Living With Kids: Julia Fain

By Gabrielle. Photos by Katlyn Myrvold, with a few from Julia, too.

There are a few schools of thought about how to live with kids and still maintain your style, from pretending their childish design preferences and love of all things plastic in primary colors don’t exist, to merging yours and theirs seamlessly and in lots of aesthetically pleasing bins and cupboards, to completely succumbing to the mayhem for at least a few years. And then there’s Julia and her family. With their style firmly rooted in Mid-Century Modern and a preference for vintage, the Fain home is a study in clean simplicity. Quite a feat with two small ones running around it! I must admit, her clutter-free home has me kind of yearning for a purge, and will probably inspire some of you to rethink the quantity of toys in your own homes…even the ones hiding away nicely in the afore-mentioned cute cupboards!

I’m happy to introduce Julia to you all. Enjoy the sunshiney tour, Friends!

Q: Tell us all about the Fain family!

A: Hi, I’m Julia! I met my husband Lee ten years ago in Savannah, Georgia at a college ministry event. He was pursuing a masters in Industrial Design at SCAD and I was pursuing an undergrad in Industrial Design at Georgia Tech. We dated long distance, married, and worked together as designers for an appliance company in Louisville, Kentucky.

A few years later my husband was offered a design position at 3M in Saint Paul, Minnesota and we trekked further north. I was pregnant with our son and knew very little about midwestern culture, cold, and snow. It was a definite adventure! Six years later we have two kids and own a home in Saint Paul. We live 20 hours from grandparents and travel south as often as we can to visit them!

We have two incredible kiddos. Our son Bryce is five. He is creative, silly, and energetic. Kinsey is three. She provides a lot of laughter and loves to craft especially if there’s glue, scissors, or markers around. Together, they are quite a pair.

Q: How did this home become yours?

A: We were first time home buyers on a budget looking for an older home that needed minor updating. This proved more a challenge than we expected. After several offers with bad inspections, we spotted our home on Craigslist. We fell for it and quickly made an offer. After making several offers on other homes, we were all a little discouraged with the process. I enjoy researching and spotted our home on Craigslist a few days before the MLS listing went public. The seller hosted an open house, we visited, and then went back with our realtor a few days later. I believe Craigslist, Facebook, and Zillow are changing the way houses sell. When we sell our home, we plan to start with social media before signing with a realtor.

Ultimately, we became the owners of a 1957 Mid-Century classic!

Q: What are your favorite details about your home? What makes you love it?

A: We love the Mid-Century character of our home. The walls needed painting and we pulled out the old carpet. We remodeled the downstairs bathroom and then later updated the kitchen ourselves. We love the quirky exterior. The built-ins, clothes chute, and wood floors. And I love having three bedrooms on the same floor so I am close to the kids at night.

We are a few blocks from the neighborhood lake, and in summer we take walks to the city zoo. Last summer we walked to swimming lessons at the new neighborhood pool.

Q: When does your home work best?

A: Our home is a modest size (1300 sq. ft.) and it feels like the perfect size for our family. We share life together and don’t have the option of hibernating at opposite ends of the house.

We’ve made a conscious effort not to over-fill the home with furniture. In our bedroom we purchased a bed with storage underneath so we could avoid a large dresser. The kids share a room with a bunk bed which leaves more floor space for playing legos. We consistently donate and sell old toys.

I keep nostalgic pieces and heirlooms, but our home size doesn’t allow us to keep every toy. A few months ago our oldest asked, “Can we please donate my car ramp? I want someone else to have a turn.”

Q: Tell us about your shop and your philosophy behind it.

A: My husband Lee brought home a Mid-Century bench from the city dump shortly after we purchased our home. I’m pretty sure that was the beginning of our love for vintage pieces. As a family, we visit estate sales and thrift stores and have gradually added vintage dressers, games, and lamps to our space.

My background is in product design which I believe draws me to vintage pieces with nice form and nostalgic graphics. Vintage children’s toys and puzzles were built to last and I love the idea of rescuing a product and giving it a second life. It was a natural progression to share some of my favorite things on Etsy. I’m very excited about my new shop!

Q: What do you hope your love for vintage collectibles teaches your children?

A: When buying toys for our kids I have a philosophy of shopping used first. We like to dig a little rather than pay a premium. For my daughter’s third birthday I wanted her to have a vintage house. After visiting a few thrift stores I discovered a 1971 Fisher Price schoolhouse.

We do buy a blend of new and old. I am not opposed to buying new toys but we limit it mostly to Christmas gifts and their birthdays. And when buying new things we try to add to the collections they already have, like Legos, Brio trains, and board games.

Our kids are good thrift store shoppers. They sometimes spot things that I miss. When we’re out shopping, they know they can choose one thing each; I often give them a budget and I can veto the item if it is oversized or missing a part.

Q: How has your style affected your children?

A: They are a bit too little for me to know their style preferences when it comes to home design. But I will say that our little girl has much flashier taste than me when it comes to clothes! Where I prefer muted tones and a touch of texture, she prefers bright colors and animal prints.

Our goal with the kids is to play one thing at a time. So if they want to play a new board game, the old one needs to be put away first. The kids love to play in our living room so it is usually messy during the day. Before bed the living room gets picked up and we encourage the kids to help. And honestly I do not clean their toy room until right before guests come over!

Q: What is your favorite part about living with your own kids?

A: I love to see our kids’ relationship. They often choose to sit together when watching a cartoon and always take an extra cookie or snack for the other sibling. They definitely disagree at times, but we encourage them to show grace and kindness to one another.

I also love to see their creativity. Our son is old enough to draw pictures and our daughter’s favorite thing right now is drawing monsters. Think smiley faces with hair! Nothing too scary! After dinner my husband often sits down with them and sketches while I clean up the kitchen. It’s one of my favorite times of our day.

Q: What memories have you made in this home?

A: We brought our daughter home from the hospital here. Our son learned to ride a bike in our back yard. We weathered negative temperatures in the winter and hosted bar-b-cues in the summer. Lee and I tackled our first DIY home projects. It inspired me to start a blog which led to my Etsy shop. There are so many good memories created in this home!

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

A: …that I would wear out the knees of my jeans while playing on the floor with the kids.


Thank you, Julia! I felt such a sense of calm while touring your home. Some clutter-free environments translate as too sterile for my taste, but yours feels different; almost as though you’re creating a space your children can fill with their own creativity, day after day. Also, thank you for sending the sunshine our way!

Tell me, Friends: Are you more of a less is best decorator, or do you believe in maxing-out your home? Do Julia’s rooms, filled only with what makes them happy and gives them space to be exactly that, make you yearn for a purge, too?

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!

30 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Julia Fain”

  1. One of my favorite home tours in a while. We have the same schoolhouse (currently populated by Lego orcs)! I love the clothes hanger-hung art. Borrowing that idea immediately!

  2. I’m probably giving away my age, but I had that same Fisher-Price schoolhouse & farm. (And the house. And the bus. And…) They bring back such great memories!

    And now I’m inspired to do some de-cluttering, stat.

      1. Nice to see I’m not the only oldie hanging out here! I loved the farm, house (that doorbell!) and the plane!

  3. I love this one – love the mid-century stuff and the toys and the fact that it is an lovely, not-huge home. My house is on the smaller side too, and seeing these pictures leaves me inspired rather than envious, which is nice.

  4. I would have to agree this was a great home tour. Inspirational and encouraging at the same time. My mom got my kids the Fisher-Price camping bus and we all love it and I can’t wait to take my kids out and help them find more treasures. Thanks for sharing your beautiful home and your story with us.

  5. Fisher Price Little People!!! I grew up with those exact same toys–that dog, the green car, the desk. Oh man, what a fun walk down memory lane! :) Awesome house. I hope when I have kids I don’t succumb to toys galore. Your house is so breathable.

  6. I love so many things about this! Since I can’t mention everything, I will just say that I find a rug-less living room very refreshing! Was contemplating rolling up the rug in ours, but was afraid it wouldn’t be as kid friendly. After seeing this, I’m gonna do it today!

  7. Love touring the homes you feature on “Living With Kids.” Such good ideas for families with youngin’s. I would love to see some houses that share their good ideas with homes with olders kids. When my babies were, well…babies, it was easier to organize and style my home as I had more control. Now that my home has teenagers, not so much. I could use some inspiration on ideas that we all like!

  8. I couldn’t even finish reading this all without stopping briefly to plot how I’m going to remove three pieces of furniture from my overcrowded bedroom. Oh that feels good just thinking about it. Thank you so much for the shared inspiration!

  9. We did open cabinets in the kitchen of our first house, mostly because we couldn’t afford custom doors. It turned out to be a brilliant move in our small space. I love seeing other people who’ve done the open cabinets!

    Oh, and your wood floors are beautiful.

  10. Just love this tour and interview! Plus we have the same sofa! Sweet! We share a lot of the same philosophy. I have a 1 year old and we play with one thing at a time. We also live in a small home and decorate it mid-century vintage. So, it lends itself to an uncluttered feel. Although, she definitely has me beat on the lack of clutter!! Now, I feel like purging some stuff!! Thanks for the inspiration! : )

  11. I love how you can trace the flow of the rooms in this tour. Sometimes I toggle back and forth between photos trying to figure out how the house fits together. In this tour, it was refreshingly obvious!

    I’m so envious of the clutter-free environment. Clutter creates stress for me, which isn’t great when my two housemates are clutterbugs! That said, it’s relatively easy for me to straighten up the “public” living spaces. My challenge is my 6th grade daughter’s room.

    Gabrielle, any good tips on helping a pre-teen/teen organize his/her space? How to balance her desire to see everything (“so I don’t forget it”) with having a room that’s actually manageable? Maybe there’s a post here?

  12. Envy the non-clutter – truly. They have my stove (I know that sounds odd but swear it is the same one), and…. my vintage (was mine) Fisher Price schoolhouse… the hallway and doors look like the house I was brought home to as a baby in the 70s. I feel at home already :).

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