At the end of the hall of April Mueller’s white-and-dark-wood home lies a Wes Anderson wonderland: the nursery of her three-year-old daughter, Windsor. April and her husband, Steve, poured tons of color and creativity into crafting this delightfully curated space for Winnie. Read on to learn about April’s creative inspiration, how she carves out date nights for her and Steve, and why she’s traveling cross-country with their little one:
Name: April Mueller
Current Title/Company: Vice President of Creative for ILLUME
Square Footage: 1,300
Rent or Own: Own
City/State: Minneapolis, MN
Children (number of children, names, ages): Windsor (Winnie), 3
What advice do you have for women who are trying to tap into their creative side?
I’m no expert, in fact, if someone has some advice on this topic, I’d take it! I think creativity can be intimidating. I grew up in a family of artists and I never saw myself in them. It took me a long time to figure out that creativity is a discipline — and simply — when performed something new and valuable is formed. You get to decide what the “value” is. My mom equates her art, and her desire for creating it, to the breath she takes. She is so in love with what it gives to her that if she can’t perform it, she feels as though she would die. I mean! Talk about #goals. Google “how to tap into your creative side” and it will give you a list of things to try. In my experience, all of those things are lovely things to do. But at the end of the day, you have to define what it means to you. My best advice is to throw expectation out the window and take a trial and error approach to discovery.
As the Vice President of Creative for ILLUME candles, a local candle design and manufacturer in Minnesota, how do you stay inspired in your everyday life?
It’s hard! I definitely fall victim to a lot of unhealthy habits and am not very good about “filling the tank” as they say. There are more days than I’d like to admit where I walk through the office doors without a lot to give. I LOVE my job and so much of myself is wrapped up in it so I give more than a healthy amount of myself to it. I also bring it all home with me and that’s not always the best situation for my family. So I easily burn out and try to stay clued into the hints from my body when it’s time to take it down a notch.
I don’t necessarily have a go-to solution to recharge or stay inspired, it’s more about making sure I’m stoking the embers. The building blocks have to be there, and for me, that’s making sure I have enough alone time to protect my introverted soul. Massage, exercise and energy work keep my autoimmune demons at bay. And quality time with friends helps sanity — that can mean simply scheduling a “session” over bacon and pancakes or taking a trip to see the sun and smell the desert sage.
How has your daughter inspired your work?
I tend to take myself pretty seriously. The best thing about being a mom is that my daughter forces me out of my comfort zone, personally and professionally. She has an incredible sense of humor and I love being silly with her. And the magic that all kids have — innocence + pure joy + wonder — continuously remind me to consider what really matters.
What’s your favorite part of raising your 3-year-old daughter, Winnie, in South Minneapolis? Are there any local places that you and your husband, Steve, like to bring her?
We love South Minnie and our Lake Nokomis vibe so much. It’s very chill and there are lots of family activity around the lake. We love riding our bikes to the beachside restaurant, Sand Castle, for weeknight dinners. Winnie always makes us stop at her favorite playground, Triangle Park, on our way home; and we usually run into her daycare bestie. We live close to a state park and I love that Winnie often challenges me to choose a hike over family movie night.
How do you make time to travel alone with Steve?
Steve is a teacher so our vacation schedule is closely tied to his school breaks. We are good about taking advantage of all of them and like to mix local road trips with longer domestic trips. Before we met, we both had traveled extensively abroad and Steve has done more domestic travel than I have. We have a travel bucket list that we’re diligently crossing destinations off. Destinations that are new to both of us take priority. We’re leaving in a few weeks for Vancouver, BC — a first for both of us.
While traveling with Steve, what’s your childcare situation with Winnie and how do you decide on it?
Our parents are angels. My parents love to have Winnie stay with them for days. They live on a large farm in Southeastern Minnesota and Winnie adores visiting them there. Our next trip falls at the same time my parents will be gone, so we’re utilizing my niece, Steve’s parents and my parents to cover childcare. Luckily, Winnie is easygoing and is excited to be with everyone.
When did you begin taking family trips with Winnie and what tips do you have for parents who are planning to travel with a young child?
Winnie was just short of 1 when we took her on her first trip. We were overwhelmed by the idea of an airplane so we decided to road trip to Columbus, Indiana to see some mid-century architecture. We stopped in Chicago to see her aunt and cousins and met some friends in Louisville. I was not sure how the long ride would go for her in her rear facing car-seat, so we planned for Steve to drive and for me to sit in back with her while she was awake. In preparation, I bought a bunch of age-appropriate toys and activities from Target’s Bullseyes Playground area and wrapped each individually. When she would get fussy, I’d hand her an item and she’d busy herself unwrapping it for a good amount of time and then she had something new to play with, too. I planned it out so she’d have something to unwrap every five hours or so. We built in enough time that we could make a lot of stops to stretch our legs. Having a mix of healthy snacks and treats kept us from having to rely on roadside fast food.
When we took her on her first plane ride, I considered all the things that I knew would be a hassle for us and researched solutions. One of the things I dislike about parenthood (and travel, actually) is carrying all the stuff. The best gadget we bought was a car seat push cart that attaches to a car seat and acts as a stroller. It’s quick and easy to assemble when getting on a plane. We packed all of our stuff into one large suitcase and checked it and each of us carried a slim backpack. We were prepared with sticker books, stamps, art supplies (something like this would be perfect) and toddler headphones, but she spent most of the flight time making new friends.
Where are some kid-friendly spots you’ve traveled with Winnie?
We haven’t taken any specific kid trips yet. We focus on destinations where there is fun for all of us and that is usually warm destinations where we can be outside and active. Winnie is a pretty adaptable kid so we don’t have to make too many unique considerations but I am hoping to take her on our spring break next year to a destination through Kid & Coe. We’re also looking forward to a long summer RV trip when she’s a bit older.
Why did you choose the colorful theme of Winnie’s nursery and what’s the significance behind the illustrations on the nursery wallpaper?
Winnie’s room is the only room in our house that has a lot of color. The rest of the house is white and black. It is not an aesthetic that I would want anywhere else, but it’s my favorite room in the house. There is so much nursery inspiration out there and when I was pregnant and planning her space, I was frustrated with the length of time it took me to gravitate towards something. Generally I am very decisive, but, in this case, I had never been so indecisive. I was too focused on what it should look like and ignoring my tried & true process of figuring out what it should feel like. I have distinct memories of my personal spaces growing up and certain objects or art that had an impact on me. I was imagining Winnie having a similar experience so I tried to focus on things of significance for Steve and I as well as our extended family.
I wanted to bring in things that told our story. A few of those things include a Hatch Show Print that Steve had bought during his touring days and a collection of globes I put together, inspired by Steve’s dad’s collection. My mom and I made clay sculptures of our favorite farm things — the dogs, the big red barn and a teepee in memory of my parent’s hippie days — and I made a mobile out of them. The wallpaper is custom, painted by one of the illustrators on my team at Illume. The subject matter is our dogs, Jackson and Ruby, and camping gear based on Steve and my love of the Boundary Waters. Also painted is a replica of the truck I owned until I got pregnant, a beloved 1987 Jeep Grand Wagoneer (Woody).
Now that you’ve finished the nursery, what do you wish you had known decorating-wise before creating it?
I wish I would have considered better storage. Originally, I had a handful of baskets to throw her little toys and stuffed animals in, but as she got older, her toys got bigger and her book inventory multiplied. There is only one shelf that is within her reach so we try to keep her favorite toys there and have managed the small footprint by rotating toys in and out and using storage bins under her bed. I wish her room was more user-friendly for her.
Do you have any tips on how to design a nursery that’s both comfortable and functional?
I think you have to consider how your family uses other spaces within your home. It sounds obvious, but we overlooked a few things in our space. Our house is small and there are rooms we tried to keep free of kid stuff and we found we rarely used those spaces. Since then, we’ve built in storage for a few toys and books so we can go back to enjoying our comfy couch by the fireplace.
With the large book collection in her nursery, what are your favorite children’s books to read to Winnie?
She loves We’re Going on a Bear Hunt and Finding Winnie. I loved reading her Wherever You Are and Little Owl’s Night when she was a baby. There are so many great books! For every present giving opportunity, she gets a book and I love researching age-appropriate reads. We also hit our local library every Saturday to replenish her supply. It keeps mom and dad from getting bored too!
How are you encouraging Winnie to use her imagination and why do you believe it’s important?
Winnie went through a phase of asking a lot of questions and I would get easily frustrated with answering the same question repeatedly. Steve suggested I answer with, “what do you think”? I realized that it was a great way for her to use her imagination and her answers are hilarious. I grew up in the country with one sibling who was quite a bit older, so I often felt like an only child. Most of my time was spent with the animals and alone outside talking to myself and making up stories. I loved to get lost in my own imagination. It feels like a good way to get to know yourself.
How did you transition Winnie to a toddler bed and what did the process look like?
She has been in a toddler bed for almost a year. She forced the issue by being in the 97th percentile for height. She outgrew her crib quickly and was able to climb out of it with the help of the nearby rocking chair. For us, all it took was asking her if she was ready for a big girl bed and letting her pick out her sheets. The transition was nice from a decor and function standpoint. We now read books in bed before she goes to sleep so we were able to remove the glider and we can store toys under the bed!
How are you preparing Winnie for preschool and what excites you the most about her starting school?
We decided to enroll her this spring on a part-time basis so she can familiarize herself with the place when the agendas are more relaxed. We’re hoping this sets her up for success when school and more disciplined activities begin. We need to work on our morning routine. Right now, we move at our own pace because the drop-off at our daycare is very flexible. We will have to be more disciplined to get there on time. When we talk about her day at daycare, we ask her what she imagines will be different at her new school. For the most part, she doesn’t really get it, but it’s fun to spark her imagination. Whenever we drive by her preschool, I talk to her about what she might expect there.
What do you struggle with as a mom and how are you overcoming it?
I worry so much about her safety that it keeps me up at night. I imagine horrific scenarios in some sick way of attempting to prepare myself should something happen. I KNOW it’s unproductive, unrealistic, and a mind game. I’m trying to overcome it with exercise and breath work. Wish me luck!
How do you divide parenting roles with Steve?
Steve is parent A. The patient one, the one who is never inconvenienced, the one who most often takes one for the team. I am the doomsday prepper and the fixer. I worry about everything and am the one she comes to when she’s hurt. I spend a lot of time preparing us for what’s (potentially) to come. Anything from putting life hammers in every storage area in our cars to sending Steve articles about raising a daughter. We want for Winnie, what all parents want for their kids — health and happiness. We know there are a lot of factors at play and we spend a good amount of time discussing it. We try to keep a balance where she gets dedicated time with each of us and we have traditions like Friday movie night and dinner at the kitchen table where we talk about our sunny and stormy parts of our day.
We try really hard to have each others back. We both try to have mutual respect for each other and realize that n of us has done this before and we’re trying our best. We haven’t had any disagreements about parenting Winnie yet. Sure, there are times where he’s taking an opportunity for a teaching moment and I just want to squeeze her and tell her she’s my baby and vice versa but we let the other take the lead and the message is mommy and daddy are a team. Winnie likes to tell us that the three of us are a team and therefore she should be included in the decision-making about things that directly impact her. (LOL)
When it comes to motherhood: what are you most insecure about and what are you most confident about?
I think my insecurities will come out when she starts going to school. I need to remember that she’s not me and our experiences aren’t the same. She’s curious and brave and social and I know she will love it. But I’m terrified of the moments where her heart or her spirit are injured and how heartbreaking that will be for both of us. I am confident that I will never love another human as much as I love that kid.
If you could only pick one, what has been your favorite memory from motherhood so far?
Oh man, one?! That’s tough. I immediately think of the first smile, first giggle, first time she said “momma”, the first time she said, “I love you, momma”. All the times I’ve come home to “IT’S MY MOMMA! MY MOMMA IS HOME! DADDY, MOMMA IS HOME”. I think my favorite memory is the day she was born. Because holy shit. I still struggle to articulate that transformative experience. How horrible it was. How fucking mind-blowing it was. How amazing it was when it was over and it was just the three of us in a big bed with the lights off, getting to know each other.
April Mueller is The Everymom…
I want to go back to England with my family for an extended period. I lived there for a while in college and nothing has my heart like that place. I don’t want to be rushed. I’ve been back a few times, but the idea of taking our time to experience all of my favorite places again makes me giddy with excitement. London, The Cotswolds, Lake District, Wales, Birmingham, Northumberland, Edinborough, and end it with having Christmas in the Scottish Highlands.
You can’t leave the home without?
For Winnie: Regular Bubba and back-up Bubba (identical bunnies from Manhattan Toy) For me: Sunglasses. Is there anything worse than a migraine from the sun?
Best way to end your day?
Winnie in a good mood and a giant squeeze family hug.
Venti hot chocolate, no whip.
Quickest family meal to make?
Chicken, zucchini, and prosciutto, an easy dinner recipe from Real Simple.