Design Mom

designmom.com · Nov 25, 2014

Living With Kids: Noa Weintraub

By Gabrielle.

I hereby declare Noa Weintraub Queen of the Stunning Staircase! She is ruler over two of the most startlingly stylish sets of steps I’ve seen, so I really think she deserves the crown. (There should really be a crown.)

Her home is a fun house, for sure. You would never in a million years think that the force who designed these spaces thought she didn’t want a child! This honesty, this unabashed creativity, and Noa’s great advice — one of her gems is “Life’s too short to wait for a special occasion! — all make this tour a favorite of mine. I hope it’s one of yours, too!

Welcome, Noa!

Q: Tell us all about the family who lives here.

A: Hi! I’m Noa, an artist, illustrator and ceramicist. My partner, Mark, is a photographer, and we live with our six year old daughter, Matisse. Until recently, we also lived with Mark’s son Wyatt who is 20, but we are still lucky to see him frequently — especially when good food is involved.

Sharing our house are Wyatt’s two snakes: Psycho Sy is a King Snake, and Fluffy is a Royal Python. I know, I know! It took me a while to get used to them, but they really are nicer than they sound and conveniently very low maintenance.

Mark and I met while on an advertising job, back in my more glamorous days when I used to be a fashion stylist. These days, I’m more inclined to be wearing flats and wellington boots than high heels and sequins. That’s not to say I don’t try and dress up as much as I can. I’ve always believed life’s too short to wait for a special occasion. Wear the clothes you love as often as possible, even if it means dressing up for the school run! Working as an illustrator and being a mum work well together, I’ve discovered. I have the flexibility of choosing my own hours and I make sure that I work around Matisse’s schedule. (It’s also a really good excuse to buy loads of vintage children’s books, one of my favourite things!)

Mark started out as a graphic designer, became an Art Director, then photographer, regularly featuring in British Vogue and iD magazine and working for clients such as Armani and Clarins. But he is a real nature boy at heart and a lot of his photography now reflects that, which means he’s always out and about in the great British countryside. He’s recently published his third photography book, The Angler Who Fell to Earth, which you could say is about his main passions: landscape and culture, experienced by, say, fishing or through music. His love of the outdoors has definitely rubbed off on me, in spite of being a city girl through and through. Now that I am a mum, I am aware of how important being out in nature is, and how crucial to our children’s development and understanding of the world.

As a family, we drive out of town for walks and woodland adventures as much as we can. Looking for fairies always helps get our six year old in the mood if she’s feeling a little uninspired. Mushroom hunting is definitely one of our favourite things to do in late summer and autumn. We come home and Mark dries them in the oven or makes a proper wild mushroom risotto for us. What’s not to love?

Q: How did this house become your home?

A: Well, here’s the thing…We live in the 1930s house that I grew up in!

I moved in as a student at college while my parents live abroad, and then things just evolved from there. Before I knew it, I was raising my own family here. We never planned it this way, but like someone once said, life never turns out how you think it will.

It’s hard to transform a house where you have so many memories of childhood, but I think I’ve managed it. It’s very rare now that I see it in the same light as before.

When I first lived here, it had the 1970s kitchen with the crazy orange yellow and brown patterned linoleum. The bedrooms upstairs had the most dated built-in wardrobes and the bathroom had a beige wall-to-wall carpet! Ahh, the seventies! Slowly but very surely, I ripped things out and put my own mark on each room. And when I was pregnant, we added the loft extension to gain the extra room and bathroom.

It has always been tricky to decide how much to invest in the decor of the house. With a limited budget and the idea that we’re not going to live here forever, it’s been hard to determine what is worth doing and changing and what we can live with. But sometimes there are itches that need to be scratched, and every now and again I just have to do something about something! We’ve slowly made it our own, and hopefully one day we can start with a blank canvas somewhere else.

Q: Tell us why you love the place you live.

A: I’ve lived in London pretty much most of my life, and I still love it. I love living in a big energetic vibrant city. I love the fact that I have so much culture around me. It’s an endless stream of stimulation with the volume turned up!

We have a membership to the Tate gallery, so the three of us often go and check out the latest art exhibitions there. The best was taking Matisse to see the Matisse exhibition recently. She loved it, and nd of course loved seeing her name in big letters everywhere.

Having said that, the area we live in is the suburbs of North West London, which means we get the best of both worlds. We can tap into the hullabaloo of the city, and then retreat to the green streets of our corner of it all. The fact that we have a garden makes all the difference to us. Mark has slowly turned it back into a wildlife rich habitat, and part vegetable plot. Fourteen species of butterflies are regularly seen, as well as a huge list of birds from sparrow hawks to green parakeets, frogs, foxes, and ample wild flowers in preparation for future bee keeping. If we do want to venture out but not far, the heath is just five minutes away where we can enjoy a quick fix of the trees and ponds there.

Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? What are the must-haves in your home that make you crazy happy every time you catch sight of them? (Besides your family, of course!)

A: Ooh! Well..I love the chandelier in Matisse’s room, the tambourine lady lamp that I found in a house clearance shop, and I love the Grayson Perry framed silk scarf hanging in the living room, which was a birthday present from Mark.

But my favourite thing by far about my house are the blue gradient stairs. Every time I go up the stairs it fills my heart with joy and makes me smile inside. I LOVE colour. I think it can make such a difference when things around you are bright and happy.

I’ve always worked in vintage clothes shops since being at art college. Chelsea College of Art used to be across the street from the fabulously famous vintage shop Steinberg and Tolkien, and it was not unusual for me to swap study days with being amongst the most glamorous clothes you could imagine. Later on, I worked closely with the stylist Marianne Cotterill, the most creatively inspiring woman I know. I owe a lot of my aesthetic to her, I think, as far as feeling utterly free to mix and match according to my inner style instinct. Placing modern with antique and everything in between, and adding the most unexpected things just because it makes me smile. Humour is always present, and I try not to take things too seriously when it comes to arranging and rearranging the house. Not being precious about getting things right, and definitely not trying to match things.

When I go shopping at antique fairs or flea markets, if I see something I like I very rarely think if it will go with everything else. If it makes my heart skip a beat, chances are it needs to come home with me. I’ll make sure I find a place for it.

Q: You mentioned in your first letter to me that your home is like an ever-changing mood board for you. I love that. But do you think about utility when you’re designing a space to share with your family? Or is it more important for you to be surrounded by beautiful things?

A: Yes, I often change things around. If I buy something that excites me, it will make me want to readdress the room to accommodate it. I do love being surrounded by objects that inspire me, and often some detail will find a way into what I’m working on at the time. I love looking at the things I’ve collected over the years, or things that have passed down from both my grandmothers. Every object tells a story and provokes memories remembered or fantasized.

Utility is important. I try and take it into consideration, but sometimes passion gets the better of me and it’ll go out the window! The best moments in the house are definitely when practical solutions are made possible by using beautiful objects. It’s almost like a challenge. A puzzle.

And I love it when serendipity steps in to give a helping hand. Quite a few pieces of furniture in the house were items found chucked out in the street! The mirrored cabinet in the living room was found round the corner. The cabinet in Matisse’s room, found on my street. I wanted it for my shoes collection, but she quickly claimed it for herself! She’s already showing signs of interest in home decor. It makes me happy that I’ll have a partner in crime in my future antique hunting travels.

Q: You and your partner both work from home, which is often a difficult thing to manage – especially in terms of knowing when to start and stop your work and family time. How have you sorted it all out? What works and what doesn’t?

A: It took me a while to figure out that you need to treat working from home like you would working from a studio or office away. You need to get dressed for a start!

A good tip is to figure out what times in the day you tend to be most productive in different things. For example, I try and do all my admin like emails first thing in the morning, and then the more creative stuff after that. The fact that both Mark and I work from home…like everything, it has its pros and cons. The downsides are that we can easily get into long conversations about what we’re working on. Before you know it, it’s time to pick Matisse up from school! The upside is that because we’re both here, it’s not as solitary as it could be.

Our studios are next to each other so there’s a work vibe going on. It’s inspiring and can be a positive influence at times when one of us feels lazy. If there’s no deadline to meet, we’re quite good at switching off, and once Matisse is home from school it’s hard to do anything else. I can imagine that will change the older she gets.

Q: You’re a talented artist. Your ceramics take my breath away. What has been your greatest professional accomplishment? How do you hope your career changes down the road? What does your daughter think of what you do?

A: I’ve been illustrating for about eight years now, and my ceramic work is a more recent thing. Once I had Matisse, I took a step back from work, but now that she’s at school I feel I can step things up again. I’d like to take on more illustration work and explore different possibilities within that.

My work is mostly advertising and editorial, and flicking through a magazine and seeing my illustrations printed inside is a great buzz, for sure. Knowing that my work has such a large audience is brilliant.

Once when I was working on an illustration project for a client, Matisse came up to me and said “Mummy, when I grow up I want to do what you do. I want my job to be drawing.” That was definitely one of the nicest things to hear. My heart melted.

I’ve recently joined Instagram, and I love it. It’s great to see people’s instant responses to my thoughts, collection of images, and my work.

At the moment, I sell my ceramic bowls through word of mouth, but I’m ready to take them further. Each bowl is hand painted and treated as an individual piece of work, like a canvas. My background is in fine art, and I guess that’s how I approach my work. After I left college, I used to make handbags and started out in the same way. Each handbag a hand painted one-off piece of work, sold in galleries and boutiques. I like to keep things more personal; the owner of one of my bowls knows there are no two exactly alike.

I’d like to find the time to produce more ceramic work, different functional objects, and also more sculptural and conceptual pieces. My work has strong influences of lace, crochet, and craft. I’m interested in exploring the meeting point of stereotypical female activities such as these and sculptural objects. Questioning ideas of femininity and our role as women in society. As a mother to a daughter, I now think it more relevant than ever.

Q: What do you hope your daughter remembers from this very moment in her childhood in this very house? And what do you hope she conveniently forgets! (Sometimes, that’s the more important answer, right?)

A: I want Matisse to have a childhood memory of a happy, laughter-filled house. I want her to feel a sense of fun associated with this house, a feeling that anything’s possible. A space of nurture. From dressing up, making art, writing stories to planting wild flower seeds, breeding butterflies and sitting round a backyard bonfire eating marshmallows.

I don’t think it necessary to fill her life with loads of after-school activities. She herself is not that keen on them either, which I guess is a good indication of her enjoying just hanging out with us.

I hope she forgets that the house was not always tidy, and that sometimes I was too tired to make an effort to do things perfectly. When I go visit my parents, my mum always makes everything look so pretty. Her dinner table is always so beautifully laid out, and everything is so thought about. I can’t remember if she was always like this, or if it’s only since she has more time to focus on these things. But in my mind, she was always this way, and I love this memory when I think of her.

Q: What has been your favorite part about living with your own child? What do you already miss?

A: I already see how I’ll miss the fun and craziness that comes with living with a child. The reason to do things you wouldn’t normally do, like make pancakes every Saturday morning, or snuggling up on the sofa with hot chocolate and the blanket my mum knitted for her, reading a book. It’s nice to make even the most mundane everyday things seem extra-ordinary.

Every morning for breakfast I make Matisse a glass of pink milk. It’s just strawberries, banana, and milk, but somehow calling it pink milk makes it seem special!

Q: Please finish the sentence: I wish someone had told me…

A: How much fun and how much love there is involved in parenting. Even though my mum did always tell me, I never really believed her. As far back as I can remember, I knew I didn’t want to have children. I don’t really know why, it was just something that I always felt wasn’t for me. How many successful female artists with kids do we have as role models?

Then one day, something changed in me and I got curious. Before I had time to think too hard about it, I got pregnant! All the cliches of parenting suddenly became a reality, and it really is as hard as they don’t say. The positive side was that I had no expectations to crush.

Weirdly enough, since the age of four, Matisse has said she doesn’t want to have children. That really makes me laugh, but I do hope that I can somehow convince her that it’s not as scary as it may seem.

The other night as I put her to bed, she tucked in to bed her cuddly toy, too. She did it so sweetly and full of maternal care. I said to her, “You know, I know you always say you don’t want to have children, but if one day you change your mind, I know you’ll make the best mummy in the world!” and a sweet little excited smile couldn’t help itself, and appeared as clear as day on her face.

Maybe she won’t be so slow in realizing that it truly is the best thing in the world.

–-

And…tears! It is one of the very best things in the world, isn’t it? Thank you for your wonderful words, Noa. I love your art, but I equally adore your heart.

Also touching was Noa’s memory of her mother always making life look so pretty. I hope that’s one of my kids’ memories, too. What do you remember fondly about your mother? I just smiled, thinking of all the times my mom added loveliness in the littlest ways. I hope you’re smiling, too.

P.S. – Are you interested in sharing your own home with us? Just send me a note! It’s a lot of fun…I promise! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.

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