Barbara Rucci’s house is full of lovely clutter. I look over the scenes she’s shared with us, and I can’t help but think that all her keepsakes on display are nowhere near a haphazard situation, and way more of an ever-changing collection of memories made…as well as those still in the making. Yes, Barbara does clutter right!
Also, if any of you are in the throes of comparing your parenting styles or values or incomes to those families around you, please read on. It seems that living in an affluent community brings with it a wonderful yet problematic set of challenges – maybe you’ve experienced the same dilemmas that Barbara worries over while printing out gratitude quotes from Pinterest! (Barbara, I giggled at the realization of how Pinterest can save us at our most frantic parenting moments!)
All this to tell you that you’re going to love more than the gorgeous photos this week; there’s a lot of wisdom and knowledge well-earned over time in this one. Please enjoy it.
Q: Tell us about the family who lives here!
A: We are a family of five. My husband and I have two daughters who are 15 and 12, and an eight-year old son. My kids are very fun, but really loud. My son plays hockey in a room that was originally the formal dining room. Now we call it the hockey room. It has hardwood floors and is in the center of the house. He commentates every move and shot on goal. His imaginary hockey games are literally the soundtrack to our lives.
The girls love to sing and act, so they usually have something loud going on upstairs. When they were little, they would put on nightly shows. I have hours of video footage that we actually dig up and watch from time to time. It is amazing to see that their passions when they were really young are the same as they are now.
My kids are in three different schools with three different start times this year. It’s quite a long morning. My oldest is in high school, which is hard to believe. I feel like she was just standing on a stool in the kitchen singing Annie in her footie pajamas. It’s actually pretty cool because my husband and I both went to the same public high school she’s in now. No, we weren’t high school sweethearts. Now that would be a great story!
Q: How did this house become your home?
A: We sold our beloved first home a year ago. Picture a renovated cape, sort of beachy-modern, on a cul-de-sac teeming with little kids. We lived there for 13 years and had all three kids there. When we sold it, my kids were pretty devastated. Our reasons for selling were varied, but part of it was looking ahead to the future and saving for college. It was also just time for a change.
Since we sold our house quickly, we didn’t have time to find a new purchase. We decided to rent. We heard about this one house that our friends had rented before. It was an old colonial owned by the Historical Society. In fact, it was on the Historical Society property.
We loved the location, about 200 yards from the center of town, but the house was very run down. It was falling apart, mostly because it hadn’t been taken care of from years of turnover. There were broken floorboards, cracked fixtures and plumbing, crumbling plaster walls, and worst of all almost no light switches or lights. We kept walking through the house, over and over again. I could picture us there, but nobody else could. My oldest said “No way.” We had some work to do, but it wasn’t our house so it was hard to justify spending the money.
Then my husband, who is a real estate attorney in town and my hero, talked to the owners and worked out a deal. Whatever money we put into the house, they would take off of our rent over the first year. Can you believe how nice this was? I went to work finding the cheapest ways to fix my problems. We painted floors instead of sanding, we painted walls but not molding, we bought bath fixtures from Home Depot and an electric oven on sale from Best Buy. I was in problem-solving mode, which is one of my best modes.
The challenge was rewiring for the light fixtures and switches. My electrician was not too happy to have to deal with plaster walls. But he did it, and we moved in and I set out to make it as homey and cozy as possible so my kids would be happy. I believe the key ingredient into making a house a home is creating a space that feels loved. I put up all of their artwork, made sure their beds were made with their soft, old sheets, and cooked the food they loved most so the house would smell like theirs again.
Q: Tell us why you love the place you live.
A: Our town is beautiful. I would say that it is the ultimate dreamy New England suburb with all the charm of a picture postcard. We are in the heart of Fairfield County, in a community that is about 40 miles north of New York City. It’s a commuter town that started out in the 1800s as a village of shoemakers. In the 1940s, the “Harvard Five” began creating homes here in a style nobody had ever seen before. So nestled amongst the old colonials and new McMansions are a group of historic modern houses. The most famous being Philip Johnson’s glass house. I love this about our town – that it has such a deep history of makers.
We live here because our parents raised us here and we wanted our kids to grow us with their grandparents close by. They come to all of the recitals, plays, games, and birthdays, giving the gift of extra unconditional love and attention. We also love being close to New York City where we can go to the MoMa or see the penguins at the Central Park Zoo on a whim. Our public school system is exceptional, so it’s nice to take advantage of a top-notch free education. It’s a real community with struggles and triumphs like any other. Our roots here run deep, just like the trees.
But it can be challenging at times, raising our children in such a wealthy town. There is an intensity and competitiveness that permeates the schools and social scenes. The drive for over-achievement sometimes makes me feel like my good-enough parenting style is way out of place. My kids have asked me more times than I can admit if we are poor. We are not, I tell them, and then I go on Pinterest and print out lots of quotes about being grateful and tape them to the walls. Some parents in affluent communities value success more than kindness and decency.
So the task lies in raising our kids to be okay with failure and imperfection, and to encourage them to explore who they are and to nurture their talents rather than be fixated on money and popularity. I think we’re doing a pretty good job so far because our kids are kind of great
Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? What are the must-haves in your home that make you crazy happy every time you catch sight of them? (Besides your family, of course!)
A: I would describe my aesthetic as artsy. I have something homemade in every room. Whether it’s garland or paintings or notes that my kids have written, I hang up anything that I love. People who come over to my house always comment on all of the interesting stuff to look at. Sometimes I think maybe that is a nice way of saying that my house resembles a tag sale, and I do get into modes where I need to just throw out because it’s too much even for me. I consider myself a collector, but it can border on cluttered. The key to keeping my home looking fun and artistic is cleaning and organizing.
I have boxes for each of my kids. Big boxes for their artwork, and smaller boxes for their schoolwork. I have a cleaning lady who comes every two weeks which forces me to spend three hours before she comes throwing out and organizing. I moan about it every time, but then at the end of that day of cleansing I have rotated art, found lost items, filed away all of the papers on the floor of my office, and I’m ready to start collecting again for two more weeks! It feels good.
I teach my kids to do the same. They purge often, and are in charge of their own rooms. They decorate them, clean them, and make their beds. I’m starting to teach them to do their own laundry, which will be a game changer for me!
I sometimes envy other homes that are so pristine and uncluttered. Such discipline! I do dream about a fresh, modern space from time to time. But then how could I live in it for very long without draping a pom-pom garland over the doorway, or hanging up that drawing my son made with the penguins that says how much he loves me?
I could not live a happy life without being surrounded by all of the things that my kids have made.
Q: Do you think about utility when you’re designing a space to share with your family? Or is it more important for you to be surrounded by beautiful things? Or are you somewhere in the middle?
A: When I move into a new space, I always draw a floor plan to scale before moving in. I measure every room, I measure all of the furniture that I have, and then I see how I can make it work so that it best suits the needs of my family. Utilizing the space efficiently is very important to me.
There is nothing that bothers me more than non-functional rooms or spaces. That’s why I don’t have a formal living room. I don’t understand the concept of having a room just for occasional fancy guests. First of all, I don’t have fancy guests. And second of all, rooms that aren’t used feel sad and lonely to me.
Nothing in my home is too precious. My hockey player son has shot many pucks into lamps and vases. I try not to be too uptight about my stuff. With that said, I do love beautiful things. I have a few pieces that I cherish and they just make me happy every time I look at them. My dad is an artist and I’m lucky to have a few of his paintings. They are just so stunning and colorful, they make me happy.
And I love my quilts. I have made one for each of my kids from their old clothes. We use them every day. They are perfect for snuggling by the fire.
Q: Tell us about your work, and how it has informed your parenting style.
A: Before I got married, I had my own line of children’s clothes called Saskia that I made by hand and sold in New York boutiques. After I found out I was going to have my first baby, I decided that I wanted to work from home but with an easier job. Working in the garment industry was too stressful. I took some classes in Illustrator and Photoshop and I became a graphic designer. I was a textile design major in college, so being a graphic designer was just another path along the same road.
I did this for 15 years, during all of those long baby and toddler days. I worked during naps, at night, and on weekends. I feel so lucky that I could be there when they were growing up and still build a life for myself.
One day I read an article about blogging. My oldest was around 11 at the time, so this was about four years ago. I was intrigued. I started looking at blogs, Design Mom being one of the first. True story! I decided to try writing so I started a Tumblr blog. After about a year, I took it up a notch and started Art Bar, my current blog and now my life’s work.
When the kids were little, before blogging, I always had an art area or an art room. I would leave out “invitations,” like some play dough and rollers, or watercolors and different shaped paper. They always had an option to be creative. I would hang everything on clotheslines draped around the kitchen and in their rooms.
Now that they are older, they don’t choose to do art that much anymore. My girls love performance art and spend most of their free time playing the guitar, trying to harmonize, and just generally being dramatic. My son plays hockey night and day, but he will draw me a picture if I ask him to. Usually hockey logos or penguins, so not the best blogging material, but I still love them. About a year ago I began to realize that if my kids weren’t doing art, what was I going to blog about? That’s when I decided it was time to teach.
I started teaching four-year olds in my living room. Remember that I said nothing is too precious in my house? Turns out, I’m even okay with paint on my living room sofas. And thankfully, I have a very patient husband who understands me completely and almost never complains. I teach two times a week and it’s something that I find both incredibly challenging and rewarding at the same time.
My teaching philosophy stems from my years of leaving out creative invitations for my own three kids: Expose my students to new materials, teach them new skills, but let them explore their own creativity as much as possible by setting up open-ended art experiences.
Q: Describe a typical work/blog day as it transitions into your home life. How does your space make your life and your family’s life easier within that day?
A: I get up at 6:30 so that I can wake up the first one and get her off to school. I have about 20 minutes in between the first and second to quickly check and reply to emails. Or, more likely, get sucked into the social media vortex. Pinterest is my weakness. By the time they are all off to school, it is 9:15.
My office is my sanctuary. I just love that place. On days when I don’t have art class, I usually make lots of tea and work at the computer until lunchtime. My husband works a block away and often comes home for lunch. We check in about the afternoon of driving ahead and what to do for dinner. It’s really nice to have a partner in crime.
After lunch I try and get away from the computer. I’ll either make something, photograph stuff, exercise, or get new ideas going for art class. This house has such great light, so capturing part of each day on film is very rewarding for me.
Art class days are very different because they basically take up the whole day. The morning is prep, class is at 1:00 for an hour, and then it’s clean up.
By 3:00 I am done working for a few hours. It’s time to pick up kids, drive them places, host play dates, grocery shop, and cook dinner. But I’m so close to my office, it’s hard to stay away! Usually I’m back and forth to the computer throughout the night. I have an extra desk in the office so my kids will come and do homework with me. And honestly, most of the time everyone is huddled around me and my desk anyway. It’s just the way it is!
When you work at home, it’s hard to ever really put work aside. As a blogger, my life and my work are sometimes one and the same. My kids and my husband love my blog, and they are very proud of me. They know I am in work mode all of the time, but they also know that I love it and it makes me happy.
I involve them as much as I can so they don’t feel separated from me ever. It’s why I think blogging is the coolest job because what I’m ultimately doing is documenting my life with my kids, so there is a very deep connection between work and family.
At the actual end of my day, I turn everything off and read books. I love to read. I have to read. Reading is my favorite.
Q: What do you hope your children will remember from this very moment in their childhood in this very house?
A: I really hope they look back at their time in this house and feel like it was a happy, cozy, fun place to live. It may not be everything that they want but at the same time, they are learning such a valuable life lesson. When you make a big change, try not to look back at what you’ve lost, but rather live in the present and be open to creating new experiences. Something beautiful is on the horizon!
My daughter started high school in this house. School is tough; there is a ton of homework and she misses her childhood. But in another year, she’ll get into her groove and I hope someday she thinks of this house in a nostalgic way. As the place where she got her license, went to her first dance, grew from a girl to a young woman. (Sniff sniff.)
My other daughter will live here most of her middle school years. Actually, she hates school right now. I am working really hard to cultivate her talents and gifts so that maybe, just maybe, her memories will not be of those horrible middle school years, but instead will be of the time she got her first video camera and started her own YouTube channel and made her first movies. I will let you know how that goes in about ten or 20 years.
My youngest, the eight-year old, misses his friends from the old neighborhood. But in this house he gets to have a hockey room! And a huge yard. He gets to walk to town with his sister and buy gum at CVS. I drive him to school every day instead of taking the bus, so I hope that he will remember our funny questions game and the ridiculous car clock that never says the correct time.
This home is the place where I started teaching. My family is so much a part of this new adventure. They always ask me about art class, they know all the names of my students, and we laugh together about funny four-year old questions and sayings. My kids have a cool art space in their living room that they can use whenever they want. Usually it’s to write thank-you notes or work on school projects, but making stuff is part of their lives and I believe it will help them become creative thinkers and problem-solvers. I hope they remember this quirky, original, artsy house as a place where their minds grew and their hearts opened.
Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your children? What is the one thing that has surprised you most about being a mom?
A: My children have allowed me to live my childhood over again. It sounds cliché but it’s how I really feel about being a mom. I’m creating memories of a home filled with music, books, games, baking, singing, dancing, movie night, cartwheels, fireflies, smoothies, tooth fairies, and lots and lots of arts and crafts. It’s magical for me so I will assume that it is for them, too!
What has surprised me most about being a mom is how culture and where you live play such a huge role in how you parent. My family immigrated to the US when I was five. My parents are Dutch and I was raised in a very simple way. Nothing fancy. Just plain and good and safe and honest.
Now that I’m a mom, I really look to my own mom sometimes and value that simple way of parenting. But it’s almost impossible to pull off when you live in a place where everything is over-the-top and huge. I’ve learned to find a happy medium and I try and practice what I preach to my kids: Comparison is the thief of joy. (Thank you, Teddy Roosevelt.)
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…
A: I wish someone had told me that my children would be nothing like me. I think I would have adjusted to parenting that much sooner.
For years, with my first, I kept trying to raise a mini-me and it was kind of frustrating because she wasn’t cooperating. It wasn’t until she was about five and my second one was becoming a toddler that I finally got it.
We were actually all growing up together.
I was growing as much as they were, and we were all becoming our own unique selves.
Thank you, Barbara. This was pure sunshine. I especially loved your description of your own childhood: “Nothing fancy. Just plain and good and safe and honest.” May all of our children enjoy the same.
I wonder how many of you are living in a situation where those around you are unknowingly competing with your style of parenting? Does that make sense? I guess I’m asking if your community adds to the ease with which you live, or somehow makes it all the more difficult? I always love your stories.