There are houses that scream “THREE CHILDREN LIVE HERE!” as soon as you walk through the door and over a small pile of plastic joy, and there are houses that whisper “Three children live here,” and leave you looking for any traces of babies or toys or…fun. Katy‘s home lies somewhere perfect in between, stating contentedly “We live here.” And isn’t that the loveliest thing a home can say? Friends, I’m delighted to introduce you to Katy and her sweet family. Enjoy!
Q: Please tell us about the family who is lucky enough to live here!
A: This house is home to me, my husband Ben and our three kids. Ben and I met in architecture school — it was a small studio where we spent almost all of our time for six years so it’s safe to say we got to know each other very well, very quickly! My husband is one of the smartest people I have ever met, but he’s smart in a very understated and modest sort of a way. He is my biggest supporter and we rarely, if ever, make any decisions without consulting each other first. I think it must be because of the close quarters while we were dating, but we could spend all day, dawn to dusk, with each other every day and not get sick of each other’s company.
We got engaged while living in Paris during our last year of school and married a few months later. I worked for a couple of years in architecture firms before I realized that I wasn’t a very good match for office life and opened my own photography business instead. I still love architecture and haven’t entirely ruled out the possibility of returning to the field in the future, but for now I love the flexibility and creativity that both my photography business and blogging afford when it comes to raising my kids at home. Sometimes I laugh at the fact that I’m the professional photographer in the family because Ben was actually much more involved in photography than I was in college. We have quite a collection of vintage cameras between the two of us! These days he is still working as an architect and will be starting to teach a studio at a local architecture school this spring, which has always been one of his dreams.
A little over a year after we were married, we were totally shocked when the news of our first baby turned into the news of our first two babies! Our twins, Paul and Amelia, are going to turn five this summer. I like to say that they are proof that both nature and nurture play a role in personality; they were raised in the same home with the same influences and rules, and yet they are completely different in some respects and identical in others.
Amelia is every inch, head to toe, a clone of her mother. She is incredibly artistic and will craft with me for hours on end. She is also amazingly strong-willed (I like to call it determined), something she gets from me as well. Paul is incredibly observant and methodical. He memorized almost every make and model of car from his grandfather’s old issues of Car and Driver magazine starting at age two. He’s obsessed with anything that goes but also has a soft spot for snuggling. I like to describe him as a Great Dane that thinks he’s a lap dog;he doesn’t realize how big he’s gotten lately and still wants to cuddle on my lap like a baby. Our youngest (and maybe spunkiest) daughter, Edith, will turn two in August. She desperately wants to do anything and everything that her older siblings do and routinely terrifies me with her daredevil stunts. We also share our home with one extremely devoted Vizsla mix named Herbie. He’s convinced that our kids are his babies.
Q: How did this house become your home?
A: Ben and I were always excited about the idea of having a chaotic home full of love, laughter and children, so we started our family early even though we were not settled. We had our twins when we were still living in a slightly crumbling rental house in Los Angeles that was the opposite of baby-friendly. We ended up moving when they were just under a year old to a much safer but smaller rental apartment nearby. In early 2010 we found out that Ben had been accepted to a one-year graduate program in Massachusetts, so we packed everything into storage and headed east right about the time that they turned two. We lived in a small student apartment for around 11 months before moving back to California again in the spring of 2011. After so much moving around we decided that it was finally time to settle down for a bit and started a house hunt in my hometown of San Diego. I was pregnant with Edith at the time and we were living in my parents’ house while we searched.
As an architect and photographer, Ben and I have pretty high standards when it comes to houses. After a lot of disappointing home tours we were starting to think that a home we would love right out of the box was out of our price range. This home came on the market as we were running out of time (with the baby coming!) so we went to look at it before the open house and before we had even seen any photos. As soon as we set foot in the door we knew it was home and we placed an offer the very same day.
We thought that once we closed on the house we would have several weeks to nest and move in, but my daughter had other ideas! My water broke at 33 weeks and I was immediately admitted to the hospital. Edith arrived one week later, the day after we closed escrow on our new home (the notary brought our papers to sign at the hospital!) and we moved in the very same night that she came home with us from the hospital. It sounds a little crazy and hectic, but moving with a newborn actually ended up being a fairly smooth transition for us. Ben was on paternity leave and she was in the sleepy phase, so we had lots of time to get settled and do things like painting the kids’ rooms, which was nice.
Q: What makes you love where you live?
A: I am a California girl, born and raised. As a child I lived just a few miles from the ocean (I could see it from my high school!), so I knew when I met my husband in Texas that we were going to have to move back west once we were done with school. Even if we don’t visit the beach on a daily basis, I love that I can drive by with my windows down and take in the scent of the ocean. It’s so peaceful and relaxing, and I think that if you grow up next to the ocean it starts to carve out a special place in your heart that can’t be filled by anything else. I am so happy to have my kids live so near to the ocean so that they can grow up to appreciate its beauty as well. They are definitely Californians already; they expect to be able to play outside year round and we walk to the park by our house almost every day. We are also within a 15-minute drive of both my sister and my parents, which is huge for me. Family is everything and I love being able to see them regularly, especially now that my siblings are all having kids. It’s so important for me that the kids can spend time with their cousins.
Q: You work from home with little ones always around,! How do you carve out time for them, time for you, time for work, and time for your husband? It’s such a trick, isn’t it?
A: I do work from home with little ones and yes, it is such a trick! I like to think I’m getting better at it, but it’s my biggest struggle. My big kids are going to preschool three days a week now, which is a huge help. I will typically spend those mornings getting everyone up and ready and breakfasted so we can scoot out the door and get them dropped off by nine. Then I run home and tidy up the house while Edith plays. She goes down for a nap around 10:30 and usually sleeps until the kids need to be picked up from school around one. That gives me a few blissful quiet hours to work on the computer and hopefully catch up on editing, blogging, and emails.
We aren’t a big TV watching family, but on non-school days I will let the kids watch an hour of Sesame Street while their sister naps so that I can at least get in one hour of daytime work each day. The rest of the afternoon is our adventuring time; we go on a lot of outings to the zoo, park, aquarium, or we spend time together at home crafting or playing in the back yard.
I think the biggest piece of the puzzle as far as work/life balance in our family is an early bedtime! Our kids are all in bed by seven every day. Ben makes it a priority to be home from work in time for a family dinner, so I know that if I’ve got that on the table when he walks in and we can stick to our schedule that he and I will have several hours after everyone else is in bed that are just to ourselves. I’d like to say that we always spend that time together, but truthfully there are a lot of days when I still have work to do in the evening. Luckily he is busy with studying for licensing exams these days, so usually when I’m working in the evening he also has something to do. We like to reserve at least the last hour of the day to read together or talk and catch up. It’s amazing how full our days have become lately!
Q: Do your children know what you do? How would they describe your job?
A: It’s funny how easily kids can simplify and classify life sometimes. They definitely have an idea of what both Ben and I do. Since he’s an architect they will ask him when he comes home from work “What did you build today?” They know that part of my job includes being on the computer and they know that I take pictures for people, but I do almost all of my shooting on the weekends so they’re just happy to spend a day with Dad. I try to make sure that I devote a large chunk of my time to being with them during every weekday, but sometimes when things get hectic I will spend more time that I’d care to admit at the computer frantically editing.
I share an office with their playroom so I am at least not locked away in another room, but there are definitely days when they ask why I have SO much work to do and beg me to play with them. When that happens it’s always a wake up call and I know I need to refocus and put aside the work for a time that they aren’t needing of my attention. Even on the busiest days I try my best to avoid staying up too many hours past my regular bedtime. I do not work well on a lack of sleep (at parenting or business) and I’m learning that putting my need for sleep up near the top of my priority list keeps everyone happier.
Q: How would you describe your style? Has it changed since adding kids to the mix?
A: I don’t think it’s possible to talk about my style without talking about Ben’s style as well. Since we met in architecture studio we spent years learning about and touring a lot of the great modernist spaces together. We are the kind of people that will go out of our way to stay in Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation when we’re traveling past Marseille, and I think we both have a great admiration for truly minimal spaces while realizing that they also aren’t entirely suited to life with children.
We’ve tried our best to make our home both fit our aesthetic — lots of big, open spaces flooded with light and predominantly white surfaces — while also bringing in a lot of life, color, and character with the textiles, photography, and artwork. We want our home to be both beautiful and lived-in at the same time. I think we’ve achieved a good balance by selecting pieces with a shape or aesthetic that we love (like the more modern shape of the couches) and buying them in slightly more kid-friendly material that are easily cleaned. We’ve also invested in pieces like a solid wood dining table that, while destroyed on a regular basis by spills and paints, can be refinished one day once the kids leave home.
The biggest concessions in my mind are probably the large-scale kid items that we have, like the big doll house or play kitchen that we wouldn’t ordinarily have in our living spaces. Since our playroom is on display to anyone who visits the house (and some of those things are in the living room as well) we make sure to avoid plastic junky toys and furniture as much as possible. We’re learning that if you make smart choices in selecting the toys and child-sized furniture that it doesn’t have to take away from your style; it can just become a pint-sized version of it.
Q: When does your home work best? Is there a favorite space each of you has when you need time to yourselves, and is there one that’s best for spending time together?
A: Our home definitely works best when the weather is fine, and lucky for us it’s nice here almost year-round. There are big operable windows on the front of our house and large sliding doors on the back. Nothing makes me happier than having the windows open and a warm southern California breeze blowing through the house. A set of wind chimes was one of the first purchases we made after we moved in and realized how delightful those breezes are. I love having the kids running around in the back yard and music playing on my computer, having something in the oven and something to dance to makes me infinitely happy. I guess you could say our home is at its finest when it’s full of life.
As for time to ourselves, our bedrooms are definitely our places of refuge! Late in the afternoon when the kids are all playing nicely together and I need a break, I love to steal away for a few minutes to read in my room. It’s a kid-free zone as far as toys and books go. They will come in for a snuggle in the morning but I keep their things picked up and out of there as soon as they leave the room. With kid influences in every other room in the house, it’s nice to have a sanctuary to get away to every once in a while. The canopy bed was a childhood dream of mine and I’m happy to say I enjoy having it as much now as I always imagined I would. Getting the room all tidied up and bed made, ready for the day, is a very calming part of my morning ritual. The big kids also use their room when they want to get away from their little sister for a bit. For the most part they play very well together but when they want to work on something like a puzzle that she might mess up, they love to hide in there to focus.
The living room and kitchen are both hubs of the house. I love that we really and truly use every square inch of living space on a regular basis. My kids are huge bookworms so the shelving in the living room is not just a perfect solution for all of our grown up books; an entire quarter of it at least is dedicated to kids books as well. We are also a big foodie family; almost everything we eat is made from scratch, and the kids love to help me cook, so we spend a substantial amount of time in there as well. On the weekends we spend most of our time out in the yard, which was another big selling point for us on the house when we were looking. We love to eat outdoors on warm evenings. The kids would move into their play set if we let them. They love to swing!
Q: What do you hope your design choices are teaching your children? Do you put thought into what surrounds them?
A: I hope that our design choices are teaching the kids to love, use, and value what they surround themselves with. It’s inevitable that clutter collects over a lifetime, but we regularly involve them in the process of collecting and donating unused or outgrown items to Goodwill. We do our best to only have objects in our home that fit one of two criteria: they must be either useful, beautiful, or both!
One day we might be able to pare down to an even more minimal lifestyle, but for now we are doing our best to keep unnecessary items to a minimum. We also talk to the kids a lot about how much more fulfilling it can be to make or work on projects for your home rather that to just go out and buy a piece of pre-made art or furniture. I love to see the kids at work on their own projects while we are working on creating something new for our home.
Q: What is your absolute favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about it all?
A: I love watching the kids grow and develop personalities, and I love to see their imaginations at work. They regularly row through the house on a pile of blankets talking about how they’re sailing down the river. They are such a breath of fresh air in a life that can otherwise become bogged down with so much trivial stress. I love that they remind me of what is truly important in life, and how vital it is to just BE sometimes. Without them I might spend the whole day glued to my computer, but I know that I’m infinitely happier if I take a break to push them on the swings in the afternoon sunshine.
It’s definitely a never-ending lifestyle to have three kids at home 24/7 and sometimes I long for an afternoon to myself, but overall I think I’m surprised by how much I just enjoy the company of my kids. They are my tiny sidekicks. We go everywhere and do everything together, even shopping and errands. They keep me company and keep me entertained. They have their trying moments, as I’m sure all kids do, but for the most part they are incredibly well behaved and considerate. I really have no idea what I would do without them, and lately I’ve been getting a bit nostalgic realizing that the big kids will be starting kindergarten in just a few short months. As cliche as it sounds, I cannot believe how quickly the last five years have flown by.
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…
A: …how brief the period of time is that your babies are really your babies. Being a mother was probably my biggest lifelong dream. I always looked up to my own mother and wanted to create a loving family of my own. I don’t think I ever realized quite how fleeting the period of time would be where the kids would really need me on a moment to moment basis. Now that my older kids will be starting school in the fall I feel like it’s my mission to rediscover who I am and what my passions are so that I’m not left stranded once my children are entrenched in lives of their own.
Well…that and I wish someone had told me that the oven in our house was so small… not that it would have dissuaded us from buying the house, but I love to bake and my sheet trays don’t fit in it. Someday I will get a giant oven and put it in our island!
This was wonderful, Katy. I can’t help but re-use a word from my introduction to describe how it seems you feel in your home: content. There may be something about living by the ocean that contributes to that calm, right?
What do you think? For those of you who live near water — or even mountains — do you believe that nature has an immediate effect on your state of being?