By Gabrielle. Photographed by Sarah Hebenstreit.
I really enjoyed this tour! From Lorena’s fond memories about her remodel’s architect to the serendipitous way they found their home, and on to her style of self-care (Spoiler: She’s working on it!), there are a lot of interesting ideas and heaps of optimism here.
But maybe the most wonderful is Lorena’s story about coming to the US from Buenos Aires. The timing of it all had to have been a test, but I love hearing that it made her fall in love with America even harder.
And just in case you need more incentive to take a peek into Lorena’s home, one of my favorite photographers — Sarah Hebenstreit of Modern Kids — jumped in to shoot the images. We’ve worked together a lot, and I always find her eye to be fresh and inspiring.
Welcome, Lorena! I’m so glad you’re here!
I’m a designer, entrepreneur and mom living in San Francisco, CA. I own a eco-friendly toy company called Petit Collage, and I also own a store with my husband called Mapamundi Kids. I was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and moved to New York City in 2001. I had a design firm in my hometown and closed everything and packed up, arriving in NYC two weeks before September 11th, which made for a very special time to get to know the city and get settled.
You are probably wondering if I thought about moving back home after such tragedy, but I didn’t. I was very certain about starting a life in the States. I found my first job as a designer in the classifieds section of the New York Times. I kept a notebook with all the little square ads pasted with tape and my notes next to them. I stayed in that job and left as the company Creative Director five years later. That opportunity shaped my career.
While in New York, I reconnected with an old family friend who is now my husband of 11 years. Seven years ago our daughter was born.
We love San Francisco and have a pretty great life here.
We live in Noe Valley, San Francisco. We were super lucky we bought our house eight years ago when the market was weak, and also when my husband had a corporate job! The area has changed dramatically — a bit too much for our taste as we are losing diversity. If we were faced with this today, there would be absolutely no way we could live in the neighborhood as two small business owners.
Noe Valley is many times overlooked in the tourist circuit, but it’s an interesting place, nestled between the Castro and the Mission, where my office is, and with great transportation downtown. It’s also only blocks away to one of my favorite places: Dolores Park.
The way we found our home is a funny story. We lived in a small condo in our same neighborhood that we’d purchased when we sold our little Brooklyn condo. Predictably, we wanted more space when I got pregnant; for the baby but also for the rotating grandparents we expected to visit from Argentina!
It was mid 2008 and the market was crashing and we couldn’t find the right place so we stopped bothering. We went to Mexico for a babymoon and didn’t have a very good time, due to a variety of travel issues. To complicate things, a tornado warning was coming, and we cut our vacation short for the first time in our life.
That weekend when we got back, while we supposed to be in Mexico, my husband found our house on Craigslist. It wasn’t staged, and hadn’t likely been touched since the 50’s! We went to see it and placed an offer right away. We fell in love with those windows looking at the backyard, and we could see past the grandma furniture with purple flowers.
Our offer came lower than a developer’s offer, but we wrote a letter to the homeowner who had lived there for 50 years and we told her we wanted to raise our family there, how I envisioned my kid climbing the Magnolia trees in the backyard…and it worked!
We’ve now enjoyed the house for eight years, and I wouldn’t change a thing.
The remodel was great because we found an architect, Christi Azevedo, that was amazing to work with, super talented, and real with the budget. Maybe most importantly, she worked some sort of spell where magically my husband and I would agree on every decision. It was a fantastic experience to witness someone really be good at what they do, especially if you get to enjoy the results every day.
The house needed some untangling in the circulation and makeover on some rooms, but most of the bones remain intact. What was nice about the process is that my husband and I are designers, and the architect just knew where to trace the line; the division of labor worked wonderfully. She let us run with color, tile, finishings, and she was there for the big picture and the structure. It was such a good partnership.
The other good remodeling decision is that we first did the kitchen on our own, with Ikea cabinets and on a budget. When my daughter was born, we tackled other areas. Not doing everything at once saved my mental sanity.
My style has always been modern, minimal, Scandinavian and mid-century inspired. However, as I’m turning 40 this month, I notice a dash of bohemian filtering through. Maybe I’m becoming more relaxed! I think the minimal but comfortable philosophy really sits well with how I want to raise my child; I want her to always have a space to draw, to read, to gather.
We’ve never had a TV, although now the battle is to fight the electronics that replace it! A lot of our memories and family time are in the backyard, we all enjoy it so much.
I only have one daughter so our mess in somewhat manageable. My non-negotiable to living with my family the best way possible has been to get some sort of household help periodically. Things falling by the wayside are literally my current problem. I haven’t been strict enough about my crafty kid picking up after herself and I regret that.
One thing I notice once and again is how important it is to define a space where things live, to tame clutter. Lately we are flooded with school artwork, and I noticed there is no designated place for it. Hence, it is everywhere. Designing spaces and systems for clutter control is my life mission!
Petit Collage began almost ten years ago. One of my best friends was pregnant, and I made a super quick owl family collage before heading out to dinner with her. I had never done anything like that, although I was an avid paper collector. I enjoyed the process very much, and after a sleepless night I decided to make a few collages on square pieces of wood. I took them to a few stores, and all of them placed orders right away.
Then the collage aesthetic lent itself to posters, prints, mobiles, and other décor. At the time there were not that many modern options for the nursery. About three years ago, we launched our first nine toys. Fast forward, and we now offer more than 100!
The loveliest thing about it is the people I’ve met along the way. I have the best team, I have found incredible resources and mentors in the community, and I have made great friends in the industry. It’s the new ideas and the opportunities that make me come back every day. The potential of the blank page. I think the learning is also a big hook. I’m a professional question asker! (Is that even a thing?)
As for what’s next, I’m excited about our own new products as well as our collaborations. We recently launched a line of 25 rugs with Jaipur, and we have another collection in the making. Licensing is another part of our business where I love to learn new things; designing for fabrics or rugs is always very different.
My mentor always said, “You can have it all if you don’t do it all.” I believe that. I only have a small role in Mapamundi Kids, and I’m not involved on a daily basis. I never work at nights and rarely work a weekend unless I’m in a trade show.
I decided to have our company less profitable at the beginning and hire the right employee instead. I’m not the person who puts kids to bed and starts working. My big secret is sleep! Many nights, I go to sleep as early as my kid.
Another good idea we adopted a couple of years ago is Friday date nights. It could be going to eat tacos or a movie or something more special, but it made a world of difference in our relationship. This become even more important now that we started Mapamundi Kids together; all conversations are about the kid or the store, so date nights are a great moment to connect beyond all that.
As a parent, I wish I was a bit more strict. I also wish I would take care of myself a bit more. You know, I haven’t exercised since my daughter was born! It’s so hard for moms to have me-time without guilt, and I’m totally in that boat.
I love the daily dose of silliness that keeps everything in perspective, the cuddles at bedtime, reading books snuggled on the sofa, the pancakes on Sunday morning…just living in the moment, worrying less, and enjoying more!
I wish someone had told me that while you worry about one thing, find help, and put together a plan, the issue may have already changed on its own!
Kids are so fast. Some things may take care of themselves and kids will outgrow it. I wish I’d known sooner it’s not necessary to be worried and proactive about every little thing.
Such good advice, Lorena! Even the most worrisome moments have the potential to work themselves out over time with lots of patience. I only wish those moments would come with an alert! Like, “This is one of those no-need-to-worry-about-it times! Go back to bed and stop obsessing!”
And I think we all love a good date night, right? I like how regular Lorena and her husband schedule it. Are you the same way? Or do your kids’ schedules interfere? Any ideas for alternative date nights when you just can’t get away from everyone else’s calendars? You know I love your ideas.
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.