I always have such admiration for parents who manage to work from home and run a successful business. I sometimes feel like I can barely get the laundry folded and put away with kids underfoot, let alone do anything that requires deadlines and dealing with clients and billing. But today’s Living With Kids mom does just that. Susan is an interior designer and has 4 employees, a husband, and 3 kids all under the same roof. On top of that her home has tons of mid-century charm and has a really drop-dead gorgeous add on to make room for her growing business.
Come say hello to Susan!
I used to write a Mommy Blog, when my first two children were still in diapers and ‘Mom’ was my main job title and interior designing was a side gig. Like many new moms who stay home, I suffered from an identity crisis associated with putting one’s chosen profession on hold. So, I wrote — in part to document my children’s history, and in part to assert my place and value in the world as “just a mom.” I wrote; I volunteered for Habitat; I learned to cook slow and local. I needed to feel a part of something beyond the walls of our as-yet-unrenovated 60’s split level in Middle America.
Hours spent changing diapers, and pureeing seasonal vegetables, subsided over time (the days long, but the years short, just like my mothers’ friends had told me) to hours spent with friends and friends of friends who heard I could help re-conceive bedrooms and kitchens, color schemes and bad lighting. Today, from my home studio, I run Susan Yeley Interiors, while my husband, three children, their assorted friends, my staff of 4, and our little mascot Izzy, come and go and make life richer — if, sometimes, more chaotic.
During those long days/short years when the kids were small(er), I spent an inordinate amount of time in my (shhh: knock-off) Eames Womb chair, which, true to its name, is the perfect nursing chair. From that vantage point, I stared right at the load-bearing wall separating our kitchen from our living room.
Some history would be useful here. We bought this house back in 2005. I was 37 weeks pregnant. In one day, my husband and I closed the sale of our Lincoln Square condo in Chicago, hopped in a U-Haul, and drove 4 hours south — barely making it to close on this half-century-old house in Bloomington, Indiana. We had grown up in the area, met as students at IU, and moved to Chicago. Some years later, in a decision made in a long winding line for a rollercoaster one August, we decided to opt for having children young(ish) and seeing the world old(ish). We decided: we’d get pregnant, get Brian a job at IU, and move back to the only town we could see ourselves in in Indiana.
And so, just weeks before the birth of our first daughter, we moved into what is still our home today, in a dense older neighborhood about two miles from the Indiana University campus. The previous owners (there have only been two) had done us the service of giving us an almost-blank slate inside — tearing out carpet and painting the walls crisp white. And outside, planting a thriving wildflower garden in front and a luscious vegetable garden in back. (A garden that now I wish I had hired out to have someone else take care of. I hate landscaping. I have no time to ensure that living things other than my children thrive.)
One of the brokers at the closing had spent her childhood visiting her grandparents in this house, and recounted to us stories of Thanksgiving gatherings while we signed. It’s a small town, Bloomington. We were back home in Indiana.
The first project kept me from twiddling my thumbs in the last week before Anna was born. Wood floors and drywall replaced vinyl, carpet and paneling in the family room — a low ceiling’d room on a concrete slab — and we shifted the orientation of the space by ripping out a closet and replacing it with a place for a tv and the book collection I can’t seem to purge. (The Fiction section is in the Family Room, alphabetized by author’s last name.)
It was from this room, in the week after Anna arrived in late August, 2005, that I watched the rain and wind for days, thinking of the mamas and newborns in New Orleans evacuating or, worse, stuck in Hurricane Katrina.
Just a year and a half later, Simon came along, and a few years after that, Liza. Somewhere in that blur, we realized we liked town-living and gave up the vague thought we had harbored of moving out to a piece of land and building ourselves the Farnsworth House of South Central Indiana.
We bloomed where we were planted. We replaced windows, not just upgrading them but enlarging and adding additional, to let more light in; we swapped out the white aluminum siding for charcoal-stained cedar; we added a screen porch and deck. Still, in 2011, I found myself sitting in the [knock-off; sigh] Eames chair in the living room nursing Liza, and I knew that wall between kitchen and living room had to come down.
Down it came, soon enough. In 2011, we embarked on our first major renovation of the house, transforming that main floor, so typical to split-levels in our town, from a closed-off kitchen and not-often-used dining and living room, into an open and warm family center. We busted the ceiling up into the attic and opened the back wall up for windows, from which I still watch kids swing in the backyard while I do dishes. I wanted quartz countertops and a built-in buffet and six skylights; we settled for laminate, no built-in, and two skylights, “for now.” It hasn’t dampened our enjoyment and use of the room.
By 2014 it was clear we needed more space. Four bedrooms and 1½ baths weren’t cutting it for our family as well as the growing business. We shopped around but were loath to move into another house after we had made so many changes we loved, or to another neighborhood when our neighbors were the rock-solid type you didn’t leave behind lightly. I didn’t want to work outside the home, as I was still the Mom. The kids were home, often with friends, after school and on days off. It didn’t make sense for me to move the business off-site.
In 2016 we broke ground on a studio and ensuite bath addition, the same week our family traveled to Guatemala on a service mission where we were confronted with poverty unlike any we had seen before. The irony was not lost on us. We are, and know we are, incredibly blessed. It helps to have that perspective during construction projects. Things will go awry; the finished floor gets scratched; the HVAC vent lands in an unfortunate place and can’t be relocated. First world problems. First world blessings.
The space allows me to work from home and keep an eye on the goings on around me. And I am grateful for that.
I love that my kids are growing up seeing their mother as a Person, who has an identity separate from them, and who holds value in both our family and the larger world. That has to be the root of feminism, doesn’t it? My son and my daughters see, every day, a woman who, like their father, has successfully carved out a space for herself in their family and world based on her talents and abilities, not on a prescribed role or cultural requirement.
I also love that my kids get to grow up in a home in which the adults don’t just have jobs, but love the work they do; that’s rare, and it’s a far more powerful lesson when it’s a living example than just something they are told they should strive for. Because I work at home, with the kids just in the next room (if not at my elbow, or actually in my chair with me), they get to experience the process of my work — when there’s a success or a screw up, when I’m totally absorbed and when I’m not at all motivated, when I’m interacting with employees or clients in the studio. It’s a great window for them into what adulting is.
What I dislike: the constant multi-tasking, having to steal time from one important thing in order to accomplish another important thing. The devil on my shoulder that reminds me of what I’m not doing, just when I’m trying to settle in and be present.
I always want my kids to remember what it looks like and how wonderful it is to love one’s work. But I hope they forget the times I snapped at them because I was trying to do too many things; the hacked, uninspired dinners; and the vision of me sitting at a computer.
That being said, kids have a way of forcing you to get over yourself and think about others and the world around you. That’s my favorite thing. I will miss their humor and unexpected insights, though I hope that I’ll still be privy to both even when they aren’t living with us!
As we were getting ready one morning in our new bathroom a few weeks ago, my husband said, “This project was way too expensive.” I’ve heard that, er, a couple times before. He spit out his toothpaste and went on: “But I must say, it makes a real difference in how I feel in the morning getting ready in this space.”
There it was. For a gal who ditched a PhD program in Philosophy and Religion to go to design school, a stay-at-home mom who a decade ago was trying so hard to claim a useful and relevant identity for herself; that’s all I need. To hear someone for whom I’ve designed a space say that the changes have made a real, genuine difference in his life. What’s even better than that? Knowing that the people those changes have affected so deeply, are your people.
This is such an amazing home. I love the addition and that bold stripe of color! There’s something about the way the addition is made to stand out, rather than trying to fade away as if it was a part of the original house. It gives it so much personality.
And I love what Susan said about recognizing that the things we worry about in our homes, the spots that aren’t perfect, are really blessings in disguise. “First world problems. First world blessings.” What a great perspective. So many of us are so lucky to have a roof over our heads that worrying about the finish on the hardware in the guest bathroom, or the peeling linoleum in the laundry room, seems sort of silly.
What are the “first world blessings” in your home? Those areas that at first really bugged you but now you cherish? Are there areas that you originally thought you’d change but now you’re just living with them, even thriving with them?
Family Room Sofa
Studio Coffee Tables
Carpet Tile Rug
Photo Credits to Susan and to Gina Rogers. You can follow Susan at her interior design business here or on Instagram. Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram. Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.