Living With Kids: Jodi Hays

By Gabrielle. Photos by Jodi Hays and Alana Rasbach.

Jodi described her family and home to me in the most endearing way: very full, very imperfect, but shines bright. Her family’s motto is equally winsome. You’ll see.

This is a tour for those of us who routinely surprise our families with entirely new floor plan configurations on a whim. If you hear your mate and kids ever utter phrases like “Good morning! Where did the dining room go?” and “Oof! Who put this table here?” then raise your hands in victory! Jodi grew up like that, too, and the experience still warms her heart. So rearrange away!

Let’s hear more from Jodi, shall we?

Hi everyone! I am a painter, professor, and curator in East Nashville, Tennessee. Felix is my husband of 18 years, co-conspirator for life, parties, and art Pop-Ups.

Gus Wonder is our first born, six years old. He is his name: kind, driven and super into math.

Eames Ever is four years old. He is an old soul who loves animals and collecting.

Cleopatra Wise is one, and the most contented (and possibly spoiled) little tres. I am the youngest of three, so I understand my mom and myself so much more for having had her.

Lefty is the 17-year old studio cat. We got him when we lived in Boston and he is a polydactyl, Hemingway cat. He has been known to convince house-sitters that he lives inside.

We live in East Nashville, which is a now-not-so hidden gem. We moved here in 2005 from Massachusetts to be closer to our families and be back down south. Our Memphis friend, who runs an amazing gallery called Tops, recently called it the “Bermuda Triangle of No Cars in the South.” We simply don’t drive a lot.

We walk our kids to school — an inspirational charter school called Nashville Classical — and have great neighbors who have mermaids painted on the front of their homes, murals in the back alley, happy hours, and funky street festivals.

We have seen a lot more people move here in the past four years, changing the nature of the city. All that definitely complexifies a place, and housing prices doubled. But we also now have restaurants actually open on Mondays.

We had to work really hard in our twenties (we need insurance for my high maintenance teeth!) and my maternal grandmother gifted/matched us a bit of money to buy our first loft in Lowell, Massachusetts. When we sold it a few years later in 2005 to move to Nashville, we found ourselves able to buy a modest home in a neighborhood we love, close to the University where I soon after worked as a curator and professor.

The current house is only four blocks away in the same neighborhood. Once we were pregnant with our second, our home seemed cramped, and we WERE lucky this time to hear of this project. Felix keeps a back-up check in his wallet (Gen-Xers) and because of that check, we were able to sign for the place upon meeting the builders.

Lesson: Checks are great for luck and estate sales.

Artists tend to follow what they love and not the trends. I don’t prioritize my time to follow design trends, nor would I have the budget to follow through even if I did. I do love good design. I frequent estate sales, thrift stores, yard sales, and flea markets.

I collect family items and give them space in the home to construct meaning for those living around them. It is our hope that we teach our kids to hold things and materials very lightly, yet I love good function meeting good form.

My mom used to rearrange the furniture after we went to bed. I can still remember being delighted and hopeful when I got to see a room reimagined the way she did. She has always bought pieces from estate sales or antique shops in Arkansas, and has an great eye.

Our house in an ongoing collaborative family project that includes the kids. The rooms change weekly, as our family moves in and out of stages and needs. I am not sure what the kids pick up on yet, outside of managing a collection (trash packs, cars, popsicle sticks, and stuffed animals at the moment).

We try to raise them to be creative but to follow their own paths and interests. Gus has thoughts about his space and use, as he is in school and has homework and likes his stuff to be in place. Eames has opinions. Like, he just told me that he doesn’t like his bed changed around. Oops.

As much as I am visually captivated by all wooden toys, high-end kids everything, we (like most of us) need to save for college funds and be frugal and smart about finances. That means I pick up toys at Goodwill and am very nimble with letting things go to someone else once we have no further use for them.

I have pursued painting for almost 20 years, getting undergraduate and graduate degrees in Fine Art. I began after undergrad doing quite a few jobs — like temping, teaching, and bookbinding — then worked in arts administration in Boston. In my twenties I was trying to find my footing with my work and will always paint. Always.

After graduate school I worked for a number of years as a full-time curator and professor of art. Thankfully, those hours of working full time and paying off graduate school debt fairly quickly gave us the choice for me to continue to make my work as the kids came along. I still do some graduate level teaching and curate here and there, but am using my time for my painting and parenting. I have become a priority and discipline ninja.

The studio is steps away from the main house, hosting my painting practice, Felix’s office, and a garden apartment above. Felix now works in a nook of the studio/garage when he is not on the road. It works, as our schedules do not overlap too much. I prefer working in the studio early mornings for consistency, and eking out some mid-day pushes. We often meet for coffee in the kitchen for “water cooler conversation” or a quick lunch out together. We bounce ideas off each other for Dadu shows or other ways in which we are involved in our community.

We keep our mantle playful, and it, along with the home, changes weekly with the season, kids’ art projects, my work, color interests, or family photos.

Very recently I framed hundreds of ribbons, medals from my long ago days of running track. Having a girl motivated me more to see them in the home, as a model for working and goal setting.

The kitchen was designed so well by Marcelle Guilbeau and David Baird. I love its simplicity, bright white, and its ability to house guests and family for meals. My family has collected Russell Wright (my Mom’s maiden name) work, so it lives on the floating shelf along with trinkets, artwork, and posters.

The stairwell hosts an ever-growing gallery wall of ancestors and family photos in black and white. Installed is a sculpture by Ron Lambert.

Gus has my grandmother’s gifted iron bed, one in which my sister and I slept as kids. Eventually it will be Cleo’s when she is ready for it. Now it sits against the IKEA shelves — not the best aesthetic move, but much safer for the boys’ wild reaches.

Eames’ room has a few cool little collection containers (the IKEA flat file that he took over when it was in my studio) and the old letter drawer from my Mom, who can empathize with his inclination to collect. We use a bookshelf for his headboard, reminding us to read more with him.

Cleo’s room is mostly blues, greys, and gold. One of my favorite things in her room is a portrait of my Mom.

I love golden hour anywhere. Upstairs when the light is great in the morning, or on the front porch for an informal happy hour. The screened-in porch is a favorite, and a must-have in the south. We — meaning my husband, as I am a baseball fan only — watch college football there, installed a hammock chair, and can enjoy early mornings and late evenings there.

The front porch is great for community, and precisely what drew us to this neighborhood. People don’t have to “pencil you in” to hang out; there is a culture of hanging.

I had an aha moment the other day related to how my painting shifted after I had kids. Becoming a mother heightened my dependence on walking as thinking. I became a flaneur, which opened me up to the world at three miles an hour. I have become more present, less hurried, more content (which is a practice, not ever an attained goal), all modeled after what my kids teach me.

I wish I had know that the world is not a meritocracy; that hard work is just that, and no one owes you anything for it.

Our family motto right now is “Shine Like Lightning,” thanks to our friends at Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors. Shining is worth every effort, even if you don’t meet with some of the expectations you had.


Thank you, Jodi! Viewing the world as a place to shine no matter the expectations or rewards sounds super healthy and rewarding. To borrow a lyric, “Even when the rain pours down/Even when the light seems like it’s fading/Even when your heart aches, feels like it’s gonna break/That’s when you sing out loud.” Excellent song. Excellent motto. (And on a personal note, one of my favorite snippets of life in this tour is the kid-height fingerprint-smudged studio door out back. Life is being lived here!)

And, friends, another reason to like Jodi is that she responded to my glowing emails with this: “Thanks, from a mom who is ignoring the Cheerios on her floor so she can recover some Hepplewhite chairs.” Tell us what you’re trying to get done right this very minute, despite all that’s going down around you! There’s strength in numbers!

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! I should also mention, I have a goal to bring more diverse points of view to Design Mom this year. So if you don’t see yourself or your community reflected here, let’s make it happen — send in your details, or recommend a friend! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

5 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Jodi Hays”

  1. I love the idea of the living room mantle being a playful, nimble place to show off recent family interests and ever changing highlights of the season. In so many homes, including ours, the mantle has a prominate place and also has then benefit of being a limited space to “curate” making it more “doable” than home-wide decorating themes.

  2. I love reading these snippets of other peoples lives – they are so encouraging!

    We are starting over again after 17 years in Brazil. Our 17 year old Brazilian son has been so great as he is experiencing American schools, culture and life in a country that he has only visited 6 times in his life. I am a writer and knitter who is working as a customer service rep at the moment, because finances. The hubby is driving a bus and starting a company – hard work and fun times!

    We live North of Nashville and love the musical vibe that city has!

    Blessings from Portland, TN

  3. I love so much about this tour. Are we sure East Nashville didn’t get cool just because they live there? :P Seriously though, I think this is the best quote in response to this question ever : “I wish I had know that the world is not a meritocracy; that hard work is just that, and no one owes you anything for it.” Couldn’t agree more. Bravo!

  4. How fun to see my fellow Nashvillian and acquaintance Jodi being featured today! I met Jodi when my best friend referred her to me for natural childbirth classes when she and Felix were expecting their first child. :) She is a very cool woman. Glad to see her sharing your space here!

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