On a windowsill in author Elizabeth Foy Larsen’s kitchen sits the assortment of the day: homemade pottery, an office stapler, a can of Rust-Oleum, an orange marker, and Nasonex. But random clutter is a given when you put three school-age kids and a parent who wrote Unbored, a guide about DIY family fun, under one roof.
“Welcome to our chaos,” says Larsen, whose wild blond curls and wide blue eyes reflect the hive of creative energy she’s built with her husband Walter Schleisman, the principal at Lake Harriet Upper Elementary School, and their children Peter, 14; Henrik, 11; Luisa, 9; and a labradoodle named Darwin. “I don’t care about being tidy—the dining room is usually covered in crafts, and my husband is a musician so someone is always playing an instrument somewhere. It works for us.”
The family purchased their 1920s Mediterranean house in the Cedar-Isles-Dean neighborhood seven years ago, and Larsen hired her high school classmate, Dallas-based interior decorator Janet Gridley—who is perhaps best known here for the design of The Bachelor Farmer—to work on it in stages. “I think you can look at the restaurant and see that there are similarities—both spaces are a little whimsical,” says Larsen.
“I had memories of Elizabeth’s super cool childhood home which was filled with both lovely formal antique furniture and also a daring groovy ’70s vibe,” says Gridley. “It’s always helpful to know where your clients are coming from.”
Larsen and Gridley chose a spring palette of light blue, green, yellow, and coral for the main level, which feels young yet polished. In the dining room, one accent wall sports a wallpaper by Timorous Beasties with three-foot-tall pheasants, while overhead, a fluffy burst of a light fixture was made by local crafter Elizabeth Aleckson out of coffee filters.
The living room achieves the high-low juxtaposition that Larsen loves. A recovered sofa is paired with junk store armchairs and white end tables from Blu Dot. A brass hand-me-down mirror and framed oil paintings by artist friends like Scott Lloyd Anderson and Kit Wilson lend a level of refinement and personality.
Together, Larsen and Gridley sourced textiles from Scherping Westphal, adding a bold cream and chocolate brown floral print by Raoul to the ottoman and silk Marvic Textiles medallion panels for the windows. “Fabrics and prints get my heart racing,” Larsen says. And everywhere possible, they made a point to incorporate family heirlooms and keepsakes and the French antiques Larsen had inherited from her grandmother and mother.
To engage her family in the design process, Larsen took the same approach as she did with her bestselling DIY activity book, Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun, which she co-wrote in 2012 with Joshua Glenn. One chapter asks kids “What’s your taste?” and suggests they scour garage sales for great castoffs that catch their eye, or spray paint a cool stencil on the wall.
For her son Peter’s city-inspired room, Larsen asked her friend, artist and stylist Daisy Mitchell (who co-owns Honeyshine) to aid her wanna-be urban planner in realizing his vision. Peter downloaded a silhouette of the Los Angeles skyline and then let Mitchell freehand a drawing of it. Together they then painted it in blue above his Ikea bed (a process he wrote about in his mom’s book). On the opposite wall, models of the Petronas Towers and the Empire State Building stand in front of graphic city posters by Ork Posters. Mitchell and her team worked on the younger kids’ rooms too, where they picked out artwork and pillows from her shop. In Henrik’s room, they helped him with a trompe l’oeil deer mount, and in Luisa’s, hung a trio of floral abstracts to amp up the Cath Kidston wallpaper.
Letting her kids’ rooms be places to experiment in design is a no-brainer in a house where there are ongoing LEGO construction sites and experiments bubbling on tables. But when she wants to escape, Larsen heads to her new upstairs office, a project assigned to friends and architects Paul Udris and Mark Burgess of U+B Architecture & Design, Inc. The team added the sunlit corner space over the kitchen while also redoing the master bedroom and upstairs baths. Larsen’s previous office had been an unfinished space attached to the garage, where she had to don a down coat and open the window to catch the WiFi. “It felt like a penance to go out there every day,” she says.
Now her 11-by-11-square-foot space feels like a little library painted white and a cheerful yellow to tune out the cold in the middle of winter. It’s lined in bookshelves and equipped with storage and a cozy spot to read. Having her own retreat has become incredibly valuable to the author. “I finished the book in here,” says Larsen, who was happy to have the proximity to her kids and their creativity, which helped fuel her writing process. “I like having a closer look at what’s going on, but that I can also close the door when I want to get out of the thick of things.”