By Gabrielle. Photos by Kelsey Gerhard.
At some point during my correspondence with Jessica, she mentioned that her primary goal wasn’t to have her home tour published on Design Mom. Well, it was probably one of the reasons why she asked her friend, Kelsey, to take the photos in the first place, but eventually she realized she simply wanted to record this time in her family’s life. Her house is just growing out of the babyhood stage, most of their furnishing are inherited or found, and the family is set to embark on a one or two year adventure in England.
Everything is about to change in the matter of a few weeks, but Jessica learned – somewhere between the photo shoot and her interview – that this moment should be remembered. The house, the decor, the little puppy scratches by the back door…it’s not all perfect, but it’s perfect to them. Such a wonderful reminder, isn’t it?
Please help me welcome Jessica!
Hello, everyone! I’m so happy to share my home with you today! My husband Matt and I live here with our four children, our fat, snuggly old cat, and our two year old puppy.
Matt and I both enlisted in the Army after graduating from college and were stationed at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. We met in January 2003, started dating in June, got engaged in July, and got married in December. After we got married, we had four kids in about five and a half years, so our life together has been jam-packed from the very beginning.
I am the Communications Manager for a non-profit called the Officer Down Memorial Page, which is basically my dream job. I also started my blog about a year and a half ago, and I love it – writing is my favorite thing, so blogging really makes me happy. In my free time, I love to read, work out, play with my kids, and hang out with my husband. Not necessarily in that order! And I love to travel.
Now that our kids are old enough that travel is suddenly far less complicated and way more fun, we’re hoping to really embrace that and travel a lot more in the near future.
Matt is a consultant for a government contracting firm. He’s funny and smart and a super-involved dad, which makes my job as a mom so much easier and more rewarding. He makes me the best version of myself, and hopefully I do the same for him. I like him a lot.
Bridget, our ten year old daughter, is intelligent, dramatic, witty, impatient, thoughtful, and funny. She loves sports of all kinds and she is also very, very into theater and photography. She has a creative soul. Her little brothers might refer to her as bossy, but I prefer to say she knows how to take charge of a situation and has great leadership skills. I pretty much think she’s awesome.
Gabriel is eight, and is my most physical and snuggly child. He wears all his emotions on his sleeve and just completely interprets the world around him through touch. He is friendly and outgoing and loves hanging out with his friends. Gabe is an excellent athlete and would gladly stay outside playing baseball, football, hockey, swimming, riding bikes, skateboarding, and generally being active all day, every day. Sitting still is not really his thing.
Owen, my six year old, is a thinker and an observer. He is my most determined child; he just does not give up at something he wants to do until he is successful. It’s a beautiful characteristic when he’s trying to learn to ride a bike or throw a fastball, but it’s slightly less admirable when he turns his determination against me, like when it’s time for bed. He is also very athletic and we haven’t yet found a sport he can’t master. He’s fun to watch.
Quinn turned five this week, but he is and always will be my baby. He is the happiest and friendliest kid I know. He has never met a person or an animal he didn’t like. Like his siblings, he also loves sports. He is my partner for grocery shopping, running errands, gym visits, and all the other day-to-day things I have to get done, and he’s a rock star for all of it. I’m lucky I get to hang out with him all day, and I will be really lonely when he heads to kindergarten in the Fall.
We moved to the D.C. area almost ten years ago when Matt got out of the Army; he got a great job offer here and that was basically the deciding factor. When we first arrived, we just wanted to settle down after having moved around A LOT in the Army, but there just weren’t a ton of single family homes in our price range that didn’t need major updating. We looked at so many houses, but felt like they all needed too much work to really be what we wanted.
Then our realtor brought us to this house. When we pulled into the driveway, we made him double check that it was actually in our price range – that it wasn’t a typo or a mistake – because it was much nicer than anything else we’d seen. The previous owners were both retired and wanted to downsize, so they had cut the price so this house was just barely in our price range. As soon as we walked in and I saw the huge eat-in kitchen – which was easily twice as big as any other we’d seen – I turned to Matt and told him this was the house. We hadn’t even seen the upstairs yet! He did make me at least look at the bedrooms before making the final decision, but, like the rest of the house, they were lovely, and we literally sat down at the kitchen table with our realtor and wrote up an offer right then and there. Our offer was accepted, and one month later we closed on the house and moved in.
Finding this neighborhood was a happy accident. After we moved in, we actually learned that people stalk this area waiting for houses to go on the market because it’s such a great neighborhood for families! There are tons of kids and the neighbors are all very friendly. We have an awesome mix of older and younger families, so there’s no shortage of friends to play with or teenagers to baby-sit my kids when Matt and I want to go out.
The schools in this area are really, really great and both our elementary and middle schools are within walking distance from our house, so in the mornings and afternoons my kids walk to and from school along with all their friends. Parents are out walking their younger kids to school, and everyone waves and chats. I just love it.
I can’t lie, though: it is not inexpensive. The D.C. Metro area is definitely pricey, but it really is worth it. We are less than 45 minutes from downtown D.C., so we can easily get in to town and go to the Smithsonian museums, the National Zoo, or tour the monuments for an afternoon anytime. And less than 45 minutes in the other direction we are in farm country in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains with tons of amazing places to go hiking, kayaking, and camping, so we really do have the best of both worlds right at our fingertips.
We’ve been here eight years this month, and I still love my kitchen. I love my whole house, actually. Since moving in, we’ve taken on a few house projects, the biggest of which was finishing the basement. It was just concrete walls and floor, and now it’s a giant recreation room and play space that the kids practically live in when the weather is bad. We also have a guest room down there, and an office for Matt that is still sort of under construction. With the help of our families, we finished the whole basement ourselves – from framing and electric to drywall and painting. It was a huge labor of love and it took a long time, but it’s been so worth it! We love that space and we use it all the time.
While I definitely think my aesthetic is still evolving, I’d say my style tends to be a little eclectic and a little traditional. I love rooms that mix old and new and that look like they’ve evolved over time. I love antiques and items with a back story. I prefer classics over trends because I want things that will always look good. When we moved in here, we were deep in the babyhood stage. We didn’t buy tons of new furniture because we didn’t want anything too precious, so we have lots of hand-me-downs and many, many Craigslist finds. But I love the balance of older items with newer pieces. I think we make it work. I try really hard to make the rooms look cozy, livable, and still stylish.
Now that the kids are older, though, and far less likely to write on walls or spill juice all over the sofa, I feel like it’s time to update and reexamine what works for our family. We are definitely beginning the transition out of the baby phase, which is sort of exciting. I think it will be a fun process, but I need to take my time and be thoughtful about what items I want to invest in and how I want the rooms to function. Pinterest is my best friend right now and I’ve got tons of great ideas – I just need to decide which ones to put into action.
Currently, things are still a little up in the air, but a few months ago, we learned that Matt may have a position with his company for a few years in England! We are so excited and our fingers and toes are all crossed that it works out because it would be such an amazing adventure! It’s almost certain that it’s happening, but the timing is really up in the air. When we first heard about it, we thought we’d be leaving in January, but we’re still waiting on final dates. At this point, it would be summer at the earliest before we’d be going. But we are definitely going to jump on this opportunity whenever it happens. It’s something Matt and I always dreamed of doing, and our kids are just at great ages for this kind of experience. (UPDATE! We just received word! Let our adventure begin!)
Because this would just be a temporary position, and because we love our neighborhood and this area so much, we won’t be selling our house. We definitely plan on coming back here, so we’ll rent it while we’re overseas. That makes things a little more complicated in terms of planning, but I think that also makes it easier for the kids to be excited. Since they know we’re not leaving their friends and their home permanently, they are just thrilled about the adventure of it all instead of sad to be leaving this place they call home.
We have been renters in a lot of places before, but we’ve never been landlords, so this is all new to us. When you realize that someone else may be living in your home for a fairly long-term, you really look at everything differently. Suddenly you see all the little imperfections that you overlook on a daily basis, like the baseboard by the back door that the dog scratched all up when he was a puppy and you just never quite fixed. Or the dent in the playroom dry wall from an unsanctioned game of indoor soccer that no one will admit to playing. Ahem.
So the first thing we did was walk room-by-room through the house and make a list of every little thing that needed to be fixed up. Even the smallest details are important because we want the house to present well and rent at a good price. We tackled those items right away because it really felt good to be able to check a bunch of stuff off the to-do list without expending a ton of time or money.
In landlord mode, I think we’re trying to balance making updates to make the house more rentable with not spending money on major renovations since we’re not going to be here to enjoy them for a while! Hopefully though, the things that make us love our home will translate to renters, and it will all work out.
You know, it’s easy to overlook how much you love your home on a day-to-day basis and to focus only on the things you want to change or update. It’s easy to get caught up in the thought that “If I just had that new couch, I would love this room” or to look at homes on Pinterest and feel like what you have doesn’t measure up. Right now, though, because of the potential move, I find myself appreciating our home so much more. It’s been eye-opening because I feel like it shouldn’t take such a huge upheaval to make me love my home every day.
When I think about leaving this house and this neighborhood – even temporarily, and even for an amazing adventure – it makes me a little sad. But instead of focusing on that, I try to focus on appreciating what we have while we are still here to enjoy it. We are really lucky to have this great home in this amazing neighborhood and I do not want to take that for granted.
When I first saw the photos that Kelsey took for this interview, I realized that our home is really lovely just the way it is and I’m proud of the way it looks and the way we’ve designed it using what we have. It’s comfortable and cozy and pretty and it’s reflective of my life right now: a little bit of a mish-mash but fun and full of love, even if it’s not all brand new and none of it matches.
I’m really grateful to have these photos of this house at this time in our lives, because when we get back from our move, everything will be different. And I love our lives right now so much. I know that as we go through this major transition, and then come out the other side hopefully with new experiences and a new perspective, I will treasure this little snapshot of our home and my kids forever.
I think my favorite part of living with my kids is creating family traditions. We’ve been fairly deliberate about creating and maintaining traditions, so we have lots of them. I love family game nights. We play a lot of Pictionary and Poker. I love movie nights when all six of us pile on the big sectional couch with bowls of popcorn and watch a movie together. I love birthday mornings when the birthday kid wakes up to a decorated kitchen and gifts at their seat at the breakfast table and we sing happy birthday with candles in a pancake. And I really love holidays with kids – all of them! There just seems to be so much more to celebrate when there are children involved.
The thing that surprised me the most about becoming a mother is how long the days can be, but how quickly the time flies by. Every mother has had days where you just can’t wait for the kids to be in bed. You cannot imagine playing one more game of Candy Land or reading one more children’s book or having to mediate one more disagreement or cleaning up from one more meal. Those days that just drag by and you look at the clock to see if it’s nap time yet and it’s only 9:00 am. But then I look back across the last ten years and I feel like I have to slow time down because it’s all going by too fast.
My daughter is closer to college than to birth. It’s hard to believe. People always tell you it flies by, but until you’re in it, you can’t even imagine how true that is.
I hope our kids remember the friends we’ve made here and the amazing community and neighborhood that we’re so lucky to be a part of. Matt and I didn’t grow up here and didn’t know anyone when we moved here, so we had to start from scratch and create our own village. I hope the kids always remember this great community of friends. I hope they remember walking to their friends’ houses up the street to play and having impromptu cookouts with neighbors on the weekends and spending most of our waking hours in the summer at the local pool surrounded by all these people we love to spend time with. I hope they make lifelong friendships here that they can take with them no matter where they live when they grow up.
As for me, I hope they remember our adventures, both big and little. Bike rides through the park near our house. Day trips into D.C. to go to the museums. Skiing in the winter. Going to the pool and our favorite ice cream shop in the summer. Annual road trips to New York and Boston. And maybe even a year or two in Europe! I hope they remember that Matt and I always wanted to DO STUFF WITH THEM and that we tried to make even the little things special.
I wish someone had told me that you can have it all…you just can’t have it all at once.
Don’t worry about having a perfectly designed and immaculately clean house AND a fulfilling and well-paying job AND trying to cook organic, gourmet meals AND have stylish clothes and hair AND be in top physical shape while simultaneously raising children. There is eventually time to do it all, but you’ve got to work up to it.
Hearing that advice – or just realizing it was true – would have taken a lot of stress and self-imposed pressure off me when my babies were really young. I’ve finally realized that it’s a gradual process to get to where all those things are possible.
Thank you, Jessica! Yes, that realization when your kids are closer to leaving home than the day they arrived is a little gut-wrenching! But your all-caps emphasis on your hope that they remember how you always wanted to DO STUFF WITH THEM is a great indicator that you’re using your time with them wisely and happily. Well done.
Friends, have you ever left your home in the hands of renters while you went on a temporary adventure? I am sure Jessica would love to hear any hard-earned advice you learned along your way, so please share it if you’ve got it! You know I love the conversations that happen in the comments.
P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me know! We love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.