Living With Kids: Haeley Giambalvo

By Gabrielle.

This tour is a snapshot of sorts, because by the time I publish it the Giambalvos will be happily ensconced in their new  Texas home. But for the past seven years, this Chicago condo has nurtured a young family. There’s been stellar skyline views, all the city noises and its rushed pace, and more than enough room for all the creative projects Haeley can imagine and bring to life. In short, it’s been one of those homes the family will remember. I love homes like that. Friends, meet Haeley and her family. Please enjoy the tour, and give them a wave as they make their way to Texas!

Q: Tell us about this Chicago family — and soon-to-be Texans!

A: The Giambalvos consist of my husband Ross, Stella (three years) and Hazel (23 months). Ross and I met while attending the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and spent several years on the East Coast before deciding to call Chicago our home shortly after we got married. We had no real reason to move here; we just thought it looked like an exciting city, and we weren’t disappointed!

I grew up in Nebraska, and Ross in Texas, so somehow Chicago felt a little closer to home. We were thrilled when we bought our first place: a three bedroom condo in the hipster neighborhood of Wicker Park with views of the Chicago skyline. Neither of us thought we’d have two kids here, but here we are seven years later. Stella and Hazel don’t know anything but the hustle and bustle of city life, which is so different than my experience as a child in small town Nebraska.

I quit my job as a management strategy consultant once Stella was born, and now stay home with the girls while blogging at Design Improvised after they’re in bed. During the day we keep busy with outings around the neighborhood, music class, meeting up with their buddies, or dancing to their favorite show, The Fresh Beat Band.

Stella’s favorite things include coloring, puzzles, and playing pretend grocery store or beauty shop. Hazel loves her teddy bear and playing dress-up. She is almost always accessorized in something she has pulled out of the dress-up bin. Both girls are admittedly technology junkies; Stella loves to play computer games and Hazel loves the iPhone.

Q: You’ve lived in this Chicago condo for seven years; what has been your favorite part about city living and what are the not-so-great parts?

A: I love the constant action of being in the city. We live right on Division Street, a main drag in Wicker Park full of restaurants and boutiques. Just this weekend there was a stage set up in the street literally outside our front door with bands playing all weekend for a festival. We had front row seats from our front balcony. It was loud, but it was fun!

Being at home full time, the days can get long unless I get out of the house with the girls each day. I love that we can make an adventure out of a little walk down the street by heading to the ice cream shop, dropping into a store, stopping by the park, and just seeing lots of interesting things without having to get in the car.

One thing I will miss greatly about our life at our condo is our neighbors. The other two couples that live in our building are like family. We have dinners together, plant flowers and vegetables together on the roof, and Stella helps our neighbor walk her dog on Sunday afternoons. The girls often just go downstairs and knock on their door to say hello. I love the security of having our neighbors so close.

Some things I’m not going to miss: a fourth floor walk up with two girls and groceries! I’m also looking forward to a little more space. We’ve managed pretty well, but I’ve had to get increasingly creative about where to store things and it drives my husband nuts because he can never find anything (although I swear there is a system!). I’m particularly looking forward to having a dedicated office space for all the craft supplies I’ve accumulated for my DIY blog.

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? Did it change when you added your girls to the mix?

A: Comfortable and eclectic, with lots of personal touches and pops of color. A little traditional, with a modern touch. I love to find good deals, so many of my furnishings are a mix of Target, Craigslist, and flea market finds.

In retrospect, when I had my girls is really when I started to make our house feel like a home. I think I’ve been more purposeful in my decor by creating details that are special and personal to them. I love trying to take the things they love and transform them into unexpected decor, like the bunting I made from their artwork or the gallery wall of Stella’s old puzzles in the playroom. My daughters have helped me tap into my creativity and be more playful in my design. In many ways, decorating for them is what led me to start Design Improvised.

Q: Your blog is all about making simple changes that have a big impact on a home’s decor. What are some of your favorite tips?

A: Many times it is the accessories that can make all the difference. You don’t need to repaint an entire room or buy new furniture; you just need to have a couple special accessories or pieces of wall art that make you smile. A little craft paint or some pretty paper can go a long way towards transforming accessories you already have.

For instance, painting the inside of plain glass florist vases a bright color elevates them to display worthy vases. Covering an old serving tray with a piece of brightly patterned paper makes an eye-catching addition to a coffee table. Adding some pom-pom ribbon to a base of a lamp shade or along the length of a curtain can change the entire look. One of my favorite bang-for-your-buck projects was giving a new life to a garage sale easel for the girls by painting the legs in a variety of bright colors.

Q: How intentional are you in the design of your home as it relates to parenting?

A: We’re in pretty tight quarters in our current place so there is really no place that is off limits for the girls. Still, I’ve tried to carve special kids’ spaces in the main adult living areas. In the living room, we have a little play table against one wall where they love to eat their breakfast, color, and work on puzzles. On the roof deck, they have their own picnic table sized just right for them.

Moving Hazel into the same bedroom as Stella, and transitioning Hazel’s nursery into the girls’ playroom has gone a long way to getting all their toys out of our living room. It has been nice to reclaim that space again. It is also nice that their shared bedroom is now just for reading and sleeping, as they have their separate play space. One of my favorite aspects about the playroom is that if I’m too tired to clean it up at the end of the day, I can just shut the door and not worry about it!

Q: At the time of this interview, you’re about a month away from moving, trading in your three bedroom condo for a Texas-sized house. Do you think it will be a challenge to adjust to more square feet and sprawl? What are the changes you foresee already?

A: It will definitely be an adjustment. For instance, we will now have five bedrooms, but I still want the girls to share a room. How funny is that? There are just so many special moments between the two of them in their room that I don’t want to lose just because we have more space.

Also, after seeing lots of places during the house hunting process, it is clear that bigger is not always better. It will be a challenge to make a bigger space feel special and have character. Right now almost every wall and ceiling in our new home is painted the same color of beige.

We probably only have enough furniture to fill a third of the house right now, and most of the cabinets and closet space will be empty for a while. In some ways it’s a nice problem to have. In other ways I’m anxious about living in a space that seems partly finished for too long.

Q: How are you preparing your girls for such a major move? And how are you preparing yourself?

A: We’ve been talking about it for quite awhile. Hazel’s not quite two, so she doesn’t really understand, but since Stella is almost four she understands quite a bit. But for her, all that really matters is that there is a pool in our neighborhood! It has been interesting to see a big move through a three year old’s eyes. She’s asked me questions like, “Will I be able to take my blankie with me?”

I think the biggest change that they won’t fully comprehend until we’re here is that we won’t be seeing our Chicago friends and family. In particular, we are going to sorely miss my sister and brother-in-law in Chicago. We see them at least once a week, and the girls always look forward to spending time with them.

Q: What do you hope your decor choices are teaching your children about families and your style and traditions?

A: I hope they see what I’m doing as trying to create something special for them: a bedroom where they feel safe and cozy, a playroom where they can have fun and make a mess, a kitchen where they can pull up a stool and help me make lunch. Now that Stella is a little older, I love having her help with my DIY decor projects. She painted the big letter S above her bed and she helped Mod Podge the puzzles on the wall in her playroom. I want her to feel like they are her creations too!

For holidays and birthdays, I’m always putting together a special tablescape using some craft supplies and things around the house, making placecards for each of us, etc. I hope the tradition of making our holiday meals a little extra will be something the girls appreciate and love to help me create down the road.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What has surprised you about being a mom the most? And what do you already miss?

A: Kids can turn the mundane parts of everyday life — getting dressed, cleaning the house, eating dinner — into something special just by being kids. Watching Hazel try and try again to put on her own shoes, having her follow me around the house with her own dust rag while I’m cleaning, or watching the girls crack each other up over dinner are the little kinds of things that make living with kids so priceless.

I didn’t realize how much I would absolutely love watching my two girls form a bond with each other. They just recently have started to really play together and appreciate each other’s company. Nothing makes me happier than when they make each other laugh or give each other an unprompted kiss.

I miss waking up on my own vs. being dragged out of bed by a 23 month old that wants her favorite show and juice, and I do miss having a true weekend to myself like in the pre-kids days!

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

A: To use semi-gloss instead of flat paint on walls in reach of little sticky fingers and crayons! That, and to not buy a really expensive couch when our first daughter turned one. Three years later that poor couch has done a lot of time as a bounce house (I haven’t done a great job keeping the couch off limits!).


Thank you, Haeley! I’m excited to see how you and yours adapt to your new home! It will be lovely to have some empty interior space and a lot of outdoor roaming space for a bit after your city living stint. Let us know when you fill it up again!

Friends, have you ever moved from small to big, or from big to small? Both seem like wonderful moments to either edit your stuff or add more, which are each rewarding in their own way, right?

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!

16 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Haeley Giambalvo”

  1. Yes…we moved from a 2 bedroom apartment in NYC to a 3 bedroom house in NJ. The funny thing is, we filled up the house pretty quick! I was pretty creative with the organizing in the apartment, too. I think you’re going to miss the Chicago lifestyle with the great neighbors in the building. Then again, having the backyard so easily accessible for the kids to play… is awesome! I’d love to see a follow-up to this interview with the new life in Texas! :)

    1. Thanks Ma! I hear you on filling up your new space quickly. As we are in the midst of unpacking I’m actually shocked out how full the house is already getting. I’m wondering how in the heck I was able to find room for it in our old place. I must have used every inch of space to the max!

      We’ve met a couple neighbors but I’m anxious to meet more. The weird thing here is you hardly seen anyone outside of their home during the day (too hot I suppose!). Definitely something to get used to, but otherwise I’m really liking our new neighborhood.

  2. I’m originally from Chicago and now live in Texas and what I miss the most is the diversity of city life and of course our friends and family. Texas’s summers are definalty brutal but then so are Chicago’s winters! Good luck and I hope you have a smooth transisiton!

  3. We just moved from a townhouse to a house-house, and adding closet organizers was first priority. I wanted at least *some* designated places to put our things, even though, like Haeley, we only have about 1/3 the stuff to fill the house. Thanks for a lovely tour & good luck with the move!
    PS–where did you get the great colorful rugs for the playroom and patio? I love them both!

      1. Awesome! Thanks for the tutorial! I can see doing something like the painted rug for a play area (after letting it air out for a while, of course). We have lovely hickory floors, but I can see the kiddo (and us) already giving them a beating, but I want something durable to protect them. $40 is probably a worthwhile investment. :)

  4. Beautiful space and Chicago is wonderful. But be careful in talking about your space being limited. From all appearances, it appears you have 3 BR’s. Many families in the likes of NYC and SF would do much to be able to afford a 3rd BR. Plenty of families would even like a 2nd BR rather than having their children sleep in a closet.

    Other than that, what a beautiful, lovely home!!

    1. That is a very fair comment – we did have 3 bedrooms and close to 2,000 sq ft. in our condo. We lived in Boston prior to Chicago and definitely wouldn’t have been able to afford that much space there. Now in Texas I was surprised during house hunting how people living in 3,000-4,000 sq ft homes looked like they were cramped and cluttered – many couldn’t even park in their garage because it was full of stuff! I suppose it is easy to fill a space regardless of how big it is (something I really hope to avoid in our new place).

  5. Hi… Thanks for sharing your home with us! Where is the darling wall art – Don’t Bug Me and Don’t Rush Me from?

  6. Thanks for letting us come on in and take a look! What a nice job of blending everyday normal and design. It looks so pretty but is still totally liveable – which is sometimes a tricky balance. Looking forward to visiting your blog now and again to see how the new home comes along.

    We are also from the Chicago area – and often think of moving somewhere with more space to roam. Not complaining so much about our actual house with 3 bedrooms, basement and yard. But sometimes living in an urban environment can be a little bit like chronic stress. Living less than 50′ from a 4 lane heavily trafficked road has it’s drawbacks.

    I miss sleeping with the windows open. While still realizing we are blessed to have what we have:)

  7. Beautiful! I love all the personal touches. That living room at the beginning just looks so inviting and happy.

  8. Pingback: AM/PM: A day in the life of Haeley Giambalvo from Design Improvised | Bunny and Dolly

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