Living With Kids: Katie Gnau

By Gabrielle.

Wouldn’t it be neat to live in an arty loft? No walls to obstruct views, maybe some exposed ductwork and a few brick walls, with city lights twinkling all around. Oh, it seems to me like the design possibilities in one would be as endless as the ceiling height! But then reality sets in, and I wonder how I would divide space for six kids and one Ben Blair and also one me! It would have to be a pretty long loft, wouldn’t it?

Katie, however, is living the loft dream. What began as her husband’s super cool bachelor pad and spent many years being thought of as the wrong sort of house for the Gnau family, suddenly turned into the perfect home for one daughter and one Tony and also one Katie. Isn’t it funny how a simple change of mindset can make all the difference in how well you’re living? Friends, please join me in welcoming this loft-loving Chicago family!

Q: Please tell us all about your family!

A: Our family includes my husband Tony, our two year old daughter B, our two cats Maggie and Hermione, and countless dolls and stuffed animals.

Tony is an Emmy-award winning journalist and writer who runs our family business, T60 Productions. Lucky for B and I, he also uses his creative talent to document much of our personal life; our home videos are amazing! He’s athletic, creative, kind, successful, and good looking. I still feel like I hit the jackpot every time I remember I’m actually married to him.

B is often described as pragmatic. She’s an aspiring ballerina who loves the color pink. She loves to bury herself in a pile of books. She has the gift of gab, and can entertain herself all day long playing with dolls and stuffed animals.

I’m absolutely addicted to spending time with my family, and I have the hardest time leaving the house without them. I currently teach at the college level part time, and do the vast majority of my work while B sleeps so I don’t have to miss a thing. In the past, I’ve worked as a preschool teacher and a zoo educator. During B’s preschool years, I have plans for combining my professional interests with my family life through homeschooling. I’m counting down the days and getting excited about being both mom and teacher.

Q: How did you end up in this home?

A: The story of our home begins with a bachelor pad. My husband was living here when we met, and at the time, it was mostly a big empty box with a black leather recliner, a huge TV, and his home office.

When I moved in, we began adding and changing furniture and decor and, let’s say…softening the space a bit. We weren’t sure how long we’d stay, so we were somewhat committed to making it ours but didn’t want to spend any money. It never really felt like home to me during that time.

While pregnant with my daughter, I had a bit of a crisis about our home. We considered selling, we considered renting somewhere else, but we eventually brought my daughter home to the loft before even creating a nursery! Soon after her birth, my husband found office space a few blocks away and we eventually decorated a sweet room for her. In the meantime, we kept meeting with realtors about selling our place and looking at homes in our neighborhood in hopes the numbers would work and we could find something in our price range that was more family friendly. That didn’t happen, and we just kept staying put.

This past summer we came to a realization: our house is working! We love the neighborhood, it has plenty of space to meet our needs, and loft living offers some awesome advantages. Suddenly, I started comparing all of the other homes we looked at to our own loft, rather than to some abstract ideal house. After living here for over four years, it has finally started to feel like home to me. It’s the perfect home for our family.

We recently did some long overdue renovations to the bathroom and added a life-changing in-unit washer dryer. We’ve begun to make more small but meaningful changes, and we’ve started talking about longer term plans for the space that will allow this home to function even better for our family.

Q: Was your husband ever resistant about making changes to his bachelor pad?

A: Not at all! He’s been encouraging all along that we need to make the place ours and has been open to my ideas about how to do so. Although I’m still hearing about that black leather recliner. I guess those are really comfortable?

Q: What do you love about where you live?

A: We LOVE our neighborhood. The bars and restaurants attracted Tony to the neighborhood in his bachelor years, along with its proximity to Wrigley Field. When B joined our family, we realized that many of those late night hot spots also serve great food at 6:00 pm, and some even offer stroller valet to make it easier on neighborhood families!

There are a half-dozen playgrounds within walking distance, which means B can run around and I can chat with other adults anytime the weather allows. There are a multitude of school options public, private and parochial – it’s both overwhelming and exiting to think about where B might attend in a few years.

Our neighborhood overall is truly walkable. Throughout the week we walk to the grocery store, the fish market, the butcher, the bakery, the bank, the dry cleaner, etc. The employees at all of these places are quick to recognize B and to say hello. Although we’re in a big city, it’s truly a city of neighborhoods, and we feel very much a part of our little community.

When we decide to leave the neighborhood, it’s a short walk to the El or a bus stop, which then takes us to the zoo, countless museums, Millennium Park, concerts, sporting events, etc., etc., etc. in no time.

Q: Conversely, what do you wish could be a little different? What are the hard parts about living in a city with a toddler? Do you ever dream about giving her the traditional back garden, no traffic neighborhood life?

A: City living certainly has challenges at times. School, park district, and library programs often have wait lists. Story times are loud and crowded, and there’s sometimes a line to use the swings at the park. Condo living means we sometimes hear our neighbors (and they hear us).  My daughter has touched some very questionable things on the El. I get a gray hair each time she starts skipping or hopping near a busy street. But I’d choose it again despite all of this.

There are times when I consider what we’re missing out on, but ultimately I remember there’s a tradeoff. My sister can send her kids into the backyard while she’s cooking in her kitchen, but she misses out on the adult socialization that I enjoy so much while B and I are the playground. Nothing is perfect, but our family is thriving right where we are.

Q: How intentional are you in making sure each space in your home works for your entire family? Any house rules or areas specifically set up for a certain activity?

A: Our home is only four rooms, and they’re all open to each other. We all need to be respectful about keeping things neat and sharing space and materials.  B has, so far, just followed our lead on this so there’s been no need for official rules for her. We clean up throughout the day, and after dinner the whole family cleans up any messes that have accumulated. It’s routine at this point.

I can’t think of a single space in our home that isn’t asked to multi-task!  Although we don’t have a ton of square footage, volume abides and we’ve found that very practical. The increased storage needs and child proofing that have come with adding B to our family are often solved by looking up. This really helps the spaces in our home to work for a variety of different purposes.

Tony and I do adhere to one big rule: don’t wake the baby! Our home is a loft and all of the rooms are at least partially open, so light and sound travel freely throughout. Tony and I keep things quiet and dark while B is sleeping. This means using task lighting to read and work, headphones to watch TV or movies, and meeting friends out rather than hosting them in our home in the evenings.

Before living in this house with B I would have said it’s important to teach children to sleep through the noise of normal life. That just isn’t realistic in this home with this child. The current version of myself is happy to tiptoe around after 8:00 pm so I can have a well-rested child…and I’m obviously rolling my eyes at my former, childless self!

Q: When does your home work best?

A: Much to our surprise, we’ve found that (in the daytime, anyway) a loft space works great for family living. As we go about our day-to-day life, we can’t help but spend time as a family. A typical morning might find me grading papers at the desk in our bedroom, while Tony cooks a big batch of gravy using his Italian grandmother’s recipe, and B floats between helping him, checking on me, and mixing things up in her play kitchen. We can all hear and see each other and chit chat easily or do our own thing with awareness of what the others are up to.

We also love hosting play dates and brunches with friends. The openness of our space means we can host a crowd even without a ton of square footage. Parents can gather in the kitchen or around the dining room table while the kiddos take over the living room area and everyone can interact freely.

Q: What memories do you hope with all your heart that your daughter takes from this home and from her childhood? What do you hope she remembers specifically about the kind of mom you’re trying to be for her?

A: I hope B sees herself as an integral part of our home life and our daily family routine. We don’t have dedicated kid spaces or adult spaces, so B is as enmeshed in the space as we are. I see our small, open home as an asset; Tony and I genuinely like being with B, and this home allows us to do that easily and often. I hope she realizes that Tony and I genuinely enjoy her company and that we’re genuinely happy to share this space – and our lives – with her. I guess it follows that I hope I’m the kind of mom who is intimately involved in my child’s life, and who shares my life with my family openly.

Q: What has been your favorite part of living with your own daughter? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? What do you already miss as she gets older?

A: I honestly just love everything about living with B! Her personality is a mix of Tony and I, with pieces that are completely different from either of us. She can be demanding (she gets that from me) but always strives for politeness (she gets that from Tony), and does it all with a baby doll under her arm and wearing a tutu. It’s fascinating to watch how she approaches the world.

I like all the baking and cooking that happens in our kitchen now that B is part of the family. Suddenly, making biscuits from scratch while homemade soup simmers on the stove feels like both a fun activity and a healthy example for our daughter instead of an indulgence or a chore.

I also really like the way having B around has slowed the pace of our life and forced us to focus on what’s really important. Completing a long list of home improvement projects in a single weekend is impossible with the help of a two year old!

I already miss all the time we get to spend together just going about our day. I’m not sure how I’ll deal with the quiet hours once she starts elementary school, and I can’t even think beyond that or I’ll tear up.

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

A: Photos and videos, even thousands of photos and videos, can’t preserve all those tiny little moments, the mannerisms, the smells, or the way your child feels when you hold her. It doesn’t stop me from trying to capture each moment, and hoping that maybe it will somehow slow the growing and changing.

I just hope my memory is strong enough to hold everything that the camera hasn’t been able to capture.

–-

Katie, one of the loveliest things parents can tell their children is this: “Tony and I genuinely enjoy her company and that we’re genuinely happy to share this space – and our lives – with her.” Even better is when your home clearly illustrates that point no matter where you look. Well done!

Friends, could you ever live the loft life? It’s tempting, isn’t it? For those of you who are raising your family in a somewhat unconditional family home, I’d love to hear from you!

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Just send me a note! It’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

24 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Katie Gnau”

  1. “Nothing is perfect, but our family is thriving right where we are.” I think I want to make that my motto. Because, even though I don’t always feel that way, it’s true. I need to focus on the latter part and not the first part of the statement.

    I’ve loved riding the El to Wrigley Field, looking at all of the buildings, imagining what it would be like to have a life there instead of our little house in a moderate-sized college town the in the next state. Now I have a glimpse! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks for such a kind comment! B loves watching all of the visitors to the neighborhood heading to Cubs games so that goes both ways ;)

  2. I love how you’ve put art around your TV. I have been struggling with a blank wall that houses our large TV. I was afraid to put art too close to it so not to over-clutter the wall. After seeing your wall, I’m going to give it a try.

    I also love the use of Potato Heads as a coffee table decoration. It made me feel right at home!

    1. LOL about the potato heads… my “assistant” added that prop and I figured why not.
      Hope the art works out by your TV!

  3. I love that bathroom- a such a great space saver to have the washer underneath the counter like that!
    My husband and I lived in an 800 square foot loft the first year we were married, and it did have its pluses: huge walls to hang art and almost floor-to-ceiling windows, mostly. But I am so glad to have a place with built-in closets and separate rooms now!

  4. We’re raising our 5-month-old in a loft, and I admit I already envy some of the aspects a house can provide. Just thinking about our child crawling or stumbling around on our concrete floors gives me heart palpitations! Friends come over and sort of raise their eyebrows at us, but we love our space and neighborhood, and really want to make it work.

    I’m definitely encouraged to see loft living with a young child being done with seeming success – and with a 2-year-old at that!

    1. It can be done! We have hardwood over the concrete in most of our unit but I used yoga mats as padding and moved them all around the house wherever we were playing when she was crawling around and just walking.

  5. I absolutely love this quote – “I just hope my memory is strong enough to hold everything that the camera hasn’t been able to capture.”
    My daughter is only two months and she’s changing so quickly! I’ve taken hundreds of photos and many videos of her in her short life but I already am looking at newborn diapers and wondering how she ever fit into those!

    Also, I sometimes dream of raising a baby in the city. I lived in Chicago in college but followed my heart to the teeny tiny town my husband grew up in in Northern Wisconsin. I can’t wait for her to grow up with several acres of woods all around us and a lake to play in, but sometimes I wish I could walk to the grocery store rather than drive 40 minutes to Walmart. We recently visited my friends in Wrigleyville and when she woke up early I loaded her in the stroller for a walk to Starbucks and pretended she was a city baby!

    1. So ironic… we were just up in St. Germain, WI commenting on how awesome it is that our city kid gets to experience jumping in mud puddles and pretending we were a northwoods family.
      I think it’s great for kids (and their parents) to have a taste of all kinds of living!

  6. Katie!! I’m in Oak Park- what’s UP?! I also love, love, LOVE hearing that you made your home work for you even when you thought it never could. I am in a similar situation and cannot believe how stuck one can get when you convince yourself that you’re not in the right place. Good for you! Love the tour and very much more because your in CHI. Keep on keeping on, lady. Great home tour!

  7. Katie! I hear ya. We are in a loft in Chicago as well! We live in the West Loop however. I have a 15 month old and it’s been tricky navigating naps and bedtimes with the noise levels. I’ve researched putting up glass walls and doors so many times and we haven’t pulled the trigger. But over times we’ve adapted and she’s adapted. She’s surprisingly fine with company over in the evenings which is great for us because we host a ton.
    Thanks for your post, it was fun to get an inside on your loft living!

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  9. I also moved into my Husbands Bachelor pad and I had the same thing happen , where I didn’t really feel like it was my home until we had kids and looked around and then I realized it’s a great space and made it a family home, or actually we are in the process. I wonder if it’s because in my mind it was always D’s house! I had to change my thinking and now I love it! I love what you did with your space and hope that I can make our space just as great for the whole family!

    I love the loft, and pictures, but this time I found myself actually drawn more the words of the interview!

    Thanks for sharing!

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  11. What a cool space! You have encouraged me with your philosophy about enmeshed small spaces with children! I love your living room area. So warm and inviting. Where did you get the great rug?

    1. The rug is Crate and Barrel from years ago… it’s one of the few remaining items from the “bachelor pad” phase.

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