Ana first sent me a video tour of her home, with her guiding the way through it. Her voice could melt butter, her eyes are so kind, and I seriously wrote back, “WE WOULD BE GREAT FRIENDS.” The other day, she sent me updated shots of her kitchen, smack in the middle of cooking a Mexican feast as a thank you to her circle of moms. Again, I thought, “Wow. We would be really great friends.”
I love virtually meeting people whose first impressions hit you like that, don’t you? I really hope you enjoy this interview and tour. Who knows? Maybe Ana will invite us over for a Mexican feast someday!
We are the Bianchi family: Alberto, Ana, our six-year-old daughter Florencia, and our dog, Pepa Pug, named in honor of Peppa Pig since they both snore just the same. I am originally from Mexico and my family was from Spain. I always say I have 100% Spanish blood but a Mexican heart pumping it.
My husband is a more of a mutt, born in Argentina of a Californian-Scottish mom and Italian paternal grandparents. Needless to say, food in our home is a combo of Italian, Spanish, Mexican deliciousness mixed with healthy American farm-to-table.
Alberto and I met on a blind date on his birthday 12 years ago — nice gift! Since day one we knew this was it. We got married three times: downtown in City Hall (white dress), then in a church (I wore yellow), and a month later we had our “pagan” wedding at a beach in Mexico (blue dress that time!).
Two years later, we went together to Florence and came back pregnant with little Florencia. I first felt dizzy at the Ufizzi gallery while sketching Boticelli’s Birth of Venus. Good omen for my little girl, who is quite a Renaissance girl!
She was born in New York. “I am a New Yorker!” she always says. Proud artist mom loves her marvelous drawings — how many can I hang near my desk? — and creations with paper, Legos, boxes, wood, and all kind of junk that tends to migrate to her room for projects. Playtime with Dad, the scientist, includes science gadgets, the electrical train, and the power tools.
Faster than thunder when she runs, she loves her soccer practice and her gymnastics class. She plays with boys, she plays with girls. She does not care for princesses and ballerinas, and loves each and all the colors of the rainbow.
We live in New York City, in Manhattan, far away from the touristy areas in an area called Morningside Heights. The protagonist in the neighborhood is Columbia University, on 116th street, so there are tons of bookshops and coffee shops around here. This neighborhood is a great place for families because there are tons of parks and gardens all around us: Riverside Park, Morningside Park, Central Park and my favorite, the gardens at St. John the Divine where three naughty peacocks roam.
One of my favorite things of this neighborhood is that since there are multiple good schools, we always bump into friends at the playgrounds. Either my friends, or Florencia’s friends, or even Pepa’s friends in the dog-walking circuit!
Prices are ridiculous in New York, everyone knows that. Since we are above 110th street, prices are much better than in the Upper West Side or in the cool neighborhoods downtown. Apartments are beautiful pre-war buildings with high ceilings and views of the Hudson River. Turn-of-the-century elegance, then run-down neighborhood, then dangerous, now a really nice place to be.
Let’s put it this way: if we sell this apartment, we can buy a very nice house in most places — not San Francisco! — and a huge house in some other places. But all those nice houses are not in NYC.
I definitely had pretty intense nesting instinct while pregnant. We were in a lovely-but-tight one bedroom overlooking Central Park where we wouldn’t be able to fit once the baby arrived. We started looking for a new nest when I was eight months pregnant. I promised my realtor that if my water broke in an apartment, I would buy that one. This did not happen, but my husband came to see our apartment a few days after Florencia was born. It was bigger than all the others we had seen, sunny two-bedroom, recently renovated with original pre-war details like the gorgeous herringbone oak floors and french doors galore. He called me “Bring the baby! You need to see this place!” We put an offer that day. Moved in four months later.
The one thing we thought was very ugly was the totally beige master bathroom. So we took it to our hands to renew it. It was a totally DIY project, from getting the toilet on Amazon, watching a YouTube video about how to change it to — my favorite part — designing and making our penny-round floor mosaic.
We love how bright and sunny this apartment is in the morning, we love sunsets on the Hudson River, and the magical afternoon light in my daughter’s room. The cherry on the cake is the rooftop garden where we dine often, entertain, or just hang out. It is hard to beat with the river views to the west and the cityscape to the south, including the Chrysler and Empire State buildings. We used to watch 4th of July fireworks here before the mayor moved them to the East River.
However, we do want to move out from this great apartment and this great city in a few years. All our things will come with us and we will make magic amongst another set of walls. The reason why we want to move is to have a garden; we are all garden people! A gentler weather with more sunny days would also be great! The other day Florencia said, “If I won $10,000 I would buy a garden!” I really want her to enjoy her own garden one day.
Our decoration is a reflection of us. A mix of all our interests: art, books, design, nature, textiles. There are modern pieces mixed with antiques. There is a lot of art on the walls, and we actually ran out of space! There are paintings from my childhood home, there is my own art, there’s art from friends and, of course, art made by Florencia.
There are books everywhere and in every room. And little collections of interesting or beautiful things. I am very much a white wall kind of person because I like colors in textiles, objects, and art to pop-out. I love to make accents with natural curiosities and crafts from around the world.
My favorite pieces of furniture are a red modernist Saarinen chair and ottoman, and two 17th century desks with gorgeous inlay: a little portable one I bought in Cuzco, Peru that holds my necklaces, and a full-size marvel from Spain that my grandmother bought and shipped from Spain when she was 40. She gave it to my mom when she turned 40, I got it when I was almost 40, the year my mom passed away. It has always held Christmas ornaments in its multiple drawers.
Out of the whole apartment, my girl’s room is the one that is constantly changing to fit her age and accommodate her interests. Also it is a space where I experiment with new design and heirlooms. I’ve designed and made several bedding and textile pieces from her basinet bumper to reading oversize pillows to fabric toys to a teepee for two with fabric and broom sticks. I’ve done murals in her room and with branches we picked after Sandy — we made a big tree with fabric leaves that act as canopy for her bed.
One very special piece in her room is the doll house. It was my own Victorian dollhouse that I built as a little girl and spent hours and most of my allowances decorating or making little miniatures for. I saved it for years and two years ago Santa Claus found it and restored it and brought it on Christmas for Florencia.
Last year we started a big transformation. One day she just said, “MOM, I WANT A JUNGLE ROOM.” Together we worked on a scale model and discussed what goes where. We agreed on a tree house above a tikki room for her Legos. It is still a work in progress. I designed some jungly textiles for cushions where our dog Pepa appears as queen of the jungle, and we are starting to work on the walls. The intention is to have jungle plants murals that don’t become too oppressive or darken the room too much.
Florencia is pretty style aware. For the most part I let her have a say and thankfully she has not come up with any major eyesore that makes me cringe. Same as me, she is very much into nature, imagination, and loves teddy bears. She is a great constructor so Legos and blocks are always part of the scene along with cardboard, paper, wood, and drawing materials.
PaperGirl Collection is my line of illustrated dresses for little girls (nine months to around seven years) that tell stories around themes all kids love: the sea, the forest, the garden, the circus. Each high-quality dress tells a story by featuring original artwork I make in my studio and play out on the mini story-book that is included in each dress, which I also write and illustrate. Girls can read the story, imagine, discover, and enjoy their dress as part of it. For some dresses, I also created matching toys. All dresses are 100% high-quality cotton and are made in the USA, including the printing of my fabrics.
It all started around the time Florencia was born when I had a big shift in life. My mother and sister, sadly, had passed away in the previous months. At five months pregnant I sorted through my childhood home in Mexico and discovered two trunks of beautiful little girl clothes, my artwork and books from my childhood, and my sister’s amazing art. She had developmental and intellectual disabilities that kept her as an eternal girl.
This period of change and those first couple years of my daughter’s life made me think a lot about childhood and what really matters. How discovery, curiosity, and imagination are so important. I reconsidered what I wanted to with my work life. I had been working as a brand designer creating brands big and small for others, and I decided to repurpose my talents into something more meaningful and personal.
With PaperGirl Collection I have created my ideal job and a platform to do something I really care about: sparking kids’ imaginations and curiosity. PaperGirl is also a way for me to give back. Increasingly I am devoting either time or a percentage of sales to non-profits that support children literacy and art programs, like GirlsWriteNow.org which helps girls reach their potential.
My studio is a large sunny room with a huge bookcase with all my books for inspiration and my desk area. My desk is actually two antique desks put together to have a good work surface, specially for art making. I love to collect miniature chests of drawers. My work hours are while my daughter is in school, from 8 until 3:30.
I usually start with a quick Instagram share (@byPaperGirl) and then head into the to-do list for the day and the month. These hours are jam-packed with a combination of creative (designing dresses, making illustrations, writing the stories that go with each dress) and non-creative work (emails, logistics, outreach of all sorts, PR, marketing, purchasing, excel spreads). Needless to say, the design, art making, story-telling hours are my favorite thing to do!
Sometimes I am home working and some mornings I have meetings or have to go to the factory to supervise production. After a late, healthy-as possible lunch, I go to pick up my daughter at 3:30 and follow up with mom-daughter activities: playdates, soccer practice, gymnastics, baking, playing together, or watching a movie before dad arrives at seven for family dinner.
Alberto and I religiously take turns reading in bed to her. One day she won’t want the cuddles and the reading in bed so we really love doing it now.
What do I hope my daughter remembers from this time in our lives? The easy answer is that I hope she recalls all the happy, loving moments. Parenting for me is a big exercise of awareness of here and now, of how this moment, this day is fleeting. I often get entangled in the rush of life and work but I love to think that I strive to enjoy and create memorable moments with my family every day. I love the moments we observe the beauty of nature — in New York City — when we stop to smell the flowers or look at the light or listen to the birds. I love the moments we share a silly laugh or share a complicity. I certainly love the hugs and kisses.
I hope she remembers all this when she recounts as I do, “When I was a little girl, I loved…”
As for what I hope she forgets, the days when I am too busy, too rushed, too stressed to be able to notice the flowers and the birds. When I say “Today I can’t play with you because I have work to do.”
Florencia has always been a lovely girl — yes, all moms say this! Since she was born, I felt she was an old soul I wanted to get to know. Getting to know her every day as she grows is my favorite way of spending time with her.
What I sorely miss is how adorable she was when she was two and three years old. Her personality starting to come out, our first conversations, her discoveries, her silliness and sense of humor, her budding creativity, her dancing and talking.
I would always dress her with cute clothes — some were my own from the 70’s — and we would do our little plans together. We still do but it is different now that she is older.
I wish someone had told me in my teens and twenties to stop trying to please others or get approval at the same time I was asserting and growing my true self.
Thank you, Ana! I was touched by the way you described your sister as an eternal girl, and her impact on your chosen path. You were a bright spot for me today.
I also loved your three weddings and three different colored dresses you wore! Anyone else been married more than once to the same person? I think it’s sweet.
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.