Living With Kids: Marianne Brown
Bright white walls, big windows, and carefully chosen art, furniture and accessories. There really isn’t anything NOT to love about today’s Living With Kids home. Marianne is an interior designer and a talented one at that. I can’t wait for you to peek around the home and see Marianne’s thoughtfully curated collections. Welcome, Marianne!
We are the Brown family! My name is Marianne (Ickes) and my husband is Jonathan. We have 3 darling girls, ages 9, 6, and 2. We are both born and bred in Salt Lake City, Utah. Jon and I went to different high schools, about 15 minutes away from each other. We met the summer after we graduated high school when he started dating one of my really good friends, and soon after I started dating one of his good friends.
Jon then left on an LDS (Mormon) Mission to Brazil for 2 years, and shortly after he returned from his mission I needed a date to a sorority dance at the University of Utah and asked him. I asked him because I thought he was funny and he would be one of the only guys who would actually dance. I didn’t think beyond anything more than friends but we hit it off so well — we kissed that night and the rest is history. Marrying someone I was friends with first has turned out great; we genuinely like each other first and the attraction and romance came after. I know it’s cliché, but marrying Jon was the best decision I have ever made.
Our oldest daughter is the perfect child to learn how to be a parent with. She is kind, considerate, gentle, and loving. She loves to play with friends and doesn’t have a mean bone in her body. She’s stubborn like her mom and wants to be playing 24/7 like her dad. She has a beautiful voice and is taking voice and guitar lessons (but no, she is not a Taylor Swift fan — gasp!). She runs on all fours like a cheetah and is active and full of energy.
Our middle daughter came unexpectedly and thank goodness she did! She has made life so much fun. She has a great sense of humor and an endearing personality. Everyone who knows her, loves her and knows she is one-of-a-kind. She’s unique and creative and smart, and the spice of our family. She is our sponge — she soaks up a lot of energy and time but when you squeeze her she gives it right back.
Our youngest is a total combination of her two older sisters. She is sweet and kind and funny and has some spunk in her. She is 2 so of course everything she does is the cutest thing ever and I want to film her all the time so I don’t forget her little voice and mannerisms at this age. I think every parent wants to freeze their kids at 2, right? (Now 3? 4? Let’s fast forward that age!) She makes us smile and I love coming home to her because she gets so excited to see me and gives me the most enthusiastic greeting a 2 year old could give.
We live in a suburb of Salt Lake City, called Holladay. I grew up in Holladay and I pretty much want to die here too (while spending my winters in California :). Holladay is the perfect balance — it’s 15 minutes away from downtown Salt Lake, 20-45 minutes from 8 ski resorts and gorgeous mountains, but it also feels like a small town you might find in a rural area.
We have a city center with all local markets, shops, and restaurants, (and my design office). No big box stores and I love it. I can walk from my house to the grocery store, post office, and restaurants. And we have a great Food Truck park during the summer. There is a strong sense of community here, and I think that’s why I can’t leave. I really value human connection and community and Holladay feeds that part of me in a way I don’t think any other city nearby could.
The only downside to Holladay is that it is, and getting more so, expensive. Especially in comparison to Utah incomes. It’s almost unheard of to build or buy a new home (4,000 s.f. and up) for under $1 million in Holladay today. In some neighborhoods a half acre goes for $800,000. But there are some more affordable neighborhoods, and a lot of people who have lived here their whole lives, so there is still some income diversity.
Jon works in real estate and has his license so we are always looking to see what houses are for sale, but after we had our first daughter in 2008 we started looking more seriously for a new home. Because we both grew up in Salt Lake we were very picky about what neighborhoods we wanted to live in. I mean REALLY picky. I think the better you know and understand a city or area, the harder it can be settling on a place because you almost know too much.
I have friends I grew up with that never want to move back to Holladay because they don’t like the idea of running into people you know from your childhood on a regular basis, whereas I love that. And I wouldn’t move to certain areas because I don’t like that there is a high concentration of people my age, where everyone has 2 + kids and it feels homogenous, but they really like that. To each their own!
Once we narrowed what areas we wanted to live in, finding the right home was a challenge. If the home was remodeled I almost never liked the way it was finished and didn’t want to pay for a new kitchen that I didn’t love. Other homes needed remodeling and were intimidating to take on. But after looking for a year or so we came to the conclusion that we had to buy a home that needed to be remodeled because we had a definite style that we liked and it just didn’t exist in the homes that were available. We would need to do it ourselves. All in all it took us 2 years of looking every day to find our current home.
We bought our home in 2010 when the market was still recovering from the collapse of 2008. The home was listed high and needed a lot of work, but we loved the pool in the backyard and the views of Mount Olympus out the front so we kept our eye on the listing. I think there was a 6 month gap between when we first went through the home and when we finally made an offer. We just needed to wait for the seller to get more realistic about the worth of her home and our patience paid off.
When we bought our home we were 28 years old. We hired a great contractor (The Fox Group), gutted our home, and after we finished our remodel, our home had instant equity, which was really nice. I want to make a note that while my husband makes a great living and we both work hard, we were able to buy this nice home in a nice area and had the money to remodel it because I had inherited some money from my Mom when she died in 2008 that made it possible for us. The reason I bring this up is because I think we tend to compare ourselves to others and I know that when I see other people buy a home or make a big financial move and I sometimes wonder how they are able to do it. We were fortunate to inherit that money to provide a nice home for us, but I also no longer had my Mom here and that trade off is never worth it. I guess we ultimately end up paying for everything we have, in one way or another, right?
When we remodeled our home I found my passion for interior design. Not only did I love the design process, but I felt like I was pretty good at it too and a quick learner. As I previously mentioned, my husband works in real estate, and at the time was putting together residential investment packages for investors who wanted to flip homes. I asked him if he would ask his investors if they wanted some design help with picking the finishes for their flips. I wouldn’t charge much, and would be value the experience. I’m so grateful for his investors who took a chance on me and hired me to help them. I hired a nanny a couple days a week for a few hours and started slowly with helping the investors and gaining experience. Soon after I had my first non-investor client who asked for help with her new-construction home and it grew from there.
My company is called White + Gold Design and I’ve always worked for myself from day one (which was in 2011), but that does not mean I didn’t learn a lot from my mentors/friends in design. Caitlin Creer (whom I now share an office with) was very helpful with filling in the gaps of running an interior design business that you don’t know when you first start, like where to buy to-the-trade only products, and how she did her client billing and presentations.
I also shared an office with a few other designers for a year which was extremely helpful in understanding how different designers conduct business, what their creative process is like, and more. In the last year and a half I have grown from a one-man-show to having an associate designer, a business manager, and I just hired my second associate designer.
I think because I found one of my passions, I see myself doing this on some level for a long time. There is something about improving an environment, about creating, and about getting to work with people in a highly involved way that feeds my soul. I struggle sometimes with the fact that the interior design business is a luxury business and I’m not saving lives, but I honestly believe it is a meaningful business and not just a business of “pretty things” and people with too much money.
All of my clients have prioritized working with a designer and worked it into their budget while often sacrificing in other areas to afford me because they know the value of having someone who can help them fulfill their vision of their space successfully. Designers also alleviate a lot of the stress of building/remodeling a home, which all of my clients are grateful for. Where we live, how we live, and creating a space that supports us, is really important. When I remodel a home that has been unloved and neglected and turn it into an uplifting space where a family can thrive, it makes me incredibly happy. And with new construction, creating a structure where every square foot is used and useful and evokes a particular feeling is wholly fulfilling. From paper to an actual home — it’s thrilling. I simply love it.
It’s been really surprising how much working and owning a business has made me a better parent, and vice versa. As I’ve been navigating owning my own design business and making a lot of mistakes along the way, I’ve learned that I’m a people-pleasing perfectionist who struggles with knowing my worth. I started working because in a lot of ways I just wanted to get out of the house. I love my kids, but I don’t love the job of a stay-at-home mom.
As I worked on building my interior design business and got closer to reaching my business goals, I was finding myself stressed and unhappy. It didn’t make sense that I was finally in a place professionally that I wanted to be in, but feeling sad. I became worried I was dealing with depression. I spoke to a therapist (thank goodness for therapists!) who said what I was experiencing sounded a lot like burn-out. That’s exactly what it was and that became apparent recently when I listened to Oprah’s Super Soul podcast with Shauna Niequist who wrote Present Over Perfect. In the podcast Shauna talks about the burn out she experienced and realized that she was doing too much in an effort to prove her worth. I have a lot of that in me.
I think a part of the struggle of being a mother is the feeling that what I’m doing all day, like laundry, grocery shopping, taking kids to lessons, helping with homework, getting them dressed, fed, etc., feels mundane and not important enough to make me feel important or of worth. As I write this I know I couldn’t be more wrong, but that’s how I have felt in the past and what I’m working on correcting in my life. Had I not stretched myself to build this business I don’t know if I would have recognized my faults as clearly, which led me on this path of growth and change that is making me a better person.
As I have enacted these new-found truths and slowed down and accepted myself more, strangely my business has grown. I have realigned myself with my true motivations of why I do interior design, which is to add value to people’s lives by improving the spaces they live and work in, and stopped being a people pleaser and using my work as a means to make me feel important. Getting to the point of burn-out also forced me to recognize that I need to set better boundaries in my life. And I have to plug the book Boundaries, by Henry Cloud and John Townsend because that book also changed my life for the better and has helped me achieve the balance between work and home life. It’s been a game changer.
I look at pictures of interiors every day, sometimes hundreds of pictures a day. I am paying attention to the details of these photos we see floating around Pinterest, Instagram, and Houzz (to name a few). What saddens me is the level of “perfection” we are seeing in these photos. We all know most of these photos are aspirational, but are they? Are we aspiring to have perfect homes, or beautiful, lived in homes? Not that I’m saying we should have pictures of messy kitchens and living rooms with laundry spread out on the floor, but I am saying that we should stop photoshopping out the electrical outlets, the can lighting, start showing the stains on the countertops and the scratches in the floors.
I have found that clients sometimes have unrealistic expectations for their homes because of photoshop — similar to fashion magazines and women’s bodies. I love series like “Living with Kids” because it is doing a lot for combatting the perfectionism. I love seeing the real homes Gabrielle features on here. I love seeing everyone’s kids rooms because that is a space that is always a little messy and usually reflects a lot of character. It is refreshing to see people displaying their homes so proudly and lovingly when they may or may not be “Pinterest-worthy.” I just love that about this series and want more of that.
I personally struggled and continue to struggle with how to shoot my projects in a way that doesn’t promote perfectionism and hard to achieve designs, and yet I want to be somewhat aspirational because I believe that is what motivates us to hire a designer. In fact, I struggled shooting these photos for this post because I wanted to be real, but I also didn’t want to discredit myself — ha! Where that balance lies, I’m not sure. I didn’t include a full shot of my kids rooms and their art room/office because it just was too disorganized to be a picture anyone would like to see. I know that goes against what I’m saying about being more real, but I am real enough to say I’m still not there where I can open my messiest closet to world. Does that count?!
And can I just say what a pet peeve it is to see a lot of meaningless decor placed in a home? All designers run into this problem because as we complete a project we want the home to feel finished and need to place accessories around the home to make it feel finished, but I wish more people acquired accessories in daily life, or perhaps when they travel, so when we come to that point in the project we aren’t placing things in the home just for show. From my experience most clients have something they’ve inherited from a family member, or something they love that their child has made, and I say let’s display it! Even if it isn’t necessarily “on trend.”
Our homes aren’t furniture showrooms — they are our HOMES! As interior designers we hope to shoot the project when we are done to add to our portfolio so I think designers are wary of displaying these more meaningful accessories because they don’t “go” with the decor and sometimes don’t photograph well. That is one way I would like to be better in my own business and would encourage others as well. I think Nate Berkus is good at incorporating meaningful decor and I have to say, as a result I do feel like his projects feel less “perfect” and yet still so good. It hasn’t hurt his business at all so I think the rest of us should be more brave and make decor more meaningful!
I love art, I mean who doesn’t? I feel that nothing makes a home feel more complete and lived in than art on the walls. And the most successful art in a home is accumulated over time, is meaningful, and personal. Many paintings you find in my home have been inherited from my Grandma Marriott who loved antiques and had great taste. Jon and I bought a few pieces in New York at a flea market, and I have purchased art locally by local painters.
Only 1 or 2 pieces of art in our home have much monetary value, but that isn’t why I collect art. The art in my home is meaningful to me because there is a story behind it and it’s beautiful in my mind. The art pieces we have are priceless to me and that’s all I personally care about. When my Mom died it really sunk in with me that you don’t take anything from this world with you. It felt wrong to me that my Mom was leaving all of her “things” behind and I finally understood that while the things we own now make life beautiful and help us feel, they don’t ultimately really matter. Not enough to go into debt over, or worry about what others think.
Art is to be loved and enjoyed and if the art you find fulfills those 2 qualifications I say buy it!
I hope my kids remember the feeling of our home, and I hope that feeling is love, safety, and an uplifting place to grow and develop. I hope they forget the times that Jon and I get caught up in our day-to-day lives and miss opportunities to connect with them.
Because I have all girls, I hope they remember that being a mother is hard, because it is, but also remember how happy and grateful I am to be their mother. With this particular home, I hope they remember how happy we have been here. The great pool parties we’ve had with friends, the Christmas and Easter gatherings with family we have hosted here, and how this home was a place of learning to walk, rides bikes, draw, read, and all the things that come with their first years of life.
My favorite thing about living with my kids is learning from them. Seeing the world through new eyes is enlightening. I love their creativity and perspective. With our youngest almost 3 years old, I am missing the baby stage. I am not necessarily baby hungry and we are not planning on having any more kids, but I do love babies (of course) and I miss the middle of the night breast feeding. I have always felt that middle of the night feeding with my babies was almost sacred. It just feels special to me. One of the only times I have really felt my Mom with me since she has died was at night when I was feeding and singing to my baby. I won’t miss being so tired the next day that I could barely function, but I’ll miss those moments.
I wish someone had told me that I had more choices in my life. That I didn’t “have to” do anything. My mother had Multiple Sclerosis and was sick my entire life (I’m the youngest of 6 kids) and my father worked and traveled a lot, so he wasn’t home and they divorced when I was 15. I felt like I needed to take care of my mom. That even though it was really difficult and she and I had a hard relationship, it was the Christ-like thing to do, and I had no choice in the matter.
My father was able to leave, my older sisters got married and moved out of state, my brother went on an LDS mission and to college and I was left home for a few years with just my mom and me. I felt a lot of pressure to be strong because my parents were not.
If someone had told me that loving myself and taking care of myself wasn’t selfish and exactly what I should be doing, it would have been really healing. If I had known that I could have also left and that wouldn’t make me a bad person, I probably wouldn’t have even left, but I would have stayed and served my mom because I had wanted to, not because I had to, and that would have been much healthier for me.
I felt similarly when I had my second child. I felt a lot of pressure (not sure if it was real or just my perception) to stay at home and be with my kids even though I wasn’t happy. The third time around I had learned enough from my past experiences that doing what I thought was “right” but not best for me is not what God or anyone who loves me really wants for me, so this time I took the choice I wanted and pursued my other passion of design, while still nurturing my passion for parenthood. And I have found the balance that works for me — 3 days working and 4 days home. And I continue to exercise my right to choose and I hope to always do so, in a loving and thoughtful manner.
Thank you, Marianne! What a beautiful home and a gorgeous art collection. I couldn’t agree more that we should fill our home with objects that we love and that have meaning to us. When our homes are filled with things that we have a connection to, then they never go out of style because they’ll always belong.
Plus so many wise words about perfectionism culture and the way that we compare ourselves to others. It can be really tricky, can’t it? We all want to take and to see beautiful pictures. I thought Marianne did a great job of explaining how there is a balance to be had between looking at images that are aspirational and inspiring, and seeing someone else’s home or family and thinking that yours is lacking or not measuring up. It is a sensitive topic, and obviously the aim of this series is to look into real homes and see how people are living and using their homes. And I really appreciate that Marianne was willing to admit that even she isn’t ready to show off a full shot of her home office to the world. I think a lot of us can relate to that.
When you are looking at Instagram or reading blogs, how do you find the balance between aspiration and perfectionism? Do you find yourself getting caught up in what your home or life is missing? Do you try and share the “real you” online or do you only share a curated look at your life?
Rattan Square Coffee Table
Grid throw draped over the master headboard
Campaign dresser in the kid’s room is from Ave Home
You can see more of Marianne’s beautiful design work at White + Gold Design or 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! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, gay parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.