Text by Lisa McEwen  I  Photos by Steve Cory



ome is headquarters for millions of families these days, where the kitchen table doubles as a school desk or the living room becomes a make-shift corporate office. The lines between work, learning and family life have been blurred for a year since the pandemic dramatically shifted lives homeward.

Luckily for the Smith family, their home at Visalia’s easternmost city limits already has served as their headquarters for 10 years. It is where Chad manages his real estate development business and Amber runs Simply Smith, her photography business. Sons Landon, 14, and Bryson, 11, have settled into a school-at-home routine and take plenty of breaks outdoors, where a backyard trampoline and the family dog Ettie, a German shepherd-poodle mix, help them stay active in between Zoom classes.

Flipping the switch between “mom mode” and “work mode” has been a new challenge with everyone under one roof most of the day, but one task that Amber has fully embraced lately is curating a home that is not only absolutely gorgeous but completely cozy and comfortable for her family.

“Slowing down these past months has really showed me that I love being at home, especially when you create a home you enjoy,” Amber said during an interview at the kitchen table while her sons attended class in their bedrooms down the hall. “We love the slower mornings, and Chad makes breakfast every day.”

Working from home has its advantages, such as lounging in pajamas longer than normal, sipping that extra cup of coffee and having more time to engage in conversation with their sons, who are growing up quickly and have lots to talk about.

However, being surrounded by the same furniture, accessories and paint scheme day in and day out has a few disadvantages as well.

“I always feel like my house is dirty, and I always feel like I need to re-do something,” Amber said. “Some days, I will walk by a shelf, look at it, and then pull everything out and totally re-work it.”

With a talent for observing light, composition and feeling — no doubt heightened by her photography career — Amber has taken the lead in decorating their home in a style that is purposely imperfect.

“I want to keep it fresh and airy, but cozy and lived-in at the same time,” she explained. “I want the boys to jump on the couch, to feel like they can be comfortable here and have their friends over. I definitely don’t want it too clean and polished.”

To achieve that, Amber and Chad have put much thought and effort into transforming the four-bedroom, 2.5-bath split floor plan home they bought 10 years ago. Amber has the artistic eye, while Chad has the expertise and contacts acquired from years of buying, upgrading and selling properties. Both have the ability to know what a space needs and how to get it done quickly.

In 2010, dark, warm colors were fashion-able, and the home showed it. “The walls were yellow, the cabinets were cherry and the kitchen countertops black,” Amber said.

Neighbors and friends who see before and after photos are often astounded at the transformation.

Amber said she gets a lot of questions from visitors and friends on social media about her kitchen: Why use brass pulls when so many other parts of the kitchen are stainless steel?

Therein lies Amber’s advice: “Throw the rules out,” she said. “Mix and match, and make a space into something that works for you.

They started first by painting all the walls a warm white and have steadily tackled projects throughout the home. The original hardwood pine flooring has stayed, but all other surfaces have received an update.

Three years ago, the couple embarked on a kitchen remodel, which immediately brightened the space. Cabinets were painted, the black granite countertop was replaced with soft white Caesarstone quartz, and the backsplash was re-tiled. A Jenn Air microwave, oven and warming drawer unit and refrigerator are all that remain of the original kitchen. Brass pulls and knobs add a touch of warmth, gently bringing the color of the floor into the space.

Amber said she gets a lot of questions from visitors and friends on social media about her kitchen: Why use brass pulls when so many other parts of the kitchen are stainless steel?

Therein lies Amber’s advice: “Throw the rules out,” she said. “Mix and match, and make a space into something that works for you.”

Which is a theme that is reflected throughout the Smith home: taking a room and, with some creativity, making it into a space that fits the family’s needs.

For example, the living room doubles as a meeting area for Amber’s clients.

A sectional and comfortable chairs provide ample, relaxed seating. While the room is “formal,” she laughs about her curtains.

“There’s nothing formal about them,” she said. “They’re simply drop cloths that have been cut and tucked under.

I just haven’t splurged on anything more expensive.”

What’s most notable throughout the home is the attention to lighting. Each room glows with enviable warmth from fixtures that Amber has procured from various sources. Some of her favorites for lighting as well as other accessories include Home Goods, West Elm and Pottery Barn, while locally she enjoys shopping at Warehouse 2639 and the Visalia Antique Mall, as well as Revival 23 and The Foundry in Old Town Clovis. Restoration Hardware has also come in handy with helping to locate just the right pendant lighting in the kitchen.

Off the foyer, large windows pour sunlight into the couple’s home office, where Amber spends hours editing photographs. She is booked through 2021 with weddings. Prints featuring her favorite images hang in the home office, and treasured photographs of her family are interspersed throughout the home.

The couple’s master bedroom and bathroom is one area that looks quite a bit different than the rest of the home. For sentimental reasons, the couple has held on to much of the furniture within, as it represents the start of their life together when they were in their early 20s.

“It has a Moroccan-Mediterranean feel,” Amber said. “And it’s not the idealistic picture you see all over the internet right now. It is not Pinterest-perfect.”

With her eye for large statement pieces, however, it is pulled together with a mirror, woven chandelier over the bathtub and luxurious Belgian flax Pottery Barn linens.

“I want this room to feel like a blanket is hugging me,” she said.

Realizing how quickly that their boys are growing up, Chad and Amber have allowed their sons to express themselves by making their rooms their own. Mementoes of childhood loves, such as the Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series, family heirlooms and superhero action figures line the shelves. And a comfortable desk is a must for these days of attending class virtually.

Upstairs, a small loft holds a queen-sized bed and tiny lounge space, perfect for sleepovers with friends when video gaming and hanging out is all they want to do. Easy-care, unfussy dormitory-sized furniture sourced from Pottery Barn Teen fits the space exactly.

Outside, a gorgeous backyard framed by a neighboring pecan orchard features a pool, well-used trampoline, pergola for outdoor dining and relaxing lounge areas. These round out the home, providing the family and guests alike an extension of the comfortable ambience established inside.

While adjusting to all the work, school and lifestyle changes brought about by a global pandemic, the family has found the gift of more time together a blessing.

“Our home is our sanctuary,” Amber said. “Thank goodness we love it.”