turn my attention back to projects in our home. I’m so happy about this! I feel like our house has been on pause for months and months. The room I’m looking at first is the Family Room. At our house, the family functions as the TV room, the music room (you can see our music nook here), and the playroom.

I’ve been working on it little by little, and am happy to say it’s about 70% done! I’m not ready to show the whole room yet, but I thought it would be fun to share this little corner, and talk about what’s still on my list.

world map and hanging chair

This corner is a happy spot. First, the hanging chair is a total magnet for everyone who enters the room. What is it about hanging chairs? Maybe it’s that they are sisters to swings, and they seem like that could have been a toy in an earlier life. : ) Whatever it is, as soon as I saw the super high ceilings in the room, I knew I wanted to add a hanging chair. It gives permission for the whole room (and everybody in it) to relax.

The little red podium is also a draw. We’ve had that podium since our first apartment in New York. I bought in used on ebay. I thought it was full-size when I made the purchase and was completely surprised when the box arrived and it was kid-sized! But over the years, it’s ended up being a perfect addition to our playroom. The kids use it to practice presentations for school and church, they use it for pretend play, and it comes in handy for family meetings as well. When I first bought it, it the finish was dark wood stain, and when we moved to Colorado, I painted it fire-engine red.

world map and hanging chair

The highlight of the corner is probably the colorful world map. I love this map! I ordered it from Pop & Lolli (a many-year sponsor of this blog). It’s the extra large version. The house I grew up in had a world map in the family room, so this feels familiar to me, but I like that this version is very child-like and friendly. As you can see, instead of drawn geographic or political lines, the shapes are created from illustrations and objects that reflect each region. Very cute! And it’s made of a sort of vinyl fabric that you can reposition and reuse, so if we ever want to take it down and move it to another room, or maybe donate it to a classroom, we can.

So what’s next for this room? Three big things: 1) I’m still working on area rugs, 2) I just had a bid to replace our sliding patio door (which is wonky and doesn’t close properly) into a French doors, and 3) I think we’re going to order a couch from a design-your-own-sofa shop. Have you ever used one before? I haven’t, but there are several in the Bay area. The one I’ve talked to is called Decorium, and apparently I can have full design direction over shape and dimensions, so in theory we can order something that fits the available space perfectly.

Now it’s your turn. Do you have a family room that’s separate from your living room? Or perhaps you have minimum square footage and combine those rooms into one? And have you ever ordered a sofa from a design-your-own shop? If yes, I’d love to hear any advice you have from your experience! Also, have you ever considered a hanging chair or swing in your house (or do you have one now)? And what are your thoughts on a podium as a piece of residential furniture?


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?

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