Emily Ley, founder and creative director of Emily Ley Paper & Gifts, is here with us on the blog today to share about her home-building process, as well as her upcoming book, Grace Not Perfection: Embracing Simplicity, Celebrating Joy. Emily’s boutique lifestyle brand started with her Simplified Planner, a daily agenda for what matters most, but has expanded to include organizational tools, office necessities, stationery, and family-centric gifts. Launched in 2008, her brand quickly grew and is now carried in retail outlets across the United States and around the world. Emily lives with her husband and three kids in Tampa, Florida, and runs her business out of their home. Read on to hear all about her tips for building your house, establishing balance, and running your business from home.
What is something you love most about being a homeowner?
Oh my goodness, there are so many things! I love that we get to have a space that we can make our own. Building a house is one thing, but building a home is something completely different. A lot of it happens after you build the actual house, as you settle in and start to make your space work for you and your family.
How would you describe your style?
Well, it’s funny – my husband’s style and my style are complete opposites, but we have learned to mesh our styles together into a new style that works for both of us. When we built this house we decided that we wanted the space to feel like us, to be comfortable and traditional, and I think those words describe my style now. Simple, personable, but with personality, and pops of color to make it feel lived in.
Did you and your husband have different “must haves” when you were building?
We definitely had different ‘must-haves,’ and we had to reach a middle ground in terms of our final list. It’s hard to let go of certain things, but we had to decide what was best for our family. We went in with an idea of what we both wanted, and we were looking for the model that fit both of us the best. We found a model that worked, and then we made a bunch of tweaks to that model to make it really great. What was most important to Bryan (my husband) was space–having lots of space for our kids to play, and also for them to have their independent spaces. And then for me, it was really important to have lots of light. The model that we chose definitely has lots of light and space.
You mentioned that you like your space to have personality. What, to you, makes your house a home?
Well… it goes back to this whole ‘Grace Not Perfection’ thing, which is the theme of my book. We all see these picture perfect homes on TV and in magazines, and while everything is always in its place, I actually think a lot of those don’t look very lived in… so for us, we have found ways to mix our style in with the things that make a house a home, like our kids’ artwork on the walls. I don’t want to hide that stuff. I want my house to be beautiful, but I also want to display the things that give it heart. I took some corkboard and framed it to make three display boards for the wall in our kitchen. The frames are stylish and beautiful, and our kids’ artwork, and Instagram photos, and whatever else we stick up there, make our house feel like a home because we are able to display things that make us proud. For us, that’s what makes our house feel like a home – that we aren’t afraid to let it get messy and be lived in.
Do you have any other suggestions or recommendations that you would give based on your building experience?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. According to the original plan for the model, the driveway went up the side of the house. Brady, our oldest son, loves to ride his bike, so we asked if we could do a circular driveway in front of our house instead, and our builder was like ‘Yea, that’s no problem at all.’ It has made a huge difference in our quality of life because we can sit on the porch while Brady rides his bike and the babies can play. And it didn’t even cost that much more money, it just took us asking. I initially went into the process, especially because we were choosing a model and not building a custom home, with the understanding that you choose the model and you get what you get. I didn’t understand in the beginning that I could ask questions and say “Hey can we add a window to this room, or can we blow out this wall…” As we moved through the process I would ask Bryan questions behind the scenes and he would say “Just ask them! The worst we can get is a no!” Our builder was really good about explaining our options or showing us other ways we could achieve our goals. By the end, I think he was sick of me because I would say “Please can we do this one more thing? Can we make one more change?!” But they were awesome. We definitely got the home that we wanted.
Can you tell us a little bit about your upcoming book, Grace Not Perfection?
It’s like my whole heart in 240 pages. “Grace Not Perfection” has been my mantra for the past 5 years of my life, and is something that was really laid on my heart when Brady was born. I was trying so hard to have it all together, because everyone else I knew was a great businesswoman, the perfect mom, and had dinner on the table at 6 p.m., with perfect hair. Why couldn’t I be that perfect woman as well? I was really hard on myself and it took me hitting a wall to say, “I’m done trying so hard to be perfect.” Life is messy, and fun, and silly, and joyful–and it’s not about being perfectly put together all the time, or having the perfect home, or a spotless kitchen, or any of those things. It’s about making memories and love, and all that. There is this overarching feeling among women right now that we are expected to be so much. And it’s so easy to compare yourself to people on the internet. It’s so easy to keep ourselves on the hook all the time, but when we let ourselves off the hook there is so much freedom to be found.
So the book is a lot of stories from my journey, but it’s also very tactical. There are a lot of to-do lists, checklists, and brainstorm pages–the pages are made so you can write on them, which is really cool. There are 15 chapters, split into three sections: having grace with yourself, with your people, and with your calling. I personally have tried to find perfection in all of those areas (and still do – I definitely haven’t “arrived” by any means) and my journey has been about learning to let go of that and love the circus in all three areas. I’m so excited for the book to finally come out!
How do you live out that mantra within your home in terms of creating a meaningful space?
Make your space work for you. This is kind of a silly example, but I give it in the book and it really changed a lot for us…We have shoes all over our house, and my son was forever taking off his shoes and having to run them upstairs and put them in his closet. And finally one day I was like, “Why are we keeping the shoes in the closet when we could just have a shoe basket by the front door?” The kids’ shoes all go in the shoe basket, and at the end of the day we just pick up the shoes that are all over the house and throw them in. It’s so simple, but it’s also practical. Doing little things like that to make a space work for you are really helpful.
I also think that embracing the things that bring you joy is really important. For example, I was really close to my grandmother, and she gave me a recipe box right before she passed away. It’s beat all to goodness – rusted and tarnished and all the things, and I’ve always had it in my pantry on top of all of my recipe books. One day I finally thought, “You know what… every time I see this in the pantry it just makes me so happy.” (Because it’s all of her recipes, like all of her favorites.) So I pulled it out and put it on the counter, and arranged it like a little decor piece. It’s so fun because every time I see it it makes me happy, and the fake flowers that were there before didn’t do anything for me. So decorating in a way and with things that are heart filling rather than just for show, I think that is one way to really infuse your space with joy and make it a home rather than a house.
Other than the shoe basket and the hooks by the front door, do you have any other de-cluttering or smart cleaning tips?
Storage is everything. We have boxes and bins everywhere. We have hidden storage in our coffee table. Having space for stuff to go at the end of the day is key. We kind of let our house be a mess throughout the day, and then when the kids go to bed Brian and I spend 15 minutes picking everything up. We have 5 toy baskets in our living room, and all the toys come out during the day and then at the end of the day we just throw them in the basket. We don’t organize them into little bins with labels–I think that you can definitely over organize, and that is just a pain. Don’t over complicate things. Sometimes I see those pictures on Pinterest of these beautifully organized playrooms with tiny little bins and labels for every little thing and it just makes my head want to explode.
What is it like to run your business out of your house?
Before we moved, we had reached a point with my business where it didn’t make sense to ship thousands of boxes out of my living room anymore, and my team was outgrowing our 10X10 guestroom. It was either go out and get an office space and warehouse or outsource the shipping to a shipping center and be here at home and stay available to the kids. By the way, I don’t watch my kids during the day while I work. Sometimes I think people think that, but that would be crazy! We have an amazing nanny. But the reason I started my company was because I wanted to be flexible as a mom. So staying true to that, we decided to keep my office in the new house. We blew the wall out between the dining room and the office, so we lost the dining room but have a big office now. And it’s great– I get to be here and available if someone is teething and needs Mom, and I get to pick Brady up from school every day. It gives me the best of both worlds. Now, there are days when it is crazy and I have to escape to the library, but that’s ok! I love having the flexibility to be here and run my company from home. There are challenges, but it is definitely great.
Do you have any tips for people working from home, in terms of how you separate work from your home life?
Definitely. The challenge is that work lives with me, so I have to be very diligent about having office hours. Now, there are times when I obviously have to get things done after the kids go to bed, but setting boundaries is crucial when you work from home. That also means having a designated workspace, whether it’s one side of your kitchen table or a big office in your home. Having a designated work space where you can leave all the work stuff and walk away from it at the end of the day is super, super important. Setting boundaries up from the beginning is crucial.
Emily, thank you so much for sharing with us! Grace Not Perfection: Embracing Simplicity, Celebrating Joy is out now, make sure to grab a copy!
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