The Architectural Detail That Made This Family Room Work for Everyone
And the paint color chosen by the couple’s 5-year-old.
Published Jun 17, 2021 9:21 AM
Mother Untitled founder Neha Ruch treats every new home she lives in like a chapter of a novel. The apartment she and her husband, Dan, share with their two children, Bodie (5) and Lyla (2), on Manhattan’s Upper West Side is very much the “having room for the kids, but having enough room for ourselves, too” part of the book. And like any good story, there were plenty of drafts along the way. “We went through 26 versions of the floor plan,” recalls Ruch. The final copy? A 2,500-square-foot home with one wing dedicated to the family’s three bedrooms, and at the opposite end, a semi-open living and entertaining space with views of the American Museum of Natural History and Central Park. You’d almost never know that when they bought the place in March 2018, it was actually three separate units (they enlisted architects John Kim and Tai Ming Moy of Kimoy Studios to help them make the big change).
“We wanted something that felt thoughtful, balanced, and warm,” says Ruch. More specifically, they were looking for a place that encouraged them to slow down—which Ruch personally strives for day-to-day and, by extension, empowers other women who have paused or shifted their careers to do through mentorship programs at Mother Untitled. “Some spaces [in our home] remind us of our priority right now, which is family life, but there are also corners we carved out just for us,” she explains of balancing the kid-parent needs ratio.
Case in point: Building tons of storage in the den area (in addition to the IKEA bench there’s a whole wall of closets nearby) makes it a true flex zone. Bulky plastic toys can be shoved behind the chic Semihandmade door fronts when adult guests come over. Ruch also made sure the fabric in the main living spaces works hard for the family. In the adjacent living room, which features a drop-down projector screen for Bubble Guppies and Paw Patrol bingeing, there’s a white sofa swathed in Perennial bouclé fabric. “My husband, ironically, is the only one who has spilled on it,” says Ruch, laughing.
In the kitchen, Kim and Moy brought in their go-to, kid-friendly countertop material: Unique Calacatta by a company called Compac. “You can’t really tell it’s not marble, even when you’re touching it,” notes Moy.
Installing pocket doors throughout the home allows the sleeping areas to be closed off from the more public spaces, meaning Mom and Dad can still entertain after the kids’ earlier bedtimes. And thanks to a series of steel-framed glass walls—an added architectural detail courtesy of Kimoy—the main family room can be in view of parents who are hanging out in the kitchen while playdates unfold. “It anchors the home,” says Ruch of the multipurpose area.
When she had her son in 2015, Ruch had just landed her dream job running a brand at an e-commerce company and completed her M.B.A. from Stanford University the year prior. So it might come as a surprise to hear that it was only when she decided to free up her schedule to spend more time with her kids that she felt her most confident—despite having few career-driven stay-at-home moms for inspiration and guidance. “If we change the narrative about women making room for family life, we allow them more fluidity to be able to take that pause, or downshift and then reenter [their careers] on their own terms,” explains Ruch, who currently balances working two-and-a-half days out of home on Mother Untitled, with and without child care.
Ruch’s advice to other mothers wanting to slow down: Define your metrics of success. “We’ve been so conditioned to believe that it lies in salary or title, but when you take the time to define what success looks like for that year or season, it allows you a bit of room to align what you’re doing with the way you feel,” she explains.
In subtle ways, Ruch is instilling that same sense of personal choice and freedom in her kids, like when Bodie played a big role in designing his bedroom. “I was trying to go with a very neutral palette, and then he announced that he wanted his room to be red,” she recalls. “He had ownership.”
The pair compromised on Farrow & Ball’s Red Earth (a muted version that picks up on the wallpaper illustrations). “I think we often can take parenting and life all too seriously, but motherhood allows me to have fun with design,” she adds.
These hints of pattern and color encourage moments of pause and reflection, like the bold abstract painting in the living room that Ruch and her husband bought at a gallery in Paris after many glasses of champagne while celebrating their five-year anniversary. Or features like the funky, graphic tiles Sarah Sherman Samuel designed for Concrete Collaborative that are on display in the kids’ bathroom. “We’ll be doing bath time, and the arches and half-moons will remind me of the sweetness of this moment in time,” notes Ruch.
Find Your Rhythm This Summer With These Kid-Approved Activities
- Swap traditional paint-focused crafts for kinetic sand, homemade slime, and water beads to shake up the routine. Plus, “that sensory play lets us get a little dirty,” says Ruch.
- Teach them how to clean their things—Ruch and her kids will give all their toy cars and dolls a wash every once in a while.
- Do dessert in the morning. “Bring Popsicles in the bath and call it Backwards Day,” she suggests.
- Put them in pajamas well before they hit the hay. “I’m a big fan of early bedtime because it gives grown-ups some room for ourselves,” she says.
Object in my home that gets the most use: Our cane and leather dining chairs. I had a vision they’d remain pristine, but every morning the kids take all of their thrown blankets over there and make amazing forts out of them.
What I wish I knew before renovating: If I had taken my time with some elements like the lighting and allowed myself a bit more room to live in the space, I think we would have avoided some expensive investments.
Go-to vintage source: 1stdibs.
Best splurge: I love our custom Montauk sofa in that olive green fabric. It’s such a statement.
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