With past experience that includes working in PR and marketing, training as an opera singer, interning in the New York fashion scene, planning parties professionally, and running her own jewelry business, Gwen Hefner really is a “Jane of all trades.” Although she has jumped from field to field and took a handful of career paths in her early 20s, she eventually found herself living in the suburbs of Kansas City, MO and raising a family by 25. As she admits, it was not the life she originally envisioned, but over time, it seems natural that her childhood and early adult life spent making, doing and planning lent itself well to one of the most important and fulfilling roles in her life: that of a mother.
Despite her shift in life’s gears, Gwen hasn’t let that stop her from crafting a career through her blog, The Makerista. Her desire to continue learning and adapting has led her to learn photography, design interiors, and take her family’s outdated 80s colonial home into her own hands — quite literally, renovating it with help from her handy husband, Micah. Everything Gwen touches has a sense of extravagance paired with an understated ease about it, which extends to both her personal style as it does to her home’s decor. Today, from her favorite room in their family home in Kansas City, MO — the dining room — she’s joining us to chat about life as a young mother, how she’s managed to embrace life’s changes with grace, and more. –Sabrina
Photography by Justin Salem Meyer
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Gwen Hefner and I’m The Makerista. When I’m not playing wife to Micah and stay-at-home mom to our two children, Xander and Milly, I’m renovating (with Micah) and decorating our 80s, suburban colonial outside of Kansas City, MO and documenting it on my blog: The Makerista. It’s interesting how I got to this place. I never would have dreamed this would be where I’d end up, but it’s definitely where I’m meant to be. I majored in vocal performance in college and planned to be an opera singer. After auditioning for grad schools I realized that wasn’t really what I wanted to do. I enjoyed singing, but I think I majored in it because people told me I should. It wasn’t my only passion. I loved fashion, and when I wasn’t at opera rehearsal or studying Romanticism in the arts, I was interning at a clothing boutique and running my own jewelry business. I took a leap of faith and moved to New York for a bit after college. It was a great experience, but my husband brought me back to the Midwest. I worked in PR for a while, but found myself a stay-at-home mom living in the suburbs at 25. It was never really the life I envisioned for myself, but I embraced it and did my best to find fulfillment in it.
I started reading blogs and was so drawn to the idea of connecting with likeminded people from my home in the middle of the country. I learned how to design interiors instead of outfits (that was a paralyzing idea for me for quite some time) and taught myself how to take photographs when our son was born. I realized after I started reading blogs that I was doing a lot of what these inspiring women were doing, and I also knew I had picked up some of the skills to be a blogger: PR and marketing, photography, design, etc. It took me a few years to finally take the leap, but the rest is history and I’ve been juggling the joy my family brings me with the fulfillment of the blog ever since.
What does home and this space mean to you? Describe it.
Home is a refuge. I long for our home to be a comfort to our family and to others. When we first looked at this house, I knew it was the house meant for us and I also knew we were supposed to do a lot of hosting in it. I want it to be somewhere that is comfortable for anyone to come into and I also want it to reflect our family. I love traditional bones and bold color with [hints] of modernism. My husband loves minimalism and I’ve learned that helps curb my anxious brain, too. This specific space doesn’t have any obvious personal touches, but I believe they can be a bit more subtle than one expects. The mural is an illustration from the 1800s of the Aosta Valley in Italy, and Micah and I honeymooned there. It’s a big dose of personal without being overtly so.
What makes it so comfortable?
Most people probably wouldn’t think of a dining room as comfortable, but this room feels comfortable to me for a few reasons. This is the only space in our home that is completely done at this point (we moved in about a year ago) and so it just feels great to be in it. I don’t look around and think about things still left undone. One thing I strive to create in our home interiors and gatherings is the idea of fancy but never formal. I want things to feel a bit over-the-top, but not stuffy, and I think this room does just that.
This is the table we eat all of our meals at and my son plays Legos on. The kids play in the window seat and my daughter can often be found climbing the arms of the captain’s chairs (which are the most comfortable dining chairs ever). The surfaces are wipeable and rather indestructible, and the decor is minimal for easy cleaning and peace. This is also where you can find me answering emails in the morning or waiting for my son to get off the bus in the afternoon.
What makes you uncomfortable? What is your biggest fear?
Uncomfortableness brings to mind playing sports and cooking for large groups of people… those are my nightmares. Ha. I’m not athletic and I’m okay with that. The cooking thing is something I hope to work on after we gut and remodel our kitchen in a few weeks. I really admire people who can show their love through food and who have such a passion for something so important.
I try to let my faith override my fears. Once you have kids, fear has the potential to be crippling, but I really work to not let my brain go there. I think failure has probably always been a big fear for me, but it hasn’t stopped me from trying quite a bit. It gets harder and more risky to try new things once you have a family, but I try my hardest to juggle and dive in anyway. Letting people down has always been a concern for me, too.
Have you ever thrown caution to the wind and departed from your comfort zone? What happened as a result?
All the time! More so when I was younger and had less responsibility, but I’ve always loved to learn new things and try something new for the heck of it. Being a music major in college required me to feel uncomfortable a lot. It taught me to take chances and I think I’ve continued to do that. Starting a blog felt very uncomfortable at first. More than the uncomfortableness of something new is the uncomfortableness of others’ opinions. I’ve always been a people-pleaser, so blogging brought a lot of questions from people in my personal life and then eventually criticism from people online. I think that’s probably the one thing blogging has helped me the most with, caring less about others’ opinions. I feel the most happy and fulfilled I’ve ever been because of it.
What would you do if you had a day, a week and a month all to yourself?
Is this a dream? A day to myself might vary on what the state of my life was like at the moment, but would probably involve a lot of thrifting. Give me a week to myself and you’d find me in England. I’m a total Anglophile, but I haven’t made it to England yet. It’s on my list. And a month to myself would certainly involve travel as well. With little kids it can be difficult to work in, but travel is so inspiring and it’s something I long to do more of.
What have you learned as an adult that you wish you knew when you were younger?
I wish I would have taken myself a little less seriously when I was younger. I was pretty mature from a young age, which meant I wasn’t really very much fun, I don’t think. I’m certainly not the life of the party now or anything, but I tend to enjoy social situations a lot more. I was that girl who loved getting ready for the prom but didn’t have fun AT the prom. I wish I would have enjoyed the freedom of being young and single and taken the time to appreciate that facet of my life.
How do you unplug, recharge and unwind?
I recharge at church a few times a week. It feeds my soul and helps keep me centered and focused on what really matters. The only way I can really relax is to be around others. We love hosting parties and having friends over, and casual occasions are how I love to relax. You forget about the to-do list and the emails and just live. We entertain inside during the winter, but in the warmer months you’ll find us by the pool. I wasn’t so sure about having a pool, but after our first summer I have to say that I’m a total believer. The house goes to hell in a hand basket, but the memories and fun in the sun are so worth it. Not only is it socially enjoyable, getting in the water forces me to put my phone down and focus on my family… it’s such a delight and I’m already counting down the days!
Have you ever experienced burnout? How do you get back on your feet and stay inspired?
Of course. For me, it’s just a natural part of the creative cycle. I think you keep major burnout at bay by scheduling-in communication with other likeminded creators and making time for play that inspires. That comes in a few different ways. I don’t want television, but I do watch a few hours of period shows online every week. They’re usually British — they’re the best actors and they just get things so right. I’m constantly pausing to get screenshots of a color palette or decor. Stepping outside of your day-to-day to visit a museum or art gallery can spark creativity. Travel can help. Allowing yourself to take a break is crucial, too. Everyone needs time away and a chance to refresh.
What do you think the world could use less of, and more of?
Our world needs less hate and more truth spoken in love.
What’s one question you wish you had the answer to?
I wish I knew how to balance it all. I really don’t think balance is an attainable thing, but I wish I knew the right amount of myself to give to every area in my life.