This summer, Ro Birkey moved into a new house with her husband, Noel, and their two young boys — Cohen and Ames. Their two-bedroom home in Naperville, Illinois, has a comfy, homey aesthetic and is full of charming details, both new and old. Here’s a peek inside…
On first impressions: When we walked in, the house immediately crossed off everything on my list. I was looking for a house that had character and history. It was built by R. Harold Zook, a well-known Chicago architect, in the 1940s. I loved the natural light and the hardwood floors. It doesn’t have a dishwasher, and I spend a lot of time hand washing dishes, but it’s worth it.
On nicer sofas: We never put much thought into sofas because we figured the kids would mess them up. But then we got a leather one, which I call our “grown-up couch.” Leather is actually great for kids — it’s durable and comfy. It’s become a centerpiece in our home. We read together, and it’s my place to binge on Netflix after the boys go to sleep. I just finished Stranger Things and loved it like everybody, and now I’m going through Parks and Recreation for the second time. It’s how I unwind.
On reading together: We love to read as a family. We get a stack of books, and the four of us sit together before bed. Cohen is really into superheroes right now, so we have a bunch of Batman books and things like Even Superheroes Have to Sleep. Ames loves My First Book of Sounds.
On the Beatles: I’m a huge Beatles fan. I don’t know if it’s cool anymore, but I still am. I’m making the kids fans, too. I play the Beatles at home all the time. They have a bit of kid music, but I feel like it’s my duty expose them to the classics. Cohen can recognize when a Beatles song comes on, so I feel pretty accomplished. He likes the faster ones, “Twist & Shout” and “Roll Over Beethoven.”
On little reminders: Some people like to have lots of pictures around the house. For me, I think showing different writing is beautiful. Since I’m the one home with the boys all day, seeing familiar words on the walls everywhere helps me feel good. As corny as “It’s OK” [hung in the dining room, below] might be, it’s a great little reminder when I am having a hard day, and for the boys, too. “The War is Over” is a John Lennon and Yoko Ono print, that says underneath in tiny letters “If You Want it.” It’s a little deeper than my other ones, but everything that is going on in the world right now really upsets me. This is my reminder to be a kind, thoughtful human and to know everything starts with us.
On small kitchens: We painted the walls in the kitchen off-white, so the white cabinets stand out just a little bit. It’s the smallest kitchen we’ve ever had, so we figured white paint would open it up and make it feel as big as possible. A white kitchen also feels bright and clean, even if there are some dishes piled up (which there usually are).
On letting go: I have come to a point in my life where I realize I don’t have to hoard everything. Not that I was a hoarder, but I grew up without a ton of money, so I held onto a lot of things because that’s all I had. Since becoming an adult, I have realized that it’s okay to get rid of things if you’re not using them. We try to be purposeful with everything we bring in our house, so this quote exemplifies our way of living now.
On switching things up: You can change the writing on the quote board to say whatever you want. This one has been there for over a month, and I think it might have been the longest we’ve kept one up. I get bored easily, I like to switch things up. I move furniture and art around about once every six months, but there is only so much I can do with a small house!
“It’s Ok” banner: Secret Holiday & Co. Geometric wood wall hanging: The Little Movement Shop. Table: Hedge House Furniture. Chairs: family heirloom. Table cloth: Target. Chandeliers: original to home.
On cooking: We love trying new things. Some recipes stick, and some we’re like, “All right, not doing that again.” On the weekend, we all cook together. It gets tight in the kitchen, so we use the butcher’s block in the dining room for extra counter space. Our favorites are chicken tikka masala and shredded chicken tacos. They’re spicy, so the boys usually eat it without the salsa, but I always put it on the side so they have the opportunity to try it if they want. I’m not a restaurant, I’m not going to make four different meals, and this way they end up trying things they normally wouldn’t try. My younger son is a dump truck and will eat anything, but Cohen hates anything green. Still, I’ve just keep putting veggies on his plate. A couple times recently he has taken bites, so progress!
On eating together: We sit down together every night for dinner. It gives a chance for us to talk about our days. Even if it gets crazy at bedtime, at least we had that moment of hanging out together around the table and sharing a meal.
On statement walls: Since most of the walls in the house are neutral, I wanted a statement wall to liven up the dining room. I had heard of the company Chasing Paper, which does stick-on wallpaper, but no print caught my eye until I saw this one. It’s kinda folksy. The color is just right, too. I didn’t want it to be too crazy, because it’s our dining room.
On special drinks: Mixology is one of Noel’s creative outlets, so we like having friends over for cocktails. When it’s just us, we make margaritas on the rocks with fresh lime. A fresh margarita at the end of the day is so refreshing — we always have limes on hand! We have that or a beer — Noel is a beer snob, so I know whatever he puts in the fridge is going to be good.
On making things playful: Most of our house is neutral with pops of color here and there. But for the kid’s room, I decided to push myself out of my comfort zone. I wanted it to be more playful for them. The kids spend most of their time in there, and it’s a nice place for us all to hang out.
On fun patterns: Since it’s a small room, we figured a large rug would make it feel bigger. I decided to go for color with this one. I love all the fun patterns in the room. At first, I didn’t know if the octopus crib sheets would go, but I went for it — now they’re my favorite thing in the room. Theirs is the train set!
Train set: IKEA.
On choosing names: We obviously like the last-name-as-a-first-name thing! If a stranger asks how we chose the name “Cohen,” I’ll just say we liked it. But if it’s a friend, I’ll admit that it’s from The O.C. When that show was on, I was obsessed with Seth Cohen.
On dance parties: We have little dance parties in the house throughout the day. When everyone is in a funk, it helps to get the kids to move around and not take things too seriously — for me, too. Cohen’s usually opposed to it at first and then he breaks a smile. He’s my “three-nager.” He’s over it most days and already totally embarrassed by me. It’s a phase three-year-olds seem to go through — they think they’re right about everything and are very independent.
On having a calm bedroom: We wanted our bedroom to be a place we could relax. In previous places, we’ve had a lot going on in our bedroom, but having a bunch of stuff around made me feel a little anxious. At the end of the day, it’s nice to just be somewhere clean and simple.
On staying put: We have lived in five different places since we got married five years ago, but do not want to continue this moving trend. None of our homes felt like a place we could stay awhile — until this one. I wanted a house that felt like a home. We’ve finally found that, and it feels really good.
Thank you so much, Ro!