What My Mom Taught Me About Creating A Home

The women that shaped us.

Courtesy of Amber Interiors.

A mother is often the most influential woman in our lives. If you grew up with a mom as one of your main caretakers, they play a key role in shaping you as a person, and also forming your perceptions of what a home can and should be. That truly unique rapport both in childhood and adulthood affects us in deep lasting ways. After all, every mom and child relationship brings up a diversity of highs, lows, teaching moments, and of course, love.

As Mother's Day approaches, we asked three influential designers and entrepreneurs to share with us stories of their moms and how these strong women came to shape what home means to them and taught them to be the successful, dynamic people they are today. Read ahead to learn their about their incredible relationships.

What My Mom Taught Me About Creating A Home
Courtesy of Orlando Soria.

Orlando Soria, interior designer and founder of Hommemaker

Lonny: What was it like growing up with your mother?

OS: I was raised in a small community within Yosemite National Park where my mom taught at the small grammar school (she was my teacher for three years) and my dad was the park dentist (yes, that exists, or at least it used to). My mom was very dedicated to her profession and worked incredibly long hours. She also wasn't the type of mom who did every single thing for us. We were expected to do quite a bit on our own. But she did do very special things for us that I'll never forgot. There was always something creative going on in our house, normally revolving around holidays. There was just a lot of making and imagination going on — our house was an experimentation zone.

Another great thing my mom did for me and my siblings is taking us all over the place. We grew up in the woods, but we went to San Francisco all the time. We had the best of both worlds, the luxury of growing up next to the tallest waterfall in the US and also getting to experience city culture on a regular basis. I think she did her best to make us into people who were interested in art, culture, diversity, and social justice. I'll always be thankful to her for that.

How has your relationship changed over the years?

OS: My mom and I have always been best friends. I wasn't someone who had a lot of friends as a kid and I credit that with fanning the flames of my creativity, which my mom always encouraged (not the alone part, the creativity). I've really enjoyed the relationship I have with my mom in my thirties. I've really enjoyed just being able to be at the age where I'm not picking apart my parents for how they raised me or what I did and did not have, and just concentrating on how much I love and appreciate them for what great people they are, how hard they've worked for everything they have, and how committed to being decent, upstanding people they are. I wish more people were like my parents to be honest, including me.

Growing up we didn't invest that much time into large-scale house projects. But my parents bought a big, bright house when they retired and were finally ready to invest some time and money into renovating again. The recent design projects I've worked on with my parents are rewarding twofold. Firstly, because they give me the opportunity to help them create a beautiful place to live. Second, because it's a chance to do stuff together. I say this all the time: “Designing a space is a way to show care for yourself and care for the people in your life." And I think being able to design spaces for my parents, and my mom in particular, has been a way to show care for them and to try to repay them for all the ways they've cared for me throughout my life. 

How did she shape a home environment for you?

OS: We lived in a little rented cabin, owned by the federal government. So we weren't allowed to really do anything to renovate it because it was a historic structure. However, we did paint and update things from time to time to keep it fresh and personalize it. I think my mom's perspective was always, "Let's do the best we can with what we have and be creative about it,” because we couldn't do everything we wanted to do to our house. And I think that design sensibility — working within parameters — has helped me deal with the limitations of working with clients and designing with restrictions.

For better or for worse, my mom really never took herself seriously as a decorator, homemaker, or cook. So she never really had a sense of preciousness about what she did. She made countless beautiful meals and was always making crafts, sewing, quilting, etc. But she did it with the kind of self-deprecating nature that made it clear that experimentation and exploration was more important than perfection (though if you ask me and my siblings or anyone who's tried her food or seen the beautiful things she's made, they're stunning and quite perfect). The sense of trying things out is how I eventually got into design and is actually one of the main themes of my new book, Get It Together!. 

Was design an important element of the spaces you grew up in?

OS: I have kind of a complicated answer to this question. I think because my parents' relationship with "design" was always a fraught one. My parents both come from pretty humble backgrounds — lower income families with lots of siblings. So I think to them a "designed" home felt out of their grasp, despite the fact that because of their schooling and income levels they could have afforded it. There was always a sense that we couldn't have a perfectly designed house because my parents somehow didn't think they were worthy of it. One thing I've always been adamant about is that if something can be beautiful and perfect, why not make it beautiful and perfect? Another thing I'm pretty strong on is that everyone, regardless of their income, should take pride in their home and make it as beautiful as it can be. So I think design was important to my mom, but it also always felt out of her reach. As an adult, I've tried to make their home as beautiful as it can be, kind of in a small way to be like HEY YOU'RE WORTH IT.

How has your mother's approach to what a home means shaped how you now create a home for yourself?

OS: I’ve basically just knocked off my mom's approach to life and style so I pretty much owe everything to her. One of my mottos is that usually the simplest solution is the best. I got that from her. And that can be applied to everything from food to decor. With food, it's cooking with real ingredients and not using anything fake or processed.

The same kind of sensibility applies to how she she approached design stuff, preferring real stuff to fake finishes and materials. My mom has also always been really conscientious about knowing the history and meaning of the things she puts in her house, especially the objects that come from cultures outside her own. So ultimately the lesson she taught me is that nothing in your home should be frivolous or wasteful, everything should be quality and made to last, and that your home should be a showcase for your life experiences, a way of expressing your appreciation for all the beautiful things you see in the world. 

Meena Harris, founder of the Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign

What My Mom Taught Me About Creating A Home
Courtesy of Meena Harris.

Lonny: What was it like growing up with your mother?

Meena Harris: Growing up with my mother was incredibly special and formative, as she was a single mom, so for a long time it was "just the two of us." She also was a young mother, so I had the unique experience of being by her side for many significant life moments that most kids only get to hear about later in life, like her college and law school graduations.

How has your relationship changed over the years?

MH: Our relationship has changed considerably just in the last two years, because she's now a grandmother. I still look to her for advice and guidance, but there's now a beautiful dimension of her providing the same motherly support to my girls — and there's nothing like witnessing the love and affection of a doting grandmother! We're lucky to live in the same city now after having lived on opposite coasts the last couple of years, so it's special for both me and my daughters to get to spend time with her regularly.

How did she shape a home environment for you?

MH: Despite the fact that my mom was really busy working hard to make a living for us on her own, she created a warm and loving home, which included small but important things like making time for home-cooked meals, and putting hand-written notes in my lunch boxes. And no matter the overall color scheme or design aesthetic, she always incorporated elements of our ethnic heritage, whether through Indian paintings, African sculptures, or black artists. Another particularly fond memory I have is the care and joy she took in decorating our home for the holidays.

Was design an important element of the spaces you grew up in?

MH: My mom always had a sophisticated sense of design, even when we may not have had a ton of space to work with, and she had a knack for making spaces feel like our own. We moved around a fair bit, and I was always impressed at how dedicated she was in making our living environment feel nurturing and settled as quickly as she could. She had a sense of style, but equally important, she wanted our home to be welcoming and comfortable for me and my childhood friends.

How has your mother's approach to what a home means shaped how you now create a home for yourself?

MH: We recently moved into a new house when our first daughter was two weeks old, and there are so many things I still want to do, including some major renovations. But the first thing I did, which very much is a reflection of how my mom approached me, was to make sure that my daughter's room was well designed and perfect in every way. I've also learned from my mother that it takes time to make a house into a home; it requires living with your space, finding unique pieces, and having the patience to develop your own sense of style.

What My Mom Taught Me About Creating A Home
Courtesy of Payton Turner; Photographed by Lauren Pisano.

Payton Turner, artist, designer, and founder of Flat Vernacular

Lonny: What was it like growing up with your mother?

PT: I was raised by a woman who refused to teach me how to cook because she never wanted me to be tethered to the kitchen for a man’s sake. Besides being an incredibly strong feminist, my mother has always championed creativity and intelligent discourse. Dissecting current events and politics was the normal dinner table routine. Our house was filled to the brim with all kinds of books, well-loved dogs, the freedom to be who you were, and oftentimes her fluffy homemade soufflés. We watched a ton of movies together — ranging from Singing In The Rain to The Birds — and she read to me every single night until I could read for myself. Growing up with a mother who is so driven, deeply generous, kind, and remarkably intelligent was a gift. She really allowed me to be who I was– to develop at my own pace into my own person.

How has your relationship changed over the years?

PT: We’re still extremely close. Honestly, it hasn’t changed much. Watching Rachel Maddow is still our nightly routine even though we live in different houses.

How did she shape a home environment for you?

PT: Her homes have always been cozy and peaceful. She raised both my brother and I as a single parent with very little support and I’m still baffled by her strength and efficiency. When she moved us from Larchmont, New York to Stamford, Connecticut, we arrived at our new house with cable installed, food in the fridge, and curtains hung. I honestly don’t know how she did it. There was always a home-cooked meal ready for anyone who wanted or needed one. Our house felt safe thanks to her providing such loving care for my brother and I. I still long for my childhood home!

Was design an important element of the spaces you grew up in?

PT: Definitely. My mother has a keen sense of space and a good eye for aesthetics. She also allowed me to pick out furniture and wallpaper for my room so I began to develop and articulate my own taste when I was very young.

How has your mother’s approach to what a home means shaped how you now create a home for yourself?

PT: Having a house that is open-minded, loving, peaceful, comfortable, and cozy is what I learned from her and what I value most about my own house. You can achieve such a house both in design and with the actions that you take inside its walls. My mother also taught me some neat tricks. Like if you feel kind of sad and unmoored, sauté fresh garlic in olive oil or boil apple cider with cinnamon sticks on the stove. Food smells are comforting and very grounding. Creating new traditions and honoring ones from childhood is also hugely important to me, which comes directly from her. We celebrated and decorated extensively for most of the major holidays. My home is filled with books, cats, objects and furniture I love, and intellectual discourse. It’s all thanks to what I learned from her.

I am Lonny's Senior Associate Editor. You can find me writing about interior tips, scouting out the coolest new spots, and rallying behind amazing female entrepreneurs. You can reach me at shelby.wax@livingly.com or on Instagram @shelbywax.
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