I like Becky Brown very much. Her design plans are fascinating, the fresh ideas she and her family have already executed in and around their home make me smile, and her interview reads like a welcome chat with a dear friend. But there’s more. Her style is seeped through with so much substance and pure love that it’s not hard to walk away from this tour feeling refreshed about so much more than her outrageously happy green homework table. Although that table is more than enough, isn’t it? Enjoy this gorgeous interview, friends! (And the photos are pretty, too!)
Q: Please introduce us to your family!
A: Hi. We hail from a small farming town in the central valley, California. Nick’s the Dad, I’m the Mom, Luke’s the first (7), Charlie’s the second (5), and we are currently waiting on our referral for another little person to join our family – all the way from Ethiopia. Nick’s a high school history teacher, assigned to freshman geography this year, which he likens to herding kittens. Hormonal irrational kittens! I’m a stay-at-home-home-schooling-screenwriting-two-business-running-mom. I’d like to say we’re normal, but then we’re not. We’re mellow and crazy at the same time, homebodies that love to travel, cinephiles obsessed with books, irreverently righteous…you get the idea. We love to home school, read, hang out, take long walks, go to jiu-jitsu, play the guitar in the living room, and we spend a lot of time cuddling.
Life has been tough around here the last few years as I’ve dealt with cancer and radiation damage, and it’s sort of turned our family into a little motley crew of survivors. But it’s been a good thing. We seize every opportunity now, don’t put up with a lot of drama, and have learned that we mean everything to each other. I can’t begin to describe the depth of emotion I have when I think about my family. They’re everything to me.
Q: Tell us how this house became your home.
A: So, Nick and I originally hail for the same neck of the woods. I moved away and studied and traveled and got on with life, but the fates conspired for me to end up back in my original hometown, falling in love with a boy from my childhood. I love when life works out that way.
We bought the house next door to his parents and had kids and waited for the day when we could work on our little tract home and make it work for a family. For all those years we had jokingly started planning our dream vacation home at the coast – made entirely of containers just like The Adriance House by Adam Kalkin. And after a quick geek-out with our architect and builder over our mutual love of container houses, an idea was born. We were going to marry the old with the new, cottage and industrial, traditional and green…all of it.
We’ll definitely have to update you, as the containers will be craned into place on the second floor of our house at the end of June. This will be one of the first container homes of its kind and after lots of planning and patience and dealing with local government, we are finally ready to move onto the next phase of our remodel. It’s still hard for me to believe this house is just going to double in size – poof! – just like that and our tiny little house will blow up and be ready for a full-grown family. Now if we could just hurry up the whole family building part!
What we love about container homes is the idea of reusing pre-engineered materials that are currently being left stacked in shipping yards all over the country. When utilized, it makes for cheaper and more efficient buildings. And while I appreciate modern design, it’s the cheap utilitarian in me that really attracts me to these projects; they just make sense.
Q: What do you gain from a home design like this?
I wouldn’t say it is the cheapest option. If we had torn down the existing structure and built a traditional stacked container home, it would have been way cheaper but that would probably have been a fight I would not have wanted to pick with our town. In our case, with the complication of tying together both traditional and experimental building processes, I would say it is comparable to stick building.
Additionally, there are some amazing people (our designer, engineer and custom builder) really vested in this project and what it will mean for our little town and its future growth. It would be really nice to prove that young people can “come home” to small town America and put their stamp on things, really defining who they are as a generation, as well as an individual. And trust me, we’re not a bunch of hipsters sitting around drinking pretentious lukewarm tea in our boldly unflattering thrift store finds and ninety dollar Tom’s as we push thick tortoise shell glasses back up our noses and preen on about the dramatic shift in environmental consumerism in the wake of a post-Gore apocalyptic fear cycle being rammed down our throats by the onslaught of social media (say that five times fast!)…okay, I own a pair of tortoise shell reading glasses and they’re huge – but don’t judge me.
Plus, I have a dream that this will be the future of low-income/student housing…that all these little projects will eventually lead to our cities and states opening up to the bigger container projects we’ve seen in Europe and Asia. This could be a more responsible and safer solution to our housing crisis. We’ll see. A girl can dream, and I will!
All joking aside, we’re just part of a bunch of thirty-somethings coming together to figure out where we fit in our town and seeing if we can push the envelope a bit and figure out who we are.
Q: Describe your neighborhood. What’s been the reaction to your construction and design plans from neighbors and friends?
A: We live on a tree-lined street in a neighborhood of well-built custom homes from the 40s and 50s that have had little to no updates. Of course, ours was the only home built by a tract home builder, so no cove ceilings, arches, or wood floors, or character of any kind! But our street has plenty. We have neighbors who look out for each other and truly care about our well-being, as we do theirs.
As far as the radical house design goes, everyone has been really supportive of our out-of-the-box approach, or at least they haven’t complained to our faces! We have, however, gotten “the look” when we explain what we’re doing. It’s a “those-crazy-hippies” look. But at the end of the day, we’ve steadily improved an older home in a neighborhood of homes with minimal updates. In addition, we’re beautifying and bettering our home in a town where homes are falling apart more than the economy is. We’re proud that we fought for this dream and we’re proud of what it will mean to our street, our neighbors, friends, and family. It’s just a breath of fresh air when people need it the most. And at least people will have something to talk about!
Q: You seem to have one of those homes that works hard. Storage under the kitchen table, surfaces like the green homework table that seem pretty indestructible, and rooms that seem to be able to handle real life messes and still be comfortable. Is function the most important to you?
Form and function are equally important in our house, mixed in with a good dose of “use what you got.” For instance, we had this IKEA table from early in our marriage that was incredibly practical and huge; we couldn’t see getting rid of it and we couldn’t see keeping it like it was in its relatively unfinished state. So we dragged it down to the local auto body shop and cajoled them into giving it a spray. We were all impressed with the results and having lived with it for the last six months, that thing can take a beating and still look all glossy and sassy at the end of the day.
Another trick that works for us is that every room has to have a basket or three for the kids’ crud. Also, every room has to have lots of room for books, bowls for keys and doodads, pillows, and art. Art is a big deal in this house, whether it’s my own photography, pieces we’ve picked up, or even the kid’s canvases and drawings. It’s everywhere.
Because we home school and I work from home, we are in the house all day, every day. And we live in it HARD. We are not easy on homes. We build forts, paint masterpieces, run obstacle courses, and then sew and scrapbook and paint and read and dance and play tag until we fall into our beds at night, so our house has to keep up with us. And as much as I love beautiful things, nothing is precious and everything must have a place to live.
Q: Where do you find decor and design inspiration? What do you do with giant ideas? Do you and your husband talk things over and decide on a direction, or is one the dreamer and the other the more practical?
A: Okay, I have to be honest: I wear the design pants in our house. Nick is generally supportive and just trusts me to make it work. But it is very important to me that I know everyone’s needs before I start to work on a room. I respect that everyone has to live here and everyone has to feel represented by the design of our home – especially the kids. That being said, I’ve had to fight really hard for almost every wall that had to get torn out of our great room. I think the idea of ripping out so many walls was overwhelming to my poor sweetheart, but I had a vision and I knew it had to be done.
As far as inspiration goes, I love blogs and magazines and digging into the vault in my head. I’ve been keeping ideas stored up for years and I finally have the canvas to work on in my own house. I try be aware of the idea of reusing and re-purposing and of sitting with an idea for a while.
I think we’ve gotten so used to this idea of perfection and immediacy, and it’s not practical or realistic. We use old things and work with what we’ve got, not only because we don’t have the finances to buy all new stuff, but because it takes time for a room and its needs to grow on you. Right now, we’re in the “design with what you got, because you don’t got more money” phase of life. Square footage is far more important to us at this point than the $6,000 restoration hardware sofa I dream about!
Q: Favorite DIYs in the house…
A: Well, there are the big things that I learned to do with this remodel, like laying floors and tiling. And then there are the little fun things, like blowing up pictures and spray painting everything in sight. So far, the silver bench has been a favorite DIY project. My in-laws picked up a great old picnic bench for free and dropped it off for us, but it was pretty beaten up and un-stainable.
So, one day I just dragged it outside and grabbed a can of chrome spray paint and went to town! Everyone thought I was crazy at the time., but once we dragged it inside, it was perfect. PERFECT. That big green table needed some competition and it got it. Plus, every time I look in the home school room I think, “Dang! There’s a silver bench in my house!”
Q: What’s your favorite room in the house? How do you spend your time there?
A: Hands down, the living room and kitchen is our favorite combo room so far. It was such a mess of walls and half walls and spindles before. And when we tore everything out, our small house suddenly lived big. Because we kept it simple with lots of white, minimal trim (don’t put too much lipstick on a pig, if you know what I mean!) and lots of open spaces, no one felt crowded.
It was tricky figuring out how to make the kitchen not feel too much like a kitchen since it was such a big part of the space, but we think the old wood shop station mellows things out and keeps it from feeling too modern. The open shelves and the art go a long way towards tying everything together. I love to watch old movies while I bake for the holidays and parties, and this is perfect for what I envisioned. Sometimes it’s hard to believe this is my house!
Q: Somewhat off the design topic, but your decision to home school has probably affected your design approach, hasn’t it? How did you decide to home school?
A: This is one of those topics I try to avoid, but because it’s you…here goes!
Here’s the deal. I want them to spend their days and years exploring the world through travel and books and art and people. It just didn’t seem like we could accomplish those things and have the family time that I believe we so desperately need these days if they were sitting in a classroom eight hours a day.
We have specific curriculum we have to get through (math, writing, reading) and it takes less than an hour most of the time. From there, we pick and choose what we are going to do. Sometimes we are unit based and study all things birds for a week, from science projects to art projects to service projects.
I’m also a big believer in kids getting their street smarts at an early age, so I make sure we spend a lot of time out of the house working on handling money, visiting house-bound church members, crossing streets, reading street signs, etc. This summer we’re doing a transportation unit and will spend a lot of time learning how use our local bus and train systems, so when they backpack through Europe or Asia one day they will have no fear of public transportation or reading a subway map.
I like to let the kids explore their own personal interests. Right now we are developing a cooking show. Since this is my background, I’m taking the opportunity to teach them all the ins and outs of producing and prepping a show, and eventually we will get to shooting, editing, and promoting. I like to do projects that show us process so that my kids will understand the layers to the world around them. So that when they see a movie or eat a meal at a restaurant or even watch our house being built, they understand the layers of planning and work that go into a final product.
Remodeling and home schooling at the same time is both good and bad. Good in that we are flexible and plan our days around whatever needs to be done on the house, and bad in that there are days where I just hand them a television remote and a bowl of popcorn and say, “Good luck and Godspeed…”
Q: What’s the greatest thing about living with kids?
A: The greatest thing about living with kids is that you learn to live in the moment. Kids aren’t thinking about what they’re doing later or how much they have left to do on their checklist. They are right here and right now. Their only checklist is this: play, play, sneak chocolate, play, and play some more. And while my job is to temper this desire a bit and teach them some basic life skills, it’s nice to be reminded that playing is important. Who knew at 34 I’d be playing nightly games of hide-and-go-seek in the dark all winter long? Life has become spontaneous and fun…which makes up for the copious amounts of vomit and poop that accompanies kids!
Q: Please finish the sentence: I really wish I had known…
A: …that flooring glue would NEVER-EVER-NOT-EVEN-WITH-A-WISH-FROM-A-GENIE-IN-A-BOTTLE come out of my clothes, my hair, off my skin, the walls, shoes, underwear…sigh.
And on a sappy note, I really wish I had known that my love for my guy and my kids…that it would fill in all the empty places inside of me. I wish I had known this kind of love was coming, because the surviving part of life would have been a lot easier.
Thank you so much, Becky! Your last line absolutely melted me. I can’t wait to see your finished home, so please stay in touch.
Was I right about this tour, friends? Don’t you feel a little bit like someone just handed you a sweet gift? Me, too. Tell me: What’s your favorite part about living with kids? Did you ever think it would be this much fun?