Designer Abby Low lives with her husband and two sons in this bright and charming house in Summit, New Jersey. "We put an offer in the day we saw it," she told us. "Everything was in the original 1938 condition—it still had the wood floors and the original little details." Here are more photos, if you'd like to see...
On that amazing photo of the boys: The photo was taken on my only camera: the iPhone. It was early one morning and the boys asked me to take their picture, a request that never happens. I took the photo, cropped it and sized it up in Photoshop to fit a large frame, and saved it as a grayscale PDF file. I took the file to Kinkos and had it printed out on a plotter (basically a giant photocopier). The whole thing cost about $10!
On kid-friendly decorating: We have a lot of grown-up stuff, but the kids kind of play around it. I remember going to my grandparents' house and they had breakables everywhere. You learned what was okay to play with and what was not.
On trusting yourself: Just buy what you love and then it will work. I’ve bought things that I don't love, and you think it will just blend in, but it doesn't and it drives you nuts.
On how parenthood changes you: It's kind of like getting hit by a hurricane. You just figure it out. I remember asking my mom when she was visiting once, “How did you guys do this??” There were seven girls and one boy in my house growing up! She said they didn't know what they were doing; they just figured it out as they went. That was both refreshing and scary. I think it's true: No one knows what they're doing.
I remember, before I was a parent, when friends with kids would come over to our Brooklyn apartment and we didn't have any toys. I once gave my friends’ kids a big round candle that looked like a ball. It was so heavy and they were trying to throw it around.
I kind of thought that one day I'd wake up and suddenly become an adult. But I still feel like I’m 26. Sometimes I'll be doing stuff with my kids and I'll be like, “Whoa, I'm their mom.”
Couch: Two Jakes. Rug: Serena and Lily. Pillows: Jonathan Adler (these designs no longer available, but similar here). Bench: Antique. Console table: Ikea. Yellow stool: Vintage. Upholstered chair: Elemente. Wooden arm chair: Antique. Metal bookshelf: Target (no longer available, similar here).
On family dinners: Back in the city, my husband would work until 10pm every night, so I would work late, too. I remember when we moved here, he came home from work the first day at 7pm and we just stared at each other. We had so much time! We didn't know what to do. Now we eat dinner as a family every single night. We talk to the kids, tell them a story if they're too wiggly. That's what I did growing up, and it's a nice way to check in at the end of the day.
On getting kids to eat veggies: My husband gives the boys their vegetables first, and then we bring out the rest of the food. And it seems to work! They actually like vegetables. So we have to eat our vegetables first, too.
Table: Ad Hoc, NYC (store now closed). White chairs: Ikea. Wooden chairs: City Foundry. Console table: Ikea. Pendant lamp: Vintage. Mirror: Vintage from Chelsea flea market. Corner lamp: Ikea.
On developing a personal aesthetic: I love primary colors, and my husband and I love books. Between all the books and objects, it’s nice to have a neutral white backdrop. I want my home to feel playful, not too serious. My mom was also into strong colors. Every room in our house growing up was an intense color, like royal blue. As children, we would paint our own rooms, and she’d let us choose the colors. My dad's style was very Scandinavian—white walls and Swedish furniture. I think I'm a mix of my parents’ aesthetics.
Cabinets: Ikea. Countertops: Ikea. Orange tray: West Elm.
On the transition from Brooklyn to the suburbs: It was so hard! We'd lived in the city for 10 years, and we were planning to stay there for...forever. But my husband wound up getting a job out here. I was almost nine months pregnant when we moved. So all of the sudden I was out here, in a house, in the suburbs, driving a car (we hadn't owned a car before), not working (I had my own design business back in the city). So it took a while to adjust. If I had gone through just one change it would have been easier, but everything changed.
There's vibrant creative energy in the city, which I miss. You get the feeling that anything can happen. But it's nice to be in a neighborhood where you can get to know your neighbors. They let us use their tools, they bring us food, they're super friendly. It's not that people weren't friendly in New York, but you get into your schedule where you don't ever meet your neighbors. And it's nice to finally put down roots.
An unexpected slice of suburbia: Last summer, the cicadas hit this neighborhood! They were swarming everywhere! It was surreal. They're the most harmless bugs, but they're big and scary. My older son was enamored with them. He'd put them on his chest and ride his scooter around with them on his shirt.
Desk: DIY. Chair: Vintage Eames Management Chair. White stool: Ikea.
On choosing meaningful art: I like art that has a story behind it or some kind of family legacy. For example, I framed chocolate bar wrappers from my friends’ business, Chocolate Editions. I’ve been framing them as I’ve gotten them.
Bed: Case Study by Modernica. Bedding: Ikea and Hudson's Bay. Night table: Vintage from Chelsea flea market. Dresser: Horseman Antiques in Brooklyn. Console table: Ikea (similar here). White table lamp: Ikea. Red bins: Land of Nod.
On streamlining toys: As far as toys, they really would play with anything. Their grandparents give them talking toys with batteries. We let them play with them for a week or so...and then they disappear.
I went to this parenting class someone suggested and the teacher talked about how the more chaos there is around kids, the more chaos they create. It's harder for them to focus on things if there’s too much going on around them. They still have a ton of toys, but if you can edit them down, kids will play with anything. They'll play with a paper towel tube. A cardboard box is the best toy. If we get a delivery, the box is the favorite toy for like a week. They don't need that much.
On the joy of bunk beds: We went to Mexico last fall. My parents rented a condo and the kids had their own little room with a bunk bed. They thought it was the coolest thing in the world—they played on it for hours—and they slept well and were able to navigate the ladder. When we got back, we were like, okay, let's get them a bunk bed. It's their favorite thing to play with next to their toys. It becomes an ambulance, a garbage truck, a fire truck, and sometimes we put blankets over it to make a big fort.
On favorite children’s books: I love old books. They're simpler, maybe. The boys love Gail Gibbons—she did a bunch of beautifully illustrated books about trucks and cars; one’s about a fill-up station. Another favorite is Dick Bruna—all the Miffy bunny books. I like the illustrations; plus they rhyme and the kids learn a lot of vocabulary.
On the boys' treasures: They’re both really into garbage trucks. At Christmas, they both got toy garbage trucks, along with a book called I Stink. They have the whole thing memorized! There are often little pieces of torn-up paper “garbage” all over our house—the boys collect it, and move it, and store it, and transport it. Once a week on garbage day, they glue themselves to the window and watch the truck go by.
Bunk beds: Ikea. Rug: Ikea. Train Table: Ikea. Bins: TubTrugs. Trains: Brio (new and vintage, from eBay). Large trucks (garbage trucks, yellow crane, excavator, dump truck, logging truck): Bruder. Plush globe: Amazon. Wooden robot: Areaware. Balloon animal bookend: Land of Nod.
Artwork: Red bear print, marine animals poster, brown bird print: Banquet Workshop. Alphabet poster: Reference Library. Kids & Book illustration: Jason Polan for Book/Shop.
Thank you so much, Abby!
P.S. More house tours, including a Brooklyn brownstone and a New York City apartment.
(Photos courtesy of Abby Low; family portraits by Alpha Smoot for Cup of Jo. Interview by Caroline Donofrio)