By Gabrielle. Photos by Vivian Johnson.
I promise I’ve got some wonderful homes sitting in chillier locales in the queue, but I’m giving you another California home and sunny interview to warm us all up today. Meet Shira Gill, a sweet mom and wife who turned her 25 house moves into a thriving and much-needed business that edits pretty much an entire life.
Are you hanging on tightly to too much? Do you dread opening your closet in the mornings, not to mention – shudder – your child’s over-crammed wardrobe? Do your afternoons careen into crazy town no matter how well you think you’ve prepared for the chaos? Call Shira. I bet she’s either experienced or seen and solved much worse!
Q: Tell us all about the family who lives here!
A: Hi there! My husband, Jordan, and I both grew up in the SF Bay area a mere ten minutes from each other. Although we had several friends in common, we never met. We met working at Camp Tawonga, a children’s environmental education summer camp near Yosemite, when we were 20 years old. It took several years for him to convince me to date him, probably because I was balancing a busy schedule of dating the wrong people and traveling as much as possible. He works as the director of development for a non-profit in San Francisco, and I run my own business helping busy families streamline their homes and simplify their lives.
I’m so relieved I came to my senses and married him because it was the best decision I ever made. Jordan and I are opposites in many ways, but truly compatible and complimentary. I am creative, energetic, and impatient, while Jordan is grounded, practical, and calm. I help to motivate him when he is feeling a little bit lazy, and he is one of the only people that can calm me down when my mind gets racing. I often get restless and crave adventure and, luckily for me, he is always happy to be along for the ride…
We have two beautiful, funny, strong-willed, rambunctious girls: Chloe is five and Emilie is three. Chloe started talking at nine months and has never stopped. Like, literally. Never. Stopped. She has a mind that runs a mile a minute and a strong sense of herself and how she wants things, so she keeps us on our toes. Emilie is an incredible artist, adventurer, and climber. She is heartbreakingly earnest, so sweet and affectionate, and never stops moving. They are a lively crew that loves singing and dancing around the dining room table, doing art, cooking, and building forts. A typical portrait of our family would include Jordan relaxing on the couch while the girls run in circles playing instruments and I rearrange the furniture.
Q: How did this house become your home?
A: It’s a crazy story, actually. We had been living in a rental in Oakland, which we loved but had outgrown. Emilie had a makeshift nursery in a large utility closet, and we had been pounding the pavement for almost two years trying to purchase our first home. The Bay Area is where we both grew up, and we wanted to stay close to our families, but it became increasingly frustrating to see how impossible it is to buy a home here!
We would drive around with the girls every Sunday, taking turns hopping out of the car to view houses and keeping the girls out of trouble. Every spot we considered received at least ten offers, all well over the asking price. Just when we were starting to give up hope, we got a call from my good friend, Mahnee. It went a little something like this:
Mahnee: “Hey, want to buy my house?”
Me: “Um, yes.”
It turned out that Mahnee and her family were being relocated abroad for a work opportunity and needed to sell their home right away. She didn’t want to work with agents or deal with the drama of stagers, painters, and people traipsing through her house, so they offered to sell the home as a private sale at a price we could afford. We signed papers a few weeks later over wine and cheese and salami.
Life can be full of surprises and unexpected good fortune. We bought the home shortly after my father died, and at the time I wasn’t feeling very hopeful about anything, much less ever finding a house to call our own after our fruitless searching. We closed escrow on my birthday and had a big party to celebrate a few months later. I owe a great deal of gratitude to my friend for changing the course of my life with her incredible act of generosity.
Q: Tell us why you love the place you live.
A: We live right in the heart of sunny Berkeley, California not far from where we both grew up. We are in a very central area, surrounded by amazing galleries, restaurants, farmers markets, yoga studios, and parks. We can walk a few blocks and be at a library, an ice cream parlor, a cafe, or even a climbing gym!
While it is sometimes challenging to confront living in a dense urban setting, I also feel proud that my children are growing up surrounded by so much grit, culture, and diversity. The Bay Area also offers the best weather year round and proximity to the ocean, the mountains, the forest, and the city…really there is something for everyone!
Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? What are the must-haves in your home that make you crazy happy every time you catch sight of them?
A: I would say streamlined, airy, and relaxed. I aspire towards the beauty and simplicity of Scandinavian style, and a real less is more approach. I love to create spaces that feel really comfortable and inviting, but also stylish.
My philosophy is to buy less, and to invest in high quality, thoughtful pieces that we will enjoy for years to come. Although we keep our home fairly minimal, I do love to shop at our amazing local boutiques and indulge in accessories for our space. We recently splurged on a set of Heath Ceramics, which look great in our open cabinets and make me happy every time I eat. (Little tip: we bought “seconds” from the factory in Sausalito and saved a boatload of money).
We also splurged on lighting, which I think is very important, dreamy bedding from Erica Tanov in Berkeley, and Turkish towels and cute dish clothes from Atomic Garden in Oakland. I like to invest in items like beautiful dinnerware, bedding, and towels because you’ll use and enjoy them every single day!
I also think constraints like time and money can be helpful when it comes to creative design. The house we bought was a challenge for me initially because it is a 1916 Craftsman with a ton of dark wood throughout; while certainly beautiful, it just didn’t feel like my style. Also, since we bought our home from a friend we needed to reinvent it to make it feel like our own.
We moved in ten days after we closed escrow and, in that time, we changed all of the lighting, painted the entire interior, and did a fast and furious kitchen remodel. We saved money by buying our own fixtures and hardware, and by removing all of the cabinet doors and spray-painting everything white instead of buying new cabinetry. We also replaced the black and green granite with inexpensive white subway tile, which brightened the room right up!
Q: You’ve moved over 25 times! Tell us what you’ve learned about making a new house a home.
A: Yes! Between being a child of multiple moves and divorces, and a former life working as an actress, I have become an expert mover. Whenever I move, I bring a moving kit stocked with the essentials: bottled water, energy bars and snacks, paper towels, a sponge, and cleaning supplies. The first thing I do when I arrive in a new space is make the bed and set up fresh towels and toiletries so I can collapse at the end of the day. Then, I unpack completely, breakdown boxes, and even hang art if I have energy. I also love to add a few personal touches like fresh flowers, framed pictures, favorite music, and a candle to feel instantly at home and cozy.
The real key to being able to relocate with ease is being fairly well edited to begin with. Of course it’s more challenging to be a minimalist with kids, but I do my best and make it a habit to edit and donate whenever new things come in.
A little trick is that I hang a tote in my closet and do little sweeps of the house that take no more than five minutes. I toss things in the bag like clothing my kids have outgrown and toys that are seldom touched. When the tote is full of donations, I drop off the goods at a local charity. Having less stuff has actually added a sense of great abundance, flexibility, and freedom to our lives. When we want to take a trip, we can just hop in the car and drive to LA with nothing more than a few bags of clothes and essentials!
Q: What inspires you in your career?
A: My difficult childhood probably fueled my desire to create calm, organized spaces. When I was eight, my parents had a bitter divorce and custody battle which triggered my Dad to become severely depressed, an illness he would struggle with on and off until his untimely death a few years ago. There has always been a great deal of heartache in my family, and I think having control over my environment has been a saving grace for me.
As a mother, I also feel there is a tremendous amount of consumer pressure to keep up with trends and buy all of the latest gear and gadgets. I like to provide an alternative, and firmly believe that what helps children thrive has everything to do with feeling loved and nurtured…and nothing to do with physical things. In my own life, I have seen my children play for hours with a cardboard box or a fort made out of pillows from the living room. I think having less inspires great creativity and imaginative play!
Additionally, I find inspiration from the wisdom, insights, and companionship from my close circle of friends, each of whom is figuring it out as they go in their own brilliant and colorful way, and from the stories and images of other mothers who share their lives and style on their blogs and websites. It can be far too easy to get competitive or judgmental, so I have recently launched a new series on my blog where women can share tips from their tool kits with other moms. We’re all trying to accomplish a bit of sanity and calm amid the chaos of kids and work and life, so why not support each other on the way?
Q: Tell us about Shira Gill Home.
A: I started my company to help women who were feeling overwhelmed in their homes and stressed in their lives. What sets me apart from traditional home organizers is that I really coach my clients to create a space that represents who they are and what they care about. We examine what they use and love, and clear out all of the excess clutter before organizing and styling. I’ve turned offices into nurseries and closets into offices and everything in between! Over the years, my business has grown to include spatial planning and design, project management, and style makeovers.
I love having an opportunity to help my clients transform their spaces, sometimes in as little as a single morning. It’s a terrific fit for me because it’s fast-paced, creative, and always full of interesting new people and locations. Clutter holds people back in all aspects of their lives, from finding a new job to finding love and interpersonal connection. In the past year, I have helped several people purge the remnants of past marriages and remake their spaces to meet their needs as single parents and as single people. I have helped people go from being ashamed of their spaces to hosting holiday meals for their extended families. I have worked with teenagers and their parents to create more functional rooms and study spaces. It has been hugely gratifying to witness personal transformations in my clients once the clutter is gone.
On a typical day, I drop my kids at school and work for three or four hours on site editing, organizing, and styling. I usually bring lunch back to my home office where I do my accounting, blogging, design research, and client calls. My office used to be a porch, and it’s the sunniest room in our house. I always keep it furnished with my favorite design books, fresh flowers, and a glass jug of water. It’s the only room in our house that feels like it’s just mine, so even though it’s where I work, it feels like a relaxing retreat.
I pick my kids up in the afternoon and we usually play for a bit or grab a treat, and then get right to cooking dinner since they go to bed super early. Sometimes the girls tag along with me when I go on donation runs or pick up supplies, and I’ll often head back to the office while my husband reads the girls their books before bed, but mainly I keep a nice separation between work and family time. I prefer it that way!
Q: What do you hope your daughters remember from this very moment in their childhoods in this very house? And what do you hope they conveniently forget?
A: I hope they remember feeling super safe and loved and free to be exactly who they are. I hope they remember being surrounded by an extended family of so many people who love and support them. I hope they remember holidays celebrations, family dinners, birthday parties, doing art on the patio, and running around singing and dancing their little heads off.
I hope they’ll remember their father’s raspberry pancake breakfasts on weekends and my homemade macaroni and cheese, and forget how exhausted we are right now and how often we give up and order Chinese take-out.
Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own girls?
A: How fun it is! My girls make me laugh harder than anyone, and they are truly my favorite companions. Someone told me when I was pregnant that motherhood would be harder than I ever could have imagined but also more rewarding, and I have found this to be true. Being a mother to girls also feels like a huge responsibility, and motivates me to be as brave, strong, and confident as possible so I can teach them by example. I also love the opportunity to eat ice cream cones and chicken tenders on a regular basis!
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…
A: That I would be able to create this little family of my dreams! Growing up as a child surrounded with a lot of struggle and brokenness, I sometimes wondered if that was destined to be my legacy, as well. I have to pinch myself now when I look around at my life, our sunny home, and our beautiful, happy children.
Being an adult has given me the freedom and opportunity to create the kind of home for my children that I always wanted for myself; one filled with love, beauty, warmth, joy, and humor.
Thank you, Shira! I happen to really love being around people who are great life editors – I always learn something just by being next to them! – so feel free to pop by and sit in my living room. I also adore how you overcame a tough childhood and turned it into the basis for a solution for yourself and for others. Well done. I mean that.
Friends, it’s a great point to splurge on the things we use every single day. Do you remember to do that, too? Sometimes I find myself hesitating because of a price tag or a pang about whether we really, really need such a lovely item…but usually I remember that life is too short to be surrounded by things that make you frown!