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Tara’s Questions, My Answers


I receive a lot of questions through e-mail and various social media outlets wondering everything from where I bought something to how I did something to how I deal with something else.  Most of the time I answer those questions individually, but I thought I probably should answer a few more of those publicly to benefit everyone.  Plus, it gives me good blog material!  So, I thought I would share excerpts from an e-mail I received a few days ago.  A lovely lady named Tara sent me this…

“I have two sons, two dogs and a husband, all male.  I am overwhelmed with male-ish-ness. I love your interiors but they are. . . well, feminine. My sons are 12 and 15. I’m 40, my DH is 45 and after all the time and experiences under my belt, I have to ask – how do you keep your menfolk feeling comfortable and your interiors welcoming to them? The older my kids get, the more they. . . sprawl. Everything is bigger – the school bags, lunch bags, sports equipment, shoes and friends. They travel in a pack you know – I’ve decided that the collective noun for a group of boys is “an odour” – and their stuff is just so . . . everywhere.

And I’m not totally innocent. I have two horses. So add boots, barn coats, riding helmets and a fair bit of horse —- to that equation.

My challenge has been to find a way for my vision – peace, tranquility and a healthy hit of quirk – to live with their (okay fine, our) reality. Some people will tell you it takes discipline – put stuff away, clean up when you’re done – but I’m here to tell you that isn’t real life. I know you and your husband host a youth group at your house. Now imagine if all those kids never really went away. The reality is, you’d spend 95 per cent of your time chasing, nagging and end up doing a lot of it yourself – that’s real life. And who has time for that? 

I know your kids are small so you may have a little trouble envisioning what I’m talking about but I’m asking. . . how do YOU strike the balance and what are you planning to do when those sweet little boys turn into great big hairy-chested ruffians who raid the fridge, push the furniture to the walls for wrestling matches and sprawl all over your furniture while wearing their soccer cleats after a football game in the yard? And all of it with not-one-bit of malicious intent? Just a sort of general obliviousness. . . what happens, in short, when your life looks like mine?’

First of all, the way Tara describes her boys cracks me up.  We’ve worked with teenagers for over 10 years and have had many guys crash on our couch for the night, wrestle all over our furniture, and clean out a bunch of snacks.  The boys who live with me full time, though, are 5, 6 (almost 7) and 40, so I haven’t had to deal with the 24/7/365 testosterone that Tara is dealing with.  I’ll do my best to address her questions, though.

Here are the answers to the questions I picked out of Tara’s e-mail…

1. ) How do your boys feel about living in a home decorated in a feminine style?  

I actually asked my husband about this one and he said he doesn’t think it’s feminine, but homey.  Awww…love that guy.  He also said he sees my decorating as a style, “French country” and he likes that.  I think the key is balance.  I may have ruffled slipcover skirts on French cane chairs, but that’s balanced with a chunky farm table.

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I have a caned day bed in the family room that’s a bit more delicate, but that’s balanced with a sturdy comfortable sofa that’s positioned in front of the flat screen TV.  The chairs that we sit in all the time are comfy, sturdy and can handle the weight of big guys in our youth group and my dad, who’s about 6’3.

There was a time when I had several “decorative only chairs”, which is absurd, and I would cringe every time someone over 125 lbs sat in it.  Everyone else would be enjoying a conversation and I’d be fixated on the chair, certain it would give out at any moment.  I don’t do that anymore.

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The biggest thing for my husband is functionality.  If there’s decorative stuff all over his nightstand, he doesn’t like that.  If there are too many pillows on a chair or sofa and he can’t even sit on it, he doesn’t like that.  But his likes and dislikes aren’t an annoyance to me.  They make me a better designer and balance out my tendency to put form over function.

I think the blue and white color scheme, which is traditionally masculine, keeps the house from looking too girly.  And, I haven’t shown the boy’s room on the blog, because I haven’t worked on it, yet, but it’s very boyish.  I wouldn’t put ruffles and bows in their room.  I hope to “finish” their room in 2014.  My husband and I have some fun plans…

And, I will say, men as well as women compliment me on the decorating of our home, so I think that says something.


2.) How can you make a beautiful home functional?  

I talk about this a lot in my book.  An entire chapter is dedicated to it.  People of all ages come with a lot of stuff and the trick is to have a place for everything.  Right now my boys are really into Legos and they have a lot of them.  So, I have a big Empire dresser in our family room that is the “Lego dresser.”

All of the Legos are arranged in bins inside.  They aren’t all perfectly neat, but they are mostly organized and controlled.  We also have “creation boxes” in the lower kitchen cabinet to the right of the dresser.  This is where they keep their creations and building projects.

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We have “cubbies” in the built-in bench in the home office for shoes, backpacks, coats, etc.  We keep our weights and workout bands in the bottom of the antique white hutch.  You get the idea.  These systems need constant assessment and reworking.  Once the boys started school, the amount of paperwork they bring home is insane, so I often have papers sitting out on the counter, so I need to create a new system for that.  At some point their school gear is going to outgrow the cubbies, so I need to figure something out for that.  As my business has grown, so has the amount of tools, materials, equipment and work space I need, so I’ve had to rework some things to make that work better.

As I said, every season of life comes with stuff.  Babies have jump-a-roos and exer-saucers and pack-n-plays.  Kids have bikes and Legos and craft supplies.  Teenagers have sporting equipment and packs of friends and stinky shoes.  Adults have hobbies and collections and family pieces.  Aging parents have hover-rounds and lift chairs and adjustable beds.  You just have to find a way to work your decorating choices around the stuff and incorporate systems that work for your family.


3.) How can you keep things looking nice without being a total nag and cleaning machine all of the time?  

You can’t.  You have to give up that idea that everyone else’s house looks perfect 24 hours a day and you’re the only one who’s a messy failure.  I tidy up my house and push the school papers and super heros out of the way before I take pictures.  There are often dust bunnies, dirty toilets, stained slipcovers and sticky counter tops in my house.  You don’t want to see pictures of that, though!  Well, sometimes you do and I do show them, but you can go look at your own dirty toilet if you really have the hankering to view one of those.  Mine is just not that fun to photograph!  As with the stuff, every season of life comes with its messes from exploding diapers (yes, I went there) to chocolate milk face plants on furniture to spilled nail polish remover.

About a year ago, though, I learned that I needed to expect more from my kids when it comes to cleaning up after themselves.  I still tend to clean up for them, but I have to back away and make them do it, so they can be independent and so they can understand about stewardship and responsibility.  I also threw out the notion that I needed to allow my kids to wear muddy shoes in the house and drink grape juice over a white slipcover in order to be a “cool mom.”  I could have packed school snacks for a week with the amount of food I found in my sofa cushions!  I had to draw some boundaries, so we can all take good care of our home and so I wasn’t spending my life cleaning after everyone.

My husband and boys help out with chores, which takes stress off of me and it’s good for all of us to be invested in making our home a nice place to be.  I think moms/wives become naggy when we’re doing too much ourselves or we (or someone else) has too high of an expectation.  Again, I talk about this in my book, but I used to be really uptight about the perfection of my home and God had to change my heart when it came to that.  I was being selfish and demanding.  So, somewhere there’s a balance between anything-goes-cool-mom and vacuum-after-every-snack-put-that-away-before-you’re-even-done-with-it-and-don’t-even-breathe-on-my-furniture.  I think everyone has to find that sweet spot for themselves.

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4.) How can you make a home that stands up against the wear and tear of teenagers (or kids in general)?

I think you first have to accept the fact you have people in the house who are going to spill, scratch, break, tear, rip, stain, soil, chip, ding, dent and shatter stuff.  And you’re probably one of them!  Kids and teenagers tend to be more oblivious to that sort of thing, but you can teach them to be respectful of the things in your home.  My kids know (most of the time) where it’s okay to race, wrestle, declare a tickle war and set up a fort.  They know what’s okay for inside and what needs to be taken outside.  Well, they need some reminders, but they are pretty good with it.  So, I expect a certain level of respect to be shown to our home and things.

Even with kids who are mindful of that, accidents happen and we all have our careless or rebellious moments.  In my decorating, I use washable slipcovers, durable fabrics, furniture that won’t be “ruined” if it’s dinged, dented or scratched.  I also don’t have a bunch of things that are valuable and irreplaceable.  There are a lot of things I really like and a few things I would shed a tear over if they were damaged, but most things won’t be hurt in the slightest by a crack, stain or scratch.  Most things in my house already have those, so my boys just add a little more character.

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As I mentioned earlier, though, there are seasons of life that call for different concessions to be made.  A white slipcovered sofa worked fine until my kids hit pre-k and kindergarten.  Then they were coming home from school dirty from recess on the playground and flopped on my white slipcover.  It started getting really grungy.  I can wash it and it looks dirty two days later, which is frustrating, because it’s not easy to remove, wash and replace seven covers.  So, I’ve decided that the season of a white slipcovered family room sofa is coming to an end and I’m saving up for a brown leather sofa that can be wiped down.  I’m sure as my boys grow, I’ll have to make more changes.

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 This is just from my perspective obviously, and I know I have some clever readers out there who probably have some thoughts on the subject, so please feel free to chime in!

I think the key is finding a balance that works for your family and adapting it as things change.  I hope that helps, Tara!  Enjoy your boys and their odors and sprawling and bottomless stomachs.  That season will only last a few more years…


PS – I don’t have one single Christmas decoration up and the world is still turning.

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  1. Babs says says:

    Hey you “boy” gals, sit down and read this book – “Boys Should Be Boys”, 7 Secrets to Raising Healthy Sons by Meg Meeker, M.D. Unfortunately I just read this and my son is 19. There is insight and encouragement in Dr. Meeker’s words and a focus to what really matters. Dr. James Dobson’s book, “Brining Up Boys” is very good as well. Don’t give up, the smells, the sloppiness and noise does change over time. Remember you matter most to your boys regardless of how the house looks.

  2. Leslie says:

    You are just very cute and I so appreciate all you do and say… : )

  3. Hi. I’m Tara :-)

    I enjoyed reading the comments. My email to Marian was never intended to be critical – I’m mystified, not critical – and my sons (and their friends and the dogs and the horses and the rabbit. . . Did I mention the rabbit? There’s a rabbit – he’s a boy too) are wonderful. Truly. They are amazing and chaos is my constant. I don’t mind.

    I know this is my house too and the boys actually do have wonderful manners – I’d send them to the White House itself and suffer not one pang of concern (of course, being Canadian helps 😉 but they are BOYS and KIDS. I expect disaster. I expect it daily. Like I said, the boys never mean for it to happen it just does. Add more kids to the mix and it happens more often.

    I’m happiest when my children are around me. I’m thrilled when they bring their friends home to us. . . I think that’s a compliment. I think Marian is smart and makes the right choices for her family – they wouldn’t work here though and I’m realistic about what I could and couldn’t do in the context of the life we lead. I like to hear other peoples’ ideas because every once in a while, you hear something that is both inspirational and attainable – the holy grail.

    After reading all the comments, I think my lesson for today is “perspective is everything.” :-)

    Girls rule, boys drool! 😉

    • Maaike says:

      Um, Tara, I couldn’t help but wonder… are your horses geldings? 😉
      Marian and Tara – what a great post! I so enjoyed it, and all the comments too.

      • you guessed it!!! One 14 yo QH and one 12 yo Standardbred. Both rescues, both geldings and both teenagers!! Male teenagers EVERYWHERE.

  4. Three dogs, two active kids and a manly husband, the leather couch is THE best investment, cleans up best with Murphy’s Oil Soap, makes it soft too!!

    • A friend spotted a second-hand leather couch in good condition and called me right away thinking I would want it because of my kids. But my husband nixed the idea. It could be because he doesn’t like moving furniture, especially heavy sofas, but he honestly said he does not like leather furniture because he doesn’t like the feel and his experience is that they are sticky and sweaty when it’s hot.

      My big boys (both over 6’2″) have broken so many chairs, I finally bought some second-hand metal office chairs for them to sit in at the table. Looks kind of funky, but it works for now.

  5. Elva Fonseca says:

    Oh!!! You said it sooo perfectly! It spoke to my soul! I’m gonna read it to my family during our family committee meeting. You rock Miss Marian

  6. Elva Fonseca says:

    Also, may I add Tara’s question is very funny. She seems like a very spirited kind hearted person.

  7. I’m so proud of your boys! They are much better listeners than my twins.

  8. Loved reading this post…thanks, Marian, for keeping it real. Balance, perspective and just learning to relax is key. Don’t you hate the feeling you get when you walk into a “perfect” home?…it’s like nobody lives there. I grew up as one of eleven and it was always messy….but always warm, too. My mom was great at adapting and our house still had a lot of flair and style. Now she 80 and lives by herself in a condo. It’s so fun watching her try all those things she knew wouldn’t work earlier in life….and then switch it up and try something else!

  9. Oh my what a great post…and one I needed to read:-) Balance is the key, and what great tips for dealing with those issues. I’m so happy to hear that your house is not perfect all the time, because mine sure isn’t as hard as I try. I cannot help but laugh, though at getting a brown leather sofa. I had a white couch until I had children, then saved and got the brown leather, which I sold last fall. I then fell in love with a $50 white french sofa and replaced the brown leather what that–with a 7-year-old son, and 11 and 13 year-old girls:-) It sounds like your boys share a room. I’d love to see how you deal with that. My girls share, hate doing so and are in a really small room. Can’t wait to see what you all do.

  10. Jules says:

    It is so true every stage of life has its season – we are past the children-at-home stage and our only grand child lives too far away to be a factor in my decorating decisions. However, we recently bought a miniature schauzer puppy and is like going back to having toddlers again! She is very spoilte and sleeps on our bed. The gorgeous white and pale blue bedcover I bought thinking we were past having to worry about messy hands and feet has just been ruined by a puppy who loves to run straight from the garden to pa and mama’s bed! It can stay marked until we teach her some manners (or buy a baby gate – which ever comes first!) It is possible to have a beautiful home and a family who actively live in it. You just have to adjust your idea of beautiful! I try to ensure everything I have is functional and all furniture can be used. Washable slipcovers, leather upholstery, solid timber (which always looks better with a few dings in it) are the staples. Add frippery with (a few) pillows and throws, preferably washable. And enjoy your family. Trust me when they leave you will actually miss the mess and the noise. Really!!!

  11. Alice says:

    Hi! I’m a COW LOVER! Will you please share where you purchased your pictures?

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