At first glance, this is not your average ordinary Living With Kids home tour! But look a little more closely. Peeking out from the gorgeous collection of professional realtor photos are a million little marks that this is a family’s haven. I saw scratches in the wood floor and smiled, knowing they were probably made by runaway skateboards, ribbons tacked to a lampshade and knew they were probably earned, and bookshelves stuffed to capacity and knew this family definitely loved to read.
Not a surprise, really, since Meredith Alexander, the founder of Milk + Bookies, lives here along with her screenwriter husband, Jesse, and their two boys. They’re moving soon, though, so when she asked if I’d be interested in sharing the Sherman Oaks home they’ve created together with all of you, I answered yes, please! I just knew you’d love her home, or as Meredith describes it, “my love letter to my family.” Isn’t that a wonderful sentiment? Enjoy the tour!
Q: Who’s lucky enough to live in this gorgeous home? I saw a few Emmys and some other awfully pretty awards. Are they yours?
A: Cozywood houses four people, two dogs, and three fish. Outside, we’ve seen some free-loaders: a raccoon family, two owls, a feral cat, a skunk, and dozens of squirrels. The human family consists of me, Meredith, the mom/wife/literacy and child advocate, and I also run the non-profit, Milk + Bookies, too. Then comes Jesse, the dad/ husband/ screenwriter (Those are his two beautiful Emmy awards and half a dozen Saturn awards. So cool!). Then the boys are Simon, age ten, and Monty, our six-year old.
Q: How long has Cozywood been your home? Has it changed over the years?
A: We bought this house a little over nine years ago against the warnings of our real estate broker. True! It was quite a mess. The previous family had been here for 30 years and they had really let it go, but we saw so much potential. The layout and the amount of property were so seductive that we knew making it our own would be an easy fix. Well…relatively easy.
We changed the kitchen and bathrooms right away. Then created a new master downstairs where the kids’ rooms are. The original master was tiny and on a separate floor, which felt weird since we only had one baby at the time. Then we added moldings and hardwood. The shingles were just added last year but seem to really suit the house. It feels like we are always making improvements. And as a growing family, our needs are always changing.
Q: The design and decor is impeccable. The color combinations, the bursts of art everywhere you look…I love it all! What was your inspiration?
A: Thank you! Our home is my creative outlet. I absolutely love tinkering with everything from art to throw pillows to paint colors. I didn’t think too much about decor choices. I went mostly on instinct and lived by that age-old rule that all the pieces you are drawn to will fit together since they are all things that you love. I was lucky that that seemed to work. And when it didn’t, I changed it! It is my love letter to my family. They were — and always are — my inspiration.
Q: There’s so much white! What’s your color philosophy?
A: Funny, I only recently put in so much white. I believe that paint is the easiest and cheapest thing to change, so I did that quite a bit over the years. The first version of the house had tons of bold colors — a lime green and purple dining room, a blood red office — but as we all grew, I craved a bit more of a calm and open feeling.
Q: The map mural makes a huge statement, especially with the contrasting carpet you used with it.
A: The map was a no-brainer as soon as I saw it. Such a great visual, especially with boys (Not that girls wouldn’t also love it!). I had always wanted plaid carpet. When I was growing up, a friend had it in his bedroom, and I always thought it was the coolest. So bold!
Q: You described these photos as antiseptic — we all understand it’s because the pictures are on a realtor’s site! — but what does it look like on a daily basis?
A: Great question! It looks very similar, only with family clutter. Imagine the white kitchen table and the long recycled wood dining table covered in markers, glue guns, cardboard pieces, and paper maché creations. And don’t forget two floppy dogs lounging right in the middle of all the action looking like thrown and forgotten stuffed animals, even though they are far from forgotten! Also, the driveway is constantly littered with bikes, skateboards, and even a couple of small skateboard ramps.
Q: There are so many signs that this is a well-used and happy home, from the huge dining room table to all the spaces for crafting and creating, toy boxes everywhere and books galore, a ping pong table, pool, outdoor play area, and arcade. It looks like your children can have fun in every corner of your home.
A: You got it! There is nothing here that is precious. It’s about relaxing and having fun and expressing yourself. Clearly that is what I have done to set the tone.
Q: I zoomed in on so many pieces of furniture, wanting a closer look! The grey chair in the arcade room made me gasp. What are your favorite designers, and how do you decide that a piece is meant to belong in your space?
A: I recently watched an old rerun of “Bewitched” and there, in the Stevens’ living room, was that chair! It’s called the Papa Bear chair and was originally designed by Hans Wegner. Ours is a replica. It’s one of the pieces we’ve had since we first started dating.
I love everything from Restoration Hardware to Target. I don’t play too many favorites, except for Jonathan Adler. But even with his stuff, I am not as matchy as I once was. As I get older, I’ve become so much more relaxed with mixing and matching. It is so liberating.
Q: Your textile choices are amazing. Will you share your best sources for pillows and fabric?
A: Ikea and Jonathan Adler. My two favorites. That is all I need.
Q: Let’s discuss the books and overflowing bookshelves. How important is it to you to be surrounded by books?
A: Working in literacy awareness and being married to a writer, I think there is nothing more important than stories, adventures, research…all the yumminess found in books! Thank goodness our boys are just as excited and interested in them as we are. Our collections are a bit obscene, but I can always justify keeping books. We love the Kindle and the iPad like crazy, so you could call us an equal opportunity story-loving house.
Q: Your skill with framing those glossy white walls with brilliant color choices is enviable. What advice would you give about adding color as a major part of the decor? What’s your favorite color in your home?
A: I am not afraid of black — especially on the lower half of the wall. I encourage people to try it in the right place. It feels surprisingly warm. Originally I had added the black chalkboard paint in Simon’s room, but it looked so great and I didn’t want to lose the crisp look it had, that I never told him he could draw on it! He still doesn’t know. And, as I mentioned, there is nothing cheaper or easier to change than paint. Just TRY something new! You can always paint over it.
Q: You’re in the process of selling Cozywood. This makes me inexplicably sad, so I can’t even imagine what you must be feeling! What’s next for you and your family?
A: We’re not sure. We live in Los Angeles, which is such an enormous and widely spread out city. The school that the boys attend and that we love like crazy is all the way on the other side of town. Most likely, we will find something near there so that the boys can finally have after-school play dates and not sit in traffic. Thank goodness for books on tape! Oh look…me talking more about books!
Q: What’s the one thing you can’t live without in your home? Will you be taking it with you?
A: Besides the people in it? Not much else really matters. And I think the fun is going to be creating something new for our next chapter. But the Papa Bear chair will NOT be left behind!
Q: What will you miss the most?
A: The space. The land. The privacy. It’s a special piece of property that might be hard to replicate on the other side of town.
Q: What are you looking forward to the most in your next home?
A: More creating for all of us. And I think the boys might want to have those beds that are built into the wall that feel sort of like you’re on a boat. I’m not sure what they’re called, but I’m excited to create more cozy, cuddling spaces for them…before they get too big to cuddle!
Maybe the next house will be Cozybrook. Or Cozybeach. One thing’s for sure; I will strive to make it feel relaxed, inspiring, and cozy!
The Alexander haven deserves an extra e; it is heaven, isn’t it? Thank you so much, Meredith, for sharing it. Please promise you’ll send us a peek of your new home once you’re settled! We can’t wait to see what you come up with next! For more views of the Alexander family’s stunning home, visit Barry Dantagnan’s site.
P.S. — If you’d like to share your home with us in my Living With Kids series, drop me a note. I’d love to hear from you!