Today’s tour is a fun one to share the week before Christmas. Say hello to Kristen Gambaccini. Kristen is a mom to 8 — and they all live together in a smallish home in Medina, Ohio. Not only does Kristen have her Christmas decor on lock, she has also managed to make a lot of improvements, upgrades, and personal touches to her home on a tight teacher-salary-budget.
I love that Kristen is rank about saying this isn’t necessarily her “dream” home, but it works for her and her family’s needs, and she has done everything she can to make it reflect her own sense of style. Welcome, Kristen!
We are a family of ten living in a home originally built for a family of four. So, needless to say, space is a precious commodity around here! Sharing rooms and space is obviously a necessity for us, but I have to admit, I enjoy the closeness living in this “smallish” home gives us. We spend a lot of time together and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
My husband, Edward, is a 7th grade science teacher and sports coach here in our small town, Medina. I love Ohio. I can’t imagine living somewhere that doesn’t have the full four seasons. I appreciate each change of weather and the accompanying activities.
We moved to our Medina house in 2008 to be closer to Edward’s job and allow our children access to the amazing public school system. Medina has a wonderfully quaint downtown square and shopping district and truly is a beautiful place to live and raise a family. Everything is within walking distance of our neighborhood, and one of the biggest selling points of our home was the fact that a creek and park, complete with walking/hiking trails, disk golf and a playground, were literally right behind us. Practically in our backyard!
Oh, this gosh darn house. When we purchased it, I didn’t love it. Truth is, I didn’t even really like it. But, the real estate market was at an all-time low point, and it was the only home on the market that was within our budget and fit our needs. At the time, we had 4 children and 1 dog. We had no plans for more children (or pets). Little did we know, that a mere 10 years later, we would have another 4 children (equaling a total of 8), 2 dogs, 6 hens and a bunny!
We started with the more traditional updates. We slowly painted each room to our desired color, and updated rooms with second-hand (or third or fourth-hand) furniture pieces we were gifted from friends and loved ones. Living off of one income with a family our size means that our budget is tight. Really, really tight. Because we constantly have to pinch pennies, I cannot simply go to the store and buy decor items or furniture. I have had to think “outside the box” and, I am proud to say, I have become very proficient at the Art of Repurposing.
Luckily, I have always had a creative soul and an interest in decorating.
Having so many children to care for can be very tiring emotionally, physically and financially. I will forever be grateful to Edward for working so gosh darn hard all of these years to allow me the opportunity to stay at home with my babies. There were years he worked up to 12 different side jobs along with his teaching job to help us make ends meet. He also went to night school in order to earn his Masters Degree.
Those were very hard times for both our marriage and our family. There were weeks when we went days without seeing him, even though we lived in the same house. I have tried taking side jobs here and there to help supplement income, but my place has always been home. Edward and I figured out early on that it was much easier for him to leave the home than it was for me to. I am the organizer, the cleaner and the food-maker.
My husband is truly the hardest working person I have ever known and I am blessed to call him mine. He trusts me completely to raise our tribe in his absence and we trust him completely to take care of us. He has an unwavering faith in my mothering abilities even when I am sure I have completely failed, and he always makes me feel like I’m some sort of Super Hero Mom Rock Star. Which I am totally NOT!
When we were first married, I owned my own cottage bakery. I made custom cookies and cakes from my kitchen. It was the best of everything at the time. I could do something I loved, still be with my kids, not have to leave my house and make a bit of extra dough <— see what I did there?
Unfortunately, when we moved to Medina and our family grew (and grew), baking for customers just wasn’t in the cards for me any longer. It was taking up too much of my energy, pulling me away from the kids more often than I preferred, and was pretty hard on our crappy oven.
Ironically, baking is one of my most favorite things to do in the kitchen and yet I have never had a new stove. Our current stove, an avocado green vintage piece, was given to us for free by a dear friend. They had connections to a house that was in disarray and in the process of being “flipped”. She knew my dream of having a double oven and graciously offered us this big green honkin’ thing. Funny enough, it works better than any stove I have ever had.
If I had to choose one lesson I learned from owning my own business while also trying to be a Stay At Home Mom, it would be that, for me, being a Mom is my job. Everything else is just a hobby.
In the beginning, my mission was to change this house I hated into a home we love. Now that I feel I have succeeded in that endeavor, I want to share my story and my ideas with other homeowners who may be struggling with similar scenarios. I want to empower and inspire others to soulfully create and decorate a unique home.
I truly strive for my home to be welcoming to all and comfortable for everyone, and I try to create magical spaces for my kids to enjoy. I want them to remember their childhood home as one of wonder and fun — always changing but always warm.
I am a bit of a literary geek, so I tend to name our spaces after some of my favorite classic books. We have a “Neverland Corner” I created with architectural salvage pieces, and a handmade tent with lots of pillows. It’s a place for the kids to read, to cuddle and to escape into an imaginary world. (Currently, our Neverland Corner is transformed into an Enchanted Christmas Forest for the Holiday season.)
I like to think of our library as a collection worthy of a special place in “Narnia” — chock-full of books and family knick-knacks and tokens passed down from generations. Lanterns found at a garage sale are hung along the sides, with working battery operated candles. A vintage painter’s ladder turned library ladder, made with furniture casters, leather straps, and plumbing supplies, adorns the front of the wall of shelves.
I make weekly appearances on a local TV show — LIVE on Lakeside (WKYC) — to share short segments on ways to decorate and organize your home on a budget. Edward and I are proof that updates and improvements can most definitely be done while living practically paycheck to paycheck, as long as you have a game plan and a bit of patience.
One of our biggest interior DIY projects so far is our flooring. When we first moved in, the entire house was dirty carpet. We eventually pulled up all of the carpeting and replaced it with plywood pieces that we cut, sanded and painted to resemble a farmhouse planked wood floor. It was a long and tedious project, but the total cost was under $200 and the result was perfect and worth the work. We decided to keep the carpeting off of of the main steps and just painted the original wood. For me, the wood floors are SO much easier to keep clean than the carpet. This is an important factor for us because our floors get as much traffic as Grand Central Station.
The other thing I really love about having painted floors is being able to add my own unique hand-painted carpets and designs. I don’t have to worry about carpets shifting and moving and when I tire of the look, I just paint over it!
Speaking of paint, almost all of our paint, inside and out, has been purchased from the “Oops” section of our hardware store. The Oops paint is simply a bucket of paint that someone had color-mixed, that they didn’t like or that didn’t match their swatch. So, the store reduces the price significantly. Edward and I happily make the “wrong” color for one person the “right” color for us!
Let’s be real. Not all of our DIY’s have been successful and the house certainly isn’t “perfect” or our “dream home”. There always seems to be a toilet overflowing, the sunroom windows leak after a good rain and the garage is too small to fit our over-sized 15 passenger vehicle. (And even if we did have a smaller van, the bicycles, balls, toys, shoe lockers and tools would still take up all the garage space).
Edward and I have learned a lot about home improvement on the fly, and have had many trials and many, many failures. There’s been a lot of tears, a few curse words, some major arguments and a whole bunch of of laughs. Creating this home together has most definitely brought us much closer.
My talented, jack-of-all-trades husband also built our front porch 4 summers ago. It has been one of the best exterior renovations we have completed thus far. Throughout the spring, summer, and fall, the porch really gives us an extra living space. It’s so wonderful to sit outside and watch our little ones and not-so-little ones play and ride bikes around our quiet cul-de-sac street.
With the addition of our huge garden, frog pond, and chicken run, Edward and I have created an urban homestead of sorts, that utilizes our backyard and fits our unique family and fun lifestyle.
I am a homebody. I love to just be home and find such joy in creating rooms and personalized areas that make my family happy to stay here with me. But, Edward has always been an outdoorsy type. He’s a true camper and backpacker. He has passed on his love for this favorite past-time to our children. I too find beauty in nature and enjoy being places with my crew that have no wi-fi and limited electronic use.
So, we camp!
We have a second-hand travel trailer that is our home-away-from-home on wheels. Last spring I gave the outside of our camper a bit of a face lift, and we love the compliments we receive while we are traveling. We tend to really stick out at the campgrounds with our painted camper and loads of kids and we don’t mind one bit! Like everything else we have, our camper isn’t new and shiny, but we have made it our own and we adore it.
Edward is planning a HUGE trip out West this coming summer. Pray for me and Lord grant me a whole lotta’ patience!!
Edward and I are constantly amazed by our children. They are each uniquely and wonderfully made. Austin is 19, Santo 13, Callie 12, Nicky 10, Matty 8, Maggie Mae 6, Rosie 3 and Bash is 18 months.
We don’t participate in typical preschool as the cost is astronomical, and I can do the school work here at home with the kiddos. Plus, with all these siblings, they most definitely get the socialization aspect here at our house! So, I get to enjoy the early years with my young ones to the fullest.
It’s wonderful, but makes the transition to Kindergarten that much harder for this Mama. Our oldest, Austin, currently still lives at home (thank goodness!) and commutes to college. But, I know the time is nearing when he will leave our little nest. Although I know he is ready to be independent, and I have the peace of mind knowing he is mature enough to live on his own, the thought of all of my children not being under the same roof hurts my heart.
This is definitely a season of motherhood that I am not looking forward to. Ugh. Can’t we all just stay here in our “smallish” home and live here together forever?
Thank you, Kristen!
My favorite photo in this tour is the one towards the end that is shot from above, with Kristen in a workspace drinking coffee. Her overalls are paint-spattered, there seems to be a few projects in process surrounding her, and she is deep in thought. No doubt thinking of the next project in the house, or pondering how to help her happy little crew continue to thrive. What an admirable way to live and work.
It is easy to get caught up in wanting our houses to look like a photograph from magazine when often the attitude of taking what you’ve got and making it a place you love is so much more realistic.
I also really love the idea of creating a little “magic” at home. Kristen’s “Neverland Corner” sounds so charming — comfy and cozy and full of treasures and great books that the kids can stumble across and “discover.” I’m sure with Kristen’s love of books there are a lot of great titles on those shelves, making it a sure thing that the kids will come across something worth reading.
What things do you do to bring a sense of magic and discovery into your home? How do you encourage your kids to read or watch or experience the things you loved as a child?
Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org