One of my favorite qualities in a friend is the ability to find happiness. No matter how much rain falls, she waits happily for the rainbow. No matter how much trash piles up around her, she spots the treasure. No matter how much chaos fills her life, she always seems to keep calm. I imagine Sarah would make the perfect friend.
When she asked if my readers might like to see what it’s honestly like living with kids during a major home renovation, I immediately said yes. And when she sent a photograph of her husband working on her home’s electrical while holding their daughter, I gulped. Twice! But she has reminded me of a few important parenting ideals, as well as a few unforgettable redecorating with kids warnings, all while making me smile throughout her entire interview. I’d like you to meet my new friend, Sarah. Enjoy the tour!
Q: Your sweet family, as seen on your blog header, is adorable!
A: Our family consists of 4.5 members; we only count the dog, Mollie, as a half-member since we’ve had kids! My husband Jay works for a specialized cable manufacturing company. Not TV cable, but cables that go on military aircraft. He is a regional sales manager, which means he travels a lot…making our renovations even more exciting!
The little people in our lives are Lula and Diesel. Lula is almost three and full of personality. Diesel is almost one and just about the sweetest, happiest little guy you’ll ever meet. They’re both the most flexible, adaptable kids, which makes our constant changes so much easier.
Q: Tell us the story of your house.
A: We live in the Midwest in ranch house alley. I love old homes. I don’t feel at home unless I’m in an old house. Our first two homes were old, but the third one we bought was brand new construction; Jay needed a break from fixing things, so I gave in. I was literally depressed for five years. I used to sit around and look at the thin new trim and fake wood doors and sulk. Seems petty, I know, but I was born to live in old houses.
So I finally talked Jay into finding another fixer upper. We decided on a budget and started looking. The house we’re in now was ugly and the layout was really bizarre! There was wallpaper everywhere, paneling, dark wood in too many places, and had an addition on the back that was anything but nice. But when we first saw it, we thought, “Potential!”
Jay and I are both visionaries. We can easily see what something can become and instantly get a vision for a place. Our house is still in progress, but it’s going to be amazing when it’s finished. I never want to leave, and even in the chaos, I’m always so happy to come home. It’s perfect for our family with lots of little spaces and little nooks for everything we need.
Q: There are some extensive renovations happening in your home! How does this disrupt your daily life?
A: Oddly, we’ve just learned to adapt and live with the chaos. One day there will be an entire set of kitchen cabinets sitting in the middle of the floor, and the next day they’re tucked away in a corner. We know there’s an end in sight, and that’s what we focus on. The kids are so used to the mess, that it’s just normal to them! And they always find fun things to do with our renovations, like put all of their toys in the new cabinets.
When it comes to things that must be done, like eating or doing the laundry, we just go with the flow! Sometimes I take our laundry to my mother-in-law’s house. We eat out a lot, and we just survive!
Q: How do you keep sane in such a mess and without a completed kitchen? Has it affected the family in terms of moods or stress levels?
A: This is a really good and important question, especially if someone is considering whether to renovate or not. We learned early on that there had to be at least one space in the house that was clean and free of clutter. A place where we could escape from whatever renovation was going on at the time. That place has changed occasionally and sometimes it doesn’t even exist, but we try really hard to make this happen. I also try to keep the kids’ rooms free from construction if possible for the same reason. I want them to have a haven from the mess.
It has been difficult at times, I’m not gonna lie! My husband is affected more than anyone else because he is doing most of the projects himself and has little time to work on the house. We also decided a while ago that if he is unmotivated to work, then he doesn’t work. If he wants to spend time with the kids instead of putting in a door, he spends time with the kids. That has kept everyone sane.
We also have someone cook for us three times a week. It is barely more expensive than if I was cooking, and it is definitely worth it considering the stress it reduces. Since my kitchen is usually the workshop and in disarray half the time, I can’t imagine trying to cook right now. We won’t do that forever, but it’s definitely worth it right now.
Q: What’s the one project that has taken longer than you thought it would, and has been the biggest disruption in your family’s life?
A: I honestly have given up on timelines! Things get done when they get done. I haven’t had hot water in my kitchen sink for months, but I gave up hoping it would get fixed long ago.
As far as biggest disruption, there were two times when I thought I might lose it. The first was when we discovered a major leak in our upstairs room. We were planning to turn it into the kids’ room before Diesel was born, which was quickly approaching. It’s a large space and would’ve been easy for them to share. Anyway, Lula was sleeping up there already and we’d started to renovate it. During a really heavy rain, we discovered several major leaks. I was very pregnant and very emotional. It was like mama bear came out all of a sudden. I was furious that my child was living in such conditions, and I wanted the problem fixed immediately! And it was. But it set back the other renovations significantly and was a major stress.
The other major disruption just happened recently. The entire back of the house, walls and ceilings, had new drywall installed and there were patches all throughout the house, including in Diesel’s room, that needed repair or to be finished. I had to keep the kids corralled for two weeks while all of that was going on. There was literally dust on every surface of my house. My kitchen was completely unusable. Diesel was really sick the entire time, and Jay was traveling one of those stressful two weeks. It was the worst time I’ve had since we moved here, but I knew it would come to an end. That was and will be the messiest part of the renovations. So we’re past that now!
Q: What advice would you give other home-owners attempting such renovations with small children? Especially in terms of safety and daily disruptions to nap-time, meals, or just simple routines that make a day easier. I have to tell you, I gasped when I saw your husband working on electrical while holding your daughter! Eek! What’s your trick to not freaking out all the time?
A: I laughed out loud when I read this question! I’m planning to create a checklist to determine if you are emotionally and mentality capable of handling renovations with small children! I imagine most people are not. Here’s my advice!
Be flexible and adaptable. If you are not that type of person, just don’t even think about it! We have a pack ‘n play and Diesel takes naps all over the house when necessary. The kids are so flexible and adaptable, which is a huge help and blessing. If your small kids are easily thrown off from small changes, do not renovate your house!
We do try to keep them on a schedule as far as sleeping and eating. We always eat at the table regardless of where the table is at, what’s on it, or what’s piled up around it! So we try to maintain some semblance of normalcy. I think that helps everyone.
As far as safety, we are careful and conscientious, but we don’t freak about anything. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve taken screws out of the kids’ hands or dug drywall or wood chips out of Diesel’s mouth! Lula was never a problem. She was so easy and still is, but Diesel is a different story. He literally puts everything in his mouth. We definitely have to watch him more. Thankfully he doesn’t swallow anything; he just rolls it around in his mouth! I know, I know, the mothers are gasping and shaking their heads.
But that’s exactly why I don’t help much with the renovations; I’m usually chasing my little monkeys around keeping them safe! Taking care of the kids and allowing Jay to work when he needs to, even if it’s an entire Saturday, is my contribution to the renovations. Even though the safety of our children is a high priority, our philosophy is to let the kids experience life…not protect them from it.
In general I think we worry about safety a little too much. Kids used to start apprenticeships with their fathers when they were five years old. We think they’re not capable of big things when they totally are. We would never put our children in serious danger, but the phrase live and learn definitely takes precedent in our house. Lula loves to help her dad and follows him around like a puppy unless he’s doing something loud. He takes her with him wherever he goes as much as possible: to the hardware store, out in the garage, to church to play drums or run sound. Think of all the lessons she’s learning and knowledge she’s gaining from all those experiences!
The kids are a part of almost every aspect of our lives. We don’t try to shuffle them away while construction is going on. They’re there and they’re a part of it. That just means we have to pay attention a little more. But honestly, they like to be a part of it all. I think all of this makes them more independent and responsible. I have great hopes for the way they’re going to turn out as adults because of all they’ve gotten to experience in our family.
Q: What spot in your home is currently your sanctuary?
A: As I mentioned earlier, this has been a really key element in surviving the renovations. Currently, our master suite is our sanctuary. We have a little still-unfinished office area where Jay and I both have our desks and computers. And our bedroom is big enough to have a sitting area with our TV. This is where we retreat to at the end of the day.
My favorite element is probably our gold vintage Chesterfield-style sofa. A friend of mine found it at The Salvation Army for $75. She cleaned it up and cherished it for a while. I frequently told her that if she ever wanted to get rid of it, I would happily take it off her hands. One day it became mine! It’s probably my favorite thing in the house. I’m also in love with my new tufted headboard. To paint or not to paint the trim? That’s the question!
Q: Tell us about your art studio. What do you make?
A: My studio is now located in the basement. It’s the perfect spot for it. I can make a mess without being in anyone’s way. Eventually the other side of this room will be another play area for the kids, so I’ll be able to work while they play.
I used to sew a lot and make baby and children’s clothing, tea cozies that you can still find in my Etsy shop, and other little things, but now it stores tons of unused fabric. This is also where I store my inventory for my online shop, Lula in London.
I still love to sew. I just don’t have much time for it anymore. Instead I buy and sell pretty things that other people sew! I’m very happy with what I’m doing right now, probably happier than I’ve ever been as far as a career goes. Now if I could just make money at it!
Q: Where do you find the most inspiration for your home and all the changes you’re making to it?
A: Pinterest! I think Pinterest is the best invention the Internet has ever seen. I also love Dwell magazine, and of course surfing blogs brings a lot of inspiration. I don’t like the norm, and it’s difficult when I find something really cool that an architect or designer created; we don’t always have the resources or know-how to recreate certain things. This is always frustrating to me. My mind is a huge playground, and it doesn’t always translate to the finished product. But I’ve been happy with the results of our home so far. It is definitely unique and definitely ours!
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish I had known…
A: I wish I had known how much I would love renovating homes when Jay and I first got married. We could have made a career out of it if we had started earlier, and we work so well together in this environment. It’s actually one of the few things we do together as a couple…besides eat sushi! It’s sort of our collective hobby.
Through it, I’ve learned not to hold too tightly to anything except your family and your beliefs. Nothing is permanent and that’s just fine. This house may always be a work in progress, it may never be completely finished, it may never be exactly how I want it to be, but that’s not the most important thing in life. It’s just a hobby. It’s so freeing to live with that in mind.
I wouldn’t really change anything. We’ve learned so much in the process, and I am content. Even in the chaos.
Thank you, Sarah! I want you to promise to send us photos of your finished kitchen as soon as it’s completed; your sink is amazing, even when filled with an unhappy little boy!
Friends, some of these Living With Kids posts are about so much more than a couch to covet or pretty pillows or how to hide toys from view, aren’t they? If you have a minute, I’d love to hear your absolute favorite take-away so far from the tours. What has affected your own style – design-wise or parenting-related – more than anything else? I can’t wait to hear!