Living With Kids: Michelle Arnold

By Gabrielle.

We’ve got another family who has moved away from the hustle and bustle of New York City, this time to South Dakota. That’s interesting in itself, but then add the wide range in ages of the children and I’m completely hooked to the story!

With all boys and one lovely little girl and a husband who travels quite a bit, Michelle has created a home that fits them all. And don’t even think for one second that Lily, the youngest and only girl, has to live in a boyishly decorated space! Her bed is dreamy, dreamy, dreamy. You’ll see.

Welcome, Arnold family!

Q: Please tell us all about this cute family.

A: Hi there! Our family consists of my husband Rod and me, our boys – Ben, Bo, and Jackson – and our daughter, Lily. And I have to add our beloved family dog, Gracie, because she will feel rejected if I don’t include her.

Rod and I met and married in college 25 years ago. Can’t believe we’re old enough to say that! We have lived all over the place, which my kids have said is both awesome and not awesome, depending on the point they are trying to make with me at the time.

Rod works with a Marketing agency based in Montreal and NYC. But right now, it still works for us to live here in South Dakota. He does have to travel quite a bit, and we get the chance to go with him from time to time which is always fun. Rod is the smartest man I know and I could not ask for a better life partner. He supports my dreams just as much as he supports his own. He’s my favorite person in the whole world. I’m happy we get to grow old together.

Ben is our oldest and is 22 years old. He was born while we were living in Peru (which is a whole other story that involves earthquakes and terrorist groups.) He’s moving out on his own across the country next month after all these years. He’s thrilled, of course! And I fluctuate between being so happy for him and having a lump in my throat about it all. Ben is super smart, a tad quiet, and one of the kindest people I know. On a daily basis, he reminds me of my sweet father who passed away last year. Ben seems to possess many of my father’s best qualities.

Bo is 18 and is attending college (and running track) at SDSU. But he’s home quite a bit since the college he chose is only an hour away. Yay for me! Bo has a wicked sense of humor and can cause us to double over with laughter when he tells a story. He’s an entrepreneur at heart and likes to send me his latest ideas via texts. But he does not appreciate when I respond to his texts with hashtags. #SorryBo

Jackson is our third son. He’s 15 and is a creative. He shares my love of documentaries and is super excited about attending a Film Making camp in NYC this summer. Truth be told, I’m quite jealous of this! Maybe he’ll let me go with him.

Lily is our ten year old. She was born in China and changed our lives forever. I’m inspired by her ability to create something beautiful out of anything. It’s really quite amazing to watch her creativity in action, even when that means I find out she’s chopped up some nice jewelry because she wanted to make something else with it.

Q: How did you end up in this home?

A: We bought this home about three years ago. There were not a lot of options on the Lake when we were house hunting. And we actually passed on this house the first few times we saw it because the master bedroom wasn’t facing the lake. But after a few weeks of hunting, we came back to it when my mother-in-law, Judy suggested we install a large window in the bedroom. Light bulb moment! Thanks Judy!

I think it might be my favorite house we’ve ever lived in. I just feel like it really suits us. It’s the perfect size for us and we use every inch of it.

Q: NYC to a lake in South Dakota! That must have been a little change of pace, at least in terms of traffic, yes?

A: We moved to SD from NYC. The city we live in now is only about 20,000 people. It was a big change of pace for us. We left the hustle and bustle of NYC city life to be closer to family, which means nights out on the lake, family dinners, and hometown football games. Think Friday Night Lights.

It also means more square footage to live in, which is a nice plus! Truth be told, I miss a lot about the city. I love the food, the culture, and the diversity there. But with Rod’s job, I’m back and forth enough to make me feel like I get the best of both worlds.

Q: What do you love about where you live?

A: The best part about living here is that my kids are getting a great school experience and we live close to family now. The town really revolves around the school activities, so there’s great support for sports and programs that go on. People are kind and are always willing to lend a hand, too. Especially when your car gets stuck in a snow drift, which is a possibility almost six months out of the year.

This trait in the people here has benefited me greatly (three times this winter!) since I’m a southern girl who grew up in Nashville and should have no business driving in the horrid snow storms up here!

Q: You’ve got kids aged 10 to 22 living with you! How intentional are you in making sure each space in your home works for your entire family? Any house rules or areas specifically set up for a certain activity?

A: I’ve always believed that one should make his or her home the house where your own kids and their friends want to hang out. And it really has more to do with a family attitude than the actual space. We even accomplished this in our tiny NYC apartment, which believe me, was very low on space.

We’ve just made this a priority in every house we’ve lived in.

Our downstairs family room is set up as a great hangout spot for the kids. We haven’t really had to make any rules about who gets to use it and when. The kids seem to work this out by themselves. I think there’s a built-in pecking order. When Bo went to college last fall, Jackson just kind of took his spot.

I also think it’s important that you make each child’s room a place that they love to be in. It should reflect them and what they like. Even if this means your daughter wants to use a shoe as decoration on her desk.

Q: You’re a photographer! Tell us about your speciality and what you love to photograph most. How do you balance home life and professional life?

A: I love being a photographer and creating fine art portraits for my clients.

It’s my passion. Part of my training was in fashion photography, so my style tends to lean that way – even when I’m photographing children…or cows!

I’m not really sure that it’s possible to balance home life and professional. To me, that implies that things get equal time. It’s an ebb and flow for me. At times, work is really busy and I feel like I’m not giving enough to my family. But other times, I’m giving so much to my family that I don’t have enough hours in the day to devote to work.

As I get older, I try not to sweat it and take it all one day at a time. I enjoy both working and being a mom, so I’m always trying to figure out ways to do both as easily as possible.

We have a guest house on our property that doubles as my office space. This has been a huge help. I like not having a space inside the house for work because I tend to get easily distracted. The guest house is just a walk up the hill and I’m in my own creative bubble. I love it. But I’m close enough to run back down the hill to make dinner or to help Lily with something if she needs it while I’m working.

Q: You mentioned you believe art should be in every room…what are your best tips for making that happen easily?

A: I’m really trying to instill in my kids a love for art. Whatever kind of art they like. Living in NYC really exposed us to a lot of different types of art and we just loved that.

A few years ago, I started the tradition of giving each of my children a piece of art for Christmas. The goal being, when they moved away from home they could fill their first place with all the pieces they acquired. I really wasn’t sure how they’d respond to this when I started it, but they’ve loved it. And its fun each year to hunt for something special that reflects them.

Our house is also filled with paintings painted by both my grandmothers and my Aunt Kathy. I cherish the fact that I come from a family of artists.

Q: What memories do you hope with all your heart that your kids take from this home and from their childhood? What do you hope they remember specifically about the kind of mom you’re trying to be for them?

A: Moving so much (about every three years) means my children have had many childhood bedrooms, backyards, and kitchens. It’s my hope that this has helped engrain in them that it’s not where you live or what you live in that makes a home. It’s the people you live with that make a house a home.

I also hope they remember family dance parties at dinner time – even though the only ones who will still dance with me are Rod and Lily!

Q: What has been your favorite part of living with your kids? What has surprised you the most about being a mom? What do you already miss as they get older?

A: I love watching my kids grow into independent thinking young adults. It’s amazing to me to watch how their minds grow and develop.

Each of my kids are so unique and different from each other. I think that’s so amazing. I love that as they get older, we can have conversations about religion, politics, and life. I’m learning that we don’t have to always agree, and I want them to know this as well.

Truth be told, it’s more enjoyable for me to parent my kids as they get older than it was for me when they were younger. I have a feeling that this is more about who I am now as a person, rather than how old they are. But, I’m not willing to have another baby in order to test this theory. Ha Ha!

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A: That somehow time moves really slow and really fast at the same time. I don’t know how this works, but it does.

One minute you feel overwhelmed because you think you will forever be chasing little ones all around the house, and the next minute you’re watching your kids grab the car keys and head out the door.


Oh, Michelle. That last line of yours is probably responsible for a few lumps in my readers’ throats this morning! Also, it was lovely to see a family home that’s holding older ones and a little one, too.

I have to say, I love Michelle’s idea of gifting art to her kids every year. It’s brilliant, isn’t it? Meaningful and practical and utterly decadent. Who’s inspired?

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Just send me a note! It’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

28 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Michelle Arnold”

  1. I always enjoy waking up on Tuesday mornings remembering that there will be a new Living With Kids post on Design Mom. Michelle, you are not the only one in the “how can it have been that long ago since college” boat. I am right there with you sister! I still feel like a youngster. All the time I see people I think are older than me & then realize they are five years younger than me. LOL. Two things I loved about this post were the art for Christmas idea (sounds so fun to shop for art for the holidays) and how fast time goes. It hit me quite profoundly just yesterday how moments of our lives pass so quickly and then they are gone forever. So I’m trying to remember to really love this moment I’m in right now because it will surely change and I will miss it! Thanks Michelle for sharing & Gabby thanks always for the good stuff here!

  2. The idea of gifting your kids with art is awesome! How fun to move to your first home and have pieces of your childhood to bring with you, plus something to put on your walls. :)

    1. I, too, love the idea of giving art to your children. What a beautiful way to grow their creativity, as well – piquing their interest in the arts!

  3. I am a book-loving writer who gives her children a special book each year for Christmas – a classic or something personal of my own. I want them to go out on their own with a lovingly selected library! I LOVE the art idea!

    The photo of the family at the end is my favorite! I always find myself wondering about the family while I read the post – I am always glad when there’s a photo. :)

  4. Wow — what a beautiful family and warm, welcoming house. All the big windows make even the snow seem welcoming! And I’m so happy to read about a family with somewhat older kids, as mine are. Finally, the idea of gifting art to your children is so brilliant! It doesn’t have to be decadent — art can be defined to fit any family’s budget.

    We still have many bare walls after 2+ years in our house (some art still in storage), and it’s what bothers me the most and leaves me feeling the we aren’t all the way moved in yet. So I think it would be deeply meaningful for a young person to be able to move out into the world (wherever that may be) and take something so personal from home with them.

    Thank you, Gabby, for this remarkable series, and Michelle for sharing your home and family with us!

  5. Wow – how great to see a South Dakota home featured! And obviously photographed during one of our long winters!! The snow is both a blessing and a curse. What a beautiful home and family. The last few lines of this interview really struck a cord with me …it is so true. Someone one told me “The days go slow, but the years go fast.” Such truth.

  6. I love the Living With Kids series!

    I love the idea of a yearly art gift. My husband is from a very artistic family. His grandfather met his grandmother by asking if he could paint her, she still has that painting almost 70 years later. I just may have to start this tradition.

    Also, this is a lovely home! I must say that I am partial…it looks almost exactly like mine. The living room, dining room, and kitchen look as if this was taken in my house. Just change some finishes. Even the corner pantry in the kitchen. It is crazy!

  7. The art-giving idea is beautiful. And I’m sure this family gained a ton of space moving to SD from NY! The house looks big and calming. Thanks for sharing!

  8. It’s heading into Winter here (Aust.) and at a sunny 24 degrees snow seems so unlikely… So beautiful to see how people live all over the world!

  9. ah, so happy to see a glimpse of my home state (even if it is east river! ;-) we wish every day that we could move back to SoDak so my son could be near his cousins and grandparents. thanks for sharing this lovely home!

  10. It was hard to tear my eyes away from the picture of the view from the window by Lily’s bed, I don’t think I would ever want to shut the curtains!!

    1. It’s an essential oil diffuser and I love it! Diffusing lavender at bedtime is my favorite oil to use. I bought it from Young Living Essential Oils.

  11. I absolutely loved your story and your beautiful home. Where did you get the “We do Family” quote print from? I love it!!!

    1. If found it on etsy a long time ago. If you do a search on there with that quote, several vendors should pop up. It’s a transfer and easy to install!

  12. Pingback: Living With Kids: Michelle Arnold | LikeOuts

  13. First off, let me say that this is by far, my favorite series on the inter webs. I get lost for hours in the archives. Well done!
    Secondly, I love their home and the gift of art on her children’s birthdays. I started this two years ago with my oldest ( a budding artist). When the party dies down, and the cheap toy breaks, we still have these gorgeous pieces to cherish daily.

  14. Karin Katherine

    I love the idea of gifting art to your children and I think that is something I’m going to be more intentional about. What a fabulous idea! It also really spoke to me to make sure your home fit not only your children but a place their friends were comfortable in too. Wise words for when your children grow older.

  15. I would love to know more about the black/white frame wall. How did you do it? I love that you have your own pictures in it!

    1. It is a Graham and Brown company wallpaper. I just installed it on part of a wall then used white molding to frame it out. Super easy!

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