As a pregnant artist, she dreamed up Senn & Sons—a business creating custom artwork for children’s rooms—after realizing that there was a void in the market. Now she’s a mom of two year old Hugo, with another baby due any minute, so we’re especially grateful that she took some time out to tell us how she handles her juggling act, along with some lovely decorating and organizing ideas.
Give us a little background on yourself/what you do/how you came to it. How much did becoming a parent shape what your business is?
I’m from Wisconsin originally, and before entering the world of parenting and art-making, I spent nearly a decade working in advertising in some pretty amazing places all over the world—Minneapolis, New York, London and San Francisco have all been home at some point. I enjoyed so many parts of that job, but knew it wasn’t going to be the right career path for me to stay on as a mother.
Senn & Sons started by accident, and would have never happened if not for our son Hugo. Before he was born (and before we knew he was a “he”), I set out to create some artwork for the nursery. I wanted something that would be special, made just for him (or her!) and could stand the test of time. After a bit of sketching and concepting, my husband Marty and I decided on a triptych with a paper airplane completing a journey from one panel to the next in colors that were a sort of modern take on the primaries.
I loved how that painting set the tone for the room—a bit whimsical, but graphic and timeless. With encouragement from friends (and a handful of people interested in getting their own triptych artwork), I set out to launch my business with the idea that I would be “making the most of naptime.” I went from creating one-of-a-kind custom paintings to producing prints of my popular designs and even some new ones, and now do a combination of both along with a bit of nursery design consultation.
Do you work from home, or have a separate office?
I work from my home right now, which is the ideal solution for me since I’m able to work whenever time allows! If I have an extra 15 minutes where my son is playing quietly by himself, I can do a little sketching, layer on a coat of varnish or just reply to emails. While my studio is a part of our home, it has helped tremendously to have a separate space for my work. For a while I was using our dining room, and I slowly started taking over the entire room so we had only a tiny corner of the table to actually eat dinner. I eventually got kicked out of the dining room and we transitioned our “den/guest room/future baby room” into my studio, which is where I work now.
I also do my best to include Hugo in my process if he’s interested. He likes to paint too, so I’ll throw a giant drop cloth onto my studio floor and set him up with finger paints and some canvas board or paper and let him go to town. He likes to be doing what I’m doing, so this works pretty well some of the time.
However, in order to do a lot of my work, I realized quickly I needed larger chunks of uninterrupted time to be creative and focused and now most of my real work happens while Hugo is at preschool a few days a week or after his bedtime.
The best part about having that time is that my time with Hugo can be just that—time spent with him. I don’t have to worry about multi-tasking work and playtime ALL the time. I have dedicated time to work and dedicated time as a mom so I can be more present with both.
Can you give us some tips on how you decorate/organize–like the way that you group your artwork together–that’s something that you clearly know how to do well, but is a mystery for so many of us. And I love the way you organize your pantry staples!
I dream of having a completely organized home where I can live out the mantra “a place for everything, everything in its place.” Alas, that dream takes a whole lot of work and for now, I just use a lot of bins around the house to corral toys and blankets. I’m working on it, though. I even got a label maker!
One of my favorite decorating (yet also organizing) project is our entryway gallery wall. It welcomes people into our home with a nice assortment of prints and paintings that really represent our family. As we were going through the artwork in the house, we noticed that much of our artwork has similar color palette and we thought it could look really cool hung together. That might be the key; they’re all pieces we really like and are really personal, not just some things we picked up with the intention of hanging it all together. (I blogged about the project here.)
There are lots of ways to make a gallery like this look great and I don’t think there are many rules to follow. You could go for matching frames with diverse artwork or similar artwork/media with mismatched frames, hung on a grid or hung randomly, all the pieces the same size or an assortment of sizes. It’s important to space the artwork so it’s not too far apart and not too high up on the wall. Think about balance and keep the “center of gravity” right around eye level and work around that.
I also take on little projects around the house when I can find time. They usually start with some sort of “pain point” for me – like having bags and bags of bulk grains and beans overflowing in my pantry. I decided to get it under control and corral all these staples into jars labeled with chalkboard paint. My quart of chalkboard paint has been passed around at least half a dozen of my friends in SF so they could do the same in their homes. (I blogged about the project here.)
In my efforts to become more organized, I’ve learned that the real trick to it is setting up a system and sticking to it. A little work each day beats a lot of work every few weeks. Oh, and having a label maker.
You have a great sensibility with home decor—what are your inspirations? How would you describe your style?
I love walking into a home that feels completely unique and inspired and personal to its owners, but still comfortable. So, naturally, that’s how I want my own home to feel.
I’m not sure how to define our style, but it’s very personal and filled with things my husband and I love (and agree on!). We’ve put a lot of modern furniture into a traditional Victorian, and I think we love that juxtaposition. Living on the West Coast has also definitely influenced our style over the last six years – there’s a sort of a California freedom to put anything you want together, as long as you like it. Let’s call it Homey Mid-Century West Coast Eclectic.
Do you entertain much, and if so, what’s your go-to meal/appetizers/drinks for when you have friends over?
We love entertaining, but admittedly don’t do it much right now with the imminent arrival of the new baby. I’m a culinary experimenter, so I don’t always go back to my tried and true recipes. (I know pros would caution against that method, but there’s always pizza delivery if things don’t go my way.)
But, if forced to pick a go-to, the best appetizers, hands down, are dates stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped in prosciutto. Just stick them under the broiler or in the toaster oven for a few minutes and drizzle a bit of balsamic vinegar over the stop for some seriously delicious pre-meal nibbles.
We always have plenty of wine on hand (white, red and bubbly) along with some craft beers and mocktail mixings for the non-drinkers in the group. I have a friend who’s the queen of mocktails and will bring handmade syrup with fresh fruit to mix with club soda.
And there’s always room on the table for bowls of Cheddar Bunnies, raisins and fruit for the kids. Or adults. Everyone likes Cheddar Bunnies.
What’s your weeknight family dinner routine?
Hugo is my little sous chef and stands on a stool right next to me at our counter while I prepare dinner, helping with anything he can do himself—cracking eggs, adding salt, mixing things together and just generally supervising the whole process.
Depending on the day and how I’m feeling about cooking, dinner could be anything from delivery or pasta with jarred sauce to a full-on feast with appetizers, sides, main courses and dessert.
We try to eat dinner as a family, but it’s not always possible with our schedules. We don’t have any hard and fast rules about that, but we do the best that we can to be together. Strangely, we almost always have breakfast together like we’re in an orange juice commercial.
How do you celebrate your son’s birthdays?
Well, we’ve only had two so far, so birthdays are a work-in-progress. Hugo’s birthday falls on New Year’s Eve, so it’s either very easy or very difficult to get people together (we’ve had both). But in any case, we keep it simple with cake and balloons, a few presents. Mainly, we just want him to know it’s a special day that means the world to us.
What do you do in your “spare time”?
I’m guessing I’m not the first to say this, but spare time is pretty hard to come by these days. I truly feel fulfilled by all the bits and pieces of my everyday life and don’t really need extra time in my day to “do” anything else to fill in a missing piece. But I do need time by myself sometimes, and when I can pull that off I’ll book a massage or pedicure and take an hour off just to relax.
Best kid purchase/bang for your buck?
I have a four-page document of baby must-haves that I share with friends who are having their first child—it’s categorized by activity and contains my commentary plus links to buy all the products. (Yes, I’m slightly crazy.) If I had to narrow that list to one or two (maybe three) things, I’d have to say…
1. Stokke Tripp Trapp high chair. Total investment piece, but it’s worked for us since Hugo was 6 months old and we plan to get another for the second baby too! Because it’s adjustable, it has grown with us from early feedings to now, where he’s free to get up and down from the chair himself if needed. It pulls right up to the table we eat at as a family, so he’s always been a part of mealtime.
2. BOB Jogging Stroller. If you have any inclination to stroll on a path that’s not a sidewalk or increase your speed beyond a saunter, this will make the ride smooth and easy. It has an infant car seat attachment too, so it can be used from birth through toddlerhood.
3. Summer Infant Video Monitor. We went through about four other non-video monitors that didn’t work in our flat before settling on this one.
What’s your mom uniform?
Almost every day you can find me in skinny jeans, a colorful flowy top, a cardigan or chunky sweater, and ballet flats. I almost always add a scarf, and if it’s cooler outside I’ll add a light jacket.
What websites inspire you and for which parts of your life?
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to loving Pinterest right now for everything from food to fashion, organizing and decorating. I try to limit my intake just so I can take some time to have my own ideas, which feels a lot more useful sometimes.
What’s a typical weekend like?
Weekends start pretty early thanks to Hugo, but even he knows to give it a few more winks on Saturday and Sunday. We always start with a big breakfast and coffee – whether it’s at a café nearby or cooked right at home. Marty is always in charge of weekend breakfasts and his specialties are pancakes and waffles, the best! From there, we either stick close to home and do nature hikes in the Presidio or venture out of SF’s cold and fog to find some sunshine across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin. I often use time on the weekends to work and Hugo and Daddy have “boys time” where they go to the playground or disappear into the woods.
What’s the thing that always stays on your to-do list and never gets crossed off and nags at you?
FILES & PAPERWORK! I’ve just taken on the ultimate task of clearing out our filing cabinet. It is a combination of both my husband’s and my files dating back to around 2002 and has been transported from Minneapolis, Seattle and Boston to New York, London and now San Francisco.
Do you have a fail-safe beauty product or routine?
I always try to use natural products where possible to avoid harmful chemicals. I’ve tried a lot of products, but a few favorites have started to emerge. I love the REN Skincare line for my face and body. I’ve also been making my own body scrub from coarse sea salt, olive oil and grapefruit essential oil.
I have a three-minute makeup routine that mostly involves covering my dark undereye circles (I look tired even when I’m not if I don’t do this), adding a little blush, mascara and lip gloss and I’m good to go for the day. I don’t feel like a complete human until I’ve done this, even if I plan to wear PJs all day.
Best family trip?
We just took an amazing long weekend in Boonville, CA, about two hours north of San Francisco. The trip was perfect for our little family of three, soon to be four. We ate well, drank well, relaxed, ran through sprinklers, picked tomatoes off the vine and apples off the tree, hiked amongst the redwoods and even made a few friends. The Boonville Hotel with their adorable little bungalows, freshly-prepared breakfast and oyster happy hour was sheer perfection, and the whole town is just so adorable. There are also a bunch of little adventures to be had around Boonville from the Philo Apple Farm and Navarro River to Hendy Woods State Park.
Any personal/parenting “a-ha” tips?
Don’t judge anyone’s parenting decisions. Ever. And be careful not to judge your own too harshly either. Everyone’s just doing their best in this crazy game.
You feel your best when?
I feel my best when I can be 100% devoted to what I’m doing. I want to be either 100% into my business, or 100% into being a mom. When things start to click, when things get ticked off my long to-do lists and proposals are sent and paintings are shipped – that moment when I can turn my whole energy back to my family—that’s it. And it usually only lasts a moment, but it’s a magical time when I feel like I’ve been able to find that balance.
Proudest moment in parenting?
Oh there are so many—as many as there are not-so-proud moments—but I am so proud of Hugo when he uses “please” and “thank you” and is polite to us and the people around him.
International interior design magazines and HGTV. Oh, and chocolate covered almonds with turbinado sugar and sea salt from Trader Joe’s with a glass of red wine. (Two glasses once this baby is born.)
Best parenting advice you ever got?
At every stage there’s been some great piece of advice that clicked and got us through rough patches, but the one thing that sticks out for both Marty and me was a conversation we had with a stranger over breakfast who said, “They know more than you think they do.” We took it to mean we should show our kids respect and treat and talk to them like little people, not babies. It’s probably been as good for us and our sanity as it has been for Hugo.
Photography by Thomas Kuoh