Living With Kids: Lesley Colvin

Lesley has been on Design Mom before. Her beautiful photography work has been on a few different Living With Kids post, and we featured her own home when she and her family lived in a small space on the Upper West Side.

That was a couple of years ago and Lesley and her family now live outside the city in a beautiful historic home. It still has all the bright white walls and open space of her previous home, but with so many cozy corners and adorable vignettes, you’ll want to pause on every photo. And Lesley shares some lovely advice about how her family has managed during the pandemic. Welcome, Lesley!

It’s so lovely to see you all again! So much has changed in two years, and we traded our practically-perfect city life for a suburban adventure. In the first post I talked a lot about design preferences and what it’s like to live in small spaces with children, and I still stand by every word (especially the part where I said suburbia with children is actually harder than city living! It’s true!). Our small-space mentality translated well to our new home, even though we have twice the space, and my design sense and love of plants hasn’t changed a bit either. 

Kyle and I met while studying abroad in London, England. Kyle always jokes that he fell in love with me, and I fell in love with London. He was mostly right about that. It was as romantic as it sounds, and our courtship in London and traveling together in Europe was an absolute dream. Friends and family joked that we needed to get back to the USA so we’d know whether our relationship was going to work “in the real world,” but I can’t think of a better way to get to know someone than traveling with them.  Once I took us to the completely wrong airport in Spain and we ended up missing our flight. When he looked at me calmly and said “That’s unfortunate. Let’s figure out another way to get to Venice by tomorrow!” I knew he was the one for me. Sixteen years and counting, travel is still our favorite hobby.

Kyle is an M&A attorney for an international law firm based in London, and he works in New York City (though remotely for the time being). He’s an avid sports fan, makes amazing pizza (more on that below), and lives for days lounging poolside.  He’s the hardest worker I know, and always finds a way to balance a demanding job and our family life. We come first no matter what. 

And then there’s me. I’m Lesley with an “S” (not a Z!), and living in England and the East Coast I’ve just had to get over everyone saying my name incorrectly. I try repeating back “Lesley” and they say back “Oh, Lezzzzzzzzley.” Nope! I’ve decided I just need to start going by Les, a nickname I adore. I studied art history as an undergrad, and architectural history and history conservation in graduate school before choosing motherhood at age 25. I didn’t anticipate how much I’d love being a mother, and I proudly say “I’m a mother!” when anyone asks what I do for a living.

I do have a part time job as a photographer. I work for myself and I don’t have a specialty, so I shoot everything from portraits to events and interiors. Moms and babies are my most favorite subject matter! I also volunteer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Friday evenings (or used to before COVID, volunteers aren’t back in the museum until 2021), and it’s my most favorite place in all the world.

We feel very blessed to be the parents of four children. We had to put up a fight from the start to add children to our family, and we struggled through years of secondary infertility and recurrent miscarriage to bring our four little ones home. Our nonlinear path brought Kyle and I closer together, but it was a heartbreaking journey I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. In moments of chaos at home with four little ones, I’m reminded that I chose this life and longed desperately for it. 

Our oldest daughter Ella is now twelve years old. She has magic coming out of her fingertips, and mothers her three siblings better than I do. Ella is obsessed with stickers and enamel pins, and dreams of becoming an astronaut. She is a loyal companion, a budding activist, and writes poetry that makes me cry.

Jones is ten years old with unwieldy brown hair and a Harry Potter-esque scar on his forehead. He’s all boy in a sea of sisters, and he loves them fiercely and cares for them with love and devotion. He spends half the day on our little tree swing, and the other half reading Dogman books, checking the mail, and asking me to measure him to see if he’s grown at all. He has a tender heart, carefree love of life, and brilliant smile that endears him to all. 

Kate is seven and three quarters, thank you very much. She’s as feisty and energetic as they come, and dearly loves to sleep in as long as possible every morning. Kate still lives in a world of daydreams and imaginary friends, and some of my happiest moments in life have been watching her at play. She has a zeal for life that’s infectious, and declares every day to have been “amazing!”

Our littlest daughter Thea is three years old. If you’ll ask her, she’ll say she’s ten. We adore our little Thea June, and she adores us, but you often wouldn’t know it by the way she bosses around! When she isn’t busy barking out orders in her Spiderman costume, she’s obsessing over the color green, requesting to watch The Grinch (year round), or pretending she’s a puppy. She’s as delightful as she is demanding, and has no trouble wearing a mask in public so long as it’s her Spiderman mask.

We live in a little village called Chappaqua, New York, about 30 miles north of New York City. What we love about this area is how stunningly beautiful it is. The winding country roads aren’t for the faint of heart to drive, but they sure are gorgeous! What I knew of New York State was primarily New York City, and I never realized how green and wild it is here. I love all the gorgeous lakes and rivers with trees that grow right up to the water’s edge. There is beauty everywhere you look.

Our neighborhood is more rural than suburban, and we sometimes go weeks without seeing our neighbors because the homes are so spread apart. Honestly, it’s part of the appeal living here because it feels so secluded. What a change from the hustle and bustle of city living in NYC and London over the last decade! The neighbors we are most acquainted with are our woodland friends, and we feel very fortunate to live in such a green beautiful place. 

The median home price in our community is just under $1M, and when we were looking for homes in the tristate area, it was astounding (and disheartening) to find what you don’t get for a million dollars. I don’t love how isolating this community is, and I’ve found it really hard to find friends. This is not the place for you if you’re looking for a cul-de-sac lifestyle where children can just roam the neighborhood free range. 

Our property is fully fenced, so they can free range in our own yard, but never on a whim with neighborhood friends. The children here are every bit as over-scheduled as city children, and I find myself continually grateful that my little friends have each other to play with! We continue to have minimal extracurricular involvement, and I love that we have the best of both worlds with spaces to explore at home and in our area, as well as the city just a short drive away! We’ve also loved having a car and our close proximity to beaches in New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.  

Long story short, but we left the city in part because of a once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunity, but mostly because it felt like the right move for our family at the right moment. It was a short sale property that ended up falling through (as they so often do). It never felt like home, and I was so grateful to return to the home hunt after six months of frustration in a less-than-ideal situation. 

It was love at first sight when I saw the photo of our charming red colonial on Zillow, and I was basically ready to buy it sight unseen after clicking through the listing photos. The house itself was stunning, but with a beautifully-designed European-style front garden, a pool, pizza oven, and open view over conservation land, we were smitten. We were the first family to see it, and the minute I stepped inside it felt like home. Angels singing, stars in my eyes, the whole bit. After being inside for about two minutes (I was still glued to the entry wide eyed), Kyle’s smile met mine and he said “I don’t think there’s a more perfect house for you than this one.” 

It was more my taste than his, but the pool and pizza oven were amenities he never knew he’d dreamed of having, and he loved the home as much as I did. We nicknamed it “The Magic House,” and it is truly a magical place. We met the Magic House in the dead of winter, just after a heavy snowstorm. It was hard to tell in February, but the garden and entire property were a wonder to behold when spring awoke. The magic here is palpable, and we pinch ourselves daily that we get to live here. In fact, almost every time we pull in I say, “What a cute house! I wonder who lives here? They are so lucky!” We are. 

The market was competitive at the time we purchased it, and although we made an offer and it was informally accepted, someone came in with an all-cash, above-asking-price offer. I was utterly devastated, and going back to square one was depressing and demoralizing. We looked at several homes, and nothing came even close to the Magic House, but we needed to get out of our rental ASAP, so we pressed on.

I’ll never forget the moment when Kyle received a call from our realtor about two weeks later saying the all-cash offer had fallen through. It was one of the happiest moments of my life! We went into contract the next day and the rest is history. Given COVID, the market here is extremely hot at the moment. Anything in the $750k-$1M range is gone in a flash, with many bidding wars and cash sales. I’m so grateful we were able to get into our home when we did! It’s an amazingly beautiful area, and we are so happy to call it home. 

The Magic House was built in 1958 and sits on nearly two acres. We are the fourth family to live here. It’s a true “Modern Farmhouse” with a colonial-style house painted red and farmhouse kitchen, but the rest of the house is midcentury modern. All three bathrooms are original to the home (one is powder blue, the others are sage green and butter yellow!), and it just oozes charm in every single room. Every single room in our home has at least a double exposure, and it was built with light maximization in mind — there are giant picture windows and bay windows throughout the home, and every room. 

I honestly can’t decide which room is my favorite, but if I had to choose, it would be our reading room. It has a triple exposure, a work table for projects, three built-ins for books, and we hung two swing chairs on the right side. It’s my happy place inside our home. 

In the 90’s, the second family to live here remodeled the kitchen and added a swimming pool. They also landscaped the entire property and built a small garden shed in front of the home alongside a more formal garden space. The garden is a wonder to behold, and I am grateful every day for the work and effort the former owners put into it. 

The third owners replaced a rose garden with a vegetable patch, pizza oven, and built-in charcoal grill adjacent to the swimming pool area. It’s an absolute dream setup for summer entertaining, and we feel like we’re on vacation every day. Even in the winter, the views looking out on the property are absolutely stunning, and it’s an true pleasure to live here year round.

That being said, we often joke about the “million dollar fixer upper.” It’s very charming, to be sure, but I’ll repeat that all the bathrooms are original, and we have a DIY 1970’s basement. We had to put a new roof on our house in the first year, we had a ceiling fall in from an upstairs bathroom leak, and let me just say that the rumor about rodent abatement being worse in the country than in the city? It’s true. And I don’t want to talk about it.  

Home prices have gone up steadily on our area since we moved in, and we feel so grateful for our timing to be in this dream home. We fully recognize how fortunate we are to have a choice in where we live and how. This home is a dream, and I’m grateful every day to add our memories to the walls of this home that’s housed four families over 62 years.  

Leaving the city was one of the hardest decisions we’ve ever made in our marriage — if not the hardest. We had a practically-perfect setup in the city, and we were happy and thriving as a family in NYC. In fact, just days before Kyle dropped the bomb that he thought we should leave the city, we had just committed to staying in the city to raise our four children until they were grown. Given his hatred of long commutes, and my ardent love for urban living, I had a hard time believing he’d dare to utter the words, “I think we should consider moving out of the city” out loud!

We weighed our options and ultimately decided to leave only if an opportunity to go presented itself. Well, it only took a week or two before we found an incredible home for an amazing value, and we found a family who viewed our apartment and committed to take over our lease within an hour of posting it. We had a one-way ticket out of the city dropped in our laps, but did we want it? It felt like the right choice, even though it was not the choice I wanted, and we decided to hold hands and jump. The entire situation truly felt meant to be, but in a way that sickened me because I felt so upset about leaving to begin with. To be honest, most of the reasons I didn’t want to leave were pure vanity. 

I don’t buy into the notion that children need their own rooms and backyards to thrive — and I still don’t. Children are resilient, and they are happy where you are happy! I didn’t want to be perceived as weak, or for jumping ship like so many families do because life in the city just gets too hard and too cumbersome to manage. I felt my anger bubble to the surface when people would ask, “What was it that made you move? Was it just too hard living in the city with four children? Was your apartment just too small?” The answer was none of these, as we were happy and thriving in our city life, and I felt like I had to justify myself at every turn, which says a lot about my mental space at the time.

Our unanticipated move meant a two week timeline to get out of our apartment and into our home, which was a heartbreaking whirlwind. I always say, “The best time to leave the city is when you’re not ready to go.”  It was time to put those words to the test for myself this time, but it was desperately difficult to give up a life we loved. It made my heart ache in a way I’d never felt.

I hadn’t realized how much of my identity was tied to where I lived, and it was hard to find my footing for a while without New York City as my foundation. I missed the city everyday, and still do! In fact, I would move back tomorrow. 

I have always loved the adventure of making my way in a new place, so settling down in a more permanent situation was actually rather unsettling. It was something I never anticipated or even wanted, so the move was hard on me in a lot of ways. It took a great while before me to find my feet out in this new place. On the good days, living so close to the city and having a gorgeous home in a bucolic setting is the best of both worlds. On the bad days, the city feels like it couldn’t be further away. New York City doesn’t need me as much as I need her, and that hurts.  

I always say ,“I’m living someone else’s suburban dream and trying to make it my own” (it’s written in my Instagram profile!). I’ve slowly found my way here, and I can honestly say that I’m as happy as I’ll ever be living outside the city. I miss everything about city life. The energy, the incredible food, the possibility of doing one thousand different incredible things on a whim.  Even if you just stayed at home in your apartment, it was thrilling just knowing you could step outside and the NYC possibilities were endless! 

I miss bumping into friends on walks in the park and while running errands. We don’t have sidewalks here in the country, and a car is an absolute necessity. I miss walking everywhere. I don’t miss constantly having to plan my Trader Joes run based on how much I could carry home or fit into a taxi, or playing Tetris in every single storage area in our apartment. And what I certainly don’t miss is being gawked at for having so many children. I mean, four children is still a lot in Westchester, but I no longer feel like a complete spectacle everywhere we go.

As mentioned, I genuinely believe that children can thrive wherever their grownups choose to live, so we could have just as easily stayed in the city.  But it has been quite fun to see the children run outside and climb trees and pick flowers in the garden whenever they choose. They love to set up croquet on the lawn, and we recently installed a massive hammock swing in the back of the property that all four children can use at once! We are all still easing into life here in a way, and it’s been a wonderful adventure.

What I didn’t anticipate in this move was being reintroduced to my husband. Little did I know, he’s not actually a city person. I really liked City Kyle, but Suburban Kyle is a wonder to behold! He can build a fire in the fireplace better than anyone, loves to run errands (what!?), and go on long drives. His favorite way to spend summer days is poolside, basking in the sun. We have a wood-fired pizza oven and making pizza is one of our favorite pastimes. I make the dough and dress the base, and he cooks them.  We make a great team. Developing new skills and family hobbies has been delightful.

When we moved to this home, we wanted to make sure we had space enough to grow as our children grew, but we brought our small-space mentality with us and we don’t like having wasted space. We bought a home that’s large by city standards (2300 square feet with three bedrooms in the main living areas and a 700-square-foot basement that has a guest room and a living room), but is small by suburban standards. Especially for this area.

City friends say, “You have so much space!” while neighbors are astounded that we live in one of the smallest houses in the neighborhood with four children (not very common around here!). Ella, Jones, and Kate had no intention of splitting up, and it made my mommy heart so happy that they wanted to continue sharing a room after we left the city. It has been nice having room to stretch and a little more privacy, but I find that my little ones want to be right where I am, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

During the height of lockdown, we went through a range of emotions that I’m sure everyone can relate to. Home was a haven, but it also felt like a prison some days. We wanted to be in an organized, calm living space that reinforced feelings of safety and security. Since our lockdown lasted 111 days, we became intimately acquainted with the objects in daily use. Anything that wasn’t enjoyed or used regularly got the boot. I would find myself staring intently at a bookcase or piece of furniture and realizing “I actually don’t like the way this looks at all!” but I’d just gotten used to it and didn’t see it objectively. 

Organizing and styling brought a lot of comfort in a world where little was under my control. We purged our clothing, toys, and belongings to ensure that everything had a place without clutter, and I cleared away “panic piles” that were gathering dust in various closets.  We didn’t purchase anything new, we just rearranged what we had and got rid of items we didn’t love. 

As the summer progressed and the pandemic showed no signs of slowing, we realized there was a significant chance we could have three fully-remote learners home for the school year (along with their very distracting baby sister). Our early 2020 remote learning experience was a complete disaster for a lot of reasons, so we knew we needed to be intentional about creating learning stations around our home so that our children could focus without distraction. Kyle needed to maintain his work space and Thea and I needed to carry about our daily routine without distracting Ella, Jones, and Kate from their school work. 

Our district also set up a very strict code of conduct for remote learning, including no background distractions or visiting siblings/parents/pets, as well as a seated desk area for the children to work. Our children usually did homework at the kitchen table. We knew that wasn’t going to work for a full year of successful remote learning.  

Given all the uncertainty amidst the start of the pandemic, we were trying to limit our spending and wanted to be as frugal as possible as we tried to make accommodations for our little learners. I love thrifting and the thrill of the search, which ended up being to my benefit since I wasn’t the only person trying to buy a simple wall desk. Everything I tried to order online was backordered! We started scouring FaceBook Marketplace and Craigslist for second-hand desks. What we found was that city dwellers were selling entire contents of their NYC apartments for pennies as they moved elsewhere during the pandemic. 

I had an epiphany one night as I was looking for desks and daydreaming about filling my spaces with some of the furniture I was seeing on resell sights: My furniture is not holding me hostage. I have every right to let it go and live the life I imagine for myself! It seems a simple concept, but it rang true.

What began as a search for a simple white ladder desk set about a complete overhaul. Kyle and I went room by room and took an objective view. What isn’t working for this space? What do we love? What do we hate? We didn’t even have a budget to work with, but it turns out we didn’t need one since we were able to sell all the items we were replacing, and a few more. We listed our items on resell sites as soon as we found replacements, and priced them well so they’d sell quickly. Kyle is always quick to remind me of sunk costs, so there were a few items that didn’t sell, and we didn’t feel upset or frustrated because we’d gotten good use out of them during their time in our home. We posted those items for free, and they were happily collected by grateful recipients. That felt good too! 

In the end, we actually ended up making money. That’s right, we turned a profit swapping out furniture we tolerated for furniture we loved. In the shuffle of getting organized for distance learning this fall, we ended up putting middle-school aged Ella and Jones in one room (they kept the Oeuf Perch bunk they’ve happily occupied for eight years now!), and Kate and Thea are next door. They were all sleeping in the same room, but they all went to sleep and woke up at different times, so it just wasn’t working well for us. 

We were able to buy another Oeuf Perch used for $200 on Facebook Marketplace to match the one in the other room, and that really helped them get excited about their new space—knowing it was just like Ella and Jones’s. In addition to the Oeuf perch, we ended up finding two identical Oeuf dressers with attached bookshelves for each room, and an additional bookshelf for the girls’ room for a grand total of $950. We ended up buying a reproduction Sarineen fiberglass tulip table and six reproduction Eames fiberglass shell/arm chairs for $600 from a clothing designer moving out of the city, and we sold our beautiful, but not-right-for-our-space West Elm dining table and benches to an equally happy buyer for $800. It’s definitely my favorite swap in the house! 

Our most creative use of space was making a little Colvin Family Schoolhouse area in a nook next to our boiler room. We didn’t quite know how to utilize this space before, but we repurposed Ikea Kallax shelves from the children’s rooms to create storage space for backpacks, books, and supplies, and added that ladder desk that started the great furniture swap of 2020. When Thea started showing up on her siblings Zoom calls wearing either her Spiderman costume or nothing, we put up a fabric shower curtain on a tension rod to keep the space more private. 

We also moved all our exercise equipment into the guest room and made Kyle’s little sunroom-turned-office into a fulltime office space. I’ll never forget the moment after we’d rearranged his office and he grabbed my hand, thanked me for driving four hours roundtrip to buy his gorgeous vintage Danish recliner and said, “I’m going to need more plants.” I’ve never been happier! He stole some of my most favorite houseplants for his office, and alongside a handful of midcentury finds, it is a gorgeous space. I sneak down to the basement regularly to see his smiling face through the window and check on all my gorgeous plants. They are very happy in their new space.

It took time, patience, and a lot of driving, but we now have a home that’s more functional and more aligned with our design preferences. The only way we managed this without adding a budget category was selling what we had and buying second hand items to replace them. Buying secondhand allowed us to get quality items we couldn’t otherwise afford. I have no interest in spending all my money on furniture and accessories, but I truly love natural materials and quality craftsmanship. Buying second hand is my only option to get what I want on a budget.

Additionally, with four young children at home, it’s hard to spend much on furniture you know will be covered in crayon markings and peanut butter smudges. Buying used means higher quality that’s meant to last and survives frequent cleaning beautifully, and in the event a toddler takes scissors to your beloved leather settee, you’re out a minimal amount compared to what you would have spent buying something new. 

You obviously have to be careful when you’re bringing into your home considering pests like bed bugs, and you can expect that you’ll need to clear away some cobwebs and dust from previous use. We shy away from furnishings that can’t be sanitized or fully laundered, and we give items a good cleaning outside before we bring them indoors.  

The beauty of buying used is that it’s typically an inexpensive investment. If I found something I liked and the price was right, I’d view it as a “rental fee” and if it wasn’t right for the space, I’d just post it for sale again! The beauty of buying and reselling second hand is that you can just keep on trying out objects until you find the perfect fit. 

I don’t claim to be an interior designer by any stretch of the imagination, but I am very opinionated and discerning about what we bring into our home to begin with. There were certainly a lot of panic purchases in our past where we bought the best option from whatever store we were in at the time.

I’m not good at conjuring up design ideas out of thin air, and I get really overwhelmed both online and in giant stores since I’m such a visual person. It’s a process for me. Styling feels cumbersome and clumsy, and even though I can tell there’s something not quite right, I rarely know exactly how to fix it!  I don’t always know what I want, but I definitely know what I don’t like. In fact, that’s the way I design: I swap out objects until I find a look that I love. For a mantle, for example, I’ll put up some frames and small objects and just try them out in the space. I’ll walk by a few times a day and swap a plant for a small object, or add/remove a frame to see how that feels. Eventually I get there. 

For tricky wall spaces, I’ll borrow objects from other walls and use them to make a start. I’ll hang up a mirror or picture I already have, and then I can immediately see that it’s the wrong size, shape, or scale for the room. Using this system, it doesn’t take long before I know exactly what I need to make the space feel complete. 

Now that I’ve been at it for a few years, I’ve found a pretty simple rubric for creating spaces that I love: a focal point (whether that’s a bed, a rug, or a sofa), natural materials that feel warm and make me feel grounded (like wood, leather, and wool), lots of plants, and mirrors to bounce light in dark spots. If you’re having trouble with a space, try a mirror or a plant. They’re my go-to for pretty much every space and they haven’t failed me yet from a design perspective. Though, I’ll warn you, you’ll start out with one plant (or mirror) and then soon find you need them everywhere. It started with one Monstera Deliciosa in our London flat, and our current count as of this morning is 162 separate houseplants! Don’t say I didn’t warn you.      

The pandemic changed everything for our little family. My husband’s job is extremely demanding, so we typically only see him for a few minutes in the morning, and then on the weekends. In fact, Ella nicknamed him “the weekend guy” when she was about three, because he seemed to only be around consistently on the weekend. It was almost as if we didn’t realize what we were missing without him home, because it was just the five of us living our lives, keeping expectations low, but hopes high for quality time with Kyle. I honestly had no idea what friends and family were talking about when they’d say “I don’t know how you do it!” because I truly felt like our family was happy and thriving, even without Kyle home. We’d all adjusted to his absence and created a life for myself and my children that wasn’t reliant upon his continual presence. Some would say that’s a sad way to frame your life, but I find it to be wonderfully freeing as a wife and a mother.   

What a change it was to have everyone all together 24/7 —a n adjustment on so many levels. Our initial time in lockdown was kind of terrifying given all the unknowns, but home felt like such a haven with all of us there. I felt such joy having my family all together, and it was something we truly didn’t take for granted, not even for one day during lockdown, because we didn’t know how long it was going to last. It forced us to reevaluate our lives and whether the work/life balance was truly working for our family.

Kyle is very fortunate that he’s able to work remotely, and even though the future is uncertain, we have cherished our all-together time.  It’s been a wonderful time to reflect on our family life generally, to set goals, daydream a little, and consider how life would look if we were truly able to shape it from the ground up. We long for change in our world, and realize that we can start at home to support one another’s dreams in all the ways we possibly can.

I’ve learned so much about my children having my little friends home all day every day, and we’ve had daily opportunities to talk about emotions, fears, hopes, and dreams. Because we’re together nonstop, our conversations delve deeper than surface-level, transactional exchanges, and I’ve never felt closer to my children. Children are so resilient, and so full of hope, and they remind me daily to be flexible, kind, and quick to forgive. 

It’s a great period of unlearning in our world, and because of all the incredible information passed so readily through social media, I’ve been questioning everything and trying to share my journey of discovery with my little ones along the way. I’ve changed my parenting style to lean into my vulnerabilities and weaknesses rather than trying to hide them from my children. I’ve learned that it’s ok to openly admit when I’ve been doing something wrong and commit to do better. To do so shows strength, not weakness. I’ve felt myself soften in some ways, and strengthen in others during this difficult time, but it’s all been progress towards the better. I feel that I’ve grown so much as a human and a mother by addressing my inherent biases and committing to do better and be better. 

I’ve learned that what they need from me is consistency, and we have really tried hard to keep up with our traditions even amidst the chaos of this unprecedented life. Our favorite weekly ritual is Friday tea, and the children and I look forward to it every single week. It’s a simple way to elevate the ordinary, and an accidental tradition that we’ve kept up on for going on three years now. 

We’ve set the table as if company were coming. We’ve done our best to keep holiday traditions alive and well on our own as a family, even when we’re used to celebrating with friends and family or with our church congregation. We’ve adapted and changed in so many ways, but what I’ve learned is that it’s more important than ever to keep some things the same.  Traditions ground us and bind us together through generations, and I feel that power keenly. It’s something even a pandemic can never take away.

When my little friends leave home, I hope they remember the warm summer evenings when we chased fireflies and bunny rabbits, made pizzas in the pizza oven, and then went night swimming. May they recall with fondness our weekly Friday tea, and the way their mom and dad made the ordinary extraordinary with just a little bit of effort. I hope they remember the cold winter days when we built a fire in the fireplace and kept it going until bedtime, with blanket forts, endless games of Snap, with movie nights, morning cuddles, and giggles on repeat. I hope they forget all the times the tooth fairy forgot to come. I hope they forget the times we lost our patience and failed on our good intentions. When their paths take them away from the Magic House, I hope they feel nothing but love as they think of home, and that they take with them a sense of adventure, a desire to make the most of every day, and a knowledge that they are truly loved and cherished just the way they are.

I love having little ones at home because of their capacity to love, feel joy, and see magic all around them. Wide eyes full of wonder, it’s a delight to observe children as they explore their world. I love observing my little friends as they gain knowledge and independence and put both to use through taking risks and trying new things. It makes me live my life with greater intention and a sense of wonder myself.

My favorite thing about children is their endless creativity. They only need a little nudge, and off they go into a wide world of imaginative play. We only have a small library of toys because they are always new to them, and all my little ones ages 3-12 love to play with them daily: Grimm’s and Grapat wooden blocks, rainbows, mandala sets, and wooden peg people for building. Wooden train tracks, a car mat, and our most recent favorite for all forms of creative open-ended play is Sarah’s Silks. Our most favorite are the giant playsilks, and the Earth Playsilks collection. The colors are just stunning! They build forts with them, use them as dress-ups, take them up into trees to blow gently in the wind, and we often use them to decorate for our weekly Friday tea as well. You can take them in the water too, so we’ve loved using them at the beach to make flags with driftwood, costumes, or sails for pirate ships!  

What I already miss is how they always seem to find me. Now I’ll admit, sometimes it’s a little frustrating not having much time to myself, but I love how they galumph into my room in the morning and presumptuously crawl right into bed and snuggle up beside me, as if it’s their job and their right. I love it. I love the way they’ll hear pots and pans being pulled out for dinner prep, and rush in to help, and how they’ll see me working in the garden and come out to work alongside me. They always seem to find me, and it brings a smile to my face when I feel their pull to me like a magnet, as I know it will fade in time. My little friends are already starting to rely more on each other than they rely on me, and although it makes me happy to see them grow in independence and self-confidence, it’s also bittersweet. 

I wish someone had told me (and I had listened) that there would be a day of reckoning for those of us who threw ourselves so wholeheartedly into mothering in the early years. I have a bachelors and masters degree, a little side business, and a volunteer job I love, and yet somehow I still don’t’ know what I want to be when I grow up! I had always thought I was keeping a window open for myself with my little photography business, traveling alone with Kyle, and taking time for myself regularly. I wish someone would have told me that I’d be standing here on the verge of four school-aged children as a thirty seven year-old, trying to mitigate a midlife crisis. I thought I’d have at least 10-15 more years before that happened! 

I look to my children as inspirations for how to think deeply, think freely, and open myself up to a world of possibilities as I contemplate my own path forward. It’s both scary and exciting to think of what might lie ahead for my own personal development. In a way, I’m so grateful this is happening now since I have another fourteen years or so before I’m an empty nester!  Hopefully by then, I’ll know what I want to be when I grow up — or least have a better idea.


Thank you, Lesley! I loved hearing about how they were able to essentially swap all their existing furniture for pieces she loves and end up with surplus funds. What a fun project! And how great to do all of that without creating waste or buying more new things. It’s good for the home and it’s good for the environment as well.

I also really love what Lesley said about how spending more time at home with her kids has allowed her to dig a little deeper in her conversations with her kids. The current state of the world plus the fact that we’re all home so much more has lead to some interesting conversations with my own kids as well. I really loved what Lesley said about her kids reminding her how important it is to be flexible, be kind and to be quick to forgive. Isn’t that such great advice? I think we can all find some peace in that.

What deep things have you found yourself discussing with your kids? What have they asked about all of the crazy things going on in the world? What have you found yourself learning from them?


Oeuf Perch bunk beds and mini library

Sarah’s Silks

Grimm Spiel und Holtz toys

Schleich animals

Grapat wooden people (in a range of skin tones)

You can see more of Lesley’s work on her Instagram or her website. Living With Kids is edited by Josh 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

28 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Lesley Colvin”

  1. Gorgeous home! I’ve been wanting to add more plants up high. Can you share where you found those white planters that hang flush on the wall? I love that they’re all over the house!

    1. Hey there, Heather! We love our hanging planters and they’re a functional, practical way to fill a space. I initially bought a set at West Elm and Crate and Barrel, but I’ve found the most success finding them at stores like Home Goods and TJ Maxx for less than $9 a piece. Far less than elsewhere! Even Target has a few options for hanging planters right now.

  2. So nice to read Lesley again! I love following her on IG and very much enjoy her outlook and generous spirit, so it’s a joy to get to read her thoughts in this more extensive format. Thank you, Lesley (Les!) and I hope you find your way out of this early midlife crisis soon. You’re so smart and talented, I don’t worry in the least about you. xx

    1. Such kind and generous compliments! Thank you for taking the time to write. It means so much! And I’ll take your vote of confidence and save it for a gloomy day. It’s such a crazy time for all of us and a great time for introspection. I know I’m not alone in this, but some days it doesn’t feel that way. Thank you. I’ll see you on Instagram! Les xx

  3. I really related to the description of virtual learning with a toddler in the mix! Ours also made a naked appearance in the Zoom chat and got my son booted from class for the day. Ultimately we threw in the towel on virtual school and reverted to homeschooling, since it appears that our school won’t be back in person full time until the spring at the earliest, and 4 hours of conference calls a day just wasn’t working for our 6 year old or the rest of us. Your house is so lovely! I’d love to know what gave your husband the itch to leave the city, even though he’ll be the one commuting back in. Was it a premonition of months of lockdown?

    1. They kicked him out!? My goodness. I’m so sorry to hear that. I applaud you for homeschooling, and I hope it will be a great experience for you and your family! I completely agree about the all-day-tech conundrum with remote schooling. My children are in a staggered reentry approach for both elementary and middle school, so we have little learners here at least every other day. It breaks my heart to watch them try desperately to reach through the screen and engage while sitting at a device for hours on end. It’s just so sad. I continually go back and forth about what the best option is for our family, but we’re finding our footing and I’m confident we’ll get there in time. I’m glad you’ve found an ideal solution for your family. Well done!

      As far as your question goes, dear friends of ours were considering leaving the city at the same time, so I’m guessing those conversations may have been the impetus for Kyle’s thought stream. It’s hard to pay rent anywhere, but particularly in Manhattan where the cost to house a large family is astronomical, and when we crunched the numbers it was hard to justify staying, to be honest. It was a gift to live here during lockdown. Knowing what life is like in the city with four children, we hold our friends who stayed through lockdown in even higher esteem! Many continue to live in tiny apartments with children learning and grownups working remotely, and it’s nothing short of amazing! We are thankful every day for our good fortune to live here, and luckily, the city is just a quick car drive away!

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, and best of luck with homeschool this year! Les xx

  4. I can see why you would call it the Magic House. I love the kitchen, the outdoor brick oven, the grounds and the exterior of your beautiful home. Thank you for sharing it with us!

    1. Maureen, thank you for your lovely comment! It feels pretty magical to live here, and we don’t take one day for granted. I can’t take credit for any of the above, and I applaud the kitchen design for its timelessness. It hasn’t been touched since 1994, and the double ovens are from 1978! The brick oven was handbuilt by the owners who lived here before us. We are so glad it’s here, and brings our family and friends together in a really unique (and delicious) way. The gardens were masterfully designed and maintained over the last six decades, and my only real contribution is panic weeding and pruning roses! We will do our best to be good stewards of the Magic House until it’s time for a new family to live here. Thanks for taking the time to comment! Les xx

      1. I loved your post so much Leslie!!! I love how you celebrate, “I’m a mother!” and your 4 (lucky you!) Children sound amazzzzing.
        Lovely home and toys! I also liked your country disclaimer about how you love the city. I’m in Atlanta and my 3 girls share a room but I’m always being told to move to the suburbs and I don’t want to at this time. Also your children’s names are gorgeous

  5. As a city girl living a not-so-city life, I totally related to this post – and I loved seeing all the magic in your magic house! :)

    1. Glad to hear I’m not alone! It can be hard to thrive where you feel like you don’t belong (or don’t prefer to be). But I’m finding my way and I hope you are as well! ❤️ And thank you! It’s a magical place, indeed, and we try to make the most of each day here! Thanks! Les xx

  6. Such a beautiful home and family! I grew up in Westchester and we had our kids while living in Pocantico Hills in Pleasantville. It is such a beautiful area. I now live in New Hampshire but still have a lot of love for Westchester. When we return I love to enjoy a bagel emporium bagel or a cookie from Susan Lawrence (or their out of this world egg nog).

    1. Hey Julie! Thanks so much for your comment. Ok, so Westchester doesn’t get any more charming than Pocantico Hills! I tell Kyle every time we drive through on the way to get tacos in Tarrytown or visit the Union Church at Pocantico Hills (hello Matisse and Chagall windows!) that I would be quite happy to live there. What happy memories you must have of that gorgeous area with the sweetest homes. And the Rockefeller Preserve in your backyard!

      I had no idea about Susan Lawrence’s egg nog, so now I have yet another reason to look forward to the holidays. Feel free to drop by the Magic House next time you visit the area! Les xx

  7. What a lovely home! I have been following Lesley for a while on insta and I adore the beautiful lifestyle they have created for themselves. So nice to read her full story here. This home and this yard must be wonderful to spend time in. Lockdown or not. I also really appreciate that Lesley has embraced the fact that she is at home with the kids. I sometimes wish I could have done that more, because juggling a demanding job with kids is a stressfull. But whether we stay at home or work outside the house, we all have our issues. Anyhow…I love seeing these pictures. It has a calming effect on me! Keep up al the good work with your yard and plants and hopefully you get to return to the Met.

  8. Lucia, thank you for taking the time to write! We feel so fortunate to live in the Magic House, and we have truly cherished this year more than any other with everything that’s going on. It’s even more of a haven than it’s ever been. Thank you! I truly love being a mother, and while I fall short every day, there’s nothing I would rather be doing in my life right now than being home with them (and I fully recognize my privilege in this regard). It’s such a short window in the relative scheme of things, and we’re trying to make the most of it. The juggle and the struggle are real, and I honestly don’t think there’s a perfect way to do it. You’re so right. We all have our issues, and since we can’t do it all, we have to let go of what we can’t control and give ourselves grace. Easier said than done, to be sure, and at least for me it’s hard not to look around at others who seem to find perfect balance and get down on myself. It’s one reason I find it important to engage in communities like this one. We are not alone! And thank you for your well wishes and kindness about the photos as well. You are truly kind. Les xx

  9. This house is a dream. That backyard pool pizza oven etc situation is going on my dream home vision board (that exists in my head ha!).

    1. The vision boards in our heads are the best ones, eh? We sure love the pizza oven adjacent to the pool. It’s such a fun setup and makes entertaining so easy. It’s a lot of work to build the fire and it’s a big time investment. Sometimes I think it’s almost not worth it unless we’re hosting a huge group of friends. The work-to-fun ratio isn’t quite as high when you’re just making pizza for six (and the fun is over in fifteen minutes) instead of having fifty people make their own over the space of a few hours. There are so many DIY pizza oven options, and you can buy gas-fired ones as well. So many options! May your pool/pizza oven dreams come true!

  10. Lesley is one of my very favorite people to follow on IG. It was so lovely to see more photos of her charming home and read her story!

    1. Hey there, Jennifer! Thanks for taking the time to comment! The rainbows are made by Grimm’s (link at the bottom of the post above). They are amazing toys for open-ended play. They can be used as car ramps, bridges for little people, and you can even make marble ramps out of them. My children use them to built little houses, and pretty much anything you can think of. They’re one of our most-used toys to be sure. Enjoy the weekend! Les xx

  11. Pool + pizza is basically my personal formula for a successful life ;) I LOVED how many times you mentioned the pizza oven. I don’t mean that at all as a backhanded criticism…clearly it is something you enjoy so much! And I get it!

    What a gorgeous house and wise insight into your life and choices and plans. Really loved how your kids find you and snuggle up with you like it’s their right…what a beautiful description of motherhood.

  12. Lesley, thank you for the wonderful home tour and plant inspiration! I just watched your video on Instagram about plant care and learned so much! I’m off to buy more plants now… 😊

  13. Thanks for being candid about the pluses and minuses of leaving NYC. I think the lesson I’m learning is to try your best to focus on the benefits of what you have and the chapter of your life you are living now. I’m so curious about that rustic compartmentalized shelf with the alphabet wood blocks. I love that! I love how you display your children’s toys–that marble collection is so sweet! Where did you get the wooden sorting small toy trays? Also, did you get into a good school district? Sorry for so many questions–I love the home you are creating!

  14. Hi Lesley! I’m not even sure if you’ll get this comment by now, but I just stumbled across this post and it was such a joy to read–both because your home is absolutely stunning, and because I was there in London when you and Kyle first started dating. It was wonderful to see how your family is thriving now. I know you wrote this months ago, but I found so much of what you said so relatable and I loved being able to connect with you in that way–I’ve also felt conflicted about where we’ve ended up living (rural-ish Midwest). Like you, I’ve learned and chosen to love the slower pace of life, even if it means less opportunities outside my doorstep (or I should just say different, but also meaningful). We moved from the (much smaller than NYC) city that we lived in three years ago for a house more out in the country as well. It’s a 1990’s home built in folk Victorian farmhouse style so common in historic Midwestern houses, but I’ve still got a long way to go before I’m happy with the balance between staying true to the style of my home and adapting it to where I want it to be. I live between a corn field and soy field and absolutely related to the comment on shock of rodent abatement and not wanting to talk about it! But it does feel so wholesome living where we do and watching the farmers hard at work from our windows and seeing gorgeous sunsets every evening. Anyway, I wished we lived closer and could catch up sometime. Your children sound lovely and are quite similar in age to my own four kids. And you’ve given me some great ideas and things to think about. I still fondly remember the adventures we had in Stoke-on-Trent and proudly display the Wedgwood china I bought there in my home.

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