Living With Kids: Meg Amendola

Meg and her husband Jonny live in Denver, Colorado in a wonderful hundred year old home. They moved in right before they were married and have watched their family and their style grow and evolve over time. Their house is full of style and whimsey and every room has an interesting piece or two that you’ll want to get a better look at. Meg speaks really freely about the challenges of COVID and how excited and ready they feel to get back to normal. Welcome, Meg!

Hi! I’m Meg and my husband is Jonny. We met at a bar about 18 years ago when Interpol’s Antics was on loop and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was the hot indie film. He cooked me dinner on our first date (homemade minestrone) and that was it. I covertly moved my way into his little 400 square-foot studio apartment one sock at a time. It wasn’t easy having the bathroom and balcony be the only spaces with doors we could escape when in a disagreement, but we seldom had to use them and learning to make it work in that space together showed us we had something good going on. 

We moved around a little over the next eight years and our parents were definitely wondering if we’d ever make this thing official. I worked for an investment bank at the time planning super awesome events and Jonny, a former freestyle skier, worked in ski shops before dabbling in copywriting and eventually getting into the furniture industry, of all things. We got engaged in 2011 and married in September 2012. We bought our current house with meager means somehow in 2012 and closed 5 days before our wedding. It was nuts! Cut to nearly 10 years later and we are still in the same house and have two little rapscallions, four and seven, who are the best humans in the family by far. It’s such a gift to be in the presence of their freeform, raw and innocent thought, art and enlightening perspective on life. 

Cooper, our oldest, started beatboxing randomly when he was two and actually was on beat! He would constantly be making beats while playing or pretty much at all times. Now he’s in drum lessons and doing things I could never dream to do on a drum kit. He’s also a crazy fast runner and an extremely empathetic friend, quite the considerate socialite. His hair is so irresistibly curly, people stop us to remark about it and I always joke I’m going to snip off some strands while he’s sleeping and make earrings out of his perfect loose ringlets. He gets so mad at me.

Jonesy, our youngest, is very different from Cooper. It’s really fun to have two completely opposite children and experience the different qualities among them. Jones has an insane memory and I swear in 10 years he’ll be reminding me of something awful I said in a heated rage when he was 3, laying on that guilt trip. He’s very into science, knows the BTS Butter choreography and has many qualities of a little CEO including bullheaded stubbornness, persuasiveness and waking up at 5:30 in the morning almost every day, which is just so painful sometimes. Jones has what I like to call Dead Poets Society hair, it falls naturally into an Ivy-League coif and it’s just not fair

We’re in one of the closest neighborhoods to downtown Denver. It’s called Five Points and we’re in a little pocket called San Rafael. Lots of old Victorian homes, big trees, established gardens and historic architecture and buildings. I’m from New Orleans, though I’ve lived in Colorado most of my life. Visiting NOLA as a child, certain things imprinted on me like the architecture, tall ceilings and proximity to beautiful parks, gardens and culture.

When we moved in in 2012, there wasn’t much within walking distance, but things have changed drastically, for better or worse. We could never afford this house now, and we’re grateful, but it’s unfortunate how hard it is to get into Denver as a young family starting out. Now we have coffee shops, bars, pizza shops, ice cream, and all the fun retail, restaurants and bars the nearby RiNo neighborhood has to offer.

Granted we don’t get out a ton, but some of our favorites are Goed Zuur which specializes in sour beers but also has great wine, and the most fantastic charcuterie I’ve had in Denver. We love Queen City Coffee and Pandemic Donut. My kids get the donut, I get the little donut hole they leave in the center. It’s been wonderful to live near the Denver Botanic Gardens — it has a children’s garden that is so special. And we love Paco Sanchez Park. It is a drive from us, but it’s a great park with a humongous play space. If you ever come here you can’t miss Curtis Park Creamery for greasy Mexican food and my favorite chile relleno, and the Denver Central Market for a cocktail, fresh salad, açai bowl, pastry, pasta or ice cream. It’s a great place to go to please everyone in a larger group

I took a work hiatus in 2019 to soak in childhood with our kids. It was supposed to last one year but the pandemic elongated it to nearly three years! This location is great because when it was safe, we were able to so easily zip on over to some of the great cultural offerings Denver has like the Denver Zoo, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Denver Botanic Gardens, and the Children’s Museum. The one thing I wish we had more of were neighbors with kids of the same age. Growing up, Jonny and I treasure memories of riding bikes to friends houses and spending the day going from house to house in the summer. We don’t have that here, but it is also a different world now. Still, it would be awesome for the kids to have a good group of neighborhood friends. That piece is definitely lacking.

Getting down to brass tacks, it was so much easier to find and buy a home in 2012 compared to now, by leaps and bounds. You didn’t need twenty percent down, you didn’t have crazy competition paying in cash more than 35 percent over asking price. When we were looking at homes we would make nicknames up for them based on a feature that stood out. There was snakes, where the owner had a bunch of snakes in a bedroom. There was threats, across the street from a childcare center called “Threats childcare.” There was pinky, where I felt a distinctive haunty vibe and dug into the history to find a tuberculosis death of a longtime owner happened in the house.  There was bumpers, where you’d hit your head on the ceiling walking up the stairs if you didn’t duck down, and there was Emerson which converted an entire bedroom into a shrine for a clawfoot tub, essentially. I loved that one.

Thanks to our amazing realtor my husband saw our eventual home while I was at work early morning the day before the house went on the market. He called me to tell me he put in an offer for asking price with a contingency that they wouldn’t show it to anyone else. They accepted! I completely trusted him with that sort of thing and still do, so we went under contract that day without me even seeing the house in-person. When I saw it, I completely agreed he made the right choice and felt like we were in a weird life simulation because we did not have much money at all. Sometimes it still feels like a simulation.

In terms of making it ours, time has done that for us in a big way. Everything major has happened here. We spent our wedding night here, my mother died while we lived here, we conceived and had both kids while living here, we’ve made great memories with friends here. There was a rich history before we were here, the house was built in 1887, but the tapestry of our lives is also weaving its way through these walls. It truly feels like home.

We were so broke the first years living here and the house was very empty. Our voices would awkwardly bounce off the walls and echo because it was so bare. It was really hard because I generally lack patience for this sort of thing, but we took our time and chose to gather meaningful pieces and be really purposeful instead of running to Ikea and filling the entire house in a day.

We are more or less back to the post-COVID normal at this point. Thankfully with vaccinations and awareness, we’re seeing COVID infections result in much milder cases than in its earlier stages. But it is raging right now. Our first grader had four cases in his class just last week and it’s starting to spike in preschool also. We were super diligent in 2020 and 2021 and spent the better part of those years with the family unit here at home, isolated. I started itching to get back to work in 2021 after the forced confinement and constant creativity needed to entertain and enrich the lives of two young children in their most impressionable years wore off. 

For the record, the Workspace For Children, gave me endless ideas and inspiration through that whole period. I enjoyed the time with them, sometimes through gritted teeth. Like others, I did my best to embrace the strange once-in-a-lifetime of it, and come late 2021, I needed out of it, for their sake and mine.

Childcare in Denver is ridiculous, but our first grader has been reliably in school all year at a great expeditionary charter school and our 4-year-old is at a neighborhood Montessori School that has been incredible for him. We are in a good place. I’ve found my work home at a great design studio within walking / biking distance and we are finding some balance and dare I say reliability in life again. That was the hardest part that still lingers, that you can’t rely on plans or make plans really. I suppose it’s also good because it makes you malleable and forgiving. There’s a high likelihood of getting that phone-call that spins everything in a different direction instantly. You’re always on your toes in a fight-or-flight way

Jonny and I agree that we’re more aware of the need for a backup plan for even just the basics. Because the pandemic taught us that you just never know! Have a backup plan, or better yet multiple backup plans for money, food, jobs, daycare, soap, wine, everything. That looks more like mental gymnastics in practice than actually stocking up on things, especially since we don’t have much storage in the house, but it’s a keen awareness that buzzes in the background. The volatility of life is more present. There’s more living for the day and being present. We’re more conscious of how we spend. And not just how we spend money, but how we spend our time and energy. We are now more selective on how we spend what little we may have of those precious resources. Finding a small tribe of friends, neighbors, etc. that you can trust and give one another a helping hand seems more important than ever.

Walking into the house, we’re not stressed about the house. It’s old, there’s maintenance, we have a broken sink and an endless wish list of to-dos, but we try to compartmentalize and triage based on what’s urgent and what’s a nice-to-have. Over time the improvements we’ve slowly made have given us peace of mind. It took us years of saving and doing, and some of it for projects that weren’t sexy, like a new roof or HVAC. We finally got sprinklers after living here for eight years and I got really into gardening during the pandemic, planting several gardens on the property. The neighbors would walk by and think someone new moved into the house. Actually, creating the garden has been as much of a social experiment as a fun hobby for me. 

We love to entertain and want people to feel like they can drop in, sit down, relax, be themselves and be comfortable. One of our friends came over and remarked at how we infuse humor into our decor. I had never thought about it that way, but I guess it’s true and makes the house more approachable and fun! We have silly portraits of Jonny and me flanking the mantle, a cheeseburger botanic print in the kitchen, playful art of our kids framed in gold on full display, an image of a guy we call “kazaar” by the front door on our weird wall and a dining table made from a conveyer belt we found in a junkyard. We definitely like to have fun with decor and don’t take any of it too seriously.

I’m definitely the organizer of the family. I make sure the bills are paid, birthday gifts are purchased, teacher appreciation is noted, key dates are on the calendar etc. etc.. That would make sense as I manage projects in my work life. My husband calls himself labor and me, I’m management. Totally accurate. We’ve got shared google calendars, I manage our budgets in spreadsheets, etc.. That said, I have a very creative streak and I’m always cooking up something creatively. I made some fun art out of paint chips, I’m working up one out of legos next, and I go really hard on gardening design at our home now, which has been a huge outlet for me.

We hear it all the time, and don’t do enough of it as mothers especially, but finding and carving out time for that personal outlet is so influential in how much brain-space, energy and patience you have to give to your family. For the things I’m not very good at or want to skip and spend time on other things, like deep cleaning, I have no qualms about dropping the pressure, supporting local business and hiring help. You can only do so much and remain present in these precious years.

I just want my kids to feel warmth and fondness, like they had their own space in this shared space, that this was a loving space, a welcoming space, with incredible memories, and I hope some of the intentional aesthetic rubs off on them too!

I lost my mom, my person, in 2013 about 9 months before I became pregnant with our first. And she had been begging me for grandchildren for years. There are so many things I wish I knew, I wish I had extracted from her deep well of knowledge before she died. I wish that I wrote down her words as they’ve faded in my mind over time. When I became a mom, it was as much a joyous experience as a very lonely and gutting one for me. I just wanted her, I needed her so badly in so many ways. I still do, I’d love to pick her brain on the daily about challenges we all face as parents and humans in this world. I know she’s laughing from heaven when our ornery 4-year-old gives me trouble because I was such a handful. Karma! 

I know Jonny’s favorite part of living with our kids is feeding them, and when they ask for specific food. Really fills his bucket. My favorite part of every single day is waking them up and burying my head in their hair. I hope they let me do that forever, ha. We both constantly marvel at the funny, novel and intuitive things they say. The other day our first grader was grumpy and Jonny was talking to him and he said “what do you want me to do, do you want me to just magically ‘be happy’ all of a sudden?!” It was hilarious the way he delivered it in the perfect exasperated tone, but a reminder that these are real little humans, we can’t expect them to feel how we want them to feel all the time, and we can learn a lot from them if we’re open minded to it. 

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Thank you, Meg! It’s so fun to peek around an older home and see all the treasures. I love the dark trim and the original tiles. And Meg and Jonny have truly done a great job of filling the home with art, kids doodles and beautiful pieces. You can tell that this home is well loved and well lived in.

I also really appreciated what Meg said about losing her mother before her kids were born and how much she wants to ask her or learn from her. Isn’t that truly the hardest part of loss? That one day that person isn’t there anymore and you can’t ask questions of find answers or dig deeper. It’s so tricky. But it’s great to think that they might be laughing as they look down on us.

SOURCES

Wind Tunnel, Rainbow Pegboard and Other Toys

Toy Storage

Nanoleaf Light Wall Sculpture


Living with Kids is Edited by Joshua Bingham. You can follow him on Instagram.

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

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