By Gabrielle. Photos by Ez Pudewa.
It’s been years since Marichelle and I first spoke about a home tour. Years! And by the time she contacted me again, there were two more daughters and a new, very cool shop added to her story. Isn’t it funny how time and babies fly?
For those of you who struggle with redefining your identity after adding children and all the responsibilities that arrive along with them to your life, Marichelle has a bit to say about her own experience. For her, it was integral to develop her professional life in order to enhance her personal life. She’s become a much happier mother by simultaneously becoming a very happy entrepreneur. You’ll adore her shop, adore her home, adore her wraparound porch, and I think you’ll fall a little in love with her story, too. Please enjoy it! Welcome – FINALLY! – Marichelle.
Q: Please introduce us to your family!
A: Hello! Thank you for having us! We are a family of five. My husband, Jonathan, and I have three daughters: Emma is four and a half, Lucy is two and a half, and Alice is nine months.
I was born in the Philippines and we came to the US when I was seven years old. I pretty much learned English by watching Romper Room and Sesame Street. I grew up in Queens, New York, and if you listen very closely and catch me off guard, you can still hear the Queens in me! Jonathan grew up in Stilton, a tiny village in England. Yes, it’s where Stilton cheese gets its name! The village even has a yearly cheese rolling event! We met at work, started dating, and shortly thereafter moved in together. He’s the smartest, funniest, charmiest of charmers, and tallest (6’4”) man I know!
Emma has a crazy sense of smell; she can always tell when I’ve been for coffee at our favorite bakery, Able Baker. Lucy is our spitfire. We knew we were going to have our hands full the moment she came into the world. I’ll never forget the moment when she was crowning and my OB started laughing because Lucy wasn’t fully out yet and she was already crying! Alice is the baby. She’s been a gem and is a perfect mix of her two older sisters, both physically and personality wise. She’s currently our human Swiffer since she hasn’t quite learned how to crawl yet and instead drags herself from place to place. I try to keep her in a onesie – more coverage that way!
Q: Where do you live, and how did your house become your home?
A: We currently live in a 100+ year old Victorian in Maplewood, a small town in New Jersey within commuting distance to Manhattan, NY. We realized we were outgrowing our previous house, and decided to put it on the market and try to find a home in the same neighborhood that would fit our needs better.
I remember feeling discouraged while we were house hunting. I was starting to get nervous and so many doubts began to set in: maybe we were never going to find the one, maybe we were being too picky, perhaps it was a bad decision to try and sell/buy house during this market? As a second-time home buyer, we knew exactly what we didn’t want, and we definitely didn’t want to settle.
Our realtor decided to show us this house on a whim. It was bigger than what we were looking for and above our price range. My husband knew that he was in trouble as soon as we parked in front of the house. The neighbors across the road gave us a welcoming wave as they sat outside on their porch swing. The house is perched on a slight hill, flocked by a huge pine tree on one side. Curb appeal, check! One look at the wrap-around porch and I knew that this was going to be our home. Lucky for us it was a buyer’s market, and with some good ol’ luck, we closed a few months later!
Q: You moved from the East Village to Jersey. How would you compare and contrast the two in terms of livability and raising a family?
A: We moved to Maplewood back in 2008, a couple of years before we had Emma. We knew we wanted to start a family, and our 500 sq. ft. fifth floor walk-up studio with no sink in the bathroom wasn’t going to cut it. We looked at a couple of spaces in the city, but quickly realized that our budget wasn’t going to get us much. Mentally, I think we had also had our fill of the fast-paced city life, and started to daydream of all the things we could do with a garden and backyard and more space to move around.
Moving to Jersey was never part of the plan. Our search began along the Hudson (Coldspring, Beacon etc.), but we kept running into the same issue; the commuting time to and from the city was proving to be longer than what we had in mind. My husband works long hours and adding another three or four hours door to door was definitely less than ideal. It wasn’t until my friend Melissa invited us over for dinner one night that I fell in love with the picturesque line of Victorian, Tudor, and Colonial homes, the quaint downtown, AND a Target, (whaaat!?!) in Maplewood. We closed on our first house less than a year later.
Q: What makes you love the place you live?
A: The transition from living in the city and moving to Maplewood was actually pretty easy. Almost everyone we met in our new town was originally from the city, either Manhattan or Brooklyn. It was pretty funny because it seemed like everyone had the same exact story! “We used to live in the city, then we moved to Brooklyn when we had our first baby and moved here when we were pregnant with our second.” Getting priced out of the city seems to be a common theme among Maplewood residents, and I guess the word is getting out.
One of my requirements when we were looking for a town to move to, was that it had to be walkable and have a strong sense of community. We are in walking distance to the train station and The Village, a small downtown area where there are a handful of independently run shops, restaurants, and even a small movie theater that often plays independent films. There are a ton of community events that take place in the main park (Green Day, Maplewoodstock, Easter Egg hunts, just to name a few).
We also have a community pool that’s a lifesaver during the hot summer months. The kids love going there, they get to see their friends from school, and there’s a baby pool perfect for the wee ones. The snack bar is even catered by one of my favorite local businesses, Freeman’s Fish Shop, whose lobster rolls are amazing. Another great thing during the summer are the weekly Farmer’s Markets which start popping up around June and run through early Fall. There’s an endless list of activities and places to go with the kids, like parks, playgrounds, art and dance classes, libraries, the zoo…it is definitely a town that caters to families with kids.
Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? Has it changed since you moved into a much larger home?
A: Comfort is key when it comes to decorating my home, sorta like a favorite pair of jeans. I want people to feel welcomed and at ease the moment they walk through our front door. I’m a shoes-off, feet up type of gal, so nothing we own is too precious. My kids know that they can romp around on our furniture.
With that said, we also teach them that those are our rules and when they’re in other people’s homes, they can’t just sit on coffee tables and put their feet up on couches, etc. I’ve also just recently discovered that I’m very partial to calming neutrals. It’s not something that I consciously set out to do, but looking through the photos I took for this feature as well as my Instagram feed for the shop, it’s safe to say that I’m definitely into neutrals!
I can’t say that my overall style has shifted very much, but there have definitely been some changes. For instance, prior to having our second, we only had a white sofa. Not really sure what I was thinking! This wasn’t an issue with Emma, since she never had the desire to use it as her blank canvas, unlike Lucy, who will use crayons and markers on just about everything except paper. So buying a sofa with washable slipcovers for the family room was a necessity. I’ve washed those things so many times that the piping seams are starting to rip. Oh, and Resolve stain remover is my new best friend.
Q: There’s enough space in your home for the girls to each have their own bedroom. Tell us why it’s important for you that they share.
A: We try to instill parts of our own childhoods into how we raise the girls. I shared a room with three other sisters when I was younger, and I remember the experience like it was yesterday. My husband also shared a room with his older brother.
We believe that it teaches our girls to share, and nothing beats the sound of giggles and laughter coming from their room minutes after I put them down for the night. I’m sure one day they’ll ask to be in separate rooms, but for now they’re enjoying it!
Q: Tell us about MEUS, and the story behind it! How do you carve out enough time to devote to your career?
A: MEUS, pronounced like muse, is an online lifestyle shop with a simple philosophy: Celebrate the small moments and surround yourself with things that make everyday living feel more special. We offer a full range of products: Home, Kitchen, Jewelry, Clothing (we recently started carrying Ace & Jig, my personal favorite!) and an ever-growing Kids section.
Running a shop has always been a dream of mine. I had plans to open up a shop back when we were still living in the city, but we made the decision to start a family first. Realistically, I knew that I couldn’t do and afford to do both at the same time. I never really looked at it as choosing one over the other; it was more like putting the shop idea on hold.
I was a blogger in a previous life, so discovering new and exciting designers and curation are things that I’ve always enjoyed doing. My blog focused on independent artists and designers and that passion for supporting small businesses really stuck with me, so a lot of the products we source for MEUS are independently made and produced in small batches.
I started working on the shop while I was still pregnant. The big aha moment was when I was talking to someone about my plans and they more or less told me that it wasn’t a good idea and that I shouldn’t do it. Just ask my husband what the fastest way to get me to do something is! Tell me that it’s impossible or that I can’t do it!
I launched the shop last November and we had a really good holiday season – better than what I was hoping for – and we continue to grow. Sometimes I still can’t believe that I took the plunge and I’m actually doing something that I really love.
Oh, time! There aren’t enough hours or days. I wish I had a solution, but unfortunately I haven’t figured out how to balance everything. I just take it day by day. If I don’t, I get overwhelmed with the gravity of everything that has to be done and I end up staring at my computer and accomplishing very little.
Logistically, I have a full-time nanny to help out with the girls during the week. Luckily my studio is located in our loft, so I get to work from home, which can also be a challenge at times. It was definitely difficult adjusting in the beginning, especially for Emma; it was hard for her to understand why she couldn’t come up and hang out with me. But now we’ve worked it out so that whenever possible, she gets to be my big helper. She loves attaching the Priority Mail stickers to the boxes, and it’s been a great bonding experience for us both. I try to finish up at 6:00 pm so that I can spend some time with the girls before tucking them in for the night.
Two things I’m desperately trying to figure out are my work days and hours. I feel like I’m constantly working. If I’m not in the studio, I’m on my phone answering emails or posting on Instagram. I’m trying to get better about minimizing my weekend work hours so that I can have a more balanced life. At the end of the day, I’m in a customer service focused business, and emails and social media play a huge part in the day to day, so it’s not something that I can completely cut off. So, the short answer is – I’m still working out how to balance working on the shop, being a mom and being the default parent. (You guys have to read this article!)
Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? Is there a development stage that’s long gone that you miss?
A: Having three little ones has definitely taught me how to be more flexible when it comes to home decorating. Most importantly, my definition of clean and tidy has certainly changed throughout the years. I can’t help but laugh when I catch myself doing the sniff test.
I also struggle with defining space in our home. While I do set some boundaries (ie. no eating chocolate on the white sofa!) and try to maintain just a tiny bit of space where I’m not in fear of spraining my ankle on an Elsa clip-on doll, sometimes it’s just not realistic and I remind myself that they’re only little once. Someone once told me that one day I’ll look at the marks on the furniture and walls and wonder how it went by so quickly.
As far as missing a developmental stage…I think I will miss their innocence the most. One day Emma asked me if girls can marry other girls. I said, “Sure! Some girls marry other girls.” And she replied, “Oh good, mommy. Because I want to marry Lucy so we can make a brother!” Priceless.
Q: If they could remember just one memory from this childhood home, what do you hope it would be?
A: I hope they remember Friday nights. Jonathan works long hours and by the time he gets home, the girls are usually asleep. Friday nights are special because they get to stay up and wait for daddy AND they always get a Friday night treat. The girls usually let him know what they would like before he leaves for work that morning. Lately it’s been Donuts for Ems (Emma) and M&Ms for Lolly (Lucy).
We also have a Dance Party before bed. I’m usually the DJ and in charge of turning the music on and off for the Freeze Dance game!
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…
A: I wish someone had told me that motherhood doesn’t have to be all or nothing, and that there isn’t anything inherently bad about wanting more for yourself in addition to being a mother.
After giving birth to Lucy, I really struggled. She was an incredibly colicky baby, and so much more challenging than Emma ever was. The difference really caught me by surprise after having such an easygoing first child. There were many moments in those early months when I didn’t think that I would make it through to the other side. It’s hard to describe, but in a way it began to feel like I was losing myself.
As a mom, it seems that you always think of yourself last; you eat last, get dressed last, brush your teeth last (if you actually remember to do it), and you put off personal priorities and self-interests without hesitation, because there are three little people who you love depending upon you, and just far too many things that need to be accomplished in a day. Maybe that’s why, when I was pregnant with Alice, I realized that I not only wanted but needed to go back to work for my own mental health and well-being.
As much as I love my girls and being their mom, it became clear to me that in order to be the best version of myself (and mom to my girls) that I can be, that I needed to actively invest in doing something for myself as well.
I’d be lying if I said that I don’t feel a small pang of guilt when one of my girls asks why I have to work. But at the end of the day, I know that in my case, I’m a better mom because of my decision to do so. Launching a business has been very fulfilling, and has not only given me a wonderful sense of accomplishment but also a greater confidence in myself. I am a happier and more focused person, and this has enriched every area of my life. I am working to set a positive example for my three girls and hope that through my actions I will foster a sense of entrepreneurship within them, and that they will grow up with the belief that if they work hard and have a little luck, that they can achieve anything.
Thank you so much for having me Gabrielle, it’s an honor to be on your lovely blog. This has been quite a therapeutic exercise! I’d also like to thank my dear friend Ez (who by the way, makes my kids’ favorite stuffed animals) for helping out with these photos. You’re a lifesaver!
Thank you, Marichelle! This was worth the wait. Congratulations on your shop and your sweet little life in Maplewood. And, Friends! She’s offering 15% off MEUS goodies, from today through Sunday, May 3, until midnight EST. Just use the promotional code designmom15 at checkout. (Must enter in promo code at checkout. 15% off entire purchase – offer cannot be applied to previous purchases or the purchase of gift cards and cannot be redeemed for cash or combined with any other offer.) Another thanks, Marichelle!
The satirical article about Default Parents was hilarious. Laughing at this: “Being the default parent, at least in my case, is not about the husband being an asshole – it’s that kids don’t contemplate proximity or sensibility in looking for help. They look for the default parent. Me. I’ve been in the shower and put my daughter’s necklace on. She walked right through my room, past her dad and went to me. True story. Even my husband was like, ‘Hello. I’m right here.’ I’ve taken exactly five showers in my house without being bothered by a child and his or her immediate need. I’ve blown up balloons in the shower, unknotted shoes, put on band-aids, signed report cards, and braided hair. I know…lock the door. I’m a dumbass. But they’d tunnel in. I’m sure of it.” Ha! Default Parent or not, I think the interrupted shower experience is something to which we can all relate, right?
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.