Living With Kids: Deborah Harju

I’ve always thought of Los Angeles as one of those cities where anything can happen. Scripts are pitched and sold and made into movies. Waiters turn into actors over lunch. You could round the corner and bump into a celebrity. You could round the corner and become a celebrity! Or. You could live out your own entertaining reality show, working and playing and coming home every day to the smiling stars you call your own. That’s exactly how Deborah and her family are living in L.A. Which is definitely a worthwhile paparazzi moment, in my opinion. Welcome, Deborah!

We are so excited to be here! There are five of us at home. I’m Deborah, there’s my husband Aaron, and our three gifts: Gunnar (11), Sawyer (8) and Greta (6). We live in our urban oasis in the heart of Los Angeles. I am a born and raised Angeleno and have an oh-so-L.A. occupation: I’m an esthetician and have been doing facials and waxing for the last 13 years. I’m also a blogger who loves to document the adventures of our family, with a side of food, decor, and art projects.

Aaron is from the Midwest and works as an elevator mechanic. Not the most L.A. occupation until we tell people that his work takes him to a lot more private residences than office buildings. We met in the heart of New York City at Lincoln Center. After a few years of dating and marriage with a year living in New York tossed in, we found ourselves with a baby on the way and headed back to my hometown of Los Angeles.

We are a DIY-oriented family who loves to take on any and all house projects, large or small. He was raised in a family of carpenters and my dad is a contractor, so “build it yourself” is kind of in our genes. We have dreams of living in a less urban environment where we can raise chickens and grow all our own vegetables, but for now, we are content with a few small raised garden beds and no livestock. Although I’m working on Aaron about a hen house. Uncommon but surprisingly not unheard of in the middle of the city!

Our original home was a great little 900 square foot ranch style home, perfect for our family of three. But with a second baby on the way, we were outgrowing the space and decided to rebuild from the ground up. We both had an affinity for Craftsman style homes, a Southern California style that blended well with our coastal community. We were very involved in the building process and had input on every inch of our space, from closet configurations to tile designs. We feel incredibly grateful to be living in a home that we were able to customize to our needs and aesthetic.

Our neighborhood is very family friendly. A lot of people are surprised that in the middle of Los Angeles there are pockets that are so neighborly. Where we live, families walk to school in the morning and ride bikes in the afternoon. We look out for each other and the babysitter lives next door. I grew up just a few blocks away, and actually attended the same elementary school my kids now go to, so the whole area just feels familiar and homey. The fact that my sister and her family are a few blocks away is a huge bonus as well.

I would describe our aesthetic as eclectic, colorful, with a mid-century feel mixed in. Friends who walk into our home say that the house is so “us” and we love that! We had children very young and very early on in our marriage so I don’t really think we had a pre-kid style. If it was cheap and we didn’t mind our kids ruining it, then that was what we got! Since then our style has evolved. As our kids have gotten older, we have felt more comfortable tossing aside the Ikea toy chest and picking up one of a kind items on Craigslist or at flea markets. And if we can’t find that ideal piece, we just build it ourselves.

After looking high and low for the boys’ beds, we decided to try to build them ourselves out of pallets and we couldn’t be happier with the finished product. We also don’t mind taking our time furnishing our home. I don’t think we had a dining room table for a year. But we were content waiting until we could afford the right one. My kids’ art and photographs are my favorite things to display on walls. Both are inexpensive, so walls have been easy to decorate.

I think our home works best when there are a lot of people in it. On any given day, there are a lot of kids here, filtering in and out to the backyard, running up stairs, grabbing snacks in the kitchen, doing homework at the kitchen island. Whether we are having a chili cook off, friends over for a backyard movie night, or just family dinners, I think the times our home is full of people are the best times. My parents, my sister’s family, and our family have a weekly tradition of Monday night dinners. We take turns hosting and it’s a wonderful time to reconnect and have cousins play. Don’t get me wrong; I love the Mondays that I don’t have to cook! But I absolutely love my home on Monday family dinner night.

We’ve grown so fond of each item we have brought into our home, if I had to pick only three things I’d bring with me to a brand new home, I think I would have to pick our master bedroom bed first. It was our first “grown up” furniture purchase and all these years later, we are still so happy with it. The dresser in our boys’ room is a favorite Craigslist find of ours. I spent almost a year searching for the right piece at the right price point but it was worth the wait. The last piece would probably be the boys’ beds. (That counts as one since they’re a pair, right?) Their beds were a huge labor of love and I think they would fit any style of house we were in.

Working from home has been one of the biggest changes in our lives. I liked my job at a spa nearby and worked with great people for years, but I still wanted to grow my own business. The “build it yourself” gene again, I guess. I’m not a big lover of change so it took a lot of encouragement from my husband for me to feel confident that I could be successful as a small business owner. We converted a guest house in the backyard into a treatment room. It was fairly easy to get all the necessary permits and licensing. I designed that room to be very tranquil and calm because it’s a place of relaxation for my clients. I do everything I can to make sure that when they walk in the door, they are transported to a private little spa.

The difficulty with working from home and for myself is that I’m at the mercy of my clients’ schedules. There is no one there to cover for me because it is just me! Some weeks I work mostly nights, other weeks mostly days, but usually a combination of the two. Despite having some hectic weeks a few times a year where I work consecutive late nights and weekends, I wouldn’t change it for anything. It was the best decision for our family because I have the flexibility to take my kids to school, pick them up in the afternoon and tuck them in most nights.

I hope that when my kids see their mom excited about her work, they don’t feel like I’ve made a choice to be away from them. I hope they realize I try to arrange it so that my passion for my work doesn’t take me away from my time with them. I especially hope my daughter sees that I can have an identity other than just mom. I hope she sees that I provide a service for other people and can contribute to our family financially. She’s my little esthetician and at a very young age knew exactly what waxing meant. At two years old, I found her laying stickers on her arms and then pulling them off; she was “just waxing, mama!”

I hope my kids will one day appreciate that they could go through their teenage years without the dreaded acne phase, thanks to me!

My blog has provided such a wonderful creative outlet for me to document these precious years where my kids are changing and growing. Blogging allows me to capture these fleeting moments and at the same time connect to a community full of creative people. It’s inspiring to see so many talented people in the world, people that I would otherwise have no knowledge of if it weren’t for blogs.

I try to surround myself with things that make me smile. Living with kids sure brings a lot of clutter with it, so if I don’t love it, I don’t take it home. My favorite items are my kids’ creations. They come home daily with such treasures…self-created projects or art pieces from school. I love that they are so proud of it all. I usually end up with displays of their projects so they know that I value what they make and are encouraged to keep making more.

I love that when I move something to a new spot or add something to their room, they notice it and are so curious about what I am doing. They ask me how long it’s been there, and did I want to surprise them? My kids think that I decorate for them, which I think is great. I don’t intend for them to find out otherwise.

My kids make me laugh. They make this house happy and joyful. Without them, it would just be some walls and furniture. They make it full of color, full of life. They brighten up this house just like they brighten up my day. I already miss the evenings by the fire, everyone reading with a cup of hot chocolate. I already miss how I can lie in bed and hear footsteps anywhere in the house, and know exactly whose feet they belong to.

I wish someone had told me that it’s okay to grow along with your children. Being a young mom has meant that I matured alongside them. I make mistakes, I apologize, and sometimes I fail. But I wish someone had told me that trying my best is all that would matter to my three little people.


Oh, Deborah. I think all mothers — young and older and in the thick of it as they’re reading this — will find such comfort in your words: “I wish someone had told me that trying my best is all that would matter…” Good to remember.

I also smiled at the thought of Greta “waxing” just like her mom! Do your kids ever mimic the jobs you do, in the home or out? It always makes my day to hear your cute stories!

P.S. — Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

44 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Deborah Harju”

  1. Great post. Deborah, what is the tile you used as a backsplash? I love it. I want to redo the backsplash in the home we purchased, and have been looking for a green, modern, tile that fits in with our 50’s home.

    1. Thank you Becki! We purchased the glass tile at Walker Zanger, which is pretty much tile Mecca here in L.A. I’m so sorry I don’t have the exact name since it was over 7 years ago!

  2. I always enjoy this series, but I about fell off my chair when I saw this one – Deborah is my niece!! I was so excited to see her featured here. She is such a loving person and mom. I am glad others get to see a glimpse of her here and her wonderful husband and family. She is infact the one that introduced me to Design Mom. Thank you for a great coffee break this morning!!

  3. What a warm and inviting home! Love all the little close-ups of corners, surfaces and other spaces.

    Deborah — I have a non-design question: can you explain your comment about your kids being able to avoid the “dreaded acne phase”? I have a son who is in the middle of it right now. Should I be taking him to an esthetician? Would love any advice!


    1. Of course Kirsten! I love to talk shop, I mean skin! Why don’t you email me at amharju at gmail dot com and I’d love to go over how he’s caring for his skin and what could help.

  4. Loved this feature on Deborah, who I’ve known since she was a little girl. It’s been great watching her mature to the mom she is today. Also loved watching her creativity florish through the eyes of her blog.

  5. I was really surprised when Debroah said they built this home. This house looks like an old craftsman home with soul!! I would never have thought it was a new build. Great job!

  6. beautiful home Deborah! i featured that awesome backyard fort last year on my design-a-fort series. it was so great to get a peek at the rest of her gorgeous, well-styled home!

  7. Loved your post and photos of your house. It made me laugh when i read that you wanted a henhouse in L.A, it made me laugh I never thought of that.

  8. Such a lovely home. I love the beds (boys and master) and all the colour and little collections. I see you are going to ALT – hope to meet your there!

  9. Love Deborah! Love the interview and the fact that it shows people why we love living in Los Angeles. :) Her house is so lovely.

  10. What a beautiful home. I love all the personal touches and that firepit is fab! What I love most are Deborah’s thoughts on living (and growing up) with kids. Lovely.

  11. Deborah has a lovely home. Well done to both her and Aaron on building suchg a lovely life with their children. I love seeing a family united as one living the true family life together based on hardwork and alot of love! Thank you Gabrielle!

    Zoe xxx

  12. Beautiful home. And lovely interview. My favorite part was where she said she knows which footsteps belongs to who. I love that. I’ve never really thought about it, but know our footsteps/shuffles too. Great tour. Thanks for sharing.

  13. What a beautiful home, it looks so homey and welcoming. I love all the little details and I only wish me or my husband were just a little handy. Thank you for sharing your home and story with us, I loved getting to know you… And my kids too know what waxing is, my mom is an esthetician! I can just imagine our daughters playing “grown-up”, we wouldn’t have to worry about them cutting each other hair, just waxing it! Hihi.

  14. So being a FOD (friend of Deb)and being allowed to share in the good times, I can attest to the warmth and the fun we have! But you know what the best and most beautiful part of this home is? The People inside it!

  15. Oh my, I got a touch teary at the end thinking of missing footsteps that are there now, but will age out of the home later… Beautiful sentiments – I think the last couple of questions are my favorite – most touching. Love, love your home – the boys’ dresser is amazing – actually there are many things that I noticed that I loved!

  16. What a beautiful home and family. I love the tile in the kitchen and all the books–I think I recognize some of the Penguin classics with the gorgeous covers. And I’m fascinated by the idea of a guest house.

    I loved having a young mom. I’m a lot older than my mom was, but I still feel like I’m learning and maturing alongside my kids. So it’s not just you, Deborah! I can’t believe how much I’m learning from my kids.

    1. They are the Penguin books! I had to refrain myself from buying the entire set, we read to my daughter before bed and so far we’ve read The Secret Garden, I can’t wait to go through them all! She’s a bit obsessed with Little House on the Prairie at the moment, so we are in the middle of that series.

  17. I love the way this home is curated. I especially love the way the photos are arranged with the mix of children’s art. It’s so interesting to look at. All I can think of when I see this house is “family”.

  18. It’s so clear from these pictures where this family’s roots lie: So very California and Midwest, all rolled into one.

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  21. I love that Deborah pours every bit of her heart and soul into her home as well as everyone who enters it. Love this girl :) Her house is our family’s happy place!

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