Catherine has been such a joy to get to know and to work with as we’ve pulled this home tour together. She’s lived the kind of exciting life I’m always a bit envious of — she spent her 20s working in the fashion industry in Manhattan, her 30s starting her small family in Brooklyn, and now lives in the suburbs of Atlanta as her family grows and her life takes a new path. When you see her chic and pulled together home, it won’t surprise you at all to learn that she’s now working as a home stager and designer. You’re really going to love taking a look around. Welcome, Catherine!
I was a nineteen years old college student studying abroad in Paris when I first met my future husband Mike. It’s funny looking back because I remember feeling so grown up living abroad in one of the best cities in the world, but I look like a kid in all my photos. Mike and I hit it off as friends very quickly and would often hang out at museums or galleries or just wandering city streets. There was never any sort of flirtation at the time, I think we just found it very easy to spend time together.
Mike is a deeply thoughtful person who loves traveling, learning other languages and understanding and dissecting the way things work. I on the other hand am much more animated and like to be in the center of the action. We became good friends during our time in Paris and stayed that way throughout the rest of our college years back in the States.
After graduating from school in the west, I moved across the county to live in Manhattan in hopes of pursuing a career in fashion. I didn’t have any real experience in fashion but was determined to make my mark — I got my first internship through tenacity and blind luck really.
It was before the days of searching for internships online and I remember sitting in a college apartment with a handwritten directory of fashion companies in NYC. I just made a list and called them one by one asking for a job. I eventually got an unpaid internship with the Italian luxury designer, Alberta Ferretti. So, I moved to NYC and spent my first summer steaming clothes, dressing models, and making endless copies of line sheets. From there I was lucky enough to parlay my experience to start my career.
Mike and I lost touch for a while and I spent my early 20s working hard to get ahead in fashion companies while he worked on a Masters in Geography at ASU. We reconnected years later when I started grad school in NYC and after a visit out west to hike through some national parks together, we started a long-distance relationship.
Nearly ten years after we first met in Paris, we got married in my hometown of Seattle.
Mike moved to NYC where we rented the top floor of an old brownstone in Park Slope Brooklyn. I have so many happy memories of our first summer spent there — lazy walks to the Farmers Market near Prospect Park, finding our favorite cheap neighborhood sushi spot, and going to art house movies.
A few years later our first son James arrived, and we literally made him a room in a hallway. Those were the days of making do with what little space we had. We were renters in Brooklyn, but my husband is a hobbyist woodworker and was always building furniture and custom pieces to make our homes more comfortable and functional.
He would keep all of his hand tools in a plastic bin in the closet and after our son James was asleep would start sawing and building things at the kitchen table. He would sweep up the sawdust after a project was done so we would have somewhere to eat breakfast in the morning!
After our second son Henry arrived two and half years later, we knew we needed more space than we could afford in Brooklyn.
I still worked full time in merchandising and wholesale for luxury fashion companies in Manhattan, and Mike worked for an international travel company and we needed to be in close proximity to an airport. So, we settled on South Orange, a lovely New Jersey suburb of NYC.
The first home we bought was a 97 years old Dutch Colonial full of charm and character. It was an easy home to love with original oak flooring and charming nooks and crannies. We brought our third son Elliot home there and spent a happy five years living in that home.
However, over time the long train commutes with inevitable delays because of bad Northeast weather, and the strain of a hectic life of two working parents, started to take a toll on our family.
We loved our artistic town but desperately craved a slower life that included more time and connection to our extended family. My own work/life balance wasn’t working for my stage of life and I desperately wanted to find more flexibility and time to walk my boys to school or attend their karate class.
My three sons all have wildly different personalities and hair colors. In some ways my family feels like a little band of misfits, but it all seems to work.
My oldest son James feels life intensely— both the ups and downs. He is animated and full of life and people are attracted to him and his energy. My redhead Henry is my lovebug and I’ve caught him sneaking into my room in the middle of the night to give me a kiss on the cheek and quietly head back to his room. He looks nearly identical to his father when he was a child and has a similar temperament, very even keeled, intelligent but fiercely stubborn. Elliot my littlest is just about to turn three and is no shrinking violet. He looks at his older brothers with adoration but has no problem pulling a punch when he thinks he is being overlooked.
After selling our beloved New Jersey home last Spring, we moved down to Alpharetta, a northern suburb of Atlanta. We chose this town because it’s close to my sister Leah and her family, and it has fantastic public schools, and offered a good quality of life. The prices here weren’t so different than in New Jersey, but you get a lot more space and the property taxes are significantly lower. Culturally, it’s a pretty radical change which has taken some adjustment for our family, and especially me.
This suburb has exploded in the last few decades and so many of the homes were built in the 1990s. We live in a planned neighborhood with a nice mix of younger and older families. Atlanta may be in the heart of the South, but our suburb is full of transplants. We have neighbors from London, Chicago, NYC and LA.
There are a lot of kids in the neighborhood that are always zipping around on their bikes and scooters and hoping in and out of houses. My boys get so much more freedom than they ever had in New Jersey. I’m so happy to give them that autonomy that I enjoyed as a kid.
My mom had a few hard fast rules when I was growing up — one was that you had to practice the piano for 30 minutes, another was that you had to be home with washed hands for dinner at 6:30, but other than that you had a lot of freedom.
Alpharetta has some wonderful green spaces and parks. The Big Creek Greenway is boardwalk path that meanders alongside a large creek that my boys can walk or scooter along. There are also some great new commercial developments that allow me to get out and see stores that remind me of NYC.
We had some pretty specific ideas of what we wanted when we started looking at houses in Alpharetta. We wanted to be in close proximity to my sister’s home and we wanted a backyard that had enough space to allow the boys to roam.
We flew down last June for less than 48 hours and saw 40 houses. 40 houses!! It was wildly ambitious, but I felt confident that I would instantly know if the house was the one.
After seeing all of these homes there was only one we wanted to put an offer in on. The house was by no means perfect — it had outdated paint colors and older light fixtures with quirky built ins. It felt dated and not in a historical way — in a 90s way. But it had an amazing layout and great windows and light. I knew within a few minutes in my gut and heart that it was where my family should be.
The one thing about homes here is that they are missing so much of the charm and architectural character that Mike and I love. The rooms are much larger than our old colonial and with the high ceilings the space can feel vast and impersonal. So, we are really trying to go room by room and add in elements that make the house more interesting and feel like ours.
The most dramatic change has been in the office. It was originally a yellow plain room and we’ve added millwork, painted it a deep indigo, swapped out for a mid-century light fixture and added French Doors.
We have a long way to go with a limited budget, but we both enjoy this process and so I don’t mind a long to-do list. Since we do almost all of the work ourselves, we have to pace ourselves.
After a long drive from New Jersey with the boys in tow, we arrived at our new home before the moving truck arrived with all of our stuff. We camped out in our new home the first night with little more than sleeping bags and a few necessities. The next day we dropped off my boys at my sister’s home while the moving truck arrived, and we unpacked our stuff as quickly as we could.
We brought the boys home late that night — the second they saw all of our personal belongings and furniture they ran wildly around yelling “This is OUR house!” I realized looking back that my boys thought that moving meant you would leave all of your belongings behind. It’s so funny to try and remember what it’s like to see the world through a child’s eyes. What may seem obvious to us now certainly isn’t obvious to young kids.
I lived in and around NYC for over sixteen years. That city defined my 20s and 30s. It became more deeply ingrained in my identity than I think I even realized. It was a city of endless opportunity, one where anything could happen like a last-minute invitation to a fashion party, a late night meetup with friends at a diner, or a run through Central Park.
The city pulsates with an energy that is infectious but there are darker sides to NYC that I experienced too. Feeling awfully lonely while in a city with 8 million other people, anxiety heightened by the relentless pace, and threats of an increasingly unstable and political world. My move out of NYC was gradual and came piece by piece.
I lived in Manhattan during my single 20s, moved out to leafy Park Slope Brooklyn once I got married, and eventually followed the track so many other families do and moved out to a New Jersey suburb once we had kids old enough to go to school.
I do miss the creativity and arts that we were surrounded by in our New Jersey town. South Orange is a proudly diverse and liberal town that celebrates inclusivity and LGBT families. It’s an affluent suburb but I never felt the sense that you had to keep up with the neighbors. Everyone seemed to be working together to raise good families and be good people who cared about the world.
I think I’m the one most challenged by our move down to the suburbs. Life is much easier here — the town is accommodating for families and there isn’t the frantic pace. Neighbors here are so friendly and everyone waves to everyone when you drive through a neighborhood. I couldn’t believe that when I moved here — but I think its part of the delightful Southern nature. But I miss my deep roots in the Northeast — the decade long friendships I left behind.
I’ve always believed in the importance of surrounding yourself with meaningful things. My parents raised me and my siblings with a deep appreciation for things of beauty.
My father, an attorney, took up painting later in his life and spends a lot of time pouring over art books and in front of a canvas. My mother always believed in wallpaper (lots of wallpaper) and keeping a beautiful and happy home. My parents loved to travel with us and would take us into a lot of drafty churches and more museums than I can count.
Mike and I both love to explore, and have collected items from our life and we like having them out — art and pottery from time spent abroad, my father’s art, photographs from my grandmother. It’s important to me that my kids grow up surrounded by these things that tell the story of our life.
Once we had kids it made no sense to strip that from our home and sacrifice style until they became of an age where things would break. I also don’t want to have any rooms that are too precious or are “off limits” for our kids. They are allowed to roam, and we only have a few rules at our house — no eating outside the kitchen and shoes off.
So, full disclosure: THINGS BREAK at our house. And for the most part I try and roll with it. I try not to sweat the small stuff and just pick up the pieces of the broken lamp and move on with my life. Now that we’ve moved to a larger home it’s a little easier to send the boys to the basement to kick that ball around but hey, life happens, and I need to focus on other things.
I’ve always loved design and the same principles that I lived by in my career in fashion apply to home design — materials, lines, and texture are what make something interesting. I can definitely pinpoint preferences that I’ve picked up along the way at each one of the designers I worked for — the simplicity of sculptural lines from Narciso Rodriguez, texture and material from Vera Wang, and the use of color and pattern from Tory Burch.
Part of my plan in leaving NYC, was giving myself time and space to reflect and thoughtfully consider what I wanted to do professionally. My sister Leah is an interior stylist and has an amazingly curated and designed home. She has a natural gift for it and seamlessly mixes high and low.
It made sense to me that we should go into business together once I moved down here. We had some vague ideas of what we wanted the business to look like but it was really helpful to hash it out together over some long brainstorming sessions. We launched Friday & Co. Design over the past few months. It is an interior design company that focuses on residential interior styling and home staging.
For the record, there is nothing easy or effortless about starting a business. At this stage in life I’m old enough to know that, but it was still a rude awakening. There are no assistants, no one to delegate tasks to that you’d rather not spend your time doing. It’s you alone trying to figure out why Dropbox won’t sync or figuring out the timeline of the business license in your state.
It’s been really humbling but it’s also given me a clear purpose and clarity on what I want to do. There is something about being in control of your own destiny that makes me feel very alive and excited again.
My only advice would be to make sure you separate your own work failure and successes from your own personal worth. Of course that’s easy to say, but it is hard in practice. It feels so much more personal and vulnerable when it’s your own business.
Being a parent is tough — it’s a job that requires so much of you. And at times, I don’t feel like I have the energy or capacity to keep at it. After becoming a first time parent at the age of 31 I also realized that kids simultaneously make you feel really old and really young.
Professionally my job as a merchandiser is to edit, edit, edit. I think I take the same approach to being a working mom. You inevitably miss out on something — in your personal or professional life. As much as you want to have it all it is simply impossible. You can’t be everywhere at the same time and you have to say no to some things.
I sometimes have to be ruthless in what I edit — I sometimes say no to the PTA signup sheet, the church assignment, the extra-curricular activities my boys want to do. And at times, the guilt creeps in, and I need to keep in perspective all that I gain by being a working mom.
I really value that my boys see that I take pride in my work. They see me having an identity outside of being their mother. And I always chuckle when I overhear them telling their friends what I do (it ranges from I sell shoes in a store, to I make clothes).
My last advice is an obvious but really hard to put into practice: Do not compare yourselves to others. We live in very visual world where everyone is connected over social media which has made this even more difficult. But we don’t know the interworking and challenging circumstances of those around us (unless they share them).
The joy of growing up and raising kids is getting to embrace the quirks and unique characteristics that makes who we are. I want to embrace and highlight those rather than live in a house, wear the same clothes, and drive the same cars of everyone around me.
I know how privileged I was to have a kind and loving home to grow up in. I am one of six kids and my parents raised us in a suburb of Seattle. My parents are really principled good people who taught us so much and then stepped back and gave us the chance to make our own life choices.
I want to give my kids the same thing — a warm home that can give them the opportunity to grow and discover what kind of people they want to be in the world. I want to give them the space to make both good and bad choices and figure out who they are. I want to let them be kids for as long as they can — not to shelter them from growing up but allow them to organically figure out who they are.
It’s also really important that this is a home that is welcoming to our friends and family. Having three boys close in age makes this house become an epicenter for all things boy. Last week after school there were 8 boys under the age of 9 running from floor to floor — in and out of the backyard to jump on the trampoline, and raiding the Costco snacks in the top shelf of the pantry. While the chaos sometimes makes me a little crazy and I might sneak off to a quiet room for a few minutes, I really find a lot of joy that my home is well loved and enjoyed.
Being a mom of young children can test my limits of patience. I don’t always handle the incessant question of “why” very well. Patience has always a virtue that I fell short on — I dearly hope my moments of sharpness are softened in my kids’ memories of my snuggle sessions reading Shel Silverstein poems in bed with them.
Very little is off limits with kids. They ask all sorts of questions — about life, bodies, politics, and religion. One of my favorite things about being a mom is that I get a chance to think about where I stand on all of these issues. I need to work through it myself so that I can articulate where I stand to my kids. Obviously, what I share with my oldest is different than what I tell my youngest. But I’m constantly amazed at how perceptive children are.
I also have embraced that it’s okay to change your opinion or ideas. Just because I had a clear opinion on something at age 25, doesn’t mean that I can’t change my opinion a decade later. It would be counter intuitive if we had to remain stagnant in our opinions and ideas just for the sake of consistency.
As I’ve gotten older, I feel like I’ve become more set in my ways and lost some passion for some of my interests. I love watching my boys and seeing the intense joy that they find in life. They have such a pure sense of wonder at the world and the way it works. I know I’m going to miss this amazement and wonder at the world as they become a little older and jaded. I’m going to hold onto it as long as I can.
I wish someone had told me that life isn’t linear. That life is a journey and shouldn’t be judged by the milestones that you hit, but by the way that you lived and got there.
It’s been hard for me to step back and take myself off the professional track I had worked so hard to get on. I always thought that moving up the corporate ladder and finding more recognition would bring me more satisfaction. That I could balance that and also find more ways to spend time with my kids. But, truthfully the hours in a day never change.
I’ve had to make peace with the idea that sometimes in my life I will choose to lean into being a mom, and other times I will lean in to developing myself as a wife, or making my mark professionally. And that’s ok because life isn’t a straight line but rather a meandering path where we can find joy in many different things.
Thank you so much, Catherine!
This house is such a treat to look at. I love that they were able to take a home that felt a little “90s dated”, and make it feel like it has more history, by adding some trim, some beautiful light fixtures, and furniture with some age and personality to it. The house now feels curated and put together in a really smart way.
I also really appreciated what Catherine and to say about how having kids really forces you to have opinions and be able to talk about what matters to you and your family. Kids seem to be much more perceptive about politics, the environment, and world issues, than I ever was when I was young. And I love the part of being a parent where we get to share those ideas with our kids in an age-appropriate way and help them understand a bit how we see the world.
Have you found ways to talk to your kids about world events in an interesting way? How does your family talk about and form your values? How do you keep your kids informed on an appropriate level?
Master Bedroom Art
Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org