Living With Kids: Nicole Shiffler

Nicole seems like she has endless amounts of patience. Rooms full, actually! Nearly every corner of her home is adorned with art she has created with her four young daughters, yet none of it looks messy or hastily made. Rather, it looks intentional, harmonious, and made with care. There is a difference, isn’t there? Anyone who has attempted a handmade décor knows it’s definitely a trick to execute, and Nicole does it very well. You’ll see. I hope you enjoy the interview and the inspiration!

Q: Please tell us about the artists who live in this handmade home.

A: I am Nicole Shiffler, mother of four lovely little ladies: Caroline (6), Johanna (4), Ainsleigh (2), and Annabelle (2). My husband, Bobby, is one outnumbered man in a home where dolls and tutus can be found strewn across every room. I am a stay-at-home, blogging, homeschooling, want-to-be artist who knows very well the privilege of me-time. I absolutely love creating with my children and for my home. It is a stress-relieving, gratifying, incredible process to create. It is even more so when I can share it with my children.

Q: Tell us about your home and how it came to be yours. What’s the first feature you remember that made you gasp and know that this was the one?

A: We actually rent our home. Life just so happened that we sold our last home when we found out we were expecting twins, and began the hunt for a larger home. Once the twins did come, we ended up spending what would have been a down payment towards a house on NICU bills for two preemies. Thus, the rental hunt. We were so blessed to find a four bedroom home to rent (what are the odds of that?!) and have called it home ever since. I’ve worked hard to make every room uniquely ours without painting a single wall or renovating it in any way.

I first fell in love with the finished basement where I now sew while my children play. We’ve had play restaurants, marketplaces, a baby hospital, and the likes down there in their playroom. Truly a dream come true for all parties involved. We also have a yard, which is a first! My older girls have created an outdoor house in the trees behind our home, complete with boulder chairs and table.

If I could change something with our house it would definitely be to have hardwood floors in the dining room. Come on now, who puts carpet in the dining room? Definitely not home builders with toddler twins!

Q: How would you describe your style? Has it changed since you’ve added kids to the mix?

A: I’m still trying to put my finger on my style. I would say it is colorful, fresh, and eclectic at times and vintage, old, and purposefully meaningful at other times. I’ve definitely arrived at this style stage from having children. I see the beauty and unpredictable, unrestrained innocence of childhood in my children and want the walls of our home to reflect that.

The colorful and fresh side of my style comes mostly from my creations and my children’s creations, things that reflect us now and the life within us. The vintage and purposefully meaningful side of my style comes from my past and history that I want my children to grow up with: my Granny’s treasures and outdated fabric, my great aunt’s embroidered hankies, my father’s ceramic yellow teapot which was his first attempt at pottery, and an old family friend’s suitcase turned into a nurse’s kit.

I’d also say that my style is all about recreating something new from what you already have. Re-purposing rather than buying new, like stapling fabric over old canvases to create an instant, bold bulletin board. That’s one of my best makeover tricks.

Q: Where do you find your inspiration for designing your decor? How much input do your children have on your family’s style? Is there a planning process for projects and forums for ideas?

A: My inspiration first comes by deciding what is needed in a space in terms of functionality. Because we live a homeschooling life within our walls (and outside our walls), we rely heavily on functional spaces while living and thriving in our home. I am very conscious to create a nice marriage between function and aesthetics in our decor.

After deciding upon the optimum function of a space, then comes the exciting part; brainstorming what raw materials I have on hand to make it all come together. Hopefully beautifully!

My children play a major part in the family style of our home. I learned years ago that there is so much beauty in the absolute innocence and untrained creativity of a child, whether through art, sewing, or even setting a table. I try to let their creative personalities be seen in our home by celebrating it in every room. Their art and other handmades are just as much art as mine. Every wall in our home is literally decorated somehow creatively by the very people that live in it. It makes for a very warm and friendly feel with Johanna’s red water-colored girl next to a wood block print I made for Bobby when we were dating.

There is somewhat of a planning process for all of the projects we do in general and for our home. Most Sunday nights, I sit between my oldest girls and we look over our many lists of things to make, create, sew, or bake, and decide the most important ones to add to the calendar that week. We always have at least one baking day and one project day, although many days we end up doing both. I aim for both structure and spontaneity in our days together.

Q: Materials you always have on hand for crafting…

A: Lots of fabric, ribbon, paints, brushes, oil pastels, crayons, buttons, popsicle sticks, canvases, good paper, IKEA frames, glass jars and bottles, and anything random that looks promising from garage sales or thrift stores. You’d be surprised what you can do with wooden embroidery frames and wooden frames. Sticks and leaves, and really anything from our backyard, are thankfully always on hand for projects.

Q: Tell us of an average day in your house. How does it work best?

A: An average day starts with the house looking like we don’t have any children. Within the first hour of play and breakfast and kitchen clean-up, somehow everything has been pulled out onto the floor. Even things that weren’t intended to be pulled out! Some mornings after we are all dressed, laundry is started, and the big girls’ morning jobs are completed, we might bake our week’s snack or other baked goods around the island in the kitchen. Everyone drags a chair in to participate.

Or our morning’s activity might start at the dining room table with homemade play-dough or a specific project. Homemade stickers are on the calendar this week! When we aren’t together doing or making something, you can usually find my older girls situated in the art room writing stories or upstairs whipping up plans to open a bakery.

After lunch together and taking the twins upstairs for naps, we spend most of the afternoon in the living room. I designed the living room to be a space for a lot of living, with the kids’ books, my favorite books, blocks, a few simple toys, and our computer. The girls know mom needs her quiet time resting on the couch for a bit, and then I get to have time with my older girls learning or exploring whatever we’re most interested in at the moment.

The evening winds down in the kitchen and then dining room, with my little dinner helpers coming in and out preparing the table for dinner. We turned the top of our lowboy into a dinner helper station where everything is in one place for the table setters. Even the toddlers like getting involved. After dinner and clean up, we return to the living room for closure from the day together, maybe playing a game of Fish, or Bobby reading a classic novel aloud, or a big pile-up on Daddy.

These are the moments, surrounded by the homemade stick horses and fabric garland, dolls in their cradle by the fireplace, that I feel satisfied with the simplicity of life. No frills or extravagances, just real life and its props.

Q: Advice for parents who love the idea of DIY but have a hard time with the mess!

A: Train your kids to take real art supplies seriously. Art aprons are a requirement with paints, watercolors, printmaking inks, and ink with quill pen in our home. Use an old tablecloth on your table for really messy projects. When it is warm, we like to take our painting projects like painting frames or glass jars outside on the grass. The kids and mom get to relax a bit.

We actually have a room specific for the less-messy art projects, which we affectionately call our art room. Yes, at the end of the day I beckon my girls’ help to pick up millions of little pieces of paper someone cut up and buttons that my toddlers were pouring from bowl to bowl and they somehow ended up on the floor, but the girls are learning they are free to create if they then are responsible for the clean-up.

Q: Best DIY you and your kids made together? You can tell us the horror stories, too!

A: I have a few. Our outdoor letter rocks that welcome visitors at the door and encourage my girls to spell, printing our own personalized labels, and the soft books we made for the twins when they turned one. Being literally surrounded by so many things we’ve created means that I and my girls are constantly reminded that we, together, contribute to something much bigger than ourselves. I know they feel it because they value and take pride in those special things.

I would have to say that attempting to hand-trace my girls’ silhouettes from a photograph to hang on our wall was beyond frustrating. A few of the silhouettes are decent of my girls while one of them is remarkably reminiscent of Curious George!

Q: How do you incorporate handmade into your daily life?

A: I believe incorporating handmade into our day happened by accident. My love of creating and handmade homemaking has been observed so much that my children see needs in their own world, like needing something in their bedroom and automatically beginning to plan how to make a solution. All they really know is making their way through curtains, decor, toys, treats, and gifts for others.

My girls hear the phrase “find a creative solution” almost daily. We just made a fabric curtain using a branch as the curtain rod the other day for Caroline’s doll who was apparently suffering from the bright sun in her bedroom. They rarely think of buying first, but set out in their minds to make first. Our homeschooling life allows for the simple and complex creative solutions throughout the day, like the essential doll curtain.

My girls are a part of the many necessary processes of the day that force us in many ways to slow down: baking bread, sewing up a pair of needed pants, making refills of homemade cleaning supplies, tidying between projects, prepping a meal, and so forth. Living a slower life means enjoying the process of these tasks that feed us, clothe us, clean us, and entertain us.

I’ll be the first to admit that slow living doesn’t come naturally for me. Living alongside my children every day, though, and seeing their curiosity and enthusiasm for life helps me live in the moment much more. This is one of the reasons I wanted to home school; to be there for every discovery and to encourage their curiosity further.

Q: What projects would you like to accomplish this year for your home?

A: I’d love to paint the hand-me-down dressers in our master bedroom a bold color this spring. And I’d really like to be able to walk through my basement storage room without risking my life…or the life of the many stacked boxes!

Q: Describe your favorite time of day.

A: My favorite time of day is definitely early afternoon. My Ainsleigh and Annabelle would hopefully be napping upstairs and I would be sitting between my big girls, feet propped up, reading a good book to them as the afternoon sun begins to peer through the living room windows, flooding the entire back end of the house with light. Those are precious moments shared.

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish I had known…

A: How much paper my little artists go through a day!


Thank you, Nicole, for sharing your beautifully-made life with us. You may be renting, but you’ve made that home belong to your family. I love it.

Friends, don’t you have three new tabs open following Nicole’s DIY project links? At least, right? Tell me: Are any of you living a handmade life, or wishing you did? I’d love to hear your stories!

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!

32 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Nicole Shiffler”

  1. This is so beautiful and creative! I love the little details like the flag banners on the twigs, which I might try myself! This is really inspiring for me to bring more creativity into our home for the kids and make some cute aprons to go with it! Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Thanks for sharing your philosophy with us! Your approach is a lovely inspiration, gentle and creative and inclusive for everyone. You come across as a person very much at ease with her family and home and seem to epitomize a sign I saw recently: “The happiest people don’t have the best of everything, they just make the best of everything”.

  3. Dear Nicole,

    I love the baskets on the bookshelf in your kiddos bedroom – where did you find them?

    Love the house too!

  4. We’re living a handmade life and didn’t even realize it! I often tell my visitors and friends our home is decorated in ‘Make it Do’! I love beautiful, clean and simple, and frequently that means making what I need.
    You home and family are lovely.

  5. I’m in love. The little plate with the dinner helpers and their assigned days is so cute. Also those eclectic mugs … I want. I have art aprons for my daughter. I think I will hang them on a wall where they are visible instead of in a storage cubby. I absolutely love your home office with all of the colors. Beautiful home!

  6. I love the notion that when your kids need something they don’t instantly think it should be bought. I aspire to this.

    That turquois yarn owl is incredible, by the way. My parents had one in our home growing up (not turquois, but gray, with the most amazing marble eyes).

    1. It helps that without television they don’t see commercials about the latest “must have” gadgets. And since we do lots of shopping online, they aren’t accustomed to the toy aisles in stores so much. It is like Christmas for them when we get catalogs in the mail of toys and dolls and such.

      My little Caroline loved cutting and pasting her Christmas list from cut up catalogs this past year.

  7. Thank you for this inspirational tour! It is my dream to one day share my joy of creating and crafting with my children like you are doing with yours. My husband and I are definitely of the do-it-yourself variety and we are looking forward to passing our values on to our (future) kids. It is a wonderful gift to be able to find beauty around you. I wish you many more artistic adventures with your girls!

  8. I love the swiss inspired fabric used for the pillows and wall art! Where did you find it?! Very lovely home, thanks for sharing.

  9. I am so inspired by this house!
    Also, I have done the same thing with the same ikea fabric in frames, and I’m feeling especially proud of myself right now.

  10. You have given me such hope that a rental house can feel like home. We lost our home in a fire three weeks ago, and we are finally preparing to move into a four-bedroom rental (boy, you weren’t kidding about how hard those are to find). I’ve been mopey imagining how sterile it will feel to move into a blank slate that we can’t paint or personalize in the ways we’ve been used to. You have given me so many ideas, Nicole, and I can’t even tell you how great this profound shift in attitude feels.

    (And, by the way, we all got out safely. The fire happened on a Sunday morning while we were all having breakfast. Fortunately, we had an evacuation plan: I yelled “Do the plan!” and our 12 y.o. took her baby sister out of the high chair, put shoes on her 8 y.o. sister, and got them all to the neighbors’ driveway. So proud of those girls! The house was a total loss, but we have seen the best of humanity in the weeks following the fire. In that sense, we don’t feel that we’ve lost a thing.)

  11. Me-Me your aunt

    Nicole, fantastic. Granny would be proud. She started a lot of the creative side for us Dirles, I have spent more than my share of thought and time in the last 62 years to express myself and my love for my family and my Lord, Jesus. The blessings are precious. Keep passing it on.123

  12. “How much paper my little artists go through a day!”

    Last Christmas my husband gave my daughter a ream of computer paper. It was beautifully wrapped. When she opened it her eyes got big and her older brother (who could read) announced, “That’s 500 pieces of paper!” She just laughed and laughed. She could do so much with 500 pieces of paper.

    It didn’t make it to March.

  13. We may be renting soon and I was depressed at the thought of not being able to paint my walls. But you really worked with it using lots of color. So you didn’t use nails or put holes in the walls at all? You just used 3M type strips everywhere?

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