I am kind of obsessed with Carina’s house, and I can’t wait for you to look around it. Carina has a razor sharp sense of style and when she remodeled her 70s home, she decided to go full Art Deco. It features a lot of bright, warm golds, dynamic patterns and personality, while still being totally livable. Carina has three amazing kids, and just like so many of us she and her husband have been figuring out how to work from home amidst the chaos of online learning. As she says: it involves more Minecraft than she thought she’d be comfortable with. Welcome, Carina!
Our family is Carina Wytiaz, Joe Wytiaz, and our kids, Will, James, and Lucy. I’m a Director of Marketing and Joe is a math instructor at a local university. Will is sixteen, plays the guitar, loves to be with friends, and is our resident Star Wars expert. He is conscientious about fighting for justice and the underdog; he has the biggest, most empathetic heart. James is thirteen, plays the trumpet and the piano, he loves coding, playing on the Switch with friends, and building things. He arrived on this planet ready to improve and engineer everything. Lucy is nine. She plays the piano, can sing you a song by ear, is thoughtful, funny, kind, and whip smart. We love to watch movies, play games, bake together, go on walks, and travel. None of us like laundry.
I live in a neighborhood called the Riverbottoms in Provo, Utah. Because we’re so close to the Provo River, our temperature is always a little cooler in the summer and a little warmer in the winter. We like to walk down to the river all year round to see the ducks and other wildlife. The mountain views are so beautiful from our home, which was was built in 1979. One of my favorite things about the neighborhood is how tucked away and quiet it is, but how close it is to shopping and schools (I don’t know if I could survive without being 5 minutes from 5 grocery stores.)
The average home price is around $700,000, with some being quite a bit less and some quite a bit more. I like that our neighborhood has a mix of houses, from smaller 3 bedrooms to some quite large homes, and lots of mature trees.
One of my favorite things about our neighborhood is it’s Halloween central! We get people from all over the city coming to trick-or-treat, so the neighborhood started going all out for Halloween. People project movies onto garages, you’ll find dry ice in yards making things misty and spooly, houses covered in spiderwebs, skeletons climbing walls, all kinds of decorations, little vignettes with posed skeletons. It’s so much fun. It gets so crowded some years I just sit on the porch and hand out candy — no time to go back inside and close the door. I have to budget for the candy bill!
We always have a neighborhood 4th of July party with a bike parade for the kids, vintage cars, and a potluck barbeque. Everyone brings their extended families and friends. It’s a fun neighborhood.
We found this house by driving past it on the way to my parent’s home for Sunday dinner. Every week we would drive past it and I noticed the price dropping. It was the spring of 2009, when housing prices were close to their bottom due to the Great Recession. The house is a Mansard, which is a mini-revival of the Second Empire style from the late 1800s, popular in the mid 1960s-1980. A Mansard roof is pretty unusual in my area. I loved that the house was different from anything else out there and had good bones.
I’d known the couple who lived in the house, even visited in their living room many years before. His name was Oscar, and hers Johanna. They met later in life and he built this house for them to enjoy with their large extended family. They were beloved in the area.
When I walked through the house for the first time I could see that it had been so lovingly built and cared for. You could feel the love in the house, if that makes sense. Yes, it hadn’t really been updated since 1979, but it was tasteful and well-built. I convinced my husband he needed to walk through it. He was absolutely not convinced. The house would need major updates at some point. “Carina,” he said, “I’m not handy and you’re too busy.” It’s okay, I said, it’s worth it, I can see what it can be.
Buying the house was still a stretch, we were living in a small second floor condo at the time, but wanted a little more space and a yard. I knew we could live in it for a while, because there was nothing wrong with it, and some day, when we had the money, or the equity, we could redo it. Plus, the kids were young then and I knew whatever we bought would take a beating from active kids.
I really did have to talk Joe into it. Everything fell into place so quickly. We moved in just 6 weeks later.
We spent eight years saving up to remodel the house. When you live in a house for long enough you understand what your needs are and where you can improve the efficiency. You notice how this closet doesn’t work, or how if that door was moved you’d get more space, or wondering what is the purpose of a formal dining room if no one ever uses it? I used to sketch floor plans for the house over and over, moving walls on paper, and looking at ideas. I’d spent so many years dreaming and planning for the remodel that when it actually started in 2017 I almost couldn’t believe it.
I knew what I wanted the house to feel like and look like, a sort of modern art deco. That made decisions really easy. Before we started I asked Joe what his priorities were: all he wanted was a new dresser and a ceiling fan in the bedroom. I had my heart set on a chandelier for the bedroom, but if that’s really all he wanted, I had to find a way to make it happen.
I worked with European Construction and had an incredible experience. We worked on the final plans in a highly collaborative process. The most stressful part was moving out a week earlier than we’d anticipated.
They told me it would be a seven week remodel and it took six weeks. The changes were extensive. We gutted the bottom floor and much of the second. Every morning after getting the kids to school and before work, I’d stop at the house where the general contractor and I would go over plans and I would make decisions. After work, I’d drive to the house first, review progress, make more decisions, and then go home and make dinner. Joe and I and some family spent another couple weeks doing some painting and some finish work ourselves. Those were some long weeks, with my parents caring for the kids, while Joe and I would work late into the night. It was exhausting. But the result was so worth it.
As I told the contractors, I’m a cook and a baker, I need a highly functional kitchen. It’s the heart of our home. And it’s where we put in the most resources. I knocked out the walls separating the kitchen and family room from the formal living room and dining room — which we never used. I moved the kitchen to the center of the house, where the formal dining used to be.
There was a large air duct in the middle of the house that I didn’t want to pay to move, so I just built white, floor to ceiling cabinets flush with the duct. They provide so much storage we didn’t need upper cabinets on the other wall.
The island and base cabinets are Inkwell, by Sherwin Williams. I wanted them to be black with a blue undertone. When they arrived I was surprised to find they were completely navy. I had a real moment where I had to decide if I wanted to halt the remodel and have them repainted (definitely didn’t have the budget) or keep going with navy cabinets. I decided I could live with the navy.
The kitchen sink area is recessed a bit since the picture window used to be a sliding glass door. It worked out well for the flow to push the sink out a bit, since that’s where you’re standing all the time. The kitchen is so efficiently designed; it makes it really easy to cook. I stole square feet from the old kitchen and family room to create a much needed pantry and a mudroom off the garage entrance. Our old pantry was just the room under the stairs, which is now a nicely sized broom closet. Kids can be hard on island cabinets so I picked to tile the back of the island so kicks wouldn’t have an effect.
We have a large room over the garage which holds our laundry area — it’s like our basement. We stole some room from it and an existing office to create a fourth bedroom. There was plenty of room leftover to create a teen hang spot and family room. What is now our downstairs office used to be the family room.
Now the house reflects how we really live. And as for the ceiling fan in the bedroom…I wondered if they make chandeliers that are also ceiling fans, and wouldn’t you know, they do!
The kids help me make decisions for their rooms, selecting art they love, their own linens, vintage finds, and each has a painting I’ve done for them (like the Matryoshka doll collage in my daughter’s room). As they’ve grown older I’ve let go of what I think their rooms “should” look like. I let them rearrange their rooms, or even the family room, as much as they like. I love seeing their creative ideas.
I’m drawn to strong contrasts, modern pieces, graphic statements, and bright colors. I deliberately picked Extra White by Sherwin Williams for all the walls and ceilings — I wanted the art and the furnishings to stand out, like a gallery.
I love vintage shops, like The Green Ant in Salt Lake City, where my faux tortoiseshell tables and the gold console in the foyer are from. Most of my art comes from local artists, fun online finds on Etsy, vintage, or sometimes my own art or photography. I love to go to local craft shows, like the Beehive Bazaar, to find new, upcoming artists whose work is still affordable. I select pictures from our family trips to print and hang as well, so the kids can connect with happy memories.
Our lives have evolved quite a bit with the pandemic. It just so happened we decided to finish the home office over the holidays in 2019. I got desks for us both, built some shelves, even got a large craft cabinet from Ikea, disguised with some leftover cabinet hardware from our remodel. I couldn’t believe it when we both ended up working from the office just a couple months later.
I work in technology, so it was pretty seamless for me to work from home. It was harder for Joe, who had to quickly figure out how to keep teaching math, and teaching soon-to-be math teachers, from home. We would have a quick discussion at night over who would need the office for calls or to teach a class during what times. It was hard for everyone. I ended up working late into the night just to keep up.
The kids were such troopers, respecting signs and trying to keep down the noise when Joe would be instructing, but it wasn’t always sunshine and peace. They all struggled without seeing friends and with the disruption of routine. I was laid off during the summer, which was very hard. Thankfully, since that time, I have been able to find a new job I enjoy.
We are so glad we were able to remodel a few years ago, creating a more efficient home with spots where the kids can work, like at the kitchen table, at the island, at the cafe/game table in the living room, or snuggled up in the big white reading chair in our little library spot. Now that each child has their own room, they can take a break from everyone else when they need to. And who knew we’d have a mask area in the mudroom, with a system for clean and dirty masks?
My heart really goes out to the parents with little ones. There are other challenges to older kids, but at least I don’t have to have my eye on them constantly. I can sometimes get good blocks of time to get work done. It helps that our elementary schools have been back to four days a week for half days, with full masks, since September.
Distance learning is a challenge, of course, and we’ve had some not great grades. There are times I have to allow them to experience those consequences.
I won’t lie, most rules flew out the window for a great deal of this year. I’ve pared my expectations down (maybe too far?). They’ve watched more TV, turned in fewer assignments, and played more Minecraft than I ever would have allowed, but all of us are trying to survive the pandemic year. I think we’ve all had to adjust to big feelings, stress, anxiety, and being strict about distancing.
We are a social crew and having to shrink our friend bases down to either zero or very few, socially distant interactions, has not been easy on any of us. We have a lot of Zoom playdates, where, for example one kid built Google Slide decks together for fun with a friend: finding pictures, writing copy, and building narratives in a collaborative way.
My hope is the kids learn empathy and about their actions influencing the world around them. Nothing is normal right now, but we are trying to keep each other and the community safe. I think they’ve adapted and I hope we are all closer as a result. The hardest part is seeing how many other people are suffering. We are privileged to be able to work from home, live in a school district that has Chromebooks for all children, live in a city with an affordable broadband option. I was able to find employment again. So many other people have lost their loved ones, or are in impossible situations. There’s just no comparison.
I love working and I think it makes me a better parent. It’s good for my kids to see me as a separate person. Since I work in technology I help kids with computer problems. I set up our network; I understand how Google Docs and Slides work, and help with their writing assignments. I get really ticked when they try to explain technology to me — baby, I’ve done this for twenty five years, I know how computers work!
We both work full time and strive for a more equitable split in our household duties, so the kids see and learn from us both how to take care of the house. I do miss going to the office, spending time solving problems together, going out to lunch, some of the travel, and the social aspects of work, but I also don’t have a commute, either.
The best part of being a working parent is growing personally and professionally, while modeling for our kids how two people can support each other in their goals.
I’m a massive extrovert. I miss my friends so, so much. I miss going out to dinner, movies, parties, sitting in a pile on a couch, concerts, plays, yoga, and shopping for fun. I miss traveling. I want to sit in a theater with a large popcorn and laugh with my friends. I am in the church choir and I miss singing worship music.
To say this year has been a challenge seems like an understatement. We’ve all had to let go of so many things, experiences, places, and people. I hope this experience does change us as a society. I hope we don’t take these things for granted — and I don’t think we will. I hope we adopt masks for much of the cold and flu season moving forward — what a wonderful way to keep your face warm and decrease the spread of disease (it’s no wonder people in many parts of Asia have made this communal expression of care a regular part of life.)
I worry about my local shops and restaurants. We’ve tried to shop and get take-out regularly from our local places as much as possible. They are the places that make our town special.
I have a great deal of hope for our kids. This is a generational marker for them — who knows what wonderful things they will invent and solve because of this experience.
I hope the kids remember a home filled with art, music, laughter, games, good food and love. We aren’t perfect parents, but I want them to feel they are loved and their needs are met. If anything this time has been a reminder to check in with their feelings and validate their big emotions. I hope they forget about the laundry piles, the toilet handles they had to jiggle, the door knob that didn’t get replaced, and how messy it got. A family lives here, it’s going to be a disaster sometimes.
My favorite part of living with my kids are the personalities with which they arrived on this earth. They’re all so funny, smart, and different. I love that they personalize their spaces, have their own sense of style and interests. I already miss their small bodies, the weight of them in my arms. I will miss their friends, their music, and the noise of a full house. It all goes too fast.
I wish someone had told me how much I would love being a parent. I really didn’t think I wanted to be a mom. I saw all the work, the diapers, the decrease of freedom, and I didn’t see the joy. I’m so glad I got to experience the joy. It is unrelenting; it’s true that the days are long but the years are short — and yes, there are a lot of diapers.
Every stage has new lessons to learn, new mistakes to make, because when kids get older, the stakes get bigger (and there’s a fair amount of whiteknuckling for parents of teens). You have to hope you don’t do any lasting harm and they don’t make a mistake they can’t take back.
I love them at every point and I also can’t wait to see what they decide what to do with their lives. They will make the best adults, but for now, I am happy they’re still kids.
Thank you, Carina! I could honestly spend all day wandering this house. I love the giant cook’s kitchen with the smart details like the tile kick-guard behind the stools and the floor to ceiling cabinets for expanded storage. The fireplace mantle in the living room is smart and sharp and handsome and all of the light fixtures are like jewels to pull everything together. And I love all the art everywhere. It feels personal and curated in the best way.
I really appreciated what Carina said about patience and doing our best during the pandemic. I think it felt easier back in March or April to be strict about staying home, not seeing friends, etc. But now as it feels like more and more people are relaxing their standards it requires us to recommit to what is important to us and be compassionate with ourselves as parents and with our kids. I’ve noticed I’ve definitely let certain things slide: grades, screen time, sleeping in, etc..
What do you feel like you’ve had to make concessions around during the Pandemic? What has remained constant and important to you? What are you willing to let go?
Black Leather Sofa
Marble Leilani Tulip Table
Dining Room Chandelier
Ceiling fan chandelier
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.