Kristen Mittler lives in a cozy three-bedroom home outside Dayton, Ohio, with her husband, Arick, their four children and a bunch of personality-packed chickens. “This is the smallest place we have ever lived and we love it,” she says of her house built in 1861. Here, Kristen talks about the charms of an old house, countryside adventures and the key to the best BLT…
On family treasures: One of the deciding factors that made us buy this house was that it was so close to family. I grew up in Ohio and all of my family is now within a 15-mile radius! If we need new furniture, we usually go for old before new, and if it’s from family we love it even more. We have a lot of hand-me-downs from our parents and grandparents, like the credenza the TV is on.
On fresh produce: We have a garden, and we grow herbs, tomatoes, zucchini, squash, peppers and watermelon. The boys check on the garden every day to see what’s ready. Tomatoes are the most popular topic because they like to see them go from green to red. We have an abundance of zucchini right now, so I’ve been making loaves of zucchini bread and freezing them for later. I love baking, and it feels therapeutic to me, but I’m a little worried I’m giving everyone a sweet tooth! My hobby is probably not doing them any favors.
On family dinners: I always had dinner with my family growing up, so eating together is really important to me. It’s a time for us to connect, talk about the day or just be silly. We have a no phones at the table rule. In the summer, we eat so many BLT sandwiches. So many! We use the tomatoes from the garden, and sometimes Arick will add an egg to his. We’re not picky about our mayo, but one thing that really matters is the bread. We’ve tried it with so many artisanal breads, but we always go back to classic white. It’s the best way to go.
On funny chickens: We have 10 chickens who are basically little princesses. They’re hilarious. We have one named Patricia, but we call her Tricia, who likes to lay her egg on the back porch. Together, they lay nine eggs a day, and Wolfgang will collect them with his basket then run back to the house yelling, ‘I got the eggs!’ It’s so sweet. The kids also love feeding the chickens. I’ll look in the refrigerator and be like, ‘Where did all the blueberries go?’ And I’ll realize Rufus snuck and fed them.
On homeschooling: We used to live in an area that didn’t have great public schools, so I homeschooled Eleanor (now 10). We’ve since moved, but continued homeschooling. I plan on homeschooling all of our kids (Wolfgang, 4, Rufus, 3, and Agnes, 10 months). It’s just me with the four of them during the week, but we’ve developed a nice rhythm. At first I had this fantasy that it was going to be magical all the time, like skipping through the woods together. But it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’m learning to embrace what homeschooling actually is. It’s trial and error, but I’ve found some really great programs that work for us. Everyone is signed up for their extracurriculars this fall. Eleanor and Wolfgang are taking a nature class, Eleanor is doing ballet and an art class, and the boys are doing soccer.
On finding balance: I’ve realized that you can choose your stress level, especially being home with the kids all day. I was rigid about keeping things tidy for so long and would get overwhelmed if my house wasn’t always picked up. But you just have to let go and live.
On a place to unwind: My bed is where I like to hang out if I have an extra second or if it’s quiet time, and I’ll go there to sit with a book. It’s also become a landing spot for the rest our family, too. When I have downtime at night, I’m for sure watching TV. Sometimes it’s Law and Order, and I’m currently re-watching The Sopranos. I’m a comfort re-watcher.
Basinet: Plum and Sparrow.
On big windows: In this house, you can see everything from our windows. We have a tree swing in the back, and Eleanor swings between every task. She’ll swing, have a snack, swing. She swings all day. I love looking out and catching a glimpse of her out there. We also have wildflowers growing around the house. We like to leave them growing instead of picking them so we can see them every time we look out.
On letting kids decorate: Eleanor’s room is all her. She picked out her bed frame and everything, she even added the disco ball in the window. The string of Christmas lights are from the holidays, but she didn’t want to take them down. She loves to read in bed — she just finished the Roald Dahl collection — and is also super into collecting vintage troll dolls from the 1990s. We hunt them down on eBay and when we’re antiquing.
On downsizing: We are a family of six living in a three-bedroom house, but it feels homey. The boys share a bedroom. They play super well together — they’re into trains, cars and puzzles. They also love playing house. It’s always house. They’ll use their stuffed animals, and Wolfgang always wants to be the dad. They play school, too. When school is over for the day, they’ll just go right back to playing school.
Pink paint: Behr.
On keeping the old: The owner before us lived in this house for 30 years, and I really appreciate how he kept all the old charm. If something needed replacing, he found things that didn’t take away the character of the house, and we want to do the same. We didn’t change much when we moved in, he even had the walls painted a super neutral gray that we loved. I did, though, paint the bathroom pink, and it’s basically my dream bathroom. Somedays the boys will get like three baths depending on what they’ve been into.
On an extension of the house: It was important for us to find a place with a little bit of land when we bought a home. We have two acres, which isn’t a lot, but definitely an upgrade from when we lived in the city. The yard is fenced in, so the kids can roam freely. We love that we can open the back door, and they can run in and out, in and out, a million times a day. The neighbors own the cornfields behind us, but they don’t mind if the kids race through the fields when it’s not harvest time. I hope the kids will look back on this time in their lives and realize they could just be who they are.
On staying for awhile: We’ve moved a lot over the years and this is by far the best place we’ve lived. We have everything we wanted with this home, and we’re really happy. I think we’ll be here for awhile.
Thank you so much, Kristen!
(Photos by Kristen Mittler.)