Living With Kids: Shannon Molenaar

There’s a point during all of these Living With Kids tours when I fall in love with the home I’m featuring. It’s either a charming entry or a pure-white kitchen or a particularly messy craft room or even the way the sunlight streaks through a master bedroom and warms up the entire post. Sometimes it’s not even a photo, but rather a sentiment about this wild journey we’re on that makes me stop and pause for minutes on end. And sometimes, it’s shelves. Friends, I’d like you to meet Shannon. I’ve hereby appointed her the Queen of Shelving. You’ll see why after the jump. (Bonus: If you like a white, more neutral home, this tour is for you. And if you prefer lots of color, this tour is for you, too.)

Q: Please tell us all about you and yours.

A: I’m Shannon, stay-at-home-mom of two little truckers: Tyler, who is three years old, and Trevor, who is almost nine months old. My husband, Lieh, is our rock! He is the calm steady influence in our lives while I am the whirlwind of emotions, desires, and what ifs. You could say (he probably wouldn’t) that I dream big, and he helps make things happen when the time is right!

My favorite hobby is reading fiction novels, from the ones your high school teacher recommended to fast-paced young adult books. Divergent, anyone? My heart races with anticipation upon entering a thrift store or flea market; I go often, and then some! I even look up thrifts and fleas before every vacation we take, and plan our itinerary around them! We also love to travel. And even though traveling with little ones is extra work, kids know there is still magic in the world and they know where to find it!

Q: Where do you live?

A: We live in midtown Toronto. I love our location! I don’t drive, and I really don’t need to here. Everything is within a 15-minute walk. Even things I don’t need — like a colorful quilt from Urban Outfitters, or another toy truck — are close by.

We have the best neighborhood, full of 1920s brick houses and Grand Daddy trees. We also have the best neighbors! Our street has held an annual street sale for at least ten years, which I took over the task of organizing it two years back. It is a wonderful day when all the neighbors come out and chit chat. Of course, we find time to chit chat throughout the entire summer, but a wave or a smile is enough during the chilly winter!

Q: How did your home come to be yours?

A: During the open house, we immediately fell in love with our home, completely ignoring the old roof, the old boiler, and the original windows. Bright light and large rooms won the day. We bought it, and we had no idea what we had gotten ourselves into.

An architect friend and his contractor held our hand through our first renovation five years ago.  It was supposed to be a kitchen renovation, but it ballooned when we moved the powder room out of the foyer and into the kitchen…and then decided to put on a small addition. We also refinished the original oak floors, laid marble in the foyer, stole closet space to make a large master closet, and added wainscoting to match the original up the stairs and into the hallway. This took us a year. The week we finally moved in, I found out I was pregnant.

We worked with a designer to get the major furniture pieces and art. I was pregnant and working long hours, and neither my husband nor I had the patience to shop every weekend.

When my older son was ten months, we decided to underpin and finish the basement.  We created a large media room with a storage room, bathroom, and bar in the wings.

Finally, last summer, we landscaped the front and the back of the house. Along the way we have replaced the roof, the boiler, installed ductless air-conditioning…really, the works!

Now, we are going back and replacing the windows. Oh, I hope this is the last major expenditure!

Q: Your organizational skills are stunning. Everywhere you look, it’s beautiful but working hard. Tell us your secrets to making organization beautiful!

A: I am always looking for ways to become more organized; I am never satisfied! But here are my best secrets:

Use it or lose it! I try to find a place for all of my favorite things, like folding my grandmother’s table rug over our jute headboard, for example. I have carried her rug with me in storage from apartment to apartment, and finally it has a place on display! I think you should be able to live with your favorite things. If you love something, it belongs…

Everyday objects can be beautiful! Especially when collected together. I don’t hide away all the clutter; if I do that, the house seems a little life-less. As an example, in on the desk in the office, we have silver/chrome/glass mugs and jars and bowls to hold all of the office supplies we need. We don’t have a drawer to put them in. So I tried to make them pretty and functional! I also have a fully stocked craft supply drawer with everything organized in empty food stuff containers.

Put your walls to work! I really love open shelving and hooks. I like having stuff out where I can enjoy it. The row of hooks in the baby’s room over the change table holds his day-to-day tops and jumpers, and it is super easy to grab a clean shirt when I am changing him. His clothing fills up a wall in a way artwork couldn’t. As another example, the open shelves in the office are loaded with milk glass and books, without taking any space from the footprint of an already small room.

Q: Your home doesn’t seem to be a mansion, but you seem to have lots of stuff! Tell us about living vertically, and how you manage clutter.

A: I once wanted to put a shelf above the door frames along the perimeter of the upstairs hallway for books and trinkets. I may still do this, so watch out! I also want “grown up” built-ins on the wall behind my bed for books. Basically, any empty space could one day find itself piled with books. I am constantly dreaming up ways to use our space, and every blank spot is an opportunity for a shelf or a hook. (My new hat hooks in the foyer make me very happy!)

In terms of clutter, I think toys and computer parts are the worst offenders in our home, but the guys might think my milk glass, books, and plants are useless! So we have baskets to hold toys in every room.  A random toy here or there is okay with me as long as it is not underfoot. A lot of my husband’s gadgets go into closed storage in the office, in the closets, and in the storage room, and he also has a full bookshelf of white file boxes full of computer and stereo parts.

This year, in preparation for our street sale, I gave myself permission to part with things that I had purchased. Things that I bought because I fully intended to use but they just ended up in storage. I had to let go of the guilt that I was wasting money so that I could make space for more important things. The money was already wasted when I bought the items, though.  It makes no sense to hold on to an item that we will likely never use.

Q:  I look at your tour photos and think of the house one minute as a study in white. The next, it’s clearly a color explosion! Which style is more you, on a design level? Has your aesthetic changed since you had your boys?

A: I haven’t figured out my style, so I certainly couldn’t label it! I like everything that can be white to be white! I also like there to be something black in every room. Then, I go and fall in love with colorful stuff! So the base is white/neutral, and everything else I bring into the house just seems to jump out at you!

Q: Describe your favorite room in your home. How do you spend your time in it, and what makes it so special to you?

A: The office is my favorite room. It reflects me. It is a collection of left-over things we had in the house, plus a dresser from Craigslist and some floating shelves, assembled and rearranged until at last it feels right. I use this room for blogging and, as soon as I take the time to configure the color printer, I will use this room to learn how to process and print photos.

The living room and dining room are a little too sophisticated for me. These rooms were heavily influenced by the designer. The basement is a hodge-podge at the moment. It is taking us some time to get all the pieces in place downstairs.

Q: What do you hope your home and its style teaches your boys? What do you hope they remember from their childhood home?

A: I want my boys to be tidy. Is that wrong to say? But I am tidy, and I want that to rub off on them! I also want them to be good partners one day and share in the responsibility of caring for their homes. I hope I can teach them to care for their own things. To think before buying. I want them to know that a bigger house is not necessarily better.  Oh and that there is nothing low-class about buying things secondhand!

Q: What do you love most about living with your own kids? What are the joys as well as the difficulties that you had no idea would ever be a part of your daily life?

A: I love baby smiles and three year old negotiations. I love listening to their breathing deepen as they fall asleep, and then sneaking out of the room. I love hearing things I have said come back at me in their little voices…okay, sometimes I do not love that so much!

One thing about babies I can never get enough of is when they start to turn their head and look where you are carrying them. I think kids’ curiosity is a riot, and they are all so curious from the very beginning, aren’t they?

Motherhood is such a demanding career, yet it makes me restless. I felt trapped in the early months caring for an infant both times. I wanted to get things done, to be on the go, but I was needed to sit, nurse, and be still.

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

A: I wish I had known that having a perfect house is not actually that important to me. I thought it was important, and we spent a lot of time and a lot of money to make everything just so. But when I think of the arguments we’ve had over finishes or furniture, I shake my head. The weekly trips to Home Depot. The indecision over paint colors. The research! I was after something straight out of a magazine.

Now, it’s still important that we make the most of what we have, but I am not looking for magazine perfection. In fact, I am most comfortable in rooms that are full of life and all of its messes!


Thank you, O’ Queen of Shelving! Your words were just as bright and inspiring in all the right ways as your gorgeous photos. (I think this is where I curtsy!)

Friends, didn’t you feel buoyed when Shannon mentioned “The living room and dining room are a little too sophisticated for me. These rooms were heavily influenced by the designer.”? Sometimes, an interior decorator doesn’t know best what will work for you and your family, day in and day out. Sometimes, your taste and personal style is better than any professional input. I’m curious: Have you ever hired a designer? How did it work out for you? I’d love to hear your experiences!

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!

32 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Shannon Molenaar”

  1. I love the polished concrete floors in the basement! We’re planning a basement renovation and I never thought about that option. I’m also curious what the light grey/blue paint color(s) are. I’ve been eager to paint our hallway and guest bedroom in light greys.

  2. This house is awesome!! I love so much about it, and the way it’s so imperfect, but SO stunning. Her toy room filled with trucks is no doubt every little boys dream! And I personally love her family room- the mix of styles is great.

  3. I loved your comments at the end about perfection. Its so easy to get caught up in the magazine and online examples. (Many of which aren’t realistic for family life.) Visitors enjoy and comment on the fact that we live like real people in our “perfect” home.

  4. I love that she thinks the professionally designed rooms are “too sophisticated” for her. In today’s culture, it seems like we’re always striving for sophistication and perfection instead of figuring out what make us happy and comfortable and fully embracing that style as our own. Make you think a bit, doesn’t it? I also love the toy basket in every room trick–so smart! Thank you for sharing this lovely home:)

  5. I love this home. It’s perfect. The dimensions are huge and I love that there’s a balance of adult and kids corners. I love all her furniture, and the way she’s used it. That craft room is insane, and the backyard and patio are Oh so cute. I want to move to Toronto!

  6. This home is truly stunning, but I had to laugh at the comment about it not seeming like a mansion. It seems enormous to me! Especially for just four people! And sooooo much stuff! That photo of the closet that looks as long as a hallway is insane. Who needs 6 casserole dishes?! And over a dozen stacked enormous plastics tubs full who knows what!

  7. Fabulous home! The woodwork going down to the basement is stunning, and I love the use of space under the stairs. That is our next big project, and I’ve already sent my husband the link to this article!

    “The money was already wasted when I bought the items, though. It makes no sense to hold on to an item that we will likely never use.”
    This was a very smart statement, and one I’ll be sure to remember.

    Beautiful house!

  8. As someone living with my husband and our daughter in a one-bedroom apartment, I appreciate the sentiment that a bigger house is not necessarily better. The trick is remembering that when I desperately wish for another bathroom or a bedroom with a door! :)

    We have been contemplating kitchen and bathroom renovations that really have the potential to impact the whole apartment. We drew up our ‘dream plan’ and then checked with a friend who’s a designer. He had some interesting ideas – ones we’d never considered – but in the end we’ve come back to our original plan. It’s true that you know your space best and how you want it to function for you.

  9. Thanks for another beautiful tour. I really appreciated how honest she was. It’s refreshing to hear someone reflect on what they would have done differently or the limitations of a particular time in their life. I’m happy to be a stay-at-home mom but, yes, it does make me restless sometimes!

  10. i’m in love…and inspired. now that we’re heading on to the back half of the house remodel (and nearly all the storage allocation) – i needed this tour to give me some much needed ideas. love it.

  11. Hey Shannon – another fellow Canadian! Lovely to see more of your home in addition to the glimpses on your blog. Such a great community that we are building here…

  12. I love her home. Our style is very similar, and I got so many great ideas. I love the stairs going down to the basement. I would love to know more about the woodworking there. I have a little project for my husband. ;)

  13. stephanie mcdaniel

    I loved all your milk and white glass. We did a wedding two years ago and hunted up over 30 pc. of it to us on tables for the Vintage Beach Theme, we did. I see you love the clean yet elegant design of it as I do. How you displayed it was awesome. Thank you for sharing your Ideas. I will visit your site again.

  14. Loved reading this post. Any chance you have a close up photo of that amazing modern vertical wood slat design down your stairwell?
    We were wondering how you/your carpenter created a panel? It’s truly inspirational and I’d want to finish our basement just to create that amazing / effect!!

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