As Michelle describes it, she’s been living a semi-permanent life for the past eight years. Since she and her husband have added three daughters – four year old twins and a two-and-a-half year old – they’ve moved country three times to Hong Kong, Australia, and California, moved house five times, and completely remodeled their new home that we’re touring today. Whew!
Luckily, it looks like Michelle and her family have finally found home. And oh my…it’s a gorgeous spot. Please enjoy the beauty, Friends!
Hello. Here’s a little intro to my family. There’s my husband and I, who met as design students in Sydney, and our three little girls, twins aged four, and their little sister who’s two-and-a-half. That’s right: we went from a happy couple to a family of five in 18 months!
I’m a freelance creative director and full-time mom (no URL for this one!). My husband also works in the design industry, which is great as we have a lot of shared interests, and not so great as it means we have to display his vintage appliance collection around the house.
Over the last many years we have lived a semi-permanent life, following jobs in Hong Kong, Australia, and now San Francisco, which is both thrilling and unsettling. My heart gets confused as to where ‘home’ really is.
When we relocated to San Francisco we were both itching to create a real home and buy some furniture. We saw this house three times, each time with an emphatic ‘No,’ and possibly some folded arms, eye rolling, and huffing from me, as it needed a lot of work. With a new job for my husband and three kids under age of two crawling around our feet, a big remodeling job just didn’t sound like something we could take on.
But after living in temporary accommodation for eight months we just wanted to settle in, so we decided it would be worth it to make this house truly ours. The house had great bones, was perfectly located and really, as weird as it sounds, we do love renovating. However, living upstairs with three babies with major work going on downstairs is not something I’d recommend unless you really, really love renovating!
I feel like I landed in the most delightfully perfect suburban setting. We often joke that we live on the set of The Wonder Years. It’s sunny nearly every day, we can walk or bike to everything we need and more, there are lots of parks and open spaces, and there’s even a tiny farm with a cow and behind our house. Yet we’re 25 minutes from San Francisco. But the best parts of my neighborhood are my neighbors. I am constantly amazed at how welcoming and friendly people are.
For five years we lived in a small apartment on the 67 floor near Hong Kong Harbor. That’s pretty high up! I still miss the energy and excitement of living right in the middle of the city, and there’s no other place in the world quite like it. Whilst Hong Kong high-rises don’t exactly conjure ideas of kid-friendly spaces, in fact, it felt like kids are very welcome everywhere. It’s very normal to see a large family eating lunch and hanging out in a restaurant, with babies sleeping and toddlers playing. However, it was very hard getting a double stroller down the crowded street! I always needed someone else to come with me so we could carry the twins in Baby Bjorns.
Australia has these amazing designated wide parking spaces for parents with strollers; it’s a little thing, but so thoughtful, practical, and much safer. Yes, Australia has a lot of beautiful scenery, great lifestyle, and wonderful people, but the parking spaces! Man, I miss those!
After living in small apartments where I stuck to neutral colour schemes to try and make spaces seem larger, I knew I wanted a colourful house that seemed bright, happy, and fun. I also knew I wanted to use white as my background colour, so we have a white kitchen and a white sofa, white walls, etc. I know people think white is impractical with kids but I’m so glad I didn’t listen. Instead I have been careful with my material choices. There’s not much that can’t be wiped down, so it’s actually all very kid friendly.
I think it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed by choices when remodeling and decorating. I like to form a strong vision in my head and then measure every choice against that. Does this fit into the ultimate vision? If the answer isn’t an absolute yes, then it’s not right.
My husband is also big on building prototypes. He’ll make a cardboard dining table or masking-tape light fixture to see the dimensions in the space. Once we had taped up an aluminum foil mock-up of a mirror we were thinking of purchasing, and friends came over and assumed it was an art piece…uh-huh!
I am a major fan of mangoes, and during the years we lived in Hong Kong I made it my mission to eat as many mangoes as I could, just because I could! But according to traditional Chinese medicine, mangoes are a bit ‘heaty’ so pregnant women shouldn’t eat them. After giving up soft cheeses, deli meats, wine, salads, seafood, blah, blah, blah on the endless list, there was no way I was going to ditch my mango habit. I would sit at my desk at work and try to look as inconspicuous as a very tall, massively pregnant western woman in a room full of petite, slender Chinese people could possibly look, and surreptitiously slurp mango spears. My work colleagues must have thought I was so weird.
We were in Australia when I found out I was pregnant with my third, and we thought we were moving to San Francisco within a few months so the baby would be born in the USA. In Sydney you need to book your place in hospital as soon as you’re pregnant to ensure there’s space for you when the time comes. I didn’t make a booking, and then our move to the USA was pushed back, and I had a huge FREAK OUT over the thought of not being able to go to any hospital nearby and having a baby on the sidewalk outside. Possibly in the Parents with Prams parking space.
I find basic organization of paperwork both tedious and stressful at most times, but getting all the paperwork in place for citizenship, passports, visas, vaccinations, finding new doctors, and learning new healthcare and insurance systems was very time consuming and overwhelming. I don’t know how parents who move internationally often manage to do it. Not many people are impressed by other’s knowledge of bureaucracy, but I am! There’s a special place in my heart for people who go on forums and share what they know.
Without a doubt the room that gets the most use is our open kitchen/living room. It has three skylights, windows on all walls, and is always a lovely light-filled space, plus it opens out to our sunny backyard. Although I had originally planned to have a separate office, instead I have a built-in desk for my computer so I can work and watch the girls play.
There are also no fewer than five different dining spaces, which should give you an indication of what we like to do the most: cook and eat! We have a lot of houseguests, so our home is often full of people, and there’s nothing we love more than hosting an impromptu dinner for friends.
I also love our big open rooms. For parties it’s so fun to move the furniture around to create a giant dining area, or make new play spaces for kids, or clustering all the armchairs around the TV and trying to get our American friends to watch Australian Rules Football. They love it when we do that…I think.
Being a mom has made me realize how much of my parenting mimics my own childhood, and that I’m using the skills I learnt from my mother, that she learnt from her mother, who learnt from her mother and all the mothers that came before. And so, I would be hugely flattered if at some point in their grown-up lives my children rolled their eyes, groaned, and complained that they were turning into me!
I love the cuddles and kisses, I hope they never dry up. I love it when they climb onto my lap. I love the chubby thighs and round bellies. I miss rocking a baby to sleep in the peace of the early morning when it feels like we’re the only people awake. I love being able to make things better with a kiss. I also love it when they can remember where they put their other shoe.
I wish someone had told me that when you’re a mother, you suddenly have a camaraderie with other mothers. I feel like being a mum has suddenly gained me access to an insiders’ club. I can talk to any woman of any age who has a child, and know that she too feels that depth of emotion, and that is enough of a shared bond to put us on the same team.
There should be some kind of super-hero League of Moms, innocuous in their mom-jeans and mini-vans by day, and pulling out some fierce lioness skills by night. They would be a force to be reckoned with!
Also, Mother’s Day has changed from a stupid commercialized day that I didn’t really pay much attention to, to suddenly being a profoundly moving day. Actually, I find many things suddenly profoundly moving…there are tears during ads for fabric softener! It doesn’t take much!
Michelle, you are so right: adding kids to the mix makes everything a little more profound and tear-worthy. Thank you so much for escorting us gorgeously around your home.
Friends, there are some pretty inspiring and rather daring color ideas in Michelle’s home, but it all looks subtle and quiet amid the strength of the white backdrop. Which color or which room is tempting you to the paint store? Mine might very well be the master bedroom blue with those vibrant pops of red. Or maybe the inky dining room. Or maybe…