Ashana Sophia and her family live in a 150-year old farmhouse they rescued and renovated with intention. They filled it with heirlooms, like 60-year old couches and chairs, and turned the front yard into an overflowing jungle of vegetables, herbs, tropical fruit, and flowers.
And speaking of flowers and herbs, they’re also owners of Agua de Flora Botanical Perfumery, creating their old-world scents in a Little Perfume House.
It’s all pretty magical. Come see. Welcome, Ashana!
I first met my husband, Ryan Hornback, when I was 18, at a yoga studio in the Berkshires near my childhood home. We didn’t see each other again for almost eight years…although on my 21st birthday, Ryan sent a red velvet, heart-shaped box filled with beautiful ceramic teacups that he’d made by hand. Alas, I was not the best correspondent – something I aspire to improve every New Year’s.
Later I moved to Maui after a painful breakup and met an old friend of Ryan’s named Cassie. I told her how Ryan and I had met and she recalled hearing about it from Ryan years earlier. Cassie called Ryan in Louisiana and he immediately decided to come see me in Maui for his 30th birthday!
We were eventually married in a remote corner of Maui, in a low-key but elegant celebration that combined my favorite features of the dozens of island weddings I’d accompanied on cello.
During the six years before we had children, Ryan and I started Agua de Flora Botanical Perfumery on Maui, opened a perfume shop and boutique there, hiked waterfalls, enjoyed weekends at the beach with friends, hosted hilarious dinner parties, played music, gardened, worked long hours, and enjoyed each other immensely. When we chose to become pregnant, I was 32.
Ryan felt the urgency to provide a more permanent home for our new family, but the cost of housing on Maui made it challenging to afford a home. This was really hard for us, as we had friends who felt like family. John, who became my son’s godfather, and his lovely wife Anna were our regular Sunday morning brunch date. We took turns hosting or went out to eat. It’s only recently, four years after leaving the island, that I don’t wake up Sunday morning expecting to meet them.
When our first child was six months old we moved to Lafayette, Louisiana, where Ryan’s family still lives, and bought a very old, rundown farmhouse.
Taj Liam is nearly five now, and loves to climb trees. He has a remarkable memory and can already name most of the herbs and vegetables in our garden. He is extremely inquisitive. Recently when I was reading to the children, we saw a picture of a cotton plant. Taj wanted to understand how cotton became his clothes: how it’s harvested, processed, spun, woven, dyed, sewn, and finally – it’s your pajamas! He often watches me cook dinner, sitting on the kitchen counter and asking about every ingredient. He is both strong willed and sensitive, and enjoys leading his sister in their games of Mama Kitty or Wild Donkey Races. He loves to dress up, especially in his sister’s still too-big, hand-me-down dresses. Then he’ll go climb a tree, ride his bike, or play in the street with our neighbor’s boys.
Nayana Rose is almost three and loves to look at books. She begs me to take her to the library. She is joyful and so affectionate with all of us, both verbally and with sudden hugs and kisses. She doesn’t sweat the small stuff and understands that people, animals, and plants need continuous nurturing and caring for. Watching her mother her baby doll is surreal to me, as she is such a little mama. She cares for herself, too; when tired, she asks to go for a nap or to bed!
Ryan and I both have two jobs. I run Agua de Flora and have regular musical gigs. Ryan has a cranial sacral massage and bodywork practice. He recently started a new venture, Hero Jumps, a four-person bungee/trampoline system he brings to parties and the many festivals we have here in Louisiana.
Ryan is a very helpful and hardworking husband. This allows us to be a creative team, but we struggle to keep it all balanced.
A couple hours from New Orleans, Lafayette is also famous for its food and music. Our city is a very upbeat and festive place to live. Many are aware that people from Louisiana love to eat and dance, but it plays out in neighborhood parties and public festivals around the city nearly every weekend.
We even have a world music festival in April that attracts musicians from around the world. The lineup of musicians is truly exceptional and it’s FREE, peaceful, and family-oriented.
Our neighbor Hermann Mirhe, a retired fine art and photography professor, founded Festival International 25 years ago. Hermann was the first neighbor I got to know. His lush Japanese garden was an inspiration for ours.
We live in the Saint Streets, a pretty neighborhood in the old part of town. Many neighbors have Airbnbs since we are so close to downtown and the big festivals. There are grand old live oaks everywhere, and the house lots are fairly large.
A university is nearby, and Lafayette public schools have a French immersion program; as a result, many of our neighbors are professors and grade school teachers, some from France, Belgium, and Eastern Canada. The kids love our friendly neighborhood and have befriended several doggies and their moms or dads.
Our home is a one-story, 150-year-old farmhouse that was moved into town in 1943. After being neglected for many years and thought by many to be beyond repair, we bought it and began its transformation.
I created a custom-built kitchen in keeping with the Acadian cottage style of the house. The tradeoff was giving up my dream of a classic tin roof. I still fret about this! But since I probably spend more time in our kitchen than anywhere else, I enjoy our leather finish granite counter and the lowered kitchen windows that let me see the kids in the back yard.
A pet peeve of mine is the look of a freestanding fridge. With careful design, it just fit into a cupboard surround. I was thrilled!
We also removed walls between the dining room and kitchen, and the living room and music room. This transformed and modernized the space, and brought in much needed light.
Our floors are original with a few patches. It took the professional sander three days to remove ten layers of polyurethane – it normally takes them one day! Ryan and I decided to keep the raw, unpolished look and applied a beeswax/palm oil finish. It feels so good under bare feet. At the time I was concerned about Taj crawling on freshly varnished floors, so the non-toxic route felt right.
We furnished our home with a few family heirlooms, such as a 60-year-old Henredon couch and matching chairs that we rescued from my husband’s grandparents’ garage. I splurged on reupholstering them and now enjoy their beautiful Italian owl print in off-white and sage green silk/linen, which perfectly suits the old French style of our home.
My brother Gareth built our dining room table from one very large slab of maple. It’s a work of art we are proud and grateful to enjoy every day.
Three years ago, my father helped turn our front yard into a vegetable, herb, blueberry, fig, satsuma, loquat, and flower haven. When we started planting, it was an empty lot with just three boxwoods, but we had the advantage of great sun exposure.
The bamboo fence is now fully grown. The kids run around on weekends while my husband and I enjoy weeding the garden. This summer’s favorite garden snack was baby bell peppers, straight off the bush. Our satsumas fruited for the first time this year, and Taj loves making our whole family fresh juice in the morning.
We give away greens, flowers, herbs, and fruit to friends and neighbors, often surprising them with a basket on their doorstep.
Making wholesome meals and sharing them together is very important to us. I once asked our friend Holly, the mother of four in New Orleans, what she appreciates most about being a mom. She told me that even if it’s rushed or chaotic, taking the time to sit together, look each other in the eye, and say hello at the end of a long day is so important for her busy family. We strive for the same.
One of our family dinner favorites is home grown Garden Pesto, using our fresh basil, shiso, anise hyssop, tarragon, and local pecans. The kids wait eagerly to take turns using the Cuisinart, watching in awe as all the leaves and nuts, olive oil, and garlic turn into a green paste. They devour this, which delights me since they don’t always eat their vegetables.
Ryan’s and my morning coffee in our beloved French press, with local honey and milk, is…well…almost a religious experience for us both. We tidy up together most mornings. I am so grateful for his willingness to help me, even when it’s the last thing he feels like doing. We both appreciate a clean and tidy home and with two children under five, dirt from the garden and sandbox, and many visitors, it gets dirty very quickly.
Since I was a child, fragrance has meant a lot to me. I smelled every perfume and oil I could find. Ryan has always been drawn to plants, and he learned the art of hydro-distillation from our friend Jack Chaitman of Scents of Knowing. We wanted to create our own perfume business that met the high standards we had learned from Jack. With his support and encouragement, we created Agua de Flora Botanical Perfumery.
Christa Obuchowki, our master perfumer, is also Taj’s beloved godmother. Together we developed the Seven Note Collection to inspire people to mix, layer, and blend the seven notes according to their mood or the occasion. The name reflects the connection of music to the world of perfumery, which share the same descriptive language. Sacred Woods, Surya Spice, and Roots of Paradise are still some of our best sellers.
I love sharing these botanical treasures with people. Watching their faces light up and bodies relax is incredibly special work. When I was pregnant with Taj, I sat in our Perfumery in Maui all day and worked with customers from all over the world. I learned so much about how people choose their personal scent. Today, Taj’s sense of smell is very keen.
Last year, after planning, hoping, and waiting for four years, we built our Little Perfume House in a corner of our lot. It’s made out of antique cypress that Ryan collected from three old barns, including his grandfather’s, and saved for many years. Some of the wood is 500 years old! This was the most affordable way for us to create a home for our botanical perfumery. We use this 520 square foot building for onsite distillation and Perfume Salons.
Music moves me more than anything, aside from being told I am truly loved! I am a huge fan of many kinds of music, especially artists Loreena McKennitt and Ella Fitzgerald. I started out playing cello. At 19 when I finished orchestral studies at the Tanglewood Institute, I realized that classical performance felt stressful to me and didn’t speak to my heart anymore. I took a few years off and then began composing and singing.
I mostly sing ancient Sanskrit mantras that I’ve put to music. (Latin has its roots in Sanskrit.) These mantras have a vibratory frequency that that can affect people emotionally and often brings them to tears. Sometimes people experience magical and mystical feelings when they listen. It’s not about religion or tradition, it’s about shifting energy. It’s about giving someone a way to feel better right now, just by listening.
I love singing with people and sharing this music. With the release of my second album, I’m becoming comfortable with the thought that singing is my gift to help bring peace, inspiration, and love to humanity. I am continuously amazed at the number of children who also love this album. Children can be painfully honest, so their approval is very reassuring and extra sweet.
Lumiere: Heart Notes on the Bayou came from my interest in fusing the soulful sounds of Louisiana with world music. Chad Viator produced this album, which was funded by a local arts grant, and he brought Grammy Award-winning Michael Doucet to record with us. I now play music with Michael all the time and will soon be brave and learn one of his Cajun ballads.
On a typical morning we wake at five. Sweet Naya is our morning lark, and awakens me with, “Mama, I am hungry and where is my baby doll?” We get ready for school and make breakfast and lunches while the kids play and have trouble sharing, or Ryan reads to them. I sometimes oil pull with coconut oil…(Something I actually learned from you, Gabrielle, because a friend shared your story! I was intimidated to try it until your experience made it seem doable.) I LOVE it. The kids are now used to it, and have learned I communicate through mime while doing it, or talk like a silly person if absolutely necessary.
Usually Daddy takes Taj to his wonderful Montessori school. Naya and I do our morning chores and then go to the library or park or run errands. I work a few mornings a week and our babysitter Sam comes to play with Naya. We pick up Taj at three and then either come home or go to his Suzuki violin lesson. Then we come home and play in the garden or go to the park to meet friends. If Ryan is home, he often takes the kids while I make dinner.
A few nights a week I get ready to go sing, teach, or play a gig. Daddy has become really efficient with dinner, bath, and bedtime. Our way of life is somewhat old fashioned. Most of the time, we absolutely love it.
Ryan hopes they remember the sound of their feet running and stomping on our antique pine floors, and in winter, padding around in their kitten, and whale wooly slippers. (Old homes are drafty!) He hopes they will remember the warm touch of his hands and how much we have held them.
I hope the kids remember that they felt loved, giggled often, and were listened to. And the song of the cicadas at dusk and the intoxicating smell of hundreds of sacred basil plants in our garden. I asked Taj what his favorite thing was about our home, and he quickly answered, “Our garden!”
I hope they forget how tired I am most of the time from working nights to keep our business going. I hope they forget banging on the Perfume House door, asking when I am going to be finished working!
I love hearing their cute little voices that are sometimes entirely too loud reverberate through the house – tall ceilings echo! Then when they are finally asleep, I relish the silence and not hearing, “Mama, Mama,” and slip into my own imaginative world.
I already miss breastfeeding. The experience was one of complete nurturing and devotion.
I wish someone had told me to invest money when I had a very well paid position as a private chef at the Fontainebleau Hotel in my early twenties. I wish someone had told me to take my time, get to know our business partner better, and sign a thoughtfully prepared agreement before opening our first shop in Paia, Maui.
I wish I always remembered to follow these words by Brother David Steindle-Rast: “It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”
What a romantic little life, right? Peeking in on unique homes and inspiring home dwellers never really grows old to me. There’s always something either in the photos or interview that makes me stop and think even a bit differently. This garden of theirs is otherworldly. I can imagine it playing a starring role in the family’s memories.
What’s the star of your family’s memories? Is there a place that lives in your hearts like nowhere else?
One of my favorite lines of thoughtful Ashana’s: “Our way of life is somewhat old fashioned. Most of the time, we absolutely love it.” Such a perfect way to describe the lives we’re all choosing to live, isn’t it?
P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me know! We love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! I should also mention, I have a goal to bring more diverse points of view to Design Mom this year. So if you don’t see yourself or your community reflected here, let’s make it happen — send in your details, or recommend a friend! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.