When you walk into the Hempel family’s gorgeous Boston farmhouse, you’re immediately met with classic light and bright design that also effortlessly incorporates mom Jackie’s laid-back California roots. But with a house built in 1879, updating and designing the ideal space for a modern family-of-five was no easy feat. From bringing the property’s original pine floors back to life and remodeling old bathrooms to creating a dream master suite and ensuring the 4,000-square-foot home was a safe space for their eldest son, Jackie touched nearly every inch of her stunning abode to make it, frankly, perfect.
Keep reading to find out why the Hempels cut the entire backside of their house off during a 2017 remodel, why the kitchen is Jackie’s favorite room, and how this mom-of-three found some of her best decor pieces on Etsy!
Name: Jackie Hempel, Stay at Home Momma and Blogger
Location: Wellesley, MA
Sq. Ft.: 4,000
Years Lived In: 4
Rent or Own: Own
Children: Cade, 5, Kai, 3, and Aubrey, 6 months
You’re originally from California but moved to Boston to get your masters in nutrition. That’s a huge move! Can you talk us through what the transition was like moving across the country?
I think we were very naive when we started that drive across the country. Boston is a very different place than laid-back San Diego. We had just gotten married, had just gotten back from a honeymoon we spent backpacking around the world, and then loaded up our little car (which we slept in) as we drove across the country. Those early weeks of being in a new city were about the most bewildering of my entire life. I was in a rigorous educational program, my hubby was trying desperately to find work in the middle of the 2008 recession, paying the bills was hard. We clung tightly to each other and started exploring. That helped it feel more like home, more familiar and exciting. There’s lovely there even in the hard and unsettling times.
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I love how charming Boston is! You and your husband decided to purchase your home there in 2015. What drew you to this house?
We had been living in our starter home in a nearby town — a tiny 1950s Cape Cod style with very low ceilings. My hubby would scrape his knuckles on the ceiling every night when he went to take off his shirt. So, his only wishlist item was higher ceilings, haha! By 2015, it was a buyers market, and we had put in three full-price offers on homes in this quaint Boston suburb — none had been accepted. But it was a very rough winter, the snowiest ever in Boston, and I really think this home was listed during the middle of all the snow, and people were still hibernating. I remember walking up to the front porch and immediately feeling that warm home feeling. Then, we walked inside this historical home from 1879, and I saw the original moldings, high ceilings, and gorgeous big windows. I was already remodeling it in my head. My hubby walked in and saw cracked plaster, choppy rooms, splintering wood floors, and smelled cat urine. We got back in the car and he said, “Phew, couldn’t wait to get out of there.” And I said, “Let’s buy it!” I’m apparently convincing because we did.
The home was built in 1879! That’s amazing! It was definitely in need of some love and attention when you moved in. What are some of the renovations and updates you have done to the house in the last 4 years?
We have literally touched every square inch of this sweet old home. Our first undertaking was having a wood floor refinisher come and give us a quote on getting the floors refinished. He took one look and said, “I’m sorry these aren’t salvageable, there’s barely any wood left to sand.” But to his credit, he got down in the heating vent and noticed what he thought might be another layer of wood floor. So, they started ripping up the floors having no idea what might be underneath. And what they found were the original pine floors from 1879 in perfect condition. They sanded them and stained them, and they are gloriously squeaky.
I was unknowingly pregnant with our second son when we put the offer in on this home. We like to joke we hit the ground remodeling because of that. Our next goal was to remodel the upstairs kids’ bathroom which, at the time, was the only really usable bathroom on the second floor. We pushed into one of the bedrooms to make it bigger and create a space for a hall closet. Storage in old homes is very limited. Downstairs, we gutted the family room and what is now the playroom, replaced all the windows in this old home, and then, I got to work painting the wood kitchen cabinets white to make it more my style. We knew this was a temporary fix and that in our not so distant future lay a larger, much more intensive remodel.
In fall 2017, our contractor and architect, Cutting Edge Homes, built a temporary wall down the middle of our home and then cut the backside of the house off. We lived through all of this. The foundation was not suitable to remodel on, so a new one needed to be laid. We did not add much square footage. The point of this last major renovation was to make it a safer, more livable home for our family. Our first son has bilateral, below-the-knee prosthetics, and I was adamant that the scary steep staircase be taken out and a new one built for safety reasons. This had the added benefit of opening up the family room to the kitchen and creating a space for an upstairs laundry room. They added a mudroom, powder room, and a large attached two or more car garage, and we got a master suite. It has been glorious.
How would you describe your design style? Has California influenced this at all?
I am definitely a California girl in a very New England place. That West Coast calm makes its way into every space I touch. I love incorporating coastal flair, layers of texture, neutrals, and ocean hues into each room. And windows — I have a love affair with windows. Boston gets so cold, and I miss being outside all the time. By putting big windows in, it automatically makes you feel more connected to the outside (without getting frostbite).
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Everything about your home is so lovely! Do you have a favorite room in the house? If so, why?
My kitchen! I poured my heart into designing this room and had a very clear vision for how I wanted it to look. I wanted a farmhouse sink nook with reclaimed wood beams and windows flanking the vintage-inspired range in a custom blue/grey color. I’m drawn to symmetry in spaces and love creating focal points. Calm, casual, a gathering spot paying honor to the history of the home — it really turned out even better than I had hoped.
Do you have any advice for using bold wallpaper prints?
Use them fearlessly! You can always take them down. They’re my go-to in kids spaces, and if you’re worried a pattern may take over the room, tone it down with batten board or wainscoting on the bottom half of the wall or use it on an accent wall.
Your home has the perfect blend of warmth and cozy along with clean and refreshing. How do you find this balance?
I think the use of textures in spaces are so important and often overlooked. Light wood and woven textures warm up a room like nothing else. Put a wood bowl on your counter filled with fruit, add baskets to built-ins, layer rugs with a larger, jute or sisal rug underneath. And my favorite: woven wood blinds! These add so much depth to a window and instantly add a finished look.
How do you keep the house clean and organized with two little boys running around?
I don’t. Haha! I do try to set them up for success by having their toys organized in bins and baskets in their own space, the playroom. We have very few toys in their actually bedrooms which has helped contain the mess. We have rules in place that they are responsible for picking up their spaces. Does it always work? No, but there is lovely in the mess. It’s home. It’s a livable place where their little imaginations are free to work and are celebrated. If that means they circle my entire downstairs in a train track I have to walk over for two days, then so be it. The important thing for me is that we always come back to a starting spot of clean and orderly. And we all participate in keeping it a home we feel inspired to be in.
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Can you walk us through the design concept for Aubrey’s nursery? What are some of your favorite pieces in the room?
When we got pregnant with our third, I was terrified to find out the gender. Terrified to feel disappointed if we had a third boy. I had always wanted a daughter, longed for that, and after walking through infertility, I felt like I shouldn’t have a preference because clearly my babies, any and all of them, were my biggest gifts. We did not find out the gender because I was trying so hard to work on my heart the whole pregnancy long and figured I’d rather see the babies’ face when we finally found out boy or girl. So, I did nothing to the room she would eventually call home. I created mostly boy design boards so that when inevitably “he” came home, I’d have a jump start on the design of the nursery. So, you can imagine the absolute shock of my life when Aubrey was born. A girl. Bring on the flowers. I reached out to Jolie Marche, a brand I had loved for a long time and asked if she could turn her floral block print pillow into a wallpaper. And she did, and it is one of my favorite pieces in her nursery. I also found a pink and blue vintage Turkish rug on Etsy which really pulled it all together. It wouldn’t be me if I didn’t add in a pretty blue into her nursery.
Your kitchen is actually goals! You found the perfect combination with the wood and gold hardware. Did you follow any design “rules” in this space?
Rules smules! I went with what I loved. A little fancy, a little modern, a little laid-back, and it all worked together. I reworked my design boards about a trillion times until I hit upon a combination of gold, grey, white, wood that didn’t allow any one thing to dominate. They needed to work together to create a space, to create flavor, that just had the feel, that feeling of home where you just want to linger. You know your design is finished when it creates that feeling. I did pay close attention to symmetry and really had the luxury of saying where I wanted the windows to go while working with the architect since it was a ground-up renovation. That pulls the space together and gives your eyes clear focal points and resting spots. All things in design you want to think about. And I do love the grey cabinets and gold hardware; it warms them up and looks just lovely.
You just finished redoing your master closet, and it looks great! Do you have any tips for organizing a closet?
Create a color palette and weave it through. For the master closet, we wanted the matte black to really flow through the design. We chose black matte closet rods, wood hangers with black metal, black metal hardware, and picture lights in that same matte black. It unifies the room and makes it so pleasing to the eye. Having all the same hanger really helped me organize better, and clearly, baskets are a girl’s best friend. Use two or three different kinds that all flow nicely with each other, i.e. same whitewashed rattan or wicker tone or the same basket yet in different sizes. They’re so functional and add to the lovely in the room. Having pretty labels on each of my baskets really made a huge difference. I had Little Lief Creative, an Etsy shop make me these pretty watercolor font labels.
Do you have a favorite DIY project so far?
It really is probably the closet. To save money, we asked our contractor to just leave us with an empty but finished room. This let us design how we wanted it to look. We used IKEA pieces and framed them in. My husband is the real star of this show, he did it all, and it looks SO good.
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What are your go-to places to shop for decor and furniture?
I love McGee and Co, HomeGoods or Homesense, and Target for accessories. I’ve also gotten several nice furniture pieces at Ethan Allen which have held up well to my crazy boys. And believe it or not, I LOVE Etsy. Vintage rugs, pretty antique paintings, knick-knacks — it’s a gem of home decor treasures.
What are some home design trends you’re loving right now?
The rattan and wicker is right up my alley. I love that reclaimed wood and shiplap walls are still big in the design world. And white — love the neutrals.
What’s your favorite holiday to decorate the house for?
Definitely Christmas time. Let’s face it: stairways just look better with garland. And at the darkest time of the year, that glow from a tree is just magical.
How do you and your husband share parenting roles and divide the responsibilities?
I’m blessed with a hands-on hubby. He doesn’t just do it to help me, he does it because he loves that time with his kiddos since he works hard away from the home to provide for us. From the beginning, he has always done the bath/bedtime routine. And now that our oldest is 5, he is getting to whip out some of his favorite books to read at night which he loves. I’m not sure how much our 5-year-old son is gleaning from The Chronicles of Narnia or Lord of the Rings, but he sure is one happy daddy to get to dive into something a little more complex than The Little Blue Truck. When it comes to parenting, we are a team. He supports me, and I support him, and our kiddos get in trouble if mom or dad says “no,” and they go to the other to try and get another answer. It is important to us that we teach respect, and that starts with how our kiddos interact with us.
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Cade, your oldest, was born with bilateral Fibular Hemimelia and now lives with below the knee prosthetics. As new parents at the time, what was going through your mind when you received the news? How did your family get through it?
We found out at the 12-week ultrasound. He was our miracle. We had tried for years to have a baby and ended up going all the way through IVF to have him. So, when the doctor looked at the screen turned to us and said, “I don’t think I see legs,” it felt very much like I was free-falling. Suddenly, instantly, there was an ache so wide in my heart I wondered how to breathe. Where is the lovely when you get hard news like that? I’d like to say my faith buoyed me, it eventually did but not at that moment. I’d like to say I confidently believed all would be OK. But rather I shut down. I lost my appetite. It felt like I just went into autopilot. I wavered between being convinced they were simply wrong and everything was going to be OK and deeply depressed and confused. How does a baby live well without legs? I stopped taking belly pictures of my bump each week. I stopped talking about the baby. I cried. But there is lovely there in the hard things too. Our church community and friends rallied around us. A friend brought me donuts because what dietitian can resist a good donut? And slowly I got my footing, slowly I started to believe I could handle whatever life threw at me, and slowly I got excited to welcome him.
How do the boys like having a little sister in the house now? Has the dynamic in the house changed at all?
It has! Suddenly, there are bows dotting the house, pink blankets everywhere, and two little boys trying hard to make her laugh. It has been the absolute joy of my heart to watch them love her, wildly and LOUDLY, haha.
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What are your favorite activities to do as a family?
We love being outside. Hiking trails and walking paths are always a favorite. Whether it’s a walk to the park or a walk in the forest, we try hard to get outside while the weather allows us.
How do your kids inspire you?
They inspire me daily with their gentle way of seeing life. They find lovely in things I would just miss completely. The other day, my little boy Kai, 3 years old and full of wild, came inside, fist tightly clenched, and said, “Momma, do you want to see what I found for you?” Now any momma knows, the clenched fist can elicit terror like nothing else… what is HE going to unleash in my home? Thankfully, he quickly followed with “Look at this ‘bootiful’ leaf I found for you,” and he handed me this diseased leaf from our front yard, all brown and green with weird circles on it. “Look at all the pweety colors and shapes?” He saw lovely where I would have missed it entirely apart from his pure little heart, lovely even in a diseased leaf. My kids inspire to see good and lovely in places in life I would miss entirely without them.
Jackie Hempel is The Everymom…
Go-to family meal to cook? Salmon patties! The kiddos love it, and it takes five minutes to pull together.
Home essential everyone needs? A really cozy blanket on the couch.
Ideal way to spend a Saturday? Pancakes for breakfast and a really good maple latte.
Self-care activity you love? A good bath with pretty music and a lit candle.
Favorite Instagram to follow? @monikahibbs
Most embarrassing mom fail? My husband likes to joke that I do everything the hard way. And Halloween isn’t an exception to that. The last few years I’ve insisted on making cute costumes. I know I know, crazy mom here. Well last year for Halloween, little Kai wanted to be a ghost. And I thought, “Bingo! Easiest costume ever.” So, I got this white cotton fabric and cut two eye holes for him, safety pinning it to his white shirt underneath. Well, the poor kid didn’t have to walk more than two steps before the eye holes shifted and he couldn’t see. In one short street alone, he ran into a light post, mailbox and tripped up some steps. Daddy ended up carrying him home. Mom fail. Needless to say, we have a date with Party City this year.