By Gabrielle.

I’ve always wondered what it must be like to live in a popular vacation destination — fabulous, right?! — and this week’s tour answers some of my queries. Doesn’t everyone know one or two families who enjoyed their Florida vacations so much that they moved there? Now I do, too!

Debora and her family now happily reside in South Florida after a stint in the Southwest, and would probably tell you that life there is exactly like a vacation. Except for those pesky jobs that get in the way of beach time! Relocating came with obvious perks (sunshine and proximity to family), but also a smaller, not-exactly perfect home. Not a problem for the Kolb family, though. Here’s their refreshing story; a lovely mix of postcard-perfect and real life, which is exactly how we should all be living!

Q: Please give us a rundown on the family who lives in this fun and functional Florida home!

A: We are a busy, happy family of five. I’m Debora. Before I took on the challenges of being mom to three kids and keeper of household affairs, I enjoyed my work as a professional architect and interior designer. I keep my toe in the water and my creative side engaged, though, as I’m still licensed and working the odd design job on the side. I live design. I even appreciate bad design!

My husband Kelly is an attorney by weekday, kayak fisherman and jack-of-all-trades on the weekends. He’s a great partner and often helps bring my designs to life. One of his biggest challenges, he would claim, is the fact that he is outnumbered threefold by the females in the house; we have a trio of lovely daughters.

The eldest of our children is Taylor. Once a moody, slothful teenager she is now a college freshmen, and a delightfully kind and appreciative 18-year-old. She has survived those tough years and “come back to us” as a young woman who once again appreciates her family and life’s little luxuries. Like a home cooked meal and clean laundry!

Behind the quiet demeanor of our middle daughter Morgan, age 11, the cogs never cease working. We call her the “Morganizer.” She keeps us on our toes.

The youngest and most entertaining of our lot is nine-year-old Lauren. All the world is her stage, including the aisles of the grocery store where she often likes to sing and dance as she trails after the shopping cart.

Q: How did you end up in this home?

A: I had really given up all hope that we would ever move back to a coastal location. Growing up, I had always lived near the ocean. I am inexplicably drawn to it. As much as I grew to like Dallas, and Texas as a whole, it never felt like home to me. But it was home to my husband, a Texan who is averse to change, and my Texas-born daughters. Then in 2009 a triad of fortuitous events occurred and the move to Florida became a reality. Never say never!

We spent months looking for the right house, but nothing felt like us. After living in the southwest for so long, the typical Florida houses seemed to lack character and charm. They were smaller. Too cookie-cutter. And most had been poorly renovated over the years. We hoped to find something on the water, and finally, we found this home: a 50s Florida modern. A diamond in the rough.

It was hidden behind overgrown landscaping on a busy neighborhood street, but  the backyard is on a peaceful lake that connects to the Intracoastal waterway and the ocean. And there was a dock, which to us meant the possibility that one day that dock would be home to a boat.

Q: What makes you love South Florida?

A: We live where so many people from around the world come to vacation. We have the ocean, the beach, the boats. But South Florida is so much more to us. The weather allows us to be active outside year round. Our house is just a short walk or bike ride to the beach. And because of our proximity to a state park, the wildlife that we see still amazes us all. In the winter months, the same pair of great blue herons spends their mornings on our dock fishing. The water is teeming with mullet and the fish that eat them: tarpon, jack, and snook. Every so often, a manatee might find its way back to our lake. We have owls, green Quaker parrots, ibis, mourning doves, mockingbirds, and others nesting nearby.

Our family can fish, kayak, and paddle-board right out of our own backyard! Friends come by in their boats on the weekends to say hello and jump in the pool. Life can seem like a vacation any day of the week…although the challenge can be in finding the time to enjoy it all.

Fort Lauderdale is also where much of my family lives. Having them nearby is something wonderful and connecting that I missed when my girls were little. My sister and my children’s cousins live minutes away. Grandma is literally around the corner. Sadly, my father passed away last year, but we had three precious years living here with him, and for that I am very grateful.

Q: You’ve described your style as minimalist. How does this work with your daughters?

A: I am a minimalist wannabe. But the reality is that I love to collect things: modern chairs, matryoshka dolls, Russian lacquer boxes, Oaxacan wood carvings, Royal Doulton Toby jugs, Fiestaware, Fostoria glass, and more. So, I try to edit very carefully. I don’t like clutter; it only creates more to dust.

While my daughters’ rooms occasionally look like they’ve suffered a neutron bomb attack, they willingly de-clutter when prompted, which really means hide-it-where-mom-can’t-see-it-and-cross-their-fingers-she-won’t-open-any-drawers.

Q: How do they express their own style in your home?

A: My girls are very opinionated about what they like and don’t like for their room. And I take that into consideration. I think the advent of HGTV and games like Minecraft has increased many kids’ design awareness. There is no sense in designing something they don’t like. And I’m selective in choosing from their list of what they like.

For instance, Morgan would like her new bedroom to be painted entirely aqua. Instead of painting every wall, we compromised on just painting the wall behind her desk aqua. We are still trying to decide whether Lauren will have the same color behind her desk, or something else. They share a room.

Q: How intentional are you at creating a space that feels adult enough yet child-friendly at the same time?

A: Our house is designed for the way we live. There are no off-limit areas, although I do enforce strict eating spaces. We are a messy family, and I’ve tried to design the space with easy-to-clean pieces. Almost everything is wipe-clean-able, such as the white plastic Verner Panton chairs, or washable, such as the slip-covered sofa. Because we have so many classic modern pieces, the space feels adult and museum-like but it’s our play museum.

Q: When does your home work best for your entire family?

A: The kitchen is the best example of how our home works best for the entire family. There are no upper cabinets, so all of the dishes, glasses, pots and pans are in drawers accessible to all. That means anyone can unload the dishwasher and put everything away – hint, hint! The island has outlets under the counter, so anyone can plug-in their laptop or iPad and work or do homework while someone else is cooking.

Several other rooms have multiple purposes. The utility room has a laundry area, my home office space, and a large pantry. The family room includes a space for TV viewing and gaming entertainment, and an adjacent breakfast table for dining that also doubles as a homework center with a desk and computer off to the side.

Q: What house details do you hope your girls will take with them in their memories?

A: Most importantly, I hope that my girls will take with them memories of a happy and comforting home. I also hope they learn to value the connection with the outdoors and conservation of our planet’s resources. Rather than tear down this old house and build a bigger one, we choose to recycle and outfit it to meet our needs.

The focal point of our home is the view to the water and the pool with lots of floor-to-ceiling windows. Those windows have a low-e coating and solar shades to reduce the heat from the sun and minimize the energy load on the AC. Operable windows are located to maximize cross-ventilation during our cooler months in the winter. We recycle and compost what we can for our fledgling vegetable, herb, and fruit garden. Most of the lighting is LED. The toilets, showers and appliances use less water. All of the appliances meet the latest energy standards. Our newest car is a hybrid. I hope they remember this.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your girls? What has surprised you the most about being a mother?

A: The love shared has been the best. The entertainment factor, too. There would not be as many funny, sparkly, laugh-out-loud moments without them.

The most surprising thing about being a mother is how much I learned about my own mother. I always knew she loved me, but I had no idea about the depth of that love. It’s boundless and truly unconditional!

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A: It never gets easier, but it does get better!


Debora, I’m so impressed with the tiny environmental footprint you’re trying to leave; I know it will have a huge impact on your girls. And hooray for loving college freshmen who made it through those often hard-to-endure teen years! Your words made me smile.

Friends, I’m curious: Do any of you live in vacation locales? How do you balance real life and laid-back life? Sigh. We will all try to sympathize! Ha!

P.S. — Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here. And if you’d like to share your own home with us, just send me a note! It’s a lot of fun…I promise!