I don’t know what the weather looks like where you are, but in my neighborhood, this week suddenly turned cold and dreary. I am so glad that today’s Living With Kids post featuring the lovely Jacqueline deMontravel, is the perfect remedy for the winter blues (of the blues in general if it’s not winter where you are.) Jacqueline lives in Darien, CT and her house is full of clean lines and bright, white walls. It’s got tons of East Coast charm as well as some modern touches. And I love a house that is so full of art that the art is simply layered on top of itself. Welcome, Jacqueline!
Hello! Here’s a little introduction. We are a blended family. On my partner Billy’s side: Ryan (19), Annie (16), Maggie (12). Mine: Luc (7). It’s the perfect mix of ages, artists, athletes, musicians and computer enthusiasts. Our story is layered and, quite literally, another story.
We were each other’s firsts, back in the wide-eyed teen years. He went to college, we had the inevitable break up, and went on to lead new lives. Bill remained close to where we grew up in Larchmont, NY, working as a financial recruiter, and I pursued my editorial/writing/artistic career in NYC and then Laguna Beach, CA.
I returned East, exposing Luc to an upbringing I value, and renewed the roots that inspire. Bill and I reconnected, he proved me wrong in my original theory that what we had was a teen thing. The best, most unexpected part is how we now have a larger family filled with so many personalities and interests— larger fun.
At first we had this romantic notion of returning to Larchmont, a town we mutually love that had been good to us, the reality is the taxes are absurd. We both knew Darien, CT, and in a roundabout way settled here. We live on a quaint street that is slowly succumbing to the encroachment of new constructions. Our neighbors share many of our interests and values — a mutual connection in this charming part of an established town by remaining grounded/unpretentious.
I found the house we live in through a series of fortunate circumstances. A mother in Luc’s preschool had heard that I had a buying inclination and introduced me to the owners who were selling. Because the acquisition of a home is truly personal for both the seller and buyer, I find it helps to lean into that — make it feel personal. Bring the family, the dog and really connect to try and make a deeper connection. This was a similar process to other properties I purchased and it is endearing to know the past dwellers and their stories. You all share something intimate.
Both Bill and I grew up in period homes and feel itchy in newer properties that are so synthetic and large you need tracking devices to locate everyone. Secret nooks, unique fixtures, craftsmanship — the quirks thrill us over a home that looks like Model B in a development plan.
I am disappointed that I did not uphold my original desire to keep the garden shed from becoming lawnmower storage and turn it into something more useful and exciting. Though a bit sad in its current state, the shed has potential as an art studio and the lawnmower’s gassy, grassy smells have infiltrated the space. Many scented candles will be needed to eradicate that.
We have other ideas for the house but improvements will happen slowly. Slowly is key because upgrades must happen in increments otherwise this would not be a happy place.
At an early age I had interests in writing, art and design — largely due to exposure in a variety of experiences from my family. I began working as an editor during summers while in college and this innate passion took off. I am a former editorial director of Romantic Homes and launched such publications as Flea Market Decor, Cottages & Bungalows and Seaside Style.
I see this same kind of passion in our kids as they have distinct talents that we encourage. Just like in art and writing, we have watched our kids learn the founding principles of their passions. and then have allowed the craft to naturally take its own direction. Part of the reason why I love watching young personalities develop into grown people is taking in the rewards of childhood.
Because I am usually writing about design as well as styling photo shoots for publications, I am constantly tweaking a space, creating an atmosphere, and “prop-ing.” This happens in our home, where I play with schemes, swap out accessories, and use flowers, food, color and my art to support an environment. I really love living in a four-season climate; it is the calendric inspiration that adds personality and variety to a space.
Putting a blended family together wasn’t without highs and lows, but at its core it goes back to the way Billy and I adore one another. We were given the opportunity to be with the one who got away. Struggles? We certainly have them. Combining lives after a decades long break is a challenge that works if you have intimacy.
We had something incredible when we were just teens but it was unfinished and sheltered. Bill even saved some of the letters I sent him when he was in college and I was definitely undeveloped. I have questioned him as to what he saw in me then — I was moronic!
We missed a large part of each other’s lives but we did such different things; we have our children and family, and we value what we have now. Luckily they are all great kids so we literally blend. It has transcended biology because we are a family.
I find that the way I succeed most as a mom is by not trying to be a super mom! It is our job to expose our kids to a variety of experiences and let them build their own way. Be open to the world and new ideas, people, cultures, and places while having fun in the process. I make mistakes and it is important for the kids (which includes Luc’s half sister Olivia in California) to realize that we have to be forgiving and try not to judge. What our children become is their choice. Creating a happy environment is something I have control over.
I also steer away from any entitlement perceived toward your hometown. There are too many rivalries of places that are essentially versions of a similar thing. It’s more about how you live and what you make of your life within the community. Discover the town’s character and take advantage of what it has to offer, but no person or place should assume elitism based on a zip code. Travel, and living in different places, has taught me that there is always a great experience to capitalize on despite the location.
One of Bill’s outstanding qualities is his sense of humor, he is always stupefying me with his silliness, which is fun for our kids. In fact my senior quote was from the film Arthur: “Isn’t fun the best thing to have?” Omit Arthur’s character being perpetually sauced and having wanton rich kid issues — the thought says it. In the end we want our kids to have fun.
There are things that I already miss about living with my kids. Reading before bed and impersonating the character’s voices. How Ellie, our spoiled dog, plots herself on our beds, the newly upholstered cushions, and the top of our heads.
My disappointment is the unexpected difference from how Bill and I grew up to their lives. There is too much planning and scheduling. “Play dates” were not such a to do. We drank water from the hose, rode our bicycles everywhere, and simply attached ourselves to friends with the understanding of being home before the 6:00 p.m. horn went off. We were also less plugged in. Had more creative play — exploring the woods, brooks and Long Island Sound near our homes. I truly wish they had more of that.
Any available time we have is devoted to family. I love the outings and the constant joking, Ryan’s dry humor, Annie’s adventurous spirit, Luc’s enthusiastic storytelling, and Maggie cannot stop dancing — we experience so much through them.
I wish someone had told me (and I had listened) to not be preoccupied with what everyone else is doing. We have our method of living and keep the connections tight and genuine so there are fewer was it something I did? moments. Our focus is on the needs of the family; we offer guidance and support, in turn, allowing everyone to thrive.
Living with our children is precious and exciting. Bill and I were children together and now we are watching it from the grownup side. I love that we know who our greatest advocates are. That our home nurtures our interests. For me it is the ideal creative laboratory for writing, testing out ideas, painting… My art does have a tendency to take over but they all go with it. Though Billy is color blind and apparently there are corrective glasses — I may be in some serious trouble if he gets those!
Thank you, Jacqueline! What a truly lovely and loving home. I am sure that if Billy ever gets those color-blindness correcting lenses that he will be gobsmacked with the gorgeous art around every corner. And I love all the beautiful colors layered against the white walls and light floors. What a fun laboratory to be able to play and change things up when the base is such a blank canvas.
And there is really something so romantic about reconnecting with your high school love. I am sure we would all be embarrassed to revisit the letters we wrote to our crushes during high school, but there must also be something magic about rekindling a first love with the added perspective of growth and life experience. And I love Jacqueline’s perspective on combining families; it all starts with love and connection and then builds based on connecting and intertwining personalities.
We live in a world where we are often defined by our differences. And I truly believe that our differences are important to see and celebrate and embrace. But Jacqueline is so wise when she says that living different lives allowed them to have different experiences, but then love is what took all of those differences and stitched them together into something greater and more beautiful than the sum of the parts.
Leopard Print Pillow
Color Block Pillows
Red Striped Duvet
Living Room Pendant
Jacqueline’s blog can be found here or you can follow her on Instagram. Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram. Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, gay parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.