...because home doesn't happen overnight.

If you’ve been following along over the years, you’ve heard me tout professional designers like Jessica Helgerson, Emma Reddington and Amber Lewis. They are some of my favorite women to turn to when I’m looking for decorating inspiration or in need of interior eye candy. I study their work and take mental notes on everything from paint colors and furniture placement to artwork and textile mixes. Even though they’re usually working with a bigger budget, their designs can be a sounding board when I’m making selections for my home or a client’s.

I’m always looking for other designers to follow and in 2015 (I wrote 2016 when signing off on the kids’ homework yesterday and it felt so strange!), I fell in love with Samantha Sacks.

sam sacks design 2

This modern-meets-vintage kitchen is what did me in but, really, I’ve been admiring Sacks’s work for years and just now put two and two together that the same person is behind many of my favorite spaces.

sam sacks design 1

When I think of Sacks’s designs, the words modern, mixed, natural, global, unique and livable come to mind – with emphasis on livable. Being a mom of three with a fourth furry “kid” underfoot, Sacks has a knack for creating family-friendly interiors. Busy kids, big dogs, muddy boots, backpacks, homework, toys and even snack time are all taken into consideration.

Hard-wearing materials like oiled wood, natural stone and durable upholstery are utilized often. IKEA products reside amongst splurges like statement lighting. Architectural elements are balanced yet rarely exactly symmetrical to keep things from feeling too perfect. Accessories and artwork are brought in in carefully considered quantities to achieve a personal yet uncluttered vibe. Mixing new and modern with vintage and global keeps everything feeling warm and interesting. (Sacks is particularly fond of upcycling old doors.) All these elements work together to create interiors that really speak to me and my love for all things casual and cozy.

Sacks’s work has been featured in past issues of House & Home and Style at Home but I especially love touring her rooms in video form. The video tours give a better sense of floor plans and scale, and I almost always notice a thing or two not evident in still photos. Here are some virtual room tours from Samantha Sacks for more inspiration. They include client spaces along with Sacks’s current and previous homes. It’s fun to see the pieces that made the move from her previous home to her current one. Proof that truly great pieces are extremely versatile!

A Modern-Meets-Vintage Kitchen

An Elegant Midcentury Modern Mix

Sacks’s Current Tudor Home

Sacks’s Previous Rowhouse Home

Sacks’s Previous Family Kitchen

Is there a designer you find yourself turning to time and again for ideas and inspiration? I’d love to hear your favorites.

P.S. – See my roundup of favorite real home tours from last year. I still ogle them.

images: 1) Donna Griffith 2) Michael Graydon, Samantha Sacks

Right-sized living forces me to shop with intention for our home and for myself. I think about how I will use an item and how often. I think about where I’ll store it. I think about how the item will impact my everyday living. If I already have a similar item, I think about its fate and if/how the potential purchase will be an improvement over the current item. I think about how long the item will last. I think about how I want the item to look. And I think about how much I’m willing to spend. Typically, the more boxes an item checks, the more money I’m willing to spend on it. There’s no aimless browsing. There are no impulse buys. If a purchase doesn’t hold up to my expectations, I return it.

Here are a few of my best buys from this year. I’ve divided them into two categories: things for my home & family and things for myself. They are little things I use on a regular basis that have improved my everyday life because of their purpose, convenience, small footprint, beauty and/or comfort.


best buys 2015

1 – reusable grocery bags I use them multiple times per week for all shopping, not just grocery. They also make great library book bags. Don’t let their small size fool you. They stretch to hold an insane amount of stuff. They store easily inside of each other and can be stashed in a closet, glove box or purse or hung on a hook.

2 – wire basket I bought one of these over the summer to harvest tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers from the garden. The kids loved using it and it held up against their abuse. Because of the simple design, I leave it out on the kitchen countertop to corral all kinds of things during colder months.

3 – indigo dyed kitchen towels Pretty and practical, these kitchen towels are soft and absorbent. Drying dishes never looked so good.

4 – stainless steel lunch boxes When I bought these for the kids, I was leery of spending so much on lunch boxes. But after going through a ridiculous amount of boxes, bags, containers and lids (where do they all go?!) over the years, these have proven to be a worthy investment. Not only are they virtually indestructible, they somehow make packing lunches easier and faster. (Get tons of ideas here. Instead of forks, I pack toothpicks now.) Numerous classmates, parents and teachers have inquired about them. I throw them in the dishwasher for easy cleanup.

5 – mesh family beach tote Our old pool bag gave out this past summer and I had to find a replacement in a pinch. Even though it isn’t the prettiest thing, this tote is super functional which is the #1 priority for me when it comes to a family pool bag. With its various pouches and pockets, it easily holds everyone’s towels, drinks, snacks and pool toys. The mesh material is waterproof, sandproof (I made that up…it means it doesn’t hold sand) and washable. Throw it in the washer or hose it down. It folds up and stores flat during colder months.

6 – peshtemal beach towel Along with the pool bag, I also replaced our old beach towels with peshtemals. (We made the switch indoors a while ago.) There’s one for each member of our family and they’re all the same color so there’s no fighting over towels or outgrowing themed towels. They’re thin which means they dry quickly and roll up easily to fit inside the pool bag. No more lugging around heavy, wet towels! They get better with every wash; just don’t use fabric softener.


best buys 2015

1 – Finley clutch So, technically, I haven’t bought this yet because it’s sold out :( But as soon as it’s back in stock, it’s mine. I have the petite bellfield tote (the only purse I own) and it only gets better with each passing year. It’s great for everyday, but I’m in need of something smaller and dressier for special occasions. That motherhood milestone when you no longer have to carry around a ginormous bag for everyone else’s necessities? I’m celebrating it with a clutch.

2 – electrolyte drink tablets I’m a sweater (as in odiferous not knit) and, apparently, I’m a runner now, too. I discovered these tablets after a particularly grueling run. For me, they really help to prevent muscle cramping without adding loads of sugar to my diet.

3 – Saucony retro sneakers These are my go-to kicks for running errands and keeping up with the kids. They’re comfortable without looking orthopedic and they look great with almost everything “ath-leisure.” I love them so much I have them in black/silver and purple/orange. (The purple/orange looks great with olive or navy leggings.) I hope Saucony never stops making them.

4 – stainless steel water bottle When I’m home, I’m really good about drinking plenty of water. But when I’m out and about (which seems to be more and more these days), my water intake wanes. I keep this water bottle in my bag or in the car and fill it up at home or via drinking fountains around town. The kids have been known to borrow sips from it, too. It keeps hot liquids hot and cold liquids cold for 24 hours. I’ve used it with #2 above.

5 – swanky earbuds I’m a true introvert and sometimes I just need to drown out all the stimulation going on around me. I love these comfy, good-looking earbuds for listening to music, TED talks and podcasts at home or away. The design is a lesson in form + function. One cord is longer than the other. A teeny, inline 3-button remote is all but invisible. Gold accents make them feel more like jewelry than audio paraphernalia and a leather case keeps everything tidy. *BONUS* – Use the promo code “housetweaking15” to score a 15% discount.

6 – metro legging Easily, these are the best leggings I’ve ever owned. I bought the high-waisted version months ago and they have been a staple in my wardrobe ever since. Imagine if jeans and yoga pants had a baby. That baby would be these leggings. They do amazing things for the glutes. Dress them up for running errands and dining out or dress them down for lounging and light workouts.

What are some of your favorite buys of the year?

After weeks of major technical issues over here (the blog was hacked, my laptop all but died then the blog crashed), I’m finally following up with more details on our recent visit to Asheville. As I mentioned in the post about our vacation rental, our visit was the perfect balance of relaxing and doing. Today I thought I’d share what we did when we weren’t happily holed up in the cabin.

We loved downtown Asheville and its various restaurants, shops and buskers. In my (rurally raised) opinion, it’s the perfect size – not too big, not too small. It was easily drivable and walkable even with little ones in tow. Finding parking on the weekends took some effort but it wasn’t impossible. We tried to mostly hit the city during the week when things weren’t as busy.

A few things I noticed about Asheville as a rookie tourist: 1) The vibe is super laid-back. Maybe it was the time of year, but the casual flannel-jeans-boots-beard dress code was right up my alley. (Minus the beard.) The rare “dressed up” person looked totally out of place. People weren’t in a hurry. They walked leisurely and waited patiently at crosswalks. It was a nice change of pace from the everyday rat race in middle America suburbia. 2) Asheville is quirky. In a good way. From the hippies to the clown buskers to the flat iron sculpture on Wall Street to the yarn-bombed fire hydrants, the city celebrates the colorful and the creative. You can’t not smile walking by a fire hydrant knitted in yarn. I tried. 3) Asheville loves dogs. I swear I saw more dogs than kids! It took us twice as along to get anywhere because Mabrey stopped to ask every dog owner “May I please pet your doggie?”

We browsed the Antique Tobacco Barn and the local Habitat ReStore (a weird thing we do in new-to-us towns) but Malaprop’sPaul Taylor and Bee Charmer were our favorite local shops. One smells like books & coffee, one like leather and the third smells like honey. We spent hours at Malaprop’s and walked out with a few books including this one for Everett. I really enjoyed walking through the Urban Outfitters brick and mortar, too. (We have a few here in Ohio but I’ve never been in one.) I loved the organic, rustic aesthetic. Does anyone else completely overlook a store’s inventory and ogle the finishes and fixtures for interior inspiration instead? I do it all the time. It’s easier on the wallet ;) I was also crazy excited to browse the West Elm Outlet (not downtown). It made me wish I had a whole house to furnish.

During our stay, we hit up several restaurants including Early Girl Eatery, Farm Burger, French Broad Chocolate Lounge, Chai Pani, Sunny Point Café, Biscuit Head and Blue Mountain Pizza (in nearby Weaverville). We didn’t eat a bad meal but Chai Pani, Sunny Point and Farm Burger were our favorites. Try the okra fries at Chai Pani and the B.L.A.T. (bacon, lettuce, avocado, tomato) at Sunny Point. Yum! The kids loved walking through Sunny Point’s gardens behind the restaurant and playing on the spring riders. And if you eat breakfast at Biscuit Head, don’t plan on being hungry again until dinner. It’s so filling!

One day while Steve and Layne were doing their thing at ClimbMax (an indoor climbing center), I took Everett and Mabrey to Double D’s coffee and dessert bus. They absolutely loved it. Apparently, drinking milkshakes on the upper floor of a double decker bus decorated for Halloween is very cool when you’re 7 and 3. (Everett would like to point out the skeleton driving the bus.) We also took the kids to see Pan at a local sofa cinema one rainy day. Have you heard of these sofa cinemas? Basically, instead of individual seats, there are sprawling sofas with ottomans to prop your feet on and they give you real bowls for your popcorn. It’s almost like watching a movie at home except you aren’t responsible for cleaning up stray popcorn afterwards. It’s kind of awesome.

The city, the people and the food were great but what took our breath away was the scenery: the long range mountains, the changing leaves, the foggy skies. It made for one idyllic autumnal setting. We drove along the Blue Ridge Parkway and it was nothing short of dreamy. We drove through mountains and the tunnels opened up to the most amazing views. The switch from darkness to color reminded me of the movie Pleasantville.

We did the touristy thing and took pictures at one of the scenic pull-offs. Just to prove we had been there.

We continued driving up, up, up until we reached Craggy Gardens. We parked the car and hiked to the summit. Due to the high elevation (>6,000 ft.), the natural habitat was much different. The trees, already bare, were twisted and gnarled. The wind whipped and the temperature was ~20º colder than downtown Asheville. In jackets, we weren’t properly dressed for the weather but we toughed it out long enough to make it to the top.

It was totally worth it. We were in the clouds with a 360º view. I can’t even begin to describe how breathtaking it was. It was quite the experience. We’ve talked about it a lot since returning home.

We didn’t get a chance to tour The Biltmore (next time!) but we did visit The North Carolina Arboretum which was beautiful.

Steve surprised the kids with little slingshot-like gliders and a pair of model rockets. He and the boys worked on building the rockets in the basement of the cabin on rainy days. Once built, Steve found a baseball field behind an elementary school and helped the boys launch the rockets using these and these engines. They were a success. They went so high! Even with recovery parachutes, we lost a rocket in someone’s fenced backyard.

On the drives from the cabin to Asheville, we noticed a for sale sign on a plot of land. Curiosity got the best of us and we pulled over to scout it out. It was love at first sight. A driveway cut into the side of a mountain and led to a grassy knoll with long range views in all directions. (Just to give you some perspective, the little black dot near the electric pole on the green grassy area is Layne.) A hawk was circling below us. Steve and I talked about how cool it would be to build a simple, modest cabin and/or tiny house commune on the property and rent them out to vacationers. We were third-joking, third-dreaming and third-serious. We didn’t buy the land. It’s still for sale. But it sparked something that we can’t quite shake. Steve has had recurring dreams about the land which speaks volumes because he normally doesn’t remember dreams.

The last night of our stay was Halloween. A few weeks before our vacation, we bought SecondSkin body suits and each of us chose LED accessories to wear with them. I’m not exactly sure what we were but it was fun. The kids have worn their costumes several times since, pretending to be ninjas around the house. We took the kids trick-or-treating in the historic Montford district of Asheville. It was a blast! The people of Montford take Halloween to a whole ‘nother level. The homeowners would say, “I love your costumes!” And I would say, “I love your house!” I got zip code envy peeking through the windows when night fell.

The best part? Daylight saving time ended and we got an extra hour of vacation. I’m making a mental note to plan all future vacations so that they coincide with the whole falling back thing.

Overall, it was a wonderful getaway. I think we all left pieces of our hearts in the mountains.

P.S. – Thanks to everyone who gave recommendations for restaurants and attractions in Asheville! Your tips were so helpful.

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking