Can you imagine starting a business with your 2 year old? And not only that, a thriving business? Well, that’s exactly what today’s Living With Kids family did. Ashley is an interior designer who began selling paintings she created with her 2.5 year old daughter. It’s such a charming story and a clever idea. And you’re not going to want to miss Ashley’s gorgeous home. It’s so full of personality, pattern and gorgeous, gorgeous color palettes.
Come say hello to Ashley and her lovely life.
Hello! I’m Ashley (30.) My husband Brandon is 31 and our daughter Nora is now 5.
Brandon and I met in 2005 at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, TN because we had some mutual friends. Think Xanga flirting, singing songs in competitions as codes about liking you, and a girl asking an older guy out using a LOT of balloons. We married in 2009 in Nashville, partially because it was halfway between his hometown of Raleigh, NC, and mine of Longview, TX. Since, we’ve been in Oklahoma City for his role as a Worship Leader at Oklahoma City First Church of the Nazarene.
We have one daughter, Nora, who is a perfect mix of Cindy Brady and Shirley Temple. She’s got more adults for friends than kids, twirls more than she walks, and never turned down a chance at a potty joke.
I remember the first time my younger brother visited us in Oklahoma City. He saw downtown, mentioned the pro basketball team, and we talked about the budding creative culture. He said, “Oh. So it’s a real city?” This place has thrived so much in the last 9 years that we’ve gotten to hang out like locals, and we’re all kinda nerdy-proud about the good stuff.
Clichés aside, there’s actually something for everybody. Do you like eating? Great! Me, too. We have 9 zillion local restaurants that are determined to make you feel the distance between how hipster you think you are and actually are. Do you like shopping for new clothes because you’ve been eating too much?! I’ve done that shop of shame, and can point you to some charming boutiques that aren’t too ostentatious. Jobs? Got ’em. Cheap housing? One of the nation’s leaders. Museums, memorials, lakes, antique malls, car shows, music venues, record stores, hobby groups, nearby geographical grandeur? Absolutely! Warby Parker show room? Done. I could go on, but isn’t that really the measure of the city?
This particular home is a 1958 ranch in an area of NW OKC named Belle Isle. With close proximity to downtown, the library, interstates, and <cough> Target, we’d found a truly happy place. The neighborhood itself is quiet, with folks that mainly stick to themselves. I’m guessing that the one neighbor who always had loud arguments in her driveway was the true outlier.
Also living on our street is Kevin, always calling to sell me his late mother’s original paintings, and then trying to hide that he is a smoker. Steve sells insurance. Chris and Christine just moved here from California. Brian, two houses down, never comes home, while the recluse who lives four houses the other way built the house and never left. Our favorites? Collin and Lori, because they’re just generally awesome people. She was a collegiate basketball player that got a Masters in Feminist Theology; he’s a State Rep now. For being roughly my age, they remind me how little I’ve done with my life.
The main drawback of the neighborhood? No other kids around, and the district zoned school kinda sucks. The appeal of the location is directed to young professionals, while much of the neighborhood is elderly enough to have been the only owner of these 60 year old homes. To be completely frank, and only slightly braggy about our thrifty merits, this 1700 sf 3/2/2 home with some updates was $142k in 2011. As I mentioned before, we are not mad at the housing market in OKC. Much additional progress has happened since we purchased, as well. Older homes just need love! And maintenance. And any spare elbow grease you can muster.
We’d rented a really unique home for the first two years of our marriage while Brandon was a college pastor, and after a couple months of online browsing + drive-by-dreaming, we asked to see this one. It was the first one we saw, and we made an offer that night. Making it our own is a never ending task!
The previous homeowners had done some really beautiful things that just wouldn’t work for us. An example: at the time of purchase, the front yard had a giant oak tree, planted years before the house was built. Because of the great shadow it cast, the entire front yard wouldn’t grow grass and had been tiered in multiple levels and covered in shade plants. It was exquisite! What’s wrong with that, you ask? The tree had a disease, and died. Then all the shade plants were completely exposed, so they died. Then we had a fancy tiered yard with just dirt in it. Ha! We spent days and weekends and years getting the yard leveled out so we could plant grass and decorative beds.
Oh and guess what? Similar thing in the back yard. GAH!
We repainted the exterior non-brick parts twice. On the inside, we’ve painted every room at least once, the light fixtures and hardware were updated, some appliances replaced… In this current market, paying attention to charm and school districts is key. Even if you don’t have children, it’ll matter for resale!
In order to make it feel like it suited our lifestyle, our first mission was to paint. Color is such an important defining factor for energy, and not to mention style, so it’s often where I begin. Granted, I’ve heard countless interior professionals say to not paint until you’ve lived in a space for a while, but I disagree completely. We’ve lived through both ways, and I’d rather repaint 4 times than live in the muck we moved into. Paint the walls with something that makes you happy, and change it if you need to do so! There’s only so much transition I can handle mentally before my left eye starts twitching.
After Round 1 of painting, the collecting of furniture began. I like to say that we’ve been blessed with hardly any budget, so our homes are always infinitely more interesting. That’s millennial pseudo-snobby for, “A lot of this was found on the side of the road or Craigslist and if you blink just right you won’t notice!”
It’s true though. The campaign desk was $15 and I painted it. The media center was $40 and my best friend and I almost lost it on the interstate on the way back because the door of her Nissan xTerra wouldn’t close. (Also, the guy we bought it from named his kid Eddie Vedder. So that’s interesting.) The bed and recliner were purchased when I was working as the Lead Home Stylist at our local West Elm and could use my discount. They’re likely the nicest things we’ll ever own until we can convince our daughter to be famous and we live off her wealth. #goals
Our biggest hang ups in this home often prove to be with thresholds of investment for return, which is still budget, in a sense. We never want to be house poor, and also don’t want to do such a major renovation that we wouldn’t see a return on, such as a kitchen remodel. I’ve mentally designed how I’d improve on that room more times than I can count, and then run the numbers. We’d never see it pay off. Because of this, we began to treat the kitchen like a renter might. Paint, hardware, and lighting made tremendous improvements, and then we left it alone. I still curse at that floor tile on a regular basis though, FYI.
Interiors as a career caught my eye in college once my roommate and I realized that dorms didn’t have to be bed-in-a-bags but could still be pulled together modestly. Then it was an internship. Then I used what I knew about spaces and design to plan our wedding. Then several other weddings. Then several client homes on the side.
While I was full-time working as a Montessori-trained nanny, my time off was devoted to client projects that keep my brain occupied and excited. In late 2014, I landed a role styling for West Elm, and by December 2015 had outgrown the capacity of their services, thus launching my own business.
I love, love, love parts of creative entrepreneurship: the hope, the passion, the excitement, the portfolio I’m building, the ability to constantly improve myself and my services when I see the need, building a reputation, making connections with other creatives, networking with small businesses, problem solving, and dreaming for a living. I’m less enthused by the number of times I’m required to admit and fix my mistakes (since the buck stops with me), and that I’ve yet to settle into patterns of income predictability.
I’ll admit with full candor that working alone is detrimental to my mental health + productivity + confidence. My truth is that I’ll weekly find myself fallen into traps of comparison, envy, and self-sabotage. The only remedy proven effective is support, lots of hugs, forcing myself to ask for help, and always watching more episodes of Wipeout. That can turn any grey sky around.
My art career is still in its infancy. It’s almost as if it were it a salad, it would not yet have spoiled. Creativity has defined my life’s interests, but certainly I felt intimidated ruthlessly by the effects of my paintbrush on a canvas.
Failure after failure throughout school pushed me from this pursuit. (In fact, if you told me you didn’t have some sort of creative trauma growing up, I’d be shocked! Didn’t we all?!) To be safe while still honoring some of my right brain, I majored in Business Marketing, attending a small Christian university in Nashville that presently did not offer even a drawing course. Once, I painted a small piece for my husband as an early anniversary present and begged him to hang it only in our bathroom so no one could see it.
Nearly a decade later, we had a 2.5-yr-old, and my younger sister had a new office that needed artwork. I conspired to make something for her together with my daughter, knowing fully that she couldn’t refuse something half-created by her niece. More on that later, but it was the secure spark that launched me into my artistry. That was March 2015.
I gauge every room that I enter and every piece of artwork I see as successful or not based on one guiding principle: the relationship of color within. Imagine you’re seeing a photo of a room, or a sunset, or a painting, or an outfit, okay? Continue imagining with me that the photo is still undefined, creating a soft blur to its entirety. Perhaps you’ve actually seen this effect when Pinterest is still loading a page of thumbnails. Well, when I see that blurry image, I can already tell you if I’m going to like it. A step further: I see real life environments in the same way, constantly examining that communication of energies relayed by color. Too sterile, too crazy- town, too expected or too provocative? All determined at the forefront by the color story!
Thus, this is where I begin every design project and also every painting. If your foundation is so impactful, and it starts out right, you can only improve upon it with texture, line, and composition. Then you have a symphony. Art and design are so intertwined that I can seldom separate them in my mind.
When Nora and I worked together on that first piece for my sister’s office, I enjoyed it much more than I’d anticipated. Get this — I didn’t despise the finished piece, either! What’s simply amazing is that after this single piece had been finished, I had an even more grand, more idiotic idea: to have an art show. In hindsight, yes, this was clinical. The definition of insane. And maybe that’s exactly the excitement and risk I needed to make it happen!
I pitched an art show and pop up shop to the management team at my West Elm, based on the piece Nora and I had made, hoping that it and the premise of a mother-daughter duo would be enough. Sure enough, in thirty days, we had thirty pieces ready, and we sold them all at that show.
[Note: this is the point in our broadcast where I should mention an attribute that my remodeling partner and I both exhibit and like to call “Unwavering Confidence.” It’s kinda a works-til-it-doesn’t-so-why-not thing.]
So, we had our first “Art Show Party” one week before Nora turned three. A month later, we had our next, and sold that whole show as a collection to a local university library. A handful of other shows that year… and so on.
While I have a background in many artistic pursuits, this medium really was entirely new to me. Rather, achieving anything on a canvas I would actually share with someone is new to me, as painting one has never ever remotely resembled the grandiose messy masterpiece I envisioned. My movements were too calculated, and the results lifeless, at least in the eyes of this perfectionist.
Nora, well, she’s a game-changer. Her approach is so free spirited and joyful, her brush moves so freely and without regret. She is the ying to my yang. As I learn, and open up to the process, I appreciate my work more, but NEVER would have branched out into this without the ambience she provides in each piece. Nothing is finished before she’s gotten her hands (and knees, and thighs?!) on it.
Our process is always cause for great question. Step 1. I toy around with color palettes that inspire me, trying to blend muted tones with saturated, to avoid a juvenile look. This could come from a rug, an outfit, a sunset, or nowhere. 2. I mix our colors, and let her choose her brush. 3. We attack the canvas simultaneously, painting around each other. Sometimes there is a plan, sometimes there is not. 4. We stop when Nora announces that it is finished, and declares some brilliantly ludicrous nonsense that becomes the name, which she immediately forgets. 5. I pick out more colors and we do it again.
The stress that accompanies? Well, that mainly has only come when she doesn’t want to paint. I’m not inclined to force this, because as her mother, the point isn’t the paint. It’s the connection. So I wait, or I have recently learned to paint on my own. It’s a novel thought, no?
Would you believe that I don’t like Pinterest? In my line(s) of work, it’s King, but I was a monumentally late adopter. At my best, I could say it’s because I already overflow with inspiration. At my worst, I’d have to admit that it’s because I’m incredibly ADHD, and can’t handle the amount of information surging towards me. I already harbor a never-ending list, and needn’t seek out additions.
I like design books, and actually first heard of Design Mom when the book was gifted to me. I like magazines. Views on Pinterest aside, I’ve got a few boards. What really, really gets me going is not visual though, interestingly enough. Only recently have I realized this. Perhaps because I am now so overstimulated and see countless magazine-level images a day, and follow artists who out-painted me when still in the womb, their images get a quick double tap and seldom a second thought. Instead, when designing a space and needing the bubbling-over of ideas, I start with the room at hand, examining the challenges to form and function. Often times, addressing the problem at its root begets the most clear route to a beautiful correction!
My deepest source of art inspiration comes from memories, letters of encouragement, and my awareness of gratitude. Just last month, I moved my office and studio to a new room in the house. I’d been saving a small box of things to go on a bulletin board for nearly two years, and finally now have that space. It nearly confused me when I opened it that not a single magazine ripping or similar was present. No beautiful photos of lofty aspirations. Instead, I opened the box to find the baby shower invitation I’d designed for my best friend, along with the thank you card she wrote me. A picture of my three younger siblings when they helped me move into my college dorm. The painting I did on paper when I learned to paint through my fears. My daughter’s sketches alongside the first time she wrote her name. A sliver of fabric from the tablecloths at our wedding.
I know many artists who thrive in the darkness and gore, but I am not one of them. My great abundance is clear when I’m remembering the fullness of my life, and creating out of that place.
My favorite memory of this home is not one that Nora will ever have, and that is of her birth. She came to us through a midwife-assisted planned home birth that could not have panned out more beautifully. Two days after her due date, I was loading the dishwasher when the contractions began. We went on a walk in the neighborhood, then came back to start the playlist, make brownies, light candles and brace for the long night ahead of us. Instead, only moments after the midwives arrived (I didn’t even make it to the arranged bed), Nora was born in the hallway after only five hours of labor. This night encompassed our feelings in this home: security, excitement, hard work, and great reward.
The hardest memories we had in this home are clouded by my depression and anxiety. There have been recent moments where I fear her childhood is looking much like mine, in that regard, and I mourn that. Here’s to hoping that the moments I’m all in for her are majestic, and that the moments I am not teach her great compassion for all.
My husband and I were telling stories of her funny moments today, each unknowingly sharing our favorite aspect of living with children. While Brandon can focus on his past, and I focus intently on preparing for the future, Nora is enamored with and completely fulfilled by this present moment. Her enthusiasm is bounding. Her appreciation is off the charts. Her smile couldn’t spread across her face any more than it is. That girl’s joy or sadness is entirely palpable, and devoted to in earnest. And what for? A popsicle. Hearing her favorite song on the radio. Getting to FaceTime with both sides of our families who live across the country. She is our constant reminder to be right here, right now, and not blink.
Simplicity is key. I recently read from Ann Voskamp that “Motherhood is a calling to come closer, not to be more.” That wrecked me. How can I resist the desire to be more, and instead just be with my family today? What if that’s what they need and I’m too busy being honed in on being bigger and better? My greatest regret would be to miss the mark there. I yearn for closeness that says we are all enough.
The loveliness of Ashley’s home is only outweighed by the beauty of her words. I’m in love with that idea of being closer instead of worrying about being more. Isn’t that what our kids will remember anyway? The closeness we shared with them and not how perfect our home was. And I am obsessed with Ashley’s art collection. It feels collected and curated.
Does anyone else feel inspired to get out the paints and canvas with your little ones and see what happens? Would you be able to let go and trust the process and see what they come up with? Or would you want want to make sure they were “doing it right” and keep control? Do you love the idea of having business where your kids are involved?
The recliner that wasn’t a compromise.
Add mod style and function to any space (without hardwiring!) with these inexpensive sconces.
Indestructible dining chairs that are cheap enough to buy the whole set.
The one dang toy that guests of all ages want to try out (though perhaps we just have weird friends).
You can check out more of Ashley’s work on her website or 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.