I was hooked on Amity’s story as soon as I learned she and her husband bought their home on Craigslist, hooked even harder when I saw how she makes a home heavy with dark wood look effortlessly holiday-airy, and completely reeled in when I read her honest words about being a stay-at-home mom. There is so much goodness in this tour, Friends. I hope you enjoy it!
Q: Please tell us all about your family.
A: My name is Amity and I’m from Austin. My husband, Philip, is from Denmark. Philip and I met at a work event while he was visiting Austin on business. It is beyond corny to say this, but it truly was love at first sight! I moved to Copenhagen five months later and we got married the next month: six months to the day we met. We have been married for ten wonderful years, and it is the quintessential love story that has just gotten better since the birth of our son, Cosmo, who is now six.
Philip is magnificently creative and has a great eye for design…which I have decided must be inherent to all Danes! He is a robotics engineer — doesn’t that make him sound smart?! — and an all-around really fantastic person! I’m a stay-at-home mom. I used to write a blog but got sick of listening to myself talk, so I have since taken up other creative endeavors such as jewelry making and furniture refinishing and I’ve recently had the opportunity to do some interior styling consultations which makes me happiest of all!
Q: How did this home come to be yours?
A: Oh, this crazy old house! This house has a soul and if it wants to be yours it finds you! It was built somewhere between 1910-1919, and is a Prairie-style house. We bought it in 2007 while we were living in Copenhagen in a sixth floor walk-up, 650 sq. ft. apartment with a one year old. We had decided that we needed a little more breathing room, and so I started browsing Craigslist and stumbled on this “For Sale By Owner” house just outside of Austin in Pflugerville, Texas. I contacted the owners and they sent me a ton of pictures. I was hooked.
I then asked Philip if he was interested in moving back to Austin, which seems a little bit backwards but I tend to work best this way. We had a few minor details to sort out, like getting Philip a Green Card and selling our flat.
I’m sure the owners of the house thought I was completely insane! “I love your house and I want to buy it, but first my husband has to go through the lengthy process of trying to get permanent residency in the United States and we have to sell our apartment because we don’t actually have any money right now…will you hold your house for me for about eight months?”
We made a trip to see it in person about three months after I saw the first pictures, and we both knew it had to be ours; it could have been that it was a million degrees outside and there is a pool at the house, but whatever it was we had to have it. Everything eventually fell into place, and six months later we flew to Austin and closed on the house the next morning.
What a shock it was to walk into this huge empty house with nothing. Even our luggage had been lost! We slept on an air mattress for three weeks while we waited for our shipping container to arrive from Denmark. I’ll admit, we had a bit of buyer’s remorse in those first few days. There was so much to do and we had a little person running around and we only had enough furniture to fill one of the eight rooms. Five years and lots of paint later, we have the house just about how we envisioned it. Of course, now we’re feeling ready to move on and start a new project!
Q: Your style seems to be both old and new, and you effortlessly mix light and whimsy with some serious pieces. How would you describe your preferred aesthetic? Has your style changed since you’ve become a family and added a child?
A: I would describe my preferred aesthetic as boho-chic with a touch of Danish modern thrown in for my husband. Since having a child, my decorating budget has been severely depleted. I sometimes hate that money has to dictate my preferred aesthetic, but it does. We’ve got school tuition to pay, lots of Legos to buy, and we’ve lived on one income for the last six years. So I’m lucky that I love vintage and antiques and I don’t mind having to use a little elbow grease to make something beautiful.
I also love that the small decorating budget has forced me to be creative. In one of my photos you see two black chairs with a white table between them. Those chairs were hideous but $5 each at a local thrift store. I got the Dwell fabric in the remnant bin for $10 and the table was free out of my neighbor’s yard. A couple of hours of manual labor and a few cans of spray paint later, and I’ve got a cozy little seating area. If I had a million dollars I probably wouldn’t use that table or those chairs, but I work with what I have and I am usually really pleased with the outcome.
Q: There’s a lot of dark wood in your home, but you’ve made it seem light with the way you’ve decorated. Tell us your top three tips we probably don’t know yet to making that happen. Because it seriously looks like a summer camp/holiday house, the way it’s so light and breezy! And there are probably so many readers who are living with dark wood and have no idea how to make it brighter.
A: I had a moment of hysteria about a year ago where I was running from room to room chanting “Down with the brown!” I wanted to paint everything white. It is tough with a house like this because you don’t want to mess with the integrity and ruin the original woodwork, but you can only live with that much dark wood for so long before it becomes depressing. My top three tips to make a house seem light would be to choose cool paint colors — not necessarily white — to contrast the dark wood, use pops of white, clear or metallic accessories to draw your eye away from the sea of brown, and to use large interesting rugs to break up the hardwood flooring.
Also, I’ve recently discovered an affordable upholsterer and it has kind of changed my life. I love old chairs, and with a can of spray paint and some interesting upholstery they will brighten any room immediately. Oh, and don’t forget to go light on the window coverings. I have white panels on every window in the house to let in as much natural light as possible. Even when they are closed there is light streaming in.
Q: What are your favorite pieces in your home?
A: My favorite pieces are our heirloom pieces. Before we moved back to Texas we stayed with my father-in-law, a very lively old French man, in Denmark for a month. He let us dig through his basement and take whatever we wanted. He has an extensive art collection of all sorts of off-the-wall stuff that I absolutely adore. We have filled our house with it and I enjoy looking at it every day. It is all unusual and it would have taken me years to build up a collection like this. We also have on display Philip’s Danish grandmother’s piano and some of her embroidery, his French grandfather’s pocket watch, some of my mom’s paintings and some of my grandmother’s beautiful crewel work. I try to infuse a little of our pasts and Philip’s Danish and French heritage into each room.
Because Cosmo is an only child, it is really important to us that he knows that he is more than just the three of us. We want him to be reminded of the many, many amazing people that are connected to him.
Q: Where do you find the most inspiration that seems to affect your daily life?
A: I find inspiration in other cultures. We have traveled throughout Europe, the US, and Southeast Asia, and I love travel blogs. We’ve moved back and forth from Denmark to Texas several times with a short stop in Singapore. Every time we go to a new place, I find things I want to incorporate into my daily life. Not only material things but traditions and ways of living.
I also find inspiration in houses. Philip and I look at houses online all over the world all the time. We don’t want to limit ourselves geographically when we make our next move. We’re waiting for something to jump out and grab us.
And thrifting! When Cosmo is at school, I stop by the shops weekly. I’ve got a thrift circuit that I run with a friend and we have the best time unearthing all sorts of interesting junk. It is pure bliss for me when I walk into a thrift store and spot something that can be transformed. Of course, when I get home I have to click on my favorite design blogs to figure out what to do with all my great junk!
Q: You mentioned in our correspondence about how you love being a homemaker. Please inspire us about what you love the most and why.
A: Did I say I love being a homemaker? I do love it, most days. I take pride in what I do but just like with any job there are days that I dream of submitting my resignation letter. Being a stay-at-home mom is utterly thankless most of the time.
In one of those rare, sweet bedtime moments a few weeks ago Cosmo said, “Mom, thanks for not going to real work so I can spend more time at home with you.” It had been a challenging day and it was a glimpse into how he views our family and it made me teary-eyed and reminded me again how fortunate I am to be able to do this.
I’ve struggled with the idea of being a homemaker and I think many modern American women do. I often feel that I’m wasting my education — why get a degree to stay home and make peanut butter & jelly sandwiches? — and feel like I should be doing more than just taking care of this little boy. Every year I say that this will be the year that I will go back to real work, but it just never happens. I wasn’t fulfilled in the career I had before having Cosmo and I couldn’t imagine giving up time with him to go to a job that I am not really passionate about.
Yes, it can be mundane to keep the house clean, make the meals, and keep a child entertained, but I’ve found that in the right state of mind and with the right music it can actually be quite fulfilling. But I might have very low standards for fulfillment! What I love most about being a homemaker is having time. I have time to read a book, meet a friend for coffee, paint a piece of furniture, do an art project, daydream, or just enjoy being with Cosmo…all the things I love the most!
Q: What’s the best part about living with your own child? What are the joys and even difficulties you encounter on a daily basis? What do you already miss?
A: The best part about living with Cosmo is the laughter. Not only his, but all of ours. He makes us laugh those deep, cure-anything laughs. He is funny without knowing it, and I’ve discovered that he is therapeutic. Any little bit of sadness or anger or frustration can be cured with him next to me. Sure, he is challenging at times, but he is our joy. Philip and I were very happy with our lives before we had Cosmo, but adding him to the mix has changed things immeasurably. Our lives now revolve around what we want him to experience, learn, and live.
Watching him grow is bittersweet. He is curious and smart and independent and no longer my little wide-eyed ball of neediness. I have photos of him all over the walls, and stand and stare at him in the different stages of the past six years. I am amazed at who he has become.
I would have to say that I most miss his chubbiness. It seems odd, but there was something about those roly-poly arms and thighs that were so fundamentally satisfying to me as a mother; I was doing my job of growing a healthy, happy baby. I long for that now that he is all angles and boyishness and I can no longer swing him up on my hip.
Q: What do you hope your son remembers most from his childhood home? What memories are you trying hard to save up for him from his early years?
A: I hope memories from this time in our lives evoke a sense of peacefulness for Cosmo, and a sense that his childhood home was everything he needed it to be. I hope that he remembers being a mad scientist in the kitchen, riding his scooter in the hall, his really good hiding spots, spending hours building Legos in his playroom, working in the garden with his dad, and swimming three times a day during the long Texas summers!
I’m trying to save up all these tiny moments that are so fleeting: all the little things that make an impact when they happen, but when you try to remember them the next day you’ve already forgotten the details. I don’t want to forget those details because they are so important to who we are as a family, and they are building our little baby boy into an adult.
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish I had known…
A: …that spray paint and fabric could make me so happy! There is something so gratifying about taking an old broken-down piece of furniture or a poorly decorated room and turning it into something pretty. It is like breathing life into something. I’ve flipped and flopped my entire adult life trying to figure out what I should be doing, and I’ve finally realized that I’m happiest being a wife and a mother, and making ugly stuff beautiful. I used to think that wanting a beautiful, comfortable living space was somehow superficial, but seeing how we and other people react to certain spaces has convinced me that it is an important part of life.
Thank you for your honesty, Amity! I know many stay-at-home moms share your feelings about giving up their careers; those feelings do fluctuate from day to day, don’t they? A perfect morning can make you feel like you just won the life lottery, while a mess of an emotional bedtime can cause you to start working on your resume!
By the way, my favorite line was Amity’s answer to what she will miss the most about Cosmo’s childhood: his chubbiness! “It seems odd, but there was something about those roly-poly arms and thighs that were so fundamentally satisfying to me as a mother; I was doing my job of growing a healthy, happy baby.” I always felt the same way about my babies’ laughter.
(Note: That last photo is a Little Free Library! Philip and Cosmo built it from recycled materials found around the house, and they are very proud of it. Learn more about this wonderful little organization promoting literacy and a love for reading right here.)