Another East Coast tour! This time, we’re visiting Danielle, a graphic designer and soon-to-be blogger whose aesthetic includes both new and well-collected with an extra smudge of humor. Handmade hung proudly at eye level, no matter how tall you may be. Nooks equipped with papers and inks and colors and glue, all within grabbing reach. Bright pillows upon which to land at the end of a somersault or until the end of a book. Exactly the sort of space dreams can grow up wonderfully. Friends, welcome to Danielle’s home.
Q: Please tell us about your family.
A: My husband Andrew and I live in Melrose, Massachusetts just north of Boston, with our sons Wesley and Chandler and a shaggy terrier named Penny. When the boys are in school, I work in my home studio as a freelance graphic designer and art director. Andrew works in IT at the Museum of Fine Arts. Our house is usually a fun, creative place with music playing, the boys running around, and the occasional moment of quiet.
After moving many times in our marriage, including four years and three apartments while living overseas in London, we finally feel settled and happy. Our town is close to the city and yet has a quaint vibe that suits our lifestyle. We walk everywhere: the coffee shop, library, schools, supermarket, and gym.
In my free time, I take utter, obsessive joy in organizing and decorating. I have been known to ignore dirty dishes piled in the sink while I sort and label craft supplies and create a color-coded dinner menu for the week. The designer in me wants things to look nice, but truthfully I get a kick out of rearranging something so it functions better for our family.
Q: How did this house become your own?
A: This was our second home purchase, and a bit of a love story. We unexpectedly fell in love with this property one Sunday afternoon while exploring the town of Melrose. There was an open house, and curiosity took us in. Unfortunately at that time we weren’t actively looking to move from our first home — although we knew we wanted to move eventually — and we could not sell it until completing a major renovation. It was a fixer-upper.
Seeing the house in Melrose gave us the impetus to finish the fixer-upper and get it on the market. Six months later we were ready to sell, and over-the-moon to discover that the Melrose house we fell in love with had not sold and was taken off the market. We made an offer and moved in last July, almost a year after that Sunday open house.
We are constantly surprised by how much we love this old house. I always pictured us in a 1950s, modern, open plan, single-family home with lots of glass and a concrete patio. This house could not be further from that: it’s a semi-detached three-story Victorian with period details, high ceilings, formal rooms, front and back staircases, and lots of character. It is reminiscent of row homes in England where Andrew grew up. For whatever reason, this house just works for us in a homey, loving way, and we love it right back.
Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? And, as a mom to little ones, is there a room in which you sometimes escape?
A: My aesthetic is undoubtedly eclectic, although I once jokingly called it preschool modern! I gravitate toward clean lines of mid-century furniture, muted tones of paint, beautiful wood, and industrial lighting, but I like to add something traditional, personal, textured, or graphic to the mix.
Every room in our home reflects the personalities and functions of our family. The result makes the spaces warm and livable. Our living room is a great example of this. We installed simple IKEA library-style shelving on either side of the fireplace right up to the ceiling. On one side we left space underneath to create a comfy reading nook for the kids with piles of pillows. They love it.
We have a newly renovated third floor with my office and master suite, which is beautifully private, but I still consider my escape room to be the kitchen. Since our home is not open plan, I can cook in peace…even if I get the occasional little visitor! I spend at least 20 minutes in there every evening, chopping vegetables, sipping wine, stirring dinner on the stovetop. It’s heaven.
Q: What has been your best decor idea that everyone seems to love? What do you hope people feel when they walk in to your home?
A: You know how there are some people you can hang out with all the time, and it just feels easy? Our home feels like that. It’s relaxed but not boring, formal without being stuffy, and fun without being overwhelming. People comment on how comfortable our living room is, how frequently we use our formal dining room, and how organized the kitchen is.
You can’t visit my house without noticing my two favorite decor items: shelves and chalkboard paint. They are both multifunctional and I put them to use wherever possible. Walls transform with shelves, and you can never have enough storage. I’ve used chalkboard paint on the walls and even on my sons’ activity table.
Lately I’ve been taking all my glass recycling, stripping the paper labels off and painting the front with chalkboard paint. I use them for nuts, seeds, rice, markers, crayons, cotton balls…they work for everything.
Q: How do you truly live with kids?
A: My kids have opened my eyes to the littlest things, teaching me that each day is literally a brand new adventure. I have fully embraced living with them, to the point where I barely remember ever living without them. I mean, what on earth did I have in the kitchen cabinets before this pile of sippy cups, plastic bowls, and colorful cutlery? What would my walls and closets contain, if not for all their artwork and toys?
Their stuff makes our house feel like a home. Having said that, we try to keep their things organized and spread out amongst various rooms. But like any home with kids, you’ll find Legos, blocks, broken crayons, and matchbox cars strewn about on any given day. My boys clean up after themselves, but not very well, and I have to ask them several times!
A few weeks ago I started using a chore chart. It has simple tasks such as using manners, brushing teeth, and clearing up toys. If they do a chore then they get a coin. It’s working well so far!
My top tips for living with kids:
1) Create clearly defined kid-friendly spaces. No space is too small, and I recommend getting on your knees when creating them.
2) Hang their art everywhere. It looks better than most purchased art and makes them feel so important.
3) You can never have enough books, puzzles, and costumes.
Q: You’re starting a blog soon! Hooray! What do you hope it will add to your family’s life, but also to you personally?
A: I’m excited to start my blog in January after working on it in my head for more than two years! It’s called Mondays With Love, and I’m hoping it helps me find love in the chaos of Monday mornings, to replace the gloom I feel with the demands of each new week with something positive.
Every Monday my kids wake up confused, upset to leave for school, breakfast is rushed, I have to work, I don’t know what to plan for dinner, there’s a pile of laundry and ten other things on my to-do list. So I thought I would challenge myself; wouldn’t Monday morning be the perfect time to do something different and change my routine for the better? The blog will be my place to stop, gather my thoughts, and remember what is important and inspiring. I’ll try to take note of what I’m thankful for, while giving and finding ideas and design inspiration for the week ahead. I’m thinking it will be a peaceful, happy space for other moms and designers to visit.
Q: What is your favorite part of living with your own kids? What do you already miss?
A: I already miss the constant cuddles of the baby stages. My boys are still snuggly, but the hugs don’t last as long. I get so much pleasure just being in their company, especially each night when we sit together for dinner at the table. Not a meal goes by without something spilling or one of them crying because they don’t like a particular item on their plate.
It’s not easy living with kids, and yet I love every minute. We are literally watching them grow in front of our eyes and seeing their personalities develop. It’s amazing. We have genuine conversations, listen to music, play silly games. When they have grown up and moved out, I pray they will return for dinner at least once a week.
Q: What are you trying to teach your kids with the design and style that surrounds them on a daily basis? What message can you see them understanding almost daily?
A: Graphic designer Paul Rand said, “Design is Everything. Everything!” He was so right! You can’t underestimate the power of design, and I try to remember that in the choices I make around the house.
The home environment sets the tone for my kids day-to-day: where they eat, how they decide on an activity, find the right toy, locate their mittens, or get some alone time in a nook for reading. We try to involve our boys in design decisions because we see how much it affects them. My four year old has decided on some paint colors, light fixtures, and where to hang art. He is very opinionated. I joke that design is hereditary, but honestly I think all children have an innate sense of what works for them.
My boys appreciate the size and color of a throw pillow just as much as I do. When we changed from minimalist white curtains to thick wood blinds in the living room, Wesley commented on how the room felt warmer. He was right. Kids just understand design in a natural way.
Q: What do you hope your kids remember most about their childhood home when they’re all grown up with families of their own?
A: The childhood home concept is something I desperately want to give my children because I didn’t have it growing up; my family moved a lot. My husband’s parents had the same home for 45 years, which is what I’m hoping for in this house. In 20 years, Wesley and Chandler will hopefully look back with fond memories of our family dinners, the hours spent solving puzzles, Friday movie nights, Lego sessions with their dad, or watching the Lionel train travel around the Christmas tree.
Maybe they’ll remember less concrete things too, like the smell of the kitchen or the texture of the living rug. It will be interesting to see what memories we continue to create and the traditions they choose to carry on with their own families.
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish I had known…
A: I wish I had known that a lot of those parenting clichés (which I loathe) are true. Particularly “Boys will be boys,” “They grow so fast,” and “It’s just a phase.” No matter how creative or original I think I am as a parent, I am consistently blown away by these one-liners…especially delivered by random strangers in the supermarket to whom I want to say, “What do you know?!” And yet, they do know.
Danielle, thank you for this. I espouse the very same design philosophy on a daily basis: it’s everything and it matters. I’ve seen entire housefuls of moods shift dramatically with a simple rearrange or the addition of smoother organization processes. It may not be rocket science, but good design sure can send dreams to the moon!
Tell me, Friends: When was the last time you rearranged to give your family a new view? (Maybe even a new view that didn’t include a television!)