By Gabrielle. Photos by Becky Radtke of B2 Photography.
Alana is agreeable and affable and just downright happy. She knows what she needs to achieve that happiness, including beautiful spaces that work for her family and inspire them to be great…and her sleeping arrangements. (You might not agree with those, but I am sure Alana would laugh and wave away your worries! She is no longer a sleep-deprived grump and wants to shout it from the rooftops!)
Come see Alana’s home and learn about her very cool business. I love the story of her background, and I think you will, too. Welcome, Alana!
Hello. I’m Alana. And let me first begin by explaining…this home tour of mine is my equivalent of having Gabrielle Blair over for a morning coffee and scone. Beyond excited. And a little stressed. And very honored. After all, she is the lady who authored the book that truly kick-started my little business. More on that later.
Together, with my best friend and husband Chris, there are five people and one Beta Fish (an acceptable substitute for the dog our daughter wanted) living in this home. Before having children, Chris and I travelled, extended our education, hosted fabulous dinner parties, and enjoyed each other immensely for almost ten years. When we finally decided it was time for a new season in our lives and I became pregnant at 32, we experienced one of the most challenging years ever.
Just months before my due date, my husband was offered a job he couldn’t resist in Institutional Asset Management (aka the pension funds world), six hours away from home in a city called Regina, Saskatchewan. He moved while I stayed behind to defend my Masters Thesis in Education. With only two weeks until her delivery, I joined Chris to begin our new little family, away from all the family and friends we had ever known, to a place where we knew not one single soul.
Moving to a new city and having your first child where you know NO ONE had to have been one of the most difficult circumstances ever. I remember being so elated with our new baby Anna Sophia, but feeling so sad that, other than my husband, I had no one to share her with. I also remember feeling the closest to my husband in those first months because all we had was each other and our new baby bundle.
Anna, now six, is fiercely independent and knows EXACTLY what she wants in life. She’s ardently dedicated to succeeding at whatever she puts her mind to. This girl has been clipping her own finger and toe nails for over two years, using pruning shears at the age of two – God help me! – and doing her hair and choosing her own outfits each day since I can remember. She is intuitive, tenacious, boisterous, and hysterical.
Roughly 18 months later, Emily Maria was born. She is a one-of-a-kind free spirit who doesn’t sweat the small stuff about anything. She understands that life is too short (and too fun!) to let petty things interfere with her inner peace. If someone takes the red lollipop she wanted, she happily settles for orange. And moves on. She’s not a doormat, just someone who knows that it’s not worthwhile to dwell on unimportant things. She is a strong and gentle soul, full of love and creativity.
As a family of four, things were still relatively under control. Enter Mia Kateryna. (I still sometimes forget how to spell her middle name). Born only 15 months later, she was our surprise ten-year anniversary present. Like, I literally found out the day we were celebrating. Things went from pseudo-controlled, affordable, relatively peaceful, to busy, loud, chaotic and crazy, and full of tons of excitement.
Mia is still trying to make her mark in her world. She mimics ANYTHING her big sisters say, and wants to do EVERYTHING they do. She has so much love to give her sisters and has such an interesting deep side to her, it is so fascinating to watch her personality unfold with all its emotions, quirks, strengths…She’s our baby. Still sucks on a soother, still sits on our lap and likes to be carried, held and cuddled…and we will continue this with pleasure until she decides it is for the last time.
We had three children within 2.8 years. I would not recommend this to just anyone. But particularly if you’re approaching 40, in a city with no family support system.
We made friends who became family, and hired a mother’s helper to be my right-hand woman for the outings that felt impossible with three under three.
Living with three children, apart from family and longtime friends became lonely. Although I had made wonderful friendships with other moms in Regina, I missed my own mom desperately and the support of family. I missed the birthday parties, the family dinners, the chaos that surround kids with their cousins at family gatherings, and my longtime girlfriends who were now having children of their own.
After we made the decision to move back home to Manitoba (my husband’s company was incredibly supportive), we had two criteria for a home. One, it needed to be within a ten-minute radius to our families. And two, we wanted a yard for the kids to play in. Chris did a Google Maps view of a property we found (which was lovely and expansive, and gorgeously landscaped), and immediately sent me off to have a look at the house to make sure the realtor images lined up with the real thing.
Although the home decorated in a Colonial style and had elements of the 90’s written all over it — honey maple trim-o-rama, bullnose taupe granite counters, brass finishes, etched glass French doors and panels…catch my drift? — I began to visualize how I would weave in my modern sensibilities within the context of an old-fashioned style bungalow. I knew it would be our home when I walked into the sitting room, adjacent to the kitchen, and immediately envisioned it as the playroom of my girls’ dreams.
Chris and I wanted this to be our forever home so it made sense that we buy a bungalow. No stairs to contend with at 80! It was also large enough to accommodate our family with 2600 square feet on the main floor – there was room for each girl to have her own bedroom. The lower level is a walkout basement, and so natural light spills into this level, much of it still undeveloped. In time, the girls may choose to have bedrooms down there, but it is large enough to host the very best parties. Our backyard is a haven for deer, Canada Geese, bunnies, and many birds.
Upon moving in, we slowly tackled one project at a time, like kitchen backsplash, new hardware, new light fixtures, paint. Our first autumn in the home, things started to go, as they do once a home approaches 20 years. The roof, hot water tanks, furnace, washing machine, air conditioning, and subsequent damage to flooring from our roof’s ice dam were all issues we contended with in the first two years of living in our new home. Each time something happened, we gritted our teeth and mustered up the cash to deal with the issue. Although I would not repeat a large-scale renovation with three kids over four months, I now have the flooring of my dreams (white-washed European Ash), and the maple hardwood we salvaged was used in our lower level. It all worked out in the end, and now we have what feels like a brand new home! Minus the bathrooms, which are full of brass and pink fixtures!
We live in the municipality of East St. Paul, just five minutes outside the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Winnipeg is smack-dab in the center of Canada, and we are known for great restaurants and a rich and diverse arts and culture scene.
We chose the neighborhood of Prichard Farm, because it has the calmness and stillness of country life, but still within reasonable proximity to all the amenities. Homes in the area start at around $600K, and are mostly occupied by empty nesters or those with children who are attending university. This makes it tricky for our girls who yearn to have parks and children their age nearby. During our first summer here, my husband built a huge play structure in our back yard so that our girls had their very own park right out the back door. We are so lucky to have wonderful families living on our cul-de-sac, and we have no hesitations about sending the girls out on the street with their bikes and rollerblades. We look out for one another, borrow each other’s pantry items, and send each other baking.
For a long time, I was a color-phoebe. My husband used to tease me that he felt like he was living on a black and white TV set. Grey rugs, black furniture, chrome details, white and grey toss cushions. It was totally lacking in personality. We made the decision to commission artist Chandra Kremski to paint a large-scale 8 by 4 abstract full-color piece to bring our living room wall to life. She totally delivered.
It was from that moment that I began to see our home in full color. I began to embrace color everywhere, but especially the girls’ playroom. Red was the accent color I had chosen, and I found the most fantastic Momeni rug to ground the whole room. The girls LIVE in this space. It is full of natural light, and I’ve designed it much like I would my own kindergarten classroom: a writing centre, complete with mailbox, a reading nook with a Fatboy and rocking chairs, a table for art, writing and science investigations, musical instruments, and a dramatic play area with costumes and a play kitchen.
We also have ample storage for toys, books, and art supplies. Each basket is labeled for easy clean up and I find this helps the girls develop responsibility and care for their things. I use glass jars to store their art supplies which are accessible at all times; in this way, they are able to read the media and make their own choices. We’ve just started to introduce wet media in the playroom – painting and clay/play dough usually happen at the kitchen table, but the girls are becoming so much more responsible and careful with their materials. I have found that if you design a space that requires respect and care, your kids will rise to the occasion.
I love and appreciate good design. One of my skills is pulling together a room with furnishings and accessories from a variety of places, high and low. I love a good bargain, and when I see something I like, I can visualize exactly how it will look in our space. I call our aesthetic modern-organic-minimal. I love to weave in bold color, organic textures, and fun pattern through art and accessories against a clean, white palette.
We enjoy supporting Canadian artists. My husband and I love art, and we’ve made it our anniversary tradition to collect original art for our home. Art tells a story, and each piece reminds us of a special time in our lives. Each year, we’ve added one piece to our collection.
I am a big believer that children deserve and thrive in a beautiful space, too. All humans have aesthetic appreciation, and kids are just little humans, after all. I feel that an inviting, thoughtfully prepared, beautiful environment is one of the most special gifts we can give our girls. A space where they can play, grow, learn, and be inspired.
Before children, I was a teacher for ten years in Winnipeg’s Inner City. One of the most transformative years for me as a teacher was when I was given a new Kindergarten assignment. The only room available in the school was a dingy-old former staffroom. Remember the days when teachers were allowed to smoke in the staffroom? That room was like a time capsule of that era: wood paneling, faded, smoke-infused linoleum flooring, and tiny windows covered with bars. It was the dullest and most depressing room in the entire building.
Having the ugliest room in the school presented a clear challenge. But, as a resourceful, hip, and passionate educator, I knew I would meet this challenge head-on, and surpass everyone’s expectations – especially the tiniest students’. I used my resourcefulness to acquire donations from around the city. Beanbag chairs, little coffee tables, floor cushions, even beautiful textural rugs were gifted by local businesses.
I also used my DIY prowess to craft some creative storage solutions. I looked for discounts EVERYWHERE. And finally, after a coat of paint to freshen things up, the room came alive.
My practice was deeply influenced by the teachings of Reggio Emilia, where the environment is considered the Third Teacher. Great attention was given to lighting, windows, pathways, materials selection and organization, and color and texture choices, as well as flexible seating arrangements. I witnessed firsthand the transformative power of the environment: its power to shape behavior, learning, and attitudes.
Being in the Inner City, my students came from a variety of home settings, but sadly, many were underprivileged and faced enormous life obstacles. I wanted to create a beautiful, safe space for these young children who were about to embark on the beginning of their educational path, a space where they felt welcomed, at peace, invited to participate in constructing their own learning journey. I believed that they deserved a beautiful space away from home.
Fast forward a few months, and I began to see profound changes. These children, who were only two generations removed from residential schools, were excited to come to school, excited to learn, amongst friends, in a space that was as inviting as the coziest tea house. Students’ learning flourished, as we explored big ideas that mattered to them. Parents wanted to volunteer and hang out, and I absolutely loved teaching and spending time in my classroom. I believe the beautiful environment I created made me a better teacher that year. My experiences as a teacher, helping kids learn through the arts, along with my passion in designing beautiful and inspiring learning environments are the cornerstones of the work I do now.
My business *brillante, which launched earlier in the year, is an intersection* of three worlds I am deeply passionate about: education, motherhood, and design. A Venn Diagram, if you will. I design spaces for kids and teens from a teacher’s perspective. My goal when designing a space is to cultivate curiosity, inspire imagination and creativity, and to encourage independence and collaboration in learning and play. (*I’ve borrowed the term intersection straight from Gabby. I was serious when I said that her book Design Mom was an impetus for my start-up, in merging the three things I’m most passionate about. I’m so grateful to her for this, and for opening me up to a new world of possibility.)
I see children and teens as capable, competent, strong, full of curiosity and potential, and innately creative. The spaces I create for kids reflect these values: from the materials and furnishings I select, to the way they are arranged and presented. I see myself as more of a curator than a stylist, selecting and organizing quality toys, books, art supplies and furnishings, with careful consideration for style, aesthetics, and design elements.
On the residential front, I work with families to create stylish spaces for children in the home: playrooms, nurseries and bedrooms, teen-study retreats. On the commercial front, I work with childcare centres, medical offices, homeschool organizations, churches, and therapists’ spaces to make spaces more inviting and engaging for kids. I would love to begin consulting to school boards because I believe that an artfully prepared environment can elicit better teaching and can transform the way students learn.
The girls have a set of routines we’ve instilled. The teacher in me had a responsibilities chart printed and mounted to the wall near their bedrooms, so that they know exactly what’s expected of them before they leave the house for school. My husband and I share time with them each morning – we drink coffee while they eat, and my husband practices math skills with them. That’s his thing.
Once the two oldest girls leave for school, Mia and I plan our morning adventures. Long walks to the park, visits to the local YMCA or attending some of our community’s organized programs are balanced with the more mundane errands – so much more manageable with just ONE child.
When Emily arrives home from Kindergarten at lunchtime, Mia is already napping. We read books, do puzzles or art, or she helps me prepare dinner. Sometimes I lie down for a nap while she plays on the iPad. (Is that bad?) The afternoons are typically filled with lots of imaginative play – storytelling, puppet shows, dress-up, and Barbies, much to my chagrin. If the weather is nice, we try to get outside, although our winters are exceptionally bitter. Minus 40 some days!
The things that bring me the LEAST joy (and something I am approaching with much trepidation) is the whole snowsuit-winter-accessory-cold-weather-rigmarole that is Canadian living for almost five months. Our mudroom is like a bowling alley — very little room for anyone, let alone three young girls with bulky snowsuits, all the knit accessories, and backpacks! I absolutely hate it.
Another thing I wish I could outsource is the seasonal switchover for clothing. With three girls so close in age, this has become the bane of my existence. Fortunately, I’ve gotten it down to a system, and I don’t dread this task as much as I used to. I just get really tearful each time our youngest’s clothing goes out for donation. Then it just sits in my trunk for months, until I remember to bring it to the Goodwill.
We love traditions in our family. Each Christmas, we don our pajamas and pile into our minivan with hot cocoa and marshmallows. We drive around our neighborhood looking at all the over-the-top Christmas light displays.
Each New Year’s Day, we host the “Skate on the Creek.” We invite dozens of families for hot dogs and a marshmallow roast over a bonfire, grown-ups indulge in coffee and Bailey’s, and we collect non-perishable food for a local non-profit Winnipeg Harvest that provides food to those who need it. It’s such a fun tradition, and we look forward to it every year.
Every time a child loses a tooth in our family, the Tooth Fairy brings her some special exotic money from a far-away country. We want our girls to explore and discover the world, to experience the richness of cultures other than our own. Hopefully the Tooth Fairy will help inspire this one day!
Each holiday break from school, the girls get a special breakfast of pancakes with ice cream and sprinkles. On family movie night, we bring out our special fancy treat bowls reserved strictly for this occasion. We choose the very best treats for those nights, and we all sit around in our pajamas enjoying the closeness of each other with a fire and a great movie.
Our girls may not remember the design-details of the house they lived in, but my hope is that they remember fondly the loving home that we created together: the traditions, the laughter, the board games, morning pajama bike rides, the movie nights, the dance parties, the barbecues, the big family potlucks, even the crazy, full-family bedtime. I hope that they create special traditions with their own children one day; that they reflect on the joy our traditions brought them as children.
I wish someone had whispered in my ear, and then shaken me sternly, to “THROW ALL PRECONCEIVED NOTIONS AROUND NORMAL OUT THE WINDOW!”
I used to insist on normal sleep routines, like everyone in their own bed, sleeping through the night. I literally tortured myself for years around this notion. We were like a Family Circus cartoon with the dotted line, zigzagging pathways around the house, room to room, all night long. Just after I walked to one daughter’s bedroom to console her back to sleep, the other would wake me to come cuddle her. Often, several times per night.
I shriveled into a shadow of my former self. I stopped seeing the joy in my life. I became depressed. I gained weight. A lot of weight. I was exhausted beyond comprehension. My temper flared, and my relationship with my husband became strained. Everything irritated me.
Sleep deprivation got the best of me, and took a powerful hold over my once confident, joyful self. See, I am the kind of girl who NEEDS her eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.
Four months ago, we decided to divide and conquer. My husband now sleeps full-time with our oldest in her bed. She has major anxiety around nighttime, and does much better when someone is close to her. Yep. That’s right. We don’t sleep together anymore. Sleep trumps romance.
Our youngest curls up with me around midnight in our king-sized bed. As much as I would consider myself an attachment-minded parent, I could not co-sleep. I find it tough to co-sleep with my husband sometimes! Ha!
So many people recommended all the kids just sleep with us. This would not work for someone like me, who enjoys a cold pillow and a decent portion of the mattress.
Our middle child, bless her heart, sleeps peacefully through the night, most nights.
So that’s the new arrangement. For right now. And in the four months that we’ve reframed our ideas around normal sleep, I’m back to my old self again. And trying madly to shed this weight. Remind me never to go out and gain 50 pounds again.
Normal things like wholesome, balanced meals and mealtime expectations, thoughtfully coordinated outfits, nicely braided hair, quinoa and other messy grains…these things just get thrown out the window when you have three kids in less than three years. Or maybe it’s just us. What I know now is that the less expectations I have and the less I strive for perfect, the happier we are.
Alana, I think you’re an unequivocal design smarty pants! Thank you for being honest with us and sharing what’s working for you.
Friends, are any of you enthusiastic or reluctant co-sleepers? Does sleep trump romance in your house, or is everyone in their own beds. Sleeping arrangements are kind of fascinating to me; sometimes we fight painfully through our kids’ and our own sleep issues, and other times we simply throw in the towel and find sleep however and wherever we can. In which camp are you sleeping? Or not sleeping at all?!
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.