We always hear that the top three most important features in a house are location, location, and location. But truthfully, when most of us think of our dream home, we envision more than a short commute or an easy walk to school; we want the beautiful details that have filled our inspiration boards forever, right?
Giulia and her husband bought a house that didn’t seem like it would be their perfect home. It isn’t the style they thought they wanted, but it is strong and solid and flooded with light, though, as well as close to everything they wanted to be near. So while they may not have chosen a home that lived in their dreams, they’ve found that they’re living in one in which they can easily build them. There’s a really good lesson here, Friends. Enjoy the tour!
Q: Tell us a little about the family who fills up this house!
A: This is the home to my husband, our four-and-a-half year old daughter Maelle, our three year old son Desmond, our cat Heidi, a fish called Tom, and myself. I grew up in Europe and moved to Canada nine years ago, and my husband is Canadian — from the East Coast — ocean, lobsters, and all!
My husband is an engineer and I am an Associate Director of Communications. In typical engineering fashion, my husband loves to take things apart, put things back together, and can tinker for days until projects are just right. I, on the other hand, have grand ideas in my head that I’d like to have happen overnight; if I can’t execute them to the speed or quality of my imagination, I get frustrated. I’m continuously working on this flaw, especially when it comes to home renovation!
Q: How did this house become your home? Was it love at first sight?
A: After our son was born, we started actively looking for a new home. We wanted to move away from a less than stellar neighborhood and a townhouse with lots of stairs. This house became ours because it was in the right neighborhood, within walking distance to an excellent school, the perfect distance to both of our offices, in our budget, and most importantly the first home my husband saw and even considered.
Once he said “Yes…I could see this work,” and I saw the potential in what it could be down the road, it became ours. It was the ugly duckling on the street, but it was the first house we felt was right for us.
Q: Your home’s design wasn’t on your wish list — not a Victorian and not the Cape Cod you’d envisioned! — but the neighborhood was ideal for your family in many ways. How did you readjust and finally fall in love with your house?
A: Yes, a 1950s split level house was not on my must-have list of homes! I am usually drawn to Victorian architecture or the relaxed feel of a Cape Cod. I was used to old European apartments, and liked those features. And this 1950s house is by no means a glamorous Frank Sinatra, Palm Springs kind of house! It’s one of those boxy split levels with yellow brick and cedar siding, built by a plumber.
But we realized that things beyond the exterior design were more important to our family. There was the fact that we would not be spending hours on the road, or the fact that we had a great school down the road, and tree-lined streets with sidewalks; those details made our decision easy.
Once our family was living in the house, the advantages of a split suddenly became apparent to me: it keeps our family close. Nobody is ever far off. My kids are both under five now, and this was essential when we first moved in two and a half years ago. If I’m in the kitchen and the kids are in their rooms or in the playroom, I can hear them and feel connected. The house is solid and strong and flooded with light.
Q: What advice would you give to someone living in a home that isn’t exactly their dream house?
A: Really, a house is just the walls that surround you — you and your family make it a home. The most beautiful house with all the things you imagined filling it won’t guarantee you a true home. It’s what you make of it: the memories, the laughter, the tears.
Maybe because I spent most of my life renting and moving every couple of years, I never got too attached to the shell. Mostly I remember most of the places I lived in very fondly because of the memories and events that happened there.
Q: Do you feel somewhat pushed to stay true to some parts of the 50s style of your home?
A: Yes and no. I imagine that not everyone in 1959 owned what we now consider Mid Century Modern furniture. I imagine different houses had different styles as they do today. I never owned a piece of Mid Century Modern furniture, and the closest we own in that style now is a dresser in my daughter’s room that we got off Kjiji, which is the Canadian Craigslist. It was a steal at $15 and the only reason I got it. I see many coffee tables, side boards, and chairs that I’d love, but I never feel compelled to spend the money for that design, even when sourced second-hand. I’m also not very good as scavenging through thrift stores or listings; that’s where I get impatient!
We’ve collected a mix of things, like a table from Provence, white Parson dining chairs, a beat-up flea market side chair, a yellow IKEA cabinet, a floral chair, leather ottoman, and IKEA couch. It seems to work for us without too much effort.
Our house does have some distinct 1950s features, like the corner windows in the living room, which I absolutely love. Also, I love our offset fireplace that someone messed up with an ugly tiling job; I want to get back to the original as fast as I can! We kept a room divider between the living and dining room even though people urged us to take it out. I think it’s quirky! The open wooden vertical bars in lieu of a stair railing going upstairs is, again, a nice detail and allows light to flow through.
Q: What projects have you tackled so far?
A: When we first bought the house, we hired people to put in a new furnace and duct work. After that, we gutted the playroom and mudroom. We removed fake wood paneling, tartan wall paper, and carpet, and then dry-walled, installed paneling and sinks, painted, etc.
My husband did all the work himself, so we had all our toys and office stuff in our living and dining room for four months! My husband also built a corner bench and table in the kitchen to take advantage of some unused space, and we recently completed a mini bathroom renovation. We also painted every single room in the house.
Q: Can you share some of the lessons learned along the way for DIYers or those of us who want a new look this very minute?
A: Unless you have unlimited funds and can hire help, it just won’t happen. It’s always more expensive than you think and takes longer than you think. And if you do the work yourself, along with your full-time job and two kids, that number just goes up and up and up. We’ve been living in our house for two and a half years now, and I never thought that I’d still be looking at that fireplace the way it is now! But we had to set priorities and I had to learn to be patient.
I have noticed that by waiting, we know our house better and we’re learning what works. If we had had the money and the time right at the beginning, we might have torn down walls and done things to the house that were not in the best interest of the house or our family.
Q: Do you have a favorite — and harmless! — way of splurging on your home while saving for the changes you want to make?
A: Paint! It can transform a room for little money and little time. I’m thinking about painting our master bedroom a more dramatic color just to change it up a bit.
Q: You love blue in all its shades, don’t you? And you’ve used it in such a way that it’s as clean and refreshing as white! Did the blue theme just happen naturally or was it a design statement? Are there any other colors you want to try?
A: Blue just happens. If I look at a bin of throw pillows, I’ll be drawn to the blue. If I look at art, I’ll be drawn to the blue. I wear a lot of blue. It’s a fresh color that works for both masculine and feminine design. It’s versatile. It can be airy and breezy like a beach house, or moody and dramatic in a Victorian dining room. I try to inject other colors to change it up a bit, such as yellow in our bedroom or pops or red throughout the house, but those are conscious efforts to shake things up a bit.
Maybe one day we’ll be lucky enough to own a beach house and I’ll have every room in blue and white.
Q: Your favorite space in the home…
A: …is our living and dining room. It’s open and connected and we have north, south, and west facing windows so it’s always bright. In winter we love to cuddle up with a fire.
Q: What’s your general philosophy when it comes to living with kids?
A: Both my husband and I are pretty tidy and keep things organized. We had to learn that, with kids, we can’t pick up all the time and we can’t hound them to be tidying up all the time either. So our kitchen table might be overrun with drawings and odd toys, our living room will have a picnic displayed for two days, and a bucket of cars will be dumped in the playroom. I’ve learned that I can still enjoy a night of TV with those things not being cleaned up. I do still cringe, but most of the time I can let go. We do, however, always clean the kitchen and every two weeks we are lucky enough to have someone come clean our house, so if all else fails the whole family makes sure that everything is tidy the night before cleaning day.
We involve our kids in our home design. My daughter decided that she wanted to change the colors in her room, so we let her choose the wall color, the bedding, and curtains. I like that she had a say in the space that’s hers because her room is an extension of her personality. If my son shows interest in choosing things for his room, then he’ll be able to do that as well.
Q: If you could begin and end one project tomorrow without any effort or worry about price, what would it be?
A: I would have all of our 19 windows replaced! It would have a huge impact on the look of the house from the outside and the inside. Our house would be more efficient, and I would no longer have to wriggle open those old double aluminum frames.
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish I had known…
A: …that it doesn’t always have to be perfect to be great. I have high expectations of people, design, work, and myself, but living with kids has shown me that imperfect can be great. I try to focus on enjoying the now instead of always working towards tomorrow.
Giulia, thank you so much for the tour around your home! I love how you’ve treated shades of blue as your basic white paint; it’s just as clean and visually refreshing to me.
Friends, what about Giulia’s thought that she never gets too attached to the shell? I’ve read her words a few times, and the idea that keeps sticking is that a house becomes a home not with the ideal decor or immediate renovations, but rather with your family’s memories, your laughter, and your tears. So true, I feel it in my heart.
How about you? What’s your favorite feature of your home that has nothing to do with its design? Are they right about location, location, location?
P.S. — You can find all the homes in my Living With Kids series here. If you’d like to share your home with us, drop me a note. I’d love to hear from you!
23 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Giulia Doyle”
I JUST discovered this blog snooping through some blogrolls. As a Canadian blogger I am on the hunt for fellow Canadians – and lovely to see another “angle” through you interview. You come up with the best questions.
And about living with kids – involving her kids in design decisions about their rooms is sweet. And having a home that’s livable for all too. I know that’s the point of your series and Giulia certainly lives it – that you can have a stylish home that also IS home for everyone in the family. No more of that “the living room is for company”!
As someone who is house hunting amongst expensive homes that are less than ideal on the East Coast, this is just the reminder I needed: it doesn’t matter what you live in, your family makes the home.
That is just what I needed to remember right now.
great interview, and I love their very real (and pretty) home. When we were house hunting, I almost didn’t want to go into the house that we eventually bought because it didn’t fit the criteria for what I wanted the outside of my house to be like. Needless to say, we looked at the inside and felt lucky that it was in our price range! Here we are 10 years later. We ended up doing some pretty major renovations, but this really was a good fit for us both then (before kids) and now (2 kids). Sometimes a house finds you, not the other way around!
Today (I can´t believe it myself, but it´s true) we bought a house. This house tour comes timely, because I see some similarities between Giulia´s and our new home. We love the neighborhood (we are already renting there), but the house wasn´t necessarily love at first sight. In fact, we didn´t even consider it until we heard it would be sold. Let´s see what the next year full of renovation, sore muscles, dust and paint will bring!
I think this might be my favorite of this whole series. The house looks achievable–something any one of us could do with a regular house, but it’s just gorgeous. Also, her words about not getting attached to the shell really resonated with me. I grew up in the same house my entire life. I came home there as a baby and I slept there the night before I got married. I was devastated when my dad retired and my parents moved from that house. I had attached my childhood to that home and it broke my heart for them to leave it. As an adult I have not had the privilege of owning my own home (outside of 3 years in a condo). I’ve lately been feeling so sad for my kids that they will never have the experience I had, of living in the same place with the same teachers and schools and friends their whole lives and it’s breaking my heart. But Giulia’s words have helped calm me down a little and remind me that it’s okay, and everyone has different experiences. So thank you!!! Also, does anybody know where the master bedroom bedding came from? Especially the striped blanket? It’s all just gorgeous. I myself am in love with blues.
Thanks for the kind comments. I believe I’ve moved about 20 times in my life and have great memories of all the places we lived, the different cities, different countries and all that I got to experience.
The bedding and the stripped blanket are from IKEA, the quilted shams from HomeSense about six years ago.
Great post! It’s comforting to hear that even though the place is gorgeous now, it wasn’t a love-at-first-sight affair.
I would have loved to see photos of the ugly tiling job on the fireplace, though. How do you work around details like that when you’re slowly moving your way towards an ideal?
Here a link to my House Tour – ugly fireplace right up front! I have just ignored it, some days that was easy, other days not. I am planning on working on it in the next couple of weeks though – it’s next on the list!
My favorite thing that has nothing to do w/ design is that my kitchen is big enough to have 20 college students fill it every Tuesday night! (I love living in a college town!).
Lovely home, thanks so much for sharing, Giulia!
Wonderful tour! And terrific art! I’m wondering if you would be willing to share the names of the artists of the bird painting in the dining room, and also the painting over the blue couch?
Thanks! The dining room birds are just a print from Home Sense (Home Goods) from a couple of years back. The one above the couch is Canadian artist Sara Caracristi.
I love this series! She has some delicious colors in her house…I’m especially fond of the colors in her daughter’s room.
I love when you showcase true designers, but also working moms who aren’t designers by trade.
She’s so right about what makes a home. If you are happy and have love, it’s a home.
Beautiful home, Giulia. Thanks for sharing. Would you mind sharing the name of the lovely gray on the walls?
The grey colour on most of our walls is Benjamin Moore Thunder.
Hi Guilia – Thanks for sharing your home with us. Who is the artist that did that great painting in your living room?
That’s Canadian artist Sara Caracristi.
Just had to say – I’m an East Coast Canadian kid – Nova Scotia born and raised. Living in the south now. Cheers to your husband! Great house….
Thanks for sharing your beautiful home with us Giulia!
I have a Canadian husband as well, now living on the West Coast but being originally from Germany. It is important to make a place your home , no matter the shell, especially when you are (happily) “displaced” from your original home/country.
I’d love to know where you got the beautifully coloured leaf pillow fabric from, or what the name of it is that is sitting on the red bench…
Thanks and best of luck with the fireplace
Thanks! I got the fabric at a local fabric store so I don’t recall the name of the designer.
It can be so hard to let go of expectations that your house be everything you want, but having an actual *home* is more important — there’s a difference. Thank you to Giulia for driving home that point. I love your place, Guilia and tend to be naturally drawn to blues, too. Oh, and I’m Nova Scotia born and bred so reading this terrific interview by Gabrielle was extra fun.
Such a beautiful house tour. Love her attitude specially where she says
‘a house is just the walls that surround you — you and your family make it a home. The most beautiful house with all the things you imagined filling it won’t guarantee you a true home. It’s what you make of it: the memories, the laughter, the tears.’
So important to remind ourselves of this, and often.
Thanks so much for sharing this!
Fantastic color in the kitchen, what is it?
We have similar coloring w cabinets and dark.counters and are looking to add some color, yours is the closest we can find!
Also, love LOVE the color scheme on th rest of your rooms, well done!!
Only saw this now. The colour is the kitchen is Fauna by Benjamin Moore.