Living With Kids: Kimberly Garner

Kimberly has been with us before, and I’ve loved watching her journey. She was in a rental on San Juan Islands in Washington, and when the rental became suddenly unavailable, she was faced with the tough task with finding a new place for her and her kids on a small island with limited properties available. Where she landed is truly beautiful and special. Kimberly really has a way of connecting to the emotion of a space and creating a place that she and her kids really needed after the tough couple of years we have all been through. Welcome back, Kimberly!

Never in my life had I come so close to homelessness, not due to a lack of funds but more to a lack of housing when a massive wave of people moved to the island seeking their own refuge in 2020. Little did I know those tumultuous months would deliver the true nature of what being home means.

Just before the pandemic hit, I sold the dreamy home we purchased as a married family in 2016 when we moved to San Juan Island, Washington from Durango, Colorado. By March I thought, “Oh this will be a great time to buy a house!”Boy was I wrong!

The idyllic home we rented after our house sold, became quickly unavailable with a five week move out window smack dab in the middle of the high summer tourist season. This kind of thing was happening to a lot of island folks, as the weekly vacation rental income far exceeds the monthly rates. With all of the uncertainty at the time and the high demand for vacation rentals, who could blame property owners?

As much as I tried to keep my cool and trust everything would be okay, a relentless voice of despair haunted me. The weeks slipped by with no leads and I slipped into a darkness that began suffocating my steadfast enthusiasm or desire to keep holding on. I remember thinking, “If it weren’t for my kids, I’d just swim out to the middle of the channel and let the sea take me in”…and in the same instant, I’d think, “If I didn’t have kids, I’d just leave, move to India and live in a monastery.” That was my reminder I wasn’t really ready to give it all up. I recognized I was just existing in an extreme and constant state of survival mode, threadbare and feeling more alone than I’d ever felt in my life. The neighborhood I found myself in at rock bottom drained the marrow of my being.

I do want to acknowledge my story, my experience during the pandemic was charmed compared to many. It’s a risk sharing personal experience when so many, too many, lived through far more tragic stories. I was fortunate that the vulnerability in my world at the time centered around shelter, aloneness and the raw humility of being a grown up with children and not being able to provide basic housing for the two humans I loved most.

I couldn’t find anything to buy or rent. It was getting to the point I thought I’d have to ask Dan, my former, if the proverbial sh*# hit the fan, could I live with him and the kids until I secured housing for the three of us. I held this in my back pocket as a worst case scenario option. I always like having a worst case scenario plan and exit strategy when life feels off the rails.

I was quickly and uncomfortably approaching my move out date with nowhere to go. I even swallowed my dwindling pride and put out an APB (all points bulletin) on Facebook and I don’t even use Facebook. I asked the local community writ large if anyone knew of some place, any place, that might be available for myself and the kids. 

Crickets.

It’s worth mentioning, I’m a Forrest Gump runner. When the going gets tough, I take it to the trees and the trails and I run, and I run and talk and cry and run and talk and run and run. I spent hours every week alone with the trees. On one rare rainy day in June, my daughter Flora (9 years old) and I decided to take our situation to the trees, specifically a majestic cedar grove we call “church”. Wearing raincoats and umbrellas, we told the trees the human ways for solving problems weren’t working for us. We needed their help finding a home, fast. As we walked, we described our dream home, our dream property, what the bedrooms would be like, what we’d do there and for a short window, lost in the dreaming and imagining the angst released its grip over me. There’s a magic being in nature, especially surrounded by the timeless wisdom of old growth forests. Flora asked, “Mom, what color should our front door be?!”. 

“Oh good question! I don’t know. How about yellow?! I’ve never had a yellow front door!”

“Yes! I love yellow! It’s my favorite color!” 

It was settled! We’d live in a little house surrounded by woods, backed up to the trails where I run, there’d be a pond for swimming in the summer, a small orchard, a hanging bed for Flora with a window overlooking the yard and a yellow front door.

On the way back from our chat with the trees, a road that I’d passed at least 300 times caught my eye and that little voice in my head beckoned. “Flora, I’ve never been up this road, should we check it out?!” Sure! 

I was told by a fifth generation island friend, this particular road was a mess and I didn’t want to look at property up there. The dirt road was steep, but otherwise it was just fine until we began dropping down the backside. The road narrowed quickly and was pretty washed out on each side. I was just getting ready to turn around when I noticed a driveway up ahead and an older gentleman walking toward us. I rolled down my window and introduced myself and since I’d lost all semblance of humility growing desperate as it were, I shared with this kind person we were looking for housing just in case he knew of anyone interested in renting or selling. He paused, looked at me and said, “We’re going to be selling our house in a few months. Want to take a look?”

I followed behind as he walked up the drive, then found myself parked in front of a cute little home perched on the side of a hill with distant views of the sea and northern Rockies. He showed us around the property (with a pond), let us peek in the windows (his wife was on a conference call, so we couldn’t go in). I told him it was perfect for us and I’d love to continue our conversation after he spoke with his wife.

As we were pulling away, Flora said, “Mom, did you notice what color the front door was?” NO! I didn’t!? “Yellow.”

It still brings me to tears thinking about it. And now, when I feel the uncertainty of what’s ahead or overwhelmed by being a solo grownup navigating this crazy world, I remember that something bigger has my back. That really, I’m never alone and sometimes Life has something better in store for me than I can plan or control and I just have to trust, listen to the whisper and follow.

The seller’s weren’t leaving the island until the middle of winter, which was six months away, so as relieved as I was to find our future home, I still needed a place for us to live in the meantime. As life began to work things out, the kids and I ended up renting a little apartment from a friend. Word of mouth and my Facebook call for help worked! Living within close proximity (100 feet!) of a friend and the added dynamic of a landlord/tenant relationship, was a bit of a risk, but one each of us was willing to take because the flip side could be fabulous…which ended up being a dream scenario for all of us during the several months of severe lockdown and teleschooling. Our kids played together EVERY day, we grew to be like family. It was like living the village life in the most dreamy, peaceful location. Our time there was a gift and healing in so many ways. I think we’ll always look back on that window with great fondness, regardless of what was happening in the world.  

I decided once the sellers moved out, I’d do a little work to make the house our own. I didn’t have a budget in the sense there was NO money for a budget. However, what I lacked in design budget, I made up for in barter! I had an 18’ aluminum fishing boat that I purchased post house sale (but hardly used!) AND I had a friend who was a retired builder/commercial fisherman wanting an aluminum fishing boat! He got the boat and I got the building expertise!  I actually love design projects on limited budgets. I find the most fun creative expression comes from forced resourcefulness. This house became my opportunity to create sanctuary on a string.

The house was built in the 90’s and it was SO nineties!! It was NOT me and after a year of renting, we really needed this place to feel like us, like our home. I cannot express enough how cathartic it was coming out of lockdown and the darkness of 2020 to take a hammer and crowbar to the walls, the trim, the outdated carpeting and flooring! The kids and I took IT ALL OUT on the drywall! It was emotionally liberating for each of us. One night I was there alone, it was dark, I took a hammer to this built-in pantry that obstructed the main room in a bulky oppressive way. As I whacked away, I let my voice have it out with everything my body felt and held onto for the last several months, but not allowed full expression while living in the close quarters of my rental situations. I think my voice was sore the next day, but thank goodness I let those intense emotions, that pain, out. I honestly believe our voice is our superpower, what we say, how we say it and what we don’t say can lift us up or take us down.

My work focuses on holistic design from an epigenetics and self empowerment/self-manifesting perspective. The role home plays in our life is both nuanced and profound, yet often overlooked or neglected. A lot had happened over the last two years and this was my opportunity to curate our space so it inspired and empowered our shared desires, values and experience. Knowing the hidden potential home holds for our life and finally being in a place I had design liberty, felt like oxygen for my spirit. This home was my canvas for reprogramming the worn down tale of my yesteryear and moving the needle of our trajectory toward a whole new story.

I wanted this place to feel like our sanctuary, as a family but also individually. The kids had held so much for so long, so gracefully…I knew their little bodies and spirits needed to feel the security of home, a concept we took for granted before all of this happened in the world. 

The house was a two bedroom, two bath, 1100 square feet. There are three of us. Auden 14, Flora 10, they’d been sharing a bedroom for over a year, so it felt important they each get their own space to just be. We turned the master walk-in closet to Flora’s bedroom, it’s 5.5’x8’. I’m opposed to unnecessary doors, so I removed 12 doors from our little home. Auden’s bedroom and the downstairs bathroom have doors, that’s it…teenage boy and bathroom.  Most of the other doorways I turned into archways, I love the way arches soften the experience of place, they’re elegant, timeless and easy on the eye. The upstairs (including the bathroom!) was carpeted wall to wall, the stair treads were wrapped in carpet and the downstairs was 12” light gray tiles. I tore it all up and sanded the subfloor. Upstairs I shellacked the subfloor which was in surprisingly good shape. I began pulling the carpeting off each tread only to discover GORGEOUS Doug Fir 4” planks! Huge win! The subfloor below the tile looked like smeared green snot from the tile adhesive. I thought I could see beyond “green snot”, but after living with it for about a month my mind couldn’t see past “green snot” every time I came downstairs. On a whim one Saturday, I decided to paint the floor. I found a fabulous emerald green (nontoxic exterior paint) and painted the entire downstairs in under 3 hours (and again the next day for the second coat!). The green was smashing, accomplishing the feel I’d hoped to capture.

The colors and tones we choose speak their own language, so I had a lot to consider before I committed to a color. Because it’s so dark, cold and wet here for several months, blues were out of the question. I love yellows, but reflected off the floor, I ran the risk of us constantly looking jaundiced. I’ve always loved green, it’s been my favorite color ever since I can remember. I wanted to bring the outdoors in, creating a treehouse feel for us. It felt important this place feel welcoming, cheerful, cozy and very laid back. I wanted the bones of the home to represent play, growth, new life and flourishing…and lastly, the color needed to groove with my existing palette. I call it emerald green, but officially the floor color is Irish Moss.

My favorite addition to the house, besides the arches and the green floor, is the built-in sofa/dining bench, probably a subconscious tribute to our time living on the sailboat when we first moved to the island. Since we have little room for guests, I designed the bench to be long and wide enough for two people to sleep feet to feet. It’s become the centerpiece of our living space, except when the hammock is up. I’ve always loved the idea of hammocks hanging indoors, an idea inspired by my friend (and architect), Ellen Galland. 

I forgot to mention, this house is totally off the grid, meaning we have solar panels on the roof for collecting sunlight and batteries for solar storage. We collect rainwater from the roof, store the water in three separate holding tanks and additionally have a modest producing well for drinking water. Our primary source of heat for the entire house is a wood stove. It’s quite a fascinating study of abundance and scarcity consciousness because we’re constantly in an abundance of one resource with a shortage of another. Because we live in the Pacific Northwest, our fall, winter and spring is dark and wet, while our summer days are long, sunny and very dry.

I love experiencing this place and how it interacts with the changing seasons, it makes me feel connected to nature and the world at large. I love the abundance of power in the summer and water in the winter…being in tune with the rhythms and demands of nature…living in sync with the necessity nature requires. Those things live within me as I experience other places, leaving lights on or running faucets, wasting water or other precious resources. I know it affects how my children will view the world and engage with it and I’m curious what that will look like for them. Will they take baths and long showers in the summer? Will they leave all the lights on? Will they vacuum at night when the sun’s not shining? Will they follow the bathroom rule, “if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down? Will they even want a wood stove in their home? I know every time we go to a nice hotel, we all delight in taking long hot baths in oversized tubs!

I think being aware of what’s happening with climate, the seasons or just looking at what’s essential offers a really great perspective for how we choose to live. Ultimately, I believe the most important thing we can do for our own life and peace of mind is to wholeheartedly live each day in a way that aligns our lifestyle and choices with our values. It doesn’t mean live off the grid or on the grid, it’s more of getting self curious and tuning into what’s essential for me to love myself and my life? That’s a personal conversation for each of us with ourSelf. I think most of our suffering comes from neglecting ourself, what we really desire to experience and living in alignment with who we know ourself to be. Often it’s a risk and it’s scary to forge a path independent of others or mainstream living, but if it’s self aligned, none of that matters. I just happened into off the grid living…or maybe the trees thought this the best place for me to land.

This place feels like home from the moment we walk through the yellow door. It’s not perfect and that’s one of the things I adore about it. Sure there’s A LOT I’ll do when the timing is right and as much as I believe our home is a reflection of ourself and tells the story of our personal evolving, in a lot of ways this place is still under construction. It’s by no means finished and that speaks volumes about me and where I am today in my life…but also to where I’m going. My green floor is my reminder, no matter how well resourced I am, I’ve got all green lights.

In a weird way, nothing’s sacred in our home, yet everything is. Before we painted each room, I wrote my intentions for each child and myself in tiny writing with  pencil on the walls. I wanted to infuse my own declarations for all of us and this new chapter we were forging together. To me, that is sacred. 

We live on the side of a mountain, up a dirt road. with a big dog and chickens, who sometimes come in the house and always shed feathers on the front porch while trying to catch the last glimmer of the winter sun. I can’t be attached to things looking like a magazine. I’m not going to wipe Georgia’s paw prints from the floor every day…maybe once a week or month. Living in this house really is like living in a tree house. I took off all the trim around the windows, doors and floors because for me the trim distracted my experience of the view and felt like wearing makeup at bedtime. Breaking design rules to follow our own, that’s creating sacred space.

I want our home to tell our unfolding story. I care less about how it looks and more about how it feels. I don’t want it to look like anyone else’s home or to carry a certain style, I want it to look like a reflection of me and Auden and Flora and the wildness of living our life, whatever that may be

The kids alternate weeks between our house and their house with my ex. It’s a great set up for us as parents, especially during the lockdowns of Covid. We half joked that being divorced during lockdown was a gift because we each had a week to ourselves to be alone and recharge before another intense week of homeschooling and work. But the truth is the kids alway come out short in divorce. It takes two people to make a baby for a reason. Don’t get me wrong, the kids are doing great and if given the choice, I don’t think they’d want us to get back together. Even though moving homes each week isn’t ideal for anyone, Auden and Flora seem to groove just fine with it. If I had my druthers, we would’ve bird nested for the first couple years, but that’s not always a viable or practical option.

With all of that said, Dan and I do a pretty great job of co-parenting. We’re better friends now than ever. We have each other’s backs and want what’s best for each other. We’re really flexible with the schedule and do our best to accommodate each others needs in that regard. It’s easy and even fun parenting together. We spend Thanksgivings and Christmas together, make feasts (although he does most of the making!), decorate the tree and it feels normal. We’re very much still a family, just not a married family. 

Dan is an amazing dad, I honestly can’t imagine a better father. He brings aspects to their lives I definitely don’t. He grows his own veggies, bakes bread weekly, has a mature orchard, raises sheep and he’s a fisherman. He brings a totally different experience of home to the kids. 

At both homes, music is constantly playing, art, writing, games and food are our ongoing companions…and even though we don’t own a television, we still regularly watch movies together on the laptop.

I’m really loving this stage, yet parenting a 14 year old feels a lot different than parenting 12 and under. Auden’s a young man now. I’m having to recalibrate my role as mom. Selfishly, I’m grateful for the extended time I’m getting with both of them especially due to the pandemic. No one has sleepovers anymore, so I feel we’re being gifted more time together and I’ll not complain about that. One day, spurred by my annoyance with his seeming addiction to his phone, I started calculating the time I have left with Auden before he graduates…half his time he’s with Dan, then a third of that he’s sleeping, then half of what’s left he’s in school…I almost started crying when the reality of hours left with him hit me. Ugh. I’m not looking forward to after high school! My girlfriends with older children assure me nature has a funny way of making it a-okay when the time comes for them to leave the nest. Flora dances between little girl and tween, she still wants to be together a lot which I’m endlessly soaking up. 

My favorite moments are a coin toss between rainy days at home with a fire, all of us together yet plugged into different things, like art, writing or watching football games and when we head to our secret cove and lose track of time doing nothing in particular, but together. 

Right now, my greatest truth lives in “being home” in the sense my primary home is found within myself. Regardless of what’s going on in my outer world, it’s my inner home that determines the quality of my life. I don’t think I really loved myself until these months proved to me what I’m made of and that everything I need is first and foremost found within. It took the prolonged brutality of survival mode to strip away all the veils and core beliefs that kept me hostage to the person I thought I was supposed to be, so I could finally grow into the self I was born to become. From the marrow of my bones, I know if I listen to and follow my heart everything will work out, even better than I could imagine. 

I wish I’d known everything really was going to be okay. Slipping into the belly of survival mode changed me, in a lot of ways it made me wiser, stronger, helped me see the bones of meaning more clearly. I’m actually really grateful for being forced to dance in my discomfort for so long. It’s fascinating, isn’t it? Facing what we most dread, our greatest fears, actually awards us our personal PhD in Life. I’m not nearly as hard on myself and I’m able to find sanctuary within myself now. I’m able to find beauty in the mundane moments that never would’ve captured my attention before, but after the trek of the last couple years, watching the kids sit and do homework or tease each other carries a sparkle that didn’t exist for me before.

Protecting my mental real estate is of primary importance, especially when navigating survival mode. What I give airtime each day, whether it’s my own thoughts or social media or the news, if it doesn’t make me feel good, it’s not allowed access. Nature nourishes us and offers a depth of healing and connection that’s beyond words or explanation. Lastly, we are never alone. We each carry an inner knowing that nudges us, pointing our shoulders in the direction of our dreams. When we listen and follow that inner voice, we live the adventure of our own life.  

I hope the way Auden and Flora feel at home together, never changes. Being divorced, they are more family to each other because they share the ups and downs of every single week. Their bond is singular in that regard, it’s precious. I hope playing outside together, regardless of our age, never changes. I hope we always delight in heading to the beach to hunt for shark’s teeth or agate and making up our own versions of indoor dark hide and seek. I hope we continue to make memories that remind us how being family is one of the coolest parts of being human.

——

Thank you, Kimberly! It’s always lovely to hear about families of divorce where parents are able to work together and get along and put the kids interests first. And there must be something kinda wonderful about having a week break from the kids, knowing they are safe and loved and cared for, as they alternate to the other parents home. Obviously not every divorce works that way, but it is really wonderful to hear that it is possible.

I really appreciate what Kimberly had to say about finding peace in your “inner home” too. I think the last several years have taught us that life is anything but predictable and the very things that seem like they will never change often change in an instant. Kimberly’s insight about how sometimes the toughest times in life strip away the pretenses we’ve been carrying and get us down to our core selves. What a beautiful way to look at the most difficult moments in our lives.

Have you found you’ve grown the most during the toughest times of your life? How do you keep connected to what is a core part of you and decide what can be let go? What have you learned about yourself in the last year?

SOURCES

Girls closet curtains

Kitchen lighting

Custom Kitchen Island


Photos by Sara Parsons. Living with Kids is Edited by Joshua Bingham. You can follow him on Instagram too.

Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at features@designmom.com.

20 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Kimberly Garner”

  1. Everything about this was so beautiful. Kimberly, your words were very meaningful to me this morning. And your design sensibilities are lovely. Your home is full of color and light and art and I just loved poring through every photo. Thank you for sharing your wonderful home and family!

  2. I actually bookmarked Kimberly’s previous profile as design inspiration (not something I usually do) and will do the same for this as off grid is another goal! We are also an unmarried family.

    1. Hello IB!
      I’m honored🙏🏽 I find design to be so much more inspiring when we take the effort out of the process…we just allow our own aesthetic & desire to drive the experience. I’m guessing you feel & curate your space similarly? Thank you for connecting!

  3. What a lovely surprise. Just two weeks ago I was looking back at both previous house tours and wondering where you had landed. Your homes are so beautiful and genuine and I love hearing about your personal journey. All is very inspiring.

    Also, all of the textiles are so gorgeous. You really have an eye for putting things together.

    1. Oh Bridget!! Thank you for reaching out! I love the way time works & that we’re intersecting once again. You’ve found my love of textiles!!! Isn’t it amazing how handwoven fabric brings so much feeling & expression to a space?!! If I had 9 lives, one would certainly involve textile arts! Thank you, again for connecting!🤍

  4. I haven’t felt compelled to post a comment on one of these features for a while, but your home is TRULY inspiring, Kimberly! So beautiful and artistic…right out of an Anthropologie catalogue! But I really love that it also feels lived in and authentic and not one bit like a showroom. Love that you are able to find beauty in the mundane moments…these are the moments we will carry with us to the end.

    1. Hi Lara!! I’m totally flattered & share a weakness for all things Anthropologie…if only I could live in one of their catalogues! It’s funny, I used to feel very protective of who I allowed in my space because I felt like they could see through me, see my soul. The more I’ve learned to love myself & the more comfortable I am with “me”, the easier & more fun it is to share my space. I really appreciate you reaching out & connecting.

    1. Thank you so much, Ellen! This is such a lovely way to share & connect with others! I appreciate you taking the time to read about my home & story…the risk of being seen pays dividends🤍

  5. Your first home tour was one of my favorites and this one is just as inspiring!! Thank you for sharing your journey and lovely home!

    1. Hi Dalia!!!

      Wow! Thank you for the great compliment & for taking the time to read my story. It’s amazing what happens when we’re able to make connections with others in this way. Makes my heart smile. Thank you…truly.

  6. Oh Kimberly, I LOVED every word. I am waving at you just across the Salish sea (we are on Salt Spring, on the side of a mountain, with a big(ish) dog and dirt everywhere and a wild home!) Kindred spirits just a couple of islands away.

    1. Hello Neighbor!

      How fun, Sabrina that we’re in the same neighborhood…probably just a 15 minute boat ride away? Wild home is a GREAT way to put it…I think I’ll borrow the term! If you find yourself on San Juan, ping me! It’d be fun to meet. I’m @schoolofholisticdesign on IG ; )

      Thank you for connecting ( & reading my story )

  7. I read this 3 times. I love your words and your house. Thanks Kimberly for a glimpse and I hope life treats you well (even with all the waves).

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