Living With Kids: Emily Coulter

Emily owns a flower shop. On Martha’s Vineyard. So of course I asked her about the Kennedy compound and other celebrity sightings, but she told me so much more about the island than I ever knew! Like it’s the poorest county in its state, but visited by the wealthiest people in the world. Amazing. And they have a way for local families to purchase property that they otherwise might not be able to afford. Genius.

Interested in hearing more from Emily? Oh, me too. Let’s do it.

Hi everyone! I’m Emily. My husband Ben and I both grew up on Martha’s Vineyard. Because he is five years older than me, we really didn’t know each other all that well growing up. After high school we both left the island; I spent four years getting a two-year degree in interior design, and my husband did a bit of world traveling. Soon after both of us returned home to the island, we ran into each at a local bar. Our re-acquaintance was sweet, less of a “Hi” and more like a “Heyyyyy!”

We were married less than two years later! Very quick.

It wasn’t long after I met Ben that I found out my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It was a horrible and challenging time. Through it, we learned that I carry the same gene she and my grandmother had, which gives us an extremely high risk of getting ovarian cancer; it’s weirdly powerful knowledge. I knew it would be important to have kids right away, so we did.

Our little Madeleine Somerby was born ten months after we were married, and our sweet Eloise May was born 22 months after that.

My girls are so loved. Madeleine is smart, emotional, and a total firecracker. She has an artistic mind and notices everything. Eloise was the quietest, sweetest, calmest baby. She’s now learning some tricks from her older sister on how you can get what you want if you’re sneaky and loud! She has the most vivid imagination and loves playing pretend with her stuffed animals and dolls, and sometimes I overhear the sweetest conversations.

Madeleine is now six (very close to seven) and Eloise just turned five. They are the most challenging little humans and although they are not very good listeners, they are compassionate and filled with love and dreams which makes it all worth it.

Ben works at the local shipyard with his dad, and when Madeleine was born, I waitressed at a place called Alchemy. I worked there for almost seven years. It was a crazy schedule with both of us working and being a new mom. I would hang out with Madeleine all day, wait for Ben to get home and then rush off to work.

At the restaurant I put up a curtain in the small office so I could pump breast milk. There wasn’t much privacy on the other side of that green linen, but it had to be done and luckily I am not modest in the least! Sometimes a person from the other side of the curtain would ask me how it was going and over the errr-eeee-errrr-eeee sound of the pump I would reply, “Crazy!”

After my shift ended around midnight, I made it home just in time for sweet Madeleine to wake up for a feeding.

I did this five nights a week through both pregnancies. I’ve never been so tired in my entire life. Managing that schedule was so hard, but it was very important for me to be home during the day with my girls.

I definitely went through a few mental breakdowns over what I was doing with my life. Spending all day with kids just to go waitress at night wasn’t enough for me. It was New Year’s Eve when I felt like I had had enough. Our shift lasted until 4:00 am. I knew I needed a change.

And then on January second or third, I got a call that changed everything! It was from a woman who was feeling the same exact way about her life. A family friend asked me out of nowhere if I wanted to buy her flower shop. I had no experience with flowers or business but still I said YES!

We live in a sweet little home on Martha’s Vineyard. It’s an island off of Cape Cod with no bridge connecting us to the main land. The only way to get here is by ferry, which adds a challenging yet ever-so-magical element to living here. Being surrounded by the ocean always has a way of bringing you back to nature, for which I am ever so grateful.

When Madeleine was born we were living in an adorable one-bedroom apartment in the middle of the woods. We had a lot privacy, a little vegetable garden, and chickens. It was such a nice place but we really wanted to buy a house.

Buying a home on Martha’s Vineyard is really hard since our property values here are so high; you either have to get creative or get lucky. Fortunately, there are some programs in place to help island families buy homes here on the island. We applied with a group called the Island Housing Trust. They host lotteries for people to win beautiful, energy efficient homes for 50% of the market price.

We lost the first lottery but a few months later our name was pulled out of the hat and we won the opportunity to buy a brand new three-bedroom home on Lamberts Cove Road in Tisbury for $258,500. It’s a 1260 sq./ft. house and it’s perfect. We were so, so, so lucky to be able to settle down and have peace of mind in our favorite place in the world.

Our property is the corner lot and it abuts town conservation land. Our quarter- acre looks like ten! We have three other homes in our neighborhood and two kids in our neighborhood. They’re both a little older than my girls but they all play together beautifully. We started landscaping around the house, got a slide and swing set, and built some raised beds for a veggie garden. This year I filled it with 150 fancy daffodil bulbs!

Our house is in a dream location. It’s in the middle of the woods and not far from our favorite beaches – Pilot Hill, being one of them, is less than a mile away. It’s quiet and private but still only a six-minute drive to downtown Vineyard Haven that has sweet family owned shops and our local grocer.

Across the street are acres and acres of trails on land bank property and the island’s cranberry bog. We get our eggs and meat from a farm stand down the road, and the flower shop is just a five-minute drive away. The island is a small community and our personal circle is tiny and perfect.

Our home reflects so much of what inspires me. Everything from bold fun colors and handmade crafts, all the while keeping it extremely cozy. I really connect with the idea of bringing the outside in. Being surrounded by living things, plants, our potted paper whites and amaryllis in the winter, my growing tulips in their vase. You see sweet little touches in every corner, twig mobiles in the kids’ room, their felted crafts. I try to instill in them this back-to-basics mentality, teaching them how to sew, making fun and colorful table runners, or lavender pillows to help them sleep.

I always read about people shopping at Target every other day, but there are no Target runs for us! There is actually only one chain store on the island other than a Stop and Shop. Everything else is family-owned or small business! Our life is a bit quintessential New England and a bit small town with a twist of island chic.

Martha’s Vineyard is like no other place I’ve ever been. It’s the poorest county in the state visited by the wealthiest people in the world. That being said, artists are well respected here, and are able to make a living because of the wealth that floods in in the summertime. Art is everywhere and a huge part of everyone’s life.

I think people love it so much because there is very little judgment passed. You can drive a beat up car from the 90’s and no one blinks an eye. I match my cashmere sweaters with my worn out Bluntstones and still feel beautiful. I haven’t bought a new winter coat in over ten years.

(When I moved to New York City, for a very short length of time, my grandmother told me I wasn’t fancy enough. Ha! She was so right!)

We shop locally here, and there are wonderful clothing stores on the island. I have a great relationship with a store called Citrine. We trade flowers for gift certificates, and both of us feel like we’re making out in the deal! There is also a great place in West Tisbury that we call the “dumptique” it’s a swap shack located at the dump. The volunteers happily take all donations and everything is free. It’s the best place for kids’ clothes!

It is such a well-known place visited by presidents and movie stars, and because that has always been the norm I feel like my whole life I never had a dream too big. There is so much opportunity here. Being surrounded by that type of wealth might make others feel defeated, but for me it gave me a can-do attitude and nothing has ever stopped me. The vineyard is a magical place. I feel completely blessed to be able to raise my family here.

I am a florist and I love it! The flower shop I bought in 2014 has been the island’s community flower shop since 1940. I’ve done a lot of painting and demo trying to update the aesthetic and make it my own. It’s now such a beautiful and peaceful place to be. I have a million more ideas for updates but we can only do a little bit at a time.

Art has always been a huge part of my life: dance, color, pastels, interior design, fashion. I embrace it all. It never really crossed my mind that flowers were my calling.

When Kim O’Callaghan, the past owner, asked me if I wanted to buy it, I didn’t hesitate. Then I thought, “Shit! I hope I’m good at it!”

Kim stayed on with me for three months to show me the ropes and her methods of flower arranging. It came very naturally but I couldn’t call myself a florist by any means. I am a very hard-working person and constantly perfecting my craft. It’s been three years and am finally so proud to call myself a florist and artist. I have embraced this business with my full heart and assembled a team that loves and cares for people and flowers as much as I do. Together we create beauty every day.

The Kindness Project was an idea that came to me in the middle of the night. I love this island and everyone on it. We are lucky enough to be sheltered from the terrible things that happen around the world, and I suddenly realized I could do more for my community. With all the bad that happens – the horrible things portrayed in the media, all the sad news – there is also so much good. The Kindness Project represents the world that I want my kids to grow up in: a world where the people around us are compassionate and thoughtful.

We started with having complimentary roses in the flower shop for people to take and give to someone they thought could use a pick-me-up. It then evolved, and we started putting buckets of roses out in the community for people to take and share. Now, people are buying buckets of flowers to be placed at a location of their choosing in honor of our island community. It’s so, so special!

Finding the balance between work and raising good kids is a tightrope race! I have horrible insomnia, so if I’m lucky I fall back to sleep around 4:00 am and then “sleep in” with the girls until about 7:00 am. They are very good at sneaking into our bed in the middle of the night, so we usually wake up together.

I wish I could tell you that I start with coffee in bed but I usually have to jump up and shake my oldest sleepy head, Madeleine, to the point of literally pulling her out of bed and up into standing position. It’s a miracle if she gets herself dressed, so I usually help her with that while making breakfast and lunch. The little one, Eloise, wakes up during the commotion and adds her two cents on what I should be making for breakfast and lunch and usually refuses to help in any capacity. Then Maddie and I walk out the door at 7:45 to catch the bus at the end of our driveway. It’s our little five minutes together. We hold hands, sit and wait, and then I wave and blow kisses as the bus drives off.

When I get back to the house, Eloise is still no closer to being ready. She refuses to wear anything I pick out so I am very open and accepting to whatever she chooses to wear. She is a bit of a fashionista and comes up with some amazing combinations. Yesterday she wore her dance tights with a sparkly dress-up skirt, my husband’s phish socks as leg warmers, and a pink sweatshirt. She might finally be over her twiddle (a large dreadlock that she makes everyday by “twiddling” or twirling her hair) phase so her hair looked awesome for once.

I drive Eloise to the island’s Waldorf school in West Tisbury. I push her on the tire swing, super fast, then we stumble to the slide and then race to the good bye bench. I won’t see them again until 6:00, so I try to make the mornings as fun as possible.

Getting to work is a great accomplishment and I’m always so excited and happy to be here. We have a note on our workshop door that reads “Flowers, come in” and every morning I say to myself, “Okay! Thank you!”

There is always so much happening around here. Emails, wedding proposals, phone calls, donations, daily orders, house accounts, Instagram, ordering, cleaning, staffing, payroll, dreaming, quick books, community outreach, planning, etc. etc. etc. There is nothing simple about running a small business.

I make it an absolute priority to touch and arrange flowers everyday. It sounds crazy that I have to make that proclamation but it’s usually the first thing I skip if there are too many other things going on. Most days we have our sweet babysitter pick up the girls from school, so seldom do I have to pick them up, but when I do I bring them right back to the shop. I don’t get much done but I love to see how they interact with the flowers. They ask me if they can make “re-rangements” and they grab the pink and red flowers out of the coolers.

On our way home we might stop at my parents’ house for a quick visit and bring my mom their beautiful creations. When we get home I pour myself a glass of wine. Either my husband or I make dinner. We get homework done and get in the bath.

I just started brushing their hair in the bath. We call it cloud hair and they don’t scream at me, which is an amazing feat.

I try my best to make sure they are creative in our house at some point during the day. We keep art supplies throughout the house, and it’s the most constant thing in our lives. Sometimes we draw before bed or color, sometimes it’s puzzles or puppet shows, sometimes it’s a dance party, and on the days we’re all just too tired we cuddle up on the couch and watch a movie.

I have this memory of little Eloise’s bassinet in front of the large south window of our living room. The sun streaming in over her little swaddled body. There were yellow tulips on the windowsill that a friend had brought us. The light, warmth, and overwhelming feeling of love in that moment has stayed with me.

I hope that the girls remember the love and comfort that we created for them in this home. I hope that they remember having total freedom to squish paint between their toes or color their entire bodies with markers. I hope they remember dancing on the windowsills and jumping on the beds. I hope they remember the sense of security through the rest of their lives and never accept anything less. I hope they remember digging in our vegetable garden and getting completely muddy and remember how much they loved it. I hope they remember the love and laughter and the wall-to-wall color in our home that they have helped create.

I love being a mom. I’m not great at it, but I love these little girls so much. I love the loud and silly time. I love the messes and creativity. I love creating cozy spaces for them to enjoy whether it’s for a tea party or building a giant tower. They have a fun playroom that is always a disaster, and a bedroom with pink walls and a bunk bed that is also on the messy side most of the time, but they are places where they are free to be as creative and imaginative as they want.

It’s such a thrill as a mom to watch the development of their imaginations. My absolute favorite time is the after bath coziness. I already miss when they were super little babes and it was all rocking chairs and lullabies. Those are the sweetest moments in a mother’s life. When that little hand comes un-tucked and caresses your neck. I will miss those times more than any.

I wish someone had told me (and I had listened!) that you can’t give in after you’ve said no. I have the hardest time picking my battles. I’m getting better now that my kids are a little bit older and I know which battles I’ll win and which ones I won’t. I was never arrogant about receiving advice from my mom or my mother-in-law or any other mom, but if I had truly understood how difficult being a parent is I think I would’ve taken notes and maybe a meditation class!

There is nothing more frustrating than your kids completely disregarding what you asked them to do and I wish that I had painted those words of wisdom on my walls. DON’T GIVE IN! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up their room while they lay and scream that their legs are tired! I can’t. I just can’t.


Oh, Emily! This parenting gig takes fortitude I never knew I had. Not giving in is a tough one for us all, I’m sure. Thank you so much for letting us peek in on your life in Martha’s Vineyard. I feel like I’ve just been on a completely restorative holiday…and snagged a free bundle of blooms in the process. Anyone else live in a unique spot like this one? I’d love to hear more about your life!

Also, who else melted at this sweet line: “I love being a mom. I’m not great at it, but I love these little girls so much.”

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me know! We love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! I should also mention, I have a goal to bring more diverse points of view to Design Mom this year. So if you don’t see yourself or your community reflected here, let’s make it happen — send in your details, or recommend a friend! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

15 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Emily Coulter”

  1. “I can’t. I just can’t.” So darn true.
    And I absolutely love your home & your descriptions of your girls remind me of mine. Wishing you all the best!

  2. Every Tuesday evening after work I grab my laptop, pour a glass of wine, and enjoy Living With Kids. Emily, yours is definitely one of my all-time favorites. As a New England girl, I am enthralled by the idea of living on Martha’s Vineyard. And in my heart of hearts, I would love to own a flower shop. So you are living my dream!

    Your home is gorgeous — I love all of the artistic touches. You are clearly giving your lovely girls a loving, secure, and charmed life. And don’t ever second guess yourself as a mother; we all do the very best that we can.

  3. Oh my goodness I can’t tell you how much I loved and relate to your post! Your descriptions of your girls and your relationship with them sounds so much my daughters (who are 6 and 2). Your home is beautiful, and I love the Vineyard… My best friend growing up moved there when we were in 4th grade to be a year round resident, and visiting her it quickly became one of my favorite places. Hope to take my girls to Flying Horses and all my favorite spots one of these days, and when that day comes we’ll have to find a certain flower shop as well!

  4. Oh my… what a coincidence… I ordered a bouquet this past weekend for a friend on the island who recently lost her mom and today I read this post! Could it be the your shop? Yes… Morrice Florist. What a small world. Loved reading your story. And the bouquet was lovely and delivered the same afternoon. It meant so much. Thank you!

  5. Emily, you are wonderful but so wrong….You are a great parent!

    I enjoyed every moment of this interview. your home, business, work ethic, and commitment to family are all an inspiration!!!

  6. Lovely all around! You are so lucky to have found a home on the Vineyard. I did want to note, though, that according to the Wall St Journal, Martha’s Vineyard isn’t the poorest county in the state. That dubious honor goes to Berkshire county, the westernmost county in our beautiful state.

  7. I, too, love the comment about being a mom. I often feel the same – that I might not be the best at even one portion of it, but I sure do love my kid and let her know every single day.

  8. I am glad you shared this open and honest account on parenting and creating a new life for yourself and your kids. Parenting has its ups and down, however, I still think you are doing a fantastic job!

    Left me inspired :)

    Ruku Taneja

  9. Pingback: Living With Kids: Emily Coulter ⋆ Design Mom | Jeffrey Diaz's Blog

  10. Love this Emily! thanks for sharing the snippets of your life. I can only imagine how beautiful life on the vineyard must be. and the life of a local vs. the summer peeps must be fascinating as well! The nature, the beaches etc. I was just there this summer. i will be sure to check out the flower shop, next time!

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