Heart & Home: Autumn Miller

I loved getting to know this mom through her beautiful home and inspiring words, and I know you will too!  Autumn Miller is mother of two and owner of Shabby Green Designs, a built-from-scratch furniture restoration business.  Not only is this momma creative, talented, and driven, but she will definitely have you smiling and ready to join her for a much-loved cup of coffee by the end of this warm and inviting tour.  I can’t wait for you to “meet” her and hear how she manages running a business, keeping white couches clean, and avoiding the snares of mommy comparisons.  Enjoy the tour!

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Q: Tell us a little about yourself and your sweet family.

For starters, we’re an odd bunch. Michael is a Sergeant in the Army and a full time student studying to be a Nurse Practitioner at Our Lady of the Lake. For the next few days, I’ll hold the title of a “Work at Home Mom” and after that, I’ll just be a business owner with two kids in school! Our daughter, Sailor Emaline, is going to 1st grade and our son, Grey, to Pre-K 4. Sailor and Grey are, by far, our greatest accomplishments in life. Sailor is the most kind hearted, extroverted girl – who absolutely doesn’t meet a stranger. She’s the perfect balance of beauty and bravery – managing being a prima ballerina one day, while killing it at T-ball the next! She’s quite the little slugger. Grey is our slow-to-warm babe, with big blue eyes and a habit of hiding under Mommy’s dress when he’s nervous. At this stage in life, he’s in love with all things Mickey Mouse, popsicles, swimming and anything Big Sister is into. He already hits the ball and catches very well – likely another baseball player like his Dad!

Did I mention I let our kids dress themselves? If you see us out in public, you’ll likely see Sailor in mixed prints- she’s a striped skirt and polka dot shirt kind of girl- no bow or ribbons in her long, light brown locks. She’ll likely have on flip-flops or dress-up heels that clickety-clack. And a purse for her whatever odds and ends she “needs” for that day. Grey is all about swimsuit bottoms and t-shirts right now. He likes to wear his TOMS, which he calls “Doctor Shoes” (we still have no idea why), and he will love you for life if you give him a stick of gum!

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When Michael isn’t at Drill, deployed overseas or at school, and when I’m not in full-on “Mommy Mode”- we work together at our furniture restoration business, Shabby Green Designs (SGD). And when he’s not doing alllll of those things, he likes to grill, fish, workout, play piano and try to beat me at whatever card or dice game we’re playing. When I’m not doing motherly or wifely things, I’m likely being creative in some aspect. Some of my favorite things are crafting, party planning, sewing, DIY home improvement projects, decorating on a dime, blogging, drinking insane amounts of coffee, thrifting, reading, tending to my 20+ indoor plants and outdoor garden and laughing with my girlfriends until all you hear is a wheeze come out of me. 😉

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Q: What do you love about living in Baton Rouge?

What we love most about the location of our home is that it’s the perfect blend of country and city! We live a little bit on the outskirts of Baton Rouge in Walker and we love that it’s a little slower paced here! We love that we’re less than 3 miles from our daughter’s school and a hop and a skip away from so many beautiful parks and Aqua Pads. We also love going to the library out here. Grey loves the huge “Ipad” that have and Sailor loves getting 20 books at a time! We also love that if we want to “go to town” we can jump on the interstate and go to the movies, bowling or to a nice restaurant in less than 20 minutes. Like I said, the perfect blend of city and country.

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Q: What is a typical day like for you?

A typical day for me looks a lot like a Mama with one eye open and matted hair trying to operate the Keurig before little people wake up, pouring far too much sugar and cream into one of her sacred Anthropologie coffee mugs and firing up her Macbook Pro to go through e-mails from clients and absolutely not look at the Anthropologie clearance section online.

But now that SGD is only our family’s only source of income, there’s more e-mail responding going on and less mindless shopping. 😉 Once I’ve managed to maybe read all of the e-mails, I’ll try and respond to a couple before the kids wander in the kitchen with the same pirate-eyed, matted hair look. Since it’s the summer, there isn’t a lot of routine to our days. After making breakfast, the kids will get to watch one cartoon while I struggle through my second cup of coffee and breakfast clean up. And I’ll maybe respond to a few more e-mails if I’m operating fast enough! We try to only work in our shop three days a week and saturate ourselves in family time the rest of the week.

Our summer days have been full of swimming, t-ball games, popsicle making, play dates, jumping on the trampoline, bubble blowing, gardening, grilling, going to the dirt track races and entertaining on sunny days! When it rains, we all jump at the chance to make a pallet on the floor and watch a movie or two. I always make a cup of coffee and enjoy the low-key time, without the guilt of feeling like you would if you were “wasting” a beautiful day outside! When it’s not one of the days that Daddy or Mommy is in the shop, all four of us get to enjoy all of these summer things. It’s been a huge blessing. Even on the days one of us is working, we’re still very present in the kid’s lives. Sometimes Michael will be attaching hardware to a piece of furniture and watching the kids ride bikes in the driveway while I cook – I’ll always look back on these days fondly.

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Q: Tell us about you started your business, Shabby Green Designs.

Shabby Green Designs, outside of my children and partnership with Michael, is one of my greatest accomplishments. Starting SGD was one of the most organic happenings in my life. Becoming a Stay at Home Mom was a hard adjustment for me – I was accustomed to being such a busy bee when I was a hairstylist and make up artist. I craved the creative outlet everyday without even realizing it until our second child, Grey, came along. I remember “finding my style” for my home later on in life. I’d always loved the Beach House aesthetic we’d experienced over years of traveling to Florida, namely Seaside. Soon after embracing that look for our home, I started refurbishing pieces that were mainly found on curbs by myself, my husband or my Mother-in-law! Most wood surfaces in our home found themselves being painted with a fresh coat of white paint and moderately distressed.

When I’d entertain, people would always ask where I purchased our furniture – when I’d tell them it was the bored housewife in front of them who’d refurbished the piece, they’d either ask to buy it or ask me to replicate it on their own furniture! I always blushed and figured they were just being nice. After becoming more confident in my craft, I’d post images of my “project pieces” on social media. The encouragement that came from such an unlikely place, blessed me to my toes. With the somewhat chronic encouragement to officially start a business, I jumped in with both feet. What started out as a business for a bored house wife to make her “own” money – it changed over time into a business that was 50% of our home’s income, then changed to it being our “bread and butter” and saving grace once Michael’s courses were too hard to maintain any other job except the role of Full Time Student.

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Fast forward to almost five years later, we’re blessed with an amazing client base and following. Our clients are fiercely loyal to us and our little “no frills” business – if one piece in their home has been refurbished by Shabby Green Designs, it’s more than likely that we’ve touched the majority of the wood surfaces in their home. We’re so grateful that they not only trust us to decorate their homes with our inventory, but they entrust us with restoring family heirlooms to their original glory as well. I may be biased, but I feel like the luckiest girl in the world to have my dream job and that it does a great job at taking care of my family until Michael is out of school! Not that I plan on going anywhere once he does graduate – but it’ll be nice to have the privilege of taking some time off without our livelihood suffering. And we would like to add two more little people to our family one day!

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Q: What is your best piece of advice for a mom wanting to start her own business?

First off, do what you LOVE! Above all else, love it with your whole heart. There’s nothing worse than seeing a business start-up only motivated by the almighty dollar. Secondly, make sure you have a supportive spouse. Having a strong support system is key – I wouldn’t have been able to start SGD without Michael’s full support. It may steal away some of your free time and require your spouse to spend more time “single parenting” than he’d like, so without a supportive mate, it’ll only breed resentment and conflict. And once you’ve chosen that aforementioned support system – ask those few in your inner circle their opinions on your work. Ask them for the brutal, harsh truths – it’ll only make you better. Surprise, surprise that my inner circle do NOT mince their words 😉 They gave me the feedback I needed and then some, but I know SGD was only better for their critiques.

I cherish a quote from Abraham Lincoln that I feel really sums up Shabby Green Deigns – “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

I have all the confidence that when you love what you do more than cupcakes, have a strong backing of loved ones cheering you on, mixed in with the fact that you took your time, paid your dues, made mistakes, fixed them and tried not to make that same mistake twice… I’d say you’ve got the world by the tail. And they have no idea of the greatness that’s about to hit them.

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Q: White couches?! Please tell us why and how you manage those with kids!

Ha! We get this question a LOT, and I can only blame it on some sort of mental breakdown…But seriously, I fell in love with the “beach house” aesthetic years ago and almost thought out loud, “Why not bring “vacation mode” and all of the calm that comes from it home with me?”. Having a monochromatic home is actually easier to clean, I feel, than others! Of course, I buy stock in magic erasers, Oxyclean and Scotch Guard, but most Mom’s do that anyway! We did a sort of “test run” buying two solid white Ikea chairs secondhand for $20 each and they lasted perfectly for 4 years! We only ended up selling them when we wanted to be a “two couch family”!

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I think it’s also possible to maintain an “all white” life when you have established boundaries with your kids. Even though we had dark, busy print couches growing up, my brothers and I never ate while sitting on them. That principle carried over into my grown up life even when we didn’t have all white everything. We also don’t have markers and crayons laying around everywhere and it helps that my kids know that we only craft at the dining table.

Maintaining our furnishings comes down to one thing – how I was raised. We grew up buying something once and not replacing it until it was absolutely unusable – and until that happened, we took the best possible care of it. My mother still has most of the furniture she purchased when I was in Kindergarten, and you’d never know it was a over a quarter of a century old! I couldn’t love my mother more for instilling that in me.  I don’t feel like I clean and maintain my home more than any of my other Mama friends, but I absolutely understand how people could think I would!

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Q: Do your children play a part in the design/decor of their rooms?

Absolutely! Thus, the explosion of print and color! Sailor is more so into this than Grey is, but they still both weigh in at almost every front. I showed Sailor images of rooms I liked on the internet and whatever little thing made her squeal with delight – we did it! She helped pick out her fabric, HAD to have the Anthropologie mermaid towel situated somewhere in her space and bounced off the walls when I made the poufs for over her bed! With Grey it was more of a “yes” or “no” situation. He was three when I started making over his space and either loved things or hated things. He absolutely wanted me to make pillows like I did for Sailor. (WITH POM POMS! He specified.) “Helped” me pick out the free printable art for his collage wall and then LOVED his “branch” antlers. He daily tries to throw clothing at them, in hopes they’ll stick and hang from the “antlers.” Oh the joy of having a little boy!

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Q: What is the greatest lesson you have learned since becoming a mom?

As many lessons as I’ve learned being a mom ….. like “Don’t sweat the small stuff” and “ They’ll walk when they’re ready”, the greatest lesson I’ve learned since being a mama is to be true to who I am as a Mother. Being authentic. I think all Mamas struggle with comparison – working Mamas feeling inferior to Stay at Home Mamas, bottle feeding Mamas feeling inferior to breastfeeding Mamas, Mamas who struggle creatively feeling inferior to the new fleet of Pinterest Mamas.

At the end of the day, I had to remember to be the Mama God made me and stand in the knowledge that I’m His daughter and He thinks I’m great no matter what myself, or anyone else had to say about it. Standing in who He says I am, is what gets me through those weak, comparative moments. This lesson also overflowed to my soul in other areas. I think every Mama could use a reminder that they are enough ,exactly where they are in life, being exactly who they are, day in and day out. How different would life be if we told ourselves that amidst our messy homes and unkempt kids, amidst our take out food and lackluster attempts at crafting with our kids…. Right in the middle of that perfectly imperfect life, how different would life be if we looked that pirate-eyed, caffeine dependent, matted-hair Mama in the mirror and said “You are enough.” Loving my authentic self was the best thing I could’ve done for my kids and my greatest lesson I could’ve ever learned about being a Mama.

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Autumn, thank you for opening up your doors and letting us into your home.  There were just so many things that stood out to me in this interview: believing in yourself enough to create a business that your entire family depends on; taking risks with the scary but beautiful white furniture; and truly recognizing that YOU ARE ENOUGH and exactly the mom you need to be.  Such powerful words and thoughts.  I know you inspired us all today.

Moms, what was your favorite part?

To see all our Heart & Home posts, click right here. And if you or someone you know would like to share your home right here on the blog, email [email protected] for more info!

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