Creating A Family-Friendly Home with Kate Arends
“I think home needs to be a collection of you,” says Kate Arends.
If that’s true, Kate’s home is a reflection of her stratospheric rise from graphic designer, to successful blogger, to business owner.
Enter the world of Wit & Delight — a blog founded by the Minnesota-based creative herself that has blossomed into a full-blown brand.
Amidst stories of her life’s greatest adventures (like moving to London at 20 with no job) and her lifelong admiration for being direct (something we can certainly appreciate), she talks family-friendly spaces, success, bringing reality into design, and overcoming creative adversity.
A blog is born.
In 2008, Kate’s brainchild known as Wit & Delight was an explosion of Pepto Bismol pink and followed a Pinterest-style moodboard layout — before Pinterest was even born. At the time, it was also naively titled Afternoon Delight. “It was supposed to be in reference to the sugary pick-me-up you need in the afternoon,” Kate swears. Though some early readers mistook the title, and clicked through to the blog expecting to find stories about … something completely different.
Unsurprisingly, the name was changed shortly after.
The new name combined all that Kate hoped the platform would become: a source of rib-cracking humorous witticisms and delightfully beautiful visuals.
Before blogging full-time, Kate’s eye for illustration was put to use at Cue, a Minneapolis branding agency, where she worked for companies like Jack Daniel’s. Though she launched her blog nine years ago, she describes the process of growing her brand like staring at a gym schedule — intimidating, and best put off until tomorrow morning … or the next day.
“I loved graphic design, but I was very afraid of leaving the industry because [it’s so fast-paced that] it’s hard to go back into. I knew especially if I left it to do something ‘squishy’ like blogging my peers would never understand why,” she says.
Having worked in branding, Kate always had a strong vision for what she wanted Wit & Delight to look like (pink theme and all) as well as sound like. But as a content creator, she admits struggling most with writing. For years, the blinking cursor on a blank word document was her worst enemy.
To overcome her writer’s block, she handpicked select contributors whose voice she knew perfectly captured the words she couldn’t say.
“I didn’t care where they were from, if they already had their own platform — I just really liked their point of view,” she says. “Choosing people who captured the voice that I knew I wanted to create was pivotal to Wit & Delight’s growth.”
Some of Kate’s favorites? A theatrical how-to on throwing a fabulous pity party, a comedically honest birthing story, and the three-ingredient ice cream pie recipe that has directly caused many a new pair of jeans to be bought.
Making a home.
Though the blog’s subject matter has expanded to include recipes and wellness, at its heart, Wit & Delight has always been about designing rooms in thoughtful and unexpectedly (how else?) delightful ways.
Kate creates spaces that are like a dreamy Parisian apartment collided with a midwest antique shop. Which is, in another word, amazing. She describes her style as a blend of modern, eclectic, and European.
You could say Kate’s portfolio has grown a bit since her early years of playing Trading Spaces in her room. Or filling meticulously tabbed binders with magazine tear outs. (“I took my home decor obsession very seriously,” she deadpans.) When it came to designing her own home — a modest three-level in St. Paul, MN — she feels, rather than chooses.
“I look for an emotional reaction to things,” she says. “I want to build spaces that people can build their lives in, not things that are too precious or perfect. I’m most proud of accepting lifestyle choices and figuring out a design based around the reality of how you live. Not how other people live.”
In the field of blogging and social media — where entire lives are airbrushed to perfection, and everyone apparently only eats organic, shops local, and dresses in artisan-crafted clothes — Kate says it can be hard to find the line between aspirational and attainable material.
“That’s what I loved about Article,” she says. “Being able to purchase true quality at a great value has changed my life. It’s made it easy and comfortable for me to talk about with Wit & Delight’s audience.”
She continues, “Article’s design brought me in, but I continue to be a fan because it’s important to me that my readers can truly have the living room I have. It’s great to get inspiration, but where does that intersection of reality actually happen?”
In a home with a 50lb golden lab and a young child (basically, a lot of drool times two), a family-friendly reality looks like leather sofas, antiques, and unique vintage finds picked up from world travels. For Kate, making a house a home for her family means “collecting, not decorating.”
She admits it can take time, but filling a home with photographs, personal mementos, and considered finds that blend old with new is the best way to create a truly livable, beautiful home. “I love pieces that tell a story and that you can live with every day. That’s what I want to come home to,” she says.
For family-friendly living, Kate’s top material recommendations are leather (“Some things just look better after they’ve been beaten up”), wicker (“Inexpensive and it can take being knocked over”), and antique rugs (“They’re practically indestructible”).
Her leather of choice? “My new favourite is Mello — I’m obsessed with that couch. I was really worried it wasn’t going to be as comfortable as I hoped, but it’s more. Because of this sectional, my 6’4” husband and I can have movie night together.”
Family and design.
To keep her leather articles in top shape, Kate recommends weekly wipe downs with a damp, clean cloth, a once-over with a vacuum, and a leather conditioner like OtterWax for maintenance.
“In a home with a child, switching over completely to leather has been so important. Little spills happen every day, but we can just wipe it up. Plus it smells amazing,” she says. No graveyard of spittle and crushed animal crackers in between cushion cracks for the Arends family.
Her advice for fellow design-minded parents is to have a sanity room — one place in your home where you can truly express your taste unabashedly. She says, “It helps to keep a hold on to who you are outside of being a parent.”
That room, for her, is their living room. Kind of an odd choice, considering a living room is usually the heart, and chaos epicenter, of a home. “I know it’s weird,” she agrees, “but I think there’s a way you can have it with the right furniture. My son treats our sofa like a jungle gym. He loves it. I think he loves it more than me,” she laughs. “You need to get furniture that you and your family can live in. If you can’t, then what’s the point?”
Finding a moment for meditation and aromatherapy are also key components for sanity. “I’m a big fan of bergamot and chakra sprays to steam up in the shower,” she explains.
She adds, “Having the studio helps. That’s my home away from home.”
That studio would be Studio 125. A 3,000 sq. ft. creative studio space that represents Kate’s other business venture. It also happens to be filled with articles that required an extra bit of consideration when designing a public space.
“Designing for home is all about comfort and intimate entertaining. And in our 1,800 sq. ft. home that also means a strong consideration for small spaces,” Kate says. “But when we designed the office, and such a large one at that, we had an opportunity to go big-scale and super modern.”
Enter the Cube sectional: proof that not all heroes wear capes. Thanks to its deep, plush seats, clean lines, and generous dimensions, the Cube provided Kate the silhouette she was after and plenty of space for clients to sit. “I love the lines on that sofa, and it makes such a great shape. Plus it’s incredibly comfortable,” she describes.
When buying furniture, Kate stresses the importance of measuring before purchasing. In her experience, she says people find and buy their ‘dream’ sofas … only to have a nightmarish delivery day when the box won’t fit through the door, or isn’t a good fit for the space.
Pro Tip: If you need more measuring advice, check out this post.
“We have taped sofa dimensions on our floor and I have laid inside the lines to make sure the fit was right,” she admits. “Even if you eyeball it, you may end up with something that is too big or too small — so do it with tape and know for sure.”
Even as a full-time designer, Kate has had her share of corner conundrums (aka real-life Friends ‘pivot’ moments). “We have some tight corners in our house, particularly our basement, and have had some pretty close calls,” she says. “I have had bad delivery people in the past, but Article’s delivery partners have always been excellent.”
With so much success under her belt and multiple beautifully designed spaces completed (thanks in part to our articles, of course), what’s next for Wit & Delight? Kate dreams one day of finding (or building) a cabin in the woods to whitewash and design.
“The Cirrus sofa in Grass Green would look amazing in it,” she says slyly.
Sign us up.