Families Share the Keys to Spending More Time at Home Together

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We checked in with a few families whose homes we’ve featured before to find out how they are using their favorite spaces while social distancing

Families: Solomon Goldberg, 5, in the family’s spacious living room
Solomon Goldberg, 5, in the family’s spacious living room, which gets plenty of natural light throughout the day.

By Rachel Rockwell  |  Photography by Beth Mann

STICKING TO THE ROUTINE

Ashlyn Goldberg’s decor philosophy is all about achieving a sense of comfort at home. For the thrift-loving designer, the perfect space is one that feels personal. 

“I’m passionate about having a beautiful home because I think it makes a difference when you walk in and think, ‘This is where I want to be,’” she says. “So, I make all of my design choices to get to that feeling. I thrift because, if I buy something vintage, it has a soul to it; it has withstood the test of time, and it has a personality, it doesn’t feel so derivative.”

Ashlyn recently started The Uncommon Collector, an interior styling company, to exercise her passion, but her new business was put on hold due to COVID-19. Her time is now spent primarily in her own south Durham home along with husband, Rafi, and their sons, Julian, 12, and Solomon, 5. The space, a new build with traditional flair, is now the site of the family’s work and school routines.

Ashlyn Goldberg living room
Small tweaks to individual spaces can shift the tone of decor, as with this before (above) and after look (below) of Ashlyn’s living room nook.
Families closer together

Photo courtesy of the Goldbergs.

While the open-concept core of the house (which includes the living room, den and kitchen) is the main place the family gathers, the key to their quarantine routine is the ability to separate and come together at various times of the day. Each space has a different purpose and mood – for instance, the living room is fresh and bright, with plenty of sunshine and a light color palette, while Ashlyn describes the den as “a warm hug,” with heavier pieces like rust-colored club chairs and a navy sofa. 

These core living areas are also connected to the dining space, where the family congregates at the end of the work and school day for meals at a vintage oval dining table with cane back chairs thrifted from a local Salvation Army store. 

The house’s lot backs up to woods, where Ashlyn has been foraging for flowers to make arrangements that don’t require leaving her home, and where the family has been taking advantage of the chance to get some fresh air.

“We have a screen porch and a large backyard, and we try to get out there every day,” Ashlyn says. “We play badminton or with water toys or just stare at the sky, and we take walks through the neighborhood.”

Ashlyn also set up an art space in the garage with folding tables, paints and drawing supplies. She calls this DIY, out-of-sight-out-of-mind art studio a “sanity saver.”

“I don’t have to worry about a mess inside, and if we want to leave it out, we can,” she says. “I’m a bit of a neat freak, and the garage space has helped me let go a little bit recently.” 

A crafting space for families
A new crafting space in the garage allows brothers Julian, 12, and Solomon to be creative without causing a mess in the house. Photo courtesy of the Goldbergs.

HOME IMPROVEMENT

When Scott Levitan and Patrick Francisco moved into their Chapel Hill home in 2019, they had no idea that, just a year later, they’d be spending so much time in it.

Families spend more time with their dogs
For Scott and Patrick’s dogs, Gizmo and Jensen, having their owners home more means extra pets and cuddles.

Like many of us, Scott, the president and CEO of the Research Triangle Foundation of North Carolina, and Patrick, a graphic and web designer, are social distancing and working from home. Thankfully, the couple’s quarantine is taking place in a space they love, one that was thoughtfully revamped and redesigned to fit their needs. “It’s funny, because anytime we go away on vacation, it’s like we can’t wait to get home,” Patrick says. “Our home is better than any hotel; we miss it when we’re gone.” 

Scott Levitan and Patrick Francisco
The living room may only cater to two guests (both furry) for the moment, but it’s still a place of gathering and relaxation in Scott and Patrick’s home. Photo courtesy of Scott Levitan and Patrick Francisco

After moving from Baltimore for Scott to take the Research Triangle Foundation job, the couple settled on their midcentury home when Patrick, tasked with researching their new area, fell in love with the community charm of Chapel Hill. Their circa-1959 space in the Estes Hills neighborhood required extensive renovation, but the result is an airy retreat that combines midcentury modern appeal with sleek, sustainable updates (think energy-efficient doors and windows, and a swimming pool that heats via low-energy processes).

The central, open living room features floor-to-ceiling windows anchored by a bright white, wood-burning fireplace. The couple and their dogs, Gizmo, a terrier mix that they call a “tater tot” terrier, and Jensen, a Bernese mountain dog, love to curl up on their slate-gray super sectional and relax.

Families spend time in the pool
Last summer, Lachlan Rivers and his sister, Olivia, played in Patrick and Scott’s pool – another oasis in the couple’s home where they’ve found solace this spring.
Scott Levitan koi pond
With more time at home, Scott and Patrick were motivated to complete their koi pond – a project long in the works – and stock it with fish. Photo Courtesy of Scott Levitan and Patrick Francisco

Aided by elements that blend the indoors and outdoors – like the tin roof that was added so they could hear the rain – Scott and Patrick have been able to enjoy the spring weather during their recent time at home; they’ve even heated up the pool and taken a dip. “We resisted for a while, but then we just had to go for a swim,” Scott says.

The pair have also begun some outdoor projects in their free time. They’ve been gardening and recently completed a koi pond that they built by hand, adding the final touch – the fish – in early April. The pond accompanies a new patio and a bamboo arbor (with the bamboo sourced locally from Orange County) that were installed over the past year. “We’ve been building the pond since August, but the quarantine allowed us time to finish it,” Scott says.

Scott and Patrick also adore the community they live in and have found safe ways to continue to connect with friends and neighbors throughout the coronavirus pandemic. “We invited a little girl who lives in our neighborhood over to watch us release the koi into the pond at a social distance,” Scott says. “And we [went] over to our neighbor’s house for a driveway birthday party. It [was] a bring-your-own-chair, plastic utensils, plates and cups party with cake and Champagne.” 

THE HOME TEAM

The Foley family’s Croasdaile residence has turned into a full-time hub for school, work and play now that daughter Ryan, 12, a sixth grader at Excelsior Classical Academy, and son Jake, 16, a 10th grader at Riverside High School, are at home.

“We’re doing the smart thing and staying inside, going outside when we can,” says their mom, Charlene, who, as vice president for customer experience at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, has been working from homefor the past several weeks. “Ryan has a learning plan from school, so we’re working through that at home, and then Jake is a little more independent.”

Jake Foley, 16, plays a lot of basketball
Jake Foley, 16, plays a lot of basketball in the family’s driveway, which helps him stay active and adds a healthy break to the everyday routine. Photo courtesy of the Foleys

To keep Ryan organized, Charlene maps out her daily to-do list on a large chalkboard situated on the laundry room’s rolling barn door. While both kids mostly do their work at desk spaces in their own rooms, Charlene has staked out a workspace at the family’s large, farmhouse-style wooden kitchen table next to a bright window that looks out onto the backyard. During conference calls, she plugs in her AirPods and takes walks around the neighborhood.

 Not all the Foleys are home all day, however. Dad and husband Mike manages the family dry cleaner and laundromat businesses, White Star Cleaners and Regency Cleaners. It’s an essential service that requires him to continue working outside of the home during the coronavirus outbreak. Charlene says his company is focused on taking the proper sanitation measures and has broadened their pickup and delivery service area to continue to serve their community through the crisis.

Families homeschool their kids
Charlene Foley often uses the kitchen table as her own workspace these days, when she’s not assisting Ryan with her assignments.

“His company has been doing so much sanitizing,” she says. “He’s not on the front lines to the same extent as health  care workers, of course, but we still have to be very careful.”

Large back and front yards have been a respite for the family during free time. Mike likes to maintain the lawn; Ryan, who loves art, sets up her supplies on a blanket outdoors; Jake plays basketball in the driveway; and the whole clan goes on walks with their English bulldog, Fenway.

Another source of joy during the quarantine: mealtimes. Charlene says the extra time for family dining has been a hidden benefit of staying at home. “Before this, we were pretty good about sitting down and making a meal together three to four times a week,” she says. “But now it’s a team sport for the whole family. We’re making dinner together, and we split up the duties, so if you made dinner, you don’t clean up and vice versa. It’s been a nice change to eat together seven nights a week.”

Foleys family room
The family room is another significant multipurpose space while the Foleys isolate together. It can be a comfy spot for everyone to kick back and watch a movie, or for Ryan to get cozy and complete online learning assignments. Photo courtesy of the Foleys.

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