What first caught my attention about Sasha’s story was the brilliant business that she and a friend started. Sasha lives in Silicon Valley, where house prices are high and a lot of people are renters and don’t have the option to tear down a wall, or redo the cabinets, or even repaint. So Sasha is a designer that specializes in helping people decorate their rentals. The perfect pillow, a great lamp, or a piece of art can really transform a room and you’ll see that as you wander through Sasha’s home. She really has an eye for interesting pieces. She also shares her wonderful perspective on parenting and raising rambunctious kids in a beautiful, but kid friendly home. Welcome, Sasha!

When I was in my twenties, I was naïve and brazenly idealistic. I took my Ivy League education and set off to change the world. First stop: Africa. My Peace Corps assignment planted me as a health education volunteer in Cote d’Ivoire, West Africa. Before I left, my mother tucked a card into my bag. In it, she wrote that she wasn’t worried about me. She knew I would be okay because I could make a beautiful home anywhere I went.

Those words stuck in my head when I arrived at the dingy shack with a corrugated tin roof and dirt floors that would become my home. There was no running water and no electricity. No cell phone and no social media. Unlike today’s volunteers, I didn’t have a camera or a computer to blog about my international adventure. I wrote letters on thin sheets of graph paper to stay in touch. I made new friends and became immersed in a close-knit community. I remember going to sleep at night, tucked under my mosquito net and feeling completely safe in this tiny village on the other side of the world.  

A few years later, after I returned to the States, I met my husband Alex while we were both living in Boston. I was in graduate school studying global health and he was a hotshot entrepreneur running his own tech company. We had a whirlwind romance and since we are both terribly impatient, we were married a year later. 

We have three sons: Matthew (13), Peter (11) and Andrew (7). Our oldest is earnest and hard-working. He’s a sensitive nature lover who wakes up early so that he can sneak in hours of reading before getting ready for school. Our middle son is social and sporty. He’s our cool kid who’s not afraid of anything and can easily charm his way out of trouble. Our double-dimpled youngest is dramatic and hilarious. He’s our spotlight seeking goofball, who demands more airtime than his pint size should warrant. We have two dogs: an ancient and lumbering chocolate lab named Bella and a sweet new puppy, Oakley who brings joy and playfulness to our home.

Alex and I have lived in eight different homes in four states during our marriage. These include a condo overlooking the Boston skyline, a brick apartment in Philadelphia, a McMansion in Texas, and a classic salt box home in a tiny New England town. 

Our current home is in Menlo Park, California on a tree lined suburban street. We are in the heart of Silicon Valley and almost everyone we know works at a tech company or a start-up. We love that we are now just a short drive from the beaches in Half Moon Bay, an hour from San Francisco, and a quick road trip to Lake Tahoe. Those are some of our favorite places in the world.

We moved from Boston to the Bay Area seven years ago. The housing market is insane here, so we have always deliberately chosen to rent rather than buy a home. Our rent is shockingly expensive. We pay a premium for our home because of its location and because we want the stability of a long-term rental. If we were to buy our home, it would easily cost $3 to $4 million.

Our current ranch-style home would be considered a tear-down, but it is on a quarter acre corner lot connecting to a cul-de-sac in a prime school district. Builders would immediately replace it with a 5,000 square foot three story home that cost $1-2 million to build (depending on finishes) and sell it for $6 to $7 million. Is it disturbing to you that there’s a million-dollar rounding error? Yes, well welcome to the Bay Area housing market.

All of our moves have taught me that my sense of self is not directly tied to the house I live in. Our current home is not my dream home. It is not my ideal by any stretch of the imagination. It demands self-discipline to not get jealous, or long for something I do not have and instead make the most of a rental in a ridiculous housing market. Choosing not to play the competitive housing game requires flexibility and problem solving and gratitude for what we do have.

What happens inside these walls — all the moments of meaning and connection — matter more than having a grand home to entertain or impress others. We wouldn’t laugh any louder or love any deeper in a bigger or better house.

When we first moved to Menlo Park, I was lucky enough to find a close group of friends with young children the same ages as our own. We all lived in cramped homes with small yards, so we spent our days at a local playground with our rambunctious kids. They could be outside in the sunshine and run around as a wild pack of dirty-kneed children. We would wander to the park on bikes, scooters and skateboards, with footballs and sand toys and snacks. We’d linger for hours until bedtime. It was heavenly!

I will forever cherish having a village to raise our children when they were little. That village nurtured countless friendships, including one with a preppy blonde named Ashley Callahan who had also spent years living in New England. I don’t think we ever finished a complete sentence without a little one interrupting us for the first three years of our friendship.

At last, when our youngest ones were in the same preschool class, Ashley and I finally had a little breathing room. She would come over to my house and, with a cup of tea or glass of wine in one hand, she would gently suggest rearranging ALL of my living room furniture, just for fun. Whenever I dropped by her house, I brought over gifts of little accessories that I thought would make her happy. It was through the smallest of gestures and our shared joy at problem-solving our imperfect rental homes that we realized we could help other families.

Our company, Home Remaking was launched in those weeks where we found ourselves with six blissful hours of child-free time. By the time our youngest children were in kindergarten, we had built ourselves a thriving, family-centered interior design business.

You might be wondering what happened to my global health work. When we moved from the East Coast, I assumed that I would get a job at a university or some non-profit in my field. Well the truth is that our bi-coastal move felt so disorienting and I was so completely invested in getting my children settled into their new community that I got a little lost. 

Our children were young and there was no way I could fly off to some developing country or disaster zone. My wings were clipped, and I was needed at home. And so eventually I did what all mothers everywhere do, I shifted. I think I’m supposed to call this a career pivot but that sounds all too deliberate. My process was not smooth or intentional. I simply wanted to be useful, serve others, and build something. I found a trusted partner and because we are in an environment that supports new ventures, we were able to create a company grounded in our values and do meaningful work.

My friend Ashley’s background is in fine art and psychology and so the leap into interior design was more natural for her. We started out by helping friends rearrange their furniture and find accessories to make their homes feel pretty and complete. Decorating rental homes was an easy entrée into the design world. We didn’t feel like we needed any technical skills because we weren’t moving walls, choosing materials or doing anything too complicated.

Because the cost of living is so high here, everyone had a tight budget. Conveniently, I happen to have a mad addiction for shopping at HomeGoods. They reliably stock great lamps and affordable picture frames and sometimes have the perfect accessory. 

Ashley and I filled our minivans with big mirrors, textured baskets, and piles of throw pillows. We love adding soul to a home through books, art and accessories and layering beauty with rugs, textiles, and window treatments. You can make a huge impact in the way a home feels by selecting the right finishing touches.

Once we defined the core mission of our company, we then focused on developing the software and systems that form the backbone of our business. We wrote contracts, hired bookkeepers, met with manufacturers and assembled our team of trusted trade professionals. We had a clear, shared vision for the company we wanted to build, and we were aligned on the day-to-day logistics of running a business together.     

Next, we had to answer a complicated question: what makes a beautiful home? Our answer: authenticity.  My own home is filled with furniture collected over time, vintage rugs, artwork created by my family, and decorative objects from all over the world. I often repeat the quote from Winston Churchill, “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”  I believe wholeheartedly that our homes should be a reflection of our values, our story, and the people and places we love. Spaces have the ability to transform the way we feel and behave and connect.

When meeting new clients, we like to meet the whole family and have frequently ended up giving design presentations with a baby on our hip or sketching out a furniture configuration while making funny faces to get a toddler laugh. Because both Ashley and I have oldest children that will be headed to high school in the Fall, we are also able to offer our clients the gift of perspective.

Yes, we will help them find furniture that is timeless and indestructible: sofas with cushions that will be used to build forts in fabrics that can stand up to toddlers with yogurt on their mouths and tiny hands covered in peanut butter. But we will also caution our clients against building mud rooms with small open cubbies and low benches because the surprising, almost unbelievable truth, is that their children will someday grow up. 

Our work may never be on the cover of Architectural Digest, but it is highly relational and truly satisfying. We design real homes for real families.

  

In these days of Pinterest and social media it may be difficult to discern your personal style and taste. You can find a photo, quickly determine the source and within a few clicks, that item can be on its way to your home. When you look through my list of sources, you will see that it would be nearly impossible to replicate my home. 

Years from now, I imagine our children will be able to look at these photos and feel a familiar pang when they see the art or objects that remind them of our story. The paintings of female figures were painted in the 60s when my mom was in college studying art and falling in love with my Dad. The tin birds above my desk were bought on the side of the road in Haiti when I was working there after the catastrophic earthquake in 2010. The spectacular drawing of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was bought at a street fair as a compromise when my middle son threatened to decorate his room with multiple, life-sized FatHead wall stickers of his hero. 

The sculpture of a woman on my mantle was carved by my beloved great aunt Hava Mehutan, an artist living in Israel who is nearly 100 years old. My sideboard which we use as an art supply cabinet was won by a friend on the Price is Right game show in 1998, true story. The white beaded crown is from the Yoruba people in Nigeria. The faces on either side of the crown represent the ancestors who provide spiritual guidance while the birds signify the support of female elders in the community. The heart-shaped stones were collected by my sons from beaches all over the world. Amazing pieces can come from anywhere.

Once we had clients with a perfectly built home and a mostly unused formal dining room. All they longed for was a welcoming space where they could gather with their children at the end of a long day and eat together as a family. They wanted to have space to do puzzles and art projects, play board games and do homework. We knew they wanted space for their six family members to eat at every day. They wanted to have extensions for when grandparents visited or when they hosted an adult dinner party. 

We designed a custom dining room table for them; getting the materials and dimensions right was a true labor of love. Our job was to create intimacy through the dimensions of the table. We chose a solid walnut table, handmade in Vermont. The kind of table that a kid could stick a fork in, and it would only add to its charm. We switched out their uncomfortable wooden dining chairs with delicate spindles and replaced them with cozy, upholstered chairs in a beautiful, but hard-wearing fabric. We replaced their fancy dining room chandelier with one that was simple and pretty, nothing more.

It makes us so happy when we visit that home to see a kid’s science project propped up on the table or their oldest son’s college application essays in neat piles on the table. We transformed that room and gave it life.  We created an environment that fostered conversation, connection, work and play.    

The key to being able to deliver an authentic home for our clients is through getting to know them. There are no short-cuts, e-design services, or one-size-fits-all solutions. When faced with designing a client’s living room, another designer may suggest an elegant coffee table made with a glass top. But we know that in this home full of three little girls, that coffee table should be made of sturdy teak because it will be used as a stage. Those girls can now dance and twirl and sing their little hearts out on top of it. We want those memories for our clients.

At home, our sons throw footballs, play volleyball and even dodge ball in our family room. It turns out that our sectional doubles as an amazing bunker during their battles fought with brightly colored balls. I have anticipated this and have a lamp that is literally made of carved cement in that room. It has been hit with countless footballs and yet, it will not topple and break. 

That simple design choice gives me the freedom to be the kind of parent that I want to be. Instead of yelling at them to behave properly, I get to watch our boys play and wrestle and settle into a glorious dog pile on the floor.

I love seeing our garage strewn with bikes from a half dozen kids who have spontaneously chosen to play at our house after school. I cherish dinnertime stories with all my boys huddled around the kitchen table. I hope my children remember me standing in the garage in my fluffy bathrobe, tilting their helmeted little heads and kissing their cheeks before they ride off to school.  

As our boys get older, I think of all of the times I was frazzled by their hooliganism and I would call my mother to complain. She would let out a long nostalgic sigh and say, “These are the best days of your life.” Looking back on it, I’m afraid she was right about this too. 

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Thank you, Sasha!

Sasha seems to have found the perfect life’s work for herself. She has an amazing gift for finding pieces that are unique and stylish and practical and full of personality. There is something in pretty much every photo that I want to steal and use in my own house somewhere. And I love the idea of an indestructible concrete lamp when you have 3 wild boys living at home. Brilliant!

I love the idea that a beautiful home doesn’t necessarily require a major remodel. It might just mean identifying what’s important to you and finding the pieces that allow you to live that life. And they might be pieces that were collected on world travels or they might be pieces you found at the local Home Goods. But they are the pieces that make your home feel like you.

Are there pieces in your home that you feel like represent you as a person? How have you made your home make the most sense for you and your family? What mood do you want your home to portray?

SOURCES

Kitchen Pendant

Kitchen Chairs

Dining room chandelier

The duvet covers in the boys’ room


See more of Sasha’s work at Home Remaking. Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram too.

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, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at features@designmom.com