A busy couple finds simplicity and a connection with the past through vintage decor and family traditions.
For busy working parents Raya and Forest Carlisle, the key to creating the good life for themselves and their children, 5-year-old Baker and 2-year-old Genevieve, is balance. Committed to finding simplicity in our busy modern world, Raya and Forest seek to bring pieces of the past—literally—into their home and to connect their kids with nature and tradition.
Raya, a wedding photographer, and Forest, a programmer for lessonplanet.com, a website that helps teachers find high-quality lesson plans, both grew up in the West. Raya describes her mom as extremely creative and says she helped her understand the value in living simply. “She was just so resourceful,” Raya says. “She made us a Twister board out of a cardboard box and she painted on the circles. She would buy a doll and then make an outfit for it out of scrap fabric. She had a good attitude about making a lot out of a little.”
Making a lot out of a little is a trait Raya inherited. Her family’s 1951 cottage in Ventura, California, lives much larger than its small size (1,300 square feet including the garage) thanks to its engaging, vivacious décor. In the living room, a smaller- than-usual couch makes the room feel larger, and vibrant blue and white chevron shades Raya’s mother made enliven the sunny space. In the kitchen, brightly colored dining chairs and vintage ceramic dinnerware make the eat-in dining table engaging, freeing up the former dining room to become the kids’ playroom.
Raya has a real knack for vintage style, something also partially inherited from her mom, who bought a lot of Raya’s childhood clothing at the thrift store, then would alter it to make it uniquely her own. “Now I love vintage clothes,” Raya says. “I like special things, and to me it always felt like that was special.”
That love of vintage items blossomed into an affair with retro home décor when Raya was in her mid-20s and working for an L.A. photographer who was also a furniture designer and Mid-Century design fan. “He had books on Mid-Century in the studio,” Raya says. “I discovered that, and it was a light bulb moment.” She developed a love of vintage décor, right around the time she and Forest bought their house, and began shopping on eBay and at flea markets and antique stores, building a collection piece by piece. She got a jumpstart on that collection from Forest’s family, who had kept many heirloom pieces to hand down, many from Forest’s ancestor John G. Carlisle, who was Speaker of the House under President Chester A. Arthur and Secretary of the Treasury under President Grover Cleveland.
One of Raya’s favorite things about buying secondhand is the cozy, worn-in feeling it gives her home—perfect for a household with two young children, “Our house looks good, but it doesn’t look perfect, because a lot of the stuff I loved is scratched,” Raya says. “It’s very lived in. Nothing is too precious—it’s already old and has character. It’s part of our life. It’s messy sometimes, but I don’t care.”
Much as Raya does, Forest credits his first lessons in living simply to his mom, who created something of a self-sufficient homestead in the city after battling melanoma when she was just 25. “One of the biggest things she did after surgery to get rid of the cancer was change her diet,” Forest says. “She made her own bread, she would sprout all the beans she ate because they were easier to digest, we had fresh fruits and vegetables. We had a milk goat and chicken coops for our own fresh eggs. This was all inside city limits, but it was a little farm in our backyard. I had a little slide and the goats would go down it. I remember making bread with my mom.”
Today, Forest’s own family connects with nature and manages their health via their diets, too. Raya used to battle bouts of vertigo and, with the help of a naturopath and dietary changes, has learned to control the problem. “We joined a CSA a couple years ago and started eating based on the vegetables, and we feel so much better,” Raya says.
Although now they are familiar with much of what arrives in the weekly box from their CSA (community-supported agriculture) subscription, at first they would have to look up what was in the box and how to cook it. It led to discovering new recipes, which was fun for the whole family. And it encourages a plant-based diet. “Sometimes if we travel we will take a break from the CSA, and then we’ll be without it for two or three weeks,” Forest says. “It’s hard to go find those kinds of vegetables at the grocery store. You have to be very intentional about it. But when it just shows up at your house, you say, ‘Alright, I have to use that.’ I’d say we eat vegetarian 50 to 70 percent of the time. There are so many good vegetables that it’s really easy not to eat meat.”
If eating close to the earth is a goal, living close to nature is another value Raya and Forest hope to infuse into their family’s life—and another value inspired by family traditions. “My family’s been going to Sequoia and Kings Canyon to camp every year since my mom was a baby—the same place, the same family members,” Forest says. “My grandma had once gone 40 years in a row. My kids are already like, ‘When are we going back?’ It’s just really simple—playing in the dirt, climbing trees and going to the river. I want to make sure we spend a lot of time camping and being outdoors, making those memories.”
Closer to home, Raya thinks choosing unique pieces to decorate her home helps her kids develop their own creativity. “It’s warm and cozy and fun to be here,” she says. “It can inspire creativity. It’s fun to talk to the kids about these things and give them their own sense of style as they grow up.”
Forest and Raya also often buy secondhand playthings for their kids, and believe it helps impart important lessons about materialism and responsibility. “We try to find used stuff for them, too, like a used bicycle,” Forest says. “It doesn’t always have to be new. Especially in Southern California, there is so much money and we try not to focus on that. I had to buy a lot of my own stuff growing up, and I think I had a healthier relationship with my things. I treated them well because I paid for them. That ethic of learning how to be responsible—that’s something I’d like to pass on to my kids.”
Raya says one of the lessons she hopes her kids will take from their childhood is a sense of gratefulness. “It’s challenging,” she says. “You want to give your kids everything, but you don’t want them not to appreciate those things. I hope they grow up being grateful for what we have. I want them to have a generous attitude.”
What’s your favorite way to spend a Saturday afternoon in early summer?
A family bike ride to somewhere: the beach, a restaurant, a coffee shop
What’s one of the funniest things your kids like to do?
As I was writing this, Evie brought me every baby doll/stuffed animal we own so I could trim their nails. And then she sang a song about it. They’re actually both kind of obsessed with nail trimming—sometimes if Baker feels it’s time I will find him in the bathroom with the baby nail trimmers, grooming away.
What’s one of your favorite snack foods?
We are never not in the mood for chips and homemade guacamole.
What’s your favorite family heirloom in your home?
A silver and glass decanter that belonged to Forest’s great-great-great grandmother
What’s one unusual food your kids love?
What’s your dream vacation?
Family road trip through New Zealand and Australia
What’s your favorite book to read to your kids?
What Do People Do All Day? by Richard Scarry—we still have Forest’s copy from when he was 3.
1. There’s an old saying Raya likes to keep in mind when shopping at flea markets: If you wouldn’t
pay $100 for it, don’t pay $10 for it.
2. Only buy something if you have a spot in mind for it. “We don’t have a lot of space in this house. If I buy something, I have to have a place for it.”
3. Don’t buy something that needs a lot of work if you don’t have time to refurbish it.
4. Keep trying for art: “Art’s so expensive, but I think it makes a home. I started looking for flea market art but could never find something. Finally, one time I happened upon a piece. It worked, and now I find things all the time.”
5. Don’t let anything become too precious. “I would rather have things I love that are banged up than perfect things.”