Anita Yokota knows a thing or two about great home design – she’s an award-winning design blogger who is just as in love with gorgeous interiors as we are. Growing up poring over her architect dad’s design books and watching her mom paint with watercolors gave her a love of art in all its forms – her home is no exception.
Her California-cool-meets-modern elements make for an eclectic haven, and we’re hanging on her every piece of design advice. We sat down with Anita to talk our shared obsession with rugs, the impact of her previous career as a therapist, and all things design blogging.
Name: Anita Yokota, Interior Stylist
Location: Orange County, CA
Square Footage: 2100
Rent or Own?: Own
Children: Rachel, 12, Emily, 10, and Natalie, 4
What was your first job and what skills did you take away from it?
My first job was as an intern at a community counseling center. I was 23 and had just started graduate school for therapy. Without a doubt, my biggest takeaway was learning about the human psyche and what drives us to choose positive and negative behaviors. I quickly understood the importance of self-awareness and self-care. By the first year, I was pretty burned out because I didn’t take care of myself or honor my needs. I decided to start therapy to increase my own individual awareness. I also added some self-care routines, like working out at the gym and quality time with friends and family. I was amazed at how much more I could give back. Funny, now that I think about it, it’s the same with motherhood!
Tell us about your work as a therapist — what drew you to that career?
It’s in my nature and personality to give. I love helping others! My parents separated when I was 13, and that made a huge impact on my life. Thankfully, my mom was extremely astute and brought my sister and me to therapy for support. Then in college, I realized how much it helped shape me. So I wanted to help others in the same way. Sometimes we just need a safe zone to bear our souls. Other times, we need positive structure to re-organize our emotional life and relationships. Therapy provides both.
What should every mom know about therapy?
There can be a stigma about going into therapy yourself or for your children. My encouragement to others is seeing therapy as another tool for healthy living. If we get physically hurt, wouldn’t we seek help? It’s a no-brainer, right? It’s just as important to take care of ourselves and families inside out. And sometimes we just need a little nudge to help us seek change for the better.
How did you get from therapy to design blogging?
After having my third child, my emotional plate was full, to say the least! I instinctively knew that it wouldn’t be fair to myself, my family, or my patients if I went back to being a counselor. At the same time, I was continuing to help friends, acquaintances, and referrals design their homes. One day my sister encouraged me to start an Instagram account and share my home and passion for design. A year later, I started my blog so that I could share more details such as DIYs and in-depth design advice. Domino magazine named my blog best new design blog, and it’s continued to encourage me to lend a voice into the world of design.
What advice do you have for women looking to get into design blogging?
You have to be passionate about the topic you are committing to! It’s not easy to create content on a daily basis. In the beginning, there will be many times where your family time might be sacrificed in order to get things done on the blogging end. I am still trying to balance both.
Another piece of advice that was given to me by another blogger mom was to seek full-time childcare. I felt guilty the first year I started and my 3-year-old had preschool just twice a week. All she ended up doing was spending tons of time on the iPad while I worked, and she ate snacks as meals while I frantically tried to write and create content. It wasn’t healthy for either of us. So the next year I took the advice, and it was the best decision I ever made as a working mom! Natalie was thriving at school with healthy structure and social play. I could focus on work while she was gone and give back tons of positive attention to her when she came home.
A big part of your love for design comes from growing up reading your dad’s, an architect, design books — how do you appreciate and incorporate the architecture of the spaces you design now?
My dad admired modern design, mid-century vibes, and Scandinavian clean lines – all of which I encompass in my own style. So whether it is the mid-century chairs in my living room or the Scandinavian style dining room, it is all intentional. I love the fact that I was influenced by his style!
We love your obsession with rugs (because we, too, are obsessed, and we like the company). Tell us how you make a rug serve a room without taking it over?
A rug is the perfect answer to elevate or decompress any space. So depending on your intention, pick a rug that has more pattern and movement if your furniture is generally neutral. If your furniture already has bold colors, then take it down a notch with a textured, neutral rug. Frankly, the sofa and rug is the anchor of the room. So if you can balance tones and visual interest between the two, you are set!
Textiles and patterns can be scary for those of us who love our neutrals — what’s your advice for dipping into the world of texture and pattern?
I am so excited to talk about this with you because as much as I love colors, I am actually totally obsessed with minimalist neutral designs, too. I constantly have this push-pull internal design struggle. So the way I execute it in my designs is by making sure everything has a balance. Where I intentionally place a bold patterned rug, I make sure the pillows are muted tones with subtle complementing colors. Or I add neutral pillows or rugs with natural weaves or fibers. That is another wonderful way to add texture without going crazy.
What are your go-to shops and sites to get the pieces you’re looking for?
I love creating my home with high-low looks. Some items are worth saving, so I often peruse West Elm, Parachute Home, Article, and Anthropologie Home. However, I love using artisan brands for a curated look as well. It really is whatever strikes my aesthetic fancy. I love to add artisan vibes, such as ceramics or handmade goods from Etsy. And the local flea market is another favorite of mine to add an unexpected vintage look on a shelf, wall, or corner. For pillows, I don’t believe in spending $425 on a lumbar from a designer store. There are so many affordable yet equal quality options such as The Citizenry, Boho Pillows, and Mae Woven.
How would you generally describe your design style?
I am originally from the Pacific Northwest but also have spent half my life in sunny California. So my style is a blend of California cool with a healthy dose of Pacific Northwood influence of wood and metal elements, mid-century clean lines, and eclectic patterns. What would you call that? I am still not sure!
How did you and your husband land at the home you’re in now?
After the arrival of our second daughter, we ran out of room in a tiny townhome. We didn’t anticipate selling it so fast, though! After only five days on the market, it sold. So we decided to move into a two bedroom apartment and take our time. However, we were outbid time and time again on the houses we were interested in. Finally, after nine months of looking, we wondered if we should move back to my hometown of Seattle where most of my family is. As I was looking at preschools in Seattle, my husband emailed me pictures of our current home. We put in an offer, and it was accepted!
What was your original design concept for your home? How did it come to life?
Honestly, when we first moved in, I was just happy to have a roof over our heads! Our townhome had stark white walls so my goal was to paint the home a warm tone. At the time, yellows and golds paired with red accents were in. So I got my wish but quickly wanted grey because it was the new neutral. We kept it that way for a long time until I decided to go back to white, which was the best decision for our dark spaces.
What room in the house represents you best? Which was the most fun to design?
I think our guest room – aka The Desert Room – has been my most memorable project. It truly was the defining moment of my new design adventure. We had just come back from Joshua Tree and the magical desert vibes invigorated my senses. So I decided to bring the desert in with the DIY branch wall and cool desert tones. Once the room was finished, I felt I truly accomplished my design goal. It really encouraged me to take more chances to think outside the box in my home!
How has living in California influenced your design style, if at all?
Living in California has 100% influenced how I style my home and other homes. I love the minimalism and how the light influences every aspect of the interior. Growing up in gloomy Seattle meant that I was the biggest sun worshipper ever. Even at 56 degrees, if the sun was peeking out, I was in shorts ready to soak up the rays. The sun and ocean have been an inspiration that reflects into my designs.
Designing a lovely space with three little ones isn’t an easy feat — where do you find a compromise of functionality and style?
Having three little ones definitely tested my aesthetic sense! You simply couldn’t ignore the high chair in the corner, the jumper in front of the fireplace, and the playpen by the sofa. But, I did try to be very intentional about what kind of baby gear I bought. For the most part, they were more modern and in line with our home look. These days there are so many great brands and products that are well designed. Sometimes, though, you just have to make the sacrifice and buy the bright, primary-colored jumper because your baby is so happy in it and can sit nicely playing for a whole 10 minutes.
What was growing up a second-generation Asian American like? How are you teaching your kids about their heritage?
My younger sister and I grew up in a school where there were very few Asians. So we definitely were met with some challenges. As I grew older, I was very cognizant of a dual identity. At school, I was full-on, white bread American, but at home, naturally, we tried to speak Mandarin mixed with English to our grandma and parents. My parents worked really hard and were still assimilating themselves. Often times, we would go to lunch with weird sandwiches like peanut butter and lettuce. We didn’t have cute lunch notes that some of the other kids got. I did feel a bit left out in those moments.
It wasn’t until college I fully embraced my Asian-American heritage and found a wonderful balance of both. It was a liberating and proud moment. My kids are half Chinese and half Japanese-American. So now we have an added dynamic to teach them. The beauty of this era is that there is so much more education and tolerance on race. I find my children so much more confident and open to diversity. It really is a wonderful thing. At home, we emphasize our Asian heritage (such as food!) and values that are important, but it is always partnered with the fact that we were born in the U.S. and we are also American at heart.
Walk us through your typical day.
Two words: COFFEE FIRST. I cannot function without that! Then, I make the lunches, get the girls’ school stuff ready for the day. After that, it’s time for school drop off. I come back home and start my day. This often includes answering a myriad of emails from clients, blogging partnerships, and kids/family tasks. Then you will find me writing for the blog, styling, and taking photos of my home for new content. If I am working on a design project, I would be documenting that too! By afternoon it is time to pick up the kids, take them to afternoon activities, make dinner, bedtime, and then I have a little me time with Netflix. But usually, that doesn’t last too long because I doze off 20 minutes in.
In addition, I have been traveling more for work lately, and it has been exciting but also a new challenge as a working mom. I am grateful for my husband, Travis, who supports me 100% and who does such a great job of taking care of the girls while I am gone.
How do you and your husband divide parenting roles? How has your relationship changed throughout your marriage and parenthood?
It certainly has been a journey for the two of us. A trial by fire of sorts. We grew up in two contrasting parenting style homes. So obviously, with our first child, it challenged how we worked as a team. Over time, we honored each other’s strengths, respected the separate relationship we have with each child, and understood the importance of being on the same page so the kids knew mommy and daddy are a united front. Our relationship has definitely shifted focus from a selfish perspective on ourselves to giving each other a lot of tolerance due to sheer exhaustion of working and parenting with little to no breaks! But it took many years to finally get to a place of where we can do that. And just when we think we got it, something new happens and we are on another new chapter together. For example, our oldest started junior high this year. Talk about a new frontier of parenting together!
How has your view of motherhood changed since becoming a mom and with each new addition to your family?
It absolutely has evolved and changed for the better. With my first daughter, I was hyper-focused on being the best mom possible, and often times I thought that meant being perfect. Even though I didn’t consciously think it, looking back, that was my goal. As you know, there is no such thing as perfect! So there were a lot of personal struggles and postpartum depression.
With the second child, I got wiser about what really mattered. I learned that I needed to take care of myself by eating well and getting enough sleep. I also was more experienced at the newborn baby stuff. I definitely learned lessons from the first time and applied them to the second.
There is a large gap with my third child. It has been interesting to observe myself this time around. I truly am learning and applying a flexible approach to motherhood. I apply what I have learned in some instances and just go with the flow in others! But it couldn’t have happened without learning from the other two.
When it comes to motherhood, what are you confident in? Insecure about?
I feel that I was meant to have girls and to raise my daughters as empowered, strong, and empathic young women. Maybe it’s because I come from a long line of strong female figures and that’s why that aspect feels so natural.
My insecurity would be about teaching my oldest daughter how to be an introvert yet strive for socially flexibility and balance. I am definitely 100% extroverted. So when she needs down time and isn’t as social, I get anxious. But after reading some books and talking to friends who are introverts (including Travis!), I am beginning to understand her so much more.
Favorite motherhood moment so far? (We know, it’s so hard to pick just one!)
Oh, there are so many, you are right! My all-time favorite motherhood moment so far is when all three girls (even my all-too-cool-for-it tween) climb into my bed at bedtime and we just cuddle, giggle, and share a few moments to connect at the end of the day. It starts with the youngest wanting to sleep with me, then the other two follow, and it’s the best feeling ever.
Anita Yokota is the Everymom…
Design trend you love? I’m obsessed with the black trend right now! I especially love the Crittal style steel black framed windows, showers, and doors in beautiful California casual homes.
Design trend you wish would go out of style ASAP: Please don’t hate me but I am not a huge fan of Terrazzo tile. I am kind of weird about chunky looks in porous surfaces. Even when granite was in, I kind of had an aversion to the big patterns. I like countertops and tiles to be clean, neutral, and minimal.
Go-to self-care practice? I live for music because it’s an instant gratification tool. I have the Spotify app on my phone. I find music that uplifts my mood and calms me. A close second is aromatherapy. I use the aromatherapy rub-on sticks for your wrists and temples. Lavender is a go-to for me. Because of my anxiety, these are super quick ways to give me an instant pick me up. I also try to self-soothe and talk to myself with positive messages. As cheesy as it sounds, psychologically speaking, it is essential to blocking out your inner critical voice.
Favorite place to go out to eat in Orange County? Ughs! I am the ultimate foodie so to narrow down one choice is so hard! I am obsessed with sushi. My fave place to go is Honda-ya in Tustin.
Guilty pleasure TV show? Queer Eye and Nailed It!
Most embarrassing motherhood moment? I have run the gamut of mommy moments from wearing clothes inside out, leaving car keys in the freezer, forgetting to put underwear on my youngest kid and bringing them to school in a dress! Eek!
But the most recent might take the cake for #mommybrain awards. For about a week and a half, I thought the selfie part of my iPhone was broken. It was super blurry no matter how much I cleaned the camera lens. I lectured my girls about breaking my phone and finally my 9-year-old asked to see it. With her shirt sleeve, she cleans the camera on the FRONT of the phone and voila, my pics were clear again. I completely forgot if you want to take a picture of yourself, the camera should be IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE.