Living With Kids: Juliana Rotmeyer

I am utterly fascinated by high-rise family living. I think of all the little things, like getting groceries up 30 floors – which is an entirely different dilemma if the elevators aren’t running! Or, do dwellers in the sky ever miss having a backyard just outside the door? They probably have far less mud in their foyers. And how do you create that sense of indoor-outdoor childhood freedom when getting outside from the super-elevated inside involves a bit of planning? Today’s high up home shows us that it can be done.

Juliana‘s place in Hong Kong, with its endless views and unique space considerations, reminds me of a nest. I love the thought she put into creating a warm and workable family home in what was once a plain white box of an apartment. Friends, I know you’re going to enjoy this very different, very citified Living With Kids tour. Welcome, Juliana!

We are myself, my husband Jeff, and our three year old daughter Ella. When we arrived in Hong Kong eight years ago, I thought we’d be here three years max…but life plants roots even 30+ floors up in the sky!

Jeff is a teacher. He has his own football (soccer) charity for Down Syndrome children. He’s very passionate about life and definitely a giver. He’s a family man and our rock. I’m an Architect with a practice in HK doing both commercial and residential projects. I love designing and making things. It’s a part of my mind that doesn’t want to rest. Ella hasn’t started school yet, but she takes dance, does lots of art, loves exploring around HK, and of course plays football. She’s a really good mix of us.

Jeff loves to write and I’m very visual, so a few months ago we began a blog called The Guest Room in which we both contribute weekly blogs along with some friends about life in HK. It’s our way of bringing our worlds together targeting designers, parents, thinkers, and everything in between.

I’m lucky enough to work from home, and Jeff has been commuting from various parts of the city about 30-45 mins each day over the years to work. Last spring we decided to focus more on quality of life. A short four min walk from Jeff’s school is a beautiful park with fountains and a large playground, long waterfront promenade, and lush green mountains. We’d been living in the heart of Hong kong Island for many years and decided it was time for a change.

We found our flat in a modern building next to the waterfront with stunning views of both mountain and sea and something just sort of pulled us in. We knew it was right for us. The location was great for Jeff to walk to work, there were great outdoor spaces for Ella, the flat had great natural lighting and high ceilings. I quickly began designing the spaces, and within one week I’d taken an empty space with all white walls, completely painted it, hung hooks, art, all new lighting, and revamped some of the kitchen to transform it into our place.

Each room is painted a different color, and there are lots of Ella places within each space. For example, I work from home so next to my desk she has a ladder that she painted yellow that holds her puzzles and building magnets. She spends hours building in the window. I had to be very clever with storage; before we moved in, there wasn’t any storage. It’s a challenge to create more storage than would appear to the eye. Designing in HK, you must think compact. It’s about function and flexibility.

Although it’s HOT in August and September, it’s similar to east coast summers in The States. We don’t have snow in winter, but it’s just cold enough to enjoy wearing layers about six months out of the year without freezing. Shopping is…well…it’s the Asia NYC! Maybe even better! There’s every kind of food and it’s real and tasty.

I love being on the Island. Hong Kong is only 20% buildable land area, so it’s one of the densest cities in the world. I love having everything at my fingertips. The layered infrastructure is extremely efficient. You have the density of the city on the North side and in contrast, the South side has great beaches with mountainous shore lines and lots of hiking and walking trails. You can hop on a flight and be in Phuket, Tokyo, Bali, Siem Reap, or Hanoi, to name a few, within a couple of hours! It’s really a city with everything to offer.

We do get typhoons! One summer I think we had eight within eight weeks. It was intense, but it’s a dense city built like a concrete jungle. Structures are not made with wood; it’s all concrete buildings that are designed to withstand high winds. So I don’t stress over typhoon season.

Managing my collections is a challenge. I’ve learned to collect small things that can sometimes be functional. For example, I collect spoons. I can’t even remember when this began, but at least 20+ years ago. I have spoons from all over the world. It’s not about being a collector’s item, it’s as simple as the shape, weight of the handle, or proportions of the spoon. I love interesting small boxes as well. Again, functional, as I put jewelry or various things in them, stack them, etc. I also collect rocks. My luggage always weighs more going home!

In Asian cities, I’m always drawn to little unexpected things, like the hand painted 1″ tall vintage wooden Kokeshi doll I found recently in Tokyo. Not something I need, but beautiful and small enough to share a space amongst the other little things I’ve found over the years. We travel a lot and one way to remember places was to pick up a magnet. It’s sort of became a collection for the family.

I used to crave more space and maybe I still do, but now my comfort zone seems to rest at this scale of space. I feel like I might be overwhelmed by typical North American square footage. If we had one more room, I guess it would be roof terrace or large balcony. We used to have this and that was excellent for dinners with friends and BBQs, growing herbs, and plants. It would be a great space for Ella to play as well.

I tend to merge motherhood and my career. At least I worked right through giving birth practically! In a good way, though. I love my work. It’s creative, I’m blessed with amazing clients, and it’s enjoyable. I sometimes have a hard time shutting off.

When Ella was younger, I would schedule my work day around her nap schedule until napping reduced to one to two hours a day. Then suddenly and unexpectedly, she stopped napping and my world changed. It was as if I missed that chapter in the book that told you one day they will stop napping. Now, I love to take her sourcing with me when I can. She loves to bring her camera when I’m doing a photo shoot and click her own pics! I do work weird hours. It’s never set in stone. It’s all on a need basis. I still organize my day around Ella, but next year she will start school and my world will change all over again! So for now, I’ll work very late one evening for a deadline and then play with Ella at Disney the next afternoon. It’s a very blessed life style.

I hope my daughter will always continue to be creative. That’s something we love together. She has a very creative and clever mind. I love watching how she thinks. We put a lot of love and creative thought into our small living space.  Like people, I wanted each room to be its own place and sort of have its own voice.

I hope she’ll remember her places around the flat. I tried to create Ella places in various ways throughout for her to enjoy. I love watching her build things in the window bay next to my desk, dancing to music, drawing pictures on her chalkboard wall, playing in her own kitchen, seeing her excitement to watch the sunset from her window together at night. It’s a small flat, but there is actually a lot of Ella everywhere you look without it being just about toys. It’s a happy place for her to grow up and I love that she and I can spend so much quality time together everyday.

I’m still fascinated that she was once in my tummy (as we say!). She’s growing up SO fast. I was so excited for her to start talking and I think among many favorites about Ella, I love the amazing things she says. She remembers things that I’m amazed by. She’s very clever and getting cheeky! I always knew being a mom would be the best part of my life, but Ella has surpassed my expectations. I’m very blessed to have her in my life.

In the past six months, I’ve gone from being called mommy, to just mom (which I expected much later), to mama. It’s a funny process, and I’m learning to just be and go with it. That’s not always easy for me, but it’s about growing together.

I wish I would have known they just suddenly stop napping!

I wish I would have known how fast it goes in the beginning. When you’re in those early stages of their life it’s easy to just get the routine going and before you know it they’re nearly four! I give Ella loads of hugs everyday. Maybe too many, but I’ll never get enough hugs!


Thank you so much, Juliana! You’re so right: If there’s one thing I could go back and enjoy a little more, it just might be the very last nap my kids took!

Friends, Juliana’s line about what Ella calls her – “I’ve gone from being called mommy, to just mom, to mama.” – touched me so much. What do your kids call you? What did they used to call you? For those of you with older ones, do you miss being called Mommy? And isn’t the day they find out your real name one of the funniest moments? It’s as though they’re understanding for the first time that you’re a real person with a real name!

P.S. – Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

48 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Juliana Rotmeyer”

  1. FANTASTIC chalk board wall.
    We had one in our last house. This one is so open, it lacks wall space. Kind of a bummer.
    Found you via Bloglovin. Nice to meet you. : )

    1. Thanks! I love the chalkboard wall as well. Another idea is to paint a table top with chalkboard paint. It’s a great drawing / playing space.

  2. I have 3 children and my oldest daughter, 14, calls me “mom”, my 12 year old son calls me “mommy” and my 8 year old daughter calls me “mama”. I am not sure why they each call me something different and I never really thought about it until just now. Weird, huh?
    PS I love the apartment and the accessibility the location offers. How great for her daughter.

  3. Gabrielle, what do your kids call you? Do all six call you the same thing? Mine still call me mommy. I say “still” because they are 13 and 16. I can’t seem to shake it although I would love to be called mum ; which is what I call mine.

  4. Love this home tour as I live with my husband and our 12-yr-0ld daughter in a one-bedroom apartment. I can relate to that idea of ‘function and flexibility.’ I also loved this, ‘now my comfort zone seems to rest at this scale of space.’ I totally get this. I do sometimes wish for easy-access outside space (a terrace would be lovely), but for the most part, I appreciate living small.

    We’re not high-rise in the same way (5th floor in a 7-story building) and since our building has a backyard there is some more easily accessible outside space. Being able to get outside easily is definitely the one thing I miss from my more suburban upbringing. My daughter doesn’t think about it, though.

    And I’m still called Mommy 12 years later. I’m not sure she’ll ever transition to Mom! She likes the way Mommy sounds (maybe friendlier?). She calls my husband Daddy still too. I think it’s sweet.

    I do have a funny story of when she was much younger and I called Jeff by his name (rather than the nickname I usually use). She said, ‘He’s not Jeff, he’s [nickname].’ Too funny!

  5. When my husband I were first married, we lived on the 15th floor of an amazing flat on the south side of Hong Kong island…right on the ocean on one side and the green hillside on the other. It was a wonderful experience and we enjoyed the culture immensely. We moved back to the States when I was six months pregnant with our first child and I always wondered what it would have been like if we would have stayed. This LWK was fun for me to read and think about how things might have been different!

  6. What a cool, high-energy space Juliana & family have created!

    Oh man, losing the nap kills me every time. My littlest one has been switching from two naps to one over the last couple of weeks, and I’m already sad to see that morning rest go.

  7. Love this apartment! It’s so inspiring to see a family live in such a small space and make it work. I need to do the same, less stuff is good!

    My family really wants to live in Hong Kong for a little while and this post makes it seem a little more real. I think it would be an amazing place to raise children, such an incredible mix of cultures with urban and natural beauty. Thanks so much for this post. This is my favorite series!

    1. Thanks! Before I moved to HK, I had no idea it would someday feel so much like home to us. It’s a great city with so much to offer.

  8. My three girls call me mom, mommy & mama all at different times. I LOVE when any of them call me mama. I expect it from my 5 & 2 year old but when my 14 year old daughter calls me mama it gives me hope that we’re making it through these teen years ok.

    I really loved the wall colors & the placement of the artwork/photos in a line across the wall in the living room (?).

  9. Our 20-month-old son just started calling me “Mom” every so often…it caught me off guard initially, but even “Mom” as its own sweetness! I’m still a sucker for “Mama” though, which is what he calls me most often. :)

  10. I loved all the colors she incorporated into her apartment. It would be thrilling to live in such a city but I don’t think I could ever, EVER live in a high rise building. Just looking at the pictures and seeing her daughter close to the windows has me all nervous. Can you tell I hate heights? Yep, definitely not for me. :)

    1. I was the same 8 years ago! We started out on lower floors and gradually I got comfortable with the higher floors. The views are just so nice to come home to.

  11. Thank you for sharing Gabrielle and Juliana. What amazing views!

    Juliana, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of the children’s book “Young Frank: Architect,” but you and your daughter would probably really enjoy it. MoMA released it last year and it’s one of our favorites. My son was just creating little chairs out of construction paper this morning which were inspired by the book.

  12. How fun! I went to high school with Julianna and recently for reconnected with her through Facebook. What fun to actually see her on your blog! Insert big smile on my face here. She’s an amazing designer, and that Ella is fantastic! So glad to see them featured!

  13. Loved this tour! My husband and I are just a couple hours north of Hong Kong in mainland China right now and dealing with tiny spaces as well. :) We’re down in Hong Kong a lot so we’ll have to check out some of the places Juliana mentioned. I love all the color on the walls!

  14. Thanks Caitlin! I think people are often cautious to add colour, but it can really do a lot for small spaces. Just go for the colours you love!

  15. Beautiful space, every bit of it!

    My kids, 16 (girl) and 11 (boy), refer to me as “mom” when talking about me, but call me “Mommy” which I admit surprises me. I told them at some point that they could change when they wanted to, that they didn’t need to continue on my account, but they both said it was what they were comfortable with.

  16. I am SO in love with the turquoise color in your living room! I imagine paint colors aren’t the same brands in Hong Kong as they are in N. America, but if they are, could you please share the color’s name?

    1. Sure! I use Mythic paints which are non toxic VOC free. In the living room we painted Mythic Escape the Everyday 043-5. It’s one of my favorites as well!

  17. Woo!hoo! from one HK gal to another!!! I love that you are so positive about sharing the wonderful things of our great city. Too many people here moan and whinge about pollution, rents, lack of space and forget the oh-so wonderful and vibrant energy of this city.

    PS Please tell me what shade and where I can get that paint in your living room. It’s my daughter’s favourite colour ever and she has been asking that I paint her room in that colour. x HK girls rule!

    1. Hi Katherine! I use Mythic Paints which are non toxic VOC free. The living room is Mythic Escape the Everyday 043-5. You can get it on Wyndham St at Calcite. 43-55 Wyndham Street, Central, HK. Ask for George. 3428.5441

    2. Hi Katherine,
      I use non-toxic VOC free Mythic paints. The living room is Escape the Everyday 043-5. You can pick it up at Calcite. 1209 Yu Yuet Lai Building, 43-55 Wyndham Street, central. Ask for George. 3428.5441

  18. What a wonderful home. I would never have thought about living in a high rise! I am not sure if I could. Just looking at the pictures gave me tingly fingers, but those views are amazing! Love, love, love the blue walls and her collections. Very personal and lovely. Love this series!

  19. I love what Juliana did with her space. As a current urban row home dweller, I can really appreciate dealing with compat spaces and no storage!

    I’m amazed at people who can live in high rises, though. I have a strong fear of heights and find it hard enough spending even five minutes at 30+ floors up — I can’t imagine setting up a home that high! But I think it’s super cool that others do.

  20. I just love the way you use the vertical space. I have been trying to convince my husband to transfer to Asia for years. We came close to Singapore last summer. Maybe someday soon.

  21. What a great apartment! My family lives in an apartment on the 4th floor of a 5 storey building. Not quite the same as being on the 30th floor but similar constraints space-wise. We went from living in a 3 bedroom house with big backyard in Australia to a 2 bedroom apartment with no outdoor space of our own when we moved to the Bay Area. I was really worried at first how my kids would cope with so much less space and especially the loss of their own outdoor space, but they love it. They’re happy to share a bedroom (bunk beds definitely help), they enjoy watching the traffic on the streets below (it’s amazing just how often fire trucks go by) and two years later they still find going up and down the elevators a novelty! Although we don’t have any outdoor space of our own we are lucky in that our building has an amazing roof top garden area plus there is a communal courtyard on the second floor. As most of the other residents are at work or university during the day my kids get free reign of the communal outdoor areas a lot of the time.
    We don’t have a huge amount of storage in our apartment which can be a little tricky at times but it has helped us to work out just what we really do need. It’s amazing just how much you tend to accrue over time if you have the space for it. Downsizing to a much smaller home (and an international move) really helps put into perspective just what you do and don’t need in your life. It’s amazing how much stuff we realised we could happily live without when we moved. I would like a little more storage space in my kitchen though as my pantry is tiny. That said, we are very lucky that our building has a giant pantry called Trader Joe’s on the ground floor!

    Oh, and my two girls (ages 7 and 3) both call me Mummy. However, because she goes to school in America, my oldest calls me Mom or Mommy in writing! I still find that a little weird :)

  22. I love the colours and how they personalize the space. When we lived in a condo in Singapore, my daughter’s favourite thing was to play “airplane” in the window bay. She calls me mama or ma but she’s always called her father by his first name – it drives him crazy! Luckily our little one calls him papa.

  23. My first little one was just born, and I’m also an architect who works from home–I was sort of counting on those naps! Good to know I can’t count on them forever!

  24. kristin Stockschlaeder

    beautiful space. I am still Mommy most of the time and I know when that ends my heart will break a tiny bit. I love being Mommy:)

  25. Hi,
    I’ve been following Design Mom for less than 1 month, but already fell in love with Living with Kids series. I’m curious about the hooks on the photos…are they all the same? the hooks and the picture holders? is it a folding hook? where can i buy that? thanks a lot :)

  26. That’s pretty big for HK!

    I’m interested in the idea that backyards are crucial for families … thousands of families do without in HK and seem fine. I live in Canada, but I see a backyard as work. I would much prefer a nice terrace.

  27. Hi Juliana from a fellow HK dweller! We’re on the Island as well, in North Point, on the 37th floor :-) Love what you have done to your space. May I Ask: do you rent or did you buy? Because our landlord would go nuts if we painted like you have? Absolutely love the individuality of your apartment. Our 3 yo daugther Eva would love the colours of Ella’s bedroom. Anyway, will look up your blog – always lovely to read about other people’s lives in this big (and small..) city! Thanks for the peek. Wies xx

    1. Hi Wies,
      We are literally neighbours only a few minutes from N. Point. We are actually renting this apartment. I told the landlord before moving in that I was going to transform it. He was actually rather happy I think. I also made sure to put in writing that I didn’t need to fill the holes or repaint back to white! It should be pretty easy for him to rent when we decide to move.

  28. Pingback: monday: best of last week | The Misadventures of Kelly and Kelly

  29. Juliana, this was so exciting to see, because my husband is an architect, and we are considering moving to Hong Kong (and/or Bangkok) at this very moment!

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