Living With Kids: Amity Courtois

I was hooked on Amity’s story as soon as I learned she and her husband bought their home on Craigslist, hooked even harder when I saw how she makes a home heavy with dark wood look effortlessly holiday-airy, and completely reeled in when I read her honest words about being a stay-at-home mom. There is so much goodness in this tour, Friends. I hope you enjoy it!

My name is Amity and I’m from Austin. My husband, Philip, is from Denmark. Philip and I met at a work event while he was visiting Austin on business. It is beyond corny to say this, but it truly was love at first sight! I moved to Copenhagen five months later and we got married the next month: six months to the day we met. We have been married for ten wonderful years, and it is the quintessential love story that has just gotten better since the birth of our son, Cosmo, who is now six.

Philip is magnificently creative and has a great eye for design…which I have decided must be inherent to all Danes! He is a robotics engineer — doesn’t that make him sound smart?! — and an all-around really fantastic person! I’m a stay-at-home mom. I used to write a blog but got sick of listening to myself talk, so I have since taken up other creative endeavors such as jewelry making and furniture refinishing and I’ve recently had the opportunity to do some interior styling consultations which makes me happiest of all!

Oh, this crazy old house! This house has a soul and if it wants to be yours it finds you! It was built somewhere between 1910-1919, and is a Prairie-style house. We bought it in 2007 while we were living in Copenhagen in a sixth floor walk-up, 650 sq. ft. apartment with a one year old. We had decided that we needed a little more breathing room, and so I started browsing Craigslist and stumbled on this “For Sale By Owner” house just outside of Austin in Pflugerville, Texas. I contacted the owners and they sent me a ton of pictures. I was hooked.

I then asked Philip if he was interested in moving back to Austin, which seems a little bit backwards but I tend to work best this way. We had a few minor details to sort out, like getting Philip a Green Card and selling our flat.

I’m sure the owners of the house thought I was completely insane! “I love your house and I want to buy it, but first my husband has to go through the lengthy process of trying to get permanent residency in the United States and we have to sell our apartment because we don’t actually have any money right now…will you hold your house for me for about eight months?”

We made a trip to see it in person about three months after I saw the first pictures, and we both knew it had to be ours; it could have been that it was a million degrees outside and there is a pool at the house, but whatever it was we had to have it. Everything eventually fell into place, and six months later we flew to Austin and closed on the house the next morning.

What a shock it was to walk into this huge empty house with nothing. Even our luggage had been lost! We slept on an air mattress for three weeks while we waited for our shipping container to arrive from Denmark. I’ll admit, we had a bit of buyer’s remorse in those first few days. There was so much to do and we had a little person running around and we only had enough furniture to fill one of the eight rooms. Five years and lots of paint later, we have the house just about how we envisioned it. Of course, now we’re feeling ready to move on and start a new project!

I would describe my preferred aesthetic as boho-chic with a touch of Danish modern thrown in for my husband. Since having a child, my decorating budget has been severely depleted. I sometimes hate that money has to dictate my preferred aesthetic, but it does. We’ve got school tuition to pay, lots of Legos to buy, and we’ve lived on one income for the last six years. So I’m lucky that I love vintage and antiques and I don’t mind having to use a little elbow grease to make something beautiful.

I also love that the small decorating budget has forced me to be creative. In one of my photos you see two black chairs with a white table between them. Those chairs were hideous but $5 each at a local thrift store. I got the Dwell fabric in the remnant bin for $10 and the table was free out of my neighbor’s yard. A couple of hours of manual labor and a few cans of spray paint later, and I’ve got a cozy little seating area. If I had a million dollars I probably wouldn’t use that table or those chairs, but I work with what I have and I am usually really pleased with the outcome.

I had a moment of hysteria about a year ago where I was running from room to room chanting “Down with the brown!” I wanted to paint everything white. It is tough with a house like this because you don’t want to mess with the integrity and ruin the original woodwork, but you can only live with that much dark wood for so long before it becomes depressing. My top three tips to make a house seem light would be to choose cool paint colors — not necessarily white — to contrast the dark wood, use pops of white, clear or metallic accessories to draw your eye away from the sea of brown, and to use large interesting rugs to break up the hardwood flooring.

Also, I’ve recently discovered an affordable upholsterer and it has kind of changed my life. I love old chairs, and with a can of spray paint and some interesting upholstery they will brighten any room immediately. Oh, and don’t forget to go light on the window coverings. I have white panels on every window in the house to let in as much natural light as possible. Even when they are closed there is light streaming in.

My favorite pieces are our heirloom pieces. Before we moved back to Texas we stayed with my father-in-law, a very lively old French man, in Denmark for a month. He let us dig through his basement and take whatever we wanted. He has an extensive art collection of all sorts of off-the-wall stuff that I absolutely adore. We have filled our house with it and I enjoy looking at it every day. It is all unusual and it would have taken me years to build up a collection like this.

We also have on display Philip’s Danish grandmother’s piano and some of her embroidery, his French grandfather’s pocket watch, some of my mom’s paintings and some of my grandmother’s beautiful crewel work. I try to infuse a little of our pasts and Philip’s Danish and French heritage into each room.

Because Cosmo is an only child, it is really important to us that he knows that he is more than just the three of us. We want him to be reminded of the many, many amazing people that are connected to him.

I find inspiration in other cultures. We have traveled throughout Europe, the US, and Southeast Asia, and I love travel blogs. We’ve moved back and forth from Denmark to Texas several times with a short stop in Singapore. Every time we go to a new place, I find things I want to incorporate into my daily life. Not only material things but traditions and ways of living.

I also find inspiration in houses. Philip and I look at houses online all over the world all the time. We don’t want to limit ourselves geographically when we make our next move. We’re waiting for something to jump out and grab us.

And thrifting! When Cosmo is at school, I stop by the shops weekly. I’ve got a thrift circuit that I run with a friend and we have the best time unearthing all sorts of interesting junk. It is pure bliss for me when I walk into a thrift store and spot something that can be transformed. Of course, when I get home I have to click on my favorite design blogs to figure out what to do with all my great junk!

Did I say I love being a homemaker? I do love it, most days. I take pride in what I do but just like with any job there are days that I dream of submitting my resignation letter. Being a stay-at-home mom is utterly thankless most of the time.

In one of those rare, sweet bedtime moments a few weeks ago Cosmo said, “Mom, thanks for not going to real work so I can spend more time at home with you.”  It had been a challenging day and it was a glimpse into how he views our family and it made me teary-eyed and reminded me again how fortunate I am to be able to do this.

I’ve struggled with the idea of being a homemaker and I think many modern American women do. I often feel that I’m wasting my education — why get a degree to stay home and make peanut butter & jelly sandwiches? — and feel like I should be doing more than just taking care of this little boy. Every year I say that this will be the year that I will go back to real work, but it just never happens. I wasn’t fulfilled in the career I had before having Cosmo and I couldn’t imagine giving up time with him to go to a job that I am not really passionate about.

Yes, it can be mundane to keep the house clean, make the meals, and keep a child entertained, but I’ve found that in the right state of mind and with the right music it can actually be quite fulfilling. But I might have very low standards for fulfillment! What I love most about being a homemaker is having time. I have time to read a book, meet a friend for coffee, paint a piece of furniture, do an art project, daydream, or just enjoy being with Cosmo…all the things I love the most!

The best part about living with Cosmo is the laughter. Not only his, but all of ours. He makes us laugh those deep, cure-anything laughs. He is funny without knowing it, and I’ve discovered that he is therapeutic. Any little bit of sadness or anger or frustration can be cured with him next to me. Sure, he is challenging at times, but he is our joy. Philip and I were very happy with our lives before we had Cosmo, but adding him to the mix has changed things immeasurably. Our lives now revolve around what we want him to experience, learn, and live.

Watching him grow is bittersweet. He is curious and smart and independent and no longer my little wide-eyed ball of neediness. I have photos of him all over the walls, and stand and stare at him in the different stages of the past six years. I am amazed at who he has become.

I would have to say that I most miss his chubbiness. It seems odd, but there was something about those roly-poly arms and thighs that were so fundamentally satisfying to me as a mother; I was doing my job of growing a healthy, happy baby. I long for that now that he is all angles and boyishness and I can no longer swing him up on my hip.

I hope memories from this time in our lives evoke a sense of peacefulness for Cosmo, and a sense that his childhood home was everything he needed it to be. I hope that he remembers being a mad scientist in the kitchen, riding his scooter in the hall, his really good hiding spots, spending hours building Legos in his playroom, working in the garden with his dad, and swimming three times a day during the long Texas summers!

I’m trying to save up all these tiny moments that are so fleeting: all the little things that make an impact when they happen, but when you try to remember them the next day you’ve already forgotten the details. I don’t want to forget those details because they are so important to who we are as a family, and they are building our little baby boy into an adult.

I wish I had known that spray paint and fabric could make me so happy! There is something so gratifying about taking an old broken-down piece of furniture or a poorly decorated room and turning it into something pretty. It is like breathing life into something. I’ve flipped and flopped my entire adult life trying to figure out what I should be doing, and I’ve finally realized that I’m happiest being a wife and a mother, and making ugly stuff beautiful. I used to think that wanting a beautiful, comfortable living space was somehow superficial, but seeing how we and other people react to certain spaces has convinced me that it is an important part of life.

—-

Thank you for your honesty, Amity! I know many stay-at-home moms share your feelings about giving up their careers; those feelings do fluctuate from day to day, don’t they? A perfect morning can make you feel like you just won the life lottery, while a mess of an emotional bedtime can cause you to start working on your resume!

By the way, my favorite line was Amity’s answer to what she will miss the most about Cosmo’s childhood: his chubbiness! “It seems odd, but there was something about those roly-poly arms and thighs that were so fundamentally satisfying to me as a mother; I was doing my job of growing a healthy, happy baby.” I always felt the same way about my babies’ laughter.

(Note: That last photo is a Little Free Library! Philip and Cosmo built it from recycled materials found around the house, and they are very proud of it. Learn more about this wonderful little organization promoting literacy and a love for reading right here.)

P.S. — You can find all the homes in my Living With Kids series here. And if you’d like to share your own home with us, just send me a note! It’s a lot of fun…I promise!

59 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Amity Courtois”

  1. Amity, I love this!! I’ve been hoping to see you on here (I was at Dewit Design Camp with you). Your house is just beautiful, your family seems precious, and I am encouraged by your words about being a stay at home mom. I also really appreciate your last line:

    “I used to think that wanting a beautiful, comfortable living space was somehow superficial, but seeing how we and other people react to certain spaces has convinced me that it is an important part of life.”

    I feel the same way. Can’t wait to scroll through these pictures again! :)

      1. Things are coming along pretty well. We have several little projects going on right now, so our house is a bit out of sorts, but I’m excited for the end result. Thanks for asking! I continue to enjoy looking through the pics of your home. Just beautiful!

  2. Pamela Balabuszko-Reay

    I am inspired to start to make changes to the furniture I already have with spray paint and some fabric now. The shift toward Fall always makes me want to change things.

    My littlest one will be starting kindergarten in a couple of weeks. Something about this interview has me reflecting on what it means to be a mom at home. I will need to change how I spend my time. I predict an emotional ride.

    My house has a ton of dark wood too. I love all of the tips on how to lighten the atmosphere.

    We have a Little Free Library too. I love the spirit behind the movement. Pop one in your yard and see what happens!

    Grateful every day for Design Mom and all of the amazing people and ideas I get to be exposed to.

    1. Ha, yes we’re freaks! We had a major Lego problem happening in this house. I was so sick of having to spend hours looking for a head with a certain expression or a specific golden sword with 3 spikes that we decided it best just to spend some time getting organized. It means that he can choose a Lego to build and actually find the pieces…what a concept!

  3. I loved this post and how she has decorated her home with such a great mix of heirlooms and thrift store finds. And the gorgeous Little Free Library is the best part! I just wrote a post on those- am hoping to set one up at my house very soon :)

    1. Hi Erin,

      You should definitely set up a Little Free Library. It has been so much fun! I’ll read anything I can get my hands on so it has been wonderful to have access to new books right in my front yard. My son has a blast going out to check it before bedtime to see if there is a new bedtime story. It is such a beautiful concept. Everyone in the neighborhood loves it.

  4. I LOVE this house! That first photograph with the breezy curtains and dark wood?!? You nailed it, Gabby- feels like a holiday home or the nicest summer camp you’d ever dream to visit!

    I also feel a kindred connection to Amity! I love her outlook on life and motherhood, healthy doses of reality and optimism. I love her attitude about updating old furniture (paint really can update anything) and her romantic ideas about love. I think we’d be great friends. ;)

    1. Sarah,

      You are too kind and we should be friends, maybe penpals! :) I love your children’s clothing line…beyond adorable!

  5. This one made my day. :) Often, I have the same feeling about staying at home with my kids. At the end, I know that this is, what really makes me happy.
    Thank you for sharing.

  6. Christine Cohen

    I love the old combined with the new in those pictures. What a beautiful house!

    As a stay at home mom too, I think a lot about this quote from G.K. Chesteron when I get discouraged or think I need to be “out in the world”:

    “How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.”

  7. I loved everything about this tour – this home is so charming.

    But, I really wanted to thank you for introducing me to the little free library project. This is such an incredible idea – I am so excited about it and will start building my own tonight. Following the link you provided, I also found a literacy voulenteer group in my neighborhood, which I am looking into joining. It was a great reminder that the gift of reading is not available to all.

    Thank you so much for providing the link and featuring such lovely homeowners.

  8. I just had to comment! My 7 yr. old daughters name is Amity & I have only heard of it one other time! I LOVE the name!:) Beautiful house & Kudos on chasing YOUR dreams!

    1. Hi Amber,

      I’ve heard the name a few times. I get compliments all the time. I’m named after Amity, Oregon. We just visited for the first time last month. Funny seeing my name everywhere. I’ve been very happy with my name, it has served me well! :)

  9. Oh, how I loved this post. I too feel the same way about being a stay at home mom. I have been home for 13 years. My youngest is heading of to kinder this year. The question has been asked by many about my return to work. While more money is always helpful I feel very useful l and fulfilled right where I am. I know I am making a difference. I wonder about a “wasted” education but it is not wasted. Not at all. Plus, if all the parents in the world went back who would volunteer at schools during the day? :)

  10. This was beautiful–I love the home, but also the interview! I can relate to how you said you long for your son’s chubbiness especially now that he is all angles and boyishness and you can no longer swing him up on your hip. I’ve got two daughters–one who is almost six that I can no longer swing up on my hip and one who is almost two and still chubby and I can still hold. I can feel that precious stage slipping away and I am trying to hold on to it and remember it for always. Staying home is such a thankless job, but the sweet moments make up for it. Thanks for sharing.

    vanessa

  11. BEAUTIFUL. So lovely! This post really meant something to me. I’ve struggled with being a stay at home mom a lot — I went from being an attorney to staying at home and the not using-your-education thing has been something I’ve had to make peace with….I have a girl aged 6 who is also an only child and it has really been important for me to spend this time with her at home!

    I loved the house so much. Also, that garland with the hearts and cones? Fabulous! :)

  12. I loved this home tour and Amity’s heartfelt answers to your questions (great questions by the way!)

    I am now on a search for that world map watercolor – is it this one on Etsy?

    http://www.etsy.com/listing/89676495/watercolor-map-of-the-world-map-art?ref=sr_gallery_40&ga_search_query=world+map+watercolor&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_ship_to=ZZ&ga_min=0&ga_max=0&ga_search_type=all&ga_facet=world+map+watercolor

    I am thinking it will be perfect in our newest nursery :)

  13. Amity,I have just spent a delightful 30 minutes visiting you and your family and home.Your home is so beautiful and your decorating skills are wonderful.I love the old antiques,whether it is furniture or household items. I noticed your old flour sifter,I have one with a green wooden handle and a biscuit cutter to match.Cosmo has grown so much and is such a handsome little guy,I loved your comments about missing those chubby little arms and legs etc.The only thing that comes close to loving your child,is when they give you grandchildren.I know that ,is a future that is far away ,but it is wonderful.Margie.

  14. If I took the time to sit and write down my feelings about being a stay-at-home mother and a homemaker, well, it would sound exactly like this. Amity, thanks so much for your honesty. The world needs more of that! Your home is so lovely…

  15. She nailed it! She revealed some of my exact feelings about being a stay-at-home mom and said it so well. Being at home feels a little like you are cheating sometimes and like a waste of a good degree some other times, but in the end if you left a career you didn’t love (which is what I did as well) then you really are using your time for the best of everyone. Cheers!

    1. Dana,

      Just took a little peak at your blog. We are one in the same! It is nice to know that I am not alone. All of my stay-at-home mom friends have a degree of some kind. We love to sit around watching our kids play wondering what we could have or should have been. Then we laugh and or cry and grab another cup of coffee.

        1. I feel this way too. I have a degree and I’m a stay at home Mom. Many times I feel frustrated, but I know this time with my babies is fleeting. My oldest starts Jr-K this year. I’m already struggling with the notion of her tiny self in a sea of big kids. :( I’m so glad to know I’m not the only one who struggles with these feelings.

          Beautiful home Amity.

  16. First, thank you to Gabrielle for such kind remarks and thoughtful questions. She really made me think about why I’m living my life this way. Having to review the reasons for my choices always makes me re-examine things.

    I’ve so enjoyed reading your comments! Thank you for all of your kind words. I’m so glad you all loved the house but even more pleased that I could connect with so many of you about being a stay-at-home mom.

    This was a fantastic experience and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to share my home and my thoughts and feelings with all of you!

    Please feel free to contact me directly at my first name.last name@gmail.com with any questions.

  17. This is just AWESOME…because Amity is just AWESOME. AM….you GO girl! Of course, I’ve always known how amazing you are, but am so happy you’ve gotten to show off your beautiful self, your precious family, and the creative and stylish home that you and Phillip and Cosmo have “built” together. I love that you surround yourselves with the past, your future hopes and dreams, and the perfect amount of love. (and decorating skills!) All of that shines through so brightly in your interview because it’s all so true.

    I could not be happier for you! And…will you come to Pensacola to decorate my house??

    Oh, and you can quit being so gorgeous anytime you want to. K? ;)

    xoxo
    e.

  18. What an amazing interview Amity. I’ve ALWAYS admired your “mad design skilz” -you have a knack for creating magic in any space and with any budget. I must admit that I got a little misty at several points during the interview – but beaming and now, darn you, I’m feeling the need to go house hunting!! :-)))) How much would you charge me to hire you as a consultant?!!!
    (Psst – thanks for the shout out XOXO)

  19. i can totally relate to the “spray paint and fabric make me so happy” i just started “redoing” furniture 2 years ago and i’m always on the hunt for great finds. so satisfying!
    thanks for the lovely interview!

    leslie

    p.s.: just one question: that world map! where did you get it from? i love it!

  20. This was so heart-warming to read. I loved Amity’s house, but her heart more! She has been so generous in sharing her feelings about life, and parenting – I can relate to so much of what she said (I’m a mother of four – but it’s all the same). I love decorating too. Thanks so much for sharing this story with us:-)

  21. oh, i love this one, and not just because i’m a dane-o-phile living in austin! love the color choices and fixed-up pieces – so nicely done. (and i’d be thrilled if amity clicked through to my travel site!)

  22. This was great – another story of a family moving somewhere so far away and making it work!
    I’d love to see a series on “Living with kids in foreign countries”… stories of families who’ve done what you’ve done!!!
    Kathy

  23. great stuff! very inspiring woman and home! thanks for sharing your home and your thoughts. (loved the part about having time – it really is nice to have time to sit with my kids when they need it. it’s truly a luxury!)

  24. I loved this tour! I’m a stay at home mom too. I identified with Amity so much. I also love that family photo – What a great action shot of her son opening the door in the background!

  25. so lovely. what a beautiful family inside and out. i lived in denmark for 2 years, so perhaps i’m a bit partial as well. :) my favorite post in this category so far!

  26. Amity, not only is your home beautiful, but I really appreciate your words about being a stay-at-home mom. As my kids get older and are in school for longer I constantly feel like I “should” get a “real” job. I am blessed to not HAVE to do that, though, and have chosen to stay at home. I totally resonated with everything you said about that choice – the rewards, the mundane parts, the joys of having the time to build a home, spend un-rushed time with the kids… thank you for shedding light on this life choice and making it sound not only wonderful but like a GOOD choice!

  27. Lovely home and lovely interview! Thank you!! Love and fun oozes from the photos. I especially connected with your comment about how you used to feel superficial about wanting to create a beautiful home. I too am grateful to have embraced my desire to create spaces and works of beauty. :)

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