Writer Nora McInerny’s Home Is Functionally Maximalist

published Aug 30, 2018

Writer Nora McInerny’s Home Is Functionally Maximalist

published Aug 30, 2018
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Name: Nora McInerny, her husband, four kids, and dog Stacy
Location: Golden Valley, Minnesota
Size: 3,500 square feet
Years lived in: 1.5 years, owned

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There’s no lack of information on the internet about writer, speaker, wife, and mom Nora McInerny‘s life and work. The obituary she and her first husband Aaron wrote before he died went viral, and she’s since written a book, “It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too),” as well as beautiful articles. She runs a successful podcast called “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.” She is the founder of Still Kickin, a “retail-based nonprofit that helps awesome people who are going through awful things,” and the Hot Young Widows Club. She’s even available for speaking events on a wide range of witty topics such as: “Making the Most of Your Life, Because Hi, We’re All Going to Die,” and “Humor, Grief, and Loss (I’m a Widow, and Yeah, It’s Awkward and Often Humorous).” And through all this she’s been raising Ralph, the child she had with Aaron. She’s met a wonderful man and married again. She’s become a stepmom, had another baby… and navigated a dizzying array of home moves.

McInerny moved into her first husband Aaron’s house shortly after they met, with plans to fix it up together. But when Aaron received his cancer diagnosis, “[w]e had to short-sale that dump because our healthcare system is such garbage and ruins people financially!” Thanks to help from Aaron’s parents, they purchased another home, which is the one that the couple—along with their new baby Ralph—shared until Aaron’s passing.

“Ralph and I traveled for months,” she explains of the time after Aaron died. “I still owned the house Aaron died in, but we hardly spent a night there. The following spring, I moved into my mother’s house for a few months, and then bought another house near her and my little brother. Ralph and I lived there for 364 days.” She actually met her now-husband Matthew and his two older kids from a previous marriage just a month after moving in the fall of 2015. And when it was time for the couple—with three kids and a new baby on the way—to combine under one roof, they bought this house in “a rush, desperate to all move in together before school started and baby arrived.”

(Image credit: Emma Fiala)

It wasn’t exactly the smoothest buying process, but all worked out in the end.

“We brought the kids to nearly every house we looked at. They weren’t financial stakeholders so they weren’t going to make the decision, but I think to blend a family, it’s important for everyone to feel like they’re part of the process,” shares McInerny. “We missed out on EVERY HOUSE WE LOVED. There were very few options that had enough bedrooms and was in the school district the kids had been in their whole lives… it was very bleak. We were the first to see this house, the first to put in an offer, and were NOT the highest offer. We did, however, love it, and we knew it would love us.”

Their big house is at the very end of a very dead end street. Some of her neighbors don’t even know it’s there. Others have recently asked, “Are you going to do anything about the yard?” (She thought the yard was supposed to look that way.) With a large kitchen/dining/living area, extra space downstairs, a big yard, a secluded street, and a few amusing quirks, the house couldn’t be more perfect for this family.

(Image credit: Emma Fiala)

It’s also ideal for two creative grownups; McInerny works from home in a dining room-turned-office.

“I think that working from home has made me a bit of a weirdo, but I also think it’s good for kids to see their parents doing what pays the bills and doing what they love. The kids know that when the door is shut, I’m working. They also know that I love what I do… As for Matthew… our house has a secret fifth bedroom in the lower level. In it, you’ll find my husband and his bandmates from their early 20s, all playing music on a Sunday afternoon. It’s loud and vibrates the whole house, and I love it.”

(Image credit: Emma Fiala)

Along with approaching tragic moments with a biting sense of humor, McInerny’s work hints at another universal truth: Life isn’t a series of separate events that never overlap. It’s a constantly evolving amalgamation of moments and memories. Nora didn’t stop grieving Aaron’s death after she fell in love with (and married) Matthew. This isn’t a blended family; in fact Nora recently described it as “duct-taped and spackled.” But that’s what makes it all so beautiful.

(Image credit: Emma Fiala)

“Our home and our walls and our conversations and our family are all a reflection of who we are. And who we are is a reflection of where we came from. That means that I have photos of the Big Kids baby years on our walls, and photos of me and baby Ralph and Aaron on our walls. I don’t know where we got the notion that we’re supposed to pretend to be tabula rasa with every new relationship, but… we don’t have to be? Aaron made me the woman Matthew loves. And Aaron is dead. Matthew’s former wife helped create the big siblings to my little kids. We’re far from the point where we’re all posing for photos together, but I’m no more threatened by Matthew’s former wife than he is by my dead husband. Two of our kids have another mom who lives a mile away, one of our kids has a dead dad, and the baby… is a part of all of this. It’s all family. I think the faster we teach kids that love is bigger than our insecurities, the better.”

(Image credit: Emma Fiala)

→ McInerny’s next book, “No Happy Endings,” is available for pre-order.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: Functional maximalism. We have kids, so nothing can be too precious, but I like what I like and I don’t worry too much about having a specific aesthetic so much as I worry about this: When I die, will I be embarrassed that someone has to give this away, sell this, or inherit it? When my kids look back at our home, will it feel livable and welcoming, or like they were forced to live in an Instagram photo?

My husband is a professional designer with an architecture firm. You’d think I’d trust his expertise. Sometimes. He has excellent taste, and is the kind of person who measures before he hangs a picture, which I love. He is also very deliberate. Which is a kind way of saying slow to make decisions. If I like a paint color, I’ll use it. What’s the worst that can happen… we have to paint over it?

His intentionality is truly a gift to me. My impulsiveness has not always been… great? I once tried ordering a couch that was the actual size of our living room, and then tried to convince him it would fit. He had to mark the size of the couch using a tape measure to convince me not to smash that “place order” button.

Inspiration: My mother, who wallpapered her kitchen with magazine pages in the ’70s, used antique Fez hats for decor in the ’90s, and tore out or tore down everything from wallpaper to walls whenever she got bored. My children, who love color and add their own touches (like stickers placed at their eye level, and action figures on the mantel).

Favorite Element: Our kitchen is the center of our house. Not literally, I think it’s on the east side. West side? My husband says west. But it’s so much space—it’s a kitchen with true living space, a huge, inviting fireplace… and, an indoor grill? We’ve shoved a TV in there because we’re modern Americans who have a hard time lighting briquets indoors and sometimes just want to have some Netflix on while we clean, but this is the room where everyone congregates.

Biggest Challenge: We’re the second owners of this home, and you can tell that this house was built with love and soaked in love. It’s hard to imagine changing things knowing that they were selected by someone else who loved them deeply, but I think as we make this home our own, there will be ways for us to honor the original design choices while making them practical for our family (read: no cream carpet!).

Biggest Embarrassment: The boxes we still haven’t unpacked, still stashed in the framed-in basement bathroom we swore we’d finish.

Proudest DIY: I don’t DIY!

Biggest Indulgence: A gas fireplace insert for our upstairs living room. Minnesota is cold!


Office — Sherwin-Williams Hale Navy
Bedrooms — Sherwin-Williams Navajo White, a creamy white that I use in every bedroom I’ve had for the past eight years.

Rug — Wayfair
Sofa — Keegan 90-inch two-piece fabric sectional sofa from Macy’s
Floor lamp — Blu Dot
Ottoman — Blu Dot
Lounge chair — Blu Dot

Shelves — custom
Map — Vintage, from mom
Blanket ladder — Vintage, from grandma
Chair — Vintage, from a neighbor’s garage.
Armchair — Vintage, from an estate sale.
Drawer unit — IKEA, LINMON Top

Sofa — Blu Dot
Dining table and chairs — Room & Board Outlet

King size bed — Blu Dot
Bookshelf — Blu Dot
Giant pillows — IKEA
Duvet — Brooklinen
Dresser — Vintage

Thanks, Nora!

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