Living With Kids: Lynne Knowlton

You just might fall head-over-heels for this home. And then you may feel a little dizzy when you see the tree house so unlike any other tree house you’ve ever seen that you could want to call it a home in the trees instead. Because it needs a fancier title. Some of you might drool over the pool situation or the poolside bench that was once a Balinese boat, or the barn with lanterns to light up any night. A candlelit outhouse. And oh, yes. There is a mermaid shower.

But I’m betting that Lynne (and her amazing family!) is the element in this tour for whom you’ll all fall the hardest. I don’t know her, but I wish I did. She is strong and positive and happy with her life, and all of the qualities in between that I strive to make a part of me, too. If you look only at the pictures, you might envy her. If you only read her story, your heart will swell. Friends, I hope this tour will change your day. Or more. (Because, for me, it changed more.) Enjoy.

Let me tell you about my family. There’s my hubby, Michael, who is one of the kindest, most beautiful souls on earth. He is just one of those guys who really puts others before himself in an epic generous sort of way. He has always been a huge inspiration in my life. He was a world class facilitator teaching sales and communication skills to Fortune 500 companies before cancer made a grand entrance in his life. He was diagnosed with a rare one-in-a million cancer six years ago with 70% cancer in his bone marrow. The median life expectancy was five years. He is undergoing chemotherapy and giving cancer a swift kick in the butt.

Our children are Shelby(22), Tristan (21), Mackenzie (15), and Brett (14).

Shelby is living in British Columbia attending a school for psych nursing. She loves to learn. She’s a walking medical encyclopedia. It’s absolutely hilarious at times. She soaks in everything she can possibly learn at school and then she turns it into some good old funny. I wouldn’t dare pierce my ears; she would convince me that I’d paralyze my face and have droopy ears! She’s hilarious with some of her antics.

Tristan is studying psychology at the University of Western here in Ontario, Canada. She chose a small campus with close-knit ties to her teachers and friends. It’s a beautiful community and she is so happy! Tristan is a generous, wise old soul. She is so beautifully kind and giving with a whip of adventure and a big splash of funny!

Mackenzie is a little go-getter. She loves to sing! We can hear her sing when she is driving around on our riding lawn mower. It’s a hoot! (Now she will know that I listen to her sing. Busted!) Her singing grabs my heart. It’s beautiful. She is stunning on the inside and out. She’s a voracious reader. She doesn’t care where she is; she will find a book and read it. She would read on top of a telephone pole if the opportunity arose. She has a sense of kick butt in her. As an adult, I don’t think anyone will ever walk all over her. She has a beautiful sense of self.

With having four sisters, Brett might be the kindest boy on earth. He will certainly know how to be a great hubby some day! He jumps right into things and just goes for it. He loves anything with an engine. He drives tractors, lawn mowers, the jeep on the farm trails, and is a brilliant little bush mechanic if it breaks down. If there was one last cookie on the plate, he’d give it to you. He is just that kind of kid. Big heart. Huge heart.

About 11 years ago, we had a bad neighbor. He was a big ‘ol burly brute. It was at that time that we decided that we wanted a home with neighbors…but ones that were further away! We wanted a long driveway, a barn for fun parties, and forests to walk through. We searched and searched and finally found it.

The moment I set eyes on it, I knew it was the one. Problem was, it was in super rough shape. The good news was that it had good bones. I could work with it. It had hope. Slowly, over the years, we’ve chipped away at turning the house into a home.

I love an eclectic style of home mixed with my little favorite things and special spots. I always want our home to feel warm and inviting to everyone that is in it. Our home is happiest when it is full.

The spot that makes me go crazy with excitement is the pool area. The original barn on the property had burned down in the sixties, and yet the stone foundation always remained standing.

Sort of. It was buried under rubble, old trees, years of garbage, and overgrown bush. I could see the stone peaking out of the surface of the ground and was always curious what I could do with it. At first, I thought…a GARDEN ! Then I thought…WEEDS! So we excavated the entire foundation of the barn, leaving the stone walls. Where the walls crumbled, we rebuilt them.

While the wall area was being dug out, I darted in the rubble and grabbed cool barn equipment, rusted funky tools, old water feeders, buckets, and bits. Our friend who dug out the stone foundation had a fit when he saw me running toward his equipment. It was quite hilarious. I wanted to be sure to save that funkiness. It has such character. We later mortared those same pieces back into the walls for added artistic interest. I love that stuff!

It has been, by far, my favorite proud feeling to think that I could imagine a pool and outdoor kitchen amongst a pile of rubble. I had to manage through the occasional snake in that original pile. But in the end, we have a beautiful pool with an outdoor kitchen and fireplace. We sit by the fire almost every night in the summer. I love that feeling. It is pretty epic.

The way I view my style is that I’m truly inspired by where I have been. I have traveled for my entire life. If I had $100 left in my pocket, I would use it to travel and see something new. I love the adventure. I might save a bit of that money for a baguette, chunk of cheese, and a glass of wine because I find the casual style of eating and just enjoying a space is more enjoyable to me than any fancy restaurant. I would rather enjoy a picnic in a park and take in the scenery. I love to bring that feeling into our home. A feeling that is safe and beautiful, and a space that tells the story of where we have been and what we fell in love with.

I believe that every house should feel like a home. It isn’t about money, because money doesn’t buy style. It’s about picking pieces that are close to your heart and real to your lifestyle. Feel good pieces. Pieces that tell your story. For me, it’s about thinking outside the box. I can’t go for a walk without being inspired. I see a twig and think “Wow, that would make a great curtain rod.” I see moss and think that would be great in a potted plant of hyacinth. I like to keep it simple, clean, and uncluttered.

Although I studied Commerce and Economics at the University of Toronto, I immediately went into design. I worked as a visual merchandiser for Royal Doulton, which was a career game changer for me. It wasn’t just the work; it was a fave pal of mine named Catherine Doherty who I laughed with all day long. No joke, we seriously laughed all.the.time. I thought all merchandising was that fun!

I fell in love with the career of design and layout because of the spirit and fun that surrounded it. I take that with me in my work every single day now. If it isn’t fun, I don’t do it. Life is too short for anything else.

I worked for several companies as a freelance designer, and then started to work on residential and commercial properties. Then a second ah-ha moment happened for me when I started traveling to Bali to buy furniture and household goods for my clients. Wow. Wow. Wow. Life changing. The people of Bali are beautifully creative. I started to realize that incorporating goods from around the world tell a great story in a home. It was also far less expensive for my clients to hire me to buy for them in Bali. I completed one home from top to bottom with all Balinese goods: floors, doors, lighting, furniture, the whole shebang. It was one of my proudest design accomplishments.

I would have to say, if I had to wrap my style up in one quick swoop, it would be this. That is what inspires me to really grow as a designer. I would love to design a space just like it some day.

I went through a phase of letting the kids pick their own paint colors for their rooms. A little creative expression never hurt anyone, right? Wrong. They chose neon nuttiness.

I thought I was going to go blind with the hot pink and lime green machine of paint craziness in their rooms. I remained quiet about it for as long as I could even though the color stung my eyes and hurt my brain.

It lasted at least a year or two. From that point on, the kids now allow me to pick their paint colors. They can rest easier at night now. It was a hoot. Peacefulness again!

My favorite space inside the house is the kitchen. I believe that every kitchen should have a sofa or a love-seat. The space is designed to accommodate many cooks. I would rather repaint an entire room than make dinner. Oh, you think I joke. At least a painted room has something to show for it; a home-cooked meal is gone in a flash.

The tree house may be my favorite place on earth. I first designed it as a low-tech/no-tech zone. That lasted about two days. I now use it as my studio by day and my little heaven on earth by night.

It has a little wood burning stove, a kitchenette, and a sofa bed where you can sit and stare out the windows for hours. It is so very peaceful.

They say that youth is wasted on the young. An adult-sized tree house pretty much solves that problem. Everyone should have a space that is their getaway. For me, it’s the tree house. It just speaks LOVE.

A good room should make you feel good. It should exude a feeling of warmth and comfort. It can be ultra modern or shabby chic, but at the end of the day you should feel right at home in the space.

In our family, I love to make spaces that not only feel good but are also free from clutter and craziness. Our minds are busy enough with day-to-day necessities. I like to keep the shelves and table tops clutter free to keep our minds free.

I use everything. I don’t have dishes that are for special occasions. If I love it, I use it. If I don’t, then I give it a new home. With the exception of my kids. I almost always love them!

My husband was diagnosed with a very rare cancer which typically strikes seniors, and yet he was diagnosed at the age of 46. At the time, both my mom and my dad were undergoing chemotherapy, and we had just lost my uncle to cancer. I had also lost almost every male person in my family to cancer and illness I thought I was going to lose it. Like, really lose it. I felt like I reached the end of my rope for being able to cope with such loss.

My mom was struggling as a three-time cancer survivor. Thankfully, she survived. She is pretty amazing.

My dad was the road map of my life; he taught me how to laugh and get through the ups and downs of cancer. He passed away about one year after my husband was diagnosed. After I lost my dad, my heart was so broken that I wasn’t sure if I could be strong for Michael and my family.

I was blogging at the time, and then I lost my voice. I couldn’t write another word. I wasn’t sure if I could ever survive another blow from cancer. A year later, I decided that I wanted to make a difference in the world and really help others who also had to design their life with cancer in it. So now I write about it. It’s cathartic and it helps me to be the strong mom that I am today.

Illness has taught me that life is short. If you want something to happen, make it happen. If you don’t like something, change it. Keep it simple and have some butt gusting laughs. I love to laugh. Like, really laugh. Life is serious enough; no one gets out alive, so why not laugh our way through it?

I also know that there is sadness, and that life is not all rainbows and butterflies. I honor the sad moments. When I feel the need to cry, I cry. I cry right out my nose if I have to. But I cry.

For our children, the thought of someday losing their dad is heartbreaking. There are many moments when they wonder if their dad will be there to tuck them in or give them advice. Oddly enough, our kids love his advice. They all really grab the moments to just be with him, and he loves it. They love it, too. We just live our lives the best way we know how, and try to keep cancer on the back burner as often as possible.

Sometimes we bury our heads in the sand and just forget about cancer. It is like having a monkey on your back. Sometimes he is there. Sometimes he plays with your hair. Sometimes he bites your ear. Then he really just does a number on you. It can be pretty scary. Such is life with cancer.

But the way we see it, everyone has a torch to bear. Everyone. It is how you choose to carry that torch. We choose to carry it with love and laughs, and a little bit of throw up in between.

We have learned that knowledge is power. Sometimes the not knowing or the waiting to hear the facts can be worse than the facts. It is our legal right to have a copy of all medical records when we visit our doctor. Get a copy of that report. Why? Because everything you hear in the office may be confusing. That equals fear. Educate yourself. Remembering that knowledge is power is what helps to give you the strength to really research every word.

I scanned through the blood work and studied each number and what it meant. I Googled everything under the sun. The more we studied, the less scary it became. We don’t believe in Dr. Google for diagnosis. Don’t do that! You will think that you have cancer if even you have a hangnail. Take the facts from your medical reports and Google them. Study what each part means. You will be amazed at what you can learn. And it will put your mind at ease.

It helped us to make educated medical decisions with our doctor. We made every choice together as a family and under the advice of a doctor that we truly trust.

Sadly, lives do end. Even when we dot our i’s and cross our t’s. I get that. I have lost almost everyone I have ever known to cancer. So now I honor that. When someone tells me that they have cancer, I don’t say “Oh, you’re fine! You will beat it.” Because if they don’t beat it, have they failed? No. They have won because they have lived a life of love. A life full of goodness and kindness.

You can only do what you can do. That is your best. That is as real as it gets.

One of the best parts about living with kids is how funny they can be. A funny expression, a crazy funny moment…I love hanging on to those moments. I laugh about them over and over again. It seems to get even funnier.

What surprises me about being a mom is how I would take a grenade for them. There’s a song about that, non?! It’s incredible how we, as moms, would move the earth for our children and protect them like crazy. From the moment they were born, I literally thought to myself “How can I love someone this much?!”

The instant love is something that stays with you forever. It is grand. It is beautiful. It is always there. As they grow up and we go through the stages and crazies, I miss the moments of each phase but I also look forward to the next. I loved those childhood moments, but I also love that they are just cool kids to hang out with. We enjoy them as they bud into adults and really just kick back and breathe in the journey.

Home is a safe haven. I hope that our children will keep coming back to it as they grow with their own families. Maybe someday they will get married at our home or maybe even continue to feel the sense of warmth as they drive up the driveway with their families and feel proud that this is where they grew up.

I hope they take the sense of calm, the kindness, and the outward focus of making a positive difference in the world with them throughout their lives. It all began at home, and I feel pretty proud of that.

Michael has a super cool way of doing things to get through conflict and hard times. I learned a lot from it, and it has been one of my favorite things to do. Whenever we have a problem, we just LOVE THEM. Same goes with friends, family, and other people in our life. It sounds so very simple, doesn’t it? But it works.

First and foremost, I always want the kids to know that they are loved.

I wish someone had told me that life would go by so fast. It was only yesterday that the kids were crawling and now they are in University.

I would have played more games. I would have been goofier. I would have laid on the ground and looked at more stars with them. I would have taken more moments to just sit and BE with them in the moment. Those quiet moments are beautiful and I always want more.

So now I am grabbing those moments. Grabbing them with all my might and having a laugh with them. Those are the best times! Taking time to stop, pause, and breathe it in.

It is easier said than done…but I am sure as heck going to give it a whirl. There is nothing like a happy dance, and I want to do more of them.


Oh, Lynne. I’m honored to hold your beauty here on Design Mom. Your words are strong and powerful, and I can only imagine how helpful they are to those who need them most. And then there’s that tree house. Thank you for it all.

Friends, my absolute favorite piece of advice is from Lynne’s husband: in times of conflict or turmoil, just love them. It’s so simple, but such a game changer, don’t you agree? I’d really love to hear from those of you who are enduring a tough time in your own families. How are you coping? How do you keep your panic at bay? Are you laughing enough through it all? I sure hope there are moments when you can.

P.S. — Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here. And if you’d like to share your own home with us, just send me a note! It’s a lot of fun…I promise!

Most of the photos in this tour shot by Andrew Grinton.

58 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Lynne Knowlton”

  1. Such an amazing home and such a wonderful family. I lost my dad to cancer when my boys were 2 months old and 16 months old – my school age daughter was heart-broken – my youngest never met him. A year later, I lost 3 college friends to cancer, heart attack, etc. Devastating. And… it is hard to live through, but you do, right? Your loss in life has been tremendous, and you did keep going – kudos to you, truly.

    Currently, I have a friend who is living with cancer – truly living – she writes a blog about it and published a book. You have to keep moving – back burner it when you can – deal with it when you have to – stay on top of it all with the right doctors, medical records in hand, etc. (like you said). It is difficult at times – and, other times, things are going well and it is just that chronic illness that you have to deal with – live your life – love your family – relish all the good moments. And… honestly…. I know a lot of people who have beaten it completely – and others just live with it, as they must. I do admire your family’s closeness – I love that your hubby has a great place for his downtime – to stay healthy and to continue kicking cancer’s butt. Your kids are growing up in a beautiful, loving space. Thanks for sharing it all!

  2. Beautiful and inspiring post! Thanks for sharing your beautiful family and home with us all. My husband is in the process of building a treehouse for our grandkids, it won’t have all the comforts of yours but am sure it’ll be their perfect lil get-away place. Appreciated your advice on loving and living when diagnosed w/ cancer; I’m an 8 year breast cancer survivor and you’re suggestions on getting copies of your tests and etc. were top notch….very informative info for anyone traveling this journey…Thanks!

  3. I remember the first time I found Lynne when her treehouse was featured on Apartment Therapy. I sat there reading “Ontario?” thinking how can someone this amazing live in the same area as me and I didn’t know they existed. Fast forward some time later I cannot begin to express how much of an impact and a mentor Lynne has become to me over the past year. She was one of the first bloggers I ever followed and I had the privilege of finally meeting her in person this year and she is just as beautiful inside and out in real life as she comes across on her pages. I am so glad she is able to tell her story of her amazing family and stunning home and most of all, her completely captivating way of storytelling and inspiring you on living the best life you can. Love her!

  4. Beautiful family; beautiful thoughts; and beautiful house.
    Thanks so very much for sharing all of it with us via Gabrielle.

  5. When I first started blogging I remember somebody re-tweeting one of Lynne’s posts and from then on I immediately loved everything about her, the way her words came out, her honesty in her posts and that beautiful home and all of her amazing design ideas.

    Soon after that I emailed her asking for some help on something and she replied so quickly, always so supportive of others and there goals.

    Fast forward to this past weekend I had the lucky chance to meet Lynne, we actually live pretty close to each other and she welcomed me into her home. From the moment you drive up to her yard, down her driveway and into her home you feel the love. I was overjoyed, a little nervous and just thankful for this opportunity to meet somebody with such an open heart. Her family is just amazing as well….her kids are full of laughter and fun. Michael was kind and took my husband for a walk around the property(i missed out on the Barn!) Branko talked about Lynne and Michael the whole way home. How happy they were and how they were just living there lives to the fullest.

    Reading the above is exactly the person and family we got to meet….and we share a bad neighbor story too!

    Loved reading this…

  6. This is a wonderful interview. Lynne is a friend of mine and everything I love about her is expressed in this post. She is a beautiful person, inside and out. And so is her home! Great post :)

  7. I’ve heard of gut-busting but I’ve never heard of butt gusting…… Does it mean what I think it means? I love a good laugh too. Thanks for that.

  8. This was exquisite. I am astounded by how the lessons and peace fluttered over me, but by the end of the post they were not an abstract film, they were almost tactile. Love, do, enjoy, discover. Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful life and spirit.

  9. As a designer/blogger/twitter pal of Lynne’s I can promise her home is lovely and her family is even better. I stayed with her and and her family earlier this year and couldn’t have been more impressed.

    I call Brett and Mackenzie the perfect children. This boy can cook a steak! Seriously one night, the kids made dinner. OMG – when does this happen? And yes, Mackenzie can really sing.

    Michael is a walking example of flipping the bird to cancer. One would never know, I mean never. He lives and looks forward to life. Cancer is not his ball and chain, it is more like a little speck of dust he flicks off his shoulder from time to time. It doesn’t rule his world, and what a dynamic guy – love his voice.

    Lynne’s infectious enthusiasm for life permeates everything she touches. She is real and this post is a wonderful opportunity to glimpse into the space of a really special family. XXOO!

  10. What an incredible interview. It is the ultimate perspective check, quite humbling. As a cancer survivor, her wise words resonate deeply with me, I could not agree with her more- and I have the utmost admiration for her strength and positive attitude. Lynne is an amazing and evolved person, I can’t wait to meet her. These photographs are stunning, btw. Xxc

  11. Thanks for reminding us what is important. I am Embarking now on the days of my daughter’s wedding, so the perspective is really helpful! We can be awed by the house, but it is the family that really shines here. Great lesson! People first.
    Best wishes for your family.

  12. This is a beautiful and inspirational interview! I’ve been reading Lynne’s blog for about a year now and love everything about it and her. Thank you for sharing this with all of us!

  13. Wow. What a beautiful and thoughtful interview. Lynne’s home is absolutely beautiful (and I’m sure I will be pinning away images!), but what I really love is her perspective on life. So many lessons for me in this post. Thank you!

  14. Gabrielle,

    I am honored to call Lynne my friend and I’m grateful to you for presenting this beautiful portrait of her home and family. She is a connector and I appreciate her hooking me up with you. Lovely place you have here. Six kids…in a farmhouse in the French countryside, you are the dream. Thanks for sharing it with us!

  15. How beautiful this interview was! Lynne is such a special human being and so inspiring! Simply loving the kids more when they’re struggling or in ‘trouble’ is wonderful advice and something I try my best to do. I am divorced and my ex does the exact opposite so it makes it difficult for everyone…but, thank you for this beautiful post and Lynne you have such excellent advice for people facing health issues. Cheers to another day here on this planet!

  16. Amazing…wonderful home and family that exudes love. Thoughts and prayers to Lynne and her family, may they keep spreading the love and embracing message to each other and to others. Our world would be a better place with more love…Best interview yet Gabrielle!

  17. Lynne….this was such a great article……I loved it but it brought out the tears I must say. Thanks for sharing this with me.
    Love you

  18. Lovely. I love the comment, “Illness has taught me that life is short. If you want something to happen, make it happen. If you don’t like something, change it.” So true. I have been so acutely aware of this since my Mother was diagnosed (and subsequently told she had 3-6 months) with cancer 18 months ago. I treasure every moment with her, every email, every phone call, and simple knowledge and feeling of security and gratefulness that I CAN still just call her or go and see her whenever I want. So grateful for that right now. And, I don’t do anything out of obligation or fear any longer. Life is too short for that. Great words Lynne. And it appears that she has a lot of great friends too that have made some lovely comments.

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  20. What an amazing home and family. Recently lost my son to cancer and read Lynne’s comments with tears in my eyes. Hope all will be well with her and her family.

  21. Just loved every bit of this. Lynne has wonderful perspective and a buoyant hope and happiness that permeates through her words. Thank you for sharing!
    I lost my father and grandmother last year. They passed within 29 hours of each other and had rooms side by side in Hospice. It was an incredibly hard and surprisingly uplifting experience.
    Love tightly, laugh, laugh, laugh and then love some more – that is how we approached our loved ones illnesses. It’s all that matters.

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  23. This is lovely, and made me cry. I’ve been thinking about it for a few days and just now came back to comment. Blogs, especially design and lifestyle blogs, are so often the land of all that is happy and beautiful, sometimes to the exclusion of what is real. It is profoundly reassuring to me to read pieces like this, where the beauty and the real pain are interlaced and interwoven, as life has to be for a lot of us. Thank you, Lynne, for sharing–and Gabrielle, for making room in your online space for these textures and layers of real life. Beautiful things and happy links are always good–but I also feel a touch of comfort when I see that there are other people in the world who understand sadness, and that I am not alone.

    To answer Gabrielle’s question, our family has had a hard couple of years, culminating in one of the most painful losses I can imagine: our youngest and long-desired child was stillborn in April. We are living a day at a time, continuing to do life as in a dream sometimes, trying to get our footing while knowing that we never truly will. Our three living children keep us laughing and also wistful for what we have all lost. Every day I try to figure out how to live the right kind of life now, honoring the sorrow but also treasuring what is good because we are even more aware now of how precious it is and how fleeting it can be. I think I am learning a new motivation for making my home and life as pleasant and pretty as I can: because life can be ugly enough, and beautifying it in small ways can be part of giving us dignity and courage and joy in the midst of whatever the world may hand us.

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  25. I skimmed through the post devouring the photos and then read it three times devouring her words.

    I am absolutely head over heels for the tree house which is quite simply the most amazing thing I have ever seen, while I think I’ve fallen head over heels in love with her family at the same time. What a treasure to read her words, have an opportunity to pray for her husband kicking cancer’s butt, and just get lost in the photos.

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