Living With Kids: Sandra Harris

This is the story of a happy little home in Vancouver, where the decoration of preference is joy. I like Sandra’s house because it’s a fresh space that brings a smile with every pop of bold color and an abundance of statement pieces where you least expect them, but I love it because there’s a clear choice happening in this house. And choosing happiness in everything that surrounds you usually ends up in a life overflowing with it. Friends, I’d like you to meet Sandra. May this peek into her home bring a bit of happiness to your morning! (Related: Aren’t peonies the cheeriest flowers ever?)

Q: Tell us all about the creatives living in this home!

A: Roll call! Everyone line up! We have the man, our six year daughter who just finished first grade, and me.

I joke that my husband and I are recovering creatives because we both grew up in working class homes where it was all about having sensible, reliable, responsible paid work. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but having any life other than that was a bit suspect! We both were and are passionate about jazz music – he’s an amateur drummer and I’m an amateur pianist – and art and theater. He’s also had some photography shows, while I am still learning feverishly. It’s my new obsession!

We’ve both spent many years going back and forth between how to balance earning a living and living out our creative passions. There’s no perfect solution, though. I think it’s one of those issues where by just asking the question you end up with powerful life changes.

Q: How did this house become your home?

A: We had been living in Toronto right downtown for ten wonderful, creative, gritty, urban years when life drew us back west to Vancouver. Think a low-key Seattle; very much a part of the Pacific Northwest and, in many ways, the antithesis of the east coast life. It’s all about the outdoors and natural beauty, and is a much smaller and slower paced place.

My mother-in-law was ill, my father-in-law had recently passed away, and an opportunity came up for my husband to transfer with his paid work. The timing was perfect.

I flew out on my own for one weekend in June 2011, and had two days to buy a house. Two days in a market that was crazy with multiple offers. Our requirements were that our home should be close to a playground, within walking distance to the girl’s school, close to my mother-in-law, and close to transit. We narrowed it down to a neighborhood that was only three blocks by four blocks.

I saw this 1930s cottage, and I was sold as soon as I walked in the door. I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t even look at the entire house! I just knew.

We had been through two renovations before and were five days away from another one in Toronto when my husband got his job offer. Luckily, this cottage had been redone already and we only had to make some cosmetic changes. I painted the interior and put in new counter tops and appliances in the kitchen. The previous owners had a full height wine fridge that I removed and replaced with more storage. You can never have enough, right?

We also had this odd little space at the top of the stairs just outside of my daughter’s bedroom that was too small for pretty much anything. I had some bookshelves installed and put in a couple of chairs and a carpet (folded over so it fits), and it’s now a reading nook.

I had two big challenges: managing the cosmetic changes from 4,000 miles away, and downsizing from a large 1890s Victorian to a tiny 1930s cottage. We sold a lot of our furniture and bought some smaller-scale items.

Q: Your focus seems to be creating a happy, whimsy-filled home where it’s fun to live. How did you land on this approach?

A: I think – no, I KNOW – that it’s because our little family is one that was hard won! After three years of trying and many miscarriages plus two adoption attempts gone awry at the last second, I finally carried to term the lovely girl that is our six year old daughter.

Sometimes it’s the sobering events that both cause you to grow up and take things a lot less seriously. I know it’s such a cliche, but life is short and your kids are around for only a few years before they are off in the world.

We really want this to be a place where she feels both at home and well loved. We want our home to be a place of fun to relax and create and escape from the world. For all of us.

Q: How does your emphasis on creativity manifest itself in your decor? What are the boldest choices you’ve made in terms of color or design? And where do you find your best inspiration?

A: That’s an interesting question because it doesn’t manifest itself so much in crazy colors or textures, but in having only the things that I love and that are well-used in our space. We don’t have a lot of storage so if something new comes in, something else must leave.

The boldest choices are the over-sized pieces. The pendant in the dining room breaks all the rules for size and scale, but we love it so it stays. And we have some art on the way for the master bedroom and the hallway that are also quite large and dramatic, but again the commonality is that we love them.

I get the most inspiration is from overseas magazines like Real Living and Living, Etc. And I find the best treasures by simply keeping my eyes open while I am out and about, and going through consignment shops, especially when traveling. My souvenirs end up being furniture; our dining room table is something I had made while living in South Africa.

Q: Is travel something that’s important to you as a family?

A: Definitely. When the man and I met, I had already spent two years in Cape Town. He had traveled a lot, too, including his favorite cross-country road trip from Chicago to Vancouver in a convertible.

We did more “roughing it” travel before we had our daughter: hiking throughout the southwest US and overland trips in southern Africa. We also love to go to large cities like New York, visiting at least twice a year to get our fill of theater and galleries and museums. Our daughter had her first trip there when she was five months old. She is now an expert hailer of cabs!

My husband has some extra time off coming up in a few years, and we are itching to spend a few months living overseas – perhaps Italy or maybe France! Living overseas is such an enriching and creative and inspiring experience.

Q: Is there a favorite detail in your home that makes everyone smile?

A: Well, you’ll either love it or hate it and I think that’s a good thing! Your home should reflect your personality and your passions.

My daughter is very happy because her bedroom has all the features that she asked for: trees on the wall, a rainbow, and a pale blue ceiling with clouds. Her books are just outside her bedroom in the reading nook at the top of the stairs.

Probably the one thing that makes everyone smile is a laminated News of the World cover from years ago. The headline is “Jimmy Hoffa Found – In a Block of Ice”.  And they bothered to create an artist’s rendering of what he would actually look like in that block of ice. Silly.

Q: Share with us your top three tips for making a house more fun.

A: First, have art supplies accessible. We have this lovely round reclaimed wooden table in our kitchen that we have never ever sat at for a meal because it is always covered with markers and paint and pens and glue and glitter and games and books.

If it’s out, it’ll be used. It makes art-making a regular part of everyone’s day.

Second, lighten up. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Be silly. Talk in funny voices. Make up stories. Act out favorite children’s books together. Play dress up.

And third, work hard to make the mornings a restful and calm time for everyone to start the day. I find that if we can start out our days well-fed and watered and rested, we can each handle anything.

Q: Describe your favorite moment of your every day; where are you in your home and what makes this your favorite time and space?

A: This is easy! My favorite part of the day is snuggling up with my daughter in her bed, reading bedtime stories before she goes to sleep. I love it because no matter what has gone on during the day, it’s all over and now is the time for connecting and sharing a wonderful story together. Sometimes she ends up going to bed a little later than I wanted because we are so engrossed in a story. The Clementine series of books by Sara Pennypacker is on deck right now.

Q: What do you hope you’re teaching your daughter with the decor and style of your home? Are there lessons on living in there?

A: I hope that I am teaching her to have what you love but don’t let anything be too precious. It’s all there to be lived with and used. Living in a small space, nothing can be roped off or left only for guests, so every square inch is lived in.

Also to know what you love, so that everything in your home – whether big or small – means something to you and gives your pleasure.

And even in a small space, have room for your passions. Figure out how you can do them regularly, whether it is music or art or photography.

Q: What’s your favorite part of living with your own child? What are the things you’ll miss when she grows up?

A: Too many to mention! Her laughter, her sense of fun, her silliness. I just like the person she is. I enjoy her personality. Seeing the world through her eyes. There are still many years of “firsts” to come. I’ll miss us being the three amigos when she is off living her own life. Getting choked up…

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

A: That living a creative life with a family didn’t have to be an either-or situation, and that I could successfully combine the two. On a personal level, I wish that I had taken my creative self and my passions more seriously much, much earlier.


Thank you, Sandra! For the sweet tour and for this: “I wish I had known that living a creative life with a family didn’t have to be an either-or situation.” I imagine we all get a little wrapped up in the schedules and the musts and the shoulds, that we forget to feed our fun levels!

Friends, do you ever stop in the middle of a stressful toy cleaning frenzy or a tight deadline for work or those inevitable chaotic bedtime scenes, and find yourself wishing for a reset button? How do you shift moods and change the moment for you and your family? I’d love to hear your tips!

P.S. — You can find all the homes in my Living With Kids series here. And if you’d like to share your own home with us, just send me a note! It’s a lot of fun…I promise!

30 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Sandra Harris”

  1. I think this is my favorite one so far. I love how she realizes that life and family is precious and has put all of that into making her home. It makes me teary to think of it. We are getting ready to sell our current home and move into a new one (haven’t found it yet). Reading this post makes me excited to make the transition to a new home knowing that being with my family is what makes it a home. Not where it is, or what is in it.

  2. Sandra had me at peonies! And I love the reading nook. Great idea for using an unusual space (we have a space like that ourselves). And so much wisdom to soak in: keeping only the things that you love, making art supplies accessible, ending the day snuggled up reading. Thank you for the inspiration!

  3. This has to be one of my favorite homes I’ve seen so far! The kitchen is to die for!!! What kind of tile is that in the kitchen…the back splash. It’s absolutely fabulous!

  4. I love Sandra and her sense of fun and style! It’s great to see her here. I didn’t know that she spent a couple of years in South Africa. That just means I need to get to know her even better. :)

  5. So excited to see Sandra’s lovely home. What a cool, peaceful, fun environment! Can I grow up there, too? I love how art, music, travel, and silly all combine so beautifully in your space. A great interview to learn from…for sure. XO, MJ

  6. What a lovely surprise to see Sandra’s home in one of my favourite series! Sandra, as always an inspiring read! I must make ‘fill my home with only things I love’ my mantra… xo

  7. love all that art! I had to smile when I saw the doorknob pic because recently I cleaned off my boys doorknobs with all their artwork and treasures hanging. Now they just have flashlights hanging from them. I loved how colorful all their treasures were. This home really is joyful!

  8. My husband and I just made up a rule yesterday that if we catch the other one taking life or him/herself too seriously we can assign that person squat jumps or jump knee tucks until the other person says stop. We exercise together and those are both of he moves we hate.

    I had to give my husband 15 jumps and it really worked. We were both laughing pretty hard.

    1. I find that very cute:) My husband and I also workout together and those are also two of our least favorite. I’m just afraid I’d get the majority of the squat/tuck jumps! Ouch!

  9. Hi Sandra! So nice to find you here! I love your idea of leaving craft supplies out to be used. What a nice way to keep those cogs and wheels turning!

  10. Thanks so much everyone for your kind words! And Holly, I’ll zoom the name of the tile to you in the next few weeks when I track it down.

    Gabrielle is the best interviewer – lovely questions – she makes it so easy! Very happy to share our home with all of you.

  11. Lovely, lovely home. What an inspiring space. We have been on a major purge the past several months and this is great encouragement to look through the house yet again! Beautiful!

  12. Love this! My favorite of this feature so far. I had to hit the reset button today. My daughter and I (she’s 4 1/2) had a rough morning. Both of our faults. I told her that after rest time, we’d start fresh. Let all the morning angry and frustration go and just start over. It was wonderful! To completely forgive and forget, like wiping the words from a dry erase board.

    Also, when Sandra mentions that she’ll miss being the 3 amigos, it touched me. I love our second daughter more than words can express but I think most families with more than one child can relate. There’s nothing like the feeling of just being a little threesome, ready to take on the world. Love you Sandra! And you too, Gabby!

  13. Love the pictures – definitely one of my favorite houses ever, chock full of inspiration – but Sandra’s beautiful words and thoughts made this one special. Great perspective on what is really important in life! So glad she has her sweet daughter and is enjoying her to the fullest.

  14. I love the contrast of those grays (especially the backsplash!) with the pink and reds. I also love the advice about living a creative life in your home. I live with my husband and three boys and though I love my home, I’m still struggling to find creative nooks there. I know it would make me so happy to have them. Each of these posts is a reminder to try (with fabulous ideas!)

  15. I’ve been a big fan of both, your and Sandra’s blog and loved learning more about Sandra here. Sandra, your cottage is absolutely adorable – the creative-cozy-classy-sophisticated look is so beautiful and I’m not surprised you decided to buy the house without seeing it in its entirety! Such an inspiring interview – thank you for sharing!

  16. Oh, thank you for sharing your lovely home and your thoughts on family! My ears always perk up when I read of a family of three. We, too, are a family with one child—and we absolutely cherish this time of her childhood. One miscarriage, years and years of waiting for foster and adoptive children and we still have the one. But we are so blessed! I can tell you are, too. :)

  17. Ah, this pulled at my heartstrings. Our only child, a six year old just turned seven and suddenly she’s older and everything is different. I am continually in awe of how fast the time is going and how she is constantly changing and never one phase for very long. It all goes too fast. Looking at the cute little six-year-old shoes made my heart sting. :) And the family home is just gorgeous. It feels restful, filled with love and welcoming. That is one fantastic kitchen. Thank you for sharing!

  18. Lovely home. I would love to have the name/source of the kitchen tile. It’s exactly what I’m looking for in our kitchen. Thanks!

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