Design Mom The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Fri, 18 Apr 2014 23:45:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A Few Things Fri, 18 Apr 2014 16:00:16 +0000 Design Mom

Lake Tahoe

Image and text by Gabrielle — we loved our Spring Break trip to Lake Tahoe!

Hello, Friends. How are you? Will you be thinking about Easter or Passover this weekend? We have a French student named Victor arriving today, and my mom is coming to town tomorrow! We’re planning an egg hunt on Sunday afternoon here in the wild yard of The Treehouse, followed by a casual family dinner with cousins — The Stanleys and Ferneys. I’m really looking forward to it!

But before all of that, my big event is that my permanent retainer — put onto my lower teeth 20 years ago — is coming off today! I head to the orthodontist in a few minutes. And then, I’m sure I’ll be running my tongue across my bottom teeth nonstop for the next 24 hours. : )

How about you — any fun plans for the weekend? While I prep for the ortho, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- Baby’s Breath Crown.

- Is gentrification a form of violence?

- Baby chicks!

- An NPR story on Why Babies Cry at Night. What do think about it?

- Closing the word gap with Thirty Million Words.

- A Montessori-style playroom at home.

- A moonlight Easter-egg hunt for teens or adults.

- This is long — but I think worth it. It’s a comedy routine by Dimitri Martin, but it’s unlike any comedy routine I’ve ever seen — and I’ve seen Dimitri live! So I’m familiar with his style. But this is different. So honest. (FYI: he’s crude sometimes.)

- Genius DIY confetti wrap.

- A tour of the British Isles in accents.

- Do you have any Minted artwork hanging in your home? I want to see! Snap a photo and send it to me, and I may feature it in an upcoming post.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend — with lots of chocolate and Peeps, too! I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.


P.S. — Our kids are missing some of the Easter candy from France.

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Geometric Wire Bunny Fri, 18 Apr 2014 14:30:12 +0000 Design Mom

DIY Wire Geometric Bunnies. Oversize and Mini. Perfect for Easter!    |   Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos and styling by Amy Christie.

Okay you guys, can you handle one more fun little project before Easter is officially here? (Please say yes!) Today, let’s make modern geometric bunnies. It’s a simple idea — wire formed to make the shape of a bunny — but it can be used in so many fun ways!

It was a little bit of a challenge to find the right wire but now that the leg work is done, it won’t be as tough for you. Plus, there’s a free downloadable template to help you out. There are two bunny versions in the photos. One is small and simple — you could make a dozen of these fairly quickly. The other version is oversize. As in 3 feet wide! It’s a little more challenging, but still totally doable.

DIY Wire Geometric Bunnies. Oversize and Mini. Perfect for Easter!    |   Design Mom

The smaller one is pictured here as a napkin ring, but it would also be adorable as an accent on a gift. Or you could hang one sweetly from an Easter basket. Or you could attach a long ribbon and use it as a springtime bookmark!

The larger one is oversize and quite dramatic. Hang it on your door in place of a wreath. Or display it on the wall above the sofa. It looks good as both interior and exterior decoration — and you can customize the color with ribbons!

DIY Wire Geometric Bunnies. Oversize and Mini. Perfect for Easter!    |   Design Mom

Get ready to flex those muscles, the directions are below.

DIY Wire Geometric Bunnies. Oversize and Mini. Perfect for Easter!    |   Design Mom


- wire*
- pliers
- crimping sleeve (for stiffer, lower gauge wire)
- nails & board for little bunny sculpture, optional
- downloadable pdf of the bunny pattern (with one ear, and two ears — free!)

*For the large bunny, I used 12 gauge galvanized utility wire. It’s strong and holds its shape well. For the little bunnies, I used 18 gauge aluminum wire. I found both at a farm supply store.

DIY Wire Geometric Bunnies. Oversize and Mini. Perfect for Easter!    |   Design Mom

First, the little bunnies. You can surely try to sculpt it with just pliers, shaping it to fit the bunny PDF, however, I think I found simpler route: a nail form. At each ‘corner’ of the geometric bunny, hammer in a 1 inch nail. As seen above, I used 31 nails. At first, I tried to keep the two-eared look for the little guys but it was too messy. 

DIY Wire Geometric Bunnies. Oversize and Mini. Perfect for Easter!    |   Design Mom

Start by wrapping the wire around a nail. The starting place is up to you but I found it best to start right under the face in hopes to hide the beginning-and-end connection with a ribbon. From there, pull the wire tight and taut around the form. NOTE:  Whenever the wire needs to change directions, you must wrap the wire around the interior side of the nail.

For instance, above, see at the base of the ear how I pulled the wire around to the inside of the nail so the wire would stay in place when I continued around the ear. Again, at the base of the ear on the other side, the wire was looped on the inside of the nail before continuing around the body.

DIY Wire Geometric Bunnies. Oversize and Mini. Perfect for Easter!    |   Design Mom

Continue around the bunny form, making sure to loop the wire around the nail when it needs to change directions. When complete, wrap the ends together. Gently pull to release from the nail form.

DIY Wire Geometric Bunnies. Oversize and Mini. Perfect for Easter!    |   Design Mom

Make as many as you desire. Wrap with a length of ribbon and use as you wish!

DIY Wire Geometric Bunnies. Oversize and Mini. Perfect for Easter!    |   Design Mom

For the big bunny, you are going to need some muscle and a friend. To make sure the bunny form stays a bunny, the wire gauge needs to be low. But, low gauge means more of a challenge sculpting. Maybe a little sweat. : )

First, enlarge the bunny sculpture to just about 3 feet. Then, using a strong set of pliers, bend the wire around the image. A friend comes in handy to hold the already sculpted wire in place.

DIY Wire Geometric Bunnies. Oversize and Mini. Perfect for Easter!    |   Design Mom

Bend the wire at each ‘corner’.

DIY Wire Geometric Bunnies. Oversize and Mini. Perfect for Easter!    |   Design Mom

To complete it, again because the low gauge wire is so strong, it needs something called a crimping sleeve. From the store I shopped in, I saw different sleeves for the various gauges (12 gauge wire with a 12 gauge sleeve, etc). Pinch it with pliers.

DIY Wire Geometric Bunnies. Oversize and Mini. Perfect for Easter!    |   Design Mom

And that’s it! We dressed ours with satin ribbon in two colors for a more festive feel — you could pick any colors you like.

I hope this little project gets your imagination going. I’d love to hear if you make some — and how you put your creations to use!

P.S. — Like to make things? Find tons of great projects here. Looking for more Easter ideas? Go here.

DIY Wire Geometric Bunnies. Oversize and Mini. Perfect for Easter!    |   Design Mom

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Boden Giveaway Thu, 17 Apr 2014 16:00:06 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle.

Yay! I have a giveaway today that I’ve been really looking forward to. I know you’ll absolutley love it. It’s sponsored by the fabulous clothing line Boden, and the prize is a very generous $250 gift certificate!

Boden Boys Spring 2014

The reason I’ve been looking forward to this particular giveaway is that I’ve been a huge fan of Boden for many, many years (I first started receiving their catalog ages ago when we lived in New York), but this is the first time I’ve worked with Boden here on Design Mom. It’s always fun to connect with a brand I love!

If Boden is new to you, I’m delighted to make an introduction. Boden is all about great British style and they have an extensive line for everyone in the family. For babies age 0-3, and kids up to 12 years, check out Mini-Boden. For teens and tweens age 9 to 16, there’s Johnnie B. And they also carry an equally extensive line for women and men.

In this post, I’m going to tell you a little bit about the Mini Boden line, but Best News Ever: the gift certificate works across the entire Boden USA site, so if you win, you can use it for anyone you like! (Speaking of which, if I won I would personally be tempted to buy every one of their skirts for myself — so many fresh designs and perfect lengths.)

Boden Girls Spring 2014

But back to Mini Boden for a bit. Their line for kids focuses on unique designs in quality clothes that make children happy. Their products last wash after wash, and are built so well, you’ll hand them down from sibling to sibling. Mini-Boden clothes are also built for comfort — they use super-soft fabrics and realistic fits so children can have fun in their clothes. But my favorite part is that the clothes are so stylish!

Two bits of Extra Fun: 1) Use code X8W4 to get 15% off plus free shipping until Saturday, April 19th. And 2) Starting Monday, April 21 and lasting through the week, Boden is offering 25% off daily favorites — use the code X6K7 for free shipping and free returns!

This giveaway is open to anyone, but you must have access to a US-based shipping address because the gift card will only be valid on the site. Visit Boden and leave a comment below to enter — I’d love to hear if you’re shopping for you or for your kids these days. : ) The winner will be announced on Monday. Good luck!

P.S. — Products pictured here: Classic swim trunks. Sailing jacket. Metallic leather sandals. Hip floral jumpsuit. Pretty printed tea dress. Striped polo romper. Chino shorts in great colors. Summer shirt button up. Spotty ruffle skirt. Floral printed swimsuit.

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Oil Pulling Update Wed, 16 Apr 2014 16:00:56 +0000 Design Mom

oil pulling

Image and text by Gabrielle.

In January, I wrote a post about oil-pulling and confessed that I hadn’t brushed my teeth since the first week of December. It’s been a few months and I thought I would give a little update.

It’s a short update! Basically, I’m still at it. I still oil pull every morning for 20 minutes — even when I’m traveling. I still love it. I still see benefits. I still use this coconut oil. I still haven’t seen the dentist (I know. I know. I need to go!), but I have been to the orthodontist, who took full x-rays. He doesn’t know I’m oil-pulling, but commented that my oral hygiene was (and I quote) “impeccable”. That’s good news! Especially considering my teeth haven’t been professionally cleaned since July 2013.

Most of all, I still think it’s quite crazy that I don’t brush or floss or use toothpaste or mouthwash. And I haven’t for almost 5 months now. Hah!

I promise, I’m not offended at all if you feel like it’s quackery. This is not something I feel like a passionate advocate for — I haven’t asked anyone to try it, even my kids. And I get that other people might try it and decide they don’t like it at all. For me, it’s a pretty straightforward thing and doesn’t involve much mystery — I can see and feel that my teeth are cleaner after oil pulling, I can tell that my breath is better, I can see that my teeth are whiter. If I didn’t experience physical differences after the oil pulling, I’m sure I would have given it up. But for now, I plan to stick with it until I don’t enjoy it anymore.

I’d love to hear what your thoughts are. Have you tried oil pulling? Did you like it? Did you find it impossible to swish for 20 minutes? Have you tried different oils? Does the whole idea make you roll your eyes? Chime in!

P.S. — If you have no idea what I’m talking about when I say oil pulling, start with this post, where I explain what I know about oil pulling and link to more sources on the subject.

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Slow Cooker Recipe: Overnight Steel Cut Oats Wed, 16 Apr 2014 14:30:53 +0000 Design Mom

Slow Cooker Recipe: Overnight Steel Cut Oats   |   Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Images by Lindsey of Café Johnsonia.

It’s time for another recipe in my Slow Cooker Series — and this time it’s a breakfast option. Did you know how easy it is to make steel cut oats in a slow cooker? So easy!

Put them in before bed and when you wake, they’re warm and ready to dish up. Normally steel cut oats take nearly an hour to cook, which can be tough on a school morning. Using a slow cooker bypasses that hour on the stove, so there’s no active cooking time and it’s ready to go when everyone is getting up and going. It feels good to send the kids off to school with a wholesome warm breakfast in their tummies, and anything that frees up time on busy mornings is a plus!

Slow Cooker Recipe: Overnight Steel Cut Oats   |   Design Mom

This recipe makes quite a bit — 8 servings or so depending on how big the servings (or the appetites) are. And one of the best parts is that you can add your choice of toppings, so you can vary the options endlessly. You could even host a family oatmeal buffet!

Have you ever tried steel cut oats? If you’ve been meaning to, try this recipe first.

Slow Cooker Overnight Steel Cut Oats

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
8 cups water
2 cups whole milk
2 cups steel-cut oats
1/4 cup brown sugar (see note on the sugar below)
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
Optional toppings – fresh sliced fruit, nuts, coconut, dried fruit, ground cinnamon, honey, fresh cream. See suggested variations at bottom.

Grease the slow cooker insert with the butter. Place the water, milk, steel cut oats, brown sugar, and salt into the slow cooker. Stir.

Turn slow cooker on to LOW and cook for 7 hours. After the 7 hours, remove lid and stir.

Slow Cooker Recipe: Overnight Steel Cut Oats   |   Design Mom

- If possible, don’t cook the steel cut oats for longer than 7 hours, 8 hours maximum. If they cook for longer than 8 hours on low, they will turn mushy. If you have a programmable slow cooker, this is a good time to use it.
- The edges and top might come out a little crispy. Totally fine, and it’s delicious (yet not photo-worthy). :)
- If you don’t have a slow cooker, or don’t want to go that route, you can soak the steel cut oats overnight with the water in a pan, add the milk and remaining ingredients in the morning, and it will cook for a much shorter time — like 10-15 minutes vs. 40-45 minutes.
- Buttering the slow cooker insert seems to help prevent it from sticking so much, though it will still stick a little bit.
- The sugar isn’t mandatory. It or another sweetener can be added to individual servings later.
- The normal ratio for steel cut oats is 1 part oats to 4 parts liquid. This recipe uses a 1:5 ratio to prevent the oats from drying out and/or burning. They will have a slightly softer, more cooked texture than stovetop steel cut oats.

- Vanilla – add 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract.
- Apple Cinnamon – add 1 or 2 diced apples and 2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon to the slow cooker and cook as directed above. You can also use 2 cups of apple juice for part of the water and omit the brown sugar.
- Banana Nut – add 1-2 mashed bananas, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, a pinch of nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon almond extract. You can also substitute almond milk for the whole milk. Serve with toasted sliced almonds, walnuts, or pecans on top.
- Maple Pecan – substitute maple syrup for the brown sugar and serve with toasted pecans on top.

P.S. — More slow cooker recipes that my family loves.

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Joss & Main Sale – Preview! Tue, 15 Apr 2014 18:30:11 +0000 Design Mom

Eagle Falls Lake Tahoe

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello! I’m waving from Lake Tahoe. The shot above was taken at Eagle Falls on the south side of the lake — it is gorgeous here! And I’ve been instagramming up a storm.

Oh you guys. I’ve got such fun things coming up! At the end of this month, I’ll be hosting a big sale for Joss & Main — and the whole sale is inspired by my living room. In fact, I’ll be sharing a full photo tour of the living room on the day the sale launches. I’m so excited about it! And so pleased with how the room has come together.

I was supposed to shoot the living room last week, but the shoot was pushed to this week because we were waiting on a delivery. So as soon as we get home from Lake Tahoe, I’ll be putting on my stylist hat and whipping the living room details into shape.

It feels really good to get some of the spaces in the house finished. I think having photo shoots on the schedule works really well for me, because it creates a deadline so that I “finish” each room. It can be easy for me to procrastinate certain design decisions, but having a due date forces me to get into gear. Obviously, the room can and will change after the photo shoot, but it’s a great opportunity to get the details of the room in place, and then mark the space off my mental checklist and turn my attention to other projects.

For those of you who are curious, I thought it would be fun to share a little preview of what you’ll find in the upcoming sale. It’s still a couple of weeks away, so none of this is guaranteed — availability can change overnight! But this will still give you a good idea of what to expect. Take a look:

joss and main preview2

What do you think? Does anything here catch your eye? And how do you know when a room in your house is “finished”? Or is the design of your home an endless and ongoing process?

Mark your calendars! The Design Mom Sale for Joss & Main will launch on April 29th. Can’t wait!

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

By Gabrielle.

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

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

Q: Please tell us all about your family!

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

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

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

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

Q: How did you end up in this home?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What do you love about where you live?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: When does your home work best?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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Easy Cabbage Dyed Eggs Tue, 15 Apr 2014 03:32:12 +0000 Design Mom

Dye Eggs with Red Cabbage for a Ombre Look. Easy and totally natural.   |   Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos and styling by Amy Christie.

I love the look of eggs dyed with plants and flowers, but every time I’ve planned on attempting it in years past, I get intimidated sourcing dye ingredients and stop myself up. So instead of gathering a dozen different materials and spending too many hours experimenting, I decided that this year, I would focus on one easy to find plant and see what it could do.

The plant? Common red cabbage. Available in every produce department of every grocery store in the country. Yes, it looks purple or sometimes red, but did you know it makes a great blue dye? It’s one of those things that’s hard to believe until you try it yourself.

Dye Eggs with Red Cabbage for Gorgeous, Natural Look   |   Design Mom

I love how they turned out so much I even want to keep the broken shells.

Dye Eggs with Red Cabbage for Gorgeous, Natural Look   |   Design Mom

I felt so much happy anticipation checking and rechecking them to see how the colors were changing. I could hardly wait to see the final results.

Dye Eggs with Red Cabbage for Gorgeous, Natural Look   |   Design Mom

Get the details below!

Dye Eggs with Red Cabbage for Gorgeous, Natural Look   |   Design Mom

Supplies for One Batch of Blue Dye:

- 1 head of red cabbage, chopped
- 4-5 cups of water, dependent on the size of the cabbage head
- 1 to 1 1/4 Tbsp white vinegar
- baking soda, optional
- eggs to dye
- big pot, colander, cups for dye, towels

Dye Eggs with Red Cabbage for Gorgeous, Natural Look   |   Design Mom

Toss the chopped cabbage into a large pot with the water. Bring the water to a boil and then simmer for 20-30 minutes. When it is complete, add in the white vinegar.

White vinegar is an acid which helps with the dye process. In my observations, the white vinegar also act as a color lightener. When I added it to my first batch of cabbage dye, I was nervous because I noticed the tone lighten to a more purply hue. In my research for this project, I found that baking soda acts in the opposite way. I added a pinch of it to the dye and the tone quickly turned more blue. I am not a chemist and, for the most part, I chalk the whole process of dyeing up to magic.

Dye Eggs with Red Cabbage for Gorgeous, Natural Look   |   Design Mom

So how do you get the different tones with just cabbage? Easy peasy. Simply vary the length of time the eggs spend in the dye bath. The deeper the tone, the longer the time. In fact, the deepest tones sat overnight! It was an easy process. I submerged the eggs and would just keep checking on them until I liked the tone.

All of tones pictured were achieved with cabbage — with one exception. The navy tone was achieved using a blueberry dye. Blueberries, crazy enough, make a reddish dye. I used a little of that with my blue dye to get the navy.

The blueberry dye mix I used was 2 cups water to 2 cups blueberries. I boiled them together for about 30 minutes and then I added 1/2 Tbsp of white vinegar.

Dye Eggs with Red Cabbage for Gorgeous, Natural Look   |   Design Mom

And that’s it! If you’ve every wanted to experiment with natural dye, I highly recommend red cabbage as the perfect starting point — that one ingredient can create a full ombré look!

Tell me, Dear Readers, have you ever tried dyeing your eggs with plants or vegetables? Do you have a favorite technique? I’m especially interested in easy-to-find ingredients that I can pick up at 11:00 PM when I’m at the grocery store buying last minute lunchbox ingredients any way. : )

Also, I’d love to hear if you’re trying any special techniques to dye your eggs this year?

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The Treehouse: Reading Loft Mon, 14 Apr 2014 14:00:04 +0000 Design Mom

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 MomTurn a small, unused space into an inviting Reading Nook   |   Design MomTurn 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 MomTurn a small, unused space into an inviting Reading Nook   |   Design MomTurn 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!

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

Let’s start with some wide angle shots from each corner of the room so you can get a sense for the loft overall. I know the wide angle lens makes it look deceptively big! But it’s actually only 7 x 9.5 feet — and has a low slanted ceiling over half of the space. Take a look:

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

So. That’s the loft overall. A really happy colorful space. Now let’s get into some details for a bit and discuss some of my decision making:

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

As I mentioned, the paint color came at the last minute. In fact, we painted it on Friday night! But I think it’s a great addition. The color peeks through the crate shelving (just like in the inspiration picture) and the shade of blue is wonderful. It’s called Undercool by Sherwin-Williams — it’s bright but not too bright, and has a touch of turquoise in certain lights. It’s cheerful and calming.

The globe lights are from Ikea (they were part of last year’s holiday collection), and the Man in the Moon Garland DIY is here.

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

The chair is the Spruce Street chair from Serena & Lily. The size is ideal! It’s comfortable for a an adult, but it’s not oversized, so it has good proportions for kids as well. As I worked on the loft, I was going for a mostly yellow + blue palette, and this chair was one of the first decisive decisions I made.

The Fox Pillow and Pom Pom Blanket are also from Serena & Lily.

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

Speaking of color, check out this crazy easy DIY poster! I saw this in the office of my book editor, Lia Ronnen and instagrammed it that day. The poster is a piece of foamcore with postcards attached. The postcards are book covers from Penguin, and you can buy them as a set here.

In the main floor of the house, I’ve focused on neutrals and whites with touches of green and natural woods — which I’ve loved. But in the family room (where the reading loft is), I’ve been using the same white on the walls, but using it as a backdrop for lots of bright color. Which has been fun!

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

The rug is a cotton Rope Rug that I am completely in love with! It’s good looking, and also super thick and soft. So comfortable. It fits perfectly in the space and looks really handsome with the DIY concrete floor.

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

As I mentioned, the shelves are DIY, made from very affordable sheets of plywood. I’ve got a tutorial coming soon! I love how they turned out. There are 3 different sizes and they can be combined in endless combinations and adjusted to make room for whatever you need — like the handsome Studio Task Lamp pictured.

I should note here that I’ve been coordinating my books by color since 2009. I don’t do it on every shelf in the house, just where it makes sense. I’ve written about it a few times and I know some people find it maddening. Hah! But if you’re a visual person (I am), it’s actually quite ideal. When I think of a title in our book collection, a picture of the cover is what comes to my mind. So finding my books by color works really well.

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

We knew we wanted a footstool so our kids could really relax while they read, and this Moroccan Pouf is just right for the job.

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

One of the wonderful things about the loft is that it has two windows that let in beautiful light. I didn’t want to block it out, but I wanted something to filter the light, and I happened to have just the thing in my linen closet.

The sheer mesh curtains have a bit of a story. I bought them for our very first nursery over 16 years ago! And they have moved with us from house to house. I remember buying them clearly, because I bought them from Kmart and it was the first time I’d been to Kmart in years. I went there because I wanted to check out the brand new Martha Stewart line (remember that?) and I went home with these mesh curtains from her collection.

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

Because some of the shelves are stacked quite high, I knew we would need a stool so that even little June could access every book. This 3-legged Dip Dyed option was pretty much irresistible, and worked with the blue and yellow palette I was putting together.

Behind the stool you might notice a green palm frond basket — and there’s a similar blue one across the loft. We use them to store stacks of paperbacks — like Magic Treehouse and Time Warp Trio and Roald Dahl books (though I wish those were hardbacks).

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

The Read Instead print is fantastic. It lives by the ladder to the loft and tempts readers up the stairs. : ) My friend here in Oakland, Erik Heywood, created the print. He owns a little store in Temescal Alley called Book/Shop. If you ever get a chance to visit, you will be glad you did.

The sewn paper garland DIY can be found here.

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

For extra seating, I think these oversize Floor Cushions in Aqua and Navy are ideal. They’re filled with bean-bag like material and you can squash them around as you like. I knew that sometimes the kids would want to retreat to the reading loft with a friend or two, and I wanted to make sure there was more than one comfy spot to hang out.

The small yellow throw pillow was already in The Treehouse when we moved in and belonged to the previous owners.

Here are a few more shots that I had a hard time editing out:

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

Lastly, here’s a peek at what the reading loft looks like at night — because everyone knows sometimes you must stay up past your bedtime to finish that last chapter:

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

I think that about covers it. I hope you enjoyed the tour, and I’d love to hear what you think of the space. Wishing you a cozy, happy reading spot at your own house!

P.S. — A reader commented on Instagram with a request for a post with similar, but more affordable furniture options. I love that idea! I’ll work on it straight away.

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A Few Things Fri, 11 Apr 2014 16:00:14 +0000 Design Mom

Ukrainian Easter Eggs

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How’s it going? Are you making fun plans for the weekend? Our schools are on Spring Break next week, so we’re going to take advantage of the break in the schedule and head to Lake Tahoe for a few days. I’ve only driven through before, so I’m really excited to see what it’s like. We’ll be back on Wednesday to prep for a big photo shoot, and on Friday, we have a French Student (one of Ralph’s friends) coming to stay with us! It’s shaping up to be a very exciting week. : )

And I must tell you about those eggs above! Last weekend, we were invited to make Ukrainian Easter Eggs at a friend’s home. Aren’t they stunning?! She created all the eggs above and you can see more on my Instagram feed — including the first one Maude made.

We met this friend standing in line at Charles de Gaulle Airport on the day we moved back to the U.S.. She’s French, but has raised her family in the Bay Area, and she happens to have been born in the tiny town where we filmed How To Visit A French Bakery! Which is such a rarity, because it’s the tiniest town. Then, the first week we were here, we were at a Pinterest party and happened to meet her daughter, who works for Pinterest! So many fun coincidences!

We loved being at her home and learning a new craft — and extra fun, she served a traditional French Gouter in the afternoon, which brought smiles to everyone’s faces and got the kids reminiscing about favorite French food. It was such a good weekend! Makes me happy to think of it.

While I finish things up for the week and get packing, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- Seth Meyers interviewing the creator of Stefon. “I live on the lower, lower Eastside.”

- Let go of perfection. Try practice, instead.

- Turn any bag into a diaper bag.

- Completely stunning aerial photos of Dutch tulip fields. We were there at this time last year to make this videoThanks, Mary Ann.

- What are thinking of for summer sandals? This simple pair from Anthropologie just made my wishlist.

- If Anne of Green Gables were to make Easter eggs.

- Turn any speaker into a wireless device.

- Let It Go in 25 languages (Am I the last to see this?).

- A polka dot wall with tiny dots that surprised me.

- Incubators can be life-saving for babies, but for newborns without access, there’s Embrace. For 1% of the cost of a standard incubator, it’s already saved over 50,000 babies from hypothermia. Made by one of my long-time readers (and Oakland resident!), Embrace is currently running a Mother’s Day campaign — make a donation in honor of mom, save another mom’s new baby. Thanks, Erin.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend. I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.


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Tea Collection Giveaway Thu, 10 Apr 2014 18:56:40 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle.

Easter and Passover are just around the corner! For those of you who celebrate, I’m guessing that you’d love to find something sweet and spring-like for your kids to wear to holiday gatherings — or maybe even for family photos. So this giveaway is perfect. It’s sponsored by Tea Collection, and the prize is a $150 gift certificate!

Holiday Opener

Tea Collection always creates wonderful clothing — fresh designs that take inspiration from all over the world, and made with an eye for quality. But I have to say, their Spring 2014 line is especially good! You’ll love the offerings, I’m sure of it. For holiday dressing, you can find options for girls here, and options for boys here.

The pieces that have caught my eye are the Nabila Embroidered Dress, the Blooming Lily Dress, the Boise Necktie, and the Cocomo Porkpie Hat.

Tea Collection Easter 2014

Visit Tea Collection and leave a comment below to enter — I’d love to hear if there’s a holiday or event your family is shopping for this season. The winner will be announced on Monday. Good luck!


Beatriz is the lucky winner. Thanks for playing!

Nabila Embroidered

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Olive Us: Eiffel Tower Picnic Thu, 10 Apr 2014 18:23:00 +0000 Design Mom

Text and images by Gabrielle.

It’s such a lovely Spring day here in Oakland that I think this Olive Us episode, featuring a Picnic at the Eiffel Tower, fits right in!


As you can imagine, shooting this episode was such a treat. Any excuse to hang out on the Champ de Mars (the huge park next to the Eiffel Tower) is a good one. The food was delicious, the croquet was fun, the kids looked adorable in bright, fresh colors, the sun was out — such a good day!

I hope it brings some sunshine to your own day — and maybe gives you the travel bug as well. : )

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

- Olive Us has a really charming Instagram stream. You should totally subscribe!
- Find the official Olive Us website here, and subscribe to the Olive Us Newsletter here.

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

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Dell’s Heart Wed, 09 Apr 2014 18:25:10 +0000 Design Mom

Dell the Missionary

By Gabrielle. The photo above shows Dell (at center) as a missionary in Ecuador — rocking that scarf! The photo below is Dell playing water polo at university.

A week ago, in the earliest hours of the day while we were still fast asleep, we were awakened by one of those terrifying phone calls — Ben Blair’s brother, Dell, had had a heart attack while doing his morning swim laps, and was in a coma in the ICU. This wasn’t the first time we’ve had a stomach dropping phone call like that, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. No doubt many, or all of you, have had a similar call.

For a little while, things got worse, but happily the tables turned and the situation got much better. The next call we received reported that Dell was more stable. And the third phone call told us he would be out of the ICU soon. And on Monday he was! The best case scenario for sure! (We are very aware this could have gone the other way. My own father died at 52 after a massive heart attack.)

Ben’s sister Jenette is a nurse and this is what she wrote about the man who did the exhausting work of keeping Dell alive until paramedics arrived. Exhausting and difficult — he had to break Dell’s ribs to do the CPR properly, and I know Dell vomited as well. Mike thought Dell would die. I’m sure he felt like his efforts were futile.:

I want to honor and thank Mike Reed RN, who works on North star. On Wednesday, April 2 my brother had a full cardiac arrest at Steiner Aquatic pool (on Guardsman). Mike Reed saw him go down and immediately initiated CPR which he continued until the paramedics arrived (about 15 min). Dell (my brother) had to be defibrillated several times with the paramedics and in the ICU. Remarkably he is expected to make a full recovery and there appears to be no brain injury. We were informed by the staff at the U that in no uncertain terms, my brother would have died were it not for the expert, quick and excellent care he was given by Mike Reed. Del is 57 years old, a wonderful brother and one of the most generous and kind people I know. I am so grateful to Mike for his efforts and wanted to acknowledge him to all that I can. I was able to meet him this morning and he told me that he had just recertified in CPR last week. Thank you, thank you, thank you Mike Reed. Our family will be forever in your debt. — With Gratitude, Jenette Lambert RN CM OPMH.

Of course, though we’ve been going through our days, business as usual, all we’ve been able to think of over the last week is Dell. We’ve been thinking about the hero Mike Reed. We’ve been thinking about the nurses and doctors who are taking such good care of Dell. We’ve been thinking of Dell’s wife, Kathleen, and their 3 grown-up children.

Dell Water Polo

And one of the things we’ve been talking about most is the role genetics played in this experience. Dell is 57, lives a healthy life and keeps in great shape — as I mentioned, the heart attack happened while he was doing his morning laps! — and yet, genetics ruled his heart unhealthy. I say genetics because Ben’s grandfather died in his forties from heart problems, and his aunt died at a young 47 from heart problems as well.

In fact, when I married into the Blair family, I was told about the Blair heart problems right away. But it’s easy to forget, because this is the first time in the 18 years I’ve been a Blair that a new heart problem has showed up. Among Ben’s 8 siblings, Dell is the first to have a heart attack. And all of a sudden, the family history becomes a vital subject. When decades go by and no major heart issues come up, it’s easy to push the history to the back.

Dell ultimately had 3 full cardiac arrests that day, and a few days ago he had bipass surgery, and we understand he’ll also need a pacemaker going forward. As Jen mentioned above, full recovery is expected. He’s doing great! (I’m sure that’s why I feel comfortable now writing about this.) But as you can imagine, the whole family is wondering about the status of the rest of the Blair hearts. Wondering if there’s a test we should take, or preventative measures. Praising Mike Reed, and crossing our fingers that an angel just like him will be there if/when future heart problems manifest.

Are family genetics a conversation at your house? Is there a family history of certain health problems, or is there a disease or problem you’re almost expecting to inherit? Diabetes or alzheimers or alcoholism or even depression? Does your family talk openly about it and take precautions, or is it treated like a big secret? And for those of you who are adopted, were you able to get a health history of your birth parents? Or do you feel like you’re flying a bit blind as far as family genetics go?

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Project Kid & Wise Craft Tue, 08 Apr 2014 18:30:57 +0000 Design Mom

Craft Books05

Images and text by Gabrielle.

I’ve got two really cool books to share with you. Both are craft books — one for kids, and one for grownups. Oakland has been a rain fest over the last couple of weeks so I’ve been pulling out the craft books for rainy day ideas, and I can heartily recommend both of these volumes. They are chock full of solid, creative ideas!

First up, a book for the little ones called Project Kid. It just came out today so it’s fresh as can be! The author, Amanda Kingloff, was the Lifestyle Director at Parents Magazine for ages and she comes up with the happiest things for kids to make. All the projects are really doable, and they focus on materials that are easily accessible — and that you probably already have at home.

Craft Books06

I think these needlepoint fly swatters are genius — I love crafts that have a practical application!

Craft Books08

And I think these silhouette pennants look so good. You can find more about the book, book related events, plus a cute intro video, at the Project Kid website.

Craft Books01

The second book is called Wise Craft. It’s full of truly useable projects that look chic and handmade in the best possible way. The clever creator, Blair Stocker, focuses on scraps, found materials and thrift store finds for her projects, which means you can make these idea without emptying your pocketbook.

These are more sophisticated projects you’ll enjoy making yourself, and you’ll enjoy keeping around the house for as long as possible.

Craft Books02

Like these handsome felt panhandle covers.

Craft Books03

Or these charming trinket bowls — I want a stack of them!

Tell me, Friends. What’s the crafting situation at your house? At our house, everyone likes to create — whether it’s writing stories, making movies, building forts, or baking cupcakes — but I would say Betty and Oscar are currently the most likely to get crafting (and they LOVE getting inspiration from the Project Kid book, by the way). As for me, my craft-making urges come in waves, and I find myself using holidays as an excuse to get out my scissors and glitter and glue. I can totally see myself using the Wise Craft book for gift giving inspiration.

What about you? Do your kids like to make things? Do you?

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

By Gabrielle.

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

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

Q: Please tell us about you and yours.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What makes you love where you live?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: When does your home work best?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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Teachers Change Lives Mon, 07 Apr 2014 22:17:03 +0000 Design Mom

Teachers Change Lives

By Gabrielle. This post is brought to you by Office Depot’s #TeachersChangeLives program. Register your child’s classroom, so the students have the school supplies they need to succeed.

Can we talk some more about public schools today? They’re on my mind. Last month a vacuum was unexpectedly delivered to my house (long story, I’ll tell you about it another time). While it’s always fun to get a surprise in the mail, the vacuum sat unopened in a box for many days while I figured out what to do with it. Why? Because we don’t need a new vacuum — the one we had when we lived in Colorado still works just fine.

Happily, Betty brought home a class newsletter that mentioned her teacher was looking for a vacuum for their classroom. Bingo! I dropped the brand new vacuum off at her classroom the next day, glad it could benefit dozens of kids for many years to come.

But the experience had me thinking. If I hadn’t had that vacuum sitting in a box by the front door, would I have even noticed that request on the newsletter? (Answer: I highly doubt it.)

At the start of the year, our teachers in New York, Colorado, France and now California, had students bring in school supplies, plus some general classroom supplies too — like tissue boxes and hand soap. I think this is pretty typical and I imagine that if you have school age kids you have experienced the same thing.

In New York and Colorado, that was basically it as far as school supplies went. We never really had further requests from teachers. I’m not talking about class parties or special events, I’m referring to the everyday school supplies — folders, pencils, markers, erasers, paper, etc..

But here in Oakland, it’s been a little different. Some teachers have sent home additional requests throughout the year via class newsletters or emails. Things like sticky notes, permanent markers, more tissue boxes, more pencils. Of course, we try to keep an eye out for the requests and try to remember to send materials in — and I know many families at our school try to as well. But sometimes I forget. Or sometimes I assume another family has taken care of it. Or sometimes I just don’t make time.

AAC Infographic-3

And the reality is, even if I don’t want to face it, that many of those school supply requests aren’t met. And that means teachers often end up spending from their own pockets. Which should not be happening! But surveys tell us this is so common that at this point, it’s almost ridiculous. For those of you who like stats and numbers, try these on:

- Teachers spend as much as $1000 out of their own pockets on materials for their classrooms, every year.
- 75% of all classroom supplies are bought by teachers.
- Nationally, teachers spend a total of $1.3 billion a year on classroom supplies.
- 15 Million school children come from improvised families that cannot even provide basic supplies that children need to succeed in school.

Shocking, right? So I’ve been wondering how I could be more helpful. Or somehow make it more straightforward. Then Office Depot sent me an email about their Teachers Change Lives program and a I had another Bingo! moment. Clearly, I’m not the first person who noticed this problem. There’s a great program already in place! Public schools across America are having a hard time. Funding for supplies has been cut. And teachers often make up the difference from their own pockets. So Office Depot has partnered with Adopt a Classroom, and they are helping teachers across the country.

It’s a super smart program. Basically, your child’s teacher can register his or her classroom, then the community (parents of students, aunts & uncles, even grandparents who live out of state) funds the classroom, and those who donate receive updates on their impact!

To highlight this program Office Depot & Adopt a Classroom are featuring the stories of educators throughout the U.S. that go above and beyond in the classroom. These stories range from teachers in underprivileged and underfunded schools, to teachers that take innovation in the classroom to the next level, and everything in between. With teachers already doing so much with so little, think how much more they could do with support from the community. Go here and scroll down to see all the videos — they’re really well done, they had me in tears!

Did you watch that? I mean come one. Mary Kurt-Mason should not have to pay for school supplies from her own pocket! You can make a difference by visiting the Teachers Change Lives page. In fact, all of the teachers shown in the videos are registered with Adopt A Classroom. So you can donate to their classroom, or you can donate to a teacher in your own life, or even to the cause as a whole.

And now I’d love to hear, what’s it like at your school? Do teachers make school supply requests of parents? Do you feel like the statistics I listed above are accurate for your community? Have you ever heard of Adopt-A-Classroom? Is your child’s classroom registered? And if you’re a teacher, let us know how often, if ever, you find yourself buying school supplies for your classroom.

P.S. — I care a lot about this topic (maybe because my dad was a public school teacher) and want to encourage conversation and awareness about it, so here’s some extra motivation: add to the conversation below, and I’ll randomly pick one commenter and personally make a $150 donation to their child’s classroom!

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Driver’s License Mon, 07 Apr 2014 18:35:35 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Images by Blue Lily Photography.

A milestone has been reached at our house. Our oldest child has a driver’s learning permit! Not a license yet, just the permit, which allows him to legally practice driving. And if I understand correctly, he’ll be able to take his driving test and get an actual license in 6 months.

Ralph’s experience with getting a driver’s license is so different than my own. In the community I grew up in, it was common for kids to get their driver’s license on the day they turned 16 years old, which was the earliest legal day they could get it. Getting a license was something we talked about the whole year we were 15 years old. We would take Driver’s Ed that year — it was part of the standard curriculum at the high school — and practice driving with our parents, older siblings and the Driver’s Ed teacher. By the time the actual 16th birthday arrived, the kids in my school were ready to take the test.

Once I had my license I could drive myself to my part-time job at the movie theaters, I could help out dropping off younger siblings at school and picking them up too. I could get myself to track meets and stay after school for meetings without having to bug my parents for a ride. Driving seemed like an essential part of a teenagers life!

But in the places we’ve raised our kids, the attitudes toward driving have been different than in my home town. In New York, there didn’t seem to be any urgency about learning to drive at all. It was common not to even think about it until kids were 18 years old and ready to leave home. In France, where Ralph spent his 15th year, getting a driver’s license was something the kids didn’t really even talk about. In fact, I think it’s not legal there till you’re 18 — I’m not actually not sure what the driving age is in France. Even here in Oakland, very few kids drive to our high school. Most are either dropped off or take public transportation, and again, Ralph doesn’t seem to feel a huge urgency about his license, though he’s been 16 since last August.

But even though it’s not urgent, he does want his license. So we’ve been working toward it, and trying to fit in driving practice where we can.

From other parents, I’ve heard it’s wonderful when your teen can drive, because it’s so helpful — errands for last-minute dinner ingredients, or picking up a sibling from dance class. But I’ve also heard it’s terrifying! I’m sure we’ve all read the heart-stopping statistics about teens and car accidents. I definitely have mixed feelings about it. But I also remember how much freedom and independence I felt when I could drive. I loved that feeling! And I hope my kids experience something similar.

How did it work for you? Did you get your license as early as legally possible? Or did you wait until you were older? Was it a big deal where you lived? And what’s the attitude toward getting a driver’s license in your current community?

P.S. — When we bought our vintage Renault 4L, we totally pictured Ralph driving it as his first car. We left it in France, but I still like the idea of my kids driving something old school — though I realize older cars don’t come with airbags or anti-lock brakes or other current safety features, so aren’t necessarily the best option for new drivers. We’re a one car family at the moment and have been for years and years. I wonder if that will change when Ralph actually gets his license.

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A Few Things Fri, 04 Apr 2014 22:50:33 +0000 Design Mom


Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How are you? How was your week? I’m really looking forward to the weekend! We’ve had a ton of rain here and the whole yard is green and fresh. I’m hoping it’s dry enough tomorrow to work outside. I confess, I’m quite intimidated by our yard. It’s unlike any yard we’ve ever had — wild in a good way, but still in need of some major grooming. I’ve never worked with a landscape architect before, but I’d like to find one and hire her/him to help us come up with a plan. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start!

One funny idea: We have 20 years worth of fallen leaves and broken branches under all those trees. We’ve been clearing it out one leaf bag at a time, but it’s slow going. Then, the other day, we heard you can rent goats to eat all the leaves and twigs! Have you ever done something like that? I’m dying for more info.

While I research goat options, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

Change your typeface and save $400 million.

- Gandalf checking his email.

- You can touch my hair. Thanks, Jess.

- A cool nursery with lots of fun surprises.

- A letter to frustrated parents about New Math.

- A baby sleeper that doesn’t involve snaps. (When Ralph was a baby, we had a similar version that zipped in the diaper area. 16 years later and zippers still haven’t replaced snaps in any big way. I wonder why that is?)

- Sesame Street has a new toolkit for families navigating divorce, deployment, and other grown-up challenges.

- Easter treats! 16 yummy ideas you can make and add to your Easter basket — even homemade versions of Cadbury Eggs, Peeps and Reeses Peanut Butter Eggs!

- Affordable DSLR sliders for budding filmmakers — I bet this would get tons of use at our house. Thanks, Lindsey.

- Reminders of 2 fun contests: You can still win $250 at Chairish! Super easy to enter, just submit your email address. Ends Monday, April 7th.

- And you can win $500 in awesome new light switches and outlets from the Adorne line. Go here to find simple giveaway instructions.

I hope you have a really wonderful weekend. I have LOVED the conversations we had this week. I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.


P.S. — Remember the pretty succulents I showed in the hallway makeover? Well, all but 3 have died. : ( So the plants pictured at top are my replacements. I hope I can get the hang of watering them correctly!

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My Sweet Muffin Giveaway Fri, 04 Apr 2014 17:43:10 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle.

Oh goody! You’ll love today’s giveaway. It’s hosted by My Sweet Muffin and they’re offering a $150 gift certificate!

Easter Gift Ideas from My Sweet Muffin

My Sweet Muffin is one of my long time sponsors and I always get a kick out of seeing their new collections. Shina, the owner, does a really wonderful job of seeking out the very most interesting and unique and beautiful and quality gifts and toys. Her wares are perfect for babies and toddlers, and My Sweet Muffin is definitely one of my go-to online shops when I’m seeking a really good baby gift to give.

My Sweet Muffin Easter 2014

This month, I’m taking inspiration from the My Sweet Muffin Easter collection. Check out this page for a visual guide to filling your Easter baskets — with helpful categories like Easter Parties, Baskets for Girls, Baskets for Boys, and Baskets for Baby. So many beautiful spring gifts! My favorites? The Rabbit Nightlight, the Reversible Bibs, the Botanist Case and Explorer Case, the oversize Tin Eggs that open so you can put a treat inside, and the Hopper Family Paper Dolls.

Visit My Sweet Muffin and leave a comment below to enter, the winner will be announced on Tuesday. Good luck!


Cathi is the lucky winner. Thanks for playing!

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Paint Colors Fri, 04 Apr 2014 15:00:40 +0000 Design Mom

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.: )

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