Today you get to meet Tiffany West and hear her story. Tiffany married into a family where there were already kids and immediately became a mom to her step kids. She and her family live outside Washington D.C. in a really rural and beautiful area called Delaplane in Virginia. And just like many of our recent posts, she talks openly and candidly about the struggles and surprises about working from home, home schooling, and quarantine. Welcome, Tiffany!
Hi! I’m Tiffany, a creative director, designer, and digital content creator. I am currently fine tuning my creative consulting companies’ services and looking at launching virtual interior design. My husband Michael is an entrepreneur, the CEO of a financial consulting company, and he also owns the local auto shop in our neighboring town. He has a passion for building things, and he even built our house. I also live here with my stepdaughter, Sydney (15), my stepson Oliver (13), my stepson Asher (9), our black lab Bowtie (7), two yellow lab twins, Summer & Autumn (1 ½), and oh yeah, we just got eight chickens.
Michael and I got married this past January in Jamaica, but we have been together for the last seven years. I moved in with Michael in 2015 and we have been working hard (and taking breaks) trying to finish the house. We have 2 rooms left to go—our bedroom and master bathroom, as well as a weird room on the side of the house that Michael lived in while he was building the house. We are thinking of making it an art studio or something fun.
We are currently collaborating on a work project together. Michael’s consulting company, Cobec, is building a new office and we are working with the designers and architects together. I am providing creative direction, visioning, and mood to make sure it aligns with Michael’s wants, needs, and vision, as well as the Cobec brand. Michael knows way more than your average bear about the building structure, tech, materials, millwork, lighting, etc. so he is working that angle, as well as making sure employees’ wants and needs are met too.
The floorplan phase just wrapped, and we just received the fabric, floor, and wall samples from the designers and viewed the first 3D rendering. It has been a lot of fun to work together and combine both of our passions on this project. I can’t wait to see the outcome — we even bought a spotting scope to set-up in the office and time-lapse all phases of the construction and build out.
We have our hands full, if you can’t tell! We have been slowly decorating the house room by room, but we still have a lot of work to go. That is the fun part for me — finding things that truly speak to us and making the house our home. I love color psychology and really creating spaces that make you feel creative and calm at the same time. Michael likes to draw things out in AutoCAD before we start a project and I like to use vision boards. We make a great team and complement each other well when it comes to the home.
Since we have three kids and three dogs, we needed the house to be functional, but also allow for lots of spills, messes, and dirt. Lots of dirt.
We live in Delaplane, Virginia, 50 miles west of Washington, D.C. We are surrounded by so many wineries, I call it Napa 1.0. It is known for horses, mountains, and wineries. It kind of reminds me of the English country side, and a lot of British people reside here too.
Robert Duvall lives in the town over and takes his cars to Michael’s auto shop (The Plains Service Center). We even sat at a table next to him on our 4th dating anniversary (he had a flip phone!). Our county has an order in place that won’t allow it to turn into the suburbs with housing developments and strip malls popping up like our neighboring counties have done.
Our neighborhood is on a dead-end street and Virginia Beef is directly across the street from us so there is usually a field full of crops or cows. There is a hard-working family of seven across the street and the teenage boys that live there help us out a lot with yardwork and landscaping (we live on 5 acres!).
We also have a lovely pair of older neighbors (Susan & Alan Rubin). They used to own the first theatre in Georgetown DC in the 70’s, as well as an ice cream shop. They moved to Delaplane to live in the country, but still be close to the city. Alan took up a second career as a painter once he moved here and he let us pick out any painting we wanted off the wall for our wedding gift. Michael picked a pair of boxing gloves hanging up that you’ll see in his office.
It is fascinating to go over for dinner at their house. It is full of artwork, a greenhouse, an art studio, and a pond our puppies have escaped to many times! I hope to be half as cool as them when I grow up. They know all the history of the street and have told us some pretty cool stories.
Elizabeth Taylor used to live out here (Middleburg) when she was married to former senator John Warner from 1976-1982. With Hollywood flocking to this unknown place, you know it’s a little slice of heaven and a hidden gem. We have neighbors at the top of the street, but they have three kids under three, so we don’t see them much. We traded beer for fresh eggs a few weeks ago (their chickens are laying, ours haven’t started).
I was living in Arlington, Virginia for five years before moving in with Michael, and I admit I thought I would miss the city a lot more. After commuting for several years into the city, it was a blessing for me to drive home at the end of the day, leaving the congestion, driving toward the sunset and watching the blue ridge mountains as I left the noise, to this peaceful serene countryside where I can see the stars.
Don’t get me wrong, I miss being able to drive five minutes to yoga, be close to my best girlfriends, and walk to the store, but it also has its positive effects. We can walk to a winery, never have to wait in long lines, and traffic is a rarity. Needless to say, my road rage has gone way down, and so has my car insurance.
What do we not love? Taking our garbage to the dump. The loud highway sometimes. We can only get pizza delivered. It’s hard to get an uber, and if you get one, you may not find an uber home (that’s happened a time or two). You have to drive at least 20-25 min to Target or the gym.
We usually go to the state park nearby, Sky Meadows. It is pretty empty during the week and has 1800 acres to social distance easily. When I first moved in, Main Street in Marshall looked a lot different than it does now. Over the last few years, coffee shops and other retail has exploded, and we aren’t complaining one bit!
We have a lot of favorite places nearby:
Barrel Oak Winery with their delicious wood fired pizzas.
Aspen Dale Winery in a cute old barn with the best food pairings and sage cheese, pheasant, and their secret sangria (which is to die for — I am still trying to find out the recipe).
Happy Creek Coffee where the entire place is gluten free, and I have Celiac Disease, so this is my go-to. They have the best breakfast sandwiches, pour over coffees, desserts, and fresh juices.
The Whole Ox, which is our local butcher shop. They have been offering delivery during the pandemic and working with the local farms to keep fresh meat and produce in stock.
Field & Main which is the best farm-to-table restaurant I’ve ever been to. They truly make each meal a wonderful experience. They switched from fine dining to offer sandwiches and to-go dinners during the pandemic.
Red Truck Bakery, which offers the best pimento cheese spread, flourless chocolate cake, and homemade ice cream I’ve ever had. Obama even orders his pies from here!
And last but not least, Spelunkers, an amazing drive through burger and shake restaurant near the entrance of Skyline Drive. It gives Shake Shack and Five Guys a run for their money.
According to Michael, nobody wanted this house, so it was easy to buy. It was built in 1805 and falling apart after years of neglect. It actually used to be the Delaplane Post Office and then it was the town general store (formerly Smith’s Store).
Michael bought this house in 2003 when he was 24 and living in Reston, Virginia with his best friends. Their townhouse burnt down and they all decided to go their separate ways and live on their own. Michael couldn’t decide between moving to the city, or moving to the country, and his job was located in between the two. He ended up choosing the country, but it was no gem when he bought it, hence his above comment. The house was purchased for $185,000 and is now valued at $743,000.
Michael grew up working summers helping his Uncle build houses and working for his Grandpa’s family HVAC/plumbing company, so he was excited to take on a house project of his own.
He worked fulltime at this job and then would come home and work 8 hours on his house. He lived in a side room of the house while it was being worked on, and at one point he didn’t even have a bathroom. He used to shower at the gym at his office until he made an outdoor shower and got a port o potty. It was a long process and a lot of friends and family came down to help while getting paid in beer and pizza.
It is still a work in progress. Michael went through a divorce in 2012, so the house was pretty empty for a while. We slowly started with getting the kids rooms painted and filled with furniture to try and have some sense of normalcy return for them.
The walls were a deep red downstairs in the kitchen/dining/living room and the room was already dark, so aside from the kids’ rooms, one of the first things we did was paint it a warm off-white to open up the space and make it more welcoming. There were also tones of baby blue and bright yellows that we swapped for muted grays, greens, and tones of beige. I’m big on color psychology and creating calm spaces. I suffer from anxiety and depression, so environment is everything to me.
We have looked over the years for houses around this area — something with a pool already built, bigger closets, less maintenance — but we love this house and all it’s quirks so much. We have spent so much time making it ours, I think we’ll keep this home forever. Whenever friends and family come over, they say they feel like they’re at a bed and breakfast.
I find most of my style inspiration from places that I visit and love — places that mean a lot to me and are a part of my soul. For instance, my office is very reminiscent of California, and the beach to be specific (whether that is in Jamaica, Assateague, or Santa Monica). But I also recognize the location where we live, so I try to add in modern farmhouse, mixed with mid-century modern and bohemian influence. I love mixing and matching patterns and textures too, and pops of bold color.
I love to mix old with new. The black and white check buffalo check couch in the living room upstairs was my Nana’s, and the live edge maple coffee table in front of it was Michael’s Grandfather’s. Then I added the surfboard that doubled as our wedding guestbook, and I ordered these vintage posters from Jamaica (a place we visit once a year).
The Jamaica tourism board wanted to increase travel to the island in 1972, so they made these posters. I saw one of them at the Skylark Negril Hotel when we were wedding venue shopping, and I knew I had to find it somehow.
Our living room downstairs and dining area draws a lot of inspiration from Joshua Tree, a trip I took recently with my Mom and friend Rachel. It was peaceful and warm and reminds me to have gratitude and stay grounded.
I also try to incorporate lots of plants and greenery. At the beginning of the quarantine, I went to Lowes and stocked up on houseplants. We were supposed to be in Mexico for a best friend’s wedding, and this was me trying to transport us to the islands.
My best design tip is to not do everything at once and to make a vision board! I slowly put rooms together and pull things from other places in the house as I go. I also like to hang my vision board up somewhere in my office to help with the manifestation.
When I first started dating Michael, I had never even babysat! It was a big adjustment for me at twenty-six, only taking care of myself and my apartment, to helping raise three kids and take care of a house. I am still learning and still get overwhelmed with the house sometimes. All of my friends are finally at the place in their life that I was seven years ago, so I feel like it’s now easier to relate to them, and give and get advice.
Michael does a lot. He is very big on family dinners and eating together every night, no excuses. He is one of the hardest workers I have ever met. Sometimes he has five house projects going on at the same time. We are just now nearing the home stretch of having all of the rooms finished and everything having a place.
I come from a family of divorce, so as I help raise these kids, it has really focused a light on my own experiences as a child — some that I forgot about. I am way more aware of what I did not receive when I was a child, and sometimes that is hard. So as I am helping parent these kids, I have been working on re-parenting myself and giving myself those things I needed, but never got, as an adolescent. It all comes full circle!
Being a working mother has definitely influenced me and actually helped me get to where I am now. At first, I was commuting 2-4 hours a day, working a 9-5, trying to make everyone happy but myself. We realized in order for me to be fully present for everything our crazy chaotic life entails, I would need to work from home most of the time. Even after that, I was still unhappy and overwhelmed.
I finally quit my corporate job and took my seven years of business smarts to start my own creative consulting company. I am finally doing what I love and have the flexibility to be there for Michael and the kids and the dogs in a way that allows me to be more present. It only took me eight years and turning thirty to figure that out, but here we are, and I wouldn’t change the path for a second.
A skill that I’ve learned from having kids is that it’s okay to take a step back. I always felt like I couldn’t change a meeting time or take a day for myself. Once you are taking care of another human being, that stuff becomes trivial. I have a much easier time saying ‘no’ to things that don’t serve me, simply because I don’t have the time.
And that has translated to me saying ‘no’ even when I do have the time, if the thing does not serve me. I am learning not to be a people pleaser; that life is messy. It’s okay. As long as we realize that we are all human and can share our feelings, life gets a whole lot better. I take that to work with me. Honesty and vulnerability get you a lot farther than suppression and shame.
A month ago, when sheltering-at-home started, we were very organized. We made a schedule every day. Then we realized we couldn’t sustain both that and work, and also the kids were adjusting. We let them have lazy mornings and sleep in a little or wake up and play video games. It’s our time to get our work done and have some quiet time. Then after brunch, we get them to help with chores, help outside, or give them a project to work on for the week.
I know it hasn’t been the same for a lot of my friends, but the school district has been very forgiving here. Classes didn’t start until two weeks ago, and the kids were at their mom’s house the week before. They get their schedule on Friday and have a week to complete assignments. It is ungraded because not all kids have access to internet and computers in our county (it’s very rural).
We try to do something fun too, like we had family lasagna night where we all had a part. We make art and are building garden boxes, and family Steam game nights (Murder Trivia Party and Quiplash are our faves). The boys helped Michael build a chicken fence after we moved the chicks to their coop, and Sydney helped put together boxes for care packages that we’re going to send to employees at Michael’s consulting company. I have a giant tie-dye kit we’re going to do when the weather gets warm and I got them sheets and pillowcases to dye.
We workout with the kids or take them to the park. I am working part time right now, so it is easier for me to help with the kids if Michael has meetings. He can flex his hours too, to make more time for the kids when they’re at our house. His company, Cobec, was a huge champion of working from home before the pandemic started, so it wasn’t a huge adjustment.
The constant noise is probably the hardest part for me about working from home. Sometimes I go to my car for meetings if it’s too loud, or I just have to get out and go for a drive. One week I went on a country drive every day. I highly recommend it if something like that is available to you. Even just listening to the radio and driving returns a sense of normalcy that has been missing. A fake commute if you will.
I think the hardest part is when the kids go back to their Mom’s house. Before the pandemic when they would leave, it was a little bit of a break from the nonstop chaos of school (their school is 25 min away), and the sports practices and games on the weeknights and weekends. Now with all of that gone, we really just get to spend (mostly) stress-free quality time together, and actually work on all those projects we’ve talked about doing over the years.
It’s actually been a time where we’ve stopped watching the news as much and temporarily zone out about the fact that we are in a global pandemic and the country is in crisis mode. You get to be a kid again a little bit.
What do I wish I knew a month ago? That toilet paper would be a scarcity. We had five rolls when this started, and Michael had to bring it home from a trip because he was traveling when this all broke out. Our local grocery store has not had it for over seven weeks (it gets bought as soon as it hits the shelves). I did get lucky one time at Walmart when a store employee gave me some of her secret stash.
I think we realized we are doing too much and also trying to do too much. No wonder we are stressed, burnt out, burning the candle at both ends. This spring would’ve been travel volleyball weekends to Sydney’s tournaments, sports every weekend with the boys, soccer at different times and places, spring break to their Grandparents’ house in Florida, and a wedding in Mexico, plus a work conference.
It would be been a lot of work and we wouldn’t have had a break. Now we are making the garden that we’ve talked about for four years, and planting more trees, and spending more quality time together. We are getting super organized in the house and that feels good when you have no control in the outside world.
Going forward I definitely want to continue being more present, take more walks outside, appreciate more video chats with friends and family near and far. Why did it take a pandemic for me to have large video chats with friends? I am already semi-isolated by living far away from friends and family, and virtual nights has helped immensely.
I hope when we come out on the other side of this, we spend a little less time with technology and a little more time face to face. I hope we ask for help when we need it. I hope we spend more time together in nature. I hope we keep teaching our kids more things about life, and how to cook, and that we keep the chores up! I have two friends that I check in with daily and vice versa, and I will continue that after the pandemic. I hope people continue to ask others not how they are, but no how are you really? Genuinely. Because life is too short.
I also hope companies finally leave behind their old ways of thinking and allow more people to telework (at least a few days a week). It is impossible (especially if you commute) to be able to take care of everything in your home and your work and your personal life. It is Just. Not. Possible. Let’s encourage less pollution, less traffic, more time with family, and more time to enjoy the little things. Like a cup of coffee with the sunrise and the birds chirping, knowing you don’t have to gear up for two hours of traffic before you even start working. Commutes are draining. Let’s let the people be people, not machines. Our society needed a shift and I hope the positive changes continue, if that makes sense.
Regarding this stay-at-home period, I hope the kids forget the arguments, that they feel safe at all times, that they remember the fun, and that they learned a lot of things about running a home and cooking and life skills. I hope they feel rejuvenated and spend a little less time on their phones and a little more time in person with friends. I hope they appreciate all the food we cook and how lucky they have it in this world compared to others.
My favorite thing has been playing games on steam (lots of laughs), art, and working outside. It is nice to build something together. And we all feel accomplished. We have different taste in movies, so it ends up being the boys and Mike watching a movie and Syd and I having our introvert creative time doing whatever. She loves to try out different makeup and hair styles and she is really good at it! She was going to take cosmetology at the high school, so for Easter she wanted trimming shears, developer, and hair mannequins for practice. Oh yeah, not waking up super early for school and all of the driving back and forth has been pretty amazing too.
My favorite thing has been redoing things you did as a kid yourself. It is nostalgic and fun and a good way to bond with them. We were too lazy to go outside and start a fire, so we made a s’mores pie the other day that was BOMB!
I wish someone had told me: you’re going to be okay. You should embrace every ounce of weirdness that you have, because that is what makes you, you. Don’t live your life for someone else, they aren’t the one that has to live with it, you do. If you want to have a career in the arts, go for it. Just because you can’t paint doesn’t mean you can’t be an artist. Money is not everything, chase your passions, not paychecks. And if you don’t like your job, you can CREATE it.
We live in such a wonderful time where people are really running with their passions that I could just explode from happiness. People like our hostess here, Gabrielle (Design Mom), are truly the advocates for helping champion creativity and this way of thinking and I feel so truly lucky to be a part of it all.
Thank you Tiffany! This really seems like a comfy and welcoming home to quarantine in. I love that so many families have talked about how they maybe started out with a schedule and a bit more structure and have now relaxed some of those rules. It really does feel like we are all just trying to get through, and sometimes dragging the kids out of bed first thing in the morning might not be worth it.
I also really loved what Tiffany said about more companies hopefully seeing the value of working from home after this. Obviously not every job can do this, but I agree that we are learning that so many jobs can be done from home, and not only does that save companies money on building costs and infrastructure, just like Tiffany said, it gets more cars off the road and allows people to get rid of long commutes. I think it would make such a difference for so many people.
Coffee Table and Dining Room Table
Two Brown Leather Chairs
Marble round coffee table
Hanging Bamboo Pendant Light
Red Boxing Glove Painting
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