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