Tinkering Spaces: Interview with Emilie Brehm

Today I’m joined by Emilie Brehm of Normalish, who is sharing her inspiring natural homeschool art studio and maker spaces with us. This interview is part of Tinkering Spaces, an informative series of interviews that center on designing kid-friendly creativity spaces. If you’re scratching your head because you can’t figure out where to put your children’s art materials, hatching a plan to turn your laundry room into an art room,  or shifting furniture to make room for a new easel, these interviews are sure to give you food for thought.

Homeschool art studio on TinkerLab

Rachelle: Welcome Emilie! I’m so glad that I learned about your creative home through Instagram. Can you tell me a little bit about your background, and how it’s inspired you as a parent?

Emilie: Since I was a young child, I’ve been interested in the visual arts.  My bachelor’s degree is in Apparel Merchandising and Design — and all of my favorite classes were the creative ones.  I loved the electives I took in calligraphy, children’s literature, and interior design.  I had a hard time settling on a major — there were so many possibilities!  One thing I knew was that I wasn’t inspired by the prospects of traditional career paths.  After graduation, I took a couple of extra semesters of “undecided” graduate school — not ready to leave the inspiring environment of academia.  Eventually I decided that my “calling” was parenthood.  It took years to conceive our oldest, so the prospect of a life of creative parenting was long-awaited.  Now, many years later, we’re expecting baby number three this fall — and although this “career” choice has been full of surprises, ups and downs, I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

Tinkering Spaces Interview with Emily Brehm | TinkerLab.com

Rachelle: Will you tell us about the family who lives in this space?  

Emilie: My husband and I live here with our two homeschooled sons (ages 7 and 3).  We’ll soon welcome a new family member — we’re expecting our third son, due in October.

Tinkering Spaces Interview with Emily Brehm | TinkerLab.com

Rachelle: I was initially drawn to all the warm wood and natural elements in your home. How would you describe your space? And have you had to make any changes to the space since you’ve had children?  

Emilie: When we first saw this home about a year before our oldest was born, we thought it felt like a perfect “family home.”  We bought it, hoping to start our family here.  A month after moving in, we found out we were expecting our oldest.  So we were able to start making changes to create our family nest right from the start.  It’s a warm, quirky home, approaching 100 years old.  It sits on a large lot with plenty of room for little ones to run and explore.

Tinkering Spaces Interview with Emily Brehm | TinkerLab.com

Rachelle: Is there an underlying philosophy to your parenting and/or playful spaces?

Emilie: I’d say my philosophy is pretty eclectic — and constantly being tweaked as our family grows.  I’m definitely inspired by the Waldorf pedagogy, especially the use of natural materials, the emphasis on the arts, and delayed academics.  I place a lot of importance on outdoor play/nature exploration, open-ended playthings, unscheduled time, minimal use of screens/electronic media, children’s literature (our house is full of books!), and letting kids stay “little” (vs. the societal push to grow up so fast).  I’m influenced by attachment parenting, especially for the early years.  We’ve embarked on a homeschooling journey with our 7-year-old, which is currently inspired by unschooling.  How’s that for eclectic?  🙂

Tinkering Spaces Interview with Emily Brehm | TinkerLab.com

Rachelle: That IS eclectic, and it fits perfectly with everything I see in your home. If you had to be selective, what are three things that you love the most about your space?


  1. The natural light.
  2. The two sunrooms, both used as creating spaces.  One adjacent to the living room is the kids’ playroom, which houses their art table.  One adjacent to the master bedroom is “mama space,” with my sewing machine, fabric stash, etc.  Both are bright, inspiring rooms.
  3. Our wabi-sabi yard, perfectly imperfect and wild.  Tons of creative play happens here.

Tinkering Spaces Interview with Emily Brehm | TinkerLab.com

Rachelle: It’s clear that “creating” sits front and center in your home. Do you have any tips for those of us who want to make our homes havens for making?

Emilie: I think a big step is a mental one — to relax into it and let go (I am definitely still working on this!).  Expect the messes (and try to embrace them!), but let go of other expectations and be flexible.  Keep appropriate materials accessible at all times so the kids can dive right in when inspiration strikes (stored right on our art table, we have: white paper, colored pencils, washable markers, crayons, scissors, glue, string, and tape).  If possible, a dedicated art table is great so projects and materials can be left out and revisited later — and no worries about damaging the surface.  I like an adult-size table so there is plenty of space for spreading out as well as room for parent-child collaboration (ours is a thrifted, vintage, wood dining table).   Give kids plenty of unscheduled time so they have opportunities to find themselves insprired!

 Tinkering Spaces Interview with Emily Brehm | TinkerLab.com

Rachelle: Your backyard play scape looks like a childhood oasis. Can you tell us about your “stump park” and how your yard came together?

Emilie: “Stump park” is our name for our playscape constructed of large tree stumps.  We had a large backyard tree that had to be taken down due to illness.  It was a huge oak, over 150 years old, with a trunk diameter of around 5 feet.  In an effort to use natural materials and encourage open-ended play, we already had many smaller tree stumps in use in our yard — so we were inspired to come up with a way to make use of this huge trunk.  We were lucky to be working with a wonderful tree service and hatched a plan together.  They cut up the trunk and the pieces were arranged with their super-power forklift into a playscape.  This process was especially fun because our oldest son was able to get involved — and even help operate the forklift!  It is great for climbing, crawling through tunnels, and pretending.  We have added a slide, a tipi structure, and plan to embellish the playscape more in the future.

Tinkering Spaces Interview with Emily Brehm | TinkerLab.com

In the other main play area of the yard, we have a wooden play kitchen with lots of thrifted pots and pans for mudpie making.  Although it makes for a messy yard, we allow the kids to source mudpie “ingredients” freely, including sandbox sand, dirt and mud dug from here and there, leaves plucked from plants, grass and weeds (no chemicals on this yard!), and water.  Also in the “sorry, neighbors!” category, we have a variety of metal pots mounted on a board as a musical “banging wall” (inspired by Soulemama), which is located near our “demolition site,” a old, stone/brick fireplace that the boys are allowed to hammer, excavate, disassemble, and tinker as they choose (with supervision and proper safety, of course!).

This summer, the boys have spent many hours in their “digging site,” a section of the yard where they’ve removed enough grass to make a delightful muddy hole.  This spot has been a creative haven!  It has been a swamp, ocean, special cleaning factory, network of streams, body painting area, mudbath, and more.  We also take our more traditional art materials out in the yard sometimes and have a dedicated outdoor art table for drawing and painting under the trees.

Rachelle: Your yard sounds like a child’s dream! What do you wish for your children to remember about their childhood?

Emilie: A world of possibility.  Their creative spirits fully ignited.  Books.  The love of learning, exploring, experimenting. The magic and mystery of fairies and other wee folk.  Their personal interests respected and nurtured.   Love.

Tinkering Spaces Interview with Emily Brehm | TinkerLab.com

Rachelle: What five supplies are indispensable to you and your children at this moment?


1.  Colored pencils.  Our favorites are Ferby by LYRA.  They are high quality, smooth and vivid, and the triangular shape is great for little hands.
2.  Play-dough.  (we use both homemade and commercial)
3.  String.  Along with scissors, a spool of natural kitchen twine is very popular with both boys.
4.  Colored masking tape.
5.  Washable tempera paint.  We buy it by the gallon to accommodate our preschooler’s desire to squirt and mix.

 Tinkering Spaces Interview with Emily Brehm | TinkerLab.com

Rachelle: What inspires you?

Emilie: Nature.  My kids.  Finding beauty in everyday moments; photographing them often.  Fellow mama friends.  Books, blogs (including this one!), Instagram, Pinterest.

Rachelle: Is there anything else that you’d like to share?

Emilie: I’d like to thank you, Rachelle, for starting the “creative table” project — both here and on Instagram. (Search #creativetable on Instagram) I already loved taking photos of what’s happening at our art table — now I’m thrilled to have a special spot to share them, as well as to peek in on and find inspiration in what others are doing.  I use Instagram daily and welcome new IG friends — I am “emiliebrehm”over there.Thanks for having me here at Tinkerlab, Rachelle!

Rachelle: I know I already said this, but I love following your images on Instagram. Thank you so much for generously sharing your home with us, and for taking time to chat with me!

More Tinkering Spaces

You can check out the rest of the TinkerSpaces in this series here. 

Interview with Emilie BrehmEmilie Brehm of Normalish is a homeschooling mom of two sons, ages 7 and 3, with a third due to arrive in October.  After decades of interest in the arts and creative living, she found the ultimate inspiration in mothering.  Emilie holds a B.S. in Apparel Merchandising, Design, and Production from Iowa State University.  In addition to daily creative parenting, she enjoys photography, lettering, and interior design.

tinkering spaces: interview with emilie brehmEmilie has graciously offered to share one of her favorite art materials,  a set of 12 LYRA Ferby colored pencils, with one lucky reader. To enter for your chance to win the Ferby pencils (a $20 value), click on the Rafflecopter giveaway. This is open to U.S. addresses only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway  

This giveaway is closed.


  1. I am absolutely in LOVE with Emilie’s creative home. So inspiring!!! Our next project is to work on our backyard, I will definitely be inspired by yours! Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. The Stump Park is fantastic! And so is your mudpie kitchen! Thank you for offering the Ferbys!

  3. Her tip on letting go and being flexible is so key. Thank you for an inspiring interview. I’m not on instigram but I’m always looking for playful natural spaces. I will have to check it out now.

  4. I’m so inspired by this whole post! I’ve been wanting some stumps to play with in our yard for a while. We have a vintage table that looks just like Emilie’s art table, and I’ve been wondering what to do with it. I think I’ve just found the perfect use. Thank you so much for sharing these photos.

  5. Thanks! Great post.love all Emilia ideas and lovely inspiration!

  6. Great post! I love the use of tree stumps!!

  7. Great story….so inspirational!!! My daughter would love to try these out. She just showed an interest in drawing and coloring:)

  8. What a dreamy backyard… Lucky boys! Thanks for offering this giveaway, those pencils look perfect for my mandala coloring hobby!

  9. I am so inspired by the stump playground! I think we need one in our backyard.

  10. Pretty inspiring! It’s amazing how getting organized and connected with nature can make your soul feel good!

  11. Omigoodness, TWO sun rooms! That’s wonderful. Your home is so comfortable, warm, inviting, and inspiring. Thank you for sharing your living/loving/creating space with us, and have a wonderful delivery when its time to welcome your new little one!!
    –Rebecca and Rowan.

  12. Those are such gorgeous and inspiring play spaces! I really love the backyard! We’ll be working on our yard this fall and can’t wait to do something else with tree stumps 😀 Thank you for sharing your fantastic spaces.. and thank you for such a fantastic giveaway.

  13. Beautiful space you have created there. What lucky boys!! My guys would LOVE that tree stump play area, but we’ll settle for the great colored pencils ;o)

  14. Love the stump playground! So creative! And my son would love the pencils.

  15. What fabulous things happening there! Thanks for the chance at what look like wonderful pencils!

  16. Very inspiring interview! The one area where I feel I’m lacking is my outdoor space. Houston is so hot and swampy, I find it difficult to create a fun, inviting, and comfortable playscape for my son.

  17. I love the outdoor kitchen, am so inspired to create one for my kids as they love to use natural materials as play food. So awesome to have the tree stumps!

  18. The stump park is the best backyard play area I have seen in a long time. Thanks for this inspiring interview and for the giveaway.

  19. Wonderful. I want to set up something like your wood stumps in my back yard. I can’t remember where I saw it but someone mentioned you can paint old wooden salad bowls for mushroom caps but your bowl idea is equally good! I was wondering where you got the colored masking tape and dispenser? Would love to add that to our art station.

  20. Love all the great ideas to inspire creativity….especially the outdoor ones for the boys.

  21. Love all of the creativity that’s encouraged here. This is definitely an inspiration for me to incorporate some of the same with my two boys–thanks:)

  22. I love reading through all of your comments and I’m so happy that Emilie’s ideas resonate with so many of you. Thank you again, Emilie, for opening up your home to us.

  23. Thank you all for the great comments about our home and yard! How fun to be able to share it with you all — thanks again, Rachelle, for inviting me to do so! 🙂 xo, emilie

  24. Love your home Emilie! I’m so glad I stumbled over here to read your interview. We love Ferbies and could always enjoy a set! Thanks again for sharing your beautiful home and learning environment. ~Nichole

  25. Love your home, Emilie! Thank you so much for sharing with all of us! We love Ferby pencils and could always enjoy a new set as ours are a couple of years old! All the best, Nichole

  26. I love this and find the setup and materials so inspiring! Thanks for a beautiful interview and opportunity for winning some great art supplies!

  27. This was a wonderful and inspiring read! Thank you for sharing. I love that the kids can just be kids and have some much fun outside and creatively at your house! This gives me more ideas for making a home and great memories with our little guy!

  28. I am absolutely in love with the Waldorf philosophy and try to implement it as much as possible in our own home.

  29. I just live the wood and tree play ares as well as the old timey kitchen set. It makes me want to come over and play.

    Thanks for sharing.

  30. of course like your web site however you need to check the spelling
    on quite a few of your posts. Many of them are rife with spelling problems
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