As anyone who is living with kids knows, smart storage is essential. It’s the difference between a quick clean-up at the end of the day, and exasperation and a lot of sighing. It’s the difference between a frustrated ten-minute hunt for winter boots when you’re already running late for school, and spending that ten minutes in a much more relaxed way. It’s the difference between cluttered and curated. It’s an intelligent design concept, but it’s also a brilliant way to live well with kids. It’s simply smart. Julie knows this, and executes it daily and stylishly with her cubby design. What’s so cute to me about it are the collections her kids keep inside! Like their own little Pinterest boards! Enjoy the tour, Friends. (And just you try not to get all sentimental when you read what Julie will miss most about living with her kids.)
Q: Please tell us who makes this house a home.
A: There are five of us now, and we have another baby on the way this fall. Gulp. Stella is seven, Cedar is five, and Jules is three. They have plenty of fun together, run pretty wild, and spend lots of time at home. Kevin is a scientist, and active on the Rocky Mountain Rescue team. He negotiates year-round for more hunting time, and wakes up with the kids every morning. I tend the home fires, and run Bundle, a franchised cloth diaper service and baby shop.
Q: How did the home come to be yours?
A: We had to move out our rental house last summer, and were looking to buy our first home after years of moving from rental to rental. We had to be out of our rental in three weeks, so I was sure that I wanted a move-in-ready home. But after looking at many many beige houses on manicured streets that I couldn’t see myself living in or on, I finally agreed to *drive-by* this complete dump on the end of a country road just outside of town. The house was so neglected I wouldn’t even let my kids inside: the floor was torn up, the appliances ripped out, and there was broken glass and nails everywhere. But it felt like the right spot for us with a huge yard, a few cows for neighbors, and beautiful mountain views.
With a tiny budget, a tight time frame, and a huge renovation list, we started calling friends – an architect here, a contractor there, a kitchen designer around the corner. And we hatched a plan for me to take the kids to my parents’ house for the summer while Kevin worked his full time job, responded to mountain rescue calls, and stayed up late rebuilding the house. Kevin did most of the work himself. He demoed almost all of the interior of the house, and then built it back up: framing, plumbing, electrical, and whatever else goes into rebuilding a house. Friends helped out (he ended up driving a couple of them to the ER!), ex-cons with solid friend-of-a-friend credentials proved invaluable, and the house was ready-ish by the time the kids and I rolled up in the minivan a couple of months later.
I, for my part, obsessively internet-shopped for every design element in the house. And Kevin, for his part, didn’t object to my choices. I did get one little phone call when the hot pink lacquered bedside tables got delivered. I was hoping they were going to stay in the box and I could discreetly set them up at just the right moment, cover his with books, and he would barely notice. My Plan B, though, did work! That plan was just that he is very fond of me, and doesn’t actually care that much about home decor one way or the other. Phew!
Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? In what ways did it change when you added kids to the mix?
A: I like things that are industrial, quirky, and bright. With kids my taste has gotten a lot more minimal and a little more playful. Before kids I accumulated more stuff, and enjoyed displaying it. But with the energy of five people in a little house, I focus more now on creating a warm but blank canvas. The little items that we do display are meaningful, and their meaning has space to resonate because they aren’t crowded. When we clear away the clutter of the day, I want the one thing left on my counter to be something that I really love. Or when I set the bread out to rise on the counter, I want it to look peaceful and beautiful…not one more thing in a sea of things.
When we had our first daughter, we got lots of plastic gizmos. But living in a very small place at the time, it soon looked like a hazardous daycare center more than a house for adults. So I got rid of almost everything. Turns out, a beautiful little wool ball is just as fun as a singing plastic one. I curate the toys for two reasons. The first is that I want our house to be beautiful, and I don’t want to have to hide the kid stuff. I see the toys as an integral part of our home, and I like the look of toys and kid stuff out and about…as long as it’s good looking stuff.
The second reason is that I want my kids to be surrounded by natural materials and beautiful things that encourage them to dream. Even with three kids we keep a pretty small number of toys, and most of them are handmade or have special meaning to us. Because kids accumulate toys like magicians – where does all of that stuff come from?! – I go through their stuff every couple of weeks to cull the things that we don’t want to keep. They have much more imaginative play when their shelves aren’t crowded and their toys and tools are organized.
I always notice the day after I cleanse their stuff they will play on their own endlessly. The less they have, the more fun they seem to find.
Q: Do you consciously decorate a room with your kids in mind?
A: We have a pretty small house, so every room is used a lot, by everyone. I do like to have a couple of toys out in each room, and I like the look of beautiful toys. But I try to keep our bedroom as a place where the kids don’t play. They are welcome to be in our room, but only to rest or read a story with one of us. This is a place where we keep our sacred objects, and try to maintain as a peaceful and more private spot.
We never did much baby-proofing, banking instead on our kids having a steep learning curve. If you throw the cup, it will break. If you hit your head on a sharp edge, it will hurt. So far, so good. I probably clean up more toddler messes that way, but I just don’t care for sippy cups or foam-wrapped coffee tables.
Q: Cubbies! What’s your favorite thing about that kind of storage in your home? How have cubbies worked for you?
A: I like the look of repetition, so I truly love our little cubbies lined up like soldiers at the door. The stuff of five people, especially in the winter, is a voluminous mess. So tucking it all away behind glossy white doors is a good thing. It also helps us get out the door more easily when everyone knows where their shoes are.
Here, too, I do a lot of editing to keep the insides tidy enough that the space works. I also do a fair amount of hanging up little coats that have been thrown on the floor. Everyone’s cubby has shelves, coat hangers, and shoe shelves sized to their height so that they can hang up their own coats (in theory) and reach their own stuff. The sixth cubby is devoted to art supplies.
Everyone gets to decorate the inside of their cubby door however they want, and I like seeing how they use their space. Jules’ cubby has a bag of trains that he likes to bring on outings and abstract pictures of cars, Cedar’s is filled with dog treats and rocks and pictures of animals, and Stella has art projects and pictures of people. To me it is like a little private microcosm of our family.
Q: Speaking of cubbies, how do you handle clean-up and chores?
A: My kids do all the cleaning at my house. They are actually child robots. Cute ones, though. No! Of course I am the main clean up lady. But I actually kind of enjoy it; there is something satisfying about getting everything in order. Tedious sometimes, but also worth the effort for me. And sometimes I don’t feel like cleaning, and that’s when my house turns into a circus and I get very grouchy. We are all at our best when the kitchen is tidy…or maybe that’s just me.
Since my kids are so little, I focus not on chores, but on an expectation of kindness. Being kind might feel removed from chores, but it seems to me like a continuum. Keeping a house is very giving work, and ideally it comes from a place of kindness – not resentment or bitterness.
Plus, getting little kids to do chores is a lot of work! So for now I have settled on seeking more meaningful help from my kids, like ‘get your sister a band-aid’ or ‘go see why your brother is crying’ or ‘run and get the mail,’ instead of actual chores that take a lot of effort on my part, and are actually – at their ages – not helpful at all.
In this way I ask my oldest daughter to help out quite a lot, my five year old just a bit less, etc. While I don’t have a perfect success rate, I try to make helping a privilege, which it really is. I don’t ask for too much, or ask for things when I can see they aren’t up for it, so that we avoid a begrudging attitude and they don’t get to say no. It works pretty well for us, and our days run more smoothly when there are lots of little hands available to help in their sweet little ways.
Q: What is your favorite room in the house to spend time with your kids?
A: I love to sit down at the marble table, which was passed down to me by my grandparents. It is a beautiful, functional, wide open spot for sharing meals or drawing pictures together. We spend a lot of time in the kitchen, but stepping over to the table is a chance to put my work aside and just be with my kids.
Q: What do you hope your decor choices and the items that surround your family are teaching them about you and their someday ideas about family?
A: I think they know that I value aesthetics, and value our space on behalf of our family. This place, our home, matters very, very much. I hope they see our home as both an intimate and a structured place, and find comfort in that balance.
Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own kids? What surprised you the most about kids and about being a mother? What do you already miss?
A: My favorite part of living with my kids is the fun they have. They are so funny and sweet and squishy and sincere. And the little things are huge for them, which reminds me how miraculous the world is.
It surprised me that motherhood has been such a deep personal challenge. Living with kids, with all of their watchfulness and honesty and trust, is a huge opportunity to grow every single day. To remember that their problems are not mine, to be kind to them, to be patient. Oh, to be patient.
I already miss those clear faces staring back at me, so curious. Reminding me to be curious, too. And to be good.
Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish I had known…
A: …to go slow to go fast. Kids sure do rebel against a rush! Going slow solves most of my problems these days.
Go slow to go fast? I’ve never heard that, but it’s so true! And you got me with the clear faces staring back at you, Julie. You truly did. “Reminding me to be curious, too. And to be good.” Oh. That’s one of the most heartwarming characteristics of a child, and so, so heartbreaking when it disappears.
Friends, didn’t you love her chore philosophy? Keeping a house clean is a very giving act. It’s true. So teaching kindness, promoting kind acts, and treating chores as a privilege seems smart, doesn’t it? How do you introduce your littlest ones to the concept in your home?