Camille Turpin and her husband designed their house for their children. With two of their children on the autism spectrum, they built as many stress-free learning and growing and social opportunities into their house as possible. When they had the chance to move to a place with more affordable housing, they doubled their floor space and designed a home where there’s a space for everything and everybody, and the daily occupational therapy that is so important to their kids, can happen without leaving the house.
I admire that they put resale value on the back burner in lieu of a house that works for them right now. Perhaps it’s a little different than how you may be living with your own…but again, it works. And that’s the important take-away from each of these tours, isn’t it? Figure out what works for your family, and run toward that.
I honestly think you’re going to leave this tour with at least four thoughts that make your day better. I know I did. Welcome, Cami!
Q: Please introduce us to your family!
A: Oh, how do I introduce our family? I am Cami. I grew up in Pleasant Grove, Utah in a family with seven children. My family goes in the same gender order as the VonTrapps of Sound of Music fame. My mom tried to get us to be a singing group, but we refused. That did not stop us from making our home basically the scene of a musical at any given time.
My husband Jake grew up in Oregon City, Oregon in a family with five kids. His mother grew up in my home town and his entire extended family still lives there, so it was his lifelong dream to find a girl from Pleasant Grove to marry. Good thing he thought I was cute! Incidentally, it was MY lifelong dream to marry someone from the Pacific Northwest, though I thought that meant I would get to LIVE in Oregon. No dice.
We met at Brigham Young University and were married just after I graduated in 2000. I worked as an editor while he finished his degree in Computer Science, and we had the first of our four children while he was still in school. After he graduated, we moved to Columbia, Maryland, where we lived for seven years and had two more children. We moved back to Utah in 2009, had one more child, and we’ll probably be here for the long haul. I work from home as an editor, family photographer, music teacher, and gymnastics coach. Jake’s programming job is only five minutes away!
My husband and I love cycling, watching movies, reading, playing board games, and doing anything that sounds fun. Our first two children were diagnosed with autism as toddlers, and that kind of took over our lives for a while…and is sort of still taking it over. We became completely engrossed in helping our boys learn everything they could. We had wonderful early intervention help in Maryland, and we learned early on that our house, our daily schedules, and our activities would all kind of be ruled by the almighty autism schedule. Though this is basically true for all children, right? It is apparent that the family we have become has been greatly influenced by our experiences in our early married years.
Our 13 year old Jefferson is a totally typical teenager. Considering his early years as our more severe child on the autism spectrum, to us this is a miracle. He mostly wants to play video games all day, but he’ll take time out to hang out with friends, bike around the neighborhood, read the millions of books he reads, and play the cello and piano. He gets his sarcastic humor from me, but everything else about him is a carbon copy of my husband.
Ethan, 11, is our quirky, funny, challenging, and creative child, who goes to a charter school for, in his words, “kids on the autism spectrum – like me!” In so many ways he is a typical 11 year old, but he has many challenges that make life hard for him (and us) sometimes. But he is very well-adjusted and has lots of friends, loves video games, plays the piano, and goes back and forth on the whole reading thing. He will probably be a party planner in his later life because he loves to plan parties and activities, which are often elaborate and very well thought out. I think I’ll hire him for every future birthday party.
Jane, six, is a complete ball of energy. We often joke that our first neuro-typical child was more hyperactive than the other two put together! She has a constant smile and infectious laugh, loves dancing and running around, reading, writing stories, playing the piano, and playing with friends. She’ll often disappear into the park across the street for hours at a time, come home sweaty and covered in dirt, and that is fine with us.
Our little Eleanor (we call her Nora, or No-No) is almost two and the light of all our lives. It is no wonder that everyone adores her, because she is the nicest, sweetest, funniest baby around. She can be feisty for sure, but mostly she just wants to kiss us and get carted around by all her siblings, and laugh at everything they do or make them play with her. She already loves books more than anything (a girl after my own heart), but Taylor Swift music gives her books a run for their money.
Q: Where do you live, and how did your house become your home?
A: We live in Highland, Utah in a house we built with our own hands. (Ok, it was my brother-in-law’s hands, but we did a lot of helping.) After we moved back from Maryland, we bought a house in Lehi, which we thought we’d live in forever. Little did we know, the house was great, but the location was not. We had come from Maryland where we had basically a forest in our backyard, to a funny little part of Utah County that was near the not-as-pretty mountains, a freeway, had no nearby parks, and best of all, our most prominent neighbor was a working mink farm.
Since our kids have a super-human sense of smell, the smell of mink kept us indoors on the most beautiful of days. More than that, nine months out of the year there were flies in the house – anywhere from ten to over 100. Again, not great for people with high anxiety! We decided between that and our desire for a little more privacy, we would leave our wonderful neighbors and build a house that was perfect for us, just a few minutes away.
Q: What makes you love the place you live?
A: I had a LONG list of must-haves if we were going to move! I wanted to build a house, but I wanted an established neighborhood. It had to be by our favorite biking trails, be West-facing, be by a park, have a great view, be somewhere near enough my parents and siblings to be convenient, have a big yard but not too big to take care of, etc. I didn’t think I’d ever find it.
But just a few days after we started casually looking we found the perfect spot! Living here has made me love Utah again. We have the most amazing view of Mount Timpanogos out our living room windows, and we are five minutes away from American Fork canyon where we often camp or just roast marshmallows and hike around. The park across the street has been amazing, especially while we wait to finish our landscaping, and horses live behind our lot! Our kids just LOVE watching them. Just a quick quarter mile gets us to a biking trail that takes us 15 miles to Provo Canyon without having to worry about traffic. Our neighborhood is beautiful and quiet and surrounds a city park that feels private and safe. There are kids of every age here, and everyone is friendly. We really just love it. Utah itself has so much to offer. It is only a few hours to several National Parks, and we enjoy going to Moab and hiking through red rocks. Salt Lake City and Park City are less than an hour away, and it’s great to feel like we’re in the country, but not far from a city.
It doesn’t hurt that we can afford a new house twice the size of the 30 year old townhouse we had in Maryland either!
Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? What are your favorite things about your home? And what’s still on your wish list?
A: Although our family loves the mountains, my motto is, “Everyone is happy at the beach.” I would love to live by the beach. If I can’t, then I’ll make my home feel beachy, at least!
That’s what I tried to do, and for the most part, I feel I succeeded. I wanted my house to feel light and airy, but still feel like a cottage. I grew up with my mom saying “bare is beautiful” and every time I start to clutter things too much, I remember that and pull back. More than anything, I want my house to be comfortable – like you can live there without worrying that you’ll break anything.
With the exception of my library, which can be bursting at the seams! I absolutely love my library. There is something about a window seat and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves that makes me feel like everything is going to be okay. Good thing I love the room, because I spend a lot of my time there as it is also my office.
But my very favorite thing has to be the mud room. Why doesn’t every house have a mud room? It gets messy and cluttered and I don’t care because I rarely see it. It makes me so happy to basically have an entire room just for the shoes that get kicked off when people come in the house. And I can’t tell you how the drinking fountain has changed my life. I used to think cups were actually breeding on my kitchen counter.
We have grand plans for our back yard! After our 100 square feet in Maryland, we never thought we’d want a big back yard, but we were cured of that in our last house. We might have more than we can handle now – we live on 1/2 acre, but most of it is in the back yard! – but now we can do so many fun things! I’ve scaled back from putting hobbit holes and bridges everywhere, but we still have plans for a great deck, a small orchard, garden, trampoline, fire pit, swing set, hammocks, and of course a zip line. Who doesn’t want a zip line in their backyard?
Q: You mentioned that your home pretty much always looks like this – tell us why!
A: Many of the pictures of my house make it look very neat and tidy. It made me wonder, is it true to life? I decided it was. I keep my house tidy most of the time. And I’m not really the tidiest person in the world. So why do I make it such a priority to make sure things are picked up and put away and organized and clear and clean? Isn’t that hard to do with 4 kids running around? Especially a toddler?
I realized over time that my house HAS to be tidy. There are several people here who have serious anxiety issues. Some of these issues are exacerbated by clutter. (I’m not saying that I’m not one of these people!)
So. I keep baskets around the house for all the stray toys and books. I have empty cabinets to hold the busy bags and games and whatnot. I have entire giant closets dedicated to housing toys and video games. I clean the kitchen to perfection at least once a day, I make my bed, I pick up all the clutter on the top floor before I do anything else, and yes, I even vacuum the living room rug pretty often and sweep the kitchen several times per day. I make the kids completely clear the playroom each night and put everything into their labeled positions.
This makes me sound SO completely uptight. But I’ll tell you what. After I finish picking up the top floor and cleaning the kitchen, getting laundry started and have everything in order, a task that takes between 15 minutes to one hour with Nora undoing it the whole time, I feel like I can let things go for a while as I work at the computer or exercise or do whatever else I need to do.
By the end of the day, things are a complete disaster again, but I feel in control because at one point, I had clear spaces – a clean slate. Then I don’t get to the end of the week and have a complete nervous breakdown because the house has been a disaster every day. It makes a difference, even if it only lasts for a few minutes per day.
The playroom is a little bit of separate issue. I actually planned my house so that I don’t have to ever walk through it if I don’t need to. I can ignore the toys everywhere if I want. But what happens when the kids have played their crazy play and it’s a total disaster? They start fighting, they start saying they are bored. They start complaining that they don’t have space to do what they want and blame each other for taking over the whole house.
If I make them clean it up each night? Suddenly they have a blank slate, too. Ethan abandons his video games in favor of elaborate block courses and structures with his “guys” (any kind of small figure) running all over the place. Jane sets up a puppet show, or plays house with her friends. Jeffy and his friends play laser tag because they aren’t tripping over everything. And the toys all get played with eventually, because they are easy to find and no pieces are missing.
It is important to me to keep things this way. There is so much unpredictability in my life, I have to have something I can control. Is my house perfect? No, absolutely not! There’s clutter around all the time. I have a bag of pancake mix constantly on my kitchen table that Ethan uses to prop up the iPad. And it already looks like we’ve lived here for five years – although it’s been nine months – what with all the scuff marks on the walls and doors and whatnot. I have actually had to develop the skill to not care when things get ruined or cluttered or messy because it helps me relax when kids are all over the place making messes and holes in the walls and whatever else! And I know things are not that far from being organized again, and anything can be fixed.
My house is kid-friendly. I don’t think kid-friendly and tidy are opposites. For us, they must go hand-in-hand.
Q: You designed the home for your children. How so? And why?
A: I like to say that I put everything into my house that I would have wanted to have when I was a kid. But that’s not really true. The house I grew up in was absolutely great. But I did take everything I loved about that house, my grandma’s house, and things I would have adored and threw them all in.
My parents’ house had a big playroom, and I felt like I could do anything there. In our townhouse in Maryland, I always wished I had a giant playroom with no furniture in it that I could use for therapy for my boys. There is just something about a giant blank space with no furniture or televisions or distractions that fosters creativity. So a playroom is always top of my list. My grandma’s house had secret tunnels and an amazing loft, so I put them on in, too.
I went a little overboard with bridges and towers and whatnot, but man it’s fun! The tunnels have entrances to other rooms and are just one more thing to add into an obstacle course. This is my real requirement for playrooms: can you build a giant obstacle course?
Because our family doesn’t do well in theaters, but we love movies, we really appreciate having our home theater room. This room has a projector and screen that comes down over the TV and surround sound, so we really get the theater experience. We can sit in our comfy couches and people can leave if they get bored, and no one else is bothered by noisy tics or jumping around in chairs. And we have to have enough places to sit, right? What’s better than a triple-decker couch? “So everyone can sit together and be buddies!” I also use this room for my semi-monthly book group movie night, which is super fun.
Since we don’t want kids always cramping our TV/movie watching style, we also banished all video games to the guest/exercise room. I made sure this room was big enough to house several large boys at a time, and that it had a window and enclosed ceiling fan. Have you ever been in a room with six boys between the ages of 11 and 14? It’s not a pleasant smell. And since I don’t want to leave out my extra kid/husband, there is also a small room we call the retro room that has all his old game systems, a tube TV, and a VHS player. It can be his office later on, but for now, it’s his awesome.
Since we don’t have a lot of outdoor toys (or drivers), we converted our third car garage into a little gym where, officially, I can teach preschool gymnastics. Unofficially, we can throw our kids in there for a little occupational therapy/getting their wiggles out. It’s so great to have a place where kids can actually climb and jump and swing around without killing each other. In our last house we had the swing in the playroom, and it got a little dangerous. I can’t tell you what I would have given to have a room like this in my house growing up as a gymnast. I pretended to put it together for teaching, but really, it’s a dream come true for me. It doesn’t hurt that I do love to teach little ones gymnastics. It’s so fun!
But more than the fun spaces, my kids each have their own room. We discovered long ago that everyone just does better when they have their own sleeping space. So I made that a priority. Each of the kids had a hand in the design of their room, either in the paint color, or built-in shelves, or whatever. Ethan’s room was a special project because he has been hard on his furniture and walls in the past during tantrums. The majority of his walls are painted with chalkboard paint, not only so it doesn’t look so bad when he scuffs them up, but it’s also great for writing lists and reminders for him. We also built in all of his furniture, including his bed. He feels safe and secure, and there’s no way he can throw bookshelves or break the bed. It also gives him more floor space for Pokemon cards and the like.
This may be super weird to admit, but I wanted our house to be super fun so that kids in the neighborhood would want to come here. Not only do I get to keep an eye on what’s going on with friends (more important than ever as kids get older, but also because some kids aren’t so great at knowing exactly what to do when friends come over), but also it’s an incentive for kids to come to hang out with some of my more introverted children. Ethan doesn’t like to go invite kids over for fear of dogs coming to the door, so it’s awesome when they come to us. We are not above bribery.
I don’t worry about resale value all that much, mostly because I think we will live here forever. But we do think about it. We thought about it a lot when we tore out the fireplace we had framed into our living room in favor of a giant window. Best decision ever for us, not great for resale or equity. But seriously, if you don’t want a house that has floor-to-ceiling bookshelves or built-in tunnels or playhouses, then you need not put in an offer! If you don’t want awesome, you totally don’t deserve my house. Ha! But really, we’re never moving again. Like, ever.
Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own children? What has surprised you the most about being a mom?
A: What I like most about living with my kids is that they are totally becoming my friends. Because our boys were diagnosed so early, I really did not expect to have a relationship with them in a truly meaningful way. But now I watch shows with my Jeff and we play games, and talk about books we both read, and play duets together, and that really means a lot to me. With Ethan, I know I am very lucky. A lot of kids on the autism spectrum have very little empathy or can’t stand personal contact, and Ethan is very emotional and craves contact. It makes it hard when things go wrong, but it’s really great that he tells me he loves me and will snuggle with me (as long as I don’t sneak a kiss on the top of the head, which he hates).
Watching Jane grow up is like watching myself grow up. She has a lot of my sass and energy, and it always amazes me how I can truly connect with a six year old. She is fun to be with, and we are already planning a solo trip to Hawaii when she is 12, which I fully expect to enjoy. And my little Nora. I never expected to love the baby stage as much as I do. When I was young I’d play with my dolls for a good five minutes before I put them to bed and ran outside to have some real fun. But now that I know my Nora is most likely my last baby, I cannot get enough. Is there anything better than a one year old making kissing noises at you or wrapping her fat little arms around your neck? I don’t think so. I’d love to freeze her at this age.
I think that the more challenging a child is in some ways, the more rewarding they are in others. Toddlers are super hard to control, but are they funny and cute! Teenagers can be total brats, but they can actually enjoy the same things as you. This does not make me hope they are difficult kids as they get older, but I will try to look for the good when they are challenging.
Q: If they could remember just one memory or tradition from this childhood home – and you as their mom – what do you hope it would be?
A: I hope they forget all the bad times and just remember the fun and the love and the happiness. Our family has had our share of tantrums – and not all of them are by the kids – but I hope they forget that, and remember how much we laughed.
I hope they forget all the times I said no to something because I was tired or grumpy or busy, and remember the times I ran around the grass, or helped them make puppets and put on a show, or took them to the park, or played a game with them.
I hope they forget about how I pestered them to practice and are glad that they know how to play instruments. I hope they forget all the times that family prayer or eating together just didn’t work out and I stomped out of the room, and just remember that we loved being together. I hope they remember our home as a safe, fun, happy place to be.
For some of my kids, there really aren’t a lot of places like that. It is important to me that our home is one of them.
Actually, never mind, I just hope they remember that I made them cookies every Sunday!
Q: Please finish this sentence: I wish someone had told me…
A: I wish someone had told me to let go of all expectations. Actually, I am lucky, because we had some wonderful teachers and mentors when our boys were first diagnosed that did tell us that. But I wish I could remember and really understand it.
There is really no use in comparison, even if it’s just comparing where you wanted to be with where you are now. There are so many times when I see other kids and families doing normal things – trick-or-treating, riding bikes, eating regular foods, playing with dogs, sitting still in a public place – when I wish so hard that things could be different for my Ethan, and I mourn for the child I thought I would have all over again. I have to find a balance between not expecting too much so I’m not disappointed or frustrated, but also having enough hope to help my kids reach their best potential.
It’s the same kind of balance I need to find for myself. I can’t expect myself to be a perfect mother or have a perfect house or make all the right choices, but I have to have hope that I’m doing what is best for my family, even if it doesn’t look like what other people are doing. I know my family is really lucky in some ways, and in others we have a lot of challenges that other people don’t understand. I have to remember when I feel let down, that is a problem with my expectations and not my family.
Oh, and also, I wish someone had told me that I don’t have to fold clothes! Now that I know this, my life is awesome.
Oh, Cami. There were so many moments throughout your interview when I paused and wanted to rewrite your thoughts with three extra exclamation points. Like “I don’t think kid-friendly and tidy are opposites. For us, they must go hand-in-hand.” Or “For some of my kids, there really aren’t a lot of places like that. It is important to me that our home is one of them.” Oh! And this: “I have to remember when I feel let down, that is a problem with my expectations and not my family.” And the award for the funniest is this gem: “I wish someone had told me that I don’t have to fold clothes! Now that I know this, my life is awesome.” You are awesome. I really admire the way you’re living your life with your kids. Thank you for adding your goodness to my day.
Camille’s explanation for why she keeps her home tidy is great, right? In the same way that some families thrive on a free-wheeling anything goes routine with a “We’ll clean up later!” philosophy, some require the complete opposite approach. Where does your family land?