Living With Kids: Shaleah Soliven

I find the coolest friends in the comment section! I always love where your words lead me, and this time my serendipitous clicking took me straight to Shaleah Soliven’s interior design site. I found her aesthetic flawless and so friendly and mighty intentional on many levels. Of course, I wondered if Shaleah’s personal design was half as spectacular as her professional work, and couldn’t wait to see how her young daughter, Sydney, fit into the surely-elegant Soliven home. You’ll be as pleased as I was to find that Sydney doesn’t fit in the space; she flows through it. Please enjoy the tour!

We are a family of five. Well, actually just three if you don’t count our Chihuahuas Mars and Cola, but five sounded like more fun for a second! I have a husband named Vince, who is an art director for an ad agency. He expresses his talents in so many ways, including photography, illustration, and really anything design-related. He even illustrated a book you may know, called Everything Is Better with a Gorilla. And best of all, he is my biggest fan, supporter, and motivator.

Sydney is our two and a half year old little lady. She is super laid back and always busy, if that make sense. Syd loves gymnastics, painting, any craft that involves glue, princesses, tutus, the park, dancing, music, and strumming the guitar at the end of our hallway every now and then. Plus anything tiny, from animal erasers to little seashells. Knowing that, we started a dollhouse renovation project together. And of course, she became obsessed with all the little dolls and furniture. We’re starting her young! Syd’s easy-going personality has allowed us to take her everywhere, including a road trip from Chicago to Los Angeles, and even a weekend at Pitchfork Music Festival last summer. We had a blast.

Lastly, I’m Shaleah, a stay-at-home mom. Although I do miss my career as an interior designer specializing in hospitality, being Mom is my favorite job to date. And sharing my love for design with our daughter is one of the best things about it. While I still dabble in the occasional residential design job, doing creative projects around the house with Sydney fulfills my creative needs.

Together, we love the outdoors and anything travel or adventure related.

We currently live in Chicago, the vibrant city we both love and also where we first met. We were living in LA for a few years, but made the move back to Bucktown, our favorite neighborhood, after having Sydney. It’s a hip area where it’s easy to park on the streets and access the main freeways, and just a ten minute walk to the train. If it were up to Sydney, we’d be actually on the train every day.

Although we’ve always appreciated the details and nuances in old Chicago buildings, we were drawn to this newly renovated place. We fell in love with the apartment because of its high ceilings, open floor plan, and spacious rooms. Upon first glance, we could already see friends and family gathering around a long dining table, and Sydney riding her tricycle around the house. And then, there’s the beautiful view. We can see the Chicago skyline from every room of the apartment. The sunlight floods the entire space during the day. It’s just perfect for us.

I do like design that’s intentional. Everything should have a purpose and be functional. Our home is designed to accommodate our daily routines while allowing us to do the things we love to do.

I loved crafts, painting, and drawing when I was a kid, so I provided Sydney with all the same supplies and activities that I enjoyed as a kid. I also wanted to encourage and promote independence and creative thinking. With all her supplies in reach, she can choose what she wants to do on her own terms. Every day, I come up with art projects and activities for her. But if I’m preoccupied, she can entertain herself without plopping down in front of the television.

I also let her personality and day-to-day activities shape our space. Like her desk area, for example. One day, my husband brought it out of her room so she could do her crafts while he worked at our desk. It was meant to be temporary, but seeing it in the main living area made so much sense. I found a place for it next to the French doors that overlook the street below, and added items from around the house to make it feel like it belonged there. It’s her own little window office, or window studio, if you will. Nearby, she has a space in our buffet just for her art and craft supplies.

Our chevron wall is painted! I have a soft spot for fantastic wallpapers, but since we currently rent, that wasn’t an option for us. A painted pattern was the next best thing.

When choosing paint colors, I wanted each room to have its own identity while also working together as a unified aesthetic. So we stuck with an overall neutral palette on the all walls. The main living area is a light gray, our bedroom is navy with gold and white in the bathroom, Sydney’s room is gray, Sydney’s bathroom is a gold metallic paint, and the hallway/entry is dark charcoal. Boldly quiet is the perfect description! Even though they’re neutrals, the navy, dark gray, and metallic gold all make a statement. I actually painted the hallway when my husband was out of town. He never would have gone for it based on a paint chip. But once he walked in and saw it, he instantly fell in love with the color.

My secret to picking colors…hmmm. My first advice is to make use of all the great neutrals out there, and not just white and beige! Almost any color grayed out can be a neutral. As I previously mentioned, colors like navy and a dark gray are neutral but can have a powerful visual and emotional impact in a room. It’s also really important to look at all the colors together before making decisions. Undertones can make a paint color look a little pink, yellow, blue, etc. Lighting also affects how a color looks in a room. This applies to all neutrals, and even colors. Don’t forget to think about how all the colors work together in a house. For example, if you’re standing in a living room and you’re able to see the kitchen and dining room, it’s essential that all colors in these rooms work together. And don’t be afraid of color. Take a risk with the walls, and go with something dark or bright. Remember, like everyone always says, you can always paint over it.

Lastly, I always suggest grabbing a bunch of the same color paint chips, taping all of them up on a wall together, and get a feel for the color for a day or two. See how they look in the room at different times of the day.

I would totally recommend a Chalkboard back-splash in the kitchen. If there are any oil splatters, just wipe it down with a wet cloth. Sometimes we change up what’s on the back-splash. Recently it’s become my cheat sheet of conversions and measurements. When I’m in the middle of cooking and I need to know how many tablespoons are in a third of a cup, I can just glance at the wall. To make these notes look nice, they’re all written in little hand-drawn frames.

We often change the writing above the kitchen cabinets. This past summer we had a lot going on, so we turned that area into a giant calendar. We even draw seasonal illustrations. Which reminds me, it’s probably time the snowflakes and penguins get erased and replaced with a spring scene!

Sydney’s room has been so much fun to work on, and it’s still not done! We recently found the horses at a local flea market and just painted them gold the other weekend. They feel so dreamy and playful, while the gold color gives them a sense of sophistication. I adore them.

I’m a sleuth for good deals and enjoy making things on my own. One of my favorite DIY projects is the bulletin board above our desk. I couldn’t find one that I liked in our space, but when I saw the metal screen in an aisle at Home Depot, I knew it belonged in our house. When layered with painted Homasote, it became the perfect pin board.

And this one is so simple I don’t even know if I can call it a DIY project, but I’m proud of my fuse box solution. One day, I was trying to come up with a design solution for a project, and my husband said “If there isn’t a good way to hide it, just embrace it and make it work in the space.” I applied this thinking to the fuse box problem. It is what it is; a piece of metal that just so happens to make the perfect magnetic picture board.

Having an open layout is so great, especially if you have kids. That’s why the main living area is my favorite. So many different things can happen at the same time in one room. I can be cooking, Vince working on the computer, and Sydney at her desk or practicing her forward rolls on the rug, and we are all still together. It’s also fantastic for entertaining, which I love to do. This area is the heart of our home, and it’s the perfect combination of serious and fun.

Having kids doesn’t mean you have to compromise design. It just means you have to think about it a little more. When we first had Syd, we did start to baby proof our place. We actually put those hideous bumpers on our coffee table. Then we tried taking them off, and of course, the finish came off with it! We tossed table, and I vowed to never do anything like that again.

Instead, ditch the coffee table and replace it with ottomans. They’re great for lounging and soft for the little ones. Add a tray if you need the hard surface.

Toys can be stored in the living room, but find bins or baskets that work with your design and are pretty to look at. You just have to think outside the box, no pun intended! These kinds of design solutions work for everyone. Kids and adults.

All the major pieces of the room should be useful and have a purpose. We store art supplies and Vince’s camera equipment in our antique buffet, everyday dishes in the top half of the china cabinet, and my sewing supplies below. These pieces of furniture are pretty to look at, and we use them and the items in them every day.

Rather than displaying a bunch of art pieces and pretty things, I believe that the functional items in your rooms—the cabinets and storage furniture—should create the visual interest. And I think you have to find an eclectic balance between whimsy and sophistication; it helps to blend the adult and kid stuff.

After Syd came along, I also learned to look at our home in levels. There’s the lowest level that is Sydney friendly, the middle, which is Sydney accessible with a stool, and then the no little hands allowed level at the very top. I wanted our place to look and feel like a child lives here, not ‘Oh, these people have a kid.’  It needs to be as much her home as it is ours.

Traveling always inspires me. But browsing the web gets me going, too. There are so many good ideas out there, and after an hour or so of getting lost admiring other peoples’ ideas, I get inspired to grab my notebook and pencil, and start sketching and coming up with my own ideas and design solutions.

To be honest, I don’t really have a favorite go-to place shop. When shopping for furniture, I usually know what I want and I hunt for it. I do love me a good thrift shop, though! There are lots of overpriced and over-picked ones, especially in the city, so I like to rummage through some good ones whenever we visit my mom in Ohio. I actually like thrifting so much that I’m working on my very own Etsy Shop, where I can sell all my great finds. And Craigslist can turn up some great pieces. That’s where I found the canopy chair in our living room that I picked up for a hundred bucks. Score!

But if I did have to name a favorite store, it’s Jayson Home.

The table that is now in our hallway was originally intended as a desk. I figured we had a large dining table to work at, so a narrow desk where my husband and I could work side by side would suffice. But a 27-inch iMac almost destroyed my vision in one sitting. Needless to say, it was replaced by a large and practical desk.

We also had a white pin tuck duvet on our bed. Don’t get me wrong; I love this look, but it’s just not the best when you like to tickle your daughter in bed and let her jump around. Those cute little pin tucks eventually become nonexistent.

I wish I had known sooner how inexpensive it can be to make a rental feel like a well-designed home. With every apartment before this one, I always thought it wasn’t worth trying to design it as if it were a home we owned. I think people would be shocked at how little we spent on our place. You just have to be patient while searching for the right pieces, keeping aesthetic, budget and flexibility in mind. You can’t just furnish a place in one weekend. That’s when you’ll find yourself settling for the best option in the store rather than finding the right piece for your home. And you’ll probably spend a ton.

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Thank you, Shaleah. You’ve given us such useful reminders, from reconsidering neutrals to rethinking rentals. It’s stuff like this that sends us to our paint shops and prompts us to stare at empty walls for an entire afternoon, right?

I think one of the elements that turns a home into something spectacular and refreshing is the not-so-simple act of taking a chance. Asking yourself “Why not?” instead of telling yourself all the reasons why not is a start, don’t you think? We hear it all the time in these interviews; it’s just paint and it’s just a few more holes in the wall and it makes perfect sense to have their little desks near our own. It’s all very true. So tell me: What’s the one project that’s living in your dreams, but not in your home? Yet.

P.S. — You can find all the homes in my Living With Kids series here. If you’d like to share your home with us, drop me a note. I’d love to hear from you!

58 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Shaleah Soliven”

  1. Wow, I love this! I don’t think I can actually choose my favourite thing as there are so many! Love that her little girl has an area all to herself in the living room, what a great idea :)

  2. I like the chalkboard back-splash in the kitchen, very creative way of writing down notes! :-) I also love the wall picture frames. I’ve been planning to have the same in my home, but can’t find a nice frame that would match my our house painting.

  3. These could be stamped with “Artist Lives Here.” I love it! I like the house is soo cool but not following one prescribed look. It feels thoroughly like the inhabitants are happy souls with great artistry in their souls. Thank you for sharing and like, you, I agree — I’ve found some fantastic people who “come to you blog.”
    In fact, I loved ALL of your postings today — that tree of life!…my entryway! I’m having one of the spinning your tail but feeling like nothing’s getting done today and I took an extra minute to see what was going on with you — as always, you brought cheer! Thank you!

  4. What a great apartment. There are so many things to love – I’m especially drawn to the dining area (love those orbs floating overhead). One little take-away is the tags attached by twine to the jars. I have jars filled with sand and sea shells, but have never labelled them like that. I think I’ll have to make some tags tonight.

  5. So beautiful and fun! I typically don’t like really dark colors on the wall, but their bedroom and photo wall look fantastic! What a nice design execution in a rental, no less! Thank you for sharing your home with us, and thank you Gabrielle for finding such beautiful design at every turn! xo

  6. I love this! Even though not everything is my style, I can find actual pieces of furniture in the pictures that we own too! And we (well, I) are currently contemplating on the chalkwall backsplash too (but I’m still a bit worried about the greese and food stains and water leaking behind the cabinets)!
    It makes me happy to see you can achieve such a great impact even with very basic things. This is precisely what my new project is. We’re renovating a house and we’ll run out of money to buy serious furniture, so we’ll have to make do with what we own now and hopefully a few new pieces.
    Also, I totally agree that the house is as much a kid’s house as it is the parents’, so they should have some say (albeight a guided one ;)) in how things end up looking. Having kids spaces in the living room is a must!

    1. Thanks for your comment! Our chalkboard paint has held up really well for us. We cook quite a bit and when any grease splatters on the wall I just clean it up with a damp rag. Our sink is in the island, so we don’t have a lot of water splashing on the chalkboard, so it’s really only wet when we wash the wall. There is a 4″ granite backsplash connected to the countertop, which offers extra protection. I hope this helps, good luck with your renovations!

  7. Gabrielle: I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy this series! We have our first little one at home now, and this series has been such an inspiration for me. Thank you so much for sharing these wonderful homes with us!

  8. One project that’s living in my dreams…well, it’s a room rather than a project. I am pretty satisfied with the main floor but the basement media room is calling for help! It’s sooo matchy-matchy and bland compared to the eclecticism of the rest of our little cottage.

    Next on the list is therefore to add some edge and whimsy and eclectic vibe to the basement…

  9. Oh gosh, where to start. I LOVED this tour! Those golden horses in Syd’s room….GENIUS! Love the dark neutral color palette. Love the bathroom! LOOOOOOOVE all that chalkboard in the kitchen! And those cabinets were rad. Very super fantastically cool!

  10. Awesome, I love the simplicity. You certainly created a “warm home.” I just love it. Vince, you and I are so very lucky with finding the most wonderful mothers for our children and partners in life. Congratulations.

  11. Just beautiful.

    The design idea we haven’t done…yet? Paint one wall. We have an empty wall that has scratches all over it and no art at all. I’m tempted to paint it charcoal or even charcoal/chalkboard paint, but i’m afraid! why? i should just do it, right?

  12. Beautiful! I love how you’ve turned your home into a creative haven for you and your family. The gorgeous photo of Sydney with paints in the foreground and a well-designed living area in the background says it all.

  13. Warm and sophisticated at the same time – simply gorgeous! Shaleah, do you mind sharing where you found Sydney’s white “four by four” case? My husband and I have been looking for something similar for our three-year old daughter. Books and toys are piling up, and that case looks perfect!

      1. Thank you for the info, Shaleah! I think a visit to Ikea this weekend is in order – you’ve inspired me to start working on my daughter’s room!

  14. Loved everything about this piece! Sydney is, of course, adorable. You know I love your style already but it was really neat for me to see what you have done with your home! Love it as well!! Thanks for sharing!

  15. I really appreciated and related to all of Shaleah’s advice on designing a rental. We have been experiencing this first-hand and are enjoying where the journey takes us. Wait for inspiration to strike, then run with it!

  16. Ok, that Chevron wall is AMAZING!
    I wish she lived in NJ, I’d hire her to get my head on straight and put together a home like she has.
    Her home has style, and is a home. And her daughter is too darn cute!
    Great piece, thanks for sharing your home with us!

  17. What a beautiful home – fun but elegant. Each piece of furniture or design element is unique but it all fits together in such a charming & comfortable way. This is how real families live – love it!

  18. Ah! I love this. I think every home tour just get’s better! My fav is the wall colors: the navy took my breath away.

    I have a question for you all: I see a lot of kid rooms with the IKEA expedit wall unit: Is it that good? Do you recommend it? I need something in our kids room to store toys and books and I keep thinking about the expedit. Appreciate any feedback!

    1. We started with the 2×4 version in Sydney’s first nursery, and we loved it so much that we went even bigger with her current room. It’s well priced, sturdy, fits a lot of bins, and I love how simple and modern it is. It’s clean lines allow it to work well with all different kinds of furniture and designs. Plus, having all the bins make organizing and clean up time a breeze!

  19. Aimee Hipolito

    Speechless…… Shaleah, you’re work is amazing and I look forward to something fun and new everyday! You Rock!!!!

  20. Jessica Poelma

    I am in love!!! The wall colors – navy and charcoal are so much darker than I would ever dare to do or think would look good, but they are AMAZING! Totally has me thinking where I could do dark in my home. i love the kitchen chalk wall too. So many great amazing things in this home, looks fantastic yet liveable and comfortable too!

  21. love her house…my dream is to have tin faux tiled backsplash in my kitchen. since i’m on a painting ban for a while…..that might be the next step!

    1. I have done the faux tin ceiling tiles as a backsplash before. It’s a very doable diy project and holds up well. You just need the material with coordinating trims, a straight edge, liquid nails, utility knife and lots of patience :)
      Go for it and good luck!

  22. I love this segment! It is inspiring for me to see how people with great taste manage to integrate a little person into there lives in such beautiful ways. It is important for me that my home still looks like a kid lives in it while still looking stylish, you know? This house does just that. Fabulous. Keep these coming!

  23. Amazing! I am so inspired! I also have the storage unit for my son’s toys but was wondering how to decorate the bins since they plain white ones need to be spruced up! When I saw the picture featuring the storage unit, I was so excited to see that the bins were decorated! Can you please tell me how you decorated them and where you got them? Thanks!

  24. Such a beautiful home. Not just a great place for a kid to grow up, but a home that clearly conveys the parents’ personality and family dynamic as well. I love the gold horses and the painted chevron walls!

  25. Hi Shaleah,

    I just LOVE your sense of styling. It is bold, yet comfortable and practical…..and oh so inviting. Love all of your tips….makes great sense. And I love the work space you’ve created for our sweet Sydney. Thank you for nurturing her creativeness and talents. Can’t wait to see all of you in your awesome home this summer. Love you…….

    Mom

  26. Where do I begin even begin with this much loveliness. Your home is gorgeous and inspiring. Thank you so much for letting me into your home and giving me an opportunity to see bits and pieces of creativity that can be implemented into my home — especially with regards to your sweet little toddler. I have an almost two year old little girl that I would like to foster creativity and your ideas were definitely helpful.

  27. Hi Shaleah – I love your place and all the creativity. I am wanting to paint a chevron wall in my house and was wondering how you did yours. Did you use a wall stencil? Or could you give me some details on how you did yours?? Thank you!!

  28. Hi! Love your blog and your apartment is just lovely. I especially like the bedroom navy wall color…can you share what brand/color it is? I’m in the midst of picking a navy for our bedroom and pinned yours a while back not knowing who’s it was! Sorry if you already said, I just couldn’t find it anywhere. Thanks!!

  29. What color is your bedroom? I like the navy. Also, what color of grey is in the chevron pattern?

    Thanks

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