Living With Kids: Kimberly Senn

By Gabrielle. Photos by Maribeth Romslo and Nicole Feest.

I get so many notes from readers wishing they could find the courage to send photos of their homes, but then months pass without even a peek! When I check back in with them, they sometimes tell me it’s not yet camera ready or they just need one more perfect piece to make their living room livable or “WE ALL HAD THE FLU AND NOW I WANT TO MOVE!” The goal of perfection really does get in the way of life, don’t you think?

I get it. And so does Kimberly Senn. But somewhere along the way, after missing out on opening up her home to old and new friends because of a fear that it wasn’t stylish enough or clean enough, she consciously stopped pausing her life and holding her breath and waiting for everything to be perfect. Instead of sitting alone pondering the layer of grimy fingerprints on the lower three feet of her walls, she and her family now open up their home as often as possible — today, to us! (As she put it so eloquently, “Our friends don’t like us because we have a perfect house. They like us because we keep our fridge stocked with good beer.” Ha!)

And guess what? No one notices the grit. All I can see is the joy. Come see it, too! Welcome, Kimberly!

We’re a family of four, the adults born in the Midwest and the kids in California. My handsome husband Marty is a writer and nonstop creative force. We met working together at an ad agency in NYC and became instant friends. He’d tell you he knew from the moment I started working there we would be together. We couldn’t get enough time with each other and eventually admitted we were both smitten. He’s now a creative director at an agency here in Minneapolis and works so hard to spend all of his free time with me and the boys.

We have two boys: Hugo is five, and Freddie is two, almost three. Hugo is a strong-willed, fiercely intelligent, and creative little guy. He was born on New Year’s Eve, so every year we now feel like there is just so much to celebrate around that time. He loves being a big brother and he’s truly the best at it. He runs like Tom Cruise in action movies. Hugo starts Kindergarten in the fall and he couldn’t be more excited.

Freddie is so naughty and so cute. Somehow those two things balance out quite perfectly. He’s a kid who wakes up happy, ready to hand out hugs. He hugs like he means it, every single time. Freddie is madly in love with his big brother. He is so attached to him and will do anything to keep up with Hugo. His speech is getting more clear now that he’s nearing three years old, but he only has one volume, and it’s very loud.

We knew we would be leaving San Francisco to move to Minneapolis right after Freddie was born. Marty had accepted a job just a couple of months earlier, and they really let us take our time for the relocation. We are forever grateful for this small detail!

Just a few weeks after Freddie was born, Marty traveled to Minneapolis with Hugo for his mom’s 70th birthday party. The little guy and I stayed back in SF this time, knowing that we’d be in Minnesota permanently in a couple of months. He checked out a couple of houses while he was there, and our current home was one of them. It had been on the market for a while and it just wasn’t moving. But for whatever reason, Marty loved it and couldn’t stop thinking about it, so when all four of us landed permanently on Minnesotan soil, we called our real estate agent and told her about it. She showed us a handful of other properties, but we knew this was the one. Apparently it was totally weird to other people. The layout was kind of odd and it was on a busy street, relatively speaking.

It was decorated in a very fancy way – not at all our taste and not at all right for the actual house, but we knew we could un-fancy it. I think other people didn’t understand the house, and somehow we did. We liked that there was something off about it. It wasn’t at all what we imagined we would buy, but it is seriously perfect for our family.

We’re in a suburb just southwest of Minneapolis, and we live right on the border of the two cities. Our neighborhood is filled with families and little kids, and bigger, babysitter-aged kids, too. It’s a block-party kind of place. We are also just a ten minute drive from Marty’s parents and not quite three hours from mine, which was a big factor in moving here.​

From a practical standpoint, we love that it’s close to amazing public schools, walking distance to a great shops and restaurants, a short bike ride to the Minneapolis city lakes, and close to highways for a commute to downtown Minneapolis. It ticked all of our boxes, even the ones we didn’t know we had. Our list was so simple since we were living in a small Victorian apartment in Presidio Heights. Things like “a bathroom that has the toilet in the same room as the bathtub” was enough to blow our minds!

Biking from our house, we can hit creeks, playgrounds, great shops, and the city lakes that have beautiful walking trails, beaches, paddle boarding, sailing and even restaurants that will serve you really good fish tacos while you are wearing your swimsuit and flip flops.

There’s also just so much to do here. The Walker Art Center is amazing, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is incredible and free to visit. We have so much theater in this town and so much opportunity for creativity. I’ve also found that there’s a really supportive and active creative community here. It seems like what’s good for one Minneapolis maker is good for all Minneapolis makers.

You might not know it, but we also have some incredible food here. The restaurants popping up all over town can definitely go head-to-head with those in New York and San Francisco. We had a pretty high bar coming from the Bay Area, but we’ve been so happy with the food scene here. I guess it shouldn’t be much of a surprise — Minnesota has been doing the eat local movement pretty much forever. It’s almost not so much a trend, but a way of living here.

And let’s be honest, the cost of living in Minneapolis is just so much more manageable than some of the other cities we’ve lived in. I don’t know that we spend that much less — you kind of afford what you can afford — but it just gets you so much more here. We have space in our home for a studio, so I can work from home, and a big yard for the boys to play in. It’s also got that extra bit of inside play room for the boys which comes in really handy, especially during the wintertime. There are amazing public schools a short walk away, which you almost can’t put a price on — unless you’re paying for private schools, in which case you could probably put a very accurate price on it!

I will say that we were a little surprised that things like dining-out and groceries weren’t all that much cheaper than in San Francisco. But parking for those things definitely is.

I think generally, life can be pretty easy here. I say can be, because we probably always make things harder than they have to be, but generally the daily tasks that seemed like giant chores in San Francisco just happen without too much hassle here.

Here’s the big asterisk: I’m answering these questions in the summer. The winters are LONG and COLD and quite brutal, even for those who have lived here their whole lives. I guess that’s the tax we pay for all that other amazing stuff I just mentioned.

Sharing these photos of my home was a bit of a personal stretch for me. Up until recently — I’d say well after having Freddie — I was always really self conscious about not having a perfectly clean and decorated house. I worried that as a creative person who had a passion for interior design, the expectations of my home were that it would be immaculate, perfectly styled, and basically magazine shoot ready at all times. Marty and I would move into an apartment and then tell ourselves we’d have friends over as soon as the house was ready or finished.

I had some picture in my head about how our home would look, and when it wasn’t exactly that, I’d just avoid inviting people over.

Now with two little boys, there are definitely realities about how things can be decorated and how clean things can be. There’s a perpetual layer of grime on the walls about three feet off the ground. The floors? Covered in crumbs and legos and paper clippings and cardboard swords and little socks…and that’s all just what I’m seeing when I look up from my computer while perched on the living room couch.

Here’s the truth: When I go so someone else’s house and see some clutter — mail on the counters, kid stuff everywhere, dirty dishes by the sink, a basket of laundry waiting to be folded, etc. — I feel a MASSIVE sense of relief. It reminds me that we live in homes that are filled with people, life, activities, and constant action. That I’m not the only one just trying to keep up.

Beyond the physical space, I also came to realize our friends don’t like us because we have a perfect house. They like us because we keep our fridge stocked with good beer. (And other things too, I suppose, but mostly the good beer!)

I’d say our aesthetic is sort of Cabin Up North Meets Mid-Century California Quirk. We have a mix of new pieces and vintage, and are slowly but surely creating a home filled with only things we love. We had a bad habit of moving every two years until buying this house, which we’ve now been in for almost three years. We know now that we should have things we really love, and it’s worth saving to get the right piece rather than settling from something just to fill up a room.

One of my favorite art pieces in the house is a giant print that hangs over our kitchen table. Pre-kids, Marty and I were living in London and decided to take the train south for a little beach day in Brighton. It was, of course, a horrible rainy day, so we spent the entire time hopping from pub to pub and shop to shop. One of the stops we made was a poster gallery of sorts where we found a huge artist’s proof silkscreen of Godzilla crushing Tower Bridge by Trafford Parsons. It perfectly captured how we were feeling that day. So we bought it and had it framed and shipped up to our apartment in London. We ended up missing the last train back to London that night and rather than finding a hotel, frolicked through town until we could catch the 4:00 am train home, making the whole trip even more memorable.

I own Senn & Sons, which is basically just a dream job I created for myself after leaving my advertising career and taking a year as a full-time stay at home mom. Funny enough, Senn & Sons was named when we had only one son! It just sounded better, so I went with it and thought we’d just explain it later if we ever had a daughter.

I painted a series of three canvases for Hugo’s room right before he was born. After failing to find artwork I really loved for the nursery, I just created it myself. I posted a few photos of the decorated room on Facebook and people really liked the art and wanted to know where they could find it! After a year or so of casually accepting commissions for nursery paintings from friends and their families, I made the decision to turn my hobby into a second career. I asked a very talented designer friend if he’d be interested in creating a logo for my new business, and opened up an Etsy shop. Pinterest was just getting started, so I posted my artwork there and on my blog and it started to get some traction.

After a couple of designs became really popular, I knew I needed to find a printing partner to help with production. I opened up the print shop with a handful of my most popular designs right before Freddie was born. Because we moved when he was just ten weeks old — an endeavor I don’t recommend to anyone — I had to take on so much more in LIFE for the following year or so. Finding a home, buying a car, getting settled, finding schools, dealing with hugely emotional transitions, etc. was really quite a lot to manage with a three year old and newborn baby, so the business coasted along for about a year until I was ready to really get back into it.

Once I was ready to return some of my energy to Senn & Sons, I’ve been able to expand the business quite a lot. I introduced other products like personalized growth charts, and partnered with a local blogger to create a “Live & Love MN” line of products that are sold in boutiques throughout the state.

My latest excitement is a collaboration with an amazing family company called Blue Sky that’s based in California. We’ve worked together for about a year and now have a beautiful line of calendars and planners that are sold nationwide at Target for back to school this year. I have really loved translating my design aesthetic beyond artwork for the nursery and plan to do a whole lot more of this in the coming months. And, being in Minnesota, Target is obviously a dream come true.

I’m now in a phase with my business that I’m trying to say yes to almost everything. I’m open to any opportunity that comes my way and I’m working to create partnerships with other family brands all while developing new products for babies and kids. I look to my own crazy boys for inspiration, which is why I’m working on a really fun illustrated matching game that I know they’re going to love. And selfishly, I think it might keep them busy for a few minutes! I’m also partnering with my incredibly talented friend and filmmaker Maribeth Romslo on a series of stop motion animated films based on my illustrations. They make us and our kids happy, so we keep making more.

My goal for the business is simply to create super fun stuff for super fun families. It’s purposely uncomplicated, and I find that when I’m working on products I am constantly thinking about who is going to be able to get a little joy from what I’m creating.

I try to find balance when I can, but I’m not sure it totally exists as a constant. I work to prioritize my family above all else, but there are times when my business becomes more time consuming and we shift the balance a bit so I’m able to deliver on work expectations.

My schedule is really flexible, which is by design and also a major luxury. It changes quite a lot since my working hours are based on the kids’ schedules and what they need. My most productive times are when they are at school during the day, so I try to fit in most work during normal business hours when they’re out of the house. I often pick it up a bit after they go to bed just to plan for my next day and fill in the missing pieces; but I also value my time with my husband after the kids go to bed, so we try to limit our after hours working as often as possible.

It sounds pretty ideal and manageable now, but it took me a while to figure out my work schedule. I have learned slowly and somewhat painfully that work and kid time has to be kept separate. I’m a better mom AND a better business owner when I know that the kids are having fun at preschool or spending a few hours with a creative nanny while I work — and, conversely, that I’ll have dedicated time to work so I can devote full attention to the boys when I’m with them. It is such an incredible luxury to be able to set my own schedule to be what works for our family.

I like that there are so many parts of my brain that get used running a small business. I do everything for Senn & Sons right now including packing and shipping orders, sales and wholesale management, accounting, production, product development, making art, designing everything from the actual products to catalogs and packaging, photo shoots, blogging, managing the website, marketing, PR, and more. I don’t really have a consistent task list or schedule that I follow on work days, but I do wish there were more free moments to spend actually creating. This part of my process is just so different from running the business, which is a lot of tasks and checkboxes, whereas my creative process includes a lot of open space and time.

My latest scheduling experiment is with early morning workouts. For the past few weeks I’ve been dragging myself out of bed at 5:00 to get to the gym near home for a class, which has been going surprisingly well. We struggled with sleep challenges with both boys, so now that they’re getting better about staying quiet throughout the night I’m able to make this work!

There’s never a dull moment around here, which I actually really appreciate. There’s life in the house and energy that often can’t be contained. We recently entered a phase that includes the boys being able to play with each other, even for just a short time, so Marty and I can enjoy reading a bit of the Sunday paper and drinking coffee. Some days we feel like total geniuses — like “WOW, it’s really working! They’re playing together and look at us! Reading the newspaper!” Other days they aren’t so cooperative and we need to shuttle them out of the house for some activity immediately, no newspaper reading allowed. Thankfully, now that the boys have discovered Legos, we’re having more lazy Sundays than ever!

My favorite time of day has always been bedtime. We cuddle in a chair and read books until the boys are melty little puddles of cuddle on our laps. I nursed both of them as babies and it was always so sweet to just have them and hold them until they were so restful and peaceful — especially after a long, hard day. There are a lot of long, hard days, this has always helped put things into perspective. At some point, the gas runs out and the kids succumb to their exhaustion. It’s a beautiful thing.

The older the boys get, the more I enjoy being a mom. I love how smart they’re getting and how much fun we can have as a family now. I love watching them play together and have their own real, beautiful, complicated relationship. We’re a team now, and not just a couple of parents trying to keep a couple tiny little humans alive.

I wasn’t a mom who bounced back quickly from pregnancy and birth, either emotionally or physically, so it took me a while — like over a year — after each boy to feel like myself again. I think sometimes we don’t hear that from moms enough; it seems like everyone is cool and back to normal at that six week postpartum appointment. That just wasn’t the case for me.

You asked if they could remember just one memory from this childhood home — and me as their mom — what I hoped it would be. And this question sort of made me cry. I had to both picture the boys, my little babies, as grown men and also remember that all of things we are doing on a day to day basis are forming memories for them…and that feels sort of overwhelming.

I don’t know that it’s a specific memory that I want them to have, but more an overall feeling. A feeling of warmth and comfort and consistency and support. Of opportunity and honesty and unconditional love. Of growth and of all the feelings. Even the hard ones. Of silliness and laughter. I want them to remember driving south along the Mississippi to visit my parents in Wisconsin and fishing off of their houseboat and pontooning to a sandbar to play in the water. I want them to remember the annual Minnesota Wildlife Art Show that Marty’s dad does with our boys and their cousins during their summer visit to the Midwest.

Mainly, I just want them to remember there was a lot of love here, no matter what.

I wish someone had told me that being a mom is actually really complicated. That maybe you won’t fall into it naturally right after the baby is born, but that’s okay…everyone is different. You also probably won’t understand anything people tell you about having kids until after you’ve had them and experienced it firsthand. There are A LOT of decisions to be made, every single day, and for a while each one feels so very important which is kind of stressful.

In the end, I believe as long as you really, truly care for your kids and do your absolute best even on days when that doesn’t seem very good, that they and you will thrive.

–-

Thank you for all the sweet reminders and real reassurances, Kimberly! “We’re a team now, and not just a couple of parents trying to keep a couple tiny little humans alive.” It is a moment to remember when that happens in our families, isn’t it?

And I had to giggle when Kimberly was extolling the virtues of Minnesota and then stopped to mention one caveat: that she was writing this love letter during the summer months! Check back in with us in January, will you? Anyone else have this love/”Oh goodness, I am freezing!” relationship with their cities based on the weather? Tell us about it, will you please?

P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me knowWe love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

49 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Kimberly Senn”

  1. lovely tour! The Godzilla print is fantastic and what a fun memory associated with it. But the best part of this tour is the honesty about parenthood, messes, and all. Thanks!

  2. I love the color scheme throughout the house – natural, warm, and muted all at the same time – it looks very restful and relaxing. I love warm, honey-to cherry colored woods, and everybody seems to be painting over them whitewashing them these days. Also, who knew there were so many lovely shades of blue out there and so many lovely ways to use them?

  3. I love everything about this Living with Kids entry!

    The house is gorgeous–really stylish but still warm and comfortable. And the comments about being self-conscious about mess and imperfection are so relatable. I’m still working on being able to entertain more without worrying about how things look. My husband is constantly reminding me that “it doesn’t look bad, it looks like people LIVE here, because we DO!”

    I also love the sentiments expressed. Living in the Midwest with 2 boys of the same ages, you’ve captured the noise, energy, and exuberance of boys at this age beautifully, while also describing how sweet and fun they can be. Thank you for sharing it all!

  4. Great tour, such a great home! I too can understand about not having people over because of the house not looking a certain way. We live in a rental which is not my style at all so I’m hesitant to let people in! Glad to know I’m not the only one who has ever felt that way!

    By the way, where is the shelving unit from in the toy room?

    Thanks!

  5. Pamela Balabuszko-Reay

    Love this tour! You seem to be doing LIFE in a big, beautiful way.

    You described our little neck of the woods beautifully. I’m in Morningside, in Edina 1/2 block outside of Linden Hills. We really do have it all here. Let’s just ignore that pesky winter.

    Thank you so much for sharing your everything with us! I’m inspired.

  6. hi kimberly,
    i love your home and how you decorated it, thank you for sharing it. what is the color of the paint you used in the playroom? thanks!

  7. I loved this tour! Kimberly, I love your house, and your style, and what you wrote! I related so much to what you said about how overwhelming all the decisions seem! Like you, I hope that loving them as much a humanly possible, and doing the best I know to do, is going to serve them well. :)

  8. Hi Kimberly,

    I loved this post. It resonated with me on so many levels. I’m originally from the Minneapolis area and often feel homesick for it, particularly in the summer and fall. I also tend to feel self-conscious about my home not being clean enough or decorated perfectly, but have recently decided to set my perfectionistic tendencies aside to create a warm, inviting home for my family. I appreciate your take on work-life balance and working from home. And finally-thank you for mentioning that it took a while for you to feel like yourself after having your children. I have a 5-month old and feel the same way.

    Again, thanks for sharing!

  9. very lovely house tour!

    I was wondering if you could share where the striped tubs in the white Ikea shelf are from? thanks!

    1. Thank you, Susan! Those pieces were actually in the house when we moved in, so unfortunately I’m not sure where they were purchased. (They are built-ins, so I might check places like Home Depot or Lowes for something similar!)

  10. i absolutely loved when she said she didn’t feel like herself for a year after each child was born. I have two girls, almost the same ages and I could totally relate to this. I bounce back physically very easily few child birth but emotionally is a whole other story. I always feel like an ungrateful wimp when I talk about how hard the first year of a new baby is for me. Mostly just because of the anxiety I feel – which o blame mostly on hormones. I think we are way to hard on ourselves as women and mothers and it was so nice to hear another woman echo how I have felt
    After having babies.

  11. This tour really resonated with me for a few reasons. The first, for not wanting to let people into your house because it isn’t ‘ready’, and secondly the monumental changes that motherhood brings and the feeling of not being yourself for the first year of your baby’s life. And finally the weather thing!

    We are in our second winter in the house we bought to renovate, and late last November our third baby arrived. Winter here, in a small rural city is ridiculous and defies expectations of the Australian climate. In the winter months it feels like we are all crammed in together, and with two active and curious little boys we come up with very creative ways of burning off energy quietly while baby sleeps! The renovations are being carried out mostly by my husband and his father and they seem to be running at a snail’s pace due to all those pesky things like earning a living that get in the way. Throwing baby number three ok the mix, and she’s a firecracker, just made life that little bit more interesting. Especially when I am frustrated by the clutter and mess that mounts up and gets in the way of the important things, like creating a gallery wall of my children’s art, or rearranging the boys’ toys so that they are appealing and creative!

    But come spring, summer and autumn I feel completely different, the days are longer and warm, the big back yard becomes another room and so many things seem possible!

    I really loved this tour, the house is beautiful and thoughtful and Kimberly I appreciate your honesty in describing your metamorphosis as a mother, it gives me hope that one day, when I am feeling more like myself I will have more direction and energy, but until then, while I’m right in the middle of keeping my babe alive, clearly I should just keep the fridge well stocked with good beer!

  12. I love this tour. I am working on getting over the “as soon as my house is perfect” thing too. Hearing other people talking about that struggle and seeing other people’s homes helps tremendously. Thank you so much for sharing.

  13. I loved this house! The artwork is beautiful, the colors, and the flow. I appreciate about not bouncing back after babies, and knowing you belong in a house.

  14. Beautiful home and beautiful sentiments. One of my favorite Living With Kids to date. I too have a hard time bouncing back after babies, both physically and emotionally. It took me about a year with both of my boys, as well. Thank you so much for sharing that. I agree more of us with that experience need to speak up!

  15. Kim Senn is the coolest. What a great look at life with small kids! I found the first year after welcoming a baby to be HARD every time. It’s impossible to really be yourself, 100%, when so much of your life has to come second to someone else’s survival. Now I want to see before photos of the house when it was “decorated in a very fancy way…” .xo

    1. It was VERY fancy. Think billowing silk drapes throughout. A “bust” statue on a pedestal. Lots of white satin… Obviously very practical for two small boys. :)

  16. What a lovely home and family! Thank you for bringing us into your world for a bit. I live just across the border in Wisconsin, having moved from my homestate of balmy Missouri, so the winters were an adjustment for me. I’ve found that the key to survival is to have an indoor hobby for the temps below -10f, and an outdoor hobby for temps above that. I knit and am always thankful for an excuse to sit and create. For outdoors, I’ve discovered cross-country skiing, and local parks have beautifully groomed trails and gorgeous scenery through the woods! And summers are glorious, without a doubt. It’s beautiful country, but you’ve got to get out in it.

  17. I love this: “We’re a team now, and not just a couple of parents trying to keep a couple tiny little humans alive.” Can’t wait to get to this stage. Right now, it’s all about the baby, and the preschooler throws tantrums because he feels excluded when I’m spending hours nursing.

  18. Beautiful home! I love love the print/painting of the birch trees (I think?) above the ‘hello’ sign. Can you please share where you found it? Thank you!

  19. I loved this home tour and family.

    Above all I loved that she said this : Mainly, I just want them to remember there was a lot of love here, no matter what.: So very inspiring.

    Wondering if there is a source for the large baskets located inside the entrance table.

    1. Hmmmm, I think I found those baskets at Home Goods! I feel like I’ve seen similar styles at Target and West Elm as well.

      Thank you for the kinds words. :)

  20. The intro to this post was PERFECT. I’ve noticed since having children that I’m so much more comfortable in my friends houses when they’re just a little bit messy– when unfinished projects are lying around, ironing is in progress, shoes aren’t all organized in closets. It feels like life is happening in their homes and, better yet, like they enjoy my family enough to let us into it. Now, I’m striving to be that person who lets others into my messy home! I’m trying to let my friends know I like them THAT MUCH. :)

    So, thank you for the intro to this post! How true. Perfection gets in the way of living… and of true hospitality.

  21. I moved from the Alabama Gulf Coast to the Minneapolis area and thought I was going to die that first winter! 5 MN winters later and a recent move to WI and I can truly say that when I feel homesick, I am homesick for MN! Wonderful people and a great city!

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