Kelly & Her Home
When house hunting, one of the most important things to consider is if a house has "good bones," which means it has many of the most desirable aspects that a home can offer (think: natural light, a comfortable layout, etc), even if those things are difficult to see at first. This term is particularly useful when viewing a house that is very old and run-down, needs a lot of work and is outdated. Lucky for Kelly Portnoy of The Good Story, she was able to see past the intense smells, stains and many other issues of one particular house. She says that even though it was unlivable when she first saw it, she and her family loved it and saw the potential it had. After moving into that house in 2012, she has worked hard to transform it into a dream home for her family, and the result is indeed dreamy. Without further ado, here's an intimate look at the beautiful space that Kelly, her husband and three children call home.
Tell us how you came to find your home! What was it about the house that made you know it was "the one”?
The year we moved into our house, 2012, was a big one for our family. We had just had our third child the previous year and a lot in our marriage had been healed. My husband and I had a serious conversation one night that revolved around the idea of, “OK, this is our family. We are done having kids and now we know who the Portnoys are. How do we want to raise these kids and what do we really value? What environment will reflect those values and foster that environment?”
At that time, we were living in a little cottage in the city, shoulder to shoulder with houses on all sides on a tenth of an acre. We were very accessible to everyone and everything, which created a busy pace that was not healthy for our family. Being a former teacher, I often saw kids stressed out and over-scheduled. We didn’t want to jump on that hamster wheel of unhealthiness. Instead, we wanted to give our kids the gift of a simpler, more intentional pace of life. After all, they only get one childhood! We looked around at the families in our lives that we admired and realized they all shared a few commonalities. They lived away from the hub of the city, they said "yes" to a few things and "no" to a lot of things so that family, home and simplicity were center stage. They used their homes intentionally and generously by inviting others into this slower pace and quieter setting. We love hosting, but were very restricted with our tiny house, yard and lack of privacy. Neither one of us grew up in the country, so the thought of living outside the city was a leap of faith.
As we started to look for houses, I told our realtor a few non-negotiable items, but I warned him, “I’ll just know in my gut when we find it.” The day we came across the listing for our home, we were perplexed. How could a house like that with 2.5 acres be in our price range? Sure, it was a foreclosure, but we still couldn’t understand how it could be in our budget. When we hit the top of the long, tree-lined driveway, I started tearing up. Something about this lush private entrance spoke to my heart. It was so welcoming and beautiful. The most bizarre part was this house was on a one-street neighborhood. Each house had a few acres, so you had the benefit of both worlds. Total privacy and quiet, but a street where your kids could play with neighbors! I didn’t think such a thing existed in the country.
Once we approached the front door to put the key in, things started to make sense about the price. The intense stench of smoke and the unmistakable taint of pet urine filled our nostrils. This was why no one had made an offer in the 10 months it sat foreclosed. We found out that eight people lived in this three-bedroom house, and they all smoked, there were five dogs and nobody knows how many cats also taking up residence. It was disgusting, filthy and the urine stains lined the hardwood floors like polka dots. The carpets upstairs had urine stains over three feet wide and down into the subfloors. It was unlivable, yet we loved it.
We knew this was our house the moment we stepped foot in the door. We put a low-ball offer in and it was accepted by the bank. That began our journey to transform that house into our home.
What's next on your home projects to-do list?
For five years, we have chipped away at projects. Our only rule was every project had to be done in cash. This means patience to save, and flexibility to live with things you don’t love. Currently, we are saving up to refinish our wrap-around porch floor as well as build a deck off the dining room.
How has your décor style evolved since you moved in?
I am always at battle with myself. I think of myself like a Frosted Mini-Wheat. I have my frosted side (color and pattern) and my sensible shredded wheat side (neutral). I also fall prey to seasonal decorating. When it is hot outside, I want all-white sheers up and everything neutral, and when it’s cold out, I want dark curtains, textures and patterns everywhere.
When we originally moved, we painted many walls different colors. Colors I love deeply, but as we lived in the house for a few years and adjusted to the layout more, I realized the colors were making the flow feel super choppy and not cohesive. Benjamin Moore “Moonshine” now makes up 80 percent of our walls, tying all the common spaces of our home together. I use a lot of natural fibers and textures, rustic wood décor and my furniture is all neutral, so I can play around with color through textiles when I get the itch each season. I have a closet full of curtains, pillow covers and rugs that I switch out when the seasons change.
Tell us a little bit about The Good Story!
The Good Story is a nonprofit ministry my husband and I started in 2015. Our background professions are in wedding and commercial photography, as well as my husband's degree in graphic and web design. The creative and tech world is how we made our living the last 15 years. We have also always been involved in mission work around the world and we have a high volume of friends and family that serve overseas full-time. We watched them struggle greatly with raising funds and sharing their heart's passion due to poor communication skills and lack of visual media mediums. One day, we offered our skill set to our friends raising support to take their portraits and create a communication piece about their ministry that was professional-grade, and we saw it begin to transform how they could communicate. It was the first time we merged our skills and our heart for missions together. That is how the vision for The Good Story came to life.
Now, in 2017, we are a full-service nonprofit organization with 30 volunteers across the U.S. and Canada, who are seasoned professionals in their creative or technology field: Internet security, photographers, videographers, writers, editors, branding specialists, graphic designers, etc. They donate their services to either equip with marketing pieces or train communication strategies for current media. We also travel internationally a few times a year to create on-field videos. We are passionate that story is the best form of communication to motivate people to action, support and prayer. The world has changed so much since the Internet was invented in 1990, and then smartphones in the 2000s. The communication world has exploded and we want to empower missionaries to utilize these tools to share the power of what is good happening around the world.
How do you manage to juggle your roles as entrepreneur and mom? How do you stay on track with competing deadlines and obligations? What's it like to work with your husband? How do you blend your different strengths and weaknesses?
Nothing about our life is normal or regular. Pioneering a nonprofit from scratch is hard, hard work. There are days I miss having an actual boss and someone telling me what to do, but that is because it’s more comfortable having clear goals and expectations. The beauty of our unusual life is each day is its own adventure. We have a group of 30 beautiful, selfless volunteers and we have each other. We have been drinking from a firehose of learning what it is to fund-raise, manage projects that are long-term and short-term, and grow a nonprofit from scratch. It’s humbling and incredibly rewarding.
My husband and I are a beautiful Venn diagram where we can each flex our strengths and have our own unique bubble running The Good Story and we don’t get in each other’s “backyard.” He is highly tech-savvy and an incredible designer. My background is in business, sales and communication, so the front end of our ministry is all me. The overlap is in our photography, creativity and vision for The Good Story, which keeps our passion alive to push through the growing pains involved in running a nonprofit. A month after we made the jump to do this full-time, all three of our kids entered school. My 10 years as a stay-at-home working mom (running our photography business) was finished. This now afforded us 35 hours a week to work from home while all the kids were at school. The timing of everything is perfect for where our family is today.
Because we chose to say “yes” to limited outside activities, we are able to keep a pretty simple life when our kids are home. We have family dinner around the table five to six nights a week. Our kids come home and put on play clothes, and just play. We cherish this current season and know it won’t always be this streamlined as they get older, but for now, we are grateful.
What's one design rule you love to break when decorating your home?
I probably break a lot more than one rule! I love to buy unique pieces. I always have a very limited budget, so that has forced me to shop in savvy ways. I’m lucky to live in the South where consignment and antique stores are everywhere! I love utilizing Craigslist, yard sales, Goodwill, salvage yards. If a piece speaks to me, I get it, and I figure out a way to use it in my house, especially if I know it’s one of a kind. I’m also fortunate to travel internationally a few times a year, which has allowed me to get textiles and décor from other parts of the world. I know you shouldn’t buy without a plan, but I do if it’s in my budget and it’s making my decorating spirit come alive looking at it.
Can you share your formula for the perfectly styled surface?
I love texture and layering vignettes around my house. I arrange and rearrange surfaces and nooks constantly playing with heights, plants, groupings, textures until it sets right with my eye. I "rob Peter to pay Paul” by rotating things from room to room each season, too. This saves me from spending money on new things by repurposing something in a different room, grouped in a new way. Boom, looks like a new room! This goes with rugs, end tables, plants, pillows and curtains. I completely flip-flop these things into different rooms every four to six months. It makes my house feel completely different in the best, fresh, FREE way!
Also, storage is a huge issue for our home. Baskets are in almost every room along with hooks so we can keep things from piling up on decorative surfaces!
What's your favorite thing to cook at home?
My kids would emphatically say my homemade bread, and at night stove-top popcorn (olive oil to pop, real butter and pink Himalayan sea salt to top!). Both fill the house with amazing smells and are universally loved.
What's your favorite thing to do with your kids at their ages right now?
We are in such a sweet season of ages: 10, 9 and 6. They are so independent and self-sufficient that now our favorite thing to do is travel with them. It never felt worth the cost, hassle and energy to attempt it when they were younger. We love introducing them to new experiences, parts of the country and people. They are little enough to want to snuggle and they still love “little kid” stuff, but old enough to handle the strain of travel, take care of their own personal hygiene, help us in practical ways, and frankly, they are a ton of fun!
How have you managed to prioritize personal friendships in your current season of life?
God bless the app Voxer! My best friends live overseas or across the U.S. and the time zone differences make it feel impossible to talk in real time. Not to mention we all have kids ranging from 1 to 17, so our lives are full, very full! Using the Voxer app allows me to record up to 15 minutes of talking as I’m driving in a car, doing the dishes, sitting on my porch and I can just talk away, send videos, photos, funny GIFS and stay connected with the power of hearing each other's voices! It has been the biggest blessing in keeping regular contact and sharing in deep, real ways.
What's your favorite way to spend a little "you"/alone time?
I am an introvert through and through, so being alone is something I crave and need. This restores balance because we spend a lot of time with our nonprofit, talking with people all over the world and meeting with people one on one. I love how many incredible people we talk to each week, but I need to downshift alone often. My favorite thing is to be at home all by myself. I love to blast music and sing loudly, take a bath, read magazines and noodle around my house rearranging or organizing things while listening to podcasts. Give me a few hours alone at home and I feel rejuvenated!
Can you share a few tips for effectively working from home with kids and pets in the mix?
It’s hard! I think we are still learning to give grace to ourselves and our kids. The bottom line is, they don’t care if we have to work, they see us home and they desire our attention and time. This is only a tough juggling act in the summertime. Thankfully, our kids are actually pretty great at playing together or independently, so we usually can milk a few hours in the morning and afternoon to get concentrated work done, but I realize we need to lay out the day together as a family so that expectations are clear. “Mommy and daddy are going to work until 11 and then we are going to play a game together, have lunch, go to the library and get new books and then we need to start working again at 1." The fact they can all tell time now and understand we will look up from our computers and engage their world helps keep us on track. Sometimes, Ryan and I have to switch off where one parent stays home to work and the other takes the kids out on an excursion for half a day and then we switch off. We try to remain pliable and try to not get too frustrated with interruptions. Easier said than done, but it’s all a work in progress!
"I would gladly drop a pretty penny on _________!"
Painting the exterior of our house white! We wrestle greatly with the brown exterior. We aren’t brown fans! All our moldings are dark brown on top of brown siding—BORING! The porch feels dark and closed in and sucks light from coming in our windows. We dream of a white house and a white porch and light gray floors that reflect the joy of this house and literally reflect light into our windows!
What is your favorite piece of décor in your home?
That is so hard to pick! I have so many pieces of furniture that are one of a kind. I really love my headboard and dresser in my bedroom, both saved from the Goodwill and repainted by friends. I also love my rugs from other countries. They truly make my heart sing with their colors, patterns and cultural stories.
You've got a free Saturday with nothing on the calendar to do: how do you fill the day?
With children: a fun day trip to the mountains or a lake.
With a girlfriend: a day trip to little towns with antique shops, consignment stores and yard sales. Drinking and eating our way through local coffee shops and restaurants.
With my husband: house projects during the day and end the night with friends around the fire pit with wine and card games on the wrap-around porch.