Styling a beautiful home with kids can be…challenging. Muddy shoes, marker drawings on the wall, and food spilled everywhere are inevitabilities for families with littles, and pulling together a cohesive home look can come second to functionality. Kara Buckler is finding freedom in her design limitations (goodbye, lovely white couch) and making all her decor and furniture both functional and gorgeous. We asked Kara to tell us all her secrets when it comes to kid-friendly furniture, how an empty room became the center of her home, and what being an all-girl mom is really like.
You and your husband have been undertaking renovations on your home slowly over the last three years. What drew you to the house initially, and how did you decide on which projects to tackle first?
We first fell in love with the property, which is full of trees and set back from the street. The house itself had a quirky layout and was covered in 90’s wallpaper and green carpet, but I just had this feeling that we would raise our family here and make it our own. The funny part (that I will never live down) is that my husband, Tony, was out of town when I stumbled upon the house. I called him immediately and asked him if he trusted me. An offer was submitted the same day and then accepted in a matter of hours. This led to a dozen “what have I done!?” moments until Tony made his way back home and thankfully agreed that it was the one.
The wallpaper was the first to go with the help of family and friends. The first year, then, became all about getting the kid spaces and living areas situated, with much more emphasis on function over aesthetics. The kitchen was a DIY project in our second year, and a few other rooms have been slow transformations, as time permits. We still have a long way to go!
What was your biggest inspiration when deciding on your home decor? How are you turning your vision into reality?
I wish I could say that I was savvier about this… it’s trial and error, with a healthy dose of the latter. There is so much in the way of home design inspiration out there, especially on Instagram – Studio McGee, Em Henderson, Chris Loves Julia, Kismet House, Sunny Circle Studio, and Everygirl founders Alaina and Danielle are some of my favorites. I love the look of neutral homes, although my instinct is usually to play around with pattern and color. I have a long list of projects I am dying to tackle around the house, but in the meantime, we just try to make the most of what we have.
You like to be resourceful and use things you already own when furnishing your home. What are your favorite ways to repurpose home items for a fresh take?
I’ve reupholstered many chairs, ottomans, and sofas that have great lines but just need a little facelift. I’ve also had some luck refinishing hand-me-downs with a coat of paint and new hardware. My mother has instilled in me a love of thrifting and antiques, so I get a thrill out of treasure hunting and finding good deals.
What are your best tips for creating spaces for children (bedrooms and play areas) that are comfortable and calm, yet playful at the same time?
I try to take a cue from my kids and how they play. We have a lot of low tables and chairs around the house, mostly to encourage them to color and paint there and not on the walls (this strategy has not always worked)! Our playroom was set up as a very formal dining room when we moved in, but it’s amazing what a new light fixture and a fresh coat of paint can do. I think incorporating fun textiles and pillows are a simple way to mix things up in kid spaces, too, because you don’t need to spend an arm and a leg.
Your style seems to be a mix of fresh and functional. What are your favorite decorative pieces throughout your home?
We joke that Tony is the king of the function. He brings me back to reality when I pine for an item that doesn’t meet the practicality test (ex: white furniture). Kudos to the families who can do this! We just know enough about how we operate as a family of five to accept that certain pieces probably won’t work for us.
Where I can have the most fun is with art or antiques that are in spaces that won’t be bothered by the kids. I also love where we’ve been able to salvage older cabinets, dressers, and buffets and turn them into functional toy and book storage.
With three young girls around, it’s easy for gear and toys to overtake a home. Do you have a system for tidying up your home to control the spread of kid stuff?
Oh, how I wish. It’s a real challenge, and I’m guessing most parents can relate. We have a ton of decorative bins and baskets so that the kids can help contribute to the daily clean-up. I’ve recently relegated all of the knick-knacks to one bin in each of the girls’ bedrooms because little tiny objects slowly start to take over. We’ve also tried to get into a rhythm of a quarterly purge. If we let things go much longer, the task of reducing becomes too daunting.
One of your favorite rooms in the house remains largely unfurnished. Tell us about this space.
Yes, the navy room! It’s begging to be furnished, but I have not pulled the trigger. For whatever reason, the girls flock to that room and use it every day to spread out and build forts, have dance parties, and get into all sorts of shenanigans. Having an unfinished room drove me nuts at first, but I’ve come around to the idea that a happy home is not always a perfectly polished home. Honestly, a happy home is a hot mess sometimes. The kids bring a lot of joy (and chaos) so this room usually reflects real life. There will be a season in our lives when it won’t be taken over by forts, so I’m embracing it while it lasts.
As a family with two working parents, what are your best tips for making space in your busy lives for both career and family time?
I’ve learned that for us, family time doesn’t have to be extravagant – it’s just sitting down with the kids for a game night and playing 30 minutes of Uno, going for a hike, or having a meal together. If I’m traveling during the work week, I try to devote more time to the kids on the weekend. When Tony is busy, I pitch in more. We hardly ever strike the perfect balance (is there such a thing?) but we try not to sweat the small stuff and make it a point to laugh daily. If we can do that, it’s been a good day.
You’re the Director of Creative Services at the J.M. Smucker Company. Tell us about your work. What is your favorite part about your job?
I work with a team of creatives, designers, and agencies, and no two days are alike. It’s dynamic and challenging. I love my job, due in large part to the people around me. It’s also wonderful to work for a company that promotes flexibility and appreciates that family life and work life are more fluid these days.
How has your view of motherhood changed since becoming a mom?
I’ve realized that having a supportive partner, involved grandparents, great childcare, and a network of friends in a similar life stage is invaluable. I wake up grateful every morning for all of the above. I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for the moms who may not have the same support or resources. Everyone is out there just trying to do their best.
What are the most rewarding and challenging parts of being a parent?
The biggest challenge is juggling the everyday demands of life without feeling like I’m shortchanging one area or another. It can be easy to slip into survival mode and just plow through mile-long to-do lists when life is so full. Being mindful and staying present seems like a simple concept, but it’s one that I have had to practice, especially with the kids.
Most rewarding are the times when the girls demonstrate compassion and empathy – it assures me that we are doing OK as parents, even though at times it can feel uncertain.
When it comes to being a mom: what are you most insecure about and what are you most confident about?
Insecure: Discipline. Am I being a pushover or too strict? Always questioning.
Confident: That my kids are surrounded by a lot of love, and that we’re raising them with a consistent set of values.
If you could only pick one, what has been your favorite memory from motherhood so far?
There are so many precious little moments while the kids have been young where I’ve thought to myself “commit this to your memory…never forget this feeling!” because I’ve become increasingly aware (as my oldest two have entered school) of how fleeting it all is. I remember being piled on the bed in pajamas with all of the girls the day before I returned back to work from my third maternity leave feeling overwhelmed with gratitude. It’s hard to adequately express in a few words, but I think motherhood has a way of fine-tuning one’s perspective for the better. A day does not go by that I don’t thank my lucky stars for this life.
Kara Buckler is The Everymom…
Favorite family tradition? Searching for and chopping down a (too large) Christmas tree, Clark Griswold style.
Easy go-to family meal to prepare? Scrambled eggs. I’m a legitimately terrible cook – breakfast is the only thing I’ve mastered! Thankful for a partner who makes up for this deficiency.
Your dream vacation? Back to Greece with the whole family.
Last home item you splurged on? An oversized Emily Jeffords print.
Guilty pleasure? Tie between fast-food french fries and a dirty martini.
Most embarrassing mom moment? My center of gravity (and brain, for that matter) seemed more compromised during my third pregnancy…so I was peeling around the corner in heels, high-tailing it to a meeting when I tripped and wiped out in front of a floor full of coworkers. The baby was completely fine, but I was mortified.