Eight may be enough for this mama, but her beautiful home wears it so well.
Come on inside...
When I come across a mom with a blended family of six girl children who helps run an art gallery with her husband, makes a lovely, creative home, and blogs about all of it, I immediately must find out everything I can about her. Below is my attempt to find out as much as I can about Tara Thayer, her busy life, and how she makes it all into a pretty family home. C'mon, check it out with me.
The view from the dining room through to the office; paintings by Tara's husband Tim.
Tara, tell us a little about your family and your home.
My husband Tim and I live in Tarrytown, New York, with our six daughters — some mine, some his, one ours — so we have three 13-year-olds, and the other girls are 11, 10, and 4. We bought our house from friends (who moved across the park from us). It’s a 1920’s foursquare, only about 1,100 square feet, with three bedrooms and one bathroom. It’s a tight squeeze for us all, but we completely adore our house.
How do you approach decorating in your home? What's the most important thing?
Well, we don’t have the room, money, or time for anything that doesn’t work or fit well. But we also couldn’t bear to have something we use and look at every day be unpleasing to us. Whether that means that it is beautiful, colorful, meaningful, or useful, we definitely need things to make us happy if they are going to be a part of our daily lives.
A corner of the home office where 4-year old Anna plays while her parents work
You have six daughters. How does their STUFF influence the look and feel of your home?
Well, you said it: stuff. Even though the big girls are way past toys, they seem to accumulate a tremendous amount of things; particularly books, journals, knickknacks, scarves, and shoes. Oh, can you imagine the number of shoes in this house?! So, just containing all of that in our very small house is a challenge, and one I have not yet met.
I’m a big believer in baskets. Somehow, if a pile of shoes or a dozen stray library books are stacked in a basket, it just doesn’t bother me as much.
Tara's mother's college-days Royal typewriter and Anna's toys underneath in a basket
For now, the girls give their dad a bathroom pass to the "Ladies" room
Also, we haven’t gotten many new toys for Anna (she’s four). We have the same blocks we had when her sisters were little (some of them were even Tim’s as a child, complete with his drawings on them!). We have a whole lot of soft toys handed down, too, and some nice wooden toys that we’ve gotten or bought as gifts for her. All of these are put away in baskets around the house, usually out of sight except for when she’s playing with them. We did invest in a nice wooden toy kitchen, which she plays with a lot and which fits nicely in our own kitchen.
Most of the evidence of the kids is mixed in with that of our own pursuits: Anna has her own desk with crayons and markers next to the dining room table where Tim sits with his India ink and works on his cartoon strip. We keep all of our musical instruments together in the living room, so there’s the xylophone and recorder next to Tim’s bongos and our guitars. And the artwork on our walls is as likely to be an original by the girls, as one by Tim, or an artist from the gallery.
Anna's desk in the dining room; every morning she and Tim work side by side on their drawings
Great design can be expensive. How do you get the most bang for your buck?
Textiles. I love vintage tablecloths and all sorts of tea towels and big square napkins. I use them everywhere: as table runners, placemats, pillow covers, and curtains, too.
My kitchen curtains are two tea towels hung on a rod with clips, so I can change them whenever I need something fresh. The ones I have now, I bought on Etsy from a woman in Denmark, and they’ve been hanging for over a year (maybe a record!). I love them that much. I’m in love with Scandinavian design, and so I’ve invested in a few Marimekko tea towels that I use on end tables and bookshelves and as runners in the dining room. Once a new or pristine cloth gets dirty, I just throw it in the wash, and it goes into the rotation as a regular old dish towel.
Dining room side table, with tea towel from Elisabeth Bentz; paintings by Tim.
In the kitchen, vintage tablecloth and tea towel curtains
Our other favorite items are ball jars and jelly jars of all sorts. Everything from gorgeous aqua blue vintage jars to run of the mill Bon Maman jelly jars — we use them every day. As the girls’ favorite drinking glasses, to hold flowers, for oatmeal and almonds in the cupboard, to gift some cookies to a friend. I can’t think of anything more perfectly simple and pretty than a jar with a ribbon and something thoughtful inside.
Tell us about the best deal you have gotten lately for your home.
We have really generous, talented, thoughtful friends. So many of the things around our house are gifts from them. Our new dining room table, a seven-foot farmhouse table that is my dream come true and just what we needed, is a gift from our friends. My friend Stephanie recently surprised me by giving me the one thing I most coveted from her vintage furniture store, and every time I look at it, I’m happy. I call that a good deal.
Dining room table — a gift from friends and just what the family of eight needed
The dining room table also doubles nicely as a homework spot
Tell us about one DIY project you have taken on recently and love.
My DIY efforts tend to run of the “moving the furniture around” variety, but Tim is remarkable — seems to me that he can build or fix just about anything. The problem is time. So, most recently, he’s ripped up the bad linoleum in our front hall to expose the old wood floor. He’s begun to scrape our garage to repaint. However, these are projects that usually get started and then left on hold for a while. I’ve just learned to accept it... (most days). He did build and hang a planter box on the front window for me last Mother’s Day, and that, I absolutely love.
The front entry hall and the unfinished floor (and just some of the shoes!)
Do you have a favorite decorative item in your home? Tell us about this item.
If I had to grab one thing in a fire, it would be the quilt in the living room. One rainy day last fall, when the kids had a day off of school, my friend Beth had us all over to her house to cut out and put together quilt squares as a project to keep everyone occupied and happy. She then did all the work to piece it together into an incredible work of art and gave it to us. We have it in our living room, and I don’t think I ever pass by it without being grateful for the creativity of our kids or the generosity of our friends. It is truly a symbol of the love and community we have here in our neighborhood.
The quilt the neighborhood made (with some little feet)
The living room chairs: the slipcovers and rugs can get tossed in the wash
You are a gallery owner. What household chore do you tend to back burner most so you can tend to your creative life?
Oh, definitely mopping the kitchen floor. With the number of feet that pass through there all day — not even just our kids, but the rest of the neighborhood, too — I really should be mopping it every night, but that just does not happen. On top of that, we painted the wood floor light blue, and I love it, but it really shows the dirt. Some days it’s pretty embarrassing, actually.
That said, I put the “freak” in “neat freak”, so people often wonder how the house stays so tidy with all of the kids around. But with the limited space we have, it’s essential that things get put in their place regularly, or we wouldn’t be able to move or think. And also, I couldn’t go to bed without cleaning up the kitchen. I just need to come downstairs in the morning to a fresh start.
Heart-shaped rocks collected in Maine, on the porch, the family's “second living room”
What is your most important everyday ritual at home?
I guess it would be cooking and eating dinner together, in some form or another. Whether we are two, five, or eight, we always cook something good, set a nice table, and enjoy the meal. Even when we’re all there — and it can get pretty loud, when the kids get going — once it’s all in place, it’s the best time to relax and connect.
At least once or twice a week, Tim and I will sit with the kids, but then eat later, just the two of us. I think time for the two of us is every bit as important as time spent all together. We really try to carve out some space for ourselves in the middle of this complicated family of ours.
Setting the table for eight: jelly jars and milk bottles
In your home, what is one indulgence you give into?
One? That’s hard. We spend most of our time at home, rarely travel or go out to dinner, so I guess our grocery budget would shock most people. We try to eat organically as much as possible, and perhaps that’s seen by some as an indulgence? But with all these girls we’re feeding, it’s just really important to us.
The others would be cut flowers for inside in the winter and plants for the garden. And wine. Always wine.
What are your favorite stores to shop for home?
Well, we don’t shop for furniture much, but every year or so we do an IKEA run for new slipcovers, new duvet covers for ours and the girls’ beds, new pillow covers, paper lamps, etc. It freshens up the whole house and you look at things with new eyes.
One daughter's new comforter and pillows from IKEA
Anna in Tara and Tim's room; they get a bed makeover every year from IKEA, too.
Framed photo by Abby Powell-Thompson
Also, our good friend owns a vintage furniture store called Pretty Funny that has the most amazing things. Most of my favorite items around our house come from her store.
What Home & Garden blogs or websites inspire you the most?
I’m a little addicted to Sneak Peeks on Design*Sponge. The 3191 blogs/books are so beautiful — although not strictly about home design. I love Stephanie and Maria’s sensibilities and the loveliness they convey in the simplest daily things. But what inspires me most are the pictures from my Flickr contacts. I love to see how other people live, little snippets of their homes and studios, their day-to-day lives.
Oh Tara, I am in complete awe of you and your tidy, creative home... Thank you so much for sharing it here with us.
Tara Thayer and her husband Tim own a small, contemporary art gallery Eyebuzz Fine Art in the Hudson Valley town of Tarrytown, NY, and have just published the first volume of a ‘zine called Public Bookstore. While Tim works daily at the gallery and as a freelance web and graphic designer, Tara stays home and obsessively cooks, makes school lunches, and does laundry, so that at the end of the day she and Tim can sit together and have a glass of wine and long meandering conversations. Tara takes lots of pictures and blogs about their gallery and life at Eyeblog.
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