Design Mom » Search Results » children’s+room The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Tue, 06 Jan 2015 22:00:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Living With Kids: Noa Weintraub Tue, 25 Nov 2014 17:00:03 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I hereby declare Noa Weintraub Queen of the Stunning Staircase! She is ruler over two of the most startlingly stylish sets of steps I’ve seen, so I really think she deserves the crown. (There should really be a crown.)

Her home is a fun house, for sure. You would never in a million years think that the force who designed these spaces thought she didn’t want a child! This honesty, this unabashed creativity, and Noa’s great advice — one of her gems is “Life’s too short to wait for a special occasion! — all make this tour a favorite of mine. I hope it’s one of yours, too!

Welcome, Noa!

Q: Tell us all about the family who lives here.

A: Hi! I’m Noa, an artist, illustrator and ceramicist. My partner, Mark, is a photographer, and we live with our six year old daughter, Matisse. Until recently, we also lived with Mark’s son Wyatt who is 20, but we are still lucky to see him frequently — especially when good food is involved.

Sharing our house are Wyatt’s two snakes: Psycho Sy is a King Snake, and Fluffy is a Royal Python. I know, I know! It took me a while to get used to them, but they really are nicer than they sound and conveniently very low maintenance.

Mark and I met while on an advertising job, back in my more glamorous days when I used to be a fashion stylist. These days, I’m more inclined to be wearing flats and wellington boots than high heels and sequins. That’s not to say I don’t try and dress up as much as I can. I’ve always believed life’s too short to wait for a special occasion. Wear the clothes you love as often as possible, even if it means dressing up for the school run! Working as an illustrator and being a mum work well together, I’ve discovered. I have the flexibility of choosing my own hours and I make sure that I work around Matisse’s schedule. (It’s also a really good excuse to buy loads of vintage children’s books, one of my favourite things!)

Mark started out as a graphic designer, became an Art Director, then photographer, regularly featuring in British Vogue and iD magazine and working for clients such as Armani and Clarins. But he is a real nature boy at heart and a lot of his photography now reflects that, which means he’s always out and about in the great British countryside. He’s recently published his third photography book, The Angler Who Fell to Earth, which you could say is about his main passions: landscape and culture, experienced by, say, fishing or through music. His love of the outdoors has definitely rubbed off on me, in spite of being a city girl through and through. Now that I am a mum, I am aware of how important being out in nature is, and how crucial to our children’s development and understanding of the world.

As a family, we drive out of town for walks and woodland adventures as much as we can. Looking for fairies always helps get our six year old in the mood if she’s feeling a little uninspired. Mushroom hunting is definitely one of our favourite things to do in late summer and autumn. We come home and Mark dries them in the oven or makes a proper wild mushroom risotto for us. What’s not to love?

Q: How did this house become your home?

A: Well, here’s the thing…We live in the 1930s house that I grew up in!

I moved in as a student at college while my parents live abroad, and then things just evolved from there. Before I knew it, I was raising my own family here. We never planned it this way, but like someone once said, life never turns out how you think it will.

It’s hard to transform a house where you have so many memories of childhood, but I think I’ve managed it. It’s very rare now that I see it in the same light as before.

When I first lived here, it had the 1970s kitchen with the crazy orange yellow and brown patterned linoleum. The bedrooms upstairs had the most dated built-in wardrobes and the bathroom had a beige wall-to-wall carpet! Ahh, the seventies! Slowly but very surely, I ripped things out and put my own mark on each room. And when I was pregnant, we added the loft extension to gain the extra room and bathroom.

It has always been tricky to decide how much to invest in the decor of the house. With a limited budget and the idea that we’re not going to live here forever, it’s been hard to determine what is worth doing and changing and what we can live with. But sometimes there are itches that need to be scratched, and every now and again I just have to do something about something! We’ve slowly made it our own, and hopefully one day we can start with a blank canvas somewhere else.

Q: Tell us why you love the place you live.

A: I’ve lived in London pretty much most of my life, and I still love it. I love living in a big energetic vibrant city. I love the fact that I have so much culture around me. It’s an endless stream of stimulation with the volume turned up!

We have a membership to the Tate gallery, so the three of us often go and check out the latest art exhibitions there. The best was taking Matisse to see the Matisse exhibition recently. She loved it, and nd of course loved seeing her name in big letters everywhere.

Having said that, the area we live in is the suburbs of North West London, which means we get the best of both worlds. We can tap into the hullabaloo of the city, and then retreat to the green streets of our corner of it all. The fact that we have a garden makes all the difference to us. Mark has slowly turned it back into a wildlife rich habitat, and part vegetable plot. Fourteen species of butterflies are regularly seen, as well as a huge list of birds from sparrow hawks to green parakeets, frogs, foxes, and ample wild flowers in preparation for future bee keeping. If we do want to venture out but not far, the heath is just five minutes away where we can enjoy a quick fix of the trees and ponds there.

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? What are the must-haves in your home that make you crazy happy every time you catch sight of them? (Besides your family, of course!)

A: Ooh! Well..I love the chandelier in Matisse’s room, the tambourine lady lamp that I found in a house clearance shop, and I love the Grayson Perry framed silk scarf hanging in the living room, which was a birthday present from Mark.

But my favourite thing by far about my house are the blue gradient stairs. Every time I go up the stairs it fills my heart with joy and makes me smile inside. I LOVE colour. I think it can make such a difference when things around you are bright and happy.

I’ve always worked in vintage clothes shops since being at art college. Chelsea College of Art used to be across the street from the fabulously famous vintage shop Steinberg and Tolkien, and it was not unusual for me to swap study days with being amongst the most glamorous clothes you could imagine. Later on, I worked closely with the stylist Marianne Cotterill, the most creatively inspiring woman I know. I owe a lot of my aesthetic to her, I think, as far as feeling utterly free to mix and match according to my inner style instinct. Placing modern with antique and everything in between, and adding the most unexpected things just because it makes me smile. Humour is always present, and I try not to take things too seriously when it comes to arranging and rearranging the house. Not being precious about getting things right, and definitely not trying to match things.

When I go shopping at antique fairs or flea markets, if I see something I like I very rarely think if it will go with everything else. If it makes my heart skip a beat, chances are it needs to come home with me. I’ll make sure I find a place for it.

Q: You mentioned in your first letter to me that your home is like an ever-changing mood board for you. I love that. But do you think about utility when you’re designing a space to share with your family? Or is it more important for you to be surrounded by beautiful things?

A: Yes, I often change things around. If I buy something that excites me, it will make me want to readdress the room to accommodate it. I do love being surrounded by objects that inspire me, and often some detail will find a way into what I’m working on at the time. I love looking at the things I’ve collected over the years, or things that have passed down from both my grandmothers. Every object tells a story and provokes memories remembered or fantasized.

Utility is important. I try and take it into consideration, but sometimes passion gets the better of me and it’ll go out the window! The best moments in the house are definitely when practical solutions are made possible by using beautiful objects. It’s almost like a challenge. A puzzle.

And I love it when serendipity steps in to give a helping hand. Quite a few pieces of furniture in the house were items found chucked out in the street! The mirrored cabinet in the living room was found round the corner. The cabinet in Matisse’s room, found on my street. I wanted it for my shoes collection, but she quickly claimed it for herself! She’s already showing signs of interest in home decor. It makes me happy that I’ll have a partner in crime in my future antique hunting travels.

Q: You and your partner both work from home, which is often a difficult thing to manage – especially in terms of knowing when to start and stop your work and family time. How have you sorted it all out? What works and what doesn’t?

A: It took me a while to figure out that you need to treat working from home like you would working from a studio or office away. You need to get dressed for a start!

A good tip is to figure out what times in the day you tend to be most productive in different things. For example, I try and do all my admin like emails first thing in the morning, and then the more creative stuff after that. The fact that both Mark and I work from home…like everything, it has its pros and cons. The downsides are that we can easily get into long conversations about what we’re working on. Before you know it, it’s time to pick Matisse up from school! The upside is that because we’re both here, it’s not as solitary as it could be.

Our studios are next to each other so there’s a work vibe going on. It’s inspiring and can be a positive influence at times when one of us feels lazy. If there’s no deadline to meet, we’re quite good at switching off, and once Matisse is home from school it’s hard to do anything else. I can imagine that will change the older she gets.

Q: You’re a talented artist. Your ceramics take my breath away. What has been your greatest professional accomplishment? How do you hope your career changes down the road? What does your daughter think of what you do?

A: I’ve been illustrating for about eight years now, and my ceramic work is a more recent thing. Once I had Matisse, I took a step back from work, but now that she’s at school I feel I can step things up again. I’d like to take on more illustration work and explore different possibilities within that.

My work is mostly advertising and editorial, and flicking through a magazine and seeing my illustrations printed inside is a great buzz, for sure. Knowing that my work has such a large audience is brilliant.

Once when I was working on an illustration project for a client, Matisse came up to me and said “Mummy, when I grow up I want to do what you do. I want my job to be drawing.” That was definitely one of the nicest things to hear. My heart melted.

I’ve recently joined Instagram, and I love it. It’s great to see people’s instant responses to my thoughts, collection of images, and my work.

At the moment, I sell my ceramic bowls through word of mouth, but I’m ready to take them further. Each bowl is hand painted and treated as an individual piece of work, like a canvas. My background is in fine art, and I guess that’s how I approach my work. After I left college, I used to make handbags and started out in the same way. Each handbag a hand painted one-off piece of work, sold in galleries and boutiques. I like to keep things more personal; the owner of one of my bowls knows there are no two exactly alike.

I’d like to find the time to produce more ceramic work, different functional objects, and also more sculptural and conceptual pieces. My work has strong influences of lace, crochet, and craft. I’m interested in exploring the meeting point of stereotypical female activities such as these and sculptural objects. Questioning ideas of femininity and our role as women in society. As a mother to a daughter, I now think it more relevant than ever.

Q: What do you hope your daughter remembers from this very moment in her childhood in this very house? And what do you hope she conveniently forgets! (Sometimes, that’s the more important answer, right?)

A: I want Matisse to have a childhood memory of a happy, laughter-filled house. I want her to feel a sense of fun associated with this house, a feeling that anything’s possible. A space of nurture. From dressing up, making art, writing stories to planting wild flower seeds, breeding butterflies and sitting round a backyard bonfire eating marshmallows.

I don’t think it necessary to fill her life with loads of after-school activities. She herself is not that keen on them either, which I guess is a good indication of her enjoying just hanging out with us.

I hope she forgets that the house was not always tidy, and that sometimes I was too tired to make an effort to do things perfectly. When I go visit my parents, my mum always makes everything look so pretty. Her dinner table is always so beautifully laid out, and everything is so thought about. I can’t remember if she was always like this, or if it’s only since she has more time to focus on these things. But in my mind, she was always this way, and I love this memory when I think of her.

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

A: I already see how I’ll miss the fun and craziness that comes with living with a child. The reason to do things you wouldn’t normally do, like make pancakes every Saturday morning, or snuggling up on the sofa with hot chocolate and the blanket my mum knitted for her, reading a book. It’s nice to make even the most mundane everyday things seem extra-ordinary.

Every morning for breakfast I make Matisse a glass of pink milk. It’s just strawberries, banana, and milk, but somehow calling it pink milk makes it seem special!

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

A: How much fun and how much love there is involved in parenting. Even though my mum did always tell me, I never really believed her. As far back as I can remember, I knew I didn’t want to have children. I don’t really know why, it was just something that I always felt wasn’t for me. How many successful female artists with kids do we have as role models?

Then one day, something changed in me and I got curious. Before I had time to think too hard about it, I got pregnant! All the cliches of parenting suddenly became a reality, and it really is as hard as they don’t say. The positive side was that I had no expectations to crush.

Weirdly enough, since the age of four, Matisse has said she doesn’t want to have children. That really makes me laugh, but I do hope that I can somehow convince her that it’s not as scary as it may seem.

The other night as I put her to bed, she tucked in to bed her cuddly toy, too. She did it so sweetly and full of maternal care. I said to her, “You know, I know you always say you don’t want to have children, but if one day you change your mind, I know you’ll make the best mummy in the world!” and a sweet little excited smile couldn’t help itself, and appeared as clear as day on her face.

Maybe she won’t be so slow in realizing that it truly is the best thing in the world.


And…tears! It is one of the very best things in the world, isn’t it? Thank you for your wonderful words, Noa. I love your art, but I equally adore your heart.

Also touching was Noa’s memory of her mother always making life look so pretty. I hope that’s one of my kids’ memories, too. What do you remember fondly about your mother? I just smiled, thinking of all the times my mom added loveliness in the littlest ways. I hope you’re smiling, too.

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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Children’s App Review: Toca Nature Tue, 18 Nov 2014 17:52:44 +0000 Design Mom

Toca Boca Nature2

Images and text by Gabrielle. This post is brought to you by Toca Boca.

Oh my goodness. It’s been over a year since there was a children’s app review on design mom, but I’ve got a really good one for you today. It’s  new. It came out last week and it’s called Toca Nature. It was developed by the team at Toca Boca, a Swedish-based development company that makes fantastic apps for kids.

Toca Nature Screenshot

There are no points to earn in Toca Nature. No high score to beat. There are no berries to buy, or any in-app purchases at all. The app is about building and exploring. You can go macro and see the whole “world”, turning it around and around to see different habitats and perspectives. Run your finger through that forest and you can create a river. Or a mountain! Or a forest!!

Toca Nature Closeup

Or, you can zoom in to the details at dirt level. You can make a place for plants and mushrooms. See the animals grazing. Create a place for fish to swim. The app is designed to encourage kids to think about how different aspects of the environment connect and interact.

Instead of a competitive framework, think of this game like playing with Legos. You’re not using bricks, but you’re “building” a little world. You can work slowly and carefully if you’d like. You can change things if your first plan doesn’t work out the way you expected.

Toca Boca Nature6

Probably my favorite part is the colors. The little world in Toca Nature is beautiful! Muted, comforting, calming colors instead of the usual intense options offered on kids apps. It’s really lovely to look at.

Both Oscar and Betty love the app, and enjoy adding to and rearranging the little world they’ve created. (June too! It’s designed for ages 4 and up.) When Oscar heard I was writing an app review for Toca Nature, he asked if he could tell readers about it. Here’s what he had to say:

Toca Boca Nature3

“Well, there’s no end of the game. It keeps going and you don’t have to win. When you zoom in, you can see more stuff, sometimes you can find rocks with like a fossil on it or something.

Certain trees make certain animals appear. Like there’s a tree that can make a deer appear, a tree that can make a bird appear, and a tree that can make a bear appear. There are also mountains that summon wolves, and rivers that summon beavers. Once the trees are there, you can find a bunch of berries, acorns, and mushrooms. If you have water, you can find fish. 

I like that once you make the mountains high enough, snow appears. The wolf is my favorite animal in Toca Nature, that’s the only thing mountains give.”

There you have it. A peer-review for your kids. : )

Toca Boca Nature1

Toca Nature is a paid app. It’s $2.99 in the App Store, but like I mentioned above, there are no in-store purchases and no other ways to spend money on the app. It’s a flat fee and that’s it.

Have you heard about Toca Nature already? Do you think your kids would respond well to this sort of app — an app with no speed or points? And are there any other wholesome apps your kids loving these days? I’d love to hear!

P.S. — You can see all the children’s app review posts here.

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A Few Things Fri, 26 Sep 2014 16:00:34 +0000 Design Mom

Design Mom Living Room

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How’s it going? Any weekend plans you’re looking forward to? We’re thinking of our European kids this weekend, because Ralph is headed from England to France tomorrow. He’ll be in the same town, and attend the same school as Olive, but they’ll be living with different families. Oh man, the thought of them getting to see each other on most days makes me super happy, and is somehow hugely comforting. Which reminds me, I should totally share an update about how both Olive and Ralph are doing — hopefully next week!

Beyond thinking of my kids-across-the-ocean, my weekend will be mostly taken up with responding to copy edits on four of my book chapters. Anytime there’s a circumstance that requires me to make a ton of purposeful decisions all at once (like when we cleared out our storage unit in Colorado), I have to really psyche up for it and getting in a particular frame of mind. A thousand decisions that need to be made during a short time period is so overwhelming to me! It’s the exact opposite of busy work, and I find it completely exhausting. I’m sure I’m not the only one!

Before I dig in to my book work, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- I totally need this — Pep talk of the week!

- I had no idea Bridge to Terebithia was a frequently banned book.

- To mark National Public Lands Day, all National Parks are free on Saturday. Woot!

This restaurant wants to be the worst-reviewed on Yelp.

- Did you get a chance to see Emma Watson’s UN speech? Any thoughts?

- The best built-in beds for kids.

- DIY jump rope. (I love jumping rope.)

- Murder in a time before Google.

- Meta Coleman’s class on Creative Children’s Spaces looks so good.

- The A-Z of dance.

- Dying to try a pair of these drapey pants from Banana Republic — they look comfy as sweats, but elegant too! There’s a code to get a discount — use BEHERENOW to get $25 off of every $100 you spend.

- It’s Like They Know Us. So many good ones, but this might be my favorite: ”Oh, really? My little guy never fusses at mealtime. Have you tried feeding him on a white couch?”

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


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Living With Kids: LaTonya Staubs Tue, 23 Sep 2014 16:00:42 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Is it just me, or are we all a bit fascinated with New York? I know so many people who either reminisce fondly about their time in The Big Apple, or else dream about someday living there. And tell the truth: When you hear the first few chords of New York, New York, you can’t help but belt out all the lyrics, right?

LaTonya Staubs lives a colorful life in Brooklyn. From the red and white polka dotted rug to turquoise chairs and on to orange spotted walls, this is an explosion of creativity. And yet, it’s still a calm from the storm that is the city, just outside their front door. That’s a trick that requires constant attention to balance and intention. But I wouldn’t expect anything less from this designer, mama, and lovely blogger. Friends, please welcome LaTonya!

Q: Tell us all about your family. (Also, your babes have such unique names, so please share how you chose them!)

A: My family and I live in Brooklyn, NY in a small and loving space. We started our family at a pretty young age, by total surprise. I was 21 and Peter was 24. River was and is still the most amazing surprise!

Before I got pregnant with her, Peter and I were young people just having fun in the city. There was always a party or show to attend, and my life was pretty much the typical life for a girl just barely out of her teens working and living in the city. I wanted a peaceful pregnancy and baby, after all the hoopla. I also wanted a baby girl with a unisex name, so she wouldn’t be judged about a job etc. before others ever met her. It goes so well with her personality.

We came up with Oak after I had already lost a baby well into my second trimester. I went into my pregnancy with him incredibly nervous and private, with a lot of feelings, and not knowing exactly how to sort through them. I soon realized that the insecurity after getting pregnant after a loss like that doesn’t just go away. All I could do was share my feelings with friends, and later with blog readers. I wanted to be strong and I wanted my baby to be strong. I knew if he made it through all the endless high risk appointments and past that 24 week mark he would be strong. Oak is a representation of that strength, like an Oak tree.

Q: How did this place become your home?

A: I don’t think we ever felt like this house was The One. I still don’t feel it. In New York, it’s always that “but” factor. To put it simply, you never get the whole enchilada in one property. Our apartment is home because we’ve made it home by adding little bits of us. It’s located in our dream neighborhood, we’re on the first floor, and have yard access – all pretty golden in NYC! – but we would of course love more space, a dishwasher, and a  washer and dryer unit. Which will probably never happen! Or, at least, not all of it at once.

It’s close to impossible to buy in our neighborhood, but we have been really lucky with our landlords. All the pre-war apartments people bought for pennies in comparison to now are being held onto super tight. At this point, we’re pretty content with renting.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: I always end up bragging about our area! Really, it’s pretty amazing. We love that there is so much diversity in our neighborhood! When we considered moving a while ago, my friend said to me, “Well, maybe you’ll find cheaper rent but you will be spending more for sure. There are so many places to spend your money.” And it’s true, in the best way.

We have so many cute cafés, all of which are ridiculously kid friendly. We are surrounded by four amazing parks within just a few blocks from our home. We also have the huge Fort Greene park, which hosts the Saturday morning farmers market – it’s the best. Lastly, people from around the world come to visit the Brooklyn Flea every Saturday, which is located just a few short blocks from our house. It’s all pretty insane.

Q: You recently redecorated your daughter’s room because it wasn’t working for her. Tell us about the process and the improvements that were important to you both.

A: We did some small retouches that made a huge difference in River’s room. The major change was the addition of baskets. We wanted her to be able to access her toys and stuffed animals and craft things quite easily. But I also needed it to be an easy clean-up for me and for her, since she’s also responsible for cleaning up after herself. I love that the room is bright and fun; it’s a reflection of River for sure!

Q: Describe her reaction to making her own design decisions and with the final outcome. 

A: River loves it! We continue to add her artwork and artwork of friends to her wall. It’s always changing, and she loves that she has a say. I value her eye; even at three and a half, I think she visualizes and expresses things well. Her room is hers, and she is thrilled.

Q: How do you define – or resist definition! – your design style? How does your home’s decor and arrangement contribute to your family’s harmony?

A: This is a hard one, because I feel like I always try and stay in one design style and never ever follow through. I initially wanted this house to be a minimalistic, clean space with tiny pops of color. It definitely has evolved into a more eclectic, bohemian, plantastic space!

It’s bright, it’s happy, and some parts of it are calming. All in all, I just want someone – anyone – to feel at home when they enter that old steel door. Whether it’s the plants, the colors, or the layers of carpets that make  you feel comfortable, I’m happy with that.

Q: You’re a thoughtful blogger who has discussed openly your struggle with what to share and what to keep private. Will you talk to us about the gains you’ve felt from your site, and how it has changed your life?

A: Goodness! Like motherhood, the blog guilt definitely comes in waves. Recently after opening up more about that struggle, I’m more settled in my position of what I will and will not share, and being okay with that.

The great thing about blogging is people connecting with you deeply, especially when you hit tough spots. The sometimes bad thing about blogging is people connecting to you deeply.

So far, my readers have been so understanding and loving, and I’m happy I opened up about that struggle. I learned that the amount of people unhappy with what I was no longer willing to share was really just a sliver of my readers. I value everyone’s opinion and criticism, and I just wanted them to know that.

Blogging has definitely been the groundwork for so many long-lasting relationships, personally and professionally. I’ve also grown so much as a person through opening up in the past, and I’m so thankful to my readers for allowing me to do so.

Q: Tell us about Welkin‘s philosophy. We’d love to hear about why you started the company, your partner, and your role.

A: Welkin NYC is a children’s line inspired by, and made in, New York City. We provide a sort of uniform for the urban lifestyle: clothing that is functional, durable, comfortable, stylish, and a little bit edgy. We love to create everyday basics that defy the typical seasonal rules of fashion. Our clothes are not disposable but rather season-less, meant to be worn and layered throughout the year, year after year. We offer a collection of unisex pieces as well as a rotation of dresses, jackets, and special collaborations.

Belle Savransky and I founded Welkin NYC to translate our love for the city into something tangible. I think like Welkin’s philosophy, our roles have evolved. As we put out each collection, we learn more and the line itself takes on another shape.

I am more of an extrovert and Belle is more of an introvert, but we both are creatives and bring different talents to the line. Our personalities even each other so well, and it makes everything so smooth. Without a doubt, Welkin will always be a sustainable line, and we absolutely love that everything is made right here in New York City.

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

A: I love that my children’s toy pieces are like furniture staples in our apartment. I’m proud of that. This place is very much mine and theirs.

Without a doubt, I am surprised by how profoundly I can love these little humans. I’m loving every little moment right now.

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

A: I wish someone had told me that there will be moments when you feel like you’re totally failing at almost everything…and that is okay! Chances are, you’re doing amazing!


I love peeking in on New Yorkers, don’t you? LaTonya, thank you for inspiring us today with your style and substance! I giggled when you described the best and worst parts of blogging both pertaining to the deep connections formed with readers, and I wonder how many other bloggers out there feel the exact same way? (Gosh, I wonder how many people feel that way about life? Ha!)

Was I right about New York? Maybe since September 11th, I imagine we all hold a piece of New York in our hearts. Do you daydream about living in a big city, or are you just fine simply visiting?

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

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Living With Kids: Agnes Hsu Tue, 16 Sep 2014 16:00:03 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Agnes would be a lovely friend to have, I think. She owns a cupcake shop, is a family photographer, and also runs a kids’ creative site. Life with her must be sweet, DIY divine, and photogenic. (As an extra bonus, she lives in my neck of the woods, so I call dibs!)

But with all those professional endeavors, something’s gotta give, right? If you’re struggling with your own overwhelming schedules, you might like to hear how Agnes deals with it all. From the division of duties, scheduled personal times that refuel the family’s energy levels, and effective out-sourcing, it’s good stuff. Friends, please meet Agnes! Hello, Wonderful!

Q: We can’t wait to meet you all!

A: Hi! I’m Agnes Hsu, mom to two feisty kids who keep me on my toes: Alia, five and a half, and Kian, who is three and a half. I’m married to my college sweetheart, Tim. We’ve been married for 12 years and together for 18, which seems like a lifetime but it’s all flown by so quickly!

I’m the entrepreneurial/creative spirit in the household. I run on energy and am a non-stop person. I’m an introvert by nature and don’t enjoy small talk, but can talk for hours one-on-one with someone because I love getting to know people from the inside. I’m inspired by those who take chances and have gone through trials in their lives. I am an avid reader, particularly biographies and memoirs. I’m typical type A, compulsive and frenetic. But thankfully, my husband Tim balances that out.

He’s an extrovert, super friendly, and people generally love him upon first meeting. He’s solid, laid-back, and is the most optimistic person I’ve ever met. Our interests couldn’t be more different, too. He’s very much into technology and works in marketing at Twitter, and just prior to that he was at a gaming company. He’s extremely witty, funny, and a hoarder, whereas I’m serious and a neat freak who is scared of clutter. It’s a miracle we are married!

Our kids are the center of our amusement and love. Interestingly, they are also polar opposites like my husband and I. My little girl is like a mini-me. She loves arts and crafts, creative projects, and is also super neat (actually loves to clean her room!) and enjoys baking/cooking in the kitchen as much as I do. She’s also on the shy side and it takes her a while to warm up to people, but once she does she can’t keep quiet around them.

My little boy is the complete opposite. He’s a wild monster! He wreaks havoc around the home, and leaves a trail of trains and cars wherever he goes. He’s also super friendly and will say hi to most people he meets, even on the street. Although he and his sister couldn’t be more different, they are attached at the hip. Kian won’t sleep in his own bunk, and instead climbs down every night to sleep right next her. Don’t get me wrong, we have to break up fights several times a day as they argue like most siblings, but they have a strong connection, which makes me so happy to see.

Oh, and we also have our beloved first baby, a Yorkie name Wicket we’ve had for nine years. He’s spunky even as he’s getting older, but also loves to cuddle and would sleep all day if he could.

Q: How did this house become your home?

A: We’ve lived in our Craftsman type home in Oakland, built in 1918, for eight years now. Unfortunately, we bought in the summer of 2006 at the height of the market, but since then it’s come back up and we feel lucky we live in a desirable yet still affordable part of the Bay Area. Given the high cost of living in the Bay, especially San Francisco, Oakland is a wonderful option, especially for families.

It used to be an apartment (triplex) back in the early 1900s, so the bedrooms have rooms within rooms which makes it nice to organize spaces around. Our dining room/kitchen has French doors that open right into the backyard. I remember our realtor saying that was an ideal flow for entertaining, and she was right. We have enjoyed hosting so many fun parties and dinners here in our home.

When we moved in, it was pretty much move-in ready. We did some minor cosmetic things like paint and add new carpet, but that was it. A year ago, we repainted the living room and kitchen and refaced the cabinets to white from maple, which gave the space a brighter feel.

Honestly, this wasn’t the home I think I would have chosen today. Since we bought at the height of the market, there was so much competition and we ended up settling a bit. And although we wanted a house to raise kids, we didn’t have kids at the time so we didn’t know what would truly be important. For example, our backyard is a deck that’s not leveled in some places and not very kid-friendly. As any parent knows, having a flat, grassed, and open area for kids to roam is key when you have children!

Over the years, though, we’ve grown to love our home. It’s the only one our kids have known, and so there are priceless memories here.

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: I absolutely love the Bay area! I know I am biased, but I really do think it’s the best place to live and raise kids. My husband and I are both from Southern Cal, but we met up here in Berkeley and have both lived here ever since.

The Bay area has so much to offer for families. You can be in popular destinations like the mountains (Tahoe), valley (Napa’s wine country), or oceans (Stinson Beach) all within an hour or two drive. We are fortunate to be at the center of the organic and farm fresh food movement; there is an abundance of farmer’s markets and a variety of CSA/farms offer delivery to your home, and almost every restaurant it seems here prides themselves on sustainable, fresh, and seasonal foods. We visit farms every year to go fruit and berry picking. There are museums like the SF MOMA, popular Bay Area attractions like Golden Gate Park, Alcatraz, and Ghirardelli. In nearby San Francisco, you can hop over to Marin/Sausalito via ferry or take an excursion to Angel Island to go biking or hiking. There are also great kid-friendly exploratory museums like Bay Area Discovery.

In Oakland where we live, it’s thriving with culture and diversity, which is what I love most about it. There is a sense of pride from the people who live in Oakland. For kids, here in Oakland and around the East Bay, there are museums like MOCHA (Museum of Children’s Art) with drop-in art classes, local beaches, Jack London Square which holds its popular Eat Real festival, Chinatown right in downtown Oakland, and amazing parks like Roberts or Joaquin Miller which offer hiking trails with beautiful redwood trees surrounding you.

Q: Oh, your aesthetic! It’s so calming with jolts of excitement! And there are so many touches that scream KIDS LIVE HERE. How do you balance it all and merge the sophisticated with the sweet?

A: Thank you! It is a work in progress. Interior design is not my strength, but I love to look at how other people decorate their spaces. Since I do lots of creative projects with my kids, you’ll find remnants of them scattered around the house. It can tend to look like a mishmash of things, but I (and the kids) can’t bear to part with anything we make so we find space for them. I think it keeps things looking lively and colorful.

My aesthetic if I lived alone would probably be minimalistic and clutter-free, so I love to inject my kids’ personality in our home. My daughter is really into art, painting, and drawing so I have several areas where I showcase her art – in frames that open so you can easily switch them out, as canvases, or displayed on a clothespin line. Every year, I take a picture of the kids’ favorite art and make a book so they can always look back year by year.

I like to place photos everywhere I can. One of my favorite ways is to get them printed as wall decals so they are easy and affordable to switch out. I also have a few framed galleries of our favorites and like the art books, make a yearly book of our family photos each year. The kids love going over the photo books. They get a big kick of seeing themselves as babies to where they are now.

My big priority for the home is to have the kids be able to display what they want, but I have learned to balance that with my desire to also have a home that is neat and displays “grown-up” things. So I use baskets and an “everything in its place” kind of philosophy. And have certain rules. Like the kids know they can’t play with my antique cameras or my husband’s vintage record player as “toys” but of course can touch as long as they are not being rough with them. I really believe you can have kid stuff among adult things, but the key is communicating (perhaps several times!) and giving kids boundaries. They eventually really do get it, and I believe it gives them an appreciation for things.

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

A: Definitely, my favorite place is the kitchen. I like to cook so that’s a natural answer, but I’ve also run a commercial kitchen at the bake shop for almost ten years. So when you do that, the kitchen kind of becomes your domain and there is a feeling of ownership. My husband is a gamer – he can’t live without his computer – hence the office is probably his favorite room. The kids’ favorite is definitely their shared playroom/bedroom. They can spend hours there playing.

Q: You’re busy! Tell us about all that you do professionally.

A: My first business was (and still is) a cupcake and cookie shop, the first in the Bay area opened in 2005 before the whole craze hit. I actually grew it to five locations but sold four recently. I’m also a family photographer and run a kids’ creative site called hello, Wonderful which is where I spend most of my time currently.

My career path seems so disjointed, but I look back now and believe everything I’ve done up to this point has led me to this exact moment. The bake shop helped hone my photography skills; it was astounding how much food photography cost, so I taught myself how to shoot. Then when I became a mom, it was a natural playing ground to get even better, which eventually led to a career in family photography. After I became a mom, I realized how important it was to have flexibility in your schedule. The bake shop was my first love and passion, but it was grueling and labor intensive. So after I decided to scale back, I launched hello, Wonderful because I was constantly looking for creative things to do with my young children.

Life is busy but fulfilling and even as I am approaching turning 40 next year, I continue to be amazed that I am still learning and growing each year!

Q: Do you have help in balancing it all? Please share your scheduling tips!

A: My biggest help is my husband. Although we both work maddening hours, we are really good about splitting the work it takes to raise two kids. They are our first priority. The only way we’ve been able to do this successfully is to each be responsible for a main part of the day. He does the mornings and I do the nights. What this means is that he gets the kids up early, dresses, packs lunches, and does the drop-offs at school. I do the evening: pick up, bath, dinner, and bedtime. This allows me to work late into the night after the kids go to sleep, and not have to get up at the crack of dawn. And by me doing the evenings, he can skip rush hour traffic (staying at work later or using that time to work out) and then come home around 8:30pm. We both connect with our day then and eat dinner together.

Yes, that means we don’t eat as a family with the kids on weekdays, but I am always at the dinner table with them. On weekends, we eat all our family meals together. With two parents who work 10-12 hour days, that is the only way we’ve been able to work things out where each of us also have our “down-time.” I believe every parent should have that.

I’m also a big believer in out-sourcing if you can find it. Living in the Bay area, there’s no shortage of apps or services that can help you out. For example, there’s Instacart which is a grocery delivery service that delivers within two hour time frames. We use Amazon for almost everything and love their Prime free shipping. They just opened Amazon Prime Pantry for bigger household items like paper towels, and we also use that. There are meal delivery and planning services like Cook Smarts, Blue Apron, Munchery, or Plated. All of these services surprisingly don’t cost that much if you factor in your time spent driving and gas compared to the time you gain. There are also errand running services like Task Rabbit that can help you out in a pinch. (Note: I am not affiliated with any of these services, but I am an early adopter of new technology and services that maximize your time and make things more efficient for you. I do the cost benefit analysis and if it’s worth it, will try it out. I’m always on the hunt for new apps that make things easier for parents! If you do the research, there are a surprising amount of them that are popping up.)

Each day, I give myself three things to accomplish, and that makes it easy to break down the work. And they are often prioritized based on deadlines. My to-do list is always going to be long. So as long as I give myself a minimum of three things a day I must accomplish, then it makes things more manageable.

What doesn’t work for me is saying yes to too many things. For example, I limit the number of photography jobs I do so they don’t interfere with quality time with our kids. I’ve learned to let go over controlling every aspect of my business. I have a great staff for the bake shop and amazing manager, so I’m lucky to be hands-off there. I’ve learned over the years to delegate, and it hasn’t been easy, but I realize I can’t do it all.

Q: What do you hope your children remember from this home and this time in their lives? How intentional are you at making memories on a daily basis?

A: I want my kids to remember a lively, fun, adventurous, and creative childhood. I want them to know that everyday moments can be made special. I want them to celebrate not only big things, but little things as well. And instill the belief that you can have fun at work and play.

I try to do that through my site, hello, Wonderful. It’s become a cornerstone of so many things I love. Cooking, photography, and most importantly being a mom. It has inspired me to be even more creative with the kids which also means bonding, learning, and experiencing things through their eyes. One series I started there is Cooking With Kids. My daughter loves to brainstorm what recipes we should make. As a result, she’s also opened up her tastebuds; there was a time when she wouldn’t touch anything green or eat meat! Since starting the site, both my children and I have done so many fun projects and the time spent together has been priceless. They are proud of the things they’ve made and I make it a point to showcase them around the home.

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

A: My favorite part about living with my kids is how distinct each of their personalities are, despite the fact they have the same parents! I truly believe each child is ingrained with a certain personality even at birth. Sure, you can influence them through experiences and teaching them certain values, but the core of who they are doesn’t change. I feel truly blessed that I have two kids who are both their own little people, and I enjoy seeing how they develop and showcase their uniqueness. I love the fact that they are so different from one another.

I admit I am not a big fan of the newborn stage; it often felt like you were just a caretaker. The stage I enjoy most is the ages they are now – five and three – where they are seeing and learning so many things for the first time. Everything is HUGE for them, down to noticing an insect they’ve never seen or trying a new food. They are also talking non-stop so the questions are hilarious. Every night our bedtime ritual is “Ask mommy any three questions” and the range of silly to serious questions only one would expect from young ones would fill a comedic novel.

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

A: For me personally, I wish someone had told me to trust the journey you are on. My career path has often seemed all over the place and, at each stage, I questioned the risks and challenges I was taking. But every time, it’s proven itself to be a lesson or window to a new path or opportunity. I’m constantly learning. I’ve realized I will never be professionally just “one thing” because life and career is an evolution of your passions and interests. Although it sounds trite, I do believe that if you follow your passion, you will be right where you were meant to be.

Related to parenting, I wish someone had told me that it’s okay to let go and make mistakes because there will be plenty of them. With my first child, I was so focused on the right schedules, the right foods, etc. I became more lax with the second, and every day I realize more and more it’s okay to let chaos take over sometimes. It’s okay not have the answers.

Having kids has taught me that certain things are out of my control, and that there is beauty in madness. I mentally have to stop myself to take in moments and find magic in them…even when there are crumbs all over the place, poo in the crib, or crayon drawings on the wall.


Agnes, thank you so much for your advice. I know you’ve inspired me on a day when my schedule and list of goals seem so scattered that I don’t know where to begin! Today, my mantra is “There is beauty in madness.”

Friends, do you make an effort to split your parenting duties and carve out worthwhile time for yourselves during the hectic week? I’m curious how you try to do it all. Do you have one trick that works like magic?

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

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Living With Kids: Elle Rowley Tue, 26 Aug 2014 16:00:29 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos by Jylare Smith Photography.

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

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

Q: Tell us all about your family.

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

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

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

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

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

Q: How did this beach cottage become your home?

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

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

And run.

And run.

We had to have it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And less is almost always more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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DIY: Cement Pencil Holder Mon, 25 Aug 2014 15:00:49 +0000 Amy Christie

DIY: Cement Desk Organizer and Pencil Holder   |   Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Photos and styling by Amy Christie. // This post is brought to you by Office Depot. #TeachersChangeLives and so can you! Go here to find out more.


It’s official: a new school year is upon us! And like many kids, my children have the itch to make something for their new teachers. A drawing, a little piece of origami, a sweet note. Of course, I always wonder if there’s something we can add, something to go along with the little note or drawing, that their teacher will find useful. A gift card so that their teachers can buy supplies for the classroom is always helpful, but if you’re in the making sort of mood (I am!), I thought this cement desk organizer fits the bill very nicely.

DIY: Cement Desk Organizer and Pencil Holder   |   Design Mom

The project incorporates two of my favorite things — fresh school supplies, and cement. Best of all, it’s not just for pens and pencils. This handsome + utilitarian item can be designed to hold any number and any size of desk accessories. The style and layout is all up to you!

DIY: Cement Desk Organizer and Pencil Holder   |   Design Mom

Don’t be anxious about working with cement for this project. Yes, it requires concentration and muscle (which surely you have in spades), and an odd combination of working fast and waiting. But the end product is worth it. These heavy duty holders would look handsome on any desk!

DIY: Cement Desk Organizer and Pencil Holder   |   Design Mom

Plus, there are lots of ways to include the kids on this project, from gathering supplies, to stirring cement, to decorating the dried organizer with Sharpies (we used silver).

Ready to get to work? Let’s go.

DIY: Cement Desk Organizer and Pencil Holder   |   Design Mom


- cement
- cardboard/papier maché forms
- dowels, various sizes
- wax paper
- glue gun or tape
- sander, optional

We used Rapid Set Cement All because it sets up so quickly. Of course you can use any kind of cement that you’d like. With Rapid Set, you must work very quickly. It’s good because the project will be done sooner however, it does require fast moving and it’s a little sweat inducing. : )

After a couple of tests, we decided wooden dowels wrapped in wax paper were the easiest to prep, most cost effective option. Other ‘pencil slot making’ options include wide metal dowels (found in the rebar section), various sizes of knitting needles or PVC pipe.

DIY: Cement Desk Organizer and Pencil Holder   |   Design Mom

First, wrap the applicable dowels in wax paper and secure with hot glue or tape. The wax paper prevents the cement from sticking to the wood (because it really sticks!!).

DIY: Cement Desk Organizer and Pencil Holder   |   Design Mom

Before any cement is prepped, take some time to plan the layout of the pencil holder. You can sketch it, use a grid or just lay it out. This step is vital, especially if you use Rapid Set cement. Your time is limited to get things placed before the cement sets and it’s best to plan it in advance.

DIY: Cement Desk Organizer and Pencil Holder   |   Design Mom

When you have your layout decided, you can prepare the cement, according to the manufacturer’s directions. Pour the cement in your form, shake it to settle the cement into the corners and edges of the form.

DIY: Cement Desk Organizer and Pencil Holder   |   Design Mom

Place the wax paper wrapped dowels into the cement. Watch the dowels because they might shift and lean and wiggle, especially when other dowels are added. As you place them, keep shaking the form to resettle the cement around the dowels.

DIY: Cement Desk Organizer and Pencil Holder   |   Design Mom

As the cement sets up, especially the Rapid Set, twist and wiggle the dowels. If you leave them still until the cement completely sets, the dowels will be stuck — this advice is based on experience! Hah! Once the cement is holding up on its own around the dowels, remove the dowels, even if the whole form isn’t completely dry.

DIY: Cement Desk Organizer and Pencil Holder   |   Design Mom

After removing the dowels, allow the form to completely dry.

DIY: Cement Desk Organizer and Pencil Holder   |   Design Mom

Once the cement has completely dried, peel or cut away the outer form. An optional step is to use a sander to smooth out rough edges.

DIY: Cement Desk Organizer and Pencil Holder   |   Design Mom

Lastly, we added some metallic doodles to the pencil holder with a silver Sharpies when the cement was dry. You could create patterns, add your teachers initials with a stencil, or even keep the cement organizer plain and simple.

DIY: Cement Desk Organizer and Pencil Holder   |   Design Mom

Then the funnest part, choosing the products to put in the slots! Fill it with colorful school supplies and tada!, you’ve made an awesome gift for your favorite teacher.

I teamed up with Office Depot for this project, because I love how they support teachers. They help spread the word about what teachers need in the classroom, and the reality of how much teachers spend out of pocket for classroom supplies.

As an extension of their #TeachersChangeLives program, Office Depot worked with Newell-Rubbermaid (the makers of Sharpie and Expo) to document the stories of two teachers and how they help students think outside of the box. Click here to find videos featuring those two teachers, plus a coupon for school supplies, so you can help your children’s teachers get what they need.

Here’s to a fantastic new school year!

P.S. — Like to make things? Find more cool DIY projects here.

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Growing A Family: On Breastfeeding Wed, 06 Aug 2014 16:18:48 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Milk bottle macarons via Raspberri Cupcakes.

There is no shortage of opinions when it comes to childbirth methods — and the opinions don’t stop after delivery! Whether from well-meaning friends and family, the latest issue of a parenting magazine, or even complete strangers at the grocery store, the opinions come. And they often bring a dose of parenting guilt with them. Worst of all, is when the reigning advice, guidance, or child-rearing tradition doesn’t work for your baby or your family. We’ve talked about it before, but it’s a great reminder at any stage of life: Sometimes, what is best for most might not be best for you. And that’s perfectly okay.

In Danielle‘s case, it was all about the breastfeeding. Some of us have been in the same spot as Danielle, some of us have had the completely opposite experience. I think, however, there’s a lesson here that everyone can relate to. Please enjoy Danielle’s story.

On November 7, 2013 I gave birth to a baby boy. On January 14, 2014 I gave him formula in a bottle.

The birth was everything I’d hoped it would be. My water broke at 10:30pm on a Wednesday night, and 18 hours later we named our red, squished baby boy Scott Luca and swiftly fell in love. I was proud. I had given birth naturally and just finished a healthy and easy pregnancy. I credited my success to my determined mindset, the doula we had hired, and the scads of books I had read. Scott lay on my chest and I stared into his alert eyes in exhausted admiration, overwhelmed with the task that lay ahead of me and anticipating the strong bond we would form.

I breastfed my newborn soon after delivery and seemed to do so with ease. However, soon after arriving home, I found myself hunched over his little body forcing my breast into his mouth as he rhythmically arched away. Being a new mother I believed this difficulty stemmed from my inexperience, but my confidence continued to reign assuring me that in a few weeks I’d have it mastered. But things didn’t get better. It took 40-60 minutes to complete a feeding that was accompanied by the cries of my babe, his continual pulling back, and my own tears. I bought another breastfeeding guide and avidly read it in hopes of diagnosing the situation.

Christmas 2013 was spent in southern Oregon with my family and for eight hours a day I was secluded in the guest bedroom trying to feed my son as he flailed about and I became increasingly frustrated. I cried to my mom, my husband, and a few family friends, enormously disappointed that the bonding breastfeeding should have brought was replaced by anger and discouragement. Returning back home to Seattle wasn’t any easier; as my baby grew older he expressed his frustration with more gusto, and I slipped deeper into a dark place.

I wasn’t a happy mother. I was heartbroken that what I had anticipated would be a healthy and wonderful connection with my son was now turning into a chore I dreaded. I became frustrated with him, mad, and sometimes even full of rage that he wouldn’t stay latched on. Instead of enjoying his little soul during these early weeks, I was often angry and blind to the beautiful.

During the first two weeks of 2014 I found myself in offices: one was carpeted in a dark moquette and furnished with a mismatched rocking chair and single sofa; another was cold with white floors and walls, a bottle of hand sanitizer sitting on the high counter the only decoration; another had a bird mobile hanging over a massage table that filled the small space. All were different, but we visited each in hopes of finding answers. And answers we did find: paltry milk supply, lip and tongue-ties, and osteopathic damage. The therapy needed would take at least six weeks.

On a Tuesday, I sat in a plain room in Seattle Children’s Hospital, another specialist in front of me, when she put her hand on mine and told me she knew it was hard. I broke down. Tears smeared my makeup, darkening my cheeks and I let my head fall down. “It is okay,” she told me. “You need to do what is healthy for you.” So, on a rainy day in January I decided to switch completely to formula. I knew it was best for my emotional health and yet my disappointment was so heavy that I sighed big sobs.

My breasts became firm with sadness, a painful and physical reminder of my inability to give my baby boy the nutrition he needed and the physical connection I wanted. Sour tears of disappointment cascaded down my cheeks, spotting my baby’s onesie. I had been so confident that because I had prepared for breastfeeding by reading everything I could, talking to friends, and taking the class offered at the hospital that it had to work for me. But it hadn’t, and that entire week was hard as I struggled through one of the greatest disappointments of my life.

Scott is now happier (and fatter), and I have made my peace. The emotion that has replaced my hubris is gratitude: I am grateful that I am able to grow a human being in my uterus. I am grateful I was able to give birth naturally and that no emergency interventions were necessary. I am grateful my baby boy is healthy, and I am grateful that there is formula available to keep my baby healthy.

Today I am more keenly aware of the disappointments and unwanted pain of the women around me. I am more kind in my judgment of others, now intensely conscious of hidden difficulties and unwelcome sorrow. Too often as mothers we pit ourselves against each other, resigning ourselves to certain ideological camps, and pick at the smallest differences. In this world where life is often accompanied by sadness and hardships, unconditional empathy and kindness towards each other as women is vital. I wasn’t able to breastfeed my son as long as I would have liked, but I have learned this lesson and it is very valuable.


Thank you, Danielle! I’m sorry for your struggle, but so thankful you shared it with us. I know there’s someone reading right now who needed to hear your experience.

I smiled when I read the part about the specialist at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Don’t we all have someone in our lives – usually a perfect stranger – who has somehow changed our lives in such a wonderful way? I imagine the relief Danielle must have felt when she heard the reassurance of “It is okay.” Have you ever experienced a person like this? Have you ever been this person? I hope your answer to both questions is yes.

P.S. – Find all the stories in this series here. Do you have a story about birth, pregnancy, adoption or infertility? Send your story to me, will you please?

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Growing A Family: Kassi Bacquet Wed, 18 Jun 2014 16:00:42 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. pray4trax necklaces available in the little vikings Etsy shop.

Oh, goodness, but I enjoy browsing through Kassi Bacquet‘s life with her five lovely babes. Her experience began with the birth of her son when she was in high school and ends with the arrival of twins, one of whom was born with a fatal genetic disease. I thought we could all glean a lesson or two from this mama, especially the honesty and grace she carries with her daily. Please enjoy her words, Friends!

Q: Tell us about you and your beautiful family! 

A: Gosh, my husband and I are both thirty-four and very young at heart. I had Tyler at sixteen, so he and I have always been pretty close…although now that he’s a teen and almost seventeen, he has far less time for dear old mom! We have a lot of dance parties at home with my two daughters – Tannyn, who is nine, and Tayli, who is six – and the twins, Tavvi and Trax, who are 19 months. Our home is loud, crazy, and wild almost all of the time! It’s never quiet until the kids are in bed.

We’re a family of surfers. Dan, my husband, and the three older kids surf competitively here on the gulf coast. We love the beach and now that the babies are older, they are surfing, too.

Q: Your babies are almost two, but you’ve got older ones. How did this pregnancy differ from the rest? 

A: Being pregnant with the twins was a trip. I didn’t find out I was having twins until I was almost 20 weeks and went in for the gender ultrasound. I wasn’t gaining much weight, which was totally different than my other pregnancies where I gained sixty, eighty, and forty pounds! I felt good all the way through until the end when my stomach was so huge I couldn’t even sleep in my bed and had to buy a big reclining chair off of Craigslist. I slept in that the last four months of my pregnancy.

With Tyler, I was a baby having a baby and it was very hard emotionally for me. I felt great physically but lost many friendships, went to a high school for pregnant girls, had very low self esteem, and felt lost and scared. Having the twins was great; it was my fourth pregnancy and planned, I knew what to expect, and was just so excited to meet them!

Q: How did it feel to be pregnant with twins? 

A: Not knowing I was carrying twins until halfway through my pregnancy was a huge blessing. I think that if I had known, I would have worried myself to death. After finding out, I would get concerned whenever I wouldn’t feel baby b (Trax) move. I would have to push on my left side where he was laying and prod at him to move. Also, at our ultrasound we found out he had a hyper-echoic echiogenic bowel in utero, which was a soft marker for Down Syndrome or Cystic Fibrosis. I did a lot of praying for him and Tavvi while I was pregnant!

I felt great, walked two miles every day (even when my belly pretty much hung to my knees!), and had a good amount of energy. I had no problem caring for my other kids and was never on bed rest. For me, the twin pregnancy was one of my easiest pregnancies. A total blessing!

Q: Tell us the story of your delivery. 

A: Oh the delivery! You sure you want to hear this? It was pretty gross!

I was 36 weeks and so uncomfortable, so I planned an induction date with my doctor. On the morning of, I was full of excitement and calm! Baby a (Tavvi) was in position, head down, but Trax was still breech. I was against a C-section and asked if I could deliver both babies in my room (they like to do twin births in the OR in case of any complications with the second where a C-section is necessary), which my doctor happily obliged.

They gave me Pitocin and we played the waiting game. I stayed at four centimeters for a long time so they upped my drip. My contractions were coming hard and fast without any more dilation. Finally I asked for an epidural which I had never had before and I was so nervous. After the epidural (which hurt like all get out!) I finally relaxed and within ten minutes I went from a four to fully dilated! I remember the nurse saying “Don’t laugh, don’t cough, baby a is RIGHT there and we need to wait for the doctor!”

The doctor arrived and two minutes later, Tavvi was in my arms. I delivered her myself by pulling her out and she came out holding on tightly to my bracelet. It was surreal and wonderful. While they cleaned her off and weighed her, my doctor broke Trax’s water and it sprayed everywhere – all over me, all over my doctor, on his shoes, and in the nurse’s mouth! It was disgusting and hilarious all at the same time. Trax was still breech and I’ve never pushed so hard. That boy would not budge! Finally the doctor put his whole arm up there and tried with all his might to turn Trax around, which he couldn’t do. He realized that Trax was stuck behind my bladder, so they put a catheter in and drained my bladder which gave Trax more room, and he turned around and was head down. I pushed some more, grabbed his little head and pulled him up to my chest. I was elated. They were both perfectly healthy and weighed six pounds, four ounces, and six pounds, five ounces.

During my delivery we had a room full of looky-loos: Dan, my mom, all three of my kids, my sister, my niece, my doctor and nurses, some NICU nurses, and a handful of random hospital workers who had never seen a vaginal delivery of both twins. It was crazy to have 20 plus people in my room sharing in the birth of my twins. They’ve been special since day one!

Q: What were those early days with newborn twins like? 

A: The early days were crazy. They were so little. I have never had such little babies before! But it was great. I adore babies and love cuddling, nursing, and being lazy in those first few weeks. My mom and step-dad were in town so we had some help with the older kids. When we realized that Trax was losing weight despite all the milk he was drinking, that’s when things got hard.

Q: When did you learn that there might be some difficulty with Trax’s health? 

A: After a week of breast feeding, we realized that Trax wasn’t gaining. We took him to his pediatrician who told me to pump and feed him breast milk through the bottle so we could keep track of how much he was eating. He was on a very rigorous feeding schedule. He kept losing…and losing. And I felt like all my energy was going towards pumping for Trax and breast feeding Tavvi. I was a machine. I was so tired.

Finally at his two week visit the doctor told us that his newborn screening came back positive for Cystic Fibrosis. Dan and I had no clue we were even carriers, so this news was a shock to us. She made arrangements for us to go to Texas Children’s Hospital for failure to thrive and the thought that he had CF. We went right away. We spent a week at children’s with both babies and stayed at the Ronald McDonald  house or slept in the waiting room. Dan never left Trax’s side in the NICU. After many tests and many different doctors seeing Trax, we were adamant about him getting the sweat test done to confirm that it was CF which we knew in our hearts it was. Two weeks later at four weeks old, we got the call with the official diagnosis of Cystic Fibrosis.

To hear that your baby has a fatal genetic disease was so hard. We were crushed but took immediate action. A team was formed and he now had two doctors, a nurse, a nutritionist, and a social worker. They got him on pancreatic enzymes right away and almost immediately he started gaining ounces.

Q: Describe CF for those of us unfamiliar with the disease. What are his treatments like? How does it affect your family?

A: Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is a genetic, terminal disease that affects the lungs and digestive system. People with cystic fibrosis have unusually thick, sticky mucus that can clog the lungs, which can lead to life threatening lung infections. The mucus also obstructs the pancreas, which stops the natural enzymes in their bodies from breaking down food and absorbing its nutrients. CFers can have a variety of symptoms like persistent coughing (sometimes with phlegm), shortness of breath and/or wheezing, salty skin, poor growth and weight gain (failure to thrive) due to the malabsorption of food, frequent lung infections, greasy, bulky, stinky stools, and many bowel movements a day.

Before any meal, Trax has to take his pancreatic enzymes, whether it be a meal, a cup of milk (or Pediasure), or a snack. Enzymes are key in helping him keep his weight on track. He also has issues with stomach acidity, so he’s taking Prevacid to assist with that. Most days Trax has two, 30-minute airway clearance and nebulized saline treatments, where he wears a special vest that shakes him to help break up the mucus in his lungs and the nebulized saline to assist in that.

When Trax has a cold, his treatments are increased to four times a day. Whenever Trax comes down with something, Dan and I are on high alert because if his O2 saturation levels drop, it’s straight to the hospital we go. He’s also dosed with antibiotics from his CF doctor, as bacterial infections happen often and are common with CF.

All the treatments can be daunting. I never look forward to them since Trax isn’t a huge fan and they’re very time consuming. That has been hard for our family. We aren’t the best. I’m not the best at managing my time, so on busy days I may forget to get a treatment in. Which sucks and I always feel really guilty about it. When any of us are sick we have to quarantine ourselves from Trax. That has been the hardest. If he gets sick, it can easily become something serious where he may need to be hospitalized.

So when my six or nine year old has the flu and I can’t cuddle her in her room and hold her while she’s sick because I’m with Trax and Tavvi trying to keep them away…that is hard. The guilt I feel as a parent and not being able to be with all my kids when they need me has been the hardest. Other than that, we’ve just tried our best to live as any normal people with normal kids do. We don’t want to treat Trax any differently than the others. He’ll get the same treatment our other kids do…although I know we’re a bit softer on him sometimes.

Q: You’re so active on Instagram and a lot is happening with your pray4trax fund; what have the internet and the connections you’ve made added to your life? 

A: Instagram has been the hugest blessing! We’ve met some amazing people and can always count on prayer, which I’m never too shy to ask for! Paulie, who makes the pray4trax necklaces (where ALL the proceeds go directly into Trax’s fund) has been a godsend! I swear, she has the hugest heart and without her help we would not be able to afford all our medical bills. Also, my sister has been making t-shirts – the Little Warrior tees – where half the proceeds go to Trax’s fund and the other half go to the Cystic Fibrosis foundation.

Q: If you had one wish that could come true for your children, what would it be?

A: To live happy, healthy lives. Marry amazing people, give me lots of grand babies, and put Jesus Christ first in their lives.

Q: Please finish the sentence: I feel like a mom when…

A: I feel like a mom when I’ve not showered for days on end, I’m wearing the same clothes (usually my husband’s sweats and a t-shirt), I’m tired and maybe a bit cranky, but all I want is cuddles from my kids and lots of kisses…and they give me that love even when I’m stinky and gross.


Kassi, thank you so much for sharing your life with us. The difficulty and guilt you sometimes experience when dealing with the everyday – like routine childhood colds or balancing Trax’s treatments with your family’s busy schedule – made me stop and think. A lot. I once read that Cystic Fibrosis feels like breathing through a straw or drowning above water. It breaks my heart. Consider many, many prayers sent your way from Oakland.

Friends, something Kassi mentioned – “We don’t want to treat Trax any differently than the others” – must be near impossible as a parent, don’t you think? Do you ever find yourself spending much more time on one of your kids? How do you make it all even? Or is that even possible?

P.S. – Find all the stories in this series here. Do you have a story about birth, pregnancy, adoption or infertility? Send your story to me, will you please?

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The Treehouse: Mother’s Day Hideaway Wed, 07 May 2014 15:07:22 +0000 Design Mom

Garden Hideaway   |   Design Mom

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now it was time to make it pretty.

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

We started by hanging a hammock — a big one with room for more than one person.

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

We hung handsome lanterns overhead.

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

We added pots and flowers — I kept everything in a certain palette — coral and yellow and peach and green.

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

Next to the hammock, we put a little table. It’s actually a plant stand, but I think it’s just the right size for a glass of lemonade and a book.

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

We gathered unused stones from other parts of the yard to make a little footpath. And we added moss. As you can see, the moss came in little roundish clumps. I hope it thrives and spreads and fills in the spaces!

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

We grabbed a blanket from the house and added a pretty outdoor pillow.

Garden hideaway.   |   Design Mom

For the finale, we hung a curtain of ribbon in the same palette as the flowers.

Back in New York, we used to take the kids to the Botanical Gardens in the Bronx quite often. We had easy access from our house and we all loved it there. The entrance to the children’s garden was book-ended by ribbon walls — simple grosgrain ribbon in bright colors, hanging all the way to the ground. I loved those cheery ribbon walls! And I’ve wanted to copy them ever since. This seemed like the perfect excuse.

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

The ribbons at the Botanical Gardens lived outdoors permanently and didn’t seem to sustain much damage. I’m hoping the same is true of ours! But if not, and we have to take them down in a few weeks or months, that’s okay.

The ribbons were easy to install — all we needed was a step stool and some scissors — and they make the whole thing feel magical. When June saw the little hideaway, her eyes lit up like she’d just discovered a new world.

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

In fact, with two of us working, the whole hideaway was installed in just a few hours. A day of clearing out with the whole family, then a few hours on another day to pot flowers, hang ribbons and a hammock. We took a completely unused space and made it the happiest spot in the yard. Not a bad payoff!

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

This is the view looking up, while laying in the hammock. Just looking at the photo makes me relax. : )

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

Yes, I worked on it too, but I consider this little hideaway my Mother’s Day gift this year. And I think it’s a great one. We love the space!

What about you? Are you thinking about any projects for your yard these days? Or if you don’t have a yard, maybe a little something on your patio, porch or balcony? I get really excited about yard projects! I’d love to hear what you’re working on.

P.S. — This is what it looked like when before we cleared it out:

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

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

By Gabrielle.

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

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

Q: Please tell us about you and yours!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What makes you love where you live?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

By Gabrielle.

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

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

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

Q: Please introduce us to your sweet family!

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

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

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

Q: How did this house become yours?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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Living With Kids: Sarah Wallace Tue, 18 Feb 2014 17:00:46 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Sarah Wallace decided to submit her home for a Living With Kids tour for a pretty unique reason: she wanted to fall just as in love with her home as the ones she’s been pinning and ogling online. She felt frustrated when her gaze shifted from the clutter-free, design perfect scenes on her monitor to her own less than idyllic space, clutter-filled most days. And she didn’t enjoy that feeling at all. None of us do, right?

So she decided to put a little lipstick on her home, straighten its skirt a bit, and let it shine for us…and for her. (Full disclosure: Sarah would like you to know what it looked like just outside of the frame of most of the pictures. Piles of paper and clutter were removed from her kitchen counters, there may be dirty dishes hiding in the sink, and all the craft supplies from the dining room table were shifted to the stairs during the photo shoot! Thanks for keeping it real, Sarah!)

Friends, I hope you enjoy the dressed up version of the Wallace family home. More importantly, I hope you take away a little bit of reassurance that pictures aren’t always worth a thousand words and all our attention; sometimes, it’s all the stuff that we try to edit that tells us the most about our lives. Welcome Sarah!

Q: Please tell us all about your family.

A: Our family consists of four people and two animals: myself, my husband Joey, our sons Oscar and Archie, our dog Lucy, and our chinchilla Matthias.

My personality is an odd cross between type A planner/organizer/perfectionist and lazy couch-surfer. I have a degree in historic preservation of architecture, and currently work in the field of search engine marketing. My husband Joey shares many of my type A sensibilities, but where my brain tends to favor the creative side, he is an engineer and therefore innately logical. He also has an energy that continues to perplex me over ten years since our first meeting; he seems to be in constant motion, and he gets uncomfortable when he doesn’t have a job to do. This has led to his picking up several hobbies, including gardening and beer brewing. He’s also a fantastic cook, making me one of the luckiest women I know.

Oscar is our almost-four year old, and is an inquisitive, approval-seeking, affectionate, sensitive ball of energy. He enjoys anything that allows him to throw his body around, run, or jump, and then he surprises us by revealing apprehension at the strangest moments. Archie is our roly-poly, silly, determined, artistic, daredevil of an 18 month old. So different from his brother, but just as joyful. Lucy is our six year old mutt and our first baby, and Matthias is the old man of the house – 13 years old, we think.

Q: How did you find your current home?

A: We moved to Indianapolis in the fall of 2010. Joey had gone through the rigors of searching for and finding a job in academia – not an easy task! – and Oscar was just six months old. The move meant that both of us were leaving old jobs and starting new ones, finding a place to live in a new city with a young child, and as I was born and raised in our previous city, we were also moving away from my family. It was stressful.

We moved into an apartment at first, intending to stay there for a year as we searched for a home. I lasted about five months before my nesting instincts started craving a more permanent situation and more space. We told our realtor exactly what we wanted in a home: at least three bedrooms, space for guests and a home office, a basement, and ugly kitchens and bathrooms. We knew that we would want to make the home our own, didn’t want to pay for someone else’s renovations, and were hoping to find a home that was undervalued for aesthetic reasons.

Our realtor had a house come to mind immediately, but as it was her listing she made sure to show us plenty of other homes first. In the end her instincts were right, and we found ourselves gravitating towards the house she thought of during our first discussion. We came back to it multiple times, and I even had my mom tour it with me during one of her visits. I was hesitant because it wasn’t the style or type of house I thought I’d end up buying. It was so…traditional. I really love sprawling, open ranch houses and mid-century style, and this was a two-story 1960s colonial with walls everywhere. But it felt more like home than any other house we looked at.

We’ve done quite a few renovations since moving in! We’ve torn down a wall between the kitchen and living room, punched the doorway in the wall between the dining room and playroom, completely gutted and re-did the kitchen, and have painted nearly every wall in the house. There’s still plenty on our list of future renovations, though…

Q: What are your goals aesthetically with this home? Where do you find the most inspiration?

A: My main goals are for my home to be comfortable, functional, and beautiful, but not precious or too matchy. I’d like to have pieces and spaces that look nice, but in a way that we can use them and live in them. A lot of my inspiration comes from blogs and other online resources, although lately I’ve been tuned in more to my own sense of sentimentality and comfort.

One of the toughest things to happen this year – or ever, really – was the unexpected death of my mom last summer. It sounds cliche, but large and meaningful events like that really do change one’s perspective and priorities. I’ve started valuing things more for how they make me feel than for how they look. For example, I absolutely love the mid-century coffee table and side tables in my hearth room. They originally belonged to my grandparents, and so have a lot of sentimental value in addition to fitting in perfectly with my preferred aesthetic. We bought an adorable mid-century style sofa to go with them, and the set looked really nice.

After my mom’s passing, one of the things I brought home with me was her living room couch. It’s a supremely comfortable white Pottery Barn couch in a more traditional style that I probably wouldn’t have purchased on my own. I remembered how much she loved that couch, though, and how excited she was when she bought it. We thought about selling our older, more worn playroom couch and replacing it with my mom’s, but soon realized that the playroom couch was perfect for the playroom – that space needs something that’s worn-in (and certainly not white, like my mom’s piece). But we never used the newer mid-century couch, and it wasn’t terribly comfortable. We ended up selling it and putting my mom’s couch alongside her parent’s side and coffee tables. The styles may not match, but that room feels and looks better to me now than it ever did before.

Q: Do you specifically decorate with your kids’ taste and joy in mind?

A: I do, although the portion of me that likes having control over these things is still enjoying this age…neither child is really old enough to have voiced much in the way of style preference. We moved Oscar’s bedroom furniture around recently, and allowed him to have some say in where things went. He had become afraid of a particular corner of his room, and didn’t like being right by a window while he slept, and so we all collaborated to find a better arrangement for him.

Mostly I do what I can to optimize the boys’ independence. In the playroom we use low shelving so that their toys are accessible. In their bedrooms I’ve placed books at a height where they can get to them easily (and also put them away). Both of their rooms has a chalkboard wall for fun, and I like to put things that they’ve made on display in various places.

The biggest thing we did design-wise, though, was to dedicate an entire room to being just a playroom. Their playroom used to also be the main TV room, but when you have to shush your kid to hear a news story while he’s trying to play you know that something has to change. So we took the never-used formal living room and turned it into the more grown-up TV/relaxing space. That way toys and kid-stuff can stay (mostly) contained to the large play space, and when we want to unwind after the kids go to bed we have a separate area in which to do that.

All this being said, I have about a million projects floating around in my head to make the house more kid-friendly: revamp the entry with hooks at their level; turn an old closet in the playroom into toy storage and a reading nook; hang wires with hooks in various places around the house for rotating art displays, etc.

Q: What makes you love where you live?

A: Our city is extremely affordable. It was the first thing that struck me upon moving here. We’re also very fond of our neighborhood. It’s the kind of community that has neighborhood 4th of July parades, holiday parties, and fall picnics. There are always kids playing outside when it’s warm, people jogging or walking their dogs, and neighbors wave at one another when passing, regardless of whether they know one another. Although it took me a little while to get used to Indy, I’ve really come to love what the city has to offer.

The Children’s Museum is unbelievable, you won’t find a better city for sports (we’re the amateur sports capitol of the world!), and there always seems to be some kind of fair, festival, or cultural event to check out. Above all else, I’ve found the people here to be very kind and welcoming.

Q: How do you balance your life as a mom and your time for yourself?

A: I’m a hybrid: I’m a mom who’s home all day, but still employed full-time. I’m a remote employee for a regular company, and so I have a mostly normal work day. I say mostly because my commute is great and I don’t have to wear real pants. Part of having a normal work day, however, is that my kids are in full-time childcare as is required by my employer. (I should point out here that I love my employer, and this requirement really does make sense – I have busy days and am tied to my phone and computer, and if my kids were at home I wouldn’t be a good employee or a good mom.)

The major upsides to my situation are that my schedule tends to be more flexible for things like doctor’s appointments or days when my kids are home sick. Balancing is still really hard, though. It’s easy to assume that the person who’s home all day can handle things like snow days or school holidays, but having my kids at home for extended periods makes work very challenging. My husband has been great, and we work really hard to split time and ensure that both of us are able to do what we need to do.

As far as time for myself vs. time as a mom, I’d have to say that another huge benefit of working remotely is the time I have by myself at home during the day. Of course I’m busy, but the house is quiet and I’m able to take bathroom breaks without the company of tiny people. My office is its own room in the far corner of our upstairs, meaning that it’s my personal space, and can be separated and closed-off. I also do the morning drop-off for both kids, and the afternoon pick-up for Archie (Joey gets Oscar), which is a great way to delineate my work day from my family time.

When my kids come home in the evenings, and when we hang out on weekends, my husband and I are diligent about keeping one another off of our phones and email and we focus on the kids. We never have many activities scheduled, since our preference is for maintaining our routines and the little traditions that crop up – like grabbing donuts on the way to Target every Saturday morning – and just being together as a family.

Q: When does your home work best?

A: My home works best every evening, when Joey is cooking dinner and we can sit at the dining room table for snacks or coloring. Or when I have the kids going crazy in the playroom before we sit down to eat. It works perfectly as Oscar and Archie climb the bathroom stool to wash their hands, and Oscar gathers the plates we’ve put on low shelves to set the table (however grudgingly). Then while I clean up after dinner and my kids chase one another through every room on the first floor, laughing maniacally, and the dog joins the chase, and finally Joey, I just have to smile to myself about how it all comes together.

Although I will say that when the living room is bathed in the most perfect light in the early afternoon, which usually coincides with nap time, spending those few quiet moments doing anything in there – even folding laundry – feels like a treat.

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

A: The best thing about living with my kids is just how much fun they are. They have a huge amount of enthusiasm for everything, and want to have dance parties and build forts every day. Sometimes it’s hard to give in to fun like that when you’re tired and it’s the end of a long day, but I’ve found that if you can just let go and devote your attention to jumping, crawling, and dancing around your house with them, it’s one of the best stress relievers there is. They’ve also taught me how to loosen up. That it’s okay to have piles of paper on the counter or odds and ends stacked on the stairs because we just don’t have time to put it all away at the moment.

I’m hugely sentimental, and so I miss absolutely everything as they get older. It’s a serious problem for me. I’ll start thinking about what things will be like in a few years and find myself missing things that I’m still experiencing. I have to force myself to cut it out and be in the moment, to enjoy it while it’s still here. Lately my husband and I have been talking about how much we miss their baby words. The words that they don’t say quite right as they learn to talk. Like for Oscar ‘balloon’ was ‘boony,’ among lots of other adorable word variations. With each word he began using correctly I found myself unexpectedly mourning the loss of the baby version. Archie is starting to talk now, so my hope is that we catch more of the baby words on video.

Q: What do you hope your kids remember about this home? Their childhood? And you as their mom? (The good, the bad, and the not-so-cute!)

A: I hope they remember their home, childhood, and parents as being  uniquely theirs. This usually translates to it all being wonderfully imperfect. I’d like for them to remember this house as being comfortable, safe, and an easy and fun place to be a kid. For them to remember their childhood as being happy, but also not without challenges. For their mom to be a person who was unconditionally loving and supportive, who never underestimated them, but who made mistakes, and knew how and when to apologize.

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

A: That perfection and having it all together is not healthy, attainable, nor ideal. I used to think that I could try and be the mom who rolled with the punches, and knew how to handle everything. How stressful, right?! As it turns out, this type of mom isn’t very easy to relate to. I think you have to freak out every once in a while, not only for yourself, but also to reduce what I like to think of as parental isolation.

Occasionally freaking out openly about the FIFTH snow day in a row, the red lipstick now adorning your kitchen cabinets, or the diaper pail your dog tore into helps you and other parents have that oh-thank-god-it’s-not-just-me! moment. Not to mention the break you give yourself.


Sarah, I will always be a fan of keeping it as real and as beautiful as possible! Your tour was a lovely blend of both. And I really liked hearing about your interesting work set-up; working from home while wrangling little ones is so difficult, and it’s wonderful how your company supports such a workable working scenario for you.

Friends, do any of you enjoy the same work set-up? A remote employee who balances working from home with little ones? And, if so, how do you handle those mom moments that always seem to creep in when we least expect them? Hello, snow days!

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

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Living With Kids: Kayce Hughes Tue, 17 Dec 2013 17:00:06 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

Oh, we’re in for a treat today! Friends, I’d love to introduce you to Kayce Hughes: wife, mother of seven, and classic designer. I’ve worked with Kayce a lot over the years, so I can attest to the fact that she is inherently stylish; she hails from a gorgeous lineage of women who define style, among them an aunt by the name of Lilly Pulitzer! She is an anything-is-possible maker. Her style is timeless and effortless. She runs toward color, and somehow leaves us wishing for boldly patterned red chairs to match our green walls…and not just in December.

Years ago, she whipped up nightshirts for her daughters, which were the first of a now 200-plus piece collection that includes children’s apparel, gift and layette collections, a flower girl collection, and an ever expanding women’s line of clothing and accessories. She has shops, too, so if you’re lucky enough to be in Nashville, Chattanooga, or Atlanta, pop in! (I’m told her fall line is on sale 40% off!)

Q: Please tell us about the family who makes this house a home.

A: We have seven children – two boys and five girls, ages eight to 20 – and two white labs. Our children’s names are Reagan, Charlotte, Sophie, Owen, Clare, Audrey, and Olivia. And our dogs are Jack and Lilly. My husband is a great photographer, and I design woman’s and children’s clothes. There is a lot of creativity under one roof! With nine strong unique artistic personalities, there is always someone to hang out with and something fun going on.

Q: How did this home become yours?

A: We bought our house 20 years ago when Scott and I moved to Nashville from New York City. It was built in the 30’s. I have fond memories of the first few years when we spend so many hours scraping wall paper and painting one room at a time. Fourteen years ago we added on the kitchen and family room which is where we all spend most of our time. It was great to have lived in our home for so many years so that we knew what we wanted when the time came to add on.

Q: With seven kids, how do you make sure there’s space for everyone?

A: Over the years we have done a lot of room swapping. My two older girls used to share a room, but there came a time when I realized that they would get along better if they were not in the same room. That was the last time we had a guest room. Our three youngest still share a room and love it…well, most of the time.

Q: What’s your holiday decor philosophy?

A: I love decorating for the holidays! I love collecting and creating things out of vintage ornaments. During the year I am always trying to simplify and de-clutter, but at this time of the year my philosophy is More is More! More vintage, more pine, more red, more glitter!

Q: What are your favorite holiday traditions?

A: We have a large collection of Christmas books and bring them down from the attic on the day after Thanksgiving. Each night the kids take turns and light a candle and pick the book for Scott to read. We read in the living room with the lights off in the glow of the lights on the tree.

Q: As a designer and someone with great taste, do you ever fight the urge or pressure to over-manage the holiday decor? What jobs do you love to do, and which do you delegate?

A: In general I curate the decorations the kitchen and living room. Scott and the boys are in charge of putting up and lighting the two trees, one in the living room and another in the playroom. Everyone helps to hang the wreaths and decorate the tree.

I have giant tubs full of decorations and the kids have free reign to use it all to decorate their playroom and rooms.

Q: Your stores are probably extra busy around the holidays! What does an average December day look like to you? If you could have one day free and clear, how would you spend it?

A: Our office is closed between Christmas and New Year’s, and I am really looking forward to it! My perfect winter day would be sleeping in followed by a long breakfast with our family consisting of Scott’s whole wheat pancakes and cappuccinos. Then hit some estate sales or thrift stores with my older ones. (Isn’t it fun when they love to do the same things that we do?)

I love painting or doing a craft project, so getting to do a bit of that in the afternoon with some of the kids would be perfect. I also enjoy cooking simple but yummy meals (but I hate grocery shopping) and would love to have a few friends over for dinner.

Q: What inspires you, season to season? What about your aesthetic never, ever changes?

A: I am always inspired by the past. I love looking at vintage patterns and photographs. And out of that inspiration I like to create something that feels fresh and current for now.

Q: What has surprised you the most about being a mother? What has been your favorite lesson your children have taught you?

A: I am constantly surprised and in awe at how different each of my children are. Their personalities, talents, and quirks are all fascinating to watch bloom.

Having seven children has taught me to let go of a lot. The house isn’t perfect, dinner isn’t perfect, their outfits aren’t perfect, and I have learned that that is perfectly fine with me!

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

A: Read the parenting books. I think I read one million! Talk with friends about what works for them, but in the end enjoy your children and know them. One formula does not fit every child.


Thank you, Kayce! This was just the burst of cheer I was craving before the holidays! It’s all wonderful, but I smiled the hardest at the tiny wreath over your birdhouse door. As someone who is a little behind on my Christmas decor this year, it was lovely to see that even the smallest gestures pack some pretty grand joy.

I loved hearing that you’ve been in the same house for 20 years, but that it’s always evolving with your family’s needs. Isn’t it funny that you had no idea seven kids and two dogs were coming, but your home has been able to handle it! From room expansions to simple room assignment shifts, it’s a good reminder that our homes should work for us. If they don’t, get rid of the guest room!

Friends, have your homes grown with you, too? Did you have to add on for it to truly work, or did you get creative? I’d love to hear your experiences!

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

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Living With Kids: Candice Stringham Tue, 10 Dec 2013 15:30:45 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

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

Q: Please tell us all about this festive family.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: How did this house become your home?

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

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

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

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

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What has been your best holiday decor idea?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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Interview: Françoise Mouly Wed, 13 Nov 2013 15:30:10 +0000 Design Mom

Françoise Mouly

By Carter. Image by Sarah Shatz.

[ Note from Design Mom: Friends, you may have noticed that I paused our series of Author Interviews for awhile. But our resident children's book expert, Carter Higgins, is bringing the series back today in a major way! And with a bit of twist, too — today, you get to meet a publisher/art director, and one of my personal design idols. You'll love this interview. ]

I am so excited to introduce you to Françoise Mouly today! You might know her work as the art director of The New Yorker, but she’s also the founder and publisher of TOON Books, a collection of comics and graphic novels for early readers. Her vision for kids having access to well-designed comics is innovative and inspiring. It’s magical! And radical! On top of that, she’s a mom doing a fantastic job of infusing her career with the needs of her kids. What an honor to bring her words to you today. Enjoy!

1. You’ve said, “comics are a gateway into literature.” I love this! What can comics do for kids that other books can’t? And could you speak to the complex relationship between pictures and words within those pages?

In many ways, I’m working off of what I saw when our two kids learned to read. They’re both bright kids who were surrounded by books, with the same parents who love to read, but each child went about it in his or her own way, within his or her own timeline. They both loved comics, but it was clear to me that comics were what got our son hooked on reading — that’s when the lightbulb went on. I realized you can’t force someone to enter into the world of literacy. It’s far too complex a set of skills — the child has to want to make the story happen in his or her head. With comics, you provide a clear path to get through that thicket. Comics have a unique ability to draw young readers in through their visual narrative flow. In comics, pictures are acting as words, and those ‘words’ are instantly understandable to kids. They’ll follow the flow of the images, wanting to know why this character is angry, and why this one is crying. They move on the page from left to right, from top to bottom. They effortlessly read many elements of comics storytelling: the size and shape of the panels shows what’s important, the sound effects provide a parallel track; with the speech balloons, they see written dialogue as a transcription of spoken language. Most of the issues that emerging readers struggle with are instantly clarified by comics’ simple and inviting format. You’ll forgive me if I get excited, but for beginning readers, comics are pretty close to a magic bullet!

Silly Lilly

2. Can you tell us a little bit about your mission and hopes for TOON Books?

We want to share our love of books with new generations as they come of age in an increasingly visual culture. The more there are digital assaults on our kids’ attention, the more they need books, good books. With comics, kids can take charge, can be at the wheel. Watching kids devour our TOON books should convince any skeptics left in the house of how entertaining reading can be. The TOON’s open a child’s eyes up not just to comics, but to any book’s pleasures, so it’s very important to publish books that will withstand repeated readings, books that are beautifully produced, and put them in young children’s hands. Years ago, I was passionately arguing that “COMICS — They’re not just for kids anymore!” But now that comics, in the guise of “Graphic Novels”, have acquired legitimacy — now that they are in libraries, museums, and bookstores — I’m just as passionately arguing that comics must not, in their bid for respectability, leave children behind. “COMICS — They’re not just for grown-ups anymore!” That’s my new slogan!


3. Is there a cover of The New Yorker or a particular illustration that you would consider your favorite piece?

I take pride in the fact that the covers have not gotten predictable, that in the 20 years I have been in charge, it hasn’t settled into a “New Yorker” cover style. I’m proud of so many great covers, and of the range of artists we publish: David Hockney, Robert Crumb, Barry Blitt, Maira Kalman, Bruce McCall, so many geniuses. I get to work with the best artists of my time; it’s a real privilege. But still there’s one cover that’s more meaningful to me personally than most, and it’s the one I did right after September 11 with my husband, Art Spiegelman, the black on black silhouettes of the towers on a black field, a cover both simple and complex. It was a turning point for me because the stakes were so high. I felt I couldn’t possibly succeed, that no drawing could possibly capture what we were going through at the time. The image was born out of that negation. I accepted what I felt, my feeling of utter powerlessness and that’s what I sketched. The fact that my inability to come up with an image was the path to just the right image was a great lesson.

The New Yorker

Cover by Françoise Mouly & Art Spiegelman
First published in The New Yorker, September 24, 2001
© 2001 Françoise Mouly & Art Spiegelman, The New Yorker

4. What physical objects, places, or people inspire you to create art?

I treasure new ways to look at something I thought I knew. I love going to museums with Art, my husband; he’s such a good observer and explainer of what he sees. Looking at art makes me want to rush home to try something, anything with paints. Also sitting in nature, looking at trees, or at a brook. Anything can be a trigger, because when you do something you put all of yourself into it. You don’t partition and think: “This came from art school, this from this morning’s subway ride, and this from what my kid just did.” You simultaneously process everything you go through, so contemplative moments are good triggers. When I take in something in fully, I get so excited it makes me want to create something new. 

Benjamin Bear

5. Your life’s work is truly at the intersection of design and motherhood. How does mothering influence your creative work, and how does your work as an artist speak to your parenting?

I feel I became much more myself when I became a mother. Before, I didn’t always have the confidence of many designers or artists, to say: “Look at what I did! It deserves your time and attention.” Once I became a Mom, I was fearless. I had the responsibility to decide what my kid will eat for dinner, what clothes she’ll wear, what school she’ll go to. It’s such an awesome responsibility to be a parent — I had to trust myself in order to live up to it, and that helped for a lot of the creative work. Confidence in yourself is key – you can only initiate something new if you believe in it. And I’m so proud of our kids, I’m not objective on the topic, but I think artists can make good parents because they naturally encourage risk-taking and they value figuring things out for yourself.

6. I’m always curious what creative professionals love to do in their spare time, because I know how tough it is to turn off that side of your brain in off hours. How else do you view the world besides through books and art?

You’re right that there isn’t a separation between work and “not-work.” The best ideas come in the shower, or on the bike, or even while you’re asleep. Between The New Yorker, the TOON Books, and being in charge of my household, I end up having to be very disciplined to make room for all that I have to take care of. Often, I’ll try to do everything else first and wait til everyone is gone to close the door so I can focus on the creative work. The best times are usually when I can spend a day or two to hike, bike, swim, any repetitive movement, read, draw, empty my head: that’s fuel for many days afterwards.

The Big Wet Balloon

7. I read an article that mentioned your desire to leave a legacy of print books and magazines as a means to “fossilize the moment.” That is such a lovely sentiment, and I’d love to hear you expand on those thoughts a bit.

One of the artists I work with, Frank Cammuso, pointed out that he can’t pull out an iPad at bedtime with his three-year old. An iPad is a window on an endless stream of excitement; it’s not a place to focus and prepare for sleep and dreams. But a book is! A book can be read every night and it will always be the same and different. It will be what your Dad read when he was a kid, and what you’ll read to your children. It has some elements that don’t change yet it’s a new adventure every time you reread it, because reading is truly interactive and the reader is half the story. All day long, I spend my days on a computer, making and manipulating images, reading and writing emails, finding information. A computer is a good tool, a means to an end, but spending so much time online makes me very aware of how special and valuable any ‘old media’ is, anything that is printed, frozen, preserved in one form, fossilized. It’s there to be interpreted. Every time you spend time with it, it remains the same yet it becomes something more. Whenever I hear from people say that Silly Lilly, Benjamin Bear, A Trip to The Bottom of the World, or any of the TOON Books has become their child’s favorite book, read night after night, I feel hopeful for the future. 

Frank Viva

8. What were your favorite books as a kid, and do you see threads of those stories lingering in any of your creative or family work today?

Funny you should ask, but next year we’ll be launching a new series, the TOON Graphics, for children a bit older, 9-12. One of the first books in the launch is a comic I read when I was that age, Philemon by a French artist named Fred. At the time in Paris, I didn’t know anyone else who read it, didn’t have anyone to talk to about it. But now it’s everywhere in my house, where the TOON office is. I look around and I see my husband, my children, and the young assistants who work at TOON, all reading a comic strip I loved when I was a kid, and I feel I’m doing something right. I’m incredibly lucky to be in a position where I can make lots of people discover a work I loved when I was twelve, and which seems just as good now.


Isn’t she remarkable? After this chat, I wanted to rush out to an art museum, take a stroll around the block, and curl up with an old favorite book. All at once. Somehow her inspiration makes me feel like all of that is possible, and somehow I love the notion of story even more now. Did her words resonate with you, too? I keep thinking about how the reader is half of the story, and how books are new adventures with each reread. I know a ton of little readers that will devour these books, and an equal number of grownups that will swoon over the art!

So here’s to story, to art, and to family legacy!

P.S. — Find all the posts in our Author Interview Series here.

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Living With Kids: Lilian de Vries Tue, 10 Sep 2013 16:00:27 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

I normally begin these Living With Kids tours with a stunning shot of the kitchen or a vibrant welcome from the entryway. But today, I am starting off by showing you a few highly covetable pairs of children’s boots. They are the coolest, as are all the offerings from a fairly new Dutch shoe brand called de Vries. And now we get the chance to see inside the equally cool designer’s home!

Her name is Lilian de Vries, and she is a talent. When she first wrote to me, she casually mentioned she is a shoemaker. Too fun! I consider hers an artisan career that would be fantastic to announce at dinner parties. Or home tours! “Hello. My name is Lilian, and I make fabulous shoes. It is nice to meet you.” Friends, it really is nice to meet Lilian. You’ll see. Please enjoy the tour!

Q: Tell us about the family who makes this house a home!

A: I met my husband Charles in 1996 in Rotterdam while I was in art school. We used to live there for ten years in a great apartment. Two years after our daughter Ella was born in 2003, we decided to move to a house with a garden that was also closer to my work in Amsterdam, and we ultimately ended up in Utrecht, the center part of the Netherlands.

Charles was brought up in this area. As a three-year old he used to live at his aunt’s for a few months, and she still lives in the street next to our place. Adam and Coco were born in Utrecht. We have a lovely garden, but most of the time they play on the schoolyard nearby; no garden can compete with that!

Q: How did this house become yours?

A: We had been looking for a while but couldn’t find exactly what we wanted. In the area we live now, almost every house looks the same on the outside, but there seemed to be something we did not like about each house we were visiting. At that time, I was pregnant with Adam, and I was getting quit nervous. Then we found our new home! We immediately liked the street, the huge tree in the front of the house, and the old barn. It was perfect.

We had to make some changes on the inside because some things were really outdated. That was the best opportunity to make the place our own. We moved some walls, built a new kitchen, a new dormer, and a porch. As an interior designer I had the best time!

A few weeks after we had moved from Rotterdam to Utrecht, Adam was born. Just recently Adam turned eight. His birthday will always remind Charles and me of one of the best decisions we’ve ever made: moving to this wonderful place in Utrecht!

Q: What makes you love the place you live?

A: Utrecht is the fourth biggest city of the Netherlands. We have all the extra goodness that comes along with that: there is a lot of cultural exposure, great infrastructure, and great shopping-opportunities. All in reach within ten minutes by bike.

The best thing about this area of Utrecht is that is does not look or feel like a big city at all! This is like a small village where children still play on the streets and where people still know and care about each other. I was brought up myself in a very small village, and this place reminds me of that!

Q: How has your style changed since you added kids? What would your home look like without them?

A: My style has always been very basic: big gestures and not too many colors. In my job as an interior designer, I love to simplify things and leave out what could be missed. But, of course, my husband started to bring things along. He still does, actually; he travels a lot for his work and our kids love it when he brings some souvenirs home for them! I have started to enjoy those items. I think it makes the house really come to life.

Q: Do you work hard to make your home accessible and stylish in your kids’ eyes? Do they notice?

A: For the past few years, I’ve been working on my own business as a children’s shoes designer. I work at home and I like an inspiring environment. That means that when the kids are off to school, I want their things to be in their place. The kids do that quite well.

This doesn’t mean we don’t keep their stuff in our living area – we do – but we use the lowest bookshelves for their drawing stuff, their wooden trains, LEGOs, etc. Nevertheless, you’ll find Playmobil all over the place; it often seems that those little plastic people actually live here also! Since we have children, I have started to like to add extra fun details for them.

There is this big black plastic crow sitting on our veranda. And we have a dog watching over the kids’ medals! In the attic, I keep some stock for my shoe-webstore, and Adam is using this for his Playmobil. Looks really awesome!

As a bonus I have come to use this sort of coloring-detailing inspired by my kids in my designs. When I started out designing kid’s shoes, I created all very basic models in cognac leather. Along the way, I find myself adding more and more colors…like an orange zipper in black boots or yellow laces in grey boots.

Q: How do you see the design and decor of your home affecting them?

A: Now that I think of it, I think the most important motto to keep our home working is keep things in their place. It makes our house livable for us, and workable for me!

Each one of our children have very strong opinions on what they like or not. This is probably the outcome of having a designer mom! The decorating of their own room is mostly up to them, after we have first set the tone together.

Q: What room in your home works best for your entire family? 

A: No doubt, that would be the living room. This is what an average weekend looks like: there is enough space for children to play or build on the floor, while my husband sits in his favorite red chair reading and is having all his books nearby. I work/sit/read at the kitchen table with one or two children. All on the same floor. Love it.

Q: What do you hope your kids remember about this home and this period of time for your family?

A: I hope this home – inside and outside – is as safe place for them as it is for us. A home in which to find out what they love in life, to develop what they are good at. I hope they feel enough space to be themselves and feel inspirited by the design around them.

Also I hope they never feel done! Nothing stays forever. I hope they feel the opportunities there are in the house, but outside as well.

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

A: Having children around makes life so much more relative. Who cares about the grown up things when one of your children is not feeling well? Children make you see what really matters. That being together and taking care of each other is bringing the best out of each person.

I love it when one comes to sit next to me, for a hug or a small sleep on our black loveseat, which is really our laziest chair! Those are my favorite moments. I have to admit, I don’t like not being able to get out of my chair, but after a few minutes I have to give up and I‘d better join the nap! Can’t tell when children stop doing that yet, but I hope they never will!

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

A: …to follow your heart! I know, people say that all the time and lots of people told me, but it is so true. It is not always easy, but I am getting better at it as I grow older.


Lilian, you are so right when you share the thought “Who cares about the grown up things when one of your children is not feeling well?” No one. How many of us have had entire days come to a screeching halt when fever hits? Meetings cancelled, soups made, and worried middle-of-the-night pacing begun!

Tell me: What was the last pause button your children pushed? The last time your schedule turned upside-down and inside-out? How did you deal with all the last-minute turmoil? (And what ultimately helped you to relax and go with the natural flow?) I can’t wait to hear all your tricks!

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

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Iota Illustration Giveaway Thu, 29 Aug 2013 19:43:46 +0000 Design Mom


By Gabrielle.

I have a really fun giveaway for you today! It’s sponsored by the etsy shop, Iota Illustration, and the prize is a $150 gift certificate for the shop prints. Hooray!

whale by iota illustration

Do you know Iota Illustration? The shop is owned and run by the talented Oliver Lake. He’s a children’s book illustrator who loves to make images that appeal to both children and adults.

I really enjoy his work! I think it would be wonderful hanging in a nursery, a playroom or a family room. Some of my favorites: Out On A Lark, Two Fine Foxes, The Cat’s Whiskers, The Bird and The Whale, and Tiger Transportation.

Iota IllustrationTiger Transportation by Iota Illustration

Wouldn’t it be fun to use one of his prints as an inspiration piece for a children’s bedroom? And it’s not just prints. His illustrations are available on throw pillows, iPhone cases, tote bags, and t-shirts. Cute!

Visit Iota Illustration and leave a comment below to enter — I’d love to hear which print catches your eye first! The winner will be announced on Monday. Good luck!

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Living With Kids: Laura Hall Tue, 30 Jul 2013 16:00:13 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Images by Iris Thorsteinsdottir for Kid & Coe.

I’m fond of our home tours for a lot of reasons, but one of my favorites is that it gives me the chance to truly learn about living with kids in every corner of the world. Practical advice and personal experience from real families are the best, made even better with pictures and local accents! As I mentioned to Laura this week, you just never know where you’ll want to move your family tomorrow. Perhaps to Bristol? It sure sound lovely. (And then there is the matter of Banksy, graffiti artist extraordinaire! How cool would it be to casually name-drop him as your neighbor?) I know you’re going to adore Laura and the Hall home, and I’m also pretty sure you’re going to love the company she keeps, known as Kid & Coe, especially if you’ve got little ones and despise traveling with all the gear they seem to accumulate! Welcome, Laura!

Q: Tell us all about your sweet family living in the UK!

A: Four of us live here. I’m Laura, the Communications Manager of Kid & Coe, traveler, magpie, and generally creative person. I’m joined by my husband Matt, an IT risk consultant by day (yawn!) but a dastardly food blogger and inventive cook by night (yum!). There’s also our bumptious three year old daughter Olivia, who loves to sing and read, often at the same time, and our four-year-old cat Sukie, who I rescued when she was just five weeks old. She’s lovely but thinks she’s a human most of the time.

Q: How did this house become your home? (And please tell us what it’s like to buy or rent in Bristol…just in case any of us are interested!)

A: We love our home so much! We bought it four years ago after living in a hip city center apartment, because we wanted to be near a park and to have a family in a lovely area. I got pregnant within a month of moving in. I have so many friends on this street and the next who all have three year olds. Who knows what they’re putting in the water!

One of the best things in my life was getting pregnant while living here. We live on top of a hill, and one day I was puffing up it, heavily pregnant, when a lady opened her door and invited me in for tea. She had a bunch of other mums from the street having tea in her garden, and just like that I was invited into the Richmond Street mums club! It’s lovely, and I really like that the vibe is like that round here.

Renting and buying in the UK is a funny thing. The monthly outgoing is around the same, but these days you have to pay a 25% deposit to secure a home. As a result, many people can’t afford to buy unless they have a big savings or parents who can help. We were lucky and sold our old flat at the right time, having built up enough equity in it to afford the deposit on this house. It’s actually cheaper and easier in Bristol than in London; my twin brother (age 35) is still renting because property in London is so expensive!

Q: What makes you love Bristol, especially as it relates to living there with kids?

A: Bristol is a funny old place. It’s a little bit hippy, a little bit alternative, and really quite a small, village-y kind of city, if you know what I mean! It attracts small businesses, people who want to live a little differently, and people who are allergic to the corporate fast track. I think those of us who live in Bristol live life well. Maybe we all share a philosophy that life is for living, not working, most of the time.

We live here because I wanted to have easy access to London for work, but also easy access to the amazing counties of Devon, Somerset, and Cornwall which are easily the best bit of being in the UK. Oh, and Banksy comes from Bristol. That’s probably our biggest claim to fame!

Matt’s from the southwest of the UK, and it’s such an appealing part of the country: laid back, surfy, with the best weather we get over here. Moving away from the southwest would probably kill him, whereas I’ve lived in London, Oxford, Manchester, and Reykjavik, and would go back to a bigger city no problem. Sometimes the pace of life here drives me nuts.

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? Has it changed since the arrival of your daughter? And do you see it changing more the older and more aware she grows?

A: I’m all about color. I love a color pop. My husband’s favorite color is orange, and I think that reflects his creativity as a whole. He’s always loved animation and little characters and seriously, none of that has changed since Olivia turned up. In fact, his cheery design aesthetic is a lot in line with a toddler’s! If anything, he’s turned that part of himself up a bit! I guess when Olivia grows up, she might see our taste and style as a bit juvenile, but I hope we keep playfulness at the heart of our home.

I also love things with a story. I am such a shopper, and I always try to bring something back from a trip that will remind me of it. We have posters from Copenhagen, bowls from Istanbul, cushions from Marrakech…the list goes on.

In my bedroom I have this carved wood jewelry box I brought back from India, and that really does have a story. Three years after I returned from the trip, I started hearing this strange jingling sound in the middle of the night. I couldn’t work out what it was. Eventually, we found this fine powder next to the jewelry box and discovered that there was something living in the box: a big white larva! It was eating away at the wood and would have turned into a moth. Apparently they’re quite common in India, but I never expected to pick up a hitchhiker like that!

I really love our dining room. It’s white with stripped floorboards and a pine table and cheap junk shop chairs spray-painted bright colors to make it look fun. People always comment on them – I got the idea from Elle Deco – and they were fun to do. I wanted to color code the bookshelves in the living room, too, which I saw in a cafe in Reykjavik, Iceland.

We consciously wanted to create a calming space for Olivia’s bedroom, and it’s become one of our favorite rooms. It’s all cream and pale with stripped floorboards; I guess it has a slight air of Scandinavia to it. I felt that this would work as she gets older, when she’ll want to put posters up and add something more dynamic. But while she’s little, I was really concerned that we needed to make her room somewhere she could sleep well. Sleep is the key to being a happy parent!

The more I travel, the more I pick up little ideas. I was in Copenhagen recently and decided that we absolutely have to get some better storage, so the house looks a little cleaner and less cluttered. Being in such an old house (it’s over 100 years old), there’s little storage and we really battle with finding places to put things away. Mostly we just hide toys under the sofa and overstock our cupboards. The biggest problem at the moment is that we’re saving tons of stuff in the event we have another baby; as soon as all those baby things in the closet can be given away, we’ll have a little more room to breathe!

Q: Your company, Kid & Coe, sounds genius. Tell us about it!

A: Kid & Coe is so great! I’m so excited to be working for this company. After years working as a travel writer and heading up family travel projects, I was approached last year to work for this New York based start-up. Our aim is to simplify family travel, and we do that by providing a network of stylish and family-friendly homes around the world available for rent.

As well as staying in a home perfect for children, guests get a personalized City Scout guide with the best advice on the local neighborhood, and select childcare essentials. I’ve found that when we travel, knowing where a great playground or park is sets the tone for our stay; it can be a godsend. I’ve been scouting in Copenhagen this month and found the most fantastic places to play – swimming pools in the harbor, playgrounds with slides in the shapes of parrots – and local knowledge helped us find them all. I’m excited to be able to share this kind of detail with other people.

We’ve got homes on our books in New York, London, Cornwall, Tel Aviv, France, Portugal, Italy, Mexico, and many more. And they’re all especially perfect for families with young children. It’s so great to be able to travel knowing that everything you need will be there, from high chairs and baby baths to cribs, and that you don’t have to lug tons of stuff along. It makes your trip more than a holiday; you have a chance to live like a local family.

We’re also really into the concept of collaborative consumption. If you’ve got something and you’re not using it, why not let someone else use it? So families can rent their own houses or vacation houses out on the site when they’re away, and make a little money for themselves at the same time. It’s a win-win situation.

Q: In your opinion, after collecting a lot of stylish homes for the Kid & Coe network, what seems to be the hallmark of a fantastic kid-friendly stylish home?

A: To me personally, it’s all about attitude. Anyone can stick a crib in a room and call it family friendly, but the best places I’ve seen all have a positive attitude towards kids.

It might be that they’ve got a hidden play space in the bedroom that only a small child can get into. They might have a great rope swing in the garden. It might just be a little bit of cool graffiti at child’s eye height, or a selection of unusual toys. I like seeing that an owner has thought about how to inject a bit of fun into their children’s lives. Isn’t that the best?!

Matt is always doing daft things like hiding toys on top of pictures, or putting a cling-on monkey in a plant to see if Olivia has spotted it. You know when you’re looking at a home like that, that they won’t mind if your toddler accidentally smears jam somewhere they shouldn’t.

Q: Where is your favorite space to spend time with your daughter in your own home? What makes it so special?

A: I love our garden. It’s teeny tiny, but we spend as much time out in it in the summer as we can, grabbing striped floor cushions for the decking, stringing a sail up to shade it from the sun, and hunting for tiny frogs and snails and worms. We used to have a little girl living next door who we talked to a lot over the fence, but she’s now moved.

And our garden has a World War II bomb shelter! It’s now a white building with lots of chalk drawings on it. I was bewitched by it when we came to view the house before we bought it. Just the thought of two people sitting in it in the gloomy dark as air raid sirens wailed and bombs fell all over the city. It’s dark and cold and a bit slimy and they must have been so scared. These days, we put our gardening equipment and barbecue in it, and our cat camps out on the roof, so it’s had a radical change of purpose! I wanted to turn it into a home office but it’s too difficult to do, unfortunately. We may end up putting a wildflower roof on top of it.

Q: What do you hope your daughter remembers most from this home? How intentional are you in decorating with her  and her future memories in mind?

A: Such a lovely question! I really just hope that she feels happy and secure here, and that she’s comfortable in the neighborhood. Growing up, my family moved around a lot and we didn’t know our neighbors that well, so I really love the fact that on our street, we know nearly everyone. A neighbor and I arrange a street party every year so we all have the opportunity to eat cake and drink tea together – very English! – and Olivia has so many friends up and down the street that it’s delightful.

As for future decorating, she’s a little too small to help right now, but she does choose things for her room. We were just in Copenhagen and she chose a little blue elephant money bank which looks really sweet on the shelf. She’s already got my collection of Japanese dolls in her room, and we’ll help her update that when her tastes change. In the future, we hope to have another child. Since it’s a two-bedroomed house, we’ll either have to move or be very creative with the space. I can see a scenario where Olivia and her sibling share the master bedroom while we take her bedroom, just for space reasons.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your daughter? Has motherhood surprised you? What is the one thing you will miss the most from this time in your daughter’s life?

A: Oh those lovely chubby baby cheeks! I miss them already! A friend told me that when they’re little, you’re all ‘Come on! Walk and talk already!’ but when they start doing it, all you do is tell them to sit down and be quiet. That’s so true! I was too hasty for her to grow up and I miss the baby days.

I love living with my little girl. My favorite thing is when she comes in from childcare and has a new song to share with me. I cycle round the city with her on my bike a fair bit, and to hear her sing The Teddy Bear’s Picnic from the back of my bike is the greatest thing!

Motherhood, though…that’s hit me like a double decker bus. I feel like I had to remake myself completely. I found it so hard in the early days. I feel that motherhood, in the early days, is like a long stretch of boredom punctuated by moments of extreme stress. These days, we have it sorted a little better; it’s less stressful and less boring, and there are some moments of pure joy amid all the juggling, washing, cooking, and working Getting through the day with just some of the tasks on my to do list ticked off is a real achievement, whereas before I wouldn’t be happy unless everything was done! Life just has so many loose ends these days!

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

A: …that it’s okay to ask for help. I really struggle with asking for help, but when I broke my ankle a couple of months ago, I had no other options. I had to ask friends to drive Olivia to childcare in the mornings, and to pick her up as i couldn’t walk or drive. I had to ask my mum to stay for a week, I booked an extra nanny, and I generally spent my time feeling guilty about it all. I have such wonderful friends and such great support that I really should relax about it! But as a control freak, I find it really hard to delegate responsibility to other people when I feel it should be my job. I think someone needs to keep telling me that it’s okay to ask other people to help, actually!


Two things. One, collaborative consumption is now one of my favorite terms. And then there’s this: “Anyone can stick a crib in a room and call it family friendly, but the best places I’ve seen all have a positive attitude towards kids.” Laura, I love the way you think. Did I say two? I meant three. Because she has a bomb shelter turned shed in her back garden! Talk about perspective. Thank you for it all, Laura!

Friends, would you ever give up your master bedroom as a way to make room for more children? I’d love to hear about it if you did!

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

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Living With Kids: Chelsey Woolley Tue, 16 Apr 2013 17:30:25 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle.

There’s something special about the Woolley home. It’s definitely in a state of repair and redesign, I’m sure the exposed brick lends an added chill, and the constant sprinkling of dust from the perpetual updating must get old. But on the flip side, it’s a home where anything seems possible when the sunlight streams in. It’s a home where cuddling up together in one room creates all the warmth needed. And as for the dust, who notices such things against such a colorful backdrop? From the way Chelsey describes her six children to the way she chooses wall color and their two non-negotiable house rules, this is a tour to enjoy. I really hope you do!

Q: Tell us about the sweet family making this house a home!

A: My husband, Woo (not his real name, but a name that he goes by and the name that I almost always call him), likes to say that we met in the pediatrician’s office. We did have the same pediatrician, but I think that we most likely met for the first time in high school where he was friends with my little brother, and I was friends with his older sister. We didn’t start dating until I’d graduated from college, and after we kept seeing each other at things like thrift stores, gigs, and Ultimate Frisbee. We like to say that Woo’s the public face of our family — personable, often hilarious, and friendly. He works from home as a self-employed app developer. I’m a stay-at-home mom driven to read or fiddle around with the house in my spare time. I have a degree in science, but wish I’d done something much more right-brained. Soon after we married, we moved to St. Louis and started our family. Four of our children were born there, and the last two were born here in Utah.

Ruby, eight, is our resident tomboy. She can run, climb, play in the dirt, and collect bugs and rocks with the best of them. She is also extremely compassionate, generous, and social. She has many, many big ideas; right now she has lots of plans for her future involving the study and cultivation of sharks.

Herbie, seven, would love to be the oldest kid, but is making the most of being the oldest boy. He considers himself an expert on anything he’s done (even just once), or heard about (even just barely), and will unload what he knows on his little brothers. Despite trying to be an adult in every way, he definitely has a slapstick sense of humor, loves a good knock-knock joke, and still loves hugs from his mom and tickles from his dad.

Moses, five, is our sweet, sensitive middle child. He gives the most sincere, surprising compliments, has an angelic, innocent smile, and is very affectionate. He also is the kid who best understands comedic timing and the anatomy of a good joke. He would really, really like to be good all the time, but sometimes just can’t help himself when his little brother takes one of his cars, or his big sister involves him in an exciting, sneaky plan.

Linus, three, is our charmer. He has had a big, bright smile from almost the very beginning, and he’ll flash it at anyone he meets. He has a hearty, husky laugh that we hear a lot. He’s a bit of a ham, has no fear of people, and is also adorable, so I’m constantly having people tell me how cute he is. They’ll often say, “I don’t know what it is, but he is just so cute!” I, of course, don’t think there’s any mystery about it.

Penelope, 21 months, is at that first stage (of many, I’m sure) where she thinks she knows it all. She babbles seriously to us at length, expecting us to understand every word she says. She does important work around the house, like move dishes from the cupboard to the table and back again. She rushes to put something on her feet (a slipper and a big boot) and hands (a sock and a mitten) as soon as she hears the word “outside.” She usually answers no to any question – just to be safe – and then changes her answer when she realizes we’ve just offered her a cookie.

Archie, three months, is our newborn. All of our kids have been happy, content babies, but Archie has seriously been a miracle baby; well-behaved beyond my wildest dreams. He smiles and coos just occasionally, and always at me. Mostly he furrows his eyebrows in a concerned or perplexed expression, patiently putting up with our slobbery kisses and rough hugs.

Q: How did the house become yours?

A: Once it became clear that Woo would be able to work from home and that we’d be able to live anywhere, we quickly flirted with someplace exotic, but then decided to move back to Utah to be closer to family. We’d been away from them for awhile. We were still in St. Louis, so we began our search on the internet and were disappointed to find absolutely nothing that we liked in our price range and in a good location. After a while we decided that, really, we could probably make anything look better over time, and to concentrate on location.

We had looked at this house on and off, but Woo didn’t fly out until we were under contract for a different house in a different town. He decided to take a look at this one again on a whim. As he and the realtor walked through the house they laughed at how dumpy it was. Then later that night Woo told me he thought we should buy it.

The house is right next to a large park (with an ice rink) and the church. We have a library and a couple of restaurants down the street. There are three ski resorts, two reservoirs, and a river within 30 minutes. A couple of beaches are within biking distance. It’s on an acre of land with large trees in a quiet, old town, but also close to civilization. Those things wouldn’t change, but we knew we could change the house. So we bought it.

Q: When was the first moment you fell in love with the house and knew it had to be yours? Did you see its potential right away?

A: I had never seen the house in person until the day we moved from St. Louis and closed on the house. It had ugly siding, a sunken front porch, horrible, matted carpet in every room (even the kitchen and bathroom), wallpapered walls with large cracks in the plaster, the beautiful windows were hidden behind heavy, frilly curtains – it wasn’t hard to tell why the house hadn’t sold. But it did definitely have a feeling of being ours, and I was excited about the high ceilings, the arched doorway between the living room and dining room, the old moldings, the giant transom window in the master bedroom, the deep window sills from thick brick walls…I thought we could make it work.

Q: Six kids! Hooray! How do you truly live with your kids on a daily basis?

A: Everyone seems to assume that I should be overwhelmed or exhausted with six kids, but I just don’t feel that way. I attribute it to two things.

First: an early, regular bedtime for the kids. All our kids go to bed at seven. Not only do Woo and I get plenty of time every night to recharge without them, they just behave better when they’ve had enough sleep. Second: Woo works from home and has a flexible schedule. He’ll often take all kids who can walk to the ice rink while I make dinner, or take the older kids on a bike ride to the beach while I nap with the younger ones, or load the groceries into the car while I nurse the hungry baby in the front seat.

My kids don’t seem to be old enough yet to want to be on their own in the house. Or maybe it’s just their personalities. We all just naturally hang out together. Ruby and Herbie are the only ones who sleep in their own room, and they both often ask me if they can share with somebody. We’d gladly let them if they wouldn’t stay up late talking!

I’m sure the time will come when all that will change, but I know from experience growing up with a shared room, that a small area anywhere in the house can easily be commandeered and made personal. The house is far from done, and I also don’t think that my kids will hit that stage all at once; I have some ideas for the future with that sort of thing in mind.

Q: How do you teach your little ones to respect your home?

A: Of course, we have the kids pick up their messes. Even Penelope can help put Legos in the tub or books in their place, and she usually will once the older kids get going. For us, the big clean up is every night before dinner. The kids are also expected to make their beds and tidy their rooms before they come down to breakfast. I’m not going to lie, though. Any visitor who comes to the house not immediately after a clean up has got to be worried!

By some miracle, perhaps, the kids leave my glass and plants alone after only being told a couple of times. We don’t wear shoes in the house, and the kids always use the back door by the mudroom. Standing, climbing, and jumping on furniture is not allowed.

One thing we also do is fiercely protect the noise level in our home. I don’t love chaos. Our home is a place to relax, read, work on projects, eat, sleep, enjoy each other’s company, and have fun, yes. But, it is not a place to act wild and crazy and obnoxious. Kids who stampede through the house are sent outside. Kids who scream and throw tantrums are sent upstairs to their rooms until they feel better and are under control. We aren’t afraid to tell the kids that it’s time to read or work on something quiet if we feel like things are getting out of hand.

You may not think it from the amount of kids and the bright colors in our home, but visitors often comment on how quiet and peaceful it is. Part of that is probably because we live in a sleepy little town, and part of it is probably because we court it.

Q: What is your basic philosophy on decorating with kids around?

A: I don’t know that I have the kids in mind, really, when I’m decorating, but I don’t do things like put plants on the floor or breakable things at knee height anymore. I’m always envisioning things toppling over, and if I suspect it has the potential to really hurt someone, I move it.

It took me a few years and a few kids to accept that they really do sleep better in a dark, tomb-like room. It’s probably no surprise to anyone that I do love a bright and cheery children’s room. But, I’ve decided that everyone getting enough sleep is more important for us, so I’ve painted the kids’ rooms navy, and made curtains out of thick fabric to shut out all the light. I look forward to having bright colors in the kids’ rooms again when they no longer feel the call to wake up with the sun.

Q: Your color scheme is bold! How do you decide on colors so fearlessly?

A: Yes, they are, which is funny because my personality is almost the exact opposite. I’m the quiet, calm, reserved, introvert who would prefer that other people don’t notice me. Decorating must be the place that I go to release my inhibitions and let my hair down!

I really think that white walls and neutral rooms are beautiful, but I’ve never been able to do it. I think it’s because the first question I ask myself when deciding on a color is, “What would be fun?” and then, “What would be different?” There is a point with everything I’ve ever painted (usually after I’ve gotten just one coat on), where I think, “What have I done? I’ve ruined the house!” Then I force myself to just work through it.

I’m a firm believer that any color – and I mean any color – can be made to work. You may have to carefully control the other colors in the room or use large amounts of white or grey or some other neutral to give the eye rest. I like to think that, for the most part, I’ve succeeded. The colors make me happy, and Woo and the kids like them. I like to think that we live in a bright, fun, child-filled home!

Q: What do you hope the decor you’ve chosen is teaching your children?

A: I hope that my style of decorating helps my children to learn to not be afraid to march to the beat of their own drum. In whatever they eventually decide to undertake, I hope that they won’t be overly concerned with the “rules” or be frozen by indecision. I’d like them to have fun, be creative, experiment!

Also, in renovating this house, I’d like them to have memories of their parents out in the yard with the skill saw, of their Mom painting every inch of the house, of their Dad battling the dandelions every spring, and to expect that it takes time, patience, and work to get the things that they want. I hope they never give up or expect their dreams to just be handed to them.

Q: When does your home work best?

A: Probably my favorite thing about the actual house is the thick brick walls. They keep the house at a comfortable temperature all by themselves for seven or eight months out of the year, and there’s just kind of a breathable feeling that we first noticed when we moved in. They also make great window sills. I’ve always loved the look of light shining through colored glass, and now I have plenty of space and child-safe places to put glass in every room. My mom and mother-in-law have also given me a lot of house plants that really thrive there, and also make the air feel fresh and clean.

Even though I admit to being overwhelmed with it at times, I’m also mostly glad that this house offers me so projects. I don’t think I’ll ever be bored with it. There’s so much we need to do, and afterwards, there’s so many fun things we could do!

Q: What have been your favorite traditions so far in this home?

A: Most of our indoor traditions aren’t dependent on the house we live in, but because of the location we chose, we’re able to get outside often and exercise more. I go for a run through town and past open pastures almost every day. Woo does a lot of both mountain and road biking in the summer and snowboarding in the winter. Woo was already pretty good, but the rest of us are learning how to ice skate. The kids are learning how to snowboard and snowshoe. I plan to teach the kids how to really swim this summer, and the older kids all learned how to ride bikes here. The kids are learning to fish and canoe. Because of the proximity of so many fun things to our house, we can do any of these things any day after school or after dinner or just on a random day.

Q: What has been the best part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you about it all? And what do you already miss?

A: Well, first off, they’re so beautiful! Their giant eyes, round cheeks, delightful plumpness in all the right places, the way their bodies move, the sound of their little voices…I’ve never done it, but I could probably sit and stare at a toddler all day, and be completely satisfied with how I’d spent the day.

Secondly, they’re just good company. The best company. So quick to smile, give hugs, say I love you, and offer sincere thanks for the basics. “Thanks for making this food, Mom.” “Thank you for getting me a drink of water, Mom.” Not to mention the cute, funny, and occasionally very insightful things that they say.

I remember in the first months I had Ruby being a bit shocked to learn what it’s really like to have someone dependent on you 24/7, but on the whole, I’m not sure that anything has been unexpected for me. I’d like to say that I expected every bit of it, and am more than happy to be living this life that I’ve always wanted for myself. They are a lot of work, but I’ve found that I do love work, for the most part and it’s never been out-of-control or above my ability to handle. Well, never for very long! I’d never want them to feel that I’m resentful of the extra work that they bring into my life, because I’m not.

I’m not sure that I miss anything yet. Maybe that’s because I still have kids at every stepping stone clear down to newborn. I sure don’t miss pregnancy! I do try to be a person that lives in the present, and I’ve tried very hard to appreciate and enjoy my kids at every stage they’ve been in. I know that it’s fleeting. Maybe that’s why I love being a mom so much!

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

A: I wish someone had told me not to judge a woman whose house is messy or cluttered. You never know who’s in their first trimester of a pregnancy, who is dealing with depression or an autoimmune disease, who’s struggling in their marriage, who’s overworked in some other area, or who hasn’t had a good night’s sleep in a long, long time.

It can and does happen to the best of us!

I wish someone had told me that when I see someone who doesn’t seem to have it 100% together to love first – and then try to help, if I can.


Oh, Chelsey! I had to laugh at your panic after your first coat of bold wall color: “What have I done? I’ve ruined the house!” At least you keep going — bravely! — and don’t fall back on safe choices. Your turquoise kitchen and hanging scale are the cutest.

Friends, are you inspired by her quiet house and early bedtime rules? Have you adopted similar sanctions in your own homes to save your sanity? Please share with the rest of us; we’re all looking for ways to make our lives more enjoyable. Especially at bedtime!

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

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