Have you ever said to your college friends: We should all just go live in a big commune together! And our kids will grow up playing together in the common areas, and we’ll hang out and play music in the evenings…
For me, it seems like a lovely daydream, but Jeannie, the mother in today’s living with kids home tour, may have found the next best thing. She and her husband, and their two daughters, live in an Artist’s Community in Ardencroft, Delaware where community events, close relationships, and walks in the woods are all part of every day life. Jeannie’s husband describes it as “Summer Camp for Grownups,” and I’m almost ready to pack my bags and move right in. Welcome, Jeannie!
Living With Kids:
Hi! I’m Jeannie and I live in Ardencroft, DE with my husband Ryan and our two daughters Violet and June. Ryan is an urban planner, and I’m the founder/CEO of Color Guru; I’m also a professional voice-over artist. Ryan helps make communities more livable. I help women rediscover their beauty and simplify their clothing through color, and it’s quite possible that you’ve heard my voice on a TV commercial.
Ryan and I met in Philadelphia through friends and have been married for 7 years. Ryan loves sports, mountain biking, live music, and cooking. He swears by the America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook and tries to make me use it. I get flustered with recipes with too many steps. You can guess who is the better cook.
At home, I love to cuddle with the girls, have dance parties, and lounge around and read. However, at work, I shift into GO mode. My entrepreneurial spirit showed up when I was 7. I would buy candy at my brother’s baseball games for fifty cents and re-sell it for a dollar on the school playground the following day. I literally had a little pink jean jacket that I would open up, with the candy in the inside pockets, as if I were selling knockoff gold watches on the streets of Manhattan. I pulled it off for a month before getting busted and shut down by my 2nd grade teacher.
Ryan and I share a love of the outdoors — we registered at REI for our wedding. We agreed that we wanted new tents and backpacks over new dishes and silverware. We also both appreciate good design and have a pretty similar aesthetic, except when it comes to color. Ryan prefers understated neutrals and I love bold color. We’ve compromised on this throughout the house.
Our 5-year old Violet, has a wild zest for life! She is super creative, imaginative, and spunky. This girl will absolutely fight for what she wants, and is a master negotiator. Violet is also very physical and loves the indoor swing she got for Christmas. She’s taught herself lots of tricks on it. The first time she mastered jumping off of the coffee table and onto the swing, she yelled “WATCH the AMAZING ATOMIC SWING of ALL!” No idea where she got that line, but she sounded like a circus announcer and we all cracked up!
Our 3 year-old June, just holds on and swings — very sweetly. This is pretty representative of their personalities, at least right now. It’s amazing how they are always evolving. June (aka Junebug) is happiest in my arms. Ryan says that Junebug and I are soulmates because we love to snuggle on the couch and talk about how much we love each other. June and I do seem to be perpetually in the honeymoon stage.
June was born in July. That little stinker was due on June 20, and then held out until July 2, but it didn’t matter, we were already in love with the name June. We joke that she didn’t want to seem “cliche” by being born in June. Sometimes, June actually says “I’m tired and ready for bed”, whereas Violet would be up until 11pm every night if she had her way. (She doesn’t.)
Our home is Ardencroft, Delaware. Ardencroft is one of three historic art colony villages that makes up “The Ardens”. It’s near the Pennsylvania and New Jersey state lines, and Ryan loves that he can see three states standing in one spot!
Arden, the original village, was founded in 1900 by architect Will Price and sculptor Frank Stephens, who sought to create a utopian community for artists and writers during the Garden Cities and the Arts and Crafts movements. Arden was founded based on the Single Tax philosophy of Henry George, which is the notion that land value should be taxed, not income. In The Ardens, no one owns the own land, we rent it. And our “land rent” pays for the protection of the village forests and upkeep of the greens, playgrounds, and the trails that we share.
Almost daily we’re taking a walk in the woods, swimming at the community pool, or hopping rocks on the huge boulders in the creek (Ardenites call it “hop rocking”). Or we’re gathering with neighbors on one of the big greens (Fun fact: The Greens used to be the gatherings for many political debates…much like London’s Hyde Park!).
The first houses in Arden were small summer cottages that artists from Philadelphia built. Many have been expanded, and now you’ll see great diversity in housing styles, sizes and value. Separate unit art studios are common. All of the houses are different — you’ll find humble cottages next to architectural treasures. Housing prices vary wildly too. It’s still possible to get a small cottage that needs some work for under $200k, but right next to that might be a $550k Arts and Crafts bungalow. Some residents designed their own cottages. (Fun fact: renowned author Upton Sinclair lived in Arden for a time, and designed his cottage, nicknamed the Jungalow!)
Arden is a neighborhood frozen in time, in a good way. It’s a place where children play in the woods, ride their bikes, or go swimming during the summer days and play flashlight tag or catch fireflies into the night. There are no streetlights, which makes seeing the stars (and catching those fireflies) easier. When we walk somewhere at night, we wear headlamps. Ryan and I often joke that Arden feels like living at a summer camp for families!
Through the years, The Ardens have kept an artistic, free-spirited, community-oriented vibe. We hold village meetings in the old schoolhouse where all have a voice and a vote. We have weekly community dinners and concerts in a large renovated barn. The kids enjoy a free 5-week summer camp, paid for by community fundraisers and donations made by residents throughout the year. We also have several annual events and over a dozen clubs (called “Gilds”), like The Garden Gild, The Writers Gild, and The Shakespeare Gild to name a few.
The Ardens are unfancy and unpretentious. There is no feeling of having to “keep up with the Joneses” here, and no one gives us the stink-eye when we can’t seem to find the time to mow our lawn. Creativity, community and happiness are clearly the values.
We found our house in Ardencroft in August of 2014. Having gutted and renovated 2 homes prior, the immense potential in this sprawling 1960 ranch with massive windows, clean lines, and open layout was instantly clear. I fell in love with the house as soon as we walked in. Then, we walked one of Ardencroft’s wooded paths to the nearby Montessori School, and the school was wonderful too. It all seemed too good to be true. And in fact, at first, it was. When we called the realtor that afternoon to put in a full price offer, he had just gotten word that the sellers had accepted another offer and were refusing to entertain ours. What??? The house had been sitting on the market for 7 months! I remember sobbing and saying to Ryan “But that’s OUR house.”
In the following weeks, I was inconsolable. I didn’t want to look at other houses. Dramatic? Maybe. (I was a theater major.) Then one afternoon, 5 weeks later, we got a call from our realtor. The other buyer’s deal had fallen through and the house was available again! We immediately put in a full price offer and were under contract in 24 hours. Everything was right in the world.
A month later, we moved in, and the work began. The house had last been updated in the 80’s, so it needed lots of love. There was dingy white tile with dark brown grout, a dated kitchen, and all the walls were painted stark white. To me, it felt sterile and cold ± like a laboratory. Ryan thinks it felt like an YMCA swimming pool sans the water!
Ripping up about 1700 square feet of ceramic tile would’ve been an absolute mess and cost a fortune, so we found a beautiful high-quality vinyl plank flooring product made in Belgium that could go right over top of the old tile. This product was a life saver! The house had solid oak cabinets, and we painted them dark grey to match the existing countertops. My dad and I made a project out of creating and installing the floating shelves in the kitchen. We added the island in the kitchen as well, giving us a lot more work space.
Making this home our own is a process that I continue to love. Houses are never really done, they’re always evolving. Our approach to our living space stays the same though, it’s always: Simpler is always better, embrace bold color (when Ryan ok’s it), and finally you can never have too many plants!
My favorite thing about this house is the sunroom. Watching the seasons change from our sunroom is one of the joys of my life. It’s like having constantly shifting natural artwork! Waiting for the buds to appear on the trees in spring, watching the birds land on our deck in the summer, seeing the leaves fall in the autumn, and feeling like I’m sitting in a snow globe in the winter!
Ryan and I both like to have a clean and organized home, but life with two kids is most often messy and kind of disorganized. So, we’ve had to shift our perspective. Our goal used to be to have a neat and organized house most of the time. Our goal now is to be able to get the home clean and organized as easily as possible when we want to, and the only way we’ve been able to do this is by simply not owning a lot of stuff. We’ve gotten into a pretty regular habit of continually de-cluttering.
One of my favorite quotes (and I’m a quote lover) is from John Ruskin: “Every increased possession loads us with a new weariness.” We always have a brown paper bag ready where we throw things to donate. When that gets full, I put it in the trunk of my car. Then we start another bag. It’s a rare day when I don’t throw something in the bag. It’s also rare that we regret anything we’ve gotten rid of.
In The Ardens, the community gets together a lot, and I love that our kids get to experience these unique Ardens rituals! A great example is Pancakes in the Woods.
Every Fall, on the first Sunday in November, the community gathers at Indian Circle, a large fire pit in the woods next to the creek. Beverly, a beloved member of our community, has been making her “secret recipe” pancake batter for this event for 38 years. We cook pancakes over the fire on huge cast iron griddles.Then, we sit around on boulders, stumps, and fallen down trees, and eat pancakes in the woods! There is coffee and a barrel of apples from the local orchard.
Just like everything in The Ardens, it’s simple and unpretentious. The focus is on community connection. In early November, the air is typically crisp and chilly, and hanging out with neighbors and eating hot pancakes under the canopy of fall leaves feels absolutely magical.
May brings The House and Garden Tour. Five or six families open up their houses and gardens to the community for the afternoon, and we walk around, drink wine, and tour the houses. The point is not to show off which houses are most beautiful, historic, or newly renovated (although that is always interesting). The point is simply to open up your doors and welcome your neighbors into your home. After all, the motto of The Ardens is, “You are Welcome Hither.”
Every 4th of July, we have The Games on the Green. There is an egg toss, a “slow bike” race, cartwheel races, the toddler race, wheelbarrow race, and an infamous tug-of-war, to name a few.
These are just a few examples. I love that my girls are a part of a close community, and that they get to see people of all ages playing together. College students often come home for the events, and residents of all ages participate! The people in The Ardens still appreciate good, old fashioned family fun, and I find that really endearing.
The Ardens were designed with the intention of being a “utopian community” and while I do feel incredibly lucky to live here, it’s not perfect. We have a lot of closeness, and there are times when that closeness can lead to difficulties. It’s not unusual for dramas to arise. Since we have village meetings, we’re continually voting on issues that affect the whole community, and obviously, sometimes people are going to disagree. I think that overall, we deal with our differences well, and everyone accepts that the occasional drama is just part of living in a tight-knit community.
Ten years ago, like many women, I had a closet overflowing with clothes and somehow I still felt like I had “nothing to wear.” However, my vision was clear: I wanted a closet full of clothes I felt really good in, and I wanted organized drawers and hangers instead of cluttered ones. Was that too much to ask? I tried lots of things to achieve this. I hired a personal shopper, but the clothing she put me in didn’t feel like “me”. I tried copying “looks” that I liked from Pinterest, but that never worked either. I tried getting rid of clothing, but my drawers always ended up overstuffed a month or two later! Why was this so hard??? I tried not caring. Clothing is just superficial anyway, right? But I did care. I wanted to feel good in my clothing.
So, as any slightly nerdy person would do, I began to research. As I studied, I came to the conclusion that color was the absolute first step in transforming my wardrobe. Once I knew definitively what colors looked best on me, I could shop more efficiently! I could walk into a store and automatically eliminate 70% of the items because they weren’t “my colors.” Massive time saver! (And to clarify, it’s not about “color” per se, but more specifically what shade of each color is most flattering.)
Suddenly, when shopping, I knew what to pay attention to, and what to ignore. It was like walking into a grocery store and seeing 6 choices of cereal instead of 40. What a relief! And, as I began to shop this way, the bonus was that all of my clothing was beginning to coordinate together much more easily.
I was sharing my newfound color info with my friends, and they began to want to know their colors. So, I began studying color theory, started to create my own color palettes, and then tested them on friends, family, acquaintances, and even the occasional stranger when I was bold enough to ask. Yes, I actually went up to someone with unusual coloring in the ShopRite parking lot and asked them if I could hold a golden yellow swatch of fabric up to their face! They were very kind…and thoroughly confused.
For the first year of my business, I was in research mode and color obsessed. My goal was to make my palettes the most beautiful and accurate that exist. That is basically how Color Guru was born.
Now, the bulk of my work is meeting women for color consultations, both in person and online. I also teach a 6-week online class called “Create Your Colorful Capsule Wardrobe” which incorporates not only learning your colors, but finding which shapes work on your body type, decluttering your closet, and developing your personal style.
Collaborating with creative people is energizing for me, and I’ve begun to develop partnerships with photographers, stylists, and wedding coordinators to help their clients look their best. I’m also starting to bring the Color Guru palettes to corporate events.
I think the way my daughters approach dressing and how they relate to their bodies has informed my work at Color Guru in a way I never expected. At 3 and 5, my daughters love to dress up and prance around like they are the most glorious beings on the planet (spoiler alert: to me, they are!) They have zero self-consciousness about their bodies or how they choose to dress them.
And then, when I do color consultations in person, I watch grown women sit down in front of the mirror, cringe, and say “I hate looking at myself.” Some of them don’t say it out loud, but their body language screams it. I’m sorry to say that it’s the rare women who sits down confidently in front of that mirror. We live in a culture that is so toxic to women, that so many women can no longer see their own beauty. And they’re all so beautiful!
I’m both fascinated (and horrified) by how and when that shift happens. How do we go from radiant little girls to shame-filled grown women? And more importantly, how do we turn that back around? Or better yet, keep it from happening in the first place?
I think of color as my tool in helping women rediscover the radiance they felt as little girls. First, I look at my clients really carefully, and I tell them what I’m seeing in a very detailed way. Maybe they have tiny gold flecks in their green eyes or perhaps a slight reddish undertone in their hair. I believe that women have a deep need to be seen and acknowledged for their unique beauty, and I consider that a sacred part of my work. I want to connect with my clients, and I want them to feel seen and honored. Then, I drape them in the first of their best colors, and let the magic of the color palette take over from there.
I’ve had women tell me that learning their colors has been a transformative process. As they see themselves in the colors, they’re reconnecting with that radiant part of themselves that has gotten lost through the years, and it’s a beautiful experience to witness.
It’s important to me to give my kids an equal voice in the family. I probably owe this to the way my parents raised me. From a very early age, my parents involved us in family decisions and discussions. My parents really listened to us and respected our perspectives as if we were fellow adults. We are working on doing this now with our girls and I can see how much it empowers them to help decide what the “intentions” of our house should be, and allow them to help create the vision for our family.
Violet, like a classic oldest child, is excellent at reminding us what our “intentions” are when Ryan or I don’t uphold them. She’s said to me, “Mom, no yelling. Remember, our intention is to have a peaceful house.” It’s so humbling to have your 5-year-old say that to you when you’ve just completely lost your cool, and that’s a good thing.
I hope our kids remember that they were deeply loved, that they had a voice in our family, and that we took the time to see them and accept them for who they are. I hope that they forget that sometimes we took things too seriously when we should have lightened up! Hindsight is always 20/20, and often I look back at a situation the next day and say to myself, “Why did I make such a big, hairy deal out of that? That was no big thing.”
My favorite thing about living with my kids is watching them form their relationship with each other. I love watching them play with each other and care for each other. And of course, they fight too. But mostly, they really care for each other in such a sweet way. Violet has taken to calling June “Honey” and “Darling” lately, and it melts my heart. June calls Violet “Ditder,” leftover from when she couldn’t say “Sister.”
I miss the funny mispronunciations of words! Two of Violet’s classics were “upsterdown” (upside down) and “backwersides” (backwards). And, of course, I’ll miss the cuddling! I’m definitely going to be that mom who is trying to cuddle with her teenagers on the couch and they’re probably going to be like “Mo-om! Stop it!” Sigh…
I wish someone had told me that I’d have to forgive myself nearly every day for not being a perfect mother. Mothering is the first thing I’ve ever done where I’m reminded every single day that I’m not doing it perfectly. And forget perfectly, sometimes I feel like I’m completely failing at it. I feel like having kids is a constant reminder that I’m human. My buttons get pushed and I’ve said things to my kids that I wish I could take back.
Before kids, I felt like I had control over everything. My daily life was carefully planned so that I enjoyed every part of my day. My house was lovely and tidy. When I had kids, it felt like my life got put into a blender without the lid on, and everything got thrown in unexpected directions! It made me realize how much I wanted to have control over everything. And the only way to thrive is to let go and allow your life to be messy and chaotic, and find a new kind of joy and freedom in that.
And there IS joy and freedom in that! Sometimes it’s easy to find, and sometimes you have to REALLY dig for it, and of course there are moments where it just feels impossible to see. But the beautiful thing is that it’s the digging for it that leads to immense personal growth.
Hmmm…what can I find in this that is beautiful? How can I do it a little better this time and not be so reactive? Learning how to handle my own reactivity has been probably my biggest growth edge. Self-care and meditation both help with this, but I think I’ve accepted that it’s a game I’ll never fully win. I will just continue down the path of attempting to do it well.
Thank you, Jeannie! Isn’t Ardencroft dreamy? I am sure living in a small community isn’t without its challenges, but Jeannie makes it sound so special and fun. That shot of the wooded path through the trees is absolutely magical.
I loved when Jeannie said its important for her to give her kids a voice in the family. It is so easy, especially with smaller children, to simply say: We’re doing this because I said so. And while I don’t think that every family decision needs to be justified and voted on, I think there is something really powerful about letting your kids know that their voices are heard and that they matter. That definitely seems like it would create kids who grow up to be adults who know that their voices and opinions matter too. It is such a powerful lesson to teach our kids — especially our girls, who are too often told by society that their opinions don’t matter.
How do you keep your kids connected to and involved in family decisions? How do you move forward when everyone has a different idea of the right thing to do? What filters do you use as a parent to decide which decisions merit a family vote?
LIVING WITH KIDS SOURCES
Round shelving unit
Orange dining chairs and barstools
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Photos by Moonloop Photography. You can follow Jeannie on Instagram here or learn more about Color Guru here. // 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, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.