With the concrete floors and bright white walls and art on every surface, this house that feels like a really cool art gallery. But there are also kids riding scooters through the rooms, and an orchard out front, and tons of real and livable spaces. That is the kind of home that Jackie Leishman has built — cool and modern and artistic but also comfy and livable all at once. You’ll love hearing her thoughts on being a mother and artist, and you’ll love wandering around her amazing home. Welcome, Jackie!
There are five of us, my husband, myself, two boys, ages 12 and 10 and our daughter, age 7. My husband is an attorney, I am an artist. We met 16 years ago at a wedding. I thought that he was a bit strange at first because he kept trying to talk to me and running away, but I later found out it was because he was so nervous around me. Our first date was to Mexico for four days with some of his friends. We dated long distance and wrote letters to each other. We still have all those letters. My friends often told me that some people could be happy with a variety of people. But I felt that there was probably only one person out there for me, and somehow I found him.
When we were dating, I was working on my graduate degree in art and had no money. I literally lived in a closet. I made it cool, but it was so tiny I had to get one of those pull-out chair beds from IKEA. When it was pulled out, it filled was my entire “room.” But I was too poor to buy the mattress that went with it, so I threw blankets and pillows on top of the wooden slats. When my now-husband found out about it, he bought me a mattress.
I never thought I would get married or have kids. I thought I was going to be a poor artist living on my own my entire life, but when I met him and got to know the kind of person he is, I began to think that I could have a family with him. He always thought my art-making was a serious endeavor, not a hobby. Not many men I had met thought that way. And no matter where we have lived, he was the first to make sure it had some kind of space for me to make art.
Our oldest is responsible, smart, creative, and a natural caretaker. He has always taken really good care of his siblings and is fiercely loyal to them. He has a natural talent for understanding color, and he has his own unique style. He tells us that when he grows up he wants to either design socks or rockets, or be a dentist. Awesome.
Our middle child is funny, long-suffering, a peacemaker, and a dreamer. He gets lost in books. He says that when he grows up, he either wants to make movies… or design weapons (I don’t feel so great about that last one, praying for that to pass), and he wants to live in a big city like NYC or London. He gives the best rib-crushing hugs and gets really upset with any injustice that he sees.
Our youngest is like a wood nymph come to life. She likes her hair to be wild (not brushed), loves animals, is kind, curious, and full of wonder. She has told us for years that she wants to live on a farm and do her chemistry experiments. She is going to have space at her farm for her dad and I to live and will even have an art studio for me to work in, she says. I love it and can’t wait.
We live in Claremont, California, a small college town 40 minutes east of downtown L.A.. We live in a fairly suburban part of the town. My kids have friends who live on our block and there is a city park at the end of the street. It is a nice community in which to raise kids. The schools are great, and the community is friendly. But it is hot here. No lie. It kills me for a good part of the year. And, coming from Santa Monica, I really miss not having good restaurants nearby. That said, I can get everywhere I need to go in town within 7 minutes, and I often see someone I know wherever I go, and I enjoy that. I feel that raising kids and living a life are hard enough without having to time exactly when I am going to go to the grocery store because of traffic.
We live a mile from the Claremont loop, and so I often run or hike it (in the cool bookends of the day). We live twenty minutes from Mount Baldy and I go hiking there. There are lectures at the Claremont colleges, festivals in the village, a Folk Music Center, but other than that, it is a normal small town. As I mentioned, we are 40 minutes from downtown LA, so we go there often to visit art galleries and eat good food.
It is a pricey area, not as expensive as west L.A., but it is expensive and only getting more so. We bought our 2,000 square foot house on half an acre, 5 years ago, in the high 600s. It would probably be priced in the mid 800s now. There are houses nearby that are a lot more expensive than ours and some that are less. The cost makes it hard for young families to buy here, but it seems that people are still moving in.
When we were looking to buy out here, we saw every house in our price range and hated them all. They were all old and not updated. We didn’t want to rent and then have to move a second time, so we kept seeing the same houses. The house that we eventually bought was so bad that I initially wouldn’t even look further than the entry. I hated it that much. But my husband convinced me to at least see the yard, and it had these huge beautiful mature trees. He told me we could change the inside pretty easily, but we couldn’t grow trees like that very quickly. So, we bought it and did as much as we could afford to do at the time.
We skinned all the walls because each room in the house had a different texture, even sand in the paint. We ripped out all the flooring on the ground level and just sealed the concrete. I had dreamed of having concrete floors.
I envisioned having my kids ride their bikes and scooters through the house and they do. They ride from the backyard, through the house, and out the front. I love it. I love having floors that hide a lot of dirt and that are super easy to care for and clean. I couldn’t have too much preciousness in the house.
We removed a lava-rock fireplace that literally took up a third of the living room, changed the lighting, and painted the ground floor and all the common areas Super White and the bedrooms in a soft grey.
After we moved in, we took a shower in the master bathroom and the next day there was a huge bubble in our kitchen ceiling. The previous owners hadn’t let on that there was a busted shower pan and the home insurance policy covered everything but shower pans. So, we lived for 4.5 years with no shower in the master and a hole in our kitchen ceiling. We weren’t expecting to redo our master bathroom right at the start and didn’t have the money for it. As we saved money to do other projects, I wanted to do other things first, so the bathroom waited.
One of the projects that we did before eventually turning to the master bath was the orchard. We wanted to plant an orchard in the front yard. All of Claremont used to be citrus groves before it was developed. I had this idea of not wanting to feel like we lived on a suburban street. I wanted to grow our own food after reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Fortunately, Todd’s sister is a very talented landscape architect and foody. She listened to us and our vague vision and designed something amazing.
Now, after a year of bare dirt, six months of installation, and two years of growth, many of our neighbors walk by just to keep tabs on our little orchard. We have 20 varieties of citrus, 5 varieties of avocados, and 5 varieties of grapes in the front yard, along with some Arabian lilacs, strawberry trees, and drought tolerant plants. The backyard had pomegranates, persimmons, peaches, apples, plums, Asian pears, figs, and blueberries.
The orchard isn’t as much work as people would think. We prune twice a year. We have had lessons from a master pruner and sometimes still invite him to our house just to check on everything for us, make sure we aren’t really messing up our trees. He is a character and loves that I am an artist. He always wants to see what I am working on in the studio and talks about pruning like it is a work of art that is never finished. The kids love to help harvest and they like to be around us as we work. As they get older, they help more and more.
We planted everything two and half years ago and this past season we began to grow enough that we could give some away. I found out what our neighbors liked, and I would give them bags of fruit. We also had enough to give some to friends and the kids’ teachers. This next season we will probably have even more, and I would love to donate to some shelters and local food banks. I love bringing people freshly harvested food.
The backyard, I wanted to keep a bit more wild. There is so much wildlife in our yard. It is fun for the kids. They catch lizards, watch birds, and rabbits. We have seen coyotes (one ate one of our chickens), and we think we have a bobcat that comes to visit. We find bird nests and keep an eye on them. It is really peaceful back there. I have built boxes for a vegetable/flower garden, but I’ve since realized that I will need to build nets due to all the wildlife and ran out of steam. It is on my list for this fall and winter.
Our home is a constant work in process. For example, we are now finally about to finish the downstairs bathroom. The shower has been demoed since before we moved in. At one point, I left a piece of art leaning against the wall where the shower used to be because it was out of the way, and I was amused to discover that many visitors assumed that our missing shower with the artwork was an intentional art installation. We also are having a studio addition being drawn up by Todd’s brother who is an amazing architect. Things take time.
Our kids don’t see all the half-finished projects. They just see a place that is their home, where everyone that they love lives. My advice is, do stuff when you can and enjoy the ride.
I have always loved to make things with my hands. My mom set up a studio for me in the basement as a kid. I took art in high school, but I was a “smart kid” and people never really promoted art or took art seriously where I grew up. It wasn’t until college, and specifically when I studied abroad in Paris, that I really understood that aspect of myself. I wanted to create. I think with my feelings and understood art in such a visceral way. It is hard to explain but it just clicked. I finished my degree from the University of Georgia in International Business and then went on to get an MFA from the Academy of Art in San Francisco.
I get inspiration from a lot of places, from books I read (especially Mary Oliver, Annie Dillard and Wendell Berry), from being in nature, from other art, and from my daily life. My studio practice is where I work out my thoughts, not just about art, but how I approach the world. I don’t draw or collage what I see, but how I feel about what I see and experience.
Art is a big part of our family life. It is literally everywhere. The kids have grown up going to museums and galleries. They don’t always love it, but I try to make it fun. Sometimes they work out in the studio with me. I have always made sure they had nice (real) art supplies to work with along with the regular Crayola type materials. I even taught art to them and their friends for a while in my studio.
They come out and give me their opinion about what I am working on. I love hearing their thoughts. Since my work is often somewhat abstracted, they always tell me what they see in the work, Superman, a goblin, turtles, etc. I love how their minds work.
I have been asked the question by several people, “Are you a mom or an artist first?” I think that is a pointless question and a waste of time to think about. I refuse to buy into the idea that once a woman has a child, and definitely if she has more than one child, that she is no longer a serious artist.
I think to keep showing up and making work while still raising children is a sign of more dedication, not less. To make room in your life and home for this passion, it is the harder road.
But what I love is that every parent-teacher conference I go to, the first thing each of my children’s teacher tell me is how proud my child is of me. They love that I am an artist. It is something that defines them as well.
I am not the most organized person or have the cleanest house, or have the most put together dinners, but I really love spending time with my kids. I like hearing their thoughts and trying to imagine how they see the world. It is really beautiful. I love when we throw a blanket on the ground outside and read together and observe the world together. They are the most interesting people I have ever met. I believe that they know I think they are each enough as they are. They don’t have to prove anything to me or their dad. We are their biggest champions.
I hope my kids remember how much fun we had. We laugh a lot. I hope they remember how safe they felt, not just physically but emotionally and spiritually. When I teach art to my students one of my rules is that everything is valid. I try to do that as a parent as well. Everything they feel is valid and go from there.
Years ago, when my boys were really little, I read the book Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. The book shaped the way I wanted to raise my kids, making sure they had experiences with nature. Since we lived in an apartment at the time, I took them every month to a farm in Moorpark so we can pick our own fruit and vegetables. We also grew some things on our patio. We would feed scrub jays out of our hands.
My big takeaway from the book was that kids are happier and have a better sense of themselves if they have a relationship with nature, even if “nature” is just a familiar tree. So, when we bought a house, I wanted to create a place that feels a little wild and where, when we were at home, nature is a significant part of what our home is.
I hope they forget the times I have been frustrated. Sometimes having all three of them need me at once or when they bicker with each other, it just gets to me. I can’t process it, and I need space. I hope they forget that — their mom being overwhelmed by them.
When I was around 19, I was having a conversation with my mom about our life as a family (which consisted of just my mom, my sister, and me). We did not have the most stable upbringing and there were other things that I really wanted in my life.
She just looked at me really hard and told me that what I hoped for in a family wasn’t going to happen with her, and that if I really wanted something different, I was going to need to create it myself. That was the best piece of advice I have ever received. It shaped the rest of my life.
I love how my life feels full. I love being shown the world from a different angle. I was telling my husband recently that I don’t feel like my life really made sense to me until we had kids. I was happy and fulfilled in some ways, but after having them things began to feel settled in me in new ways that I had never imagined before. Especially after I had my third child. I don’t know if it because she was our last or because she was a girl, but it felt like the last piece of my puzzle was placed, and I was finally all there.
I already miss the days when I was in charge of our schedule. Now as the kids are getting older, I spend my time doing things that are for their interests and schedules, which I love doing, but I do miss the simplicity of life just being about naps times and meals.
I wish someone would have told me that being a parent is beautiful and heartbreaking simultaneously, all the time. I love my kids at every stage, I think they are all amazing, but as I am enjoying who they presently are, I also ache for who they used to be as well. I wish I could be with them at all ages, all the time, forever. The ache of that loss is palpable and yet watching them become in front of my eyes is the most amazing creation I have ever witnessed.
Thank you, Jackie! What a gorgeous place! I think art is one of the most important and personal things you can put in a home, and Jackie has done it right. Art layered upon itself and covering all the walls. It must be so inspiring and thought-provoking to have so many pieces of art to lose yourself in. It’s a great reminder too, how important it is to expose our kids to great art and have them learn to enjoy it and talk about it on their own terms.
I also really loved what Jackie said about being an artist and a mother. As parents, isn’t it so easy to give up on our creative pursuits while we are raising kids because we don’t have the time or we don’t have the mental energy? We always think we’ll get back to that novel we’re writing or that painting we started or that music piece we were working on “when we have more time.” Jackie’s words were such a nice reminder that we can create and parent at the same time, even though it can be tough.
Storage in dining area
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