I love Lisa’s honesty and charm. She admits she’s committed to a tidy house — she says it’s a Southern hospitality thing, “A home should be picked up so it will feel warm and welcoming to guests.” But she also admits to hiding all the typical family mess behind closet and cabinet doors when she’s getting ready for a photoshoot. I can relate!
This is a lady who really loves her life and has a sense of humor about it all. I’m so happy to share her vivaciousness with you today. Welcome, Lisa!
We are the McDaniel family. If the walls of our Creole cottage could talk, they’d speak of dreams and challenges and hard work. They’d speak of life. And that life would be ours.
Beau is my best friend, business partner, and hubby of nineteen years. (Ya’ll, he’s still the man of my dreams!) Reece, 16, and Aidan Gray, 13, are our sweet, sweet sons, and Lorén is our dreamy-eyed seven-year old daughter. Although our home isn’t a palace or a castle, a princess definitely lives here. We call her Lorénderella!
I almost forgot to mention the newest addition to our family. Dexter is our moose-sized Maltese — 16 pounds! — who trots around our home with the patience of a saint. We often find him being strolled around the park in doll prams, dressed up in dresses, and carried around like a baby. The dear puppy takes it all in stride, as he and Lorén are best buds. I swear he hides angel wings beneath his white fur.
Fifteen years ago Beau, Reece, and I landed in the small town of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. Our stay here was intended to be temporary, a mere stepping stone on our way to a larger city with more to offer. Or so we mistakenly thought. We’d actually found our place in this great big world, only we didn’t know it at the time.
The Cajun culture, family values, slower pace of life, and small town hospitality of Breaux Bridge seeped into our souls and never left. It’s part of us now.
Our neighborhood is nestled along the banks of the Bayou Teche. There are majestic live oak trees (the kind you see in plantation photos), confetti-flowering crepe myrtles, and eight of the best neighbors we could ask for. Our neighborhood is very small, with only one way in and the same way out. Several nights a week there’s an impromptu baseball or football game played in the center park around which all nine homes are situated. The vibe is very much like Mayfield in Leave It To Beaver, and I love that!
The concept of our home isn’t just about a house, though. It’s the wider view that completes the picture — the community that nurtured us as newcomers and now embraces us as family.
Tourists come from all around the world to visit Breaux Bridge. We have a vibrant French culture, a thriving community of artists, gourmet Cajun cuisine, and the ever famous Crawfish Festival. Our way of life has attracted The Travel Channel, Food Network, and Discovery Channel because we take great pains to preserve the culture of our past, our heritage.
This home was a collaborative effort. I handled dreaming it up, and Beau handled building it. I won’t deny that being married to a builder does have a few perks.
This house was imagined in my mind a million times over, in a million different ways. We spent countless hours walking the streets of New Orleans, looking for ideas and inspiration. It was a schooling of sorts. Those weekends spent admiring old homes taught me more about architecture and design than I ever imagined possible.
I tinkered with my own elementary sketches and layouts for years, trying to make my hands create what my mind could see. It wasn’t working. And then one day, I enlisted the help of a dear friend/architect who helped me transform my ideas to actual house plans. Once those ideas landed on paper, I knew we’d gotten it right. It was the right house for our family.
But we still had a bit farther to go; Beau and I lived on a really tight budget. Money was a struggle to come by, and earning it the hard way taught us plenty of valuable lessons. One of the most important ones being, “Don’t skimp on your dreams. Live for them!”
And that’s what we did. We fantasized about growing our family, working together, and living in our forever home.
While our dreams were taking shape, we occupied a 1000-square foot, two bedroom, one bath cottage that was well over a century old. The house was full of charm, but drafty and required constant maintenance. It can’t be overlooked that we were bursting at the seams with two young boys and a new construction company run from home.
With its creaky floorboards and ornery demeanor, that little old house was priceless because it taught us to appreciate what we had at the time. It also taught us to nurture the integrity of historic architecture. It didn’t matter that the house we were working so hard to save often acted up like a cranky old goat. We’d correct one problem, only to have it replaced by five more. C’est la vie! Some things are simply worth fighting to save.
Lisa to Stephen the photographer: “Will your camera lens show the dust on that hutch?”
Stephen: “No, I’ll make sure it doesn’t.”
Lisa: “Okay. How about the fingerprints all over the coffee table?”
Stephen: “Nope. I’ll Photoshop the fingerprints if they show.”
Lisa: “Okay, good. How about the lines under my eyes? Can you get rid of those?”
Stephen: (Eye roll.)
Enter Lorén: “Mom, I can’t get to the cereal box because you’ve shoved everything that was dragging into the pantry again.”
Lisa: “You won’t technically starve to death for at least another couple of days, and that should to give me time to finish this photo shoot. Now, skeedaddle!”
Yep, that’s pretty much how the story went! If the photos look neat, all that’s outside the camera range would tell a different story!
No doubt about it, navigating the intersection of Style Street and Motherhood Boulevard is quite tricky. It often feels like riding down a dead end dirt road. On a unicycle. With a flat tire. Such is life with a house full of kids! But it’s a season, and I already find myself dreading the day it passes.
When I was a little girl, my mom and I would flip through the pages of the JC Penny catalog, looking at bedding sets and commenting on each and every picture. It was our thing. My sweet Southern mom taught me that a home should reflect the family blessed enough to live there, and yes, this reflection most certainly includes the kids. Bear in mind, this is the same woman who also told me that monkeys ought never be allowed to run the show or jump on beds, but those are other stories entirely.
Honestly, without the chaos of our little ones most of us would find our homes lacking something vital. But kids or no kids, I don’t believe in clutter. A neat house is a calm house. It welcomes us, as well as our guests, to come inside and find a bit peace.
Part of cherishing our children means teaching them that our home is hallowed ground for the family. It’s the place where our most meaningful memories are made. All that being said, this mama still wants a pretty house. Everyone I live for sleeps under this roof, so I’m not skimping on the chance to make our nest something beautiful. A home needs to make us feel, well… at home. At ease. It needs to balance utility and beauty seamlessly.
Since our home doubles as the hub for our business, it has to be comfortable, super-functional, and still look great enough to receive guests at a moment’s notice. Our kids have been taught that everything has a place, and as much as possible needs to be in its place before company arrives. That philosophy is one-half Southern hospitality, one-half good business practice.
If they’re not at school, the kids help us clean up before customers, subcontractors, or guests arrive. Everyone has a role, whether it’s washing dirty dishes, picking up whatever is dragging (Louisiana slang for anything left out of place), or taking out the trash; we all have jobs to do. Ingraining virtues like respect, hard work, and responsibility in our children is important.
We’re doing our best to teach our three kids the same values our parents taught us. And let me state for the record that if my kids think of us the way Beau and I think of our parents, our lives will have been worth every struggle, strife, and sacrifice we’ve ever made.
That it took us so many years to pull the trigger on building this house was actually a blessing in disguise. Waiting gave me plenty of time to weigh the balance between designing a home for our family and an office for our construction/design company. This house had to seriously function. I drew from my love affair with New Orleans architecture and integrated NOLA style at each turn where it was practical to do so.
Every single room and every single detail exists for a reason. It’s either there because we need it to function a certain way, or it’s there because we want it to make us feel a certain way. Take the home office, for instance. The table is used for nearly everything under the sun. It’s a workspace for everyday use, a conference table during meetings, a homework spot after school, an art table for my daughter, a designing table for me, and a luggage rack for overnight guests.
It should be noted that the armoire behind the table is actually a Murphy bed. And the chairs around the table get used as nightstands when the bed is down. They also double as extra seating when we scatter them around the house during parties and family get-togethers.
Absolutely nothing is in our home is there just because. Function is high on my list of priorities. A home should help us stay organized and cancel the hectic pace of the outside world. And from a design perspective, a home should surround us with beautiful pieces that make our everyday lives feel full and comforting. For me, it’s all about weighing the scales. Too much function dulls the artistic senses (think of an office cubicle). Too much form is uncomfortable and stuffy (think of an art museum). But balance the two, and you’ll create a peaceful place that sings to your spirit.
It’s pretty safe to say that when Mama feels peaceful, inspired, and organized…well, everyone else in the house tends to follow suit.
I’d love to tell you about the shop! This past February we stumbled across an old dame of a building in the little downtown district of Breaux Bridge. She was in desperate need of a good renovation, but Beau and I immediately fell in love with her charm. We could see that the ole gal had a lot of life left in her, and we wanted to be the ones to restore her former glory. So we took a leap of faith and bought our first commercial property. It suddenly felt like the time to grow our business. Our old dame has a new name: Antiquity. Hmm, that might be an oxymoron.
Needless to say, renovations are presently underway. We’ve all been working hard. Beau and the boys especially like demo days, where Lorén and I prefer saving antique boards and stacking salvage bricks. We’re on schedule to open Antiquity in August 2016. It will be a design center and retail storefront for Louisiana-styled home decor. I’m really excited about this new adventure!
Sweet story: We were window shopping on Magazine Street one Saturday afternoon a few months back, and Beau commented on how happy I seem every time I’m in New Orleans. He was right. I do love day tripping in New Orleans. So many unexpected color combinations, such fearless artistic license, so much culture and heritage interjected at every possible turn.
Beau squeezed my hand and said, “Babe, our new shop is going to bring the Big Easy to the Bayou!” My man is the most clever guy I know. With that offhand comment, my mission became crystal clear. I had to follow my passions. I had to blend my love of classical architecture with the vibrant flair of New Orleans, and bring this stylistic cocktail to our new shop in Breaux Bridge. It’s a tall order, but in my heart I know our little family is creating something special.
There are two elements I deem necessary to enjoyable living with kids. The first is storage, storage, and more storage. In my experience, every house needs storage specifically designed to suit the way a particular family lives. (This is such a snore of an answer, and I hate even saying it. But it’s so important!) Customizing storage to reduce clutter is one of the things I insist upon when designing closets and cabinetry. It’s crucially important to consider organization if you want your home to function efficiently.
The second element, mmmm…I’m not completely sure my honest answer is interview worthy, but I’m going for it anyway. Mama’s secret to enjoyable living with kids is a wine fridge! And if it rhymes, then it must be the right answer.
I love working with my husband. Oh my goodness, Beau is my favorite person in the world, and the notion that I get to be married to him still blows me away. He’s the kindest, most gentle and generous man I’ve ever known. And he’s a darn good builder! (Did I mention his beautiful blue eyes? They’re show-stoppers!)
I think the best part about working with him is that our personalities compliment one another. For example: I have this tendency to dream up design ideas that require a feat of engineering to accomplish. Beau isn’t intimidated by that at all. I dream it, and he makes it happen.
I mean seriously, how cool is that? The man can do anything he puts his mind to, and I admire that more than I can aptly express. He’s brilliant and quick-witted and always smiling. But he’s also really tender and loving and the absolute best father our kids could ask for. I’m so blessed to get to work with him every day. He certainly makes me better.
I wish I had listened when people told me to find my talents. I was that little girl who went through school admiring the talents of other children, but believing she had none of her own. It breaks my heart to think of that child, so secretly ashamed of herself. And for no good reason.
I pray our children will never know that feeling. In our family, we encourage the kids to be fearless with taking chances on themselves. We explain that there will be times in life when failure isn’t an option, it’s a guarantee. And that’s perfectly okay. Learning to fail (several times) is desirable. It’s how we discover what we’re truly meant to do with our lives. Getting back up builds character and teaches us to trust our own strength.
Beau and I nurture the creative spirits of our kids and encourage them to push the envelope a little. Our oldest son Reece is an actor and musician. Our middle son Aidan Gray is an athlete; he owns an entrepreneurial nature and a meticulously brilliant mind (like his Daddy’s). And our daughter Lorén is all things creative. She reads, writes, draws, dances, and sings. Give our oldest and youngest a stage and a spotlight and watch them shine! Give our middle one a chance to earn money, and watch him double the investment!
I’m grateful to my husband and children for growing me into the wife and mother I get to be. My little family has filled my life, my heart, and my home with more love and happiness than I ever imagined my soul capable of holding. They are my dreams come true.
Thank you, Lisa! You broke my heart when you talked about finding your own talents. However long it took, I’m glad you finally learned how amazing you are.
Friends, I have to share a bit of Lisa’s correspondence with me, just to give you more of an idea of her personality! “Our storefront is going to be classy and gaudy all at once! We’re Louisianans, after all. We’re spicy and colorful; we’re playful and polite; we’re a highly polished silver bowl sitting on top of a tattered old cypress table; we’re a decadent contradiction of terms. And we’re perfectly content with that.” Love the idea of being a decadent contradiction of terms, don’t you?
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! I should also mention, I have a goal to bring more diverse points of view to Design Mom this year. So if you don’t see yourself or your community reflected here, let’s make it happen — send in your details, or recommend a friend! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.