Emily Vanwagenen is the woman behind the inspiring design and lifestyle account Our Southwest Nest. In her Women in Grace feature, Emily shares how she built and designed the desert home of her dreams, how motherhood inspires her and finding her true identity in Jesus.
Can you introduce yourself - tell us more about who you are, where you’re from, and what you do?
Hi, I’m Emily and I run the lifestyle and design account “Our Southwest Nest” on Instagram. Through that platform, I’ve gotten the opportunity to share design inspiration, style, photograph products, and create content for brands large and small. My primary focus is the raising and wrangling of twin girls (6) and a little boy (3). My family and I live in Tucson, AZ where we designed and built our home from the ground up just over a year ago.
Tell us the story behind creating your desert dream home.
We were hoping to do a kitchen renovation on our old home so we reached out to my cousin who is a realtor/contractor for advice and he told us he’d just acquired an empty lot in my favorite neighborhood and suggested we sell our house and build a brand new one. It was a majorly stressful decision, with lots of moving pieces and unknowns, but we kept feeling like this was the right choice for our family and moved forward with faith that it would all work out.
Why did you want to share your journey?
I started my Instagram to document the building process knowing it would be something we’d want to look back on and thinking it would be really great to have all the posts in one place so I could make a photo book later! And then also only my friends and family who wanted to be inundated with house updates would be. Haha.
What do you love the most about your home?
I love how peaceful it feels. The neutral, muted, earthy tones help me feel at rest even when the day-to-day of wrangling three little ones feels a little chaotic.
Where does your inspiration come from?
I’m so inspired by the desert...especially the colors. I was born and raised in Tucson, so the ‘Southwestern’ aesthetic is something I definitely come by naturally.
Do you have a background in design?
I don’t have any formal training in interior design, but I do have a fine arts degree (Art and Visual Culture Education with a studio focus in printmaking) so that’s definitely something that has informed the way I think about color and shape and scale and texture. I think also my fine arts background helps me conceptualize the feelings that I want a space to communicate and then bring that vision to life through tangible design choices.
How do you keep everything clean with three small kids?
Hahahahahaha. I think I’m pretty transparent about the fact that my Instagram feed doesn’t always reflect ‘real-life’ so it’s certainly not as clean as it seems. But I do make an effort to keep things picked up throughout the day. And my husband is a great partner in doing the deep clean stuff.
How does motherhood impact your creative inclinations?
I'm so inspired by my children. I love watching them paint and draw and make art with sticks and rocks and leaves. They inspire me to find beauty and wonder in small things. I do find that motherhood has made it more difficult to carve out time for art-making though.
What’s the first thing you do every morning to start your day on the right foot?
My husband and I like to get up before the kids and make coffee and lunches and breakfast and just kinda hang out before they all stumble in. We don’t always do this because I am definitely not a morning person, but on days we do, I really feel like it gets all of us on a good trajectory for the rest of the day.
What’s next for you and your family?
I’d love to do more design projects! Henry still has a few years before he starts kindergarten, so we’re talking about preschool and what that could mean for me career-wise, but for now, we’re enjoying this sweet season we’re in. We’re maybe getting chickens in the spring!
What piece of encouragement/advice would you share with women trying to balance home life and pursuing all that God has put on their hearts to do?
Oh wow, this is a hard one for me because some days I don’t feel like I have a very good balance. It’s really freeing though to know that God cares deeply for every aspect of life.. from raising children, which is undoubtedly kingdom work, to styling interiors and making creative content, which is sometimes harder to think of in that framework. God cares about design. He cares about community. He cares about beauty and art, so I know that I’m also doing God-honoring work when I inspire people to bring beauty and peace into their own spaces. It’s one thing though to know that intellectually, but to then also live in a society that places a very high value on work and position and a very much lower value on creativity.. and children. I know that my identity is in Jesus, but I also still cringe when someone asks what I do and I say “I stay home with my kids,” or worse, “I’m an Instagram influencer” because neither tends to be regarded as “real work.” Thank God we don’t have to find our value in the answer to the question of “and what do you do for a living?” right?
Words you live by?
All you need is less
Women in Grace highlights women pursuing God-given purpose while living fully in grace.
To see more from Emily, follow her on Instagram
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