Living With Kids: Jen Zerrer
I’m delighted to introduce you to Jen and her family. They live in beautiful Southern California, in a home that she and her husband completely remodeled. Now it is full of light and full of charm. What makes it even more unique is that Jen, who is a children’s clothing designer, added a showroom on the property to showcase and preview her new clothing collections.
Come take a peek and say hello to Jen!
Hello! I am Jen and I live here with my husband Tony, and our kids, Brady Joseph (12,) Isabella Rose (10,) and Presley Hudson (5.) Plus, our two rescue dogs, Bloom and Romeo. Tony is a middle school math teacher. I stay at home and design a line of clothing for kids called SheBloom. I also help run a concrete construction company that my dad founded 20 years ago called Belmar. My brother and I took over that business 2 years ago.
Tony and I are both from San Clemente, California, our hometown. Tony was born and raised there, and I moved to the area from New York when I was 14. We attended junior high and high school together, but didn’t really know each other despite having a Physics class together. Tony is always quick to remind me that he remembers staring at my long, wild curly brown hair during class. I sat in front of him (with my maiden last name as Bellantonio) and he was in the back (with a last name of Zerrer.) We connected after college while frequenting the same beach.
Our kids are our greatest blessing and teach us so much every day. My oldest, Brady, loves to sew, build Legos and create costumes. My youngest, Presley, is very passionate and curious and reminds me so much of my dad, with his zest for all construction trucks, tools and bugs. Isabella, who we call “Bella,” is the glue for my boys, with her kind heart and gentle, constant guidance. As a toddler, she used to sit through all of Brady’s speech classes and help him pronounce words in the car.
San Clemente is a small coastal town about 1 hour south of Los Angeles and 1 hour north of San Diego. It is known as the Spanish Village by the Sea and was founded by Ole Hanson in the 1920s. The town, with about 68,000 residents, has a lot of passionate people who love living there. Many of us grew up in the area and have come back to raise our kids.
Over the years, San Clemente has grown, with many new residential and commercial developments popping up. We live in the “old” part of town, which is a gem of an area called Southwest San Clemente. Our house is walking distance to a popular beach known as T-Street, the San Clemente pier and Avenida Del Mar, which is the town’s main hub, with an eclectic mix of restaurants and clothing boutiques.
Most of the beach homes in the area range from $800,000 to several million. Our neighborhood friends are also our children’s doctors, teachers, dentist and our dogs’ veterinarian.
We love walking down our hill to the beach trail, where you’ll find neighbors out for power walks or jogging with their dogs. People jet around town on their golf carts, even more so lately to avoid ever-increasing traffic, which is about the only bummer in town. As San Clemente’s popularity has grown, so has the gridlock.
I spotted our current house while walking the neighborhood in search of “For Sale” signs. Word of mouth is the best way to get a house in SW San Clemente, since many homes sell before they hit the market even during a down economy.
This 1,800-square-foot beach cottage was built in 1950, had curb appeal — with a giant old Olive tree in the front yard, wood pane windows, and a small, private backyard. But it was a complete disaster. The floor boards were rotted. There were foundation and plumbing problems, outdated bathrooms and kitchen, and a random 6-foot drop down to a sunken dining room.
Plus, we needed to sell another house we owned in nearby San Juan Capistrano first, and houses there weren’t selling very fast because of a housing market crash occurring at that time. So, we slashed the price, sold it and quickly nabbed this major fixer upper.
I was thrilled. Despite all the work it needed, the house had an inviting feel, with vintage louvre shutter closet doors and old architectural woodworking details. Tony was downright frightened. The magnitude of the remodel scared him. But luckily my dad, who was a general contractor, guided us on fixing it. I would design the rooms and he would orchestrate the logistics with help from my husband and father in law. It was a juggling act. At that time, we had two toddlers and baby No. 3 on the way — news we found out the day we got the keys to move in.
I like to think our rescue dogs somehow found us, after our first dog, Ruby, passed away. She was a black lab/boxer stray I got when Tony and I were dating. She made us laugh for 15 years and I was devastated when she got a mouth tumor and passed away. A few months later, I wanted to get another dog and introduce my kids to the idea of helping animals that had no home. We checked with a local rescue group for labs, and they had just received about 10 puppies that had been abandoned in the desert. They were mixed breeds and we chose two, despite everyone telling me I was crazy for bringing home two 8-week old puppies when I had three small kids.
They were right: it was absolute chaos with major potty accidents and a lot of chewed molding. But they’ve grown on us. We first picked Romeo, a name my kids chose because they said he was so loving and helped heal our broken hearts. Then, a week later, we got his sister, Bloom, who we named after my business SheBloom.
I needed to find a happy escape at the time. My daughter was just born, and my oldest son Brady was two and he was having a very hard time speaking and understanding anything that was said to him. We visited numerous specialists and no one knew what was wrong. We were told he may never talk, may never read or never hear right. It was extremely stressful. We did not know what to do. At some point, I decided to stop listening to all the doom and “don’t knows” and do something positive with all the energy.
I went back to one of the things I’ve always loved, flowers, and started making hats and headbands with big flowers on them for my daughter. The creative process was therapeutic and I enjoyed taking pictures of her wearing them. People kept asking me to make them some too.
One day I put my son and daughter in the stroller and went to a local children’s boutique and pitched the idea of selling them there. The store said no. So, I packed up my box of hats, walked across the street to another store and gave another pitch. They loved the hats and I began selling them there to help pay for speech and occupational therapy for Brady. My mom, who is really creative, helped me when it got busy.
We called the company SheBloom. I wanted it to reflect the unlimited possibilities and beauty blooming inside of all kids. I started with baby girl items because I am obsessed with ruffles. I knew I could make the accessories and I had my sweet daughter as my little model. Tony helped me with the tech side of things: launching my Website, installing design software, photography, making catalogs and graphics.
Now, SheBloom is a full line of clothing and accessories for girls aged newborn to 10 years old. It is sold online and in 100 or so children’s stores throughout the country. I design it, choose the fabrics, source all the materials and have it made here in California. I involve my kids in as much as I can, taking them to sewing classes, letting them help me box and pick patterns and colors. Clothing design and manufacturing was completely new to me, but seeing how a business worked wasn’t.
I grew up watching my dad run his construction company. As a little girl, I played with the typewriter in our basement home office, pretending I was his secretary. During my college years, I studied journalism and English, and after school I’d help my dad with his billing, payroll and insurance. When I graduated, I worked as a business reporter covering apparel and retail companies in Orange County, CA and I did that for 16 years. I loved talking to entrepreneurs about their ideas and how they grew their companies. After I started having kids I decided to stay home and freelance.
When I worked as a reporter, my days were long but I was able to leave work and disconnect. With running my own business, it’s harder to disconnect. It’s hard to keep things balanced because it always seems that I have another idea I want to implement. And those ideas don’t stop even when I sleep. It’s also critical to plan well on everything: from cash flow, to available fabrics, to design trends, because my family’s living directly depends on how well my business is run. Some weeks there is no paycheck and it’s important that we try to save along the way.
My dad always told me that no one watches your business better than you do so if you want to make sure things are running right you’ve got to be there. He certainly was that way with his company and I find the same to be true. Me, my husband, and my contract sewer, work hard to make sure all the details are done right — and even still, mistakes happen. The moms that buy our clothes often are getting them for special events, like a baby shower, family pictures, parties or the first day of school. We want them to love the pieces and keep them to pass on to a friend or another sibling.
I’m also trying to talk to our customers more, both retail and wholesale, and find out what they want and how we can do better. I love the ideas kids bring, and all their energy. Some of our hardest but most exciting days are our photoshoots for new products. You have a bunch of kids running around, while we are trying to quickly photograph and check fits on styles. Kids are honest: if it doesn’t fit or the fabrics itch, you’ll know about it. It’s definitely an exciting rush. Our daughter is still modeling for us too, which we love.
Plus, I always tell the mommas and kids to just have fun and to not worry about staining the clothes or getting the “perfect” shot. We want them to feel comfortable and confidant, and many times the unexpected and unplanned make for the best moments.
One day I would love to have a SheBloom lifestyle store for moms, kids and vintage finds. Until then, I’ve set up two areas around our property where I have moms over to shop and stores over to preview the newest lines. We converted a portion of our grungy old garage into a showroom/sewing work room, with white washed laminate wood floors, a long farm table and chandelier. I wanted to make a light, bright, fun place to work and mingle.
Plus, it was a way for me to contain the clothes and fabric to one area, instead of things being strewn about my living room and across the dining table. We also created a small structure, called the SheBloom Shed, outside in the backyard. It was the last project my dad and I designed together, and, because of that I love it even more. I collected old arched church windows (that still open and close) and some painted weathered-wood doors and basically designed everything around them. I left the floor concrete and the wood walls unfinished and sprayed it white. Inside, I experiment with SheBloom clothing displays, and have a sewing table, where my kids sneak outside to sew. It’s been a great space.
I want my kids to love being home, and always remember that. I want it to be a place where they feel calm, nurtured and can retreat. When my oldest was little, he couldn’t verbalize what he loved most about home. He’s now very articulate and can recall his “special spot” at age 4: a dirt patch near the trees where he played with his action figures. I want to continue creating those special areas as my kids grow and their needs change. They love systems. And they often help me create their own so they have a place to put things to cut down on clutter, or to make a giant mess without worry.
I also want them to see our home as a place of compromise. Give-and-take conversations routinely play out, particularly when I drag home yet another piece of chipped, white-painted furniture and ask Tony to help me haul it from the car and wrestle it into the house.
My favorite thing about living with my kids is watching them live in the moment and truly seize the day. They’re naturally curious and want to try everything. Brady was obsessed with Spiderman as a toddler and would wear his spandex nylon costume around all day and night. It grew skintight and he still had it on, posing for the neighbors on the front porch like an action figure. I already miss those days.
I try not to hold back their creativity. And, typically, I find that as long as they complete a project and then clean up before jumping to the next thing, everything works out. That applies to even gooey projects, like slime, that my daughter is now making for birthday gifts with food coloring and glue.
I also don’t shy away from décor in our house because I worry things might break or get dirty.
I love white, it’s soothing to me with all the hustle and bustle of the day. Actually, our entire house is mainly shades of white, with natural wood and fresh flowers for color. I try not to agonize over keeping it spotless, though I admit sometimes it’s hard. Some days, I let the dogs clean up the crumbs on the floor. If a table gets marked up with markers, I slap another coat of white paint over it. It’s perfectly imperfect and that’s OK. I can live with that more than constantly grumbling at the kids for keeping stuff clean, then feeling guilty about it later.
I wish someone had told me that it’s good to have a schedule and it’s good to break that schedule. My kids love knowing what to expect next. It gives them something to look forward to and puts a comforting predictability to the day. But at the same time, it’s invigorating to do something unexpected, plan a trip last minute, switch up the walks or the projects. It teaches them to go with the flow and be flexible, which is hard for even adults to do.
It’s also a good reminder to me that schedules can be different for every family and person. They don’t have to look the same. That really hit home for me when my oldest son was young because there was a lot of pressure on us to have him fit the development chart for a typical toddler. It was agony when scheduled benchmarks came and went and he didn’t hit them or was late. I regrettably wasted too much time fretting about the next benchmark instead of just enjoying being with him.
Flash forward and guess what? Many of those scheduled benchmarks he eventually achieved in his own time and he continues to grow and prosper. Though he remains on his own timeline. The same can be said for all kids who seem to create their own growth schedule. Sometimes it does us all good to stop watching the clock and checking the schedule because we’re missing out on the little pieces of happiness in front of us.
Jen’s words and the pictures of her lovely home really show you what kind of person she is. So full of love and warmth. I was really hit by what Jen said about schedules and time tables, and that they are different for everyone. That’s such great parenting advice! So much of parenting is worrying about what you SHOULD be doing. We should be spending less times on screens, we should be eating more organic, we should be volunteering more at the school. And really I think most of us are just doing the best we can with what we’ve got. And I think it’s clear that Jen has embraced going with the ebb and flow of her life.
Do you have things you’ve worried about as a parent that have worked themselves out in the end? Are there timetables and schedules you felt like you “should” stick to that you finally let go? Or are there things you are still holding onto that you feel like you should be doing?
Lot’s of Jen’s furniture was purchased here.
Chandeliers in Bella’s room. (Other’s throughout the house are the Schonbek brand on the same website.)
Duvet covers from Ikea.
Pillows in the living room.
Metal Flower Buckets in the living room.
You can see more of Jen’s clothing designs here and follow her on Instagram. Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram. Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! Reach out at email@example.com.