Living With Kids: Revisiting Haeley Giambalvo

By Gabrielle. Photos by Candice Stringham for hayneedle.com and Design Improvised.

You might remember the cute Chicago condo I featured a while back, owned by Haeley and her husband, and adored by their two little girls. She mentioned in her interview that she was moving to San Antonio, and the loveliest thing happened: a few readers reached out to lend their advice, support, and eventual friendship! If ever I needed a burst of positivity to remind me of how lucky I am to be a part of such a nurturing community, this would be it.

So it’s with a huge smile that I welcome back Haeley in her new Texas home. It’s pretty fantastic! Let’s go see.

Q: Tell us all about your family today!

I’ve got two busy preschoolers on my hands now. Stella just turned five and Hazel is now three. They go to a little preschool three mornings a week, which has been a welcomed routine for both kids and mommy alike!

Stella is my little mini-me: she is constantly making something. As soon as she wakes up she heads to her play table and starts pulling out paper, markers, and scissors. Her latest endeavor has been to check out kids’ crafting DVDs at the library and try making the things taught on the show. She always amazes me with what she is able to come up with on her own. Stella is a sweet, sensitive little girl. The night before her fifth birthday, she cried herself to sleep because she had so much fun being four and wanted to stay four forever. She loves anything to do with learning new things. She loves her little sister most of all.

Hazel is my little ball of energy and curiosity who rules the roost and is always a step ahead of the rest of us. We like to call her Hazie, but she prefers to go by Georgie, as in her favorite character Curious George. If you ever introduce her as Hazel, she will be quick to correct you. She never leaves home without her teddy bear, which at this point is hanging together by threads. She loves playing dress up by ransacking my closet, making crafts that involve a lot of messy glue or paint, playing on any type of electronic device, and helping cook in the kitchen as long as the recipe involves sugar. She has a big sweet tooth, and overall is a big sweetheart.

My husband Ross works for the Texas grocery store chain HEB, which is what brought us to San Antonio. Outside of work you can find him at home grilling in the backyard, keeping tabs on his fantasy football team, and playing in a local men’s hockey league (yep, they play hockey in Texas!). He’s in the process of transforming a tiny room off of our laundry room into his man cave – the 80 square feet he can claim as his own. He’s impressed me with his carpentry skills; he built a wall full of industrial style shelves and is in the process of transforming a vintage locker into wine storage.

I devote any kid-free minutes of my day to my blog Design Improvised, where I share DIYs for simple home and holiday crafts that make a big impact. I’m almost four years into blogging and I still love it so much that for better or worse I choose to do it over anything else…like, clean the house!

Q: You’ve moved! Where are you living, and how did you find your home?

A: Yes! We have been in the northwest suburbs of San Antonio since July of last year. We are about 15 miles from downtown. Because we were moving for my husband’s job, we had to make a decision on where to live pretty quickly. We flew down that April for a jam-packed weekend of seeing 20+ homes. Would you believe the home we ended up in was the very first one we saw? Had we known it would turn out that way, we could’ve saved ourselves the trouble and spend the rest of the weekend at the River Walk!

For us, the biggest challenge was getting a grasp for the area and narrowing down what part of the city in which we wanted to live. San Antonio is really spread out, and it was hard to know where to begin. We did our best to pick a few areas to focus our house hunting based on online research, but you just don’t know until you’re there in person.

I had a panic moment after our first day of looking at homes when I realized we had focused the bulk of our search too far out of town. It felt like such a giant leap to go from downtown Chicago to a semi-rural Texas neighborhood where I would’ve had to drive several exits down the highway to get to the grocery store. It was a stressful tear-filled day, but helped us identify what was most important. The home we ended up in is super accessible to restaurants, shopping, and downtown.

Q: What has been the biggest adjustment to your new area?

A: We loved living in Chicago, and for years I scoffed at the idea of moving to the suburbs. Funny enough, once we were here we didn’t think twice about it. I guess we were more suited for the suburbs than we realized. We came to San Antonio with an open mind and a determination to make this next chapter of our lives a good one.

We didn’t know anyone here, so I expected a tough transition from that perspective, but it just didn’t happen. We knocked on doors to introduce ourselves to our neighbors early on and invite them over for a drink. I think we actually know more of our neighbors than some of them that have lived here for 15 years know each other! I got involved in the active San Antonio blogging community and attended as many events as I could to meet people. We made friends with the parents at the girls’ preschool.

But perhaps most of all, I have this blog to thank for helping make the transition so smooth! I had several Design Mom readers in the San Antonio area reach out to me last year after our Chicago condo was featured in Living with Kids. The readers wrote sweet notes to welcome me to their city, tell me about their favorite spots, and offer their help. I was so surprised and touched by their generosity – it honestly meant the world to me.

Since then, two of them have become my closest friends here. One happens to live just down the road from me and introduced me to a mom group she is part of, and the other is a talented photographer and blogger who is now a frequent collaborator on blog projects (and has taken many of the photos in this house tour!). Our transition here could have been a much different story if it wasn’t for YOU all, so I can’t thank you enough.

Q: This new house is much bigger than your condo, right? How did you avoid the whole “Let’s go buy out the furniture store right now to fill this place!” urge? Did you give yourself time to get to know the house and figure out your needs?

A: Yes, it is about twice the size. Like they say, everything is bigger in Texas, and the cost of living here is less than Chicago. Our home is 17 years old and we invested in some updates before moving in: painting the kitchen cabinets and adding a new backsplash, replacing the carpeting upstairs with hardwood floors, and updating the lighting fixtures, etc. It was a big investment but it made a world of difference. It also didn’t leave a ton of money for rushing out and buying furniture. However, it was such a nice clean slate that I actually looked forward to some of the rooms staying empty for awhile so I could take my time thinking about what I wanted them to become. As a DIY blogger, what more could you want? It’s like a years’ worth of blog content, so I was in no rush.

I’ve also had a great partnership with hayneedle.com over the past year. They have an amazing selection of home furnishings and I’ve had the opportunity to design several rooms in our house as part of my work with them.  We’ve collaborated on carving out a special kids’ area in our family room with a play table and toy storage, a shared bedroom for Stella and Hazel with twin beds that can convert into bunks and a reading nook, a guest bedroom makeover in time for the holidays, and an outdoor patio that allows us to hang outside together as a family year round. You can find more details of each room in these styleboards.

The process has required me to be more thoughtful and intentional about the design of each room by developing a mood board and testing out different looks for each space, and I feel like I’ve really grown into my own distinct style over the past year as a result.

Q: What did you want to do differently with the decor of this home? What style or pieces did you want to retain?

A: I wanted to take my time and create spaces that I would love for a long time. Unlike in Chicago, where we started furnishing our condo as newlyweds and making it work over time for a family, I approached the design of this house with a family in mind.

Stella and Hazel have the run of the house. They have a special corner of the family room that holds some of their toys, and a play table where they eat their breakfast in the morning and spend much of the day working on crafts or Legos while watching their favorite shows.

I turned a covered balcony into an outdoor playroom for the girls with a kid-sized picnic table, rocking chairs, sensory table, and potted plants for them to dig in the dirt. We grew our first tomatoes and peppers there this summer.

The girls go into my craft room daily and pull out supplies to make something of their own. It can make a huge mess, but our house is messy most of the time (unlike these photos!), and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

As for pieces we retained, I reused nearly all our furniture from Chicago but in different ways. A little dresser that held toiletries in a bathroom in Chicago is now a nightstand in the guest room. The rug that was in our master bedroom is now under the dining table. I love the challenge of finding a new way to use a piece. To me, it is just as exciting as going out and buying something new.

Q: How are your girls adjusting? And you?

A: I think they were at a good age to make a big transition like this. They are just excited for anything new, so if you make a big deal out of it, they will be on board. The fact that there is a Chuck E Cheese across the street from their new school is a good enough reason for them to like San Antonio!

We all really miss my sister Heather and brother-in-law Alan and our little nephew Ollie. They were our family unit in Chicago and were a big part of the girls’ lives there. Stella still says she wishes Uncle Alan could come over and play chase and hide and seek with her like they did in Chicago. We don’t get to see them enough, and it kills me that I don’t get to be around Ollie (now 10 months) and help out like my sister did with my girls. We are in the process of trying to convince them to move to San Antonio.

Q: What do you hope your girls remember about your life in this house?

A: How they loved being at home more than anywhere else. How in these magical preschool years the day stretched before them and they could choose to spend it however they wanted…spending all day in their playroom, playing in the backyard in their pjs, helping me in the kitchen, the three of us making a big mess together in the craft room.

How they always were free to make the house their own…creating their own holiday decorations to display along with mine, coloring endless pictures to hang on their playroom wall.

Finally how they loved spending time together as sisters…waking up in the same bedroom by chatting and singing silly songs together and telling each other “I love you, sis” before going to bed at night.

Q: Tell us the best moving advice you wish you had followed!

A: Purge, purge, purge! Be really diligent about getting rid of stuff you don’t need rather than bringing it with you.

This was especially the case with some flea market pieces I had plans to eventually refurbish. We all have these, right? I realized if I hadn’t been motivated to do them in Chicago, I wasn’t going to ever do it here in San Antonio, and so most have been donated!

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So nice to reconnect with you, Haeley! I have to tell you that I misted up a few times! Once at your daughter’s tears on her last night of four, and the other about not being there for your nephew. It’s tough to be far away from family, isn’t it?

Friends, have you recently moved your family to a new spot? Tell us about your transition. Was it easy on your kids? Was it easy on you? If you have secrets to share, please know they are always welcome!

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.

30 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Revisiting Haeley Giambalvo”

  1. HEB! It’s the best grocery store! (Eat your hearts out, Wegman’s people!)

    Welcome to Texas, Haeley! I’ve lived all over the country, and it’s hard to argue that Texans aren’t some of the friendliest people going! Your home is absolutely fabulous!

    1. Thank you so much! I agree, I thought Chicagoans were friendly, but I’ve been amazed at how welcoming the San Antonio community has been. And yay for HEB!! Oh so much better than the Jewel Osco I shopped at in Chicago. I just spent 2 hours there this morning – it is hard to get in and out of the store quickly with so much good stuff.

  2. Fabulous sense of style, Haeley! The colors in each space are so well coordinated and the furniture goes so well with your décor. Your home is kid-friendly while also being “adult beautiful”.

    Loved the tour and the fact that your girls are able to enjoy being young in and outside of your home. And so cool that DesignMom readers are now some of your closest friends. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Best of luck with a potential move in your future! It can be so exciting to experience a new place – a year in and I feel like there is still so much of San Antonio we have yet to discover. One tip if you do move – try to see everything you can in your current city before you leave. We spent the last couple weeks in Chicago hitting up the Field Museum and other must-see spots that we had failed to ever get to in the 7 years that we were there – ha!

  3. Lovely house…..and I love the your outdoor sectional – blue wicker and grey cushions- where did you find it? The blue color is so great and I’ve never seen one in that color! Very nice to read that the Design Mom community was so helpful with your move TX.

  4. Lovely home! We also moved from Chicago to San Antonio a little over a year and half ago. After growing up in San Francisco and living in both Europe, Seattle and Chicago, the first 3 summer months were sad for us (Where were the splash parks?). But the thing about SA is that it grows on you. We don’t get everything that the big cities have but you get what you need (a lot by word of mouth surprisingly). And really this city is very family friendly. Loved living in Chicago’s Lakeview but I do not missing having to stand in line at 5am to get a spot at the YMCA’s swimming class :) or trying to spend endless hours trying to get into a decent school. Good luck!

  5. I’m glad San Antonio has treated you well since your move! I hope your kids have adjusted OK. Funny, the lack of city splash parks was something that struck me too. We went to them all the time in Chicago. I also miss the Lincoln Park zoo. Here I am loving the Botanical Garden, Hardberger Park, and Parman Library.

  6. Haeley,

    I am so enamored with your house. I love the thoughtful twists you’ve put into each room and I think it’s so sweet that Hazel is your mini-me doing her own kids crafting projects.

  7. The best part about this home is how well it suits this family. They are every bit as cute and colorful and charming as this home makes them out to be. We love Haeley, her girls, and her amazing blog, Design Improvised!

  8. Hi Gabby – Thank you for this series. I’ve been following your blog for a scary number of years (where has the time gone?) :-)

    I wanted to say that, when you post an outside picture of the home you’re featuring, and I see that it’s a totally “normal” house, it makes the house and the family even more inspiring. I live in a “normal” house, and it’s very soothing to know you don’t need a mega house or a custom home or a unique home to have a beautifully designed interior. If possible, please post outside pictures when possible (just 1 works!) I think it helps complete the story.

    Thank you for listening to my 2 cents.

  9. We also have two girls…I love their rug….would you mind sharing where you got it? I’m struggling finding a rug I love.

  10. What a lovely home! I’m sure the move from city to suburb was tough, but space has a way of lessening the blow!
    Can I ask, where is that AMAZING craft cabinet from? I love it!
    Thanks!

    1. The craft cabinet is part of the Martha Stewart craft furniture sold through Home Decorators. I LOVE it – it makes it easy to keep things somewhat organized at all times, even when the rest of the craft room is a big mess. It is sold in two pieces – as a cabinet: http://www.homedecorators.com/p/martha-stewart-living-craft-space-storage-cabinet/ and a hutch: http://www.homedecorators.com/P/Martha-Stewart-Living-Craft-Space-Storage-Hutch/00/400/

  11. Pingback: Living With Kids: Revisiting Haeley Giambalvo | The Tressle Blog | The Official Blog for Tressle.com

  12. This was one of my favorite home tours – the perfect combination of inspiring organization yet still warm and cozy. Thanks for the inspiration!

  13. Beautiful!

    I was excited to read that Haeley replaced the upstairs carpet with hardwoods!

    I am in a similar spot. We have hardwood throughout downstairs and now its’ time to replace the flooring upstairs (it is entirely carpet). I’ve thought about doing hardwood upstairs too, but it’s not super common here in the burbs. I’d love to hear a pro/con from someone who has lived with it! By any chance is it a topic you covered on your blog?

    1. Thanks Tara! For what it is worth I am a big fan of hardwoods. I like the look, but I also feel like they are easier to keep truly clean and you don’t have to worry about spills and stains. You can see dust bunnies easily on them so I am frequently pulling out my Shark vacuum and steam mop to try to keep up! For the bedrooms, I just like having something soft on my feet when I step out of bed. Rather than invest in a big rug to go under each bed, I got small 3×4 rugs for each side of the bed where you step out. Hardwood floors are more expensive than carpeting, but they will make your home stand out if you ever sell it!

  14. We lived in San Antonio for 7 1/2 years before relocating to the pacific northwest 2 years ago. This made me homesick for San Antonio, all of the lovely people there, and HEB! I’m so glad your transition has been smooth and hope you continue to enjoy your time there. You have created a lovely home!

  15. One thing that might be interesting on this series is an approximate sq footage of the space and/or number of bedrooms/bathrooms. It would be a way to compare house sizes between houses in the series.

  16. Hello!

    Beautiful home! I am jealous of your organization skills :)

    Where did you get the black shoe rack in your mudroom?

    Thanks!!!

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