Geralyn Broder Murray is a writer. Lately, I’ve started to notice that good writers create some of the most awe-inspiring yet completely comfortable, at ease homes. I guess it all goes back to the concept that design is nothing more than the telling of a story, which makes a home a very, very personal compilation of important treasures and memories to never forget and all the other photos that don’t make it into an album. Geralyn’s home tells a tale I’d like to read over and over again. Want to read it with me once more? Here goes! Friends, I’d like you to meet Geralyn.
Q: Tell us all about the family who lives here!
A: This is home to my lovely, funny husband Chris, an award-winning video editor who tackles 100-mile bike rides on the weekend for fun; our eight-year old daughter Reese who adores math and playing family in equal measure (“It’s so hard to the be the mom of eight kids, Mom!” she often says to me in the hallway, exhausted, juggling three baby dolls and a plastic stroller); our five- year old son Finn — widely known as Mr. Inappropriate (anyone with a small boy will understand) — who adores any sort of ball, as well as art, inventing things, and driving his sister nuts. There are also two dogs (one big and hairy, one small and a bit smelly), along with the bossiest cat in the world. This cat has an aversion to closed doors, regardless of which side of said door he is on.
Q: Share your home’s story with us; how did it come to be yours?
A: Sometimes, a home chooses you. In our case, we were living in this very same neighborhood with our daughter (at the time, just a toddler), in a smaller home (980 square feet) and we were over for dinner with dear friends two blocks away. They announced they were moving; we were crushed, but by dessert we looked around at the house that was a good 700 square feet bigger than our own and decided we should buy it from our friends. That is this house.
Of course, after a few years and another baby, even this new-to-us house (built in 1949) seemed small again. Time to move, right? But with the housing market in a bit of a free fall, we couldn’t make selling it work. So, we made do. We crunched some numbers and figured out a way to add 250 square feet to the front of the house, adding built-in shelving and a window seat, new windows, and crown molding. It was absolutely the best gift. It’s now an inviting space we can share with our family and friends without anyone having to sit on the floor or in the coat closet.
I adore our home – the way the light streams in the playroom in the afternoon, how my grandmother’s table sits like a queen in its little dining area, and the original, beautiful hardwood floors. We feel incredibly lucky we were able to make the space work so nicely for our family. Now, we really can’t imagine being anywhere else.
Q: How would you describe your style? Has that changed since adding kids to the mix? For better or for worse, in your opinion?
A: Garage sale chic? Contemporary hand-me-down? Simply shabby? I’m not really sure. When we got married a decade ago and moved to Northern California from Los Angeles, we stopped by a department store on our way out of town that was having a closing sale, and bought a couch. We loaded it into the moving truck and continued on, and I think that couch and an armoire in our bedroom may be the only pieces of furniture we’ve bought new.
And it wasn’t because we’re environmentalists (though we’d like to think so!) or especially frugal (though we try!); it’s started because we lost both of our fathers in this decade, and my grandmother, too. They each left behind special pieces we couldn’t bear to part with — special not because they are notably antique or elegant but because they were part of the stories of some of our very favorite people.
Since then, I’ve been drawn to estate sales and garage sales. I couldn’t leave behind a 1908 dictionary with a family bookplate inside, or a 1930s working radio, or a piano that had been sitting in the same spot in the same house for 50 years until everyone had gone and died and left it behind.
I can’t bear to let stories be abandoned. And, to me, so many of these pieces really are stories.
The kids have come along while all of these pieces have, so it’s impossible to separate a pre-kid style from a post-kid style, mostly because we had a baby 18 months after we were married. I would say, however, that art and music and animals and creativity and play are a big part of our life with kids, and I think you most certainly see that in our home, inside and out. For good and for bad!
Q: Your collections and belongings seem like they’re managed well and organized! Do you have any out-of-the-ordinary tips for collecting clutter without it looking like clutter?
A: As much as I love to collect old, lovely things, I do purge regularly, donating to Goodwill or to friends. That way there’s sort of a “one thing in, one thing out” system in place. Too much stuff makes me uncomfortable. Plus, our house, even in its new “enlarged” size, is only 1850 square feet! Tight spaces make editing mandatory, I think, which is a good thing because we can appreciate what we have as opposed to just floating along on piles of things for which we don’t feel anything!
The sentimental and handmade things are the exception though; we have lots of those. I just try to get creative with how we organize them. For instance, my little guy tends to be a bit of a consumer (everywhere we go, I hear “Can I get something?”) so I invented the rock collection concept. When we vacation or hike or explore, we pick a special rock or shell or stick to remember our time by. When we come home, we write in Sharpie pen on the item where it was from or something special about it and add it to our rock tray.
Now there are treasures in the collection that say everything from the kids’ names to the date of our anniversary to the names of our favorite trails and beaches and vacation spots. My favorite one just says “Home” in red, little-kid writing.
Q: I see a lot of salvaged items and well-loved pieces that seem to have been bequeathed; you seem to be drawn toward pieces with history, right? What is it about antiques that make you fall for them every time? (Do you share their lineage with your kids? Like “Don’t break that! It belonged to Great Aunt Lola!”)
A: Since nothing really matches, per se, it’s odd that somehow everything works together. Nothing is really precious — although I do keep a pad on my grandmother’s dining room table now after a few too many toddler spills.
After my grandmother passed away a few years ago and I had the table shipped to me, along with its matching china cabinet and hutch, I was so afraid to have our family eat dinner there every night. After all, what would my grandmother think of two sticky kids with sippy cups feasting on chicken nuggets at her beloved dining table? But then, my wise friend Heidi said to me, “She would be thrilled!” I think she’s right.
Q: Your artwork is delightful! Do you sketch for fun or do you have bigger plans?
A: Thank you. After a lifetime of writing, I was looking for another way to tell the story, so I began drawing just two years ago at the age of forty and I so enjoy it. Watercolors, good paper, brushes…ah, heaven! And yes, I do have plans! I have an illustrated pregnancy journal coming out in April 2013 from SourceBooks called From Pea to Pumpkin.
Q: What room in your house brings you they most joy? What makes it so happy to you?
A: The playroom. It gets the best light and also, it belongs to all of us. It’s the illusion of space, too! As in, here’s a whole other area we have that’s not our bedroom and not the living room; it feels like a luxury to have it. And the best art and Lego-building and dance parties happen in there.
Q: Top three most precious items in your home right now…
A: Of course the obvious: Chris, Reese, and Finn. And then: our wedding photographs (not digital!), the kids’ artwork, the kids’ blankets they’ve slept with since birth, the photo collage hanging over our bed that Chris made for me that spells out our wedding date using photos of special firsts for us…the park bench where we first kissed is an M, the A is the location of our first date, the Y is the gate to our first house…every gift he gives me is so thoughtful and artful.
And then I offer up something completely heartfelt, like a shirt from the Gap!
Q: What is your all-time favorite thing about living with your kids? What will you miss most when they’re no longer living under your roof?
A: If I’ve been out — even for just an hour — and return home, their reaction is crazy. Like I’m Cinderella and Superman all rolled into one! “MAMA!” They run toward me and jump into my arms and there is complete bliss for exactly 23 seconds. Then the jostling and whining inevitably begin.
What I will miss most: them climbing into bed with us in the morning, having permission and access to kiss and hug them whenever I wish, their bellies, their belly laughs, seeing them love each other, seeing them like each other, seeing them be kind to our animals…
What I will not miss: the stuff that happens in between all of that goodness.
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish I had known…
A: …that window washing requires a professional if at all possible, that colic will end just before you think you can’t handle a crying baby for another second, and that your children really will keep on growing whether or not you stop and watch, so you should stop and watch every moment you can.
Oh, Geralyn. Thank you. Your last answer just hit my heart.
That question always gets me. I’d love for everyone to chime in on it today, too! Friends, what is the one thing you wish you had known?