By Gabrielle. Photos by Maris Garcia.
The Dolgin’s Chicago apartment is as hard-working as they come. Scanning through Amy’s introductory photos, I kept coming back to her hallway and getting more ideas. (Built-ins and a desk nook are now on my wish list!) Somehow, she’s made an apartment feel as wide-open comfortable as a sprawling house! You know I enjoy a good vertical solution as much as anyone, so I was particularly taken with this tour. The window seats, the all-white with vibrant accent wall colors, a sleek and friendly kitchen — and did I mention the gorgeous built-in storage — all sealed the deal. I like this space.
Please be warned: This tour might make you yearn for a citified life. Friends, please welcome the Dolgins!
Q: Please introduce us to this Chicago clan.
A: There are five of us: me, my husband, Harell, and our three kids. Mischa is six, Romy is four, and Emmett is one. A family of five sounds so big to me when it’s in reference to other families, but doesn’t feel big to me in our home at all. I think that’s part of me still feeling a bit stunned by being a parent to three children! Kind of like how my age doesn’t really match how I feel anymore. I just turned 34, but feel stuck at 28 inside.
Harell is a contractor in a family construction business, so he renovates and builds both residential and commercial spaces. Although I was trained in public health and nursing, I recently started working with him to help during this period of fast-paced growth in the business. I still teach a Women’s Health course at a local university too, but I’ve loved getting involved in construction and design beyond it being a hobby or obsession. Harell is the calmest person I know. I feel so lucky about his general calmness, as he balances out some of my anxious and wanderlust tendencies. He is the eternal optimist, finding the silver lining in any challenging situation.
Our oldest daughter, Mischa, is finishing up her first year at our neighborhood public school as a kindergartner, and our middle daughter, Romy, will start kindergarten there in the fall. Mischa is determined and driven, but also silly and musical. She literally sings her way through each day. Romy cares deeply about clothing, colors, sparkles, and things being just the way she envisions them. She idolizes her big sister, but is also the only one in our family that Emmett kisses – and he does so about a hundred times a day! Having two girls so close in age (18 months apart) has been both exciting and exhausting, but we’re coming out the other end of those early years with girls who love each other endlessly and keep good company together. We waited a while longer before having our third child, Emmett. He is such a funny combination of cuddly and reckless, and we are loving every minute of his baby stage since we know how short it really is. I like to think that growing up with two big sisters will help him learn to be a respectful man.
Q: Where do you live, and how did your house become your home?
A: We live in an apartment in the East Lakeview neighborhood in Chicago. Our building is a vintage 1920s graystone, fairly typical of Chicago’s lakefront. Our path to this home was meandering and full of unexpected twists and turns that I may have cursed along the way, but it feels like we have landed in a place more special and wonderful that we thought possible. Just two years ago, we were living in our first home, a 1950s brick ranch on the northwest side of Chicago. We loved that little house of only 800 square feet, and we have such fond memories of bringing our first two babies home there. But, it was in a neighborhood that really didn’t have a good public elementary school option, which we knew was important to us.
We found an unusual and huge (2400 square foot) vintage rental in another northside neighborhood, Ravenswood Manor, and wonderful tenants for our own little home, and took the plunge in preparation for Mischa entering kindergarten one year later. Just eight months after moving into that great apartment, we were pregnant with number three and our landlord began hoarding cats in the unfinished apartment on the ground floor. I realize this sounds crazy – it was! We begged and pleaded for two months, desperate to make it work in this rental, both to avoid moving again and because we had truly fallen in love with the home. Alas, she could not be reasoned with. I could not leave quickly enough. You can imagine our serious concerns about the health of our family – and those poor cats! We made the difficult decision to leave our new home, and move in with my parents in nearby East Lakeview. We had no idea how long we’d be there or where we’d live next, but we were driven to fix this mess, and quickly! I was four months pregnant when we moved in with my parents.
Thankfully, this period at their home was wonderful. They took care of us when we were truly in need of comfort and help. It was a pleasure and great fun to experience living in a multi-generational home during this tricky time. Harell and I hurriedly explored rentals and apartments for sale in a couple of neighborhoods that had elementary schools we liked. When we walked into an apartment just five blocks from my parents’ home, on the lakefront, in a beautiful vintage building, near a wonderful fine and performing arts school that was listed for a steal because it was floor to ceiling full of junk and in need of a full renovation, we knew this was the place for us! There were several other couples at the showing when we first saw the apartment, but they didn’t make it past the front doorway because it needed SO MUCH WORK. Despite our tight timeline, we bought the apartment and started a major renovation right away. We moved in about two months after Emmett was born, exactly one year ago. Harell and I are still in disbelief that we get to live here. It is far beyond what we thought possible!
Q: What makes you love the place you live?
A: We joke that living in Lakeview feels a little like living in a small town; you see people you know every time you walk to the park. We walk to school most mornings, and the kids feel like it’s a parade on Broadway Street with all the neighborhood kids in their sweet navy and white uniforms walking and scootering to school. We know the local hairdressers, restaurant owners, ice cream and bookstore owners, and we can walk to practically anything we might need. But at the same time, we are in the middle of Chicago! We have access to everything there is in the city: great restaurants, amazing museums, performances, stunning architecture, incredible lakefront parks, and beaches…the list goes on. I am so pleased to be raising our family here.
Q: Your style seems very modern one minute, but very cozy, too. How would you describe your aesthetic? Did it change with the addition of kids?
A: I have a strong feeling that beauty enhances our lives. Living in a home that I find beautiful and inspiring makes me happy and energized, and I think it does the same for my family. Prioritizing good design, beauty, and balance is something I know my children notice, and I’m glad because it’s important to love your home! We really wanted to balance beauty with comfort and durability in this home. At 1800 square feet, the home feels spacious but works hard. We certainly fill it up
I think my aesthetic is a mix of many styles, but what is consistent is that I try to only bring things into the house that I either love or that serve an important purpose or both! I don’t think this has changed since having kids; if anything, I’ve only become a more relentless purger of household junk and clutter.
Q: When does your home work best?
A: We opened up many walls during the renovation to create one huge living space containing the kitchen, dining and living rooms (and play space, homework space, drawing space, reading space, etc.). Our home works best when all five of us are home after school, and everyone is happily coexisting in the same room. Often this means I am getting dinner ready, Harell is either finishing up work or hanging with the kiddos, the girls are either enacting some elaborate make believe scene or playing with Emmett, and Emmett is…being reckless
Q: Talk about balance, whether it’s how you prep for your family time or how you juggle work or even how you juggle time with each member of your family.
A: My version of balance focuses on happiness and not feeling rushed. I’ve slowly learned that these two factors determine how our family and home feel on a daily basis. This includes getting the help I need to be able to do my best at both parenting and other work – think lots of family support from all grandparents, aunts, and uncles, an amazing babysitter, and wonderful school teachers.
In a more traditional sense, though, our family balance has meant that over the past two years, I’ve slowly cut back my work outside of the house. These days I work approximately 20-25 hours a week, and that feels just about right. Harell works full time but his job is wonderfully flexible, so he and I truly tag-team with carpooling and other logistics. My work has been all over the place since we started our family: consulting on public health projects, clinical nursing, teaching university students, and now helping with a family construction business. While I’m not thrilled with my lack of focus and career wanderlust, I realize that this has afforded me the ability to both work and be home to walk my kids to and from school and spend those few afternoon hours with them after school, which I am so grateful for.
Q: It sounds like your career has been ever-changing to meet your needs as your family grows. What are you dreaming about lately?
A: Right now, in addition to the teaching and construction administration work I’m doing, I’m thinking a lot about two other things: interior design, and baking granola. I recently have had some informal requests for both design help and weekly granola supplies – I’m not sure how or if either of these interests will develop. But I love baking my granola (and think it tastes better than any other I’ve tasted) and I love decorating interiors, and hope to see one or both of these passions grow organically into something more than a hobby!
Q: Do you ever think you’ll outgrow this home? If so, what would be the next adventure? Suburbs or still city living?
A: This is tricky to answer because we love this home and our neighborhood. Given Harell’s profession and my secret dream of doing interior design work, we are pretty sure we’ll be moving again – although not right now! We have loved the process of renovating together. Ideally, our next move will be to another vintage apartment in the same neighborhood with similar or slightly more square footage, that we can live in while doing the renovation gradually, one project at a time.
I grew up in the city and Harell in the suburbs. While we plan to stay in the city, we’ll never say never about moving to the ‘burbs.
Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? Is there a development stage that’s long gone that you miss?
A: My favorite part about living with my kids is just how delicious they are! I want to eat them up. Emmett is at one of the most edible stages right now, toddling around and getting into everything, but always with a smile that makes it impossible to get mad at his recklessness. I love watching the girls grow and develop into their own strong personalities. This makes me daydream about their adult lives while wanting them to stop growing at the same time!
I love being pregnant and the short but sweet and simple newborn stage. While our family may be complete, Harell and I both have a glimmer of want for a fourth pregnancy and a fourth child. The idea of not ever being pregnant again and not ever having an itty bitty newborn again makes me ache. One of my major surprises about motherhood is how much I’ve grown and evolved as a mother over the past six years. I am much more proud of myself as a mom today than I was at the beginning. I guess this is probably not unusual, but I’m so pleased to be able to say that.
Q: If they could remember just one memory from this childhood home – and you as their mom – what do you hope it would be?
A: I hope that they remember how we worked passionately to create a warm and beautiful space for our family to enjoy, and that the beauty came both from the comfort found and fun had inside as well as the design details. Also, I can only wish that my children know and feel my love, admiration, and excitement for them, always. I hope they have fond memories of us having fun together – laughing, being silly, dancing and singing – these are my very favorite parts of parenting!
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…
A: …how important it is to love yourself and find your own way. Showing your children that you love yourself is one of the most important lessons for them to learn, and for me, one of the hardest to teach. Similarly, trusting your instincts as a parent and finding a way that works for you and your family is one of the hardest and most satisfying learning processes I’ve ever gone through.
Also, I wish someone had told me that what works for me at one point in my life may not work at another, whether personally or career-wise or parenting…and that is OKAY!
Thank you, Amy! And let me be the first to chime in that a fourth child is a lovely, lovely thing. I’m sure we can work out a Growing A Family feature for you! Ha!
For those readers who live in the suburbs, do you ever want to try living city-style? What holds you back? I’d love a good discussion about suburbs vs. city, especially those aspects that keep you exactly where you are.