My little sister, Mari, and I have a long history of collaboration. There was the time we built "Peggy Sue," a go-cart fashioned out of a doll crib and two pairs of rollerblades. Shortly thereafter, we upped our game with the help of our Grandpa Connors and made a more advanced go-cart out of wood and actual wheels, which we painted black with orange flames. (If I remember correctly, I always insisted on "driving" the go-cart while I made Mari push me around the cul-de-sac.) In adulthood, our collaborations have centered more around engagement photos and wedding invitations, newborn portraits and birth announcements. Despite the wide range of projects we've undertaken together, they all have one thing in common: somewhere along the way, things get ridiculous. Usually right off the bat.
Our most recent collaboration, a Living with Kids feature for our favorite blog, Design Mom, was no different. Mari called me at the end of December and said casually, "Umm, I may have promised Design Mom a house feature. I need you to fly up right away to style and shoot the house." I was on the plane to Minneapolis two weeks later.
We were both so pleased with how the feature turned out. But we also felt like we owed a bit of an explanation, lest anyone wonder how a family with two little kids who moved into their house four months earlier could already have it looking so spick and span and styled. Plus I think you'll enjoy the comedy of errors that ensued throughout the weekend.
First came the childcare debacle. My mom, who lives in Minneapolis, had generously kept her weekend open so she could watch my niece and nephew and cook dinners for all of us while we worked. My parents were also going to host me, so my sister didn't have to deal with the guest room while getting the rest of the house ready to photograph. And then, the night before the trip, my mom came down with a horrible case of the flu. She spent the weekend completely out of commission.
Then there was weather. The forecast in Minneapolis the morning of my arrival was 5-12 inches of snow with winds above 40 mph. I was worried my flight would get delayed or canceled, putting the project in peril. But we took off on time. The snow was heavy and visibility was next to nothing as we were on our final approach. Just as our wheels were about to touch down, I actually had this thought: "All hail, Minneapolis! They really can land us in anything."
And then all of a sudden, the plane pulled up sharply and began a rapid ascent. It was an uncomfortable minute before the pilot came on to tell us the plane landing ahead of us had slid. The runway was too slick, so air traffic control was sending us around to "try" another runway. Dear Lord, don't tell me you're going to "try" another runway! Just tell me we're "going to land" on a different runway. By that point, I was sure they were going to close the rest of the airport and land us in Iowa. So much for the photo shoot.
But 30 minutes later, we were safely on the ground in Minneapolis. Because Minneapolis really can handle anything! My dad picked me up at the airport and dropped me at my sister's house. It was the first time I had been to the new place, and I'll admit that when I walked in, my first thought was: there is NO WAY we can finish styling and shooting the house this weekend.
You see, most people finish decorating their houses and THEN decide to submit photos for a home tour. My sister, however, decided to use the home tour as a kick-in-the-pants to finish the decorating process. She had basically lived at Target and Ikea for the couple weeks leading up to the shoot. She had a vision, and she had the necessary items to make it happen. But she's also a full-time mom to a baby and a toddler and has some part-time gigs on the side, so there was still a wee bit of work to be done to style the house.
We got right down to it. While one of us cleaned and straightened and arranged, the other tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to keep the kids from tearing everything apart. The kids thought their auntie was so fun they refused to nap. At all. The whole trip. (Remember how our mom/babysitter was down with the flu?)
One morning, my nephew had preschool. We decided my sister would drop him off and bring the baby, so I could scurry around and try to style and photograph a few rooms while the house was empty. When Mari returned, I was running around working so furiously I had stripped down to a t-shirt. "You know it's 7 below zero outside, right?" she asked. (I forgot to mention the temperature didn't crack zero the whole trip.) And so it went.
At one point, I was organizing toy bins on a book shelf while Mari was arranging her office space. She peeked around the corner and said, "So, did you ever envision yourself becoming a professional stuffed-animal stylist?" We actually had to take a break to roll around on the floor laughing. As usual, our collaboration was perfectly ridiculous.
But here's the message we really want to get across: the house we styled and photographed is Mari's house at its very best. It's her house when the toys are all placed back in their baskets, the kids are playing gently on the living room floor, and no one is tearing around the playroom at full speed, so you can actually leave a cup of coffee on a tray perched on the ottoman. It's the one section of the kitchen that wasn't too overwhelming to clean. It's the side of the mudroom with the cute hooks and shelves and boots, not the corner by the door that's heaped with melting snow and discarded snow pants. The tour we created is genuine. But it's the version of their house you'd walk into when they're hosting a party, not the one you'd find two hours before the party.
People ask me all the time over on my Instagram feed how I keep my house clean and orderly, and I have to remind them that, in addition to being a minimalist, I'm always kicking toys out of the frame, because I like to take beautiful photos of ordinary life. As a photographer, I enjoy the challenge of creating images that represent my life and home at their best. Mari's home tour is the same. So we hope you'll enjoy it for what it is and what it isn't, and get a good laugh out of our behind-the-scenes adventures—no insecurities necessary.
(P.S. Predictably, when I got to my gate to fly home, I looked out the window to find another white out. Were we delayed? Naw, not in Minneapolis.)
I'm Julia Soplop, writer and photographer. I believe there is something profound in bearing witness to moments of joy and pain in others’ lives. My husband, three girls and I live outside of Chapel Hill, NC. You can read more about me here.
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