Living With Kids: Debora Kolb

By Gabrielle.

I’ve always wondered what it must be like to live in a popular vacation destination — fabulous, right?! — and this week’s tour answers some of my queries. Doesn’t everyone know one or two families who enjoyed their Florida vacations so much that they moved there? Now I do, too!

Debora and her family now happily reside in South Florida after a stint in the Southwest, and would probably tell you that life there is exactly like a vacation. Except for those pesky jobs that get in the way of beach time! Relocating came with obvious perks (sunshine and proximity to family), but also a smaller, not-exactly perfect home. Not a problem for the Kolb family, though. Here’s their refreshing story; a lovely mix of postcard-perfect and real life, which is exactly how we should all be living!

Q: Please give us a rundown on the family who lives in this fun and functional Florida home!

A: We are a busy, happy family of five. I’m Debora. Before I took on the challenges of being mom to three kids and keeper of household affairs, I enjoyed my work as a professional architect and interior designer. I keep my toe in the water and my creative side engaged, though, as I’m still licensed and working the odd design job on the side. I live design. I even appreciate bad design!

My husband Kelly is an attorney by weekday, kayak fisherman and jack-of-all-trades on the weekends. He’s a great partner and often helps bring my designs to life. One of his biggest challenges, he would claim, is the fact that he is outnumbered threefold by the females in the house; we have a trio of lovely daughters.

The eldest of our children is Taylor. Once a moody, slothful teenager she is now a college freshmen, and a delightfully kind and appreciative 18-year-old. She has survived those tough years and “come back to us” as a young woman who once again appreciates her family and life’s little luxuries. Like a home cooked meal and clean laundry!

Behind the quiet demeanor of our middle daughter Morgan, age 11, the cogs never cease working. We call her the “Morganizer.” She keeps us on our toes.

The youngest and most entertaining of our lot is nine-year-old Lauren. All the world is her stage, including the aisles of the grocery store where she often likes to sing and dance as she trails after the shopping cart.

Q: How did you end up in this home?

A: I had really given up all hope that we would ever move back to a coastal location. Growing up, I had always lived near the ocean. I am inexplicably drawn to it. As much as I grew to like Dallas, and Texas as a whole, it never felt like home to me. But it was home to my husband, a Texan who is averse to change, and my Texas-born daughters. Then in 2009 a triad of fortuitous events occurred and the move to Florida became a reality. Never say never!

We spent months looking for the right house, but nothing felt like us. After living in the southwest for so long, the typical Florida houses seemed to lack character and charm. They were smaller. Too cookie-cutter. And most had been poorly renovated over the years. We hoped to find something on the water, and finally, we found this home: a 50s Florida modern. A diamond in the rough.

It was hidden behind overgrown landscaping on a busy neighborhood street, but  the backyard is on a peaceful lake that connects to the Intracoastal waterway and the ocean. And there was a dock, which to us meant the possibility that one day that dock would be home to a boat.

Q: What makes you love South Florida?

A: We live where so many people from around the world come to vacation. We have the ocean, the beach, the boats. But South Florida is so much more to us. The weather allows us to be active outside year round. Our house is just a short walk or bike ride to the beach. And because of our proximity to a state park, the wildlife that we see still amazes us all. In the winter months, the same pair of great blue herons spends their mornings on our dock fishing. The water is teeming with mullet and the fish that eat them: tarpon, jack, and snook. Every so often, a manatee might find its way back to our lake. We have owls, green Quaker parrots, ibis, mourning doves, mockingbirds, and others nesting nearby.

Our family can fish, kayak, and paddle-board right out of our own backyard! Friends come by in their boats on the weekends to say hello and jump in the pool. Life can seem like a vacation any day of the week…although the challenge can be in finding the time to enjoy it all.

Fort Lauderdale is also where much of my family lives. Having them nearby is something wonderful and connecting that I missed when my girls were little. My sister and my children’s cousins live minutes away. Grandma is literally around the corner. Sadly, my father passed away last year, but we had three precious years living here with him, and for that I am very grateful.

Q: You’ve described your style as minimalist. How does this work with your daughters?

A: I am a minimalist wannabe. But the reality is that I love to collect things: modern chairs, matryoshka dolls, Russian lacquer boxes, Oaxacan wood carvings, Royal Doulton Toby jugs, Fiestaware, Fostoria glass, and more. So, I try to edit very carefully. I don’t like clutter; it only creates more to dust.

While my daughters’ rooms occasionally look like they’ve suffered a neutron bomb attack, they willingly de-clutter when prompted, which really means hide-it-where-mom-can’t-see-it-and-cross-their-fingers-she-won’t-open-any-drawers.

Q: How do they express their own style in your home?

A: My girls are very opinionated about what they like and don’t like for their room. And I take that into consideration. I think the advent of HGTV and games like Minecraft has increased many kids’ design awareness. There is no sense in designing something they don’t like. And I’m selective in choosing from their list of what they like.

For instance, Morgan would like her new bedroom to be painted entirely aqua. Instead of painting every wall, we compromised on just painting the wall behind her desk aqua. We are still trying to decide whether Lauren will have the same color behind her desk, or something else. They share a room.

Q: How intentional are you at creating a space that feels adult enough yet child-friendly at the same time?

A: Our house is designed for the way we live. There are no off-limit areas, although I do enforce strict eating spaces. We are a messy family, and I’ve tried to design the space with easy-to-clean pieces. Almost everything is wipe-clean-able, such as the white plastic Verner Panton chairs, or washable, such as the slip-covered sofa. Because we have so many classic modern pieces, the space feels adult and museum-like but it’s our play museum.

Q: When does your home work best for your entire family?

A: The kitchen is the best example of how our home works best for the entire family. There are no upper cabinets, so all of the dishes, glasses, pots and pans are in drawers accessible to all. That means anyone can unload the dishwasher and put everything away – hint, hint! The island has outlets under the counter, so anyone can plug-in their laptop or iPad and work or do homework while someone else is cooking.

Several other rooms have multiple purposes. The utility room has a laundry area, my home office space, and a large pantry. The family room includes a space for TV viewing and gaming entertainment, and an adjacent breakfast table for dining that also doubles as a homework center with a desk and computer off to the side.

Q: What house details do you hope your girls will take with them in their memories?

A: Most importantly, I hope that my girls will take with them memories of a happy and comforting home. I also hope they learn to value the connection with the outdoors and conservation of our planet’s resources. Rather than tear down this old house and build a bigger one, we choose to recycle and outfit it to meet our needs.

The focal point of our home is the view to the water and the pool with lots of floor-to-ceiling windows. Those windows have a low-e coating and solar shades to reduce the heat from the sun and minimize the energy load on the AC. Operable windows are located to maximize cross-ventilation during our cooler months in the winter. We recycle and compost what we can for our fledgling vegetable, herb, and fruit garden. Most of the lighting is LED. The toilets, showers and appliances use less water. All of the appliances meet the latest energy standards. Our newest car is a hybrid. I hope they remember this.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your girls? What has surprised you the most about being a mother?

A: The love shared has been the best. The entertainment factor, too. There would not be as many funny, sparkly, laugh-out-loud moments without them.

The most surprising thing about being a mother is how much I learned about my own mother. I always knew she loved me, but I had no idea about the depth of that love. It’s boundless and truly unconditional!

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A: It never gets easier, but it does get better!


Debora, I’m so impressed with the tiny environmental footprint you’re trying to leave; I know it will have a huge impact on your girls. And hooray for loving college freshmen who made it through those often hard-to-endure teen years! Your words made me smile.

Friends, I’m curious: Do any of you live in vacation locales? How do you balance real life and laid-back life? Sigh. We will all try to sympathize! Ha!

P.S. — Take a peek at 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!

20 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Debora Kolb”

  1. What a great post! I grew up in a vacation locale just up the road – Boca Raton – and it really is pretty great. The weather and the lifestyle are so great plus it was kind of fun to track the ebb and flow of tourists. Everyone in South Florida seems to be from someplace else which I always found really added to the culture and community.

    And WOW did I need this today: “It never gets easier, but it does get better!” I am currently the parent of a recurrent biter and I was feeling discouraged. Thanks, ladies!

  2. Never say Never! My new creed in life. This post has taught me to hope as I’ve never hoped before. I grew up in SD and my husband is from Dallas. I gave up on my dream of living within the smell of the ocean when we moved to Maryland (not the ocean side). Although it is important to the “love the place you live” (thank you Gabby) and try to embrace new places, I will continue hoping, prayer and believing. THANK YOU DEBORA!!! Nothing is impossible.

      1. We moved from Maryland to San Diego 3 years ago-I’m loving living right by the beach, and seeing palm trees and flowers bloom all of the time. It took us 15 years away to get back to California-don’t give up hope!

  3. As someone who grew up in S. Florida and has been long gone from there for 14 years (now in Texas!), my heart aches for it. Maybe one day again. Nice to see photos of my stomping grounds.

  4. I live in the caribbean and while most assume you live a vacation year round, it is still real life. We have work and school schedules to juggle the same as you do stateside. Weekends and free time are great, I won’t lie. But we have different challenges living here. We pay more than Hawaii for power, a half gallon of organic milk is $7.98, a 3 pack of organic romaine hearts can run $12.95 and “fresh” food comes by boat, so fresh is a relative term. Financing a real life in a vacation spot is very expensive! We also have hurricanes, mold issues (due to humidity) and bugs. Mosquitos and termites being the worst. Where we live is also very seasonal, so for a couple months a year a good many of our restaurants and businesses are closed. We thought we might move back stateside once we had our son or when he started school, but for now the positives still outweigh the challenges. Right now we’re in our slow and buggy season so you got the less positive review, ask me again when everyone stateside is freezing and we’re bug free.

  5. Oh I just loved this post! I don’t live in a vacation spot, but I do live in a smaller home, so I’m relating to a lot of what she said. I need to get on my recycling and efficiency. She really helped me want it more!

    1. The magnetic, chalkboard wall is painted.

      First we applied a magnetic primer which has tiny flecks of metal in it. Basically, you are applying metal to the wall so the magnets will be attracted to it. The more coats you apply, the better the magnets hold. We did three coats and most magnets stick. I did buy a few super magnets that will hold 4-5 sheets of paper up.

      On top of that, we applied two coats of the chalkboard paint. We found everything at Home Depot and our local paint store.

  6. Have been thinking of moving to a vacation-like spot myself – hubby and I even looking for jobs in beachy areas. Very appealing… especially after this post :).

  7. I love your backyard! I love the simple lines of the pool – it seems to match your home perfectly. And a minimalist wannabe? I’m with you! I love it but then what do we do with all of our stuff? ;)

    I grew up in FL and never really realized until I went away to college how great it was. Every break from school I had friends wanting to follow me home!

  8. Ha ha, I just left Miami Beach for Dallas, and I am L-O-V-I-N-G the change. Starting to have fall nights in the 50s and 60s? No panhandlers, flashers, and drug pushers between my house and the supermarket? FREE PARKING AT THE PARK AND LIBRARY?? I’m in heaven. However, if I were 21 or 61 and well-off, rather than a mom of 2 littles, I’d probably like Miami a little better. Debora, I’m not sure how long you’ve been there, but check out Kennedy Park in Coral Gables for a less populated but great park (on the bay, lots of paths and workout stations, and a divine lemon shaved ice truck that’s always there).

  9. I LOVE Dallas! It just never felt like home for me.. We lived close to downtown in Lakewood next to White Rock Lake, a wonderful, large city park with running and bike paths, a huge lake you can sail on and rolling terrain. Lakewood is a fabulous historic neighborhood with architecturally significant homes, big yards and an eclectic mix of home-owners including lots of artists, musicians, fashion designers and architects. In addition to all of our great friends, I miss the endless variety of yummy restaurants, tex mex food, Northpark Mall, downtown Neiman Marcus, the museums and Oak Cliff . Sadly, you’ll find that there are panhandlers, flashers, drug pushers and homeless in Dallas, too, unless you are out in the suburbs. We used to joke that fall and spring only last two weeks each. While summer seems to go on forever with endless 100 degree.

  10. Funny, we moved to Dallas 2 years ago from Washington DC. And while I like it, I don’t feel like it’s home. So I understand that sentiment. I would love to live in Lakewood! I actually think that would feel more homey to me than my suburban home.

  11. Pingback: monday: best of last week | The Misadventures of Kelly and Kelly

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